Monday, August 30, 2010

Williston to Jacksonville: X60-KCRG

After a delicious lunch at the Ivy House in Williston that included three or four servings of raspberry tea, we headed back to the airport for our flight home. The Williston airport is small; there was no air traffic when we arrived or when we departed. The FBO is nice and clean and provides free Wi-Fi and a computer for pre-flight planning. I asked the FBO guy if I owed him anything for parking and he said, "just a thank you". So I thanked him and headed for the flight planning room.

The weather along our route had deteriorated a bit, but instead of a broad swath of rain-producing clouds, there were denser, stronger storms that filled isolated areas along the way. The weather was moving towards the west-north-west and I reasoned that we should have little trouble navigating around anything that would cause us concern. I filed for IFR for 5000 feet and 45 minutes X60-direct-KCRG. I conducted my pre-flight check and we said our goodbyes. The engine started easily and we were soon taxiing to runway 5. I ran-up the engine as we taxied and all systems were go.

I had been listening for any traffic in the area as we taxied, but heard nothing. In spite of the apparent lack of traffic, I made a careful survey of the air before announcing that I would be departing on runway 5 straight out. When I took the runway, the FBO guy called in a southern drawl typical of North Florida, "Y'all come back!" to which I replied, "Oh, we will!"

I slowly advanced the throttle, then adjusted the mixture for best power. Our density altitude was around 2000 feet, so a full rich mixture was a bit more than what we needed. The RPMs increased from about 2,350 to around 2,420 before I released the brakes and we started our takeoff run.

As we climbed, I announced my upwind position and then my pattern departure as a last call. I then contacted Jacksonville Approach who immediately answered, "Would you like to pick up your instrument clearance to Craig?" Now, that's good service!

The controller gave me my clearance for 6000 feet (again that Florida North/South instead of the usual East/West-Odd/Even altitude assignment). She called my position and cleared me direct Craig.

We encountered some cumulous clouds and a little rain on our climbout as well as along our route after leveling off, but for the most part, the flight was a bit smoother than the flight earlier in the day.

Christy and I had time to talk a bit and I took a couple of quick pictures of us with my new iPhone. She is a wonderful flying partner. She seems to enjoy looking out the window as we pass over neighborhoods sightseeing from the air. It is also nice to break the monotony with a quick kiss or just to see her smile when I look over at her. Although being pregnant with twins (20 weeks) has an effect on her comfort level, overall she seemed to enjoy the trip and even commented later that she was glad that we hadn't driven. I think that the flight was smoother than driving except for a few bumps through the clouds that somehow I don't even notice.

A short time after we were level, ATC cleared me to JEVAG, which happens to be the IAF for the ILS32 at Craig. I started receiving the ATIS from Craig about 50 miles out and was informed that the instrument approach in use was the ILS32-Circle to 5.

As we neared Orange Park, ATC decended me to 3000 feet. Then as we got closer to Jacksonville, ATC cleared me direct to Craig and said, "they are using the ILS32 Circle to 5 approach, but you might be able to get a visual on the airport - advise when you have Craig in site."

I replied, "Wilco, but right now there are clouds blocking my view of Craig."

About the time I was crossing the St. Johns, the controller, cleared me direct to JEVAG again and told me to prepare for the ILS32 Circle to 5 approach.

We were dropped down to 2000 feet and we continued to fly nearly due East towards JEVAG.

About a mile before crossing the localizer for CRG-32, ATC called, "November 62770, turn left heading 350, cleared..." and his transmission abruptly stopped. Since normally, an approach clearance is given as one long blurb, I thought he had a problem so I waited for him to finish.

He then came back with, "November 62770, did you read me?"

I responded, "I heard turn left 350 and then you stopped broadcasting, 770."

He then cleared me to "turn left 350 to intercept the localizer, maintain 2000 until established, cleared for the ILS 32 circle to 5 approach." I repeated the clearance and activated the "Activate Vector-to-Final" button on the GPS. I killed the autopilot and turned the plane to line up with the localizer.

As soon as I lined up, Jax Approach called, "November 770, you are 4 miles from ADERR (pronounced A Dare), contact Craig Tower on 132.1, good day!"

I replied, "Contacting Craig, thanks for your help, 770."

I switched the radio and listened for clear air as I descended along the ILS. I called the tower and announced my position and my intention for a full stop.
The tower told me to circle west to runway 5 and announce my circling.

I followed the ILS down to about 700 feet compensating for the easterly wind as we descended. I then executed a left turn to a heading about 230 to begin my circling approach to runway 5. By now we were through the clouds and Craig was easily visible. I called the tower and was immediately greeted with, "November 7-7-0, cleared to land on 5". I acknowledged and in a few seconds, I made my right turn for the base leg of the approach. Next came the second notch of flaps and a quick flick of the thumb on the trim adjustment to keep the nose down. Another right turn and I lined up with the runway and dropped the final notch of flaps.

Our airspeed was around 75 knots as we crossed the threshold with two red and two white lights on the PAPI. Since North Florida is at the base of the control tower, I reasoned that it would be quicker if I landed further down the runway and used the Bravo-4 taxiway turnoff rather than the Bravo-2, so about 10 feet above the runway, I advanced the throttle slightly and we leveled off above the runway just fast enough to stay aloft. As we neared my landing point, I pulled the throttle and let the speed drop off until we touched down.

I was immediately cleared to taxi to the ramp where I shut down the aircraft and secured everything in the fastest time on record. The raspberry teas were getting to me and I was about to bust!

It is flights like this that make me very glad that I have an instrument rating. Without it, there is no way we could have comfortably made the trip. We would not have been able to penetrate the clouds on our climbout and would have been forced to stay in the rough air below them. I would have been worried about cloud cover closing in on us. As it was, we had nothing to worry about. The weather was within my personal limits, and we made the trip in much less time than it would have taken us to drive. While it was a bit more expensive to travel this way, the convenience and the lack of stress make flying my preferred method of travel.

When I got home, I checked my flight plan to see what had happened with my original filing. I had used the AOPA flight planner ( and did not notice that my attempt to file the flight plan had failed. Apparently, when inputting the aircraft type and equipment, I had put C172/G and I should have just put C172 and left the G for a separate equipment field. It was my mistake and one that I will not repeat!

This flight including runup, taxi, etc. took 1.0 hours with 0.4 actual instrument time and ended with an instrument approach the ILS32-Circle to 5. This quick trip to celebrate Dad's 70th is the sort of thing that make flying worthwhile.

Happy Birthday Dad!

My father's birthday is this week - it is hard to believe that he will be 70 years old. To celebrate, Christy and I decided to fly over to his side of the state to meet him and my step-mother for lunch.

Christy hasn't flown since she got pregnant, but since she is well into the second trimester and things have been going smoothly, we decided that it would be ok to fly. The prospect of a quick flight appealed to both of us much more than a 3 hour drive...both ways.

Saturday morning was rainy and wet. The skies had opened up the night before and the winds were from the East pushing humid ocean air our way. I had planned to mow the lawn that morning, but decided against mowing wet grass. So I logged in to the AOPA website to use the flight planner to plan our flight ( This planner is very thorough and handles all aspects of flight calculations including automatically connecting to DUATS to get weather and file the flight plan. The initial weather radar images showed level 1 and 2 returns in a large blob covering our entire path. I'm not too bothered by that type of weather and the ceilings were above minimums along the route, so unless the weather deteriorated, our flight should go without any problem. I read the NOTAMS - mostly lights out on towers and some taxiway closings at airports along the way. The winds were forecast to be moderate from an easterly direction. I filed my instrument flight plan for KCRG direct X60 at 4000 feet with a flight time of 45 minutes (the calculation was for 37 minutes due to tail winds at altitude, but I always give myself some leeway).

After stopping to buy Dad a card and some water for the flight, we arrived at the airport. The plane was waiting for us and it had been flown 0.8 hours on full tanks that morning. I had already adjusted the fuel assuming that 12 gallons would have been burned and added a gallon to that for good measure, so when I filed, I indicated that we had 4 hours of fuel and used 40 gallons/240 lbs in my weight and balance calculations. I preflighted the plane and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I then called Dad to say we were on our way so he and Nita could meet us at the Williston airport (X60).

I listened to the ATIS and adjusted the altimeter before starting the plane to save a few bucks. Then immediately after starting the engine and checking all the gauges (can we still call them gauges even though the information is presented by a PFD/MFD?) I called for our instrument clearance.

After what seemed like an eternity, the controller responded that he couldn't find our flight plan and asked me what time I had filed it for. I had filed for 16:15Z and we were about 5 minutes after that. I told him the time and advised that I had filed online via DUATS and received a confirmation. No matter, if it wasn't there, it wasn't there. He advised me to refile with flight service at 122.45.

I thought of shutting down the engine, but engines aren't always easy to restart when they are hot, so I left it idling while I called Flight Service.

"Flight Service, Skyhawk 62770 on 122.45", I called...and waited.

About a minute or so later, a voice came back, "Aircraft calling Flight Service on 122.45, say again your call sign and request".

I replied, "FLight Service on 122.45, skyhawk 6-2-7-7-0 would like to file IFR to X60, Williston."

She then proceeded to ask me each of the elements of a flight plan in pairs and I responded with the information. At the end, she said that Craig should have the flight plan immediately.

No sooner had I switched my radio back to 118.35, the clearance delivery frequency, I heard the controller asking for me, "November 62770, Are you on the line with Flight Service?"

I answered, "Negative. I just finished and she told me you would have the flight plan immediately, 7-7-0."

He responded with a laugh, "I thought so, because your flight plan just popped up, are you ready to copy?"

I said that I was and he cleared me by saying "Cleared to Xray 60 as filed, climb three-thousand, expect four-thousand in ten. Contact Jax departure on 124.9. Squawk 4-2-6-5. He then asked me where X60 was located and I told him about 20 miles southwest of Gainesville. He thanked me then advised me to go ahead with the readback which I then did.

He asked if I was ready to taxi and when I said "Affirmative" he told me to follow the Seminole and taxi to runway 5 via Bravo. I repeated the clearance and started rolling.

While we were re-filing our flight plan, another aircraft at North Florida was getting their flight plan for IFR to St. Augustine for a training flight. They had already taxied ahead of the Seminole and I could see the plane heading towards the runup area. The airport was busy with lots of training flights practicing touch and goes and at least one aircraft shooting approaches on 32. I wanted to make up for lost time, so I pulled out my checklist and went through my run-up as we taxied behind the Seminole. The Seminole bypassed the runup area that was occupied by the "company" Cessna and I followed directly behind the Seminole and switched the frequency to 132.1 for the tower. I announced, "Craig Tower, Skyhawk 6-2-7-7-0, ready to go at 5, we're number two." The controller told me to hold short of five.

We waited and waited as an small experimental plane came in hot and took about 2500 feet of runway to land...pretty rude if you ask me when there are three planes ready to depart - he should have landed properly and been able to exit the runway at the first turnoff. Next, a Tiger came in and did a nice job landing and turned off at the first turn. The Seminole was then cleared and off he went. We took our place at the hold short line and waited. We could hear lots of planes approaching the airport as well as at least two in the pattern. When one of the pattern planes announced that they were at midfield, the tower asked them to extend their downwind for a departing aircraft (me!). Next, a small low-wing plane appeared to the right and landed on five and as soon as he was clear of the runway, we were cleared to depart. I advanced the throttles and asked Christy to close her window as I closed mine. At long last, we were airborn. The tower advised me to climb to 3000 (which I had already been cleared to) and fly 280. As we climbed out, she instructed me to turn when able, so I began a standard rate turn to the left when we were through 400 feet...a bit low, but as busy as the place was, I wanted to get out of the line of fire. On climbout, another aircraft was approaching from the North and we were both advised of each other's presence. He couldn't see me, but I had him on the TIS and also got a visual on his bright landing lights. I advised the tower that I had the traffic and he would be passing behind and below me. She thanked me and then handed me off to JAX Departure.

No sooner had I switched to 124.9 and the Departure controller was calling for me - "November 6-2-7-7-0, are you up?"

I responded and he advised me to IDENT and climb to 5000. So, even though I was flying westward and ultimately would be going southwest, I would be flying at an odd altitude. ATC in Florida does this since most of our traffic is north-south, so southbound traffic flys at odd altitudes and northbound traffic flys at even altitudes.

As I climbed through 2000 feet we entered solid and bumpy clouds. We stayed in these clouds until I reached 5000 feet. I hand flew the plane through the bumpies and did my best to keep the wings level and the flight smooth, but I wasn't succeeding enough to suit my pregnant wife's tummy. I leveled off at 5,000 and set the autopilot to follow the heading bug, keep the wings level and maintain our altitude. The controller cleared me for a left turn direct to X-60. After about 10 minutes of flying in the soup, we popped out of the clouds. I was very pleased with how well I had hand-flown the plane through moderately rough instrument conditions...that's a real confidence builder.

We flew straight and level for about 20 minutes at which point we were advised to descend to 3000 and then 2000 feet. After descending through the clouds, Christy and I were both looking for the airport when she spotted it first. I advised the controller that I had the airport in sight and since there were no clouds blocking our way, I canceled our IFR flight plan. I was about 10 miles out and had been listening to the CTAF for the last 10 miles or so. I could hear traffic at Dunellon, Live Oak, Palatka, St. Mary's, and one other airport, but none at Williston. I double checked the frequency and made sure I had the right one. I made my position calls as we approached, entered the left downwind for runway 5, turned base, final, etc. The touchdown was uneventful and we had arrived.

I estimate that we had about .3 hours of actual instrument flight in this 1 hour flight including the extra time spent re-filing our flight plan.

Dad and Nita had just arrived at the airport, so we had timed it perfectly.

More about the flight home later.