Monday, August 30, 2010

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.

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