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 (http://www.aopa.org/flightplanning/) 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.