When I am getting ready for a longer flight, I read some of my previous blog entries that cover the same territory. It reminds me of the things I know about the airports nearby, maybe something about the weather patterns. Who knows what wisdom I have gathered but has slipped out of my active recall.
So I read my entry about my last flight down to Ft. Worth to drop the plane for its annual inspection. With that reminder, I knew that I’d want to fix a lunch. And maybe a snack. In the end, for my Thursday flight, I had my breakfast sandwich from Flour Bakery with a Coke on my drive down to Norwood. Then, as I flew from Pittsburgh to Louisville, I had my Bagelsarus poppy bagel with smoked salmon, some walnuts and strawberries, and a Coke with a cup of ice from the FBO. As a snack as I made my way onward to Little Rock, I had a bunch of grapes. When I woke up in Little Rock, I had a bottle of Mexican Coke with me from my luggage (impossible on a commercial flight) and a warm sticky bun from Flour Bakery and my morning Coke. That meant I made it all the way to Ft. Worth without having a meal in a fast food joint. In Dallas I went to Hillstone for an excellent lunch that carried me all the way back to Cambridge and my warm bed at home.
Fuel the plane, fuel the pilot.
I had gone down to Norwood the night before and gone through the plane carefully. I got the oxygen set up, the blankets all folded, the canopy and windows cleaned, and did a thorough pre-flight inspection. This was all a lot easier since it was raining outside and I was working in a hangar. Everything looked great. On Thursday morning I was able to just show up, put the bags in the plane, file my instrument flight plan, and climb into the plane. For a full day of flying this makes the most sense to me and it diminishes the chance that I will miss something on the pre-flight.
The weather for my departure kept changing for the two days prior. At one point it was going to be 700 hundred feet overcast in rain and mist. That wasn’t going to be much fun, although I was pretty sure I would climb up above it. Then it was looking like 4,000 overcast, practically balmy. When I got there in the morning it was 1,500 overcast and misty. There was a lot of weather between me and Allegheny County, my first stop.
I sometimes add comments to my flight plan like, “Would prefer to stay out of icing,” or “Non-swimmers on board.” I didn’t do that this time. As I approached areas of moderate precipitation on the NextRAD, I’d ask for a shortcut to get me out. The controllers started to figure it out and after the first hour of flying I was getting vectors around heavier rain. There’s nothing wrong with rain hitting the plane. The propellers still pull the plane forward, the wings still generate lift, the plexiglas canopy keeps all that water out of my eyes, but it’s noisy and annoying. It’s also sort of boring to be inside a ping pong ball droning along with nothing to look at but the timer counting down to our arrival in Pittsburgh.
So I would happily accept the vectors and wiggled a little bit on my way to Allegheny County. I landed there, got the line guys working on the fueling of the plane, and went in to make sure they still had our credit card on file. They did. I was amused at the decoration they had for the counter. I called Nell, took my regulation seventeen minute nap, and filed my IFR flight plan to KLOU, a satellite airport of the main Louisville airport (KSDF). Although there were a bunch of clouds on departure there was very little rain and eventually I was motoring along under an overcast. A twenty-four knot wind against me made it pretty bumpy the whole way there.
It smoothed out enough to have my bagel and Coke. One of the things that makes the lunch so delicious is that it is nearly impossible to eat. I need to take one bite, carefully so I don’t lose any smoked salmon. I need a hand free to run the radios, adjust the autopilot, the usual management tasks. It was bumpy enough that getting the Coke in the cup with the ice was a challenge. So just that single bite was time-consuming, but rewarding. The walnuts and strawberries were easier and amazing.
After I had cleaned up my lunch, I studied my destination a little more. There’s a feature in Foreflight that allows me to see the price per gallon of JetA fuel at each (reporting) airport. I slid around on the map and saw that KJVY (Clark Regional) had fuel for more than a dollar less per gallon than at KLOU. I’d be getting around thirty gallons so I just saved a good portion toward my hotel room for the night. ForeFlight is amazing.
The FBO at Clark Regional was brand spanking new. I wonder about some of these operations, like this one. It felt very much like it was created for one private jet owner and run as a business to justify employing a bunch of people. Everyone was extremely friendly and they got the plane fueled in a hurry. The pilots’ lounge was huge and perfect for my regulation seventeen minute nap. They tried to get me to take some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. They had just popped the popcorn. They were washing a Porsche SUV in the hangar. It was sort of like a movie set for “rich guy lands in his Citation X jet.” I will return on my next swing through, happy to be just an extra on the set.
As I was departing KJVY, I started to turn west on course. At the same time I was dialing in the departure controller who works with Louisville’s main airport as their approach controller. He immediately gave me a turn to the east and said, “When you depart Clark Regional don’t fly into the arrivals for Louisville International.” Oh. Isn’t that why they have protected airspace? Sort of. KSDF could probably use some Bravo airspace for better protection and for now it just has Class Charlie. Lesson learned. Maybe I should have called from the ground, but I can find anything on the chart to suggest that a departure to the west at 2,100 feet would be a problem.
The controller had me sorted out, climbed up, and turned on course in a few minutes. I can’t complain about it all. I love ATC and I talk to them on every flight. I know there are people who don’t like it, hate being told where to fly their plane, listening to all the other radio calls, and so on. I think of the times that the controllers have let me know about traffic, terrain, or weather and I’m always glad they are there at the other end of the frequency.
This was my long leg. Made longer by a twenty to thirty knot headwind. I love crossing the Mississippi on my flights and contemplating all the trade that has moved up and down that piece of water. As I flew over I could see two huge barges making their way around the snake-like curves. One didn’t seem to be making much progress, even though it was the one that seemed to be going with the flow. As I bounced along under the broken overcast I had some of the grapes I brought for my snack. And a few peanut M&Ms. I listened to another pilot on the radio as she tried to get from a small airport to a route above the clouds.
I marveled at how serene it all was. I am so grateful that I am not being shot at. No one I know has fled their home. No one has been bombed out of their town or city. I look down at the carpet of humanity beneath me and it is relatively peaceful.
There are no photos for the rest of this leg. I was constantly checking the wind at Little Rock airport. It was twenty-six gusting thirty-four knots and the crosswind component for landing on runway 36 was occasionally greater than the demonstrated crosswind component for our plane. So I checked ForeFlight, checked the XM-reported ATIS on the G1000 and checked the radio again to see if I could tune it in. There were certainly planes landing at the airport, so people were figuring something out, but getting a Citation jet down in that crosswind is easier than wrestling our plane onto the tarmac without rubbing some portion of it. The forecast weather had weaker winds and my hope was that in the final hour of my trip to KLIT, the wind would die down. At least a little.
As I got close enough, I collected the ATIS and it was a little less windy. That was good. I studied the map, popping up the details of other airports nearby. It had been a long flight of more than three hours, but there was enough fuel to go all the way on the Ft. Worth if I had to. Between here and there I was sure there would be a runway that was better aligned to the winds.
I was switched to a Little Rock approach controller. The ATIS had said they were landing runway 18 but I asked if I could get 36 instead. It was better to land with a little headwind component, which makes the landing speed effectively slower. He said he would try to work it out with the tower. In the ten minutes it took to get into the pattern at KLIT half a dozen more airplanes checked in on the approach frequency. They all wanted 36 except CommAir. The regional airliner said they were setting up for a visual for 18 when the approach controller said everyone else was angled for 36, did they want to do that? “You bet we would!” They sounded like kids who had been offered an ice cream.
Sometimes when there is a gusting crosswind, or reported low level wind shear, it is a non-event. As I get the airplane down into ground effect the friction of the wind against the ground slows the wind and everything calms down. There might be a moment or two on approach where I have the controls at near-full deflection, and I might have to drop the nose for an instant when I fly through the wind shear, but in general once I’m over the runway things are less chaotic. That was not true for this landing. It was a full-on wrestling match all the way to the ground. I was prepared to push the throttles forward and go back up in the sky. My plan was to give it one more chance (because the winds were dropping and the whole thing about gusty conditions is that you can get bad luck on one landing and good luck on the next). But after a second try I would go on to a different airport. (Dexter and I did that once when we were crossing the country and rejected the landing at Flagstaff.)
A wider runway was nice because as I got down into ground effect I kicked in the left rudder and aligned the plane to the centerline. That meant I had to dip the wing a little to keep from sliding sideways across the runway. Eventually I had to level the plane, which meant I started giving up my position on the centerline. Just as I started to slide off the centerline I got the left wheel, the upwind wheel, onto the concrete. And then I was down, raising the flaps, and applying the brakes. It was very exciting.
After being bounced along in “light chop” and light turbulence for a couple hours and shoved around the airport environment by winds over thirty knots, I was very happy to step into the FBO where there was no wind at all. I had already given the line guys the fuel order, but I talked with the front desk, got some advice on a hotel, and watched them fuel the plane. A short Lyft ride later and I was at my Holiday Inn Express.
Nell would have had us out to explore the city. Nell would have found us dinner, I bet. I was exhausted from the flying and barely able to make a decision about how to get up to my room on the second floor (elevator won). But I did wander out into a very large zone of construction, and I walked to the grounds of the William Clinton Presidential Library, which was already closed for the day. I almost used a Bird scooter to get back to the hotel, but just made it a slower walk instead. I collapsed into the nice soft bed very happy to be horizontal. I did not make it to 9pm.
I had told the FBO I would be departing at 7am. Since I woke up around 4am I dawdled a little, had my little breakfast, and then Lyft’ed back. They are open 24hrs and were not surprised to see me at 6am. There was already a NetJets jet getting ready on the ramp. Sometimes I think that would be an interesting job, hopping from city to city, staying in the Wyndham downtown, puttering around a jet in the early morning hours making sure it is all set for the client.
I’m the client for my flight. I do my walk around, check my fuel, remove the chocks, and download my data for my flight. The wind is no longer howling, but it is a direct cross wind. I thought I’d be taking off to the north of 36, the way I had landed, but the tower asked if I could take 18 instead. I hum down the centerline, ailerons tipped into the crosswind, a little more right rudder, and climb into the smooth sky. After half an hour the sun begins to rise on my tail, throwing an orange glow on the engine nacelle and peeking under the overcast above me.
It was a very easy two and a half hour flight. There was a fifty knot crosswind, which generates a headwind component because the plane has to turn into the crosswind to stay on course, but other than the first forty minutes, the ride was smooth. The bumps were just from the high wind rolling over the hills beneath me to the north.
I love hearing “Razorback Approach,” I am not sure why. Maybe such a helpful entity being named after such a chaotic animal is part of it. They handed me off to Memphis Center, who gave me to Ft. Worth Center. I had started typing up a blog entry and before I knew it I was talking to Ft. Worth Approach and working to get everything packed up and put away. Got my snack stowed, my scarf in my bag, the keyboard for the iPad back in the pocket behind the seat… And ATC is calling out traffic at my altitude, less than two miles maneuvering, we’re not talking to them… That’s the closest I have seen another plane which was not on frequency. Still a mile away, and he definitely saw our plane and turned away, but still a little bit of excitement.
I had put in a few navigation points and altitudes so that I could drop under the Dallas-Ft. Worth Class Bravo airspace and circle around to Meecham Field where I was landing. The approach controller said, “Two Romeo Delta, just fly heading two four zero and descend to three thousand five hundred.” And he flew the plane pretty directly to the little satellite airport. Again, the people who don’t talk to ATC mystify me.
DFW is a very busy airport, even before 9am. There is a constant stream of heavy jets arriving in the airspace. I am very happy to have help to avoid conflicts with any of them. In fifteen minutes I am on the ground taxiing to my mechanic’s shop. And there still needs to be a third blog post about whether it is worth flying thirteen hundred miles to bring your plane in for service. It got me out and about, which I loved.
“… the whole thing about gusty conditions is that you can get bad luck on one landing and good luck on the next…” This is one of many things I learned on my own over the years that I wish someone had told me so succinctly when I was a student pilot!
I came from a culture of not speaking with ATC. It developed when I was a newbie aviator hanging around with taildragger pilots that avoided controlled airspace at all costs. Obviously, as an IFR pilot, I’m more comfortable than not with ATC these days. With a Charlie immediately west of home base, I am amazed by the gyrations some of my fellow based pilots will go through to avoid talking to approach for a westbound flight. I recently ferried another pilot home from an airport to the west. “You mean you just call up Approach and go right through the airspace? Doesn’t that annoy them?” It’s really no problem and, if they need you to fly a different route, they’ll tell you. They usually have good reasons for those vectors.
In our plane, we’ve decided that grapes are the ultimate snack. Mess-free, easy to eat, delicious, and full of moisture to offset the dehydrating effects of flying at altitude. They won’t suffice for a meal on a day as long as yours, but they represent a lot of check marks in the “win” column!
Best wishes on the annual!
Hey Colin. lovely to see you back writing again – really enjoy your posts and discussions. Keep them coming (please?)
Mike B (Johannesburg, South Africa)