Meeting a commercial flight

My wife found some quite cheap commercial flight tickets to visit a friend out in Madison, WI. The only downside was that she flew out from Boston and back into Providence, RI. I told her that was no problem, and depending on the weather I would pick her up in either the plane or by car. Fortunately the weather cooperated. Her flight was originally scheduled to arrive in Providence at just after 6PM on Tuesday. I figured I’d leave work a bit early and head down. I called the FBO there ahead of time and verified that they could give a ride between the commercial terminal and the FBO.

In fact, my sister and her family were up visiting this week because my niece is looking at Boston area colleges. My sister is nervous even on bigger planes but my niece was quite keen to accompany me down to Providence to pick up Abby. Since her college visiting schedule was too late to get her up to meet me in Nashua I decided instead to fly to Norwood (OWD) airport and pick her up and then make the very short flight from there to Providence. It would mean meeting Abby a bit later than 6PM but not a big deal.

On the way up to Nashua I learned that Abby’s flight (Delta Connection/ExpressJet from Detroit) was delayed. This was not due to weather but the fact that apparently the nose wheel tire had to be replaced on the CRJ. This worked out well for me – her ETA was revised to 8PM. I advised my niece to grab food in Norwood with her parents and grabbed some food for myself before heading south to Norwood.

I’ve been to Norwood once before for my Pilots N Paws flight with Doodle the poodle. Norwood is a nice airport with a control tower and great views of Boston on the way in. I did talk to Boston Approach for advisories but my descent path kept me clear of the Boston Bravo air space. After a fairly tight pattern I made a good landing on runway 28 (the opposite direction from my Pilots N Paws flight).

As I taxied up to the ramp and shut down I noticed that my relatives were already waiting at the gate and had watched me come in. Hoping to avoid any FBO fees I hurried my niece through the gate and gave a passenger briefing and a quick walk around. Some line guys showed up to chock the plane but I waved them off because I was already ready to start up and depart.

Upon departure I noticed a small mechanical issue. I’ve observed this on one or two occasions before. The ammeter blips to full discharge deflection briefly. This is known to be an issue with the gear pump cycling on briefly to pump the pressure back up and once an hour it was doing it more often than that. It stopped blipping and I made a note to check the hydraulic fluid level in the gear pump before departure. If the fluid level is fine then the likely cause is an internal leak down across an o-ring in one or more of the hydraulic actuators.

My niece was pretty excited about being in the air and the views of Boston and Providence. With the trip so short – only 30 nautical miles or around 15 minutes – I cruised at only 2500 feet. I was cleared to land pretty far our for straight in runway 23 and made an excellent landing. As I taxied to the ramp I heard Abby’s flight – Acey 4988 – cleared to land behind me and saw the CRJ land just as I pulled up to the ramp.

The ramp itself was quite busy with both UPS and FedEx 757s loading. The FBO itself was quiet and I parked out front. I explained I wouldn’t be there for long and I’d called ahead to ask about going over to the passenger terminal. He said he’d give us a ride over to pick her up. It was only 10 gallons total to waive the ramp fee but I figured I’d get 10 per side to be nice since the FBO was doing me a favor. The airport itself charged $5 for landing which is reasonable for a Class C airport.

As Mike the line guy was finishing up fueling Abby called to say she was ready and waiting at the arrivals area. Mike gave us a ride over and picked Abby up at the courtesy van area in front of the passenger terminal. Then we drove back around the perimeter road to the FBO. I gave a tip – always nice to thank folks for going out of their way.

As I checked and sumped the fuel tank and the hydraulic fluid level in the reservoir the UPS 757 pushed back and started up behind us! Obviously it won the race against FedEx. It was getting pretty hot and windy on the ramp as I finished up my preflight. The good news is the hydraulic fluid reservoir was completely full indicating no external leak (the bad kind).

Parked at PVD with much bigger neighbors pushing back and starting up behind me!

We watched UPS depart then departure required only a short taxi back to the approach end of runway 23. I had to wait a short minute for departure clearance then received “turn right heading 300 maintain 2500 or below”. Cleared for takeoff I was wheels up and a climbing right turn to 300 as the sunset peaked. Almost immediately after contacting departure I was cleared on course with no altitude restriction.

Soon the gear pump was definitely acting up again and with the blip happening several times a minute and no signed of abating I told my wife I’d pull the gear pump circuit breaker to keep it from wearing out the pump. This caused the gear to hang down awkwardly (like a wounded bird!) and took some knots off of our cruise speed but on this trip of such a short duration that wasn’t a big deal. Upon arrival I could use the handle to pump it down if the pump was balky but first I’d try pushing the breaker back in and using the pump.

Sure enough pulling the circuit breaker confirmed that the cause of the ammeter blip was unquestionably the hydraulic leakdown issue. It was getting dark as we approached Nashua and once in range I popped the circuit breaker back in. As expected initially it ran to suck the gear back up. Then I cycled the handle and the gear came down, green light, and I could see the main gear in the window. Good stuff. I didn’t even need to pump it down.

With the gear down I concentrated on the night landing. The tower was closed since it was after 9PM and winds were calm with no one else in the area so I flew left traffic for Runway 32. Due to construction the runway threshold is temporarily displaced 1000 feet and the VASI is out but the displaced threshold is well marked. I had no trouble making a good night landing and taxied back to my tie-down. The worst part of a night landing this time of year is all the bugs swarming as you attempt to push the plane back into the parking spot!

So, I left the plane in the capable hands of my A&P this weekend to diagnose the hydraulic problem. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. Good timing – my two instrument lessons this weekend were in a Frasca simulator working some hardcore instrument scanning skills!