Flying home from Charleston, SC

I have been neglecting this blog for some time despite tons of flying. After a long XC flight yesterday I woke up with a desire to write about it so here we go! For the first time this year all of the various complexities aligned and I was finally able to fly the Cardinal down to Charleston, SC for our yearly vacation with my family in Folly Beach. The flight down with Abby was great too but I’ll start blogging again with my solo flight back (Abby flew back commercial midweek).

My plan was to fly back on Saturday with the available room to change the plan to fly back on either Friday or Sunday. It’s always good to be a bit flexible when flying a light general aviation aircraft especially over such a long distance where it is likely you’ll pass through at least some interesting weather somewhere along the way. While I do have my instrument rating and I wouldn’t make this trip without it the IR still doesn’t help the Cardinal in the face of thunderstorms or icing below minimum enroute altitudes.

As usual I began looking at synoptic scale forecasts several days out. The forecast called for a warm front to lift through the Carolinas bringing unstable air and the potential for widespread thunderstorms by the afternoon hours. In the morning rain was predicted, but this rain was associated with stable warm moist air “over-running” the surface warm front, not rain associated with convection (thunderstorms). Because of this forecast the biggest change to my ideal plan was to push my planned departure towards the earlier end of the morning and I made plans to be off by 10AM. On the plus side the push of northward moving air associated with the front would give me a nice tailwind leaving the south.

The total trip from Charleston Executive (JZI) back home to Nashua (ASH) is just a bit long for a single leg without a fuel stop. So I planned a fuel stop a bit before halfway in Newport News, VA (PHF). This stop location had two benefits, one practical and one silly: 1) Choosing a towered airport for the “tech stop” makes dealing with IFR clearance easier and quicker, and 2) I hadn’t landed in Virginia yet, so Newport News would let me check Virginia off of the visited states map!

For the first leg of the journey between JZI and PHF I filed an off-airway routing at 5000 feet using a few VORs that were within a few miles of the direct route: LBT (Lumberton, NC) TYI (Tar River, NC) and FKN (Franklin, VA). There is very little terrain in this area and 5000 feet is well above any obstacles. With the expected tailwind the total time was a bit over two hours.

Flying along coastal SC in light rain.

Flying along coastal SC in light rain.

After loading up all of the baggage (including my folding bike, a box of kitchen supplies, and Abby’s suitcase that she didn’t need to take back with her) I departed Charleston Executive at 10AM. There were high clouds with no rain quite yet but rain had already started along the first part of the route and at my destination. Since Charleston Executive is an untowered airport but I was able to depart in VFR conditions I departed VFR and then called up Charleston Approach for my IFR clearance. Cleared to the Newport News airport As Filed, climb and maintain 5000, then a vector for traffic which I spotted passing off the left wing as the light rain started.

Soon I was in steady light rain that continued for a bit more than an hour. The Cardinal has a minor leaking problem along the doors in heavier rain, not uncommon among Cardinals with original 1970s door seals. I used the small hand towel I carry in the seat back pockets to periodically wipe along the door frame and stayed mostly dry. Eventually what was still visible of the ground disappeared beneath me as I slipped between rolling stratus cloud layers. Finally well into North Carolina I popped back into the clear exactly where my ADS-B weather radar showed the precip ending.

Smoke from agricultural burning in NC demonstrates the tailwind.

Smoke from agricultural burning in NC demonstrates the tailwind.

Now I was out of the clouds in hazy air with farmland below. Many years in the past I’ve driven this same trip down I-95 and I was amused to find that the clearer weather coincided exactly with the part of the routing that intersected I-95 around Rocky Mount, NC – a spot we’ve often stopped at for breakfast after a long night of driving. The tailwind continued pushing me along with ground speeds between 150 and 160 knots!

My ADS-B radar display continued to show another area of steady light rain around Newport News. You can also look up METARs (current weather conditions) using the ADS-B weather data broadcast. At this point I couldn’t receive the ATIS broadcast from Newport News yet but the METAR retrieved indicate high cloud bases and light rain. An instrument approach would be useful to find the airport in the lowered visibility of the rain but it wouldn’t have to be anywhere near minimums.

After picking up the ATIS I briefed the ILS Runway 7 and was cleared direct to JAWES intersection by Norfolk approach. I was out of the clouds but didn’t spot the runway until a bit inside the final approach fix because of the rain. The wind was straight down runway 7 as I landed and turned off. No problems getting stopped on the wet runway. I taxied to Rick Aviation which is the independent FBO with a cheaper fuel price and asked for a quick turn top off while I went inside to stretch my legs.

Light rain in Newport News, Virginia where I stopped for fuel and to change my shorts for pants.

Light rain in Newport News, Virginia where I stopped for fuel and to change my shorts for pants.

In addition to fuel my other mission at my stopover point was to change my shorts for pants. Especially with the rain it was quite chilly in Newport News and I changed and grabbed a snack and water while the plane was refueled. Rick Aviation was a great place to stop and soon I was on my way again.

For the next leg simpler routings are unlikely since there are numerous restricted and military operating areas in the vicinity of the Patuxent River, New Jersey near McGuire AFB, and of course the complicated New York City airspace. So instead I filed an airway routing which was CCV V1 GRAYM. Victor 1 is a low altitude airway that traverses several bends up the edge of the Delmarva peninsula, over Delaware Bay, and then avoids the restricted areas near McGuire before passing over Kennedy VOR (JFK airport). I filed for 5000 knowing that going higher could be an issue for icing and that the minimum enroute altitudes on V1 were considerably lower leaving plenty of room for an “out” in the event I encountered any icing conditions.

Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (the airport visible from far left, and two closer airports), and associated restricted area.

Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (the airport visible from far left, and two closer airports), and associated restricted area.

I was pleasantly surprised to be cleared as filed. As I completed my preflight two F22s from Langley AFB streaked directly overhead in a knife edge turn. This area is very busy with military jets! It was a very cool sight.

After departure I was cleared to join V1 at JAMIE – a slight shortcut – and to climb to 5000 feet. Conditions were IMC in light-moderate rain but below the cloud bases. Of course, as soon as I leveled off at 5000 feet I immediately checked the outside air temp gauge knowing that now I was in the cold north. It was only about 2 degrees celsius! OK, now inserting the temp gauge into my scan and looking at the left and right wing leading edges for any sign of icing. Slowly the temperature gauge dropped below 0 to read about -2 without any signs of ice accretion on the wings. I was spring loaded to demand a lower altitude as soon as I saw any accumulation.

I was somewhat surprised by how long it took to start, but eventually I did get a trace of light clear icing on the leading edge of the wing. I detected no discernible loss in airspeed but immediately radio’d Patuxent Approach and reported “667 just started picking up a trace of clear ice, temperature -2, we need to descend”. The response was immediate “Cardinal 667 descend and maintain 4000″. About a minute after reaching 4000 feet the ice began rapidly shedding from the leading edge of the wing. I reported to the controller that temperatures were positive and all the ice was shed and thanked him.

At this point I was nearing the northern edge of the precipitation depicted on my ADS-B RADAR. At 4000 feet the rain continued, then turned to light snow, and then stopped as I burst out into the clear with only high clouds and blue sky visible ahead. A classic warm front event! The clear icing was due to snow falling through above freezing air and melting into rain, then a shallow below freezing layer was present at 5000 feet. I probably could have escaped the icing by climbing as well, which would have also put me into the warmer temps that must have existing to melt the snow into rain. Eventually the shallow area of above freezing temps was no longer present above 4000 feet and as a result the precipitation was falling as snow there.

It's tough to see in this photo since it's streaking by.  But it was snowing!

It’s tough to see in this photo since it’s streaking by. But it was snowing! Welcome back to the north!

Once I was in the clear and out of the IMC I contacted the controller to let them know I was out of it and could climb back to 5000 feet. Colder temperatures were certainly to be found as I got further north but no clouds or precipitation was forecast or depicted along the planned route.

Atlantic City, NJ off the right wing.

Atlantic City, NJ off the right wing.

Once I was talking to Atlantic City McGuire Approach apparently wanted me at 7000. OK, fine, I’m out of the weather and the efficiency will be a bit better up there anyway. I climbed to 7000. The conditions were beautiful now! Completely clear blue skies from the southern tip of New Jersey until southern CT. Once I was actually talking to McGuire Approach I got another IFR treat: the in-flight reroute. I guess my planned V1 routing wasn’t so good after all. In this case, the reroute was “after JFK, cleared via V229 GDM(Gardner) V106 MHT(Manchester) Direct”. This is a bit of a strange routing since it goes over the top of Nashua and then back, and complicated the routing around NYC. Ultimately it added about 10 minutes to my ETA.

I set to work twisting knobs and pushing buttons to program the revised route into the Garmin 430 and soon I was approaching New York with a gorgeous view of Manhattan off to the left and Long Island to the right. This is very busy airspace and there were numerous airliners visible departing and approaching JFK as I passed overhead.

Kennedy (JFK) Airport from 7000 feet.

Kennedy (JFK) Airport from 7000 feet.

As is usual with these complicated ATC routings some shortcuts were coming. Just before crossing the Kennedy VOR the somewhat frazzled controller quizzed me and some other aircraft about their indicated airspeeds and then gave me direct PUGGS… then Direct Bridgeport… then finally “you know what, Direct Hartford.” I suppose all of this was about coordinating me and another different speed aircraft both flying the same airway routing at the same altitude.

ATC Reroute via V229, with the various direct shortcuts highlighted.

ATC Reroute via V229, with the various direct shortcuts highlighted.

It wasn’t long before I crossed over Long Island sound and into southern Connecticut leaving New York’s airspace. Once I was switched over to talking to Bradley Approach I asked if I could get direct destination. They were unable to grant this clearance but instead offered CLOWW Direct, which is a familiar routing from many trips I made to Islip, NY last year. Since I was just skimming the cloud bases at 7000 feet I knew it would be an easy setup for a visual approach to Runway 32 at Nashua since the routing via CLOWW sets you on a wide downwind pattern entry. I made a fine landing and set upon the lengthy task of unloading everything we brought with us on this weeklong trip!

View of downtown Hartford, CT.

View of downtown Hartford, CT.

The time logged for the trip home ended up 2.4 and 3.4 hours, with 2.1 actual instrument conditions. All hand flying. Great experience, my first inadvertent icing encounter, and beautiful views over New York city. And I left Charleston at 10AM and arrived home in Nashua just after 4PM. Pretty impressive!

3 thoughts on “Flying home from Charleston, SC

  1. Roy

    Nice write-up. For traveling by light plane, membership at avwxworkshops is well worth it for knowing the weather.

  2. Dave Clark

    Glad to see you writing again our last trip was to cresent city california. And im about halfway through my commercial course

    DAVE

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