After a day of yard work yesterday I decided to go for a short flight today. The weather has been excellent and warm although I don’t have quite the itch for a whole day of flying having spent last weekend on a very long XC trip. Since I was down below half a tank of fuel after the 3 hours of flying from Newport News, VA to Nashua I decided to make a quick round trip to Parlin Field in Newport, NH which is a sleepy little short strip nestled in the hills around Lake Sunapee. They have fuel for only $4.25 which is in fact a bargain for Avgas.
After getting up to the airport I did a bit of “hangar flying” which is just a fancy term for talking to other people about aviation at an airport! In this case I got a chance to catch up with my regular CFII Doug Gale about my instrument flying on the trip to and from South Carolina. Doug has been a great instructor and while I didn’t mention it in my previous post I think his attitudes towards teaching IFR in real conditions have really prepared me for real weather flying.
After some chatting I started up and took off from Runway 14 at Nashua. This is the more uncommon runway at Nashua but today the winds at the surface in Nashua were out of the southeast and this leaves Runway 14 as the ideal runway. Looking to the east from the ground revealed perfect blue skies, to the west showed a midlevel broken cumulus cloud deck with a bunch of Virga.
Virga is precipitation that evaporates before it gets a chance to hit the ground. In today’s case some portions of the broken cumulus clouds had sufficient lift to get tops above the freezing level into the snow growth region where snow formed. Then as the snow fell through around 7-8000 feet it melted into rain. But the air near the surface beneath the cloud bases was so dry that in almost all of the cases the rain had completely evaporated before any drops hit the ground!
In just a few spots the showers were of sufficient strength to continue all the way through to the ground. But even in the spots where the precipitation was evaporating at 3000 feet it was still raining. So once again I found myself flying through a bit of rain although in this case it was under Visual Flight Rules and with rain light enough to obscure the visibility only slightly.
A good rule for flying through rain shafts VFR is that if you can see all of the way through the area of rain to clearly discernible land/terrain behind it, it’s OK to fly through VFR. If you can’t see through the area of rain to the other side it’s either too large or too heavy to fly through visually.
Virga can bring it’s own set of aviation hazards, but these are predominantly found in Virga falling under thunderstorms in very hot and dry climates. A dissipating thunderstorm has a large core of very heavy precipitation falling in a downdraft. If this heavy precipitation falls into very warm dry air the raindrops will evaporate forming virga. This process of evaporation causes evaporative cooling of the air which then becomes much cooler than the surrounding air mass and sinks rapidly. This can be the source of dangerous turbulence and downdrafts! So if you are in a dry desert area and you see a storm dropping heavy rain that evaporates before hitting the ground, beware.
There is almost no snow still visible, although I passed close by Crotched Mountain Ski Area which still had a bit of snow. I didn’t snap a picture of it but Lake Sunapee ski area had substantially more. I saw no snow except for ski areas. If I went a bit further east into the White Mountains there would certainly be some snow on the high summits.
Finding no traffic at Parlin field and light winds aloft out of the north-northwest I opted for a straight-in approach to Runway 36. Parlin is a shorter field at 3,400 feet compared to Nashua’s 6000 feet. While it is well within the capabilities of the Cardinal it requires a bit of extra care. In this case I opted for a full flaps (30 degrees) power out approach where flaps 20 would be my standard on a longer runway. The results in a somewhat lower approach speed and steeper approach over any obstacles, and a low landing speed means less energy rolling out on the short runway. With minimal braking I had no trouble turning off at the midfield taxiway which is about 2,100 feet.
Is it worth it to fly to Parlin just for the low fuel price? Well, with the ability to take on 33.6 gallons I saved about $42 over the price at Nashua. This is just about exactly enough to cover the one hour round trip from Nashua to Parlin (at Parlin’s fuel price). So, it’s a break even, which means the round trip for fuel is effectively a free hour of flying. Woohoo! But, I need to pump at least 30 gallons for the math to work out. That said, It’s not like I need any excuse to fly to Parlin. The airport is in a beautiful spot with friendly folks and just a bit of a flying challenge to keep those skills sharp.