Arisia Relaxacon on the Cape

Another week another convention! Friday evening Abby and I set off the for the Arisia Relaxacon which is an event for Arisia staff and volunteers. We’ve been to the Relaxacon in the past and for several years in a row I’ve flown. In the past I’ve flown down with other attendees and met Abby who had to drive down earlier. This year Abby didn’t have to arrive early and so it was just the two of us on the trip to Hyannis airport.

The weather forecast looked quite mild. I called the fuel truck once we got up to Infinity and ordered 20 gallons of fuel. The previous long trip had left 15 gallons of fuel (1.5 hours) in the tanks – a very comfortable margin. The plane will climb a bit better with a lower weight and 3.5 hours of fuel is more than enough for our short trip so I didn’t top it off. Abby packed the baggage compartment while the plane was fueled and I filed a flight plan to Hyannis. Visual conditions were forecast at Hyannis with some IFR possible but only much later. Briefing I noticed that BOS (Logan International) was reporting low visibility in fog. So, there must be some coastal fog.

Stratus fog rolling in off the bay, ending just inland.

Stratus fog rolling in off the bay, ending just inland.

Our routing was MHT BOS V141 DUNKK direct. This has been the routing every time I have flown to Hyannis IFR. The routing via MHT is a bit weird but as soon as we are in the air off of runway 14 the departure controller gave me a climb vector that bypassed the MHT VOR and cut the corner soon cleared direct Boston. This first controller also gave me the climb to 7000 although I had filed for 5000 feet. I kept the climb going and waited until the handoff to the next controller when I asked “Is there any way we could have 5000 as our final altitude?”. He said “Well, as a matter of fact there is, maintain 5000″. This controller was the one actually working the north sector over the airport and in my experience they are more likely to approve such a request. We did have to take a vector or two for traffic over the city but the additional time to climb to 7000 would have cost us a bit more time and fuel on such a short leg.

An airliner on the ILS 4R at Logan Airport.  You can see the wake vortices as it starts to skim the top of the clouds.

An airliner on the ILS 4R at Logan Airport. You can see the wake vortices as it starts to skim the top of the clouds.

We saw a lot of airline traffic crossing over the city including a airliner descending into the low stratus layer on an ILS approach. The controller called out the touchdown RVR (visual range) at more than 6000 feet for the touchdown, and 2500 feet for the rollout. So as expected the fog was thicker right off the water, and was already dissipating by the approach end of the airport.

Leaving the immediate environment of the city we were cleared direct Hyannis and soon descended to 3000 feet approaching the airport. The airport was directly ahead and my heading direct to the airport is almost perfectly aligned as a very long final approach for runway 15 which was conveniently the runway in use. With the airport in sight I was cleared for the visual approach to 15 and continued my descent towards the runway.

Abby snapped this picture of salt marshes once we had the gear out on final approach.

Abby snapped this picture of salt marshes once we had the gear out on final approach.

I landed and taxied to the usual FBO I’ve gone to at Hyannis (Rectrix). They have a nice facility and the fuel is reasonably priced. The trip down ended up being just 0.9 hours logged, quite a lot less than the 2.6 of my last trip! I’d arranged for a rental car that ended up being free with some Hertz points and so we loaded it up with our luggage and some cooking supplies we brought.

Relaxacon was great. The weather was interesting and by midnight Hyannis had gone below IFR minimums with low fog that was rolling in off of Nantucket Sound. You could actually see the misty fog billowing past in the steady wind off the water, and swirling around the buildings. In the morning on Saturday there were some periods where it was sunny and many times where it was very foggy with the wind always coming off of the water. On Saturday afternoon I did some kite flying with a gorgeous rainbow kite one of the other Relaxacon attendees had bought from a kite shop in Provincetown.

Relaxacon.

Relaxacon.

When it came time for the return flight the weather was a bit less cooperative. The forecast called for a strong cold front dropping down from the north bringing showers and maybe isolated thunderstorms along and ahead of the cold front. Showers are OK, thunderstorms are not. Several knowns about the meteorological setup help me to forecast that convective activity may include showers but probably not thunderstorms along our route of flight which follows the coastline where cooler, stable marine air has influence.

Someone else from Relaxacon was looking for a ride back and asked if we still had room. I cautioned him that it could be a bumpy trip and the sightseeing might be limited. He was OK with that and the weight was not an issue so we all headed off the the airport. We managed to get all fueled and packed and started up by 1PM.

I filed FREDO BOS at 6000 feet, another familiar routing from previous trips to Hyannis. The RADAR showed an area of heavy precipitation that I would want to avoid just southeast of Nashua but slowly moving east. The direct routing would take me through it but I can deviate west if it hasn’t moved east enough by the time I get there. Winds are also fierce at Hyannis, from the south-southwest gusting to 28 knots. Nashua had MVFR ceilings, 3 mile visibility in rain. I filed Hanscom (BED) as an alternate as their forecast met the requirements.

After a sporty takeoff in the stiff winds we were given some vectors and then cleared direct Boston. We passed a few low clouds departing Hyannis and then we were in the clear. During the climb we had a very dramatic demonstration of the effect of wind correction angle with winds across the course. A look out the window showed us moving substantially sideways relative to the ground.

After getting handed off to Boston approach we got a few different headings to fly for traffic, taking us a bit further west. This was fine since is kept us out of the weather and though I was staring into a wall of cloudiness with no real horizon we weren’t yet inside of clouds for most of the journey. Abby helped me brief the RNAV Runway 32 approach into Nashua. Winds were from the north, gusting again. Notable is the difference in wind direction between Hyannis and Nashua. The surface cold front is positioned somewhere in between.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 32 Nashua.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 32 Nashua.

Nashua’s ATIS changed a few times in a short span with ceilings around the 1000 foot range. Minimums for the RNAV runway 32 with the equipment I have in the plane (non-WAAS Garmin 430) are 620 feet MSL and one mile visibility. That’s 427 above ground so a 1000 foot ceiling means breaking out 573 feet above the minimums. The ATIS reports visibility 3 miles in light rain. This is a non-precision approach which means it does not have vertical guidance. You step down your minimum descent altitude at several waypoints ELIRY, CORNY, and ESICU.

There is still an area of precipitation ahead although moderate and based on intensity on our onboard weather OK to fly through. This was an extension of the same area of precipitation running east from the airport and the eastern section towards the Andover area looked much worse. After descending to 4000 feet we entered the clouds and I was glad I’d already briefed the approach because it was pretty turbulent right away with some periods of pretty heavy rain and up and downdrafts.

Cold front position around the time we landed with the flight path highlighted.  Note the temperature contrasts and directly opposing side speed barbs on either side of the front.

Cold front position around the time we landed with the flight path highlighted. Note the temperature contrasts and directly opposing side speed barbs on either side of the front.

Now cleared to 3000 feet in the clouds with heavier rain starting, flying a set of controller vectors to intercept the final approach course between CORNY and ELIRY. It was a bit of a sloppy intercept with what was definitely a north wind of at least 20 knots aloft at this point. I put the gear down and flaps 10 crossing CORNY and contacted Nashua tower. Between CORNY and ESICU I can go down to 1,220 feet, and then down to 620 feet.

At this point I’m a bit left of course and struggling with chasing the needles a bit. I realized later that this is likely not helped by wind shear as the winds aloft are changing a fair bit as I descend. I was about a tenth of a mile left of course and 2 miles out when we popped out of the bottom of the clouds at 900 MSL (about 700 feet above ground). I kept the runway in sight and stayed above the MDA as I corrected back to the extended centerline. The runway was surprisingly shiny and wet looking, it was unusual. Just after this point I also put out flaps 20 although in retrospect this was premature. I should have held it at flaps 10 and kept the approach a bit faster until crossing the fence.

It was raining fairly hard as we touched down on the runway. After we taxied to the parking spot and shut down the engine we decided to sit in the plane for a bit and hope that the rain subsided. It got a tiny bit better and we ran the car around to unload the baggage to get at the tow bar which was buried. The airport was pretty deserted. We all got soaked as we transferred baggage, pushed the plane back, and tossed the cover on.

This was my lowest non-precision approach yet. The conditions were quite challenging. Flying an instrument approach in smooth stratus clouds in light winds is easy compared to flying an instrument approach in the bases of cumulus clouds in moderate rain, with strong winds and wind shear aloft. Either way, it’s always a great feeling to break out and see the runway.