Anniversary Trip to Burlington, VT

Abby and I traveled to Burlington, VT for our anniversary July 24. We’d been to Burlington once before and for the same reason, but that time we couldn’t fly. At the time I didn’t have my instrument rating and was a much greener pilot. Burlington is definitely within the sweet spot for flying, it takes around 3 hours to drive but just an hour enroute to fly.

We left work a bit early on Friday and headed up to the airport. Widely scattered thunderstorms were forecast over southern NH and MA and some had already cropped up. As is often the case with summer storms the activity was predicted to wane as the sun got lower in the sky. Widely scattered storms are also easy to avoid. Even when flying under instrument flight rules you want to remain where you can have continuous visual contact with convective weather like thunderstorms. We also have onboard weather information included RADAR data relayed from ground stations thanks to the Foreflight Stratus box. This data isn’t real time, so it’s best to use it for strategic decisions and use the “Mark 1 Eyeball” for primary thunderstorm avoidance.

After departure we turned on course towards Lebanon, NH. Soon our flight path was headed between two developing thunderstorm cells. We worked with ATC to deviate our path slightly and shot the gap with 15-20 miles on either side between us and each storm. The whole time we had excellent visual and at 6000 feet just skimmed the very bottom of a thin cloud layer.

Thunderstorm from a distance. The sharp edge of precipitation is a hallmark of convective weather. Arcus cloud formed from outflow air.

Thunderstorm from a distance. The sharp edge of precipitation is a hallmark of convective weather. Arcus cloud formed from outflow air.

The nice part about being a good safe distance from a thunderstorm is the view. In this case there wasn’t obvious lightning but the area of extreme heavy rain contrasted sharply with clear air around it. Soon we were leaving the pair of dying thunderstorms in our six o’clock and back on course direct to the Lebanon VOR.

Gorgeous calm and sunset after the storm.

Gorgeous calm and sunset after the storm.

Eventually we climbed to 8000 feet to clear terrain southeast of Burlington and then were cleared for descent. Conditions were gorgeous and calm coming in with high clouds reflecting golden light. Runway 33 was in use which was about a 16 mile visual final approach starting at 7000 feet because of the terrain. It’s a good exercise in energy and speed management. I kept the speed up most of the way and then dumped it within about a mile of the runway.

All the many amenities at Heritage Aviation in Burlington.

All the many amenities at Heritage Aviation in Burlington.

Heritage Aviation in Burlington is one of the nicest FBOs I’ve ever been to. The entire building is LEED Gold certified and they have a solar panel installation and even a wind turbine nearby. The roof of the building is a “green roof” with grass and vegetation which improves building temperature regulation. We explored some of the FBO building while waiting for the courtesy shuttle from our hotel.

One of the nice things about Burlington is that it’s a very walkable and accessible city without a car. We stayed at the Hilton downtown and with the hotel courtesy shuttle there wasn’t even any need to rent a car or taxi. We just walked around the city all weekend enjoying food and drink.

Abby had plans Sunday afternoon so we headed back in the morning on Sunday. I called ahead to have the plane fueled and ready and we loaded bags and did a preflight check. When we arrived back at the FBO I was very amused to hear the folks at the front desk alert the line guys that “the crew from 52667 is here”. Given that there are only two of us this was a particularly funny phrasing. I guess we are both the crew!

After departure we climbed into the clouds on a heading almost straight out. It’s always disconcerting knowing there are mountains ahead you can’t see. But we were well above the terrain when we crossed. Leveling off at 7000 feet we were just in and out of the tops of the clouds. ATC gave a short vector for traffic then on course, again routed via LEB.

Soon we emerged from the higher clouds and were cruising along at 7000 feet far above an extensive overcast deck. My preflight briefing had revealed that we would probably need to fly an instrument approach into runway 14 at Nashua, and also that the vertical guidance portion of the ILS (instrument landing system) was out of service. Fortunately we can fall back on the RNAV/GPS runway 14 approach. With the equipment I have in the plane this approach does not have minimums quite as low as the ILS, but ceilings were around 1000 feet which is sufficient for the RNAV approach.

I managed to get the approach briefed before heading into the clouds. We followed ATC vectors to join the final approach course and then were cleared for the approach. With an RNAV approach this means you can descend according to a schedule of waypoints until finally descending to 700 feet (500 above the surface).

Excerpt from RNAV 14 approach plate, minimums 700 MSL and 1/2 visibility.  Nashua is at 200 feet.  I do not have equipment to fly LPV or VNAV.

Excerpt from RNAV 14 approach plate, minimums 700 MSL and 1/2 mile visibility. Nashua is at 200 feet. I do not have equipment to fly LPV or VNAV.

After Approach told us to contact tower Abby asked me if I wanted her to make the radio call. She is not a rated pilot but knows her way around the radio. Good single pilot/crew resource management suggest to use all available resources to further the safety of the flight and this is a perfect example. Hand flying in IMC is a serious task that requires a lot of concentration. In an two pilot airline cockpit the pilot not flying the airplane would be the one making all of the radio calls.

Abby called up the tower to report us inbound on the RNAV 14 at NORIY and we were cleared to land. I continued the approach and broke out into good visibility around 1000 above ground. At this point with the runway in sight I continued and made a nice landing. One hour from Burlington to Nashua including the time taken to fly an instrument approach!