So as I’m sure readers of this blog have noticed I have been slacking on my write-ups! I have been flying but between busyness in my work life and some of the various frustrations of flying in the winter weather we’ve had this year I haven’t managed to blog about the times I have been able to go flying. So I resolved that this weekend would be different and a blog entry would be posted. Watch for some back issues later. If I have time I might try to fill in some of the interesting experiences from earlier this year.
Despite my resolution to blog this weekend did not get off to a good start. I planned to go up to the airport on Saturday by myself and do some solo flying. The weather was lingering unpleasant on Saturday morning but I headed up to the airport after it began to clear.
As soon as I drove up to the airplane it was immediately clear that the right side main gear tire was as flat as it could be. This was the only tire&tube combination to not be changed out at the annual but the tread was in excellent shape. I borrowed some air from the Air Direct hangar and tried pumping the tire back up to see if it would hold any pressure. With the tire up at the normal 68 PSI I could hear a hissing sound. The valve stem on the tire tube was definitely leaking right where it attaches to the tube. There was no way this tire would hold enough pressure to remain airworthy.
I headed back into the Air Direct Airways office and discussed the problem with my CFII Doug. The Air Direct A&P would not be around until tomorrow and if they had a new tube the plane could be airworthy again for a Sunday flight. Doug also mentioned that several planes on the ramp had recently experienced flat tires – perhaps the springtime temperature change was to blame. I crossed my fingers that a tube would be available and headed home.
On Sunday morning I got a text around 10AM that the plane was ready! This was welcome news. The weather was once again proving to be a bit slow to clear and in particular Burlington, VT, a destination that Abby and I had previously discussed, was sketchy VFR with terrain in the clouds around. Instead, I suggested we head to the south towards New Bedford, MA. There is an airport restaurant there and I hadn’t been there before so it would be a new destination.
The tire looked better today when we pulled up. I paid for the replacement tube and labor and thanked the folks at Air Direct. Fortunately the tire tread itself was in excellent shape and so only the tube needed to be replaced. This made me wonder if the tread was previously replaced without the tube. The logbook entry was not specific enough to determine with certainty.
The weather was brisk and chilly with winds gusting out of the northwest, aligned with Nashua’s runway 32. Lift off was rapid and even with two people on board and more than half fuel load I was much higher than usual when I passed my tie down spot, because of the headwind. The ride was definitely bumpy in the climbout but nothing too serious (I’d call it “light”).
Since there were some lingering lower clouds over the middle part of the trip I only climbed to 3500 feet. True airspeeds are a bit slower down there but we weren’t going that far. I had flight following from Boston Approach and after being handed off to the 124.4 sector I knew to ask for a Bravo airspace clearance which was immediately issued “direct New Bedford, 3500″. Traffic was relatively light although a Citation did pass beneath us between Mansfield and Taunton.
Lately I’ve done a lot of solo flying and it was nice to have Abby as copilot. She will handle switching radio frequencies and getting the ATIS using the Garmin audio panel’s split com feature. New Bedford runway 32 was in use (just like Nashua) and the winds were more or less straight down the runway but shifting back and forth and gusting somewhat. I flew a right downwind pattern for runway 32. I decided to go a few knots faster on the approach because of the gusts and this worked well. With a slight balloon in a wind gust I added a bit of power to cushion the touchdown and still turned off easily at the first taxiway. Higher winds are a mixed blessing!
I pulled up to Sandpiper Air and we were marshaled in by the manager. I asked for a top up and inquired if they had a crew car. They had a solid old Dodge Caravan. This was my first time using the crew car phenomenon. Airport FBOs will often have a car they will lend out to visiting pilots who buy fuel or pay for services, anything from a beat up Crown Victoria to a brand new Mercedes depending on the airport and FBO.
Since I’d done the flying Abby gave up her driver’s license for photocopy and took the keys to the crew car. We got directions to the New Bedford Whaling Museum and a recommendation for a dining spot nearby. Despite getting slightly lost on the way we soon pulled onto cobble stoned streets and found the restaurant called “Freestones” and the Whaling Museum.
The whaling museum had a charge for admission so we decided to save it for some time when we had more free time. Instead we walked through the historic part of the city and checked out the pier where many fishing boats were docked. There are nice displays throughout the historic area highlighting information about the whaling era.
Finally we headed back to Freestones and had a nice lunch before driving back to Sandpiper Air. The plane was fully fueled when we got back and after paying I did a quick preflight while Abby stayed warm in the plane. I’d deliberately reinserted the cowl plugs to try and keep the engine warm in the brisk wind and I did a very short prime then did a regular hot start procedure. The engine started up nice and quickly.
Departure was as quick as Nashua had been and soon we were fighting headwinds and cleared into the Boston Class Bravo direct to Nashua at 4500 feet. The trip was mostly quiet but around Bedford/Hanscom airport there was a fair amount of business jet traffic and we were again treated to the sight of a small jet crossing just below. Always a very cool view!
Abby retrieved Nashua’s ATIS via the split com while I continued descending. The winds were straight down the runway at 10 gusting 20 knots. On initial contact the tower told me to report a four mile final and so I maneuvered slightly to meet up with the Merrimack river then dropped flaps 10 and the landing gear as I approached the point where I would turn final. This is definitely a longer final approach compared to a typical full pattern and I just used the PAPI to keep myself on a 3 degree glidepath, slowly reducing airspeed down to just a hair under 70 knots with flaps 20. This higher airspeed and lower flap setting is good for gusty conditions, giving some extra margin if the headwind dies off suddenly.
I worked the throttle and controls the whole way down. For the most part the wind was straight down the runway but there was definitely turbulence rocking my wings. I kept the power in a bit longer than I normally do then pulled it back crossing the threshold and made a very nice touchdown, one of my best landings in the last few months. Of course, I’m sure the 10-20 knot headwind didn’t hurt!