Category Archives: weather

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!

Three instrument approaches in actual

One of the simple facts about flying for practice or currency is that you only get the weather nature throws at you. I’ve been eager to do some practice instrument approaches on a day when there is actual instrument weather but the last few weeks have been beautiful instead. It’s hard to complain about beautiful VFR weather but this Saturday I was happy to have some Marginal VFR weather with ceilings in the 1000-1500 foot range to do some practice approaches in.

I planned to do three approaches in close proximity at Concord, NH, Manchester, NH, and of course an approach would be required back at Nashua. One nice things about all of the airports in the northeast is that you don’t have to go very far to do approaches into several different airports. I could accumulate some more hours by going to further away airports but doing multiple approaches into the close together airports is actually a good additional challenge with lots of maneuvering in the clouds.

To do practice approaches like this in actual instrument the usual technique is to file an IFR flight plan with Nashua as both the departure point and the destination. In the route field you put “KCON KMHT” and in Remarks just say “appchs at CON MHT”. The clearance you get is a bit weird since it’ll be “Cleared to the Nashua airport via radar vectors Concord, then as filed.” So, if you lose comms in the clouds, you’re cleared all the way back to Nashua via the route that takes you over Concord and Manchester!

Cruising in between layers at 4000 feet looking east.

Cruising in between layers at 4000 feet looking east.

Departing Nashua I was in the clouds after about 1300 feet of climb and popped out on top a bit before leveling off at 4000 feet. Here I was between layers, 200-300 feet above the rolling hills of the stratus cloud deck top and below a high overcast. This can be a deceptive situation as you’re not in a cloud itself but there is no discernible horizon and worse the “rolling hills” can provide a false horizon.

First into Concord the approach would be the RNAV (GPS) approach to Runway 17. I was cleared directly to the KERSY waypoint. The controller had me climb up above 4000 briefly to begin the approach and then after turning onto the final approach course you can descend down to 2500 feet. Once passing the final approach fix descent continues down to the minimum descent altitude of 1020 feet. I took the approach down to 1100 feet where the runway was easily visible and went missed without landing. I started the published miss which is a climbing right turn to 4400 direct INKOW waypoint.

Next I asked to do the ILS 17 into Manchester. Unlike the GPS approach the ILS is a precision approach which means it provides vertical and lateral guidance down to a lower minimum altitude (just 200 feet above the ground). ATC had me level off at 3000 feet and fly a vector for the ILS. I started trying to brief the approach but it would have been too fast and I asked for a delay vector which was immediately granted. This is always a good idea when hand flying single pilot IFR and things are happening fast. Flying a heading is one of the easiest things you can do and this will give you time to properly brief and setup for the approach.

I had a bit of trouble getting laterally stabilized with some of the winds aloft but after a bit of time along the approach everything was looking really nice with the needles perfectly centered. The Course Deviation Indicator displays with needles for lateral and vertical displacement. If they form a plus sign you are right along the ILS glide slope and localizer.

After breaking out about a thousand feet above minimums I continued the approach and did a stop-and-go on the 8,900 feet of runway 17. Doing a stop-and-go will take a bit more runway than a touch-and-go but gives a bit more time to make sure everything is set for the takeoff. Flaps back to 10 degrees, trims reset, mixture-prop-throttle forward. No sense in going heads down on the cockpit rolling down the runway single pilot. On departure ATC gave alternate climb out instructions which were a right turn to 270 and climb to 3000 feet.

Cruising along at 4000 feet in between layers looking west.

Cruising along at 4000 feet in between layers looking west.

Finally, I did the ILS 14 back into Nashua. Winds aloft were increasingly strong from the southeast and the intercept required a shallow angle. Once established I popped out at 1600 feet and spotted the traffic ahead which was a commercial student from my local flight school practicing short approaches in the Cessna Cutlass I did my complex training in. Their nice tight pattern kept them well ahead of me and I was able to keep the speed up around 100 knots until under a mile final. The winds seemed to be strongest right at 500-1000 feet making for an interesting approach but the landing was good with the windsock pointed almost directly across the runway. Great practice!

Conditions were relatively smooth and free of turbulence in the clouds today. In some ways I think this made me get “the leans” a bit worse than usual since you’re not getting bounced around. An important part of instrument flying is recognizing the dissonance between your vestibular system and reality. At one point in the clouds I was in a long standard rate left hand turn and realized that my vestibular system was convinced I was straight and level. Recognizing this led me to be extra prepared for the next bit of dissonance after rolling out of the turn and my inner ear tells me I’m now turning in the opposite direction!

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.

Balticon

Balticon is a medium sized science fiction convention run by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Abby and I are involved with a broad group of volunteers around the US known as “techno-fandom” which does technical theatre (stage, lighting, sound) work for these conventions. A bit over a week ago a friend of ours was looking for a way to get to Balticon. We were on the fence about making it to Balticon but this was a great excuse and I quickly researched where the nearest airport was and offered a ride. Plans were made and a ride arranged from Martin State airport to the hotel in Hunt Valley.

Soon another friend was looking for a possible ride to Balticon. I don’t often travel with all four seats filled. The Cardinal (specifically, N52667) has a useful load of just a hair over 1000 pounds. From this useful load budget you must account for all baggage including the pilot(s) and human cargo, plus the fuel in the tanks. A full fuel load is 360 pounds which is a fairly large amount of weight! When trying to answer the question “can you fill four seats” what you need to know is that fuel in cruise is 60 pounds an hour. In this case the required fuel would be roughly 2.5 hours, plus required IFR reserves of 45 minutes, and perhaps an alternate. For planning purposes I will run the calculations with 4 hours total on board which gives me just enough to carry all four passengers and a generous baggage weight in the back plus about half an hour of extra fuel capacity. Like all long legged airplanes the Cardinal can be flown at a compromise of capacity and range.

Loading graph for our trip to Baltimore.

Loading graph for our trip to Baltimore.

So, we ended up as four and all converged on Nashua airport around 6PM on Friday. The weather turned out to be quite clear which was nice especially since the flight would involve a sunset although there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet and a headwind predicted. No IFR alternate was required (although BWI was just 6 minutes away at cruising speed). Even with the predicted headwind and some allowance for a potential ATC reroute we were predicted to have a flying time under 3 hours. After arriving at the airport I checked what I had in the tanks and then called up a very specific fuel order to end up with 45 gallons (or 270 pounds) of fuel on board. This would allow an hour and a half of reserve fuel which is more than twice the legally required amount and more than sufficient for this flight.

I had filed my flight plan earlier in the afternoon with the routing of GDM (Gardner, MA) NELIE BRISS V419 MXE (Modena, PA) V378 BELAY. This looked like a reasonable routing but was not a previously cleared route. While quite direct it goes just east of NYC and some very busy airspace. Once we called clearance delivery there was in fact a revised routing: EEN (Keene, NH) T295 LRP (Lancaster, PA) V499 TRISH. This route would take us a good bit west of New York and cost us about 15 minutes. Oh well – still plenty of fuel and no need for a “tech stop”.

We took off from runway 32 at Nashua and were soon on our way. After checking in with Bradley approach the controller asked if I had time for a question. He asked if I flew this route often, and suggested filing to join T295 at WHATE which will be accepted by ATC’s computer and is a bit of a shortcut. T295 seems to be one of the common ways I am routed going west of NYC airspace towards points southwest, so this was definitely helpful advice.

Soon we did get a few direct route shortcuts although our route was destined to swing way west of NYC. It was mostly smooth enroute and very clear and cold – below freezing at 6000 feet – with just two or three instances of a sudden bout of moderate turbulence followed by more smooth air. We watched a gorgeous sunset over southern NY and passed south into Pennsylvania talking to Wilkes-Barre approach then Allentown and Harrisburg before the final handoff to Potomac Approach. Conditions were clear and we spotted the airport beacon dead ahead about 10 miles out and were cleared for a visual approach into runway 33.

Sunset over upstate New York.  Picture by Kat Dutton.

Sunset over upstate New York. Picture by Kat Dutton.

It was definitely fully night by the time we landed and I flew a pattern being mindful of the large restricted area northeast of Martin State airport (the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds). Night landings are definitely quite different from day landings and in this case I also got to experience something new in the form of a “Pulsating VASI”. This is a different version of the typical colored lights that indicate your vertical position relative to a safe and ideal approach angle. It’s a huge help especially on a night approach into an airport where the final approach course is over water with few lights. This can cause a “black hole approach” visual illusion where the temptation is to descend too low early on. I had done my homework and knew how to properly read the PVASI and made a fine approach followed by a firm touchdown. After taxiing to the FBO we were met by a friend who gave us a ride to the convention.

My faithful copilot in life and aviation loads our cleared flight plan into the Garmin 430.  Photo by Kat Dutton.

My awesome copilot in life and aviation loads our cleared flight plan into the Garmin 430. Photo by Kat Dutton.

The convention itself was fantastic. We got a ride back to the airport on Monday afternoon and I put in another carefully calculated fuel order after checking what remained in the tanks. This time nature was nice and gave us a bit of wind power for the ride home. I filed BELAY V378 MXE (Modena, PA) V419 CMK (Carmel, NY) HFD (Hartford, CT) V229 GDM (Gardner, MA) at 5000 feet which is an airway routing that is fairly close to the direct routing. Foreflight indicated that at least one aircraft was previously cleared on this route between MTN and Nashua so it seems reasonable. I was still pleased to hear “cleared as filed”.

Pennsylvania ridges and valleys, plus a water gap.  Photo by Kat Dutton.

Pennsylvania ridges and valleys, plus a water gap. Photo by Kat Dutton.

Of course, all good things must end and not that long after getting “cleared direct Modena” Philly approach came back with a reroute for us to copy. It was back to the western route again with a rerouting of FJC (Allentown, PA) V149 LAAYK T216 IGN (Kingston, NY) GDM. This once again took me quite far west to the LAAYK intersection just north of Scranton, PA. I suspect this is also a rerouting due to heavy traffic in the NYC area. While it seems like a long way out of the way it doesn’t really add that much to the route when you are at cruising speed with a tailwind.

Cruising along at 7000 feet in visual conditions with tired passengers.  Photo by Kat Dutton.

Cruising along at 7000 feet in visual conditions with tired passengers and copilot. Photo by Kat Dutton.

Over eastern Pennsylvania it was pretty bumpy and I asked for 7000 which was granted in steps. It was marginally smoother at 7000 feet, cooler, and still below the bases of the few cumulus clouds that were about. The other nice thing is that at the higher altitude we were soon in Boston Center’s territory and they gave us “cleared direct Nashua”. OK! Now I just had to fly the last hour straight to Nashua with my sleep deprived passengers dropping like flies.

Level 7000 feet, groundspeed 165 knots (about 190 mph).

Level 7000 feet, groundspeed 165 knots (about 190 mph).

During the initial descent in visual conditions I usually nose over and leave the power in while letting the airspeed go to an appropriate point for the level of turbulence expected. With the tailwind, higher true airspeeds at 7000 feet, and plenty of potential energy we quickly reached 191 knot ground speeds in the descent. That’s about 220 mph over the ground. Abby and I both spotted Nashua and we were cleared for a visual approach to runway 14. With the extra speed due to the tailwind I was a bit high and fast when reaching the final approach but pulled power and stuck with flaps 20 anticipating some wind shear.

Winds aloft were strong but Nashua’s ATIS reported just “variable at 2″. But it didn’t feel like variable at 2, and the wind shifted and dissipated dramatically while I descended. I made a nice landing but the approach was definitely the sort you work all the way down with a few power adjustments. After pulling off the runway the tower controller announced the updated ATIS which indicated the wind was gusting to 19 knots.

One of the nice things about filling all four seats in the plane is that the marginal cost per person can be surprisingly low. In this case the cost of fuel for our trip was roughly $240 round trip which comes out to just $60 round trip per person. That’s less than a bus ticket!

Wings and Wheels Fly-In at Parlin Field

Last week when I was at Parlin Field for fuel I picked up a flyer for the “Wings and Wheels” fly-in which was yesterday. The event promised a bit of a car show with hot rods, a half chicken BBQ for $7, and airplanes from all over. What’s not to love? It’s also another great opportunity to visit Parlin.

The winds were a bit different today with light winds out of the south. Nashua was using runway 14 which is the opposite direction from the typical arrangement. When I arrived in the vicinity of Parlin aircraft were using Runway 18 which is the opposite direction from what I used last week. Parlin also has a turf field, but it was not being used today.

When approaching an uncontrolled field like Parlin you are generally required to make a “left traffic pattern” meaning that you make all turns to the left as you visually approach and land at the airport. The pattern is a rectangular shape with a downwind leg parallel to the runway in the opposite direction, “base” leg, and final approach segments. Approaching Parlin from the south to land on runway 18 would normally dictate a left traffic pattern but due to terrain the chart and airport facility directory information indicates that a right traffic pattern is used for runway 18.

Even using right traffic for 18 leaves an interesting approach! On the downwind leg you are over terrain which is definitely higher than the airport although still well below the normal pattern altitude of 1000 feet above ground. Once turning base and final it is notable that there is a hill in the way between your position and the airport! A shallow approach will not do here. The trick is just to remember your short field/obstructed field technique from private pilot training. I put in full flaps after turning final. I stayed high during the first part of the final leg until crossing the hill with plenty of altitude margin. Once the hill is cleared I reduce power to idle. Pitch for 62 knots. If you’re too high, the aiming point will move downwards: slip a little bit. If you’re too low, the aiming point will move upwards: add some power. Ideally you don’t have to add any more power and the engine will remain at idle until you turn off the runway.

With the gear and full flaps out, power out, the Cardinal is a drag machine. The prop at engine idle is even in a high drag configuration with the blades angled perpendicular (flat) to the airflow. The result is a nice steep approach at a minimum airspeed. Without aggressive braking I was stopped in about 1500 feet from the displaced threshold (aiming point for landings due to the terrain on final).

The Cardinal parked on the grass at Parlin, tail-to-tail with a biplane.

The Cardinal parked on the grass at Parlin, tail-to-tail with a biplane. A bit further beyond note the hill.

On the landing rollout the locals on the radio suggested turning left onto the grass next to the taxiway if I was able. This is fine even in the Cardinal RG, and while I have not operated on turf runways yet I know others have with success. In this case for taxiing on grass and uneven surfaces another private pilot lesson is recalled and I turned onto the turf with the yoke pulled all the way back to help keep the nose wheel strut extended. This is the weakest part of the landing gear and also the part that if it fails you’re going to ding the prop. So you want to make sure the prop is given the maximum possible clearance. Then you’re taxiing just requires more power, and no brakes.

Lots more airplanes on the grass.  Great turn out for the fly in!

Lots more airplanes on the grass. Great turn out for the fly in!

I was marshalled into the alleyway between two areas of grass with airplanes parked and shut down, then several volunteers helped push the Cardinal backwards into a spot tail-to-tail with a biplane. I chocked my wheels with the set of small chocks I keep in the plane (although most planes I looked at weren’t chocked – grass is an effective brake when winds are light).

Cessna 195, built by Cessna between 1947 and 1954.

Cessna 195, built by Cessna between 1947 and 1954.

A gorgeous Cessna 195 was parked on the grass. Cessna built these planes between 1947 and 1954. They have a round radial engine with seven cylinders arranged around the outside. You can see this in the picture above. Radial engines are known for their oil consumption. The engine in this plane likely consumes around 2 quarts of oil (and 16 of fuel) per hour!

Another rare aircraft type was a Call Air A-3. Just 15 of this type were ever built! This aircraft has a wood and fabric low wing that is braced with struts from above. Lots of people are familiar with the high wing strut supported 172 and 182 designs from Cessna but it’s also possible to strut brace a low wing from above. In these aircraft the strut is under tension when on the ground (supporting the weight of the wing) and in the air when the wing is supporting the aircraft the strut is under tension. My understanding is this design is strong but has a lot of parasitic drag, making it best for stout low speed aircraft (the Piper Pawnee is another example). Many of these have been used for agricultural flying, including the Call Air models.

A CallAir A-3 built in 1947.  Only 15 of this type were built!

A CallAir A-3 built in 1947. Only 15 of this type were built!

Next I paid my $7 and waited in line for chicken. The deal was for half a BBQ chicken. Nobody thought about sides, clearly this was an Atkins meal. But there was delicious sauce of several different flavors. The chicken was quite good.

I sat down at a table with several generations of a family. The grandfather flies a Van’s RV-6 aircraft that he built himself from a kit. His plane was in the hangar in the back, a beautiful aircraft. He said it took him 5000 hours in 5 years to complete. His daughter and two granddaughters had driven up from Sudbury, MA to visit the grandparents and the fly in. Also present was a man who flies out of his own backyard in Chester, NH with a 1740 x 28 ft grass strip (a private airport called Heaton).

Half a BBQ chicken for $7. Yum.

Half a BBQ chicken for $7. Yum.

Another neat aircraft arrived while I was eating my BBQ chicken. It’s a bulbous twin engined flying boat that looks like it shouldn’t possibly fly: A Grumman Widgeon. The Widgeon is quite big and it looked impressive coming in. It is quite a weird craft. Fun fact I just learned? Jimmy Buffet owned a Widgeon and crashed it in 1994.

Grumman Widgeon

Grumman Widgeon flying boat.

Just six days ago last Sunday I flew past Crotched Mountain ski area and spotted a bit of snow. Crotched Mountain last week. This week I once again flew past since I was flying the same approximate route. There is still just a bit of snow but quite a lot has disappeared since last week! I think it will all be gone in another week.

Crotched  Mountain snow, one week later.

Crotched Mountain snow, one week later.

From 6 days ago, for comparison.

From 6 days ago, for comparison.

Coming in from the north-northwest put me on a long final for runway 14 at Nashua and I was following another aircraft that was flying an ILS from about 6 miles out. This turned out to be a bit of a frustration flying VFR. Initially I had about a 30 knot overtake on the other aircraft and put the gear down and flaps out sooner then I would otherwise have done in order to slow down. Even after slowing down to match the speed of that aircraft I made another interesting observation. They were not doing a very good job of holding the runway centerline! Since this aircraft was flying a practice ILS approach most likely the pilot is an instrument student. The ILS is quite sensitive especially close in and it is easy to “chase the needles” and overcorrect left and right. It’s one of the things you learn how to do when you’re an instrument student. In this case the meandering course made it just a bit harder to follow the aircraft at a reasonable distance since they were going left and then right. So I just concentrated on following them down to the threshold.

The Nashua tower controller gave me a bit of a scare on short final, saying “Cardinal 667 your traffic is over the approach lights” since *I* was on short final, just passing over the approach lights. I was already cleared to land. It quickly became apparent that this traffic call was in fact for the airplane following me. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, above all always keep flying the airplane. I made a fine landing and cranked the windows open for the taxi to parking. Summer is almost here!

Cheap fuel at Parlin Field, Virga

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.

Cruising along over Southern NH.  I am not great at selfies.

Cruising along over Southern NH. I am not great at selfies.

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.

Most of the precip was virga.  But this area of about a mile or two in diameter was getting a shower.

Most of the precip was virga. But this area of about a mile or two in diameter was getting a shower.

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.

Crotched Mountain Ski Area is looking a bit, uh, crotchety this time of year.

Crotched Mountain Ski Area is looking a bit, uh, crotchety this time of year.

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.

Cheap fuel.  This covers me from Newport News to Nashua, and then the half hour trip to Parlin field.

Cheap fuel. 33.6 gallons used on the trip from Newport News to Nashua, plus the half hour trip to Parlin field.

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.

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!

Back to blogging! Gusty winds in New Bedford

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!

Back to Cape Cod: The Old Colony Rail Trail

Since I didn’t have work on Friday I decided to take advantage of the free time and head down to Cape Cod. A friend from the gathering last week in Dennisport had explored various parts of the Cape Cod Rail Trail network and told me that one part of the trail went right past the Chatham airport. I have a Dynamic Sidekick 8 folding bicycle which fits neatly on the rear set of the Cardinal so this was perfect.

My transport sits on the backseat: The Dynamic Sidekick 8.

The weather was predicted to be clear with scattered afternoon thunderstorms. This didn’t concern me too much. With plenty of fuel and no time pressure I had plenty of ability to deviate around any weather or to divert to another airport and wait it out. One nice thing about thunderstorm weather in this kind of air mass is that they are isolated or scattered and very easy to see and avoid when you are flying under visual flight rules. Even if a thunderstorm cell is directly over your destination airport a wait of just 30 minutes to an hour maximum will generally bring it back to good flying weather.

The direct route to Chatham or anywhere on Cape Cod from Nashua goes straight over the city of Boston. Fortunately Boston Approach is very accommodating and I was cleared into their airspace at 5,500 feet. The air was very smooth at this altitude and I had no trouble maintaining the altitude with a needle width. Much like the trip to Hyannis I did receive some vectors (turn 10 degrees right) around arrival and departure corridors but once I was perhaps 10 or 15 miles south of Boston Logan airport I was cleared on course. The direct route would have taken me a fair distance over the bay so I followed the shoreline for a curved course heading towards Chatham.

My clearance was to maintain 5500 in the Boston Class B airspace. Exactly on it in smooth air. Top CDI indicates we are right of course due to ATC vectors around Logan airport arrival and departure corridors.

Eventually I could receive the automated weather report from Chatham and was dismayed to hear it reported a 300 foot overcast ceiling! This was not forecast. In fact, the entire rest of the Cape was in complete clear with not a cloud visible. Visibility was perhaps 50 or more miles. I was still talking to Cape Approach and so I told them I would take a tour down to Provincetown and back at 2500 and see if it improved.

Boston city center and Logan airport.

The weather was nice and clear over most of the Cape and perfect for sightseeing. I followed the shoreline around the Cape and checked out a few spots. There were some interesting round pounds which I assume are glacial in origin.

Some round ponds on the eastern side of the "vertical" part of the Cape.

By this time Chatham was reporting “Ceiling 500 broken variable between 500 and 700.” I decided to at least check it out and heading back towards Chatham. In fact, the bank of clouds that was causing these readings was rolling in off the ocean on the breeze. As soon as it got above land the rising warm air would completely vaporize the clouds and it was completely clear. In fact the reason why the automated weather was reported a variable broken ceiling is because the clouds (the layer itself only a few hundred feet thick) were dissipating right over the top of the airport. The approach end of runway 24 was completely in the clear. Since Chatham airport’s airspace is only controlled down to 700 feet above ground I was able to utilize “Class G” airspace VFR requirements which are 1 mile visibility (reported visibility was 10 miles) and clear of clouds. The terrain around Chatham is very flat and unobstructed which made this a good opportunity to get in VFR. With a slightly irregular pattern and a number of radio calls I maneuvered around the areas of cloud and made a very nice landing on runway 24. In honor of one of my previous CFIs who has gone off to Alaska to give people float plane instruction I dub this an “Alaska VFR Approach”!

Parked at Chatham. Weather a bit ugly but meets "Class G" airspace VFR minimums. One side of the airport is almost in fog, the other side was clear above visibility unlimited!

There is no charge to park at Chatham for the day. Sign the guest book and exit the gate right onto the bike trail. I decided to head towards Dennisport so the first step was to cross the street then you are on the old rail bed portion. As train tracks often are the trail is very straight and any grades are very mild. The folding bike was perfect for this.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail (Old Colony line). Rail trails are so straight!

The trail goes past houses and some land managed for drinking water aquifer recharge. Eventually I started to get hungry as I reached Harwich and as if by magic I came to a road where there was the word “Cafe” written in chalk on the pavement with an arrow! Clearly I was in for an adventure and began to follow these cafe arrows eventually landing at The Dancing Spoon Cooking Company. This location is off to the side of the center of town but worth searching out. The food was excellent and fast and I could put my bike in a bike rack right out front and sit outside eating it. I highly recommend it.

The unfolded Dynamic Sidekick.

After eating lunch I headed back to Chatham. As I got close I started to get worried – the clouds were obviously worse, not better, and in fact there were some areas of obvious fog! Arriving at the airport I found that the cloudy side (runway 6 approach end) had gotten cloudier with a 300 foot overcast and visibility 5 miles in mist. Of course, the runway 24 approach end was still completely in the clear. Winds were around 8 knots and favoring runway 24.

I waited for a bit to see if the weather would improve. No signs of this happening. I went out to the plane, grabbed my the POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) and flipped to the performance tables section. Normally one would not try to take off with a tailwind, but with considerable “fudge factor” added to the calculations I determined that despite the only 3000 feet of runway at Chatham I could take off with a tailwind and be able to clear a 50 foot obstacle several hundred feet before the end of the runway. Fortunately I did not take on fuel in Chatham and ate a light lunch!

I was happy with the performance figures and after a careful run up and pre-takeoff check I turned onto runway 6, looked straight ahead at the beautiful blue sky, and stood on the brakes bringing the power up to full for proper short field procedure. Releasing the brakes brought the speed up fast and the takeoff definitely felt fast over the ground! Sure enough, I hit flying speed with plenty of margin before reaching my planned abort point halfway down the runway as promised by the performance calculations. I climbed at best angle climb speed until I was absolutely sure I was clear of any obstacles and turned to climb away from any of the cloud bank before calling Cape Approach and asking for advisories back past Boston.

Hyannis - my destination last weekend - in the clear. Nantucket behind is solidly IFR in low stratus fog!

I didn’t get a good picture of the stratus cloud deck just south of Chatham but you can see Nantucket in that picture. Well actually you can’t – it was similarly covered in low stratus clouds. The entire width of the Cape was clear near Hyannis and the Cape Cod Canal. Again I followed the shoreline back and began to look off to the right for the thunderstorm reported by Cape Approach as being near Boston.

Passing to the east of scuddy clouds south of Boston.

Soon the thunderstorm was quite visible off to my right. I received a Bravo clearance at 6500 feet and a heading that would take me towards the west. Boston Approach is very helpful and will work with you to help you pick your way around weather (especially if they know you do not have on board weather RADAR like the big jets do). They were very busy with IFR traffic deviating left and right around the cells and yet still helped me by relaying a pilot report from someone who got into Nashua by going around the storm to the west around Fitchburg. I headed for this area and visually navigated around the areas of heavy rain and clouds. This is a case where the flexibility of VFR flight is very good – you can go around these big thunderstorms IF you can see them. You can’t if you’re flying around in a cloud.

Shooting the gap - diverting west out to a line between Framingham and Fitchburg to get far from the thunderstorm over Boston. After this point it got too turbulent and the autopilot couldn't fly anymore so I put the camera down for good :)

I got my wings a bit wet at the edge of some of the showers (no problem) and the turbulence was “continuous light chop” at times. Nothing too bad, but continuously bumpy the whole way around the outside of the cell. Sometimes you could see lighting arc up the side of the cloud about 20 miles off the right side! Not dangerous, but the pucker factor was there.

Soon after passing over the top of Fitchburg airport Nashua was visible in the clear blue skies behind the back edge of the storm. I gave the rain shafts a nice healthy margin and headed for Nashua. There was a crosswind but it was steady. Just the experience I needed and the result was a very nice smooth crosswind landing on one wheel right on the center line! A great ending to an excellent experience broadening day.

(Bigger versions and some more photos can be found on my photo site. Unfortunately I bumped my camera and didn’t notice I’d set the ISO to 400 so they are grainier than normal.)

Weekend trip to Cape Cod

So I flew my first weekend trip this weekend. I never did it as a renter because of all of the complications but owning the Cardinal makes this easy. The destination was Dennisport, MA on Cape Cod for a relaxing gathering of staff for a science fiction convention I volunteer for called Arisia. My wife was co-running the “Relaxacon” event so she had to drive down earlier. Another attendee was able to pick me up at the Hyannis airport so I didn’t even need to rent a car for the weekend.

I had two passengers for this trip, friends of mine who were also attending the Relaxcon. Neither have flown with me before but have expressed interest in flying before so it seemed perfect. They had to work on Friday so I headed up to the airport a bit early and did my preflight then met them as they got to the airport. One of my friends brought a big tub of board games. Unfortunately due to the “hump” in the middle of the RG’s baggage compartment (the space where the main gear wheels retract into) the entire bin couldn’t go in so we loaded up individual games. I weighed baggage with a little baggage scale and estimated things like a bag from the liquor store and the board games (light). Weight and balance would have been fine with full fuel and I had less than a full fuel load so everything was good to go.

One of my two passengers took a bunch of good photos, but he is still going through them. So I’ll update this post later and add his photos.

The takeoff roll was fine, the weather nice, and a beacon code had already been obtained from Nashua ground for the eventual Bravo transit. But when I retracted the flaps after takeoff there was a sudden whooshing sound as the baggage door popped open. Whoops. The latch was flakey and this time the full baggage compartment meant things were pressed against the door. Training kicked in and my thought was “fly the airplane”. Remembering what I read on CFO about the baggage door latch I extended flaps 10 again and nosed over just a little bit to increase air flow down wash in the vicinity of the baggage door. The door immediately slammed closed. I called Nashua tower and told them we had a baggage door problem and would be returning. I kept flaps 10 in the whole time and asked my rear seat passenger if anything had fallen out. He said no, we didn’t lose any the liquor store bag or any board games! Oh good. I gave quick reassurances that we would just return to secure the door and my passengers were not alarmed.

Nashua tower asked me to squawk VFR on downwind. I probably should have said “standby” or “unable” since the extra workload delayed my gear extension and it was when I did my turning final gear check that I actually put the gear down. Typically I put it down midfield downwind. With flaps 20 I made a perfectly good landing and asked to taxi to the ramp. I just parked on the corner of the ramp where I could pull through and shut off the engine then got out and securely closed the baggage door moving some things away from it. Nothing fell out but the Royalite plastic panel on the back of the door was quite chewed up (it was already somewhat cracked as the 35 year old stuff is very brittle). A replacement baggage latch has been ordered as well as a replacement plastic panel!

The delay was only about 15 minutes and we were assigned a new squawk code for Boston Approach. Fortunately my passengers were totally unconcerned. The second time around everything went smoothly. Our desired cruising altitude of 5500 was modified by Boston approach upon clearance to enter the Bravo at 3500 and that would be our final altitude (of course we could climb higher after leaving the bravo but there was little point). The controllers gave a few vectors 10 degrees left or right as the direct path between Nashua and Hyannis goes right over the heart of Boston and right over the approach end of Runway 04L/R at Logan Airport. It was very cool to watch jets on short final and taking off beneath us!

After exiting the Bravo Boston Approach passed us off to Cape Approach who sounded a bit more bored than the rapid fire instructions everyone was getting from Boston Approach. He told me to contact tower 15 miles out and I made a straight in for runway 15. This was almost exactly aligned with my course line. It was a few minutes after sunset and I made an excellent greaser landing and held the nosewheel off for quite a good distance.

I had previously contacted Rectrix (FBO at Hyannis) to ask about the charges to stay two nights. The email response was that all fees including the two nights would be waived with a modest fuel purchase. Plus the fuel price was better than it is at home! With them expecting us they parked the Cardinal right out front and brought out a baggage card, even helped unload all of the board games. I highly recommend this FBO if you are going to the Cape.

My original plan was to take some friends from the Relaxacon on Saturday and do a sightseeing tour of Cape Cod. Alas, mother nature did not approve and Friday night a fairly strong Nor’easter weather event began to hit the Cape. I knew this was coming and the weather was forecast to improve for at least a period on Sunday. I don’t have work this week so worst case I would get stuck on the Cape for longer than expect, oh no!

The weather was indeed wild on Saturday with gusts to 30 knots and constant IFR conditions, heavy rain, and our beachfront spot was getting pounded with surf all day Saturday. Fortunately there was plenty of board gaming, chatting, and all sorts of fun stuff. By Sunday morning it was remarkably calm with low ceilings. I suspect the calm winds were because the low pressure center was almost exactly on top of us and this appeared to be corroborated by looking at the HPC surface analysis chart. As the day went on and I nervously checked TAFs it did improve to MVFR then VFR conditions but winds picked up more than expected and it appeared that the ride back would be quite bumpy and might not take me all the way back to Nashua. So my passengers for the way back decided to hitch a ride by car which worked perfectly well and eliminated external pressures on me which was good.

I hitched a ride back to Rectrix and asked them to top off the tank. Unfortunately the fueler who also handles another FBO on the field was quite busy and it took a little while. No matter, the conditions were still improving slowly and although the winds were quite gusty at Hyannis they were straight down the runway and the winds at Nashua were reasonable. Looking at METARs and satellite photos revealed that it would be best to climb through some of the now reasonable large holes in a scattered layer of clouds and travel above the deck in the environment of the Cape Code canal and southeast Massachusetts because it cleared up almost completely around the I-495 belt.

It was quite tricky to do the preflight because the winds were so strong. Finally I had completed it and taxied out for takeoff. ATIS reported winds at 16 gusting to 26 knots, straight down the runway! This was a very short takeoff roll followed by a bucking bronco climb!! When I started my flight training this would have had me puking before reaching pattern altitude (slight exaggeration). Now I just go “woohoo!” and hang on.

There was a nice big hole to climb through off the departure end of the runway which was also basically the heading directly to Nashua (winds had shifted 180 degrees after the passage of the low). So I pitched up into a Vx climb with a few small turns to slip through the hole. Maintaining Class E legal VFR was no problem. I climbed to 6500 and headed left of the direct course to avoid the Boston Class Bravo. Since I was not guaranteed the ability to get back down below the layer closer to Nashua my plan was to turn more towards the west where I knew it was clear (from the satellite photo as well as an informal PIREP from a pilot arriving into Hyannis in a Beech Baron from NJ).

Climbing to 6500 was good, plenty of clearance above the layer. It was smooth there and clear enough to see where there were a few anvil shaped Cb clouds far west, over western Massachusetts. Soon I was to the point where I wanted to descend again and found a suitable hole to duck through the scattered layer. The area I had flown over was a complete overcast at times but on my northwest heading it was clearing up completely. At this point I descent below the clouds and began to follow the I495 corridor around to maintain clear of the Boston Class Bravo. Since I had to get pretty low to maintain VFR below this scattered/broken layer around 2500-3000 feet I decided to pick my way around the Bravo instead of needing to deviate a lot for clouds. Unfortunately below the deck it was pretty turbulent and at times I was getting beat up pretty hard – definitely moderate. I rolled the prop RPM back to reduce power and fly a few knots slower. Thanks to the low’s passage I also got to enjoy headwinds both ways, ugh!

The route I took picking around clouds and Boston's Class Bravo.

Once passing the western point of the Bravo around Framingham I proceeding on course direct to Nashua with a few sprinkles on the windshield, no factor. Arriving in to Nashua on a left base for Runway 32 I found that the crosswind from about 30 degrees off the runway was quite gusty. On my first approach I didn’t carry enough extra speed and the winds died down considerable as I was flaring leading to a sudden drop and a bounce and a drift in the bounce as I wasn’t fast enough to get the correction out. I decided to cram it and do a go-around, full throttle, flaps to 10, climbing again. Following the advice of my transition training instructor I specifically did not raise the gear for this go-around. The rationale here is that the gear cycle time is long, the time going around the pattern is short, and the likelihood of forgetting the gear while stressed about the conditions that warranted the go-around is high.

The second approach was better. I carried a bit of extra speed. Of course this time the wind picked up as I flared to land and I drifted left a bit. I corrected in time to stop any side load as the wheels touched down but I didn’t make it back to the centerline and landed on the left half of the runway (it’s also normal for a gust to move the wind farther to the right). I need to do some good crosswind practice, these are probably the highest winds I have flown in the Cardinal and the aileron response is different enough to require some training away from what I’m used to for the 172.

The whole trip was 2.4 hours logged. This trip ended up being a great motivation to get my instrument rating. While I was able to make the trip back VFR an instrument rating would have significantly decreased my stress level and need to constantly refresh weather information and forecaster discussions on Saturday. It would also have allowed me to remain at a cruising altitude in smooth air above the clouds on Sunday and would likely have shortened the trip by eliminating the need to find clearer areas. I’ve updated the Jepp database in my 430 and I am doing some background studying so I can launch into instrument training soon.