Category Archives: weather

Haze

I’m going to do a Pilots ‘n Paws flight tomorrow and since the weather was IFR after I completed yesterday’s oil change I wanted to do a quick test flight today.

I spent some time before the flight cleaning off my nose gear strut. The piston of the strut had some ugly sticky gunk on it, dirt buildup basically. While it was on the area where the strut does not normally travel it seemed prudent to clean it off to avoid any possible movement of the gunk past the strut seal. The best solvent is just to use a bit of fuel from the preflight sample I take (usually I dump it from the GATS jar back into the tank). The fuel evaporates completely and left the strut piston completely clean.

It was quite hot and hazy today. Since this was the first flight after the oil change I remained in the pattern for one circuit. If the engine decides to loose all the oil suddenly I want to be close to the airport! But, no oil pressure fluctuations and the pattern at Nashua had several planes already in it – I was number 3 to land on a looong downwind – so I told Tower I’d be departing to the west landing.

The haze was already obvious from the 1000 feet above ground pattern altitude and as I climbed the visibility was really quite bad. This was still plenty legal VFR visibility but visibility around 7-10 miles looks quite soupy. I did some turns around the practice area but solo I was a bit nervous about spotting any maneuvering traffic and elected to return to the airport.

I certainly could not see the airport from 10 miles out and when I called the Tower I told him I’d enter on a 45 downwind if there really was an airport out there! When I reported that I’d entered the downwind he remarked “I see you found the airport!”

It ended up being 0.6 and 2 landings. I’d like to spend some more time in the haze soon. Today’s weather was perfectly suitable for a VFR XC flight but it takes some getting used to. Tomorrow’s flight might end up being similar. I also need to get serious about my instrument rating because if I had it I’d certainly be filing on a day like today. I did one first step and updated the database in my 430!

Fuel at Westfield-Barnes (BAF)

This morning I decided to go to an airport I haven’t been before for some fuel. Barnes airport in Westfield, MA has fuel for roughly 60 cents cheaper than I can get at Nashua. It isn’t the cheapest fuel around but with 45 gallons pumped it does add up to something substantial. The savings still isn’t enough to pay for the round trip but of course that doesn’t really matter because I’d be flying anyway!

The weather was forecast to be VFR with relatively high ceilings at 6-7000 feet. There was a low probability of some very isolated and low impact precipitation. This is ample weather for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight although I do usually prefer to cruise at a higher altitude when I can.

For about a week now we’ve had gusty winds almost every day. So today I was working with winds gusting up to 20 knots at both Nashua and Barnes. And this was tame compared to the past few days with gusts of 25-35 knots! The good news was the gusty winds were out of the northwest and thus pretty close to straight down the runway in both cases. The bad news is these strong winds aloft meant for a bumpy ride.

Not long after departing Nashua I could see that there were some areas of snow showers. Most seemed to be off to my right in the Monadnock region, but there were some snow showers ahead too. I could see through them which is a good indicator that VFR flight through them is fine. There is no risk of structural icing (the really scary kind that the Cardinal is not design to handle) in this case because the precipitation is already frozen solid and will not adhere. In light snow showers like this I do turn on the pitot heat which protects the protruding pitot tube which measures airspeed from the very unlikely scenario of becoming clogged with snow. In this case the snow was much too light for this and thus it was just a precaution.

The coolest thing about the snow showers is that they were snow at my altitude of 4500 feet, rain below, and in most cases were completely evaporated by the time they reached the ground. The air here has been very dry! Sadly, I did not bring my camera and the ride was really way too bumpy to try and get something with my cell phone.

The approach into Barnes was pretty turbulent. I made a right base entry for runway 33. The showers were finished by about the Quabbin Reservoir crossing and looking to the west from the Barnes area it looked like fewer clouds and clearer skies. Winds were gusty but straight down the runway. The base leg for 33 was a bit weird as there is a ridge of terrain that hides the airport until you crossed it (similar to my trip to AVP).

I didn’t make any prior arrangements with the Airflyte FBO but as I taxied into the ramp area there was someone from there marshaling me into a spot next to a Bonanza. After shutting down he set chocks and I asked him to top off the plane. There are actually two competing FBOs and a restaurant at Barnes in a very sleek looking building with an observation deck (reportedly the restaurant operates tables up there in the summer). The restaurant was doing an Easter buffet brunch and so it was packed with locals in Easter Sunday outfits. Many of them were going up to check out the observation deck.

All in all I spent about 20 minutes on the ground wandering around the terminal while the plane was fueled. With the bill settled I headed back out to the airplane. The controller at Barnes was able to arrange for flight following on the ground which is always nice especially with the Class D airspace tangle of Barnes and nearby Westover Air Base (don’t go there without permission!).

The snow showers were a bit more intense on the way back but still nothing of concern. Because of direction/cruising altitude rules I was at 5,500 feet this time and thus closer to the cloud bases. The ride was definitely bumpier as a result and there were a few moments of what I’d call moderate turbulence.

Nashua was deserted when I arrived and there was no traffic to follow so I was cleared to land midfield downwind. I asked the tower for an up to date wind check and they reported “occasional gusts to 22″ (22 knots). Winds were definitely strong on the approach and I had considerable wind correction in on my base leg. Turning final the crosswind became a headwind. With a gusty headwind I used more power on the approach, still taking it fully out just before the threshold. With the ground speed reduced by the headwind the touchdown was very smooth.

I was amused that the controller asked me where I was parking as I was rolling out. They were always familiar with where the rental planes were going because they see these tail numbers all the time. But my tail number isn’t familiar yet. I told her “Electric ramp.” They ask this because with no one behind they will tell you to go further down the runway to a taxiway exit closer to the parking spot. Probably eventually they will remember the tail number!

March is the windiest month

My primary instructor told me this when I was getting ready to solo in March and kept ending up with days where the winds were gusting over 20 knots. Is it really true? A quick googling does confirm that the general rule is true for the northeast US with some geographic exceptions. March is a time when the sun is present for more of the day yet there are still very strong temperature gradients between northern and southern air masses which ultimately results in higher pressure gradients and strong winds.

I had hoped to do some solo landing practice after work today but the winds have been brutal. Yesterday peak wind gusts were in the 30-40 knot range. They winds were lower today and were forecast to diminish towards this evening so I figured I’d try and get in some evening practice landings. Other than the winds the weather has been severe clear all day today. I checked the METAR before heading up and it was 15 knots straight down the runway. I headed up to the airport only to change my mind about the flight after hearing the new ATIS and seeing the windsock. The new ATIS reported 15 gusting 24 knots with a low level wind shear warning.

None of these would be huge obstacles in the 172 I learned to fly in, but I have a lot more experience with that airplane. Right now I want to be flying in conditions where if I balloon a bit on landing I know whether it was my control inputs or just a wind gust. The reaction is the same but since I am trying to practice landings I want to know whether I am nailing them or making it worse. I think I could even be comfortable making a landing in these conditions now, I just don’t find them good for practice.

In about 10-15 hours and a hundred landings or so I will be actively searching out days like today for practice. One of the biggest frustrations of training in an airplane is that the only way to change the weather conditions is to wait. Some days you want a nice calm day. Some days you want the challenge of a gusty crosswind or low ceilings. Hopefully soon a calm evening or weekend will present itself.