Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last Minute Angel Flight

Normally, my Angel Flights are scheduled well in advance.  Usually, I have to juggle a whole bunch of things (both work and personal).  But late yesterday I got a message from the "Angel Flight Mission Control" about a particularly compelling flight today (Wednesday b4 Thanksgiving) that was in jeopardy of being canceled.  The patient, who lives in Jacksonville, FL, was undergoing treatment in Houston for "Metastatic Adrenocortial Carcinoma to liver, lungs & kidney" ... Wow isn't that a mouthful!

I had to work today + it was last minute and on and on.  There were a dozen reasons to ignore the plea for pilots on this mission.  But something inside me said I should make the effort on this one.  The alternative for the patient was to fly commercial on the busiest travel day of the year right after enduring a grueling cancer treatment.  So late yesterday, I decided to sign up and do this!

Another pilot transported the patient from Houston to Destin, FL.  That's where I was supposed to pick him up and fly him home to Jacksonville. 

In order to do that and still make it to work, I had to get a little creative.  As many of you know, I work for IBM and have the privilege (and burden) of working entirely remote.  I don't normally go to an office.  Instead, I work from wherever my laptop and I happen to be.  So late last night I made a plan... I would get up as early as I could and fly from Tampa > Destin.  Then I would "go to work" from the pilot's lounge @ Miracle Strip Aviation in Destin.  Then late in the afternoon, I would meet up with the patient and take him to Jacksonville.  Finally, after dropping the patient off, I would do a night flight home to Tampa.  The flight plan was "almost" a lap of FL.  See for yourself:
When I woke up this morning @ zero dark 30, I was a bit grumpy but dragged myself out of bed anyway.  When I got the airport I had an uneventful pre-flight and takeoff.  I always enjoy taking off before the FBO opens.  (Makes me feel like I am ahead of the day!)

At that hour, the skies were empty and the ATC frequencies were totally silent.  I had a smooth, peaceful ride and really enjoyed the music enroute.  The "Pulse" station on the satellite radio seemed to read my mind about what song I would enjoy next.  During the whole flight, I don't even recall changing the channel once, which is quite a rarity for me.  

About the time I reached my cruise altitude of 16k, I noticed the engine was running a little hotter than normal on cylinder 4.  I monitored it VERY closely and made frequent mixture setting changes to keep it under control.  I took all sorts of notes and was planning to ask the "turbo gurus" on the COPA website about it after I landed.  

When I was about 100 miles out, I started to check the weather.  (This is a cool feature on the Avidyne R9 that allows you to "see" the Automated Weather on screen even before you are within radio range to hear it).  Unfortunately, I didn't like what it said! The visibility was 1/4 mile, rain and mulitiple cloud layers with the lowest one being @ 100 FT.  This was was below the published minimums for the airport.  But I was 100 miles away ... Hopefully, it would improve as I got closer (plus I had plenty of fuel/options if it didn't).
Despite what the automated weather said, I was also comforted by the unofficial "out the window" forecast, which looked great!  See for yourself:

By now I was checking engine temps and weather every couple of minutes.  Luckily the automated weather was improving rapidly.  (From 1/4 mile vis + rain, it eventually got to 3 miles mist and the lowest clouds were a scattered layer @ 100 FT.  Not great... But good enough for me to land!   

When I landed in Destin, the FBO crew @ Miracle Strip was very accommodating as always.  I got settled in to the lounge and "went to work".  Other than the few colleagues that follow this blog, most of my colleagues would never guess where I am when I take their calls/pings :-)

After an uneventful day of work, the patient (Mark) arrived in the late afternoon.  I chatted a bit with the connecting pilot, whose name was Sherif (pronounced "sha-reef" not "cher-iff").  He was an interesting guy!  He was a far more seasoned pilot than me and one of the few Cessna 177 pilots I know that does LONG X-Country trips with his plane.  In fact, during this mission, he is "sort of" working his way back to the east coast from California! 

Mark was so grateful for being spared the grueling journey home on Southwest.  The original plan was to take Mark to Craig Field, which is a small GA airport outside of Jacksonville.  But then he told me his car was at Jacksonville International Airport.  (He was concerned that a small plane couldn't take him directly there.)  But I reassured him and wanted to simplify his journey as much as possible.  So we flew to JAX!  I had never landed @ JAX before.  But since I had landed @ ATL, TPA, and MCO, I was pretty comfortable flying directly there and was even excited about the prospect of a new airport for my log.
The trip itself was "smooth as glass".  The weather was perfect and the engine temps were behaving normally again.  (Believe me I was watching it VERY closely).

When we landed @ JAX, the Sheltair crew immediately greeted our plane and were extremely helpful. Mark and I said our goodbyes and the crew took Mark and his luggage directly to his car on the other side of the airport.  I got a top off and was ready to go right around sunset:

The short "night" flight home was beautiful.  Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to take good pictures @ night.  Hopefully, one of my blog buddies will help me with that soon...

Now as I sit in my home office at the end of the day, I realize how lucky I am, what a great day I had, and most importantly how much I have to be thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving,
== T.J.==

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