Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ugly Weather (Perfect Day to Fly!)

Today was expected to be a dreary weather day in the whole state of Florida due to a large "cold front" that was passing through.  Today was definitely NOT a skywriting day.  But what a great day for some recurrent flight training in actual IMC!

I had planned a training day with Jason Schappert of MzeroA and was seriously considering cancelling it yesterday and also this morning ~ 730 AM.  While there was absolutely NO sun to be found in the sunshine state, the ceilings weren't that low and winds were tame.  I felt confident I could make the IFR journey to Dunellon, FL to meet Jason.  Then with comfort and security of a CFII in the right seat, I thought I could get some real IMC experience/training.
So off I went to the airport.  As I watched the pouring rain from the car (and looming clouds in the distance), I was getting cold feet.  Here is what I saw out the car window:

I was trying to recall the dozen or so takeoffs/landings I have had in the rain and tried hard to convince myself of the merit's of getting more actual IMC time.  While I was on the ground @ Tampa Executive airport, the weather looked as ugly on the screen as it did out the window:
I checked the weather (again) and verified that I had the legal takeoff minimums.  Then I finally made the decision to GO.
As expected, the first leg of the journey was filled with clouds/rain and a whole lot of staring at screens.  But surprisingly, it was rather smooth.  There was hardly any turbulence!  After landing in Dunellon to pickup Jason, I checked my actual route on Flightaware and this is what it showed:
Jason and I did a bit of ground prep and planned to do the following:
1. Go IFR to Daytona Beach (doing instrument work and practice approaches on the way)
2. Continue IFR to Orlando-Sanford (some more approach work)
3. Continue IFR to Winter Haven (for a lunch stop and debrief)
4. Work our way back to Dunellon while doing a bunch of stick and rudder/commercial maneuvers.

Shortly after we launched, not only did we encounter lots of rain/clouds, but we also experienced some rather weak ATC performance.  This was very surprising to me.  I have the utmost respect for the ATC controllers in FL.  But today, they seemed "off their game".  In fact, the Daytona approach controllers, called us by the wrong tail # on 4 separate occasions.  In addition, we had multiple approach clearance changes along the way (with no apparent reason).  Eventually, they seemed bored with us and even broke off our approach before the final approach fix to GPS 16 @KDAB.  We managed to take it in stride and just moved on to Orlando.  Here too, the ATC controller wasn't very cooperative.  After several attempts, we eventually managed to "negotiate" a clearance to the RNAV/GPS 9L.  We did a "squeaky clean" touch and go and were off to Winter Haven.
The arrival into Winter Haven was quite cool!  The weather was near minimums and on the first attempt, we got down to 500 FT MSL with NO runway in sight.  This was the first time I truly "needed" to abort a landing!  Sooo.... It was flaps up, full power, heading 210, climb to 2000 FT and back to Tampa Approach.  We asked to try the same approach again and had better results the second time.  According to FlightAware, this was our actual track on this journey:
 After a quick lunch at Cafe 92, we are off again.  The weather had improved slightly.  We were able to take off VFR and begun all the stick and rudder work.  No more "luxury, laptop flying"... Now it was ALL by hand!  Jason did a great job teaching me some commercial maneuvers like chandelles, lazy 8s, 8s on Pylons, etc.  After dropping off Jason to his home base in Dunellon, I was able to fly home VFR in the improved weather conditions.  As I got close to home, I had one last encounter with weather as you can see below:

Luckily, I managed to land and put the plane in the hanger with ~ 15 mins to spare before that giant red cell arrived at the airport with a huge downpour!

Now with today's new found skill/confidence (and a total of ~ 5 hours on the hobbs), I think I am ready for skywriting tomorrow morning.  Stay Tuned...

== T.J.==

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