Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heading Home VFR

Today the weather in Houston was not bad... But the weather forecast along my route home and in FL was downright ugly.

Fortunately, PIREPS showed a lot of the weather did not have very high tops along my route.  So my plan was to depart VFR, climb up to 17.5k and if needed get an IFR clearance for the descent or along the way.  In addition, I knew the route quite well, including several possible fuel stops if things didn't look good.  Shortly after takeoff, I climbed to 17.5k as planned.  Then benefited from a very strong tailwind that was even better than forecast.  Thanks to some miserly fuel consumption, I made it all the way to Ocala!  Since there was a solid cloud deck below me, there was not many photo opportunities.  However, the descent was rather interesting. 

I wanted to try to maintain VFR, which involved doing a rapid descent (full forward slip) right through a good sized "hole in the clouds".  After descending to 3500 FT, Jax Center cleared me for the GPS 18 approach.  The ATIS claimed winds "170@11Gusting18".  I thought to myself "that was pretty good... Should be an EZ landing".  When I was on final approach, the tower controller called out a wind check of "170@18Gusting24".  I thought "hmmm... little worse... But no need to abort"... Then I checked my R9 screen when I was on 1 mile final and it read "175 @ 30"!  Clearly this was the strongest headwind I had ever faced on a landing.  I considered aborting the landing...  But I was on minimum fuel and the plane "felt" stable and under control.  So I proceeded in what felt like slow motion.  Even with 19" inches of manifold pressure, my ground speed was hovering ~ 70 kts.  I landed right on the numbers and felt like I barely used half of the runway.  In fact, I had to add power on the ground just to get up to the E6 taxiway.

I had purposely picked Ocala as a stopping point because it was a good excuse to catch up with Jason Schappert of MZeroA.  I was hoping to grab a quick meal and squeeze in a "brainstorming session", as often happens when Jason and I start talking.  But I got a pleasant surprise today... I got to meet his charming, new bride Ashley! (Now I have even more reason to stop in Ocala!!)

Onto the final leg home.  The weather was deteriorating and luckily I was able to get out of Ocala ahead of the cold front.
The winds had not provided any mercy... I had 30kt headwind from 170.  This meant that I should land on the "short" 3200' runway 18 at Tampa Executive.  This was entirely unusual for me.  I am much more accustomed to landing at big airports with 5,6 or even 10000 FT runways. Tampa Executive airport has 2 runways.  Runway 5-23 is a 5000 FT runway, which I use 95% of the time and runway 18-36 is a 3200 FT runway.  Given the choice of a massive X-wind on the long runway or a strong headwind on the short runway, I chose the "short" 3200 FT runway 18.

The landing was uneventful... But I am glad I arrived when I did... Because after landing, putting the plane in the hanger, and returning some calls, this is what I saw on the drive home:
Just goes to show, timing and weather are way more important than any flight planning!

== T.J.==

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