Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bahamas Practice Flight

My international radio license arrived yesterday in the mail. Earlier in the week, I saw online that it had been approved. But didn't get the official paper in the mail till yesterday.

That meant that today was the day for the long overdue Bahamas flight!! 

It was really perfect timing because the plane is going down for a "good type of maintenance" tomorrow. (Will tell you more about that in a separate post later this week.)

Back to today's plans...

Before doing this flight with family or friends, I wanted to try it solo first.  So the plan was simply to fly there, maybe grab a bite, and fly back.  Not a terribly interesting trip... I just wanted to practice the legal/aviation parts without alarming or inconveniencing any passengers.  Once I felt comfortable doing this type of flight (without getting arrested, fined or meeting F-16s enroute), then I would be ready to do it again with passengers.

While I could have easily flown direct from Tampa Executive (KVDF) to Grand Bahama (MYGF), I chose not to.  Instead, I decided to stop @ Fort Peirce (KFPR) to make sure I had everything in order (paperwork, fuel, lifejacket,etc). On the return trip, I would have had to stop somewhere for customs clearance anyway, and I have heard through the grapevine that the FBO and customs office in KFPR is excellent.  So I thought it would be a good idea to stop there and check out whatever local procedures they may have.

In hindsight, it was totally not needed!  After I landed in Ft Peirce, the staff at the FBO confirmed that I indeed had everything in order.  After a top off and a rather easy "hot start", I took off and pointed the nose straight to the water.  After climbing to 7000 FT, the next ~ 100 miles was directly over water and the view was consistently like this:

This was the first time I was over water for this long.  As you can see, I had my lifejacket handy (just in case)

Happily, I didn't even need to open the packaging.

After about 80 miles over the water, I finally caught my first glimpse of land and it was spectacular:

As I got closer to Freeport, Bahamas, the Bahamas ATC controllers cleared me for the VOR DME 24 procedure!  This took me quite by surprise.  Other than initial instrument training, I had NOT flown a real DME arc in a VERY long time.
I keyed it into the R9, which happily complied, and I saw the following screen:

The screen looked odd to me and I felt like I was operating slightly out of my comfort zone.  I flew halfway through the 12 DME Arc at 4000 FT.  Then the ATC controller broke off my approach and cleared me to land with an "expedited" descent.  I am not sure why... But suddenly, he seemed to be in a hurry.  I did my best to comply and did a 1000 FT/min descent and fought a 15 KT crosswind on final.  When I was finally on the ground, I breathed a sigh of relief and really felt like I "earned" that landing!

I wasn't sure what kind of ground operations to expect.  At this point, I must admit, I was a little nervous.  But it turned out to be quick and painless.  One of the line crew marshaled me into a parking spot and I was immediately greeted at the plane. They escorted me to a small building where they checked my passport and my paperwork.  The whole process took no more than 5 minutes!!  I was so impressed at how professional and efficient they were.

With similar ease, I filed my flight plan for the return trip and waited an hour to depart as required.  I landed back at Ft Peirce and cleared customs, which was totally painless and also took less than 5 minutes!

Overall, it was so easy, I really didn't need a practice run.  But now I am even more excited to go back there with passengers and stay for awhile!!

== T.J.==

Monday, March 7, 2011

Back to Normal IFR (Sort of)

The past 2 weeks have been quite an unusual flight pattern for me.  No X-Countries, No IFR or VFR flight plans, not even enough altitude to require oxygen!

No the plane was NOT grounded...  In fact, I had numerous flights.  But they were all short "flight-seeing" journeys that gave me the chance to share the experience of flight with several of my friends and colleagues visiting Tampa from around the world.  In a way, it felt like a "warm-up" for the WFIF event next Saturday.  I realized that sharing the experience of flight was as cool for me as it was for the passenger, who got to "see the runway" for the first time.

But yesterday (Sunday's) journey was supposed to be a bit more "normal" for me.  I was planning an IFR trip from Tampa, FL to Frederick, MD, which is just outside of DC.

When I checked the weather Saturday night, it didn't look very friendly:
I checked again on Sunday morning and even called Lockheed FSS to get a thorough briefing.  After listening to the 'laundry list" of AIRMETs, SIGMETs, and PIREPs, my conclusion was that it was a go!  However, I was prepared for a lot of heavy IMC flying with as many diversions as needed along the way.

While this trip is "barely possible" non-stop in my plane... It is a bit too close for my comfort.  So I planned a quick fuel stop in Duplin County, NC.

The first leg was the easier of the two.  Going from Tampa Executive Airport to Duplin County Airport, is almost a comfort flight for me.  I have flown this route a dozen times and even know when to expect ATC quirks along the way.

What I wasn't really expecting was the impact of the winds aloft.  My route was fairly straightforward, as shown below:

When I was ~ 20 miles south of Gainseville, I was level at 17K FT and first noticed the winds.  As you can see from the picture below, it was a direct 90 degree crosswind @ 62 knots!

While I have flown in strong winds before, this was the first time I flew in that strong a direct cross wind.  Even with a healthy crab angle, I could feel the auto-pilot straining to maintain the ground track.

Luckily, I was following V441 which soon turned to the right and made this X-wind turn into a VERY helpful tailwind that allowed me to reach a ground speed of 241 KTs, which is the highest I have recorded in this plane!

After riding that tailwind as long as I could, I made the quick fuel stop @ Duplin County and then filed to Frederick direct.

Shortly after takeoff, the radar images looked even uglier!

As I approached Frederick, the weather was simply NOT cooperating and no amount of deviation seemed to help.  The rain was getting heavier and the ATIS declared conditions barely above the minimums for the GPS23 Z approach. 

Luckily, this airport has a nice long 5000+ FT runway and a low LPV approach that still made it possible to land.  I have landed in light rain and mist before.  But never anything like this!  In addition, to the heavy rain, there was a strong gusty wind about 20-40 degrees off from runway heading.  After reaching the FAF (final approach fix), I disengaged the autopilot and "fought" the winds all the way down to the runway.  

While this was supposed to be a normal IFR flight, the weather (as often happens) made it anything but normal!

== T.J.==