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.==

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