Friday, September 9, 2016

I Really Do Fly... Honest

Let's just say that I am busy... really busy.  When presented with the opportunity to fly or write about flying, guess which one wins?  You guessed it - flying.  To date, I have spent 92.2 hours in the Bonanza - 61.4 of them within the past year.  Obviously, I'm not flying as much as I'd prefer. 

I figured I drop by here and talk about the family flight taken back in July.  It is far more interesting than shooting approaches or making a $100 hamburger run, which has been the majority of my flying since this trip. 

I Don't Need No Sleep!

Unlike previous years where our trip where the Banana and the Boy get dropped off at Camp Grandma, a business trip was scheduled right before our flight.  The plan was that I was to get home about 9 pm Saturday night, and we would be off mid-morning on Sunday.   There is a Yiddish expression: "Man makes plans.  G-d laughs."  
My return trip from DCA was quite less than ideal.  Right after arriving at the airport, I watched as a very strong thunderstorm made its way toward the field.  It was a very large system that disrupted pretty much all traffic coming to and from the middle of the East Coast.  As a result of this, my plane was delayed at ORD as they waited for the storm to pass and traffic to normalize.  Ninety minutes or so after we were scheduled to depart, our aircraft lands and taxis to the gate.  Great! 

Or not.  One of the pilots who was to fly us back to ORD timed out, and thus we had to wait on a crew.  Swell.  Two hours later, said crew member arrives and we FINALLY start boarding.  Unfortunately, the ground air conditioner was inoperative and it got pretty steamy in the cabin very quickly.  As we seem to be making final preparations to leave, I hear one of the engines cycling up and down.  This is not good.  Just as I finished sharing this concern with the man sitting next to me, the pilot comes on to announce that they have an engine issue.  The ground crew disconnected the APU before the engine was prepared to accept the load of the generators, which overheated the engine.  Really, Republic (I'll blame them and not United since it was them running the equipment)!?!?!  You do this how many times a day? Fantastic.  

Thirty-five minutes later, and we learn that the issue is resolved and they are awaiting the logbook entries so that they can depart.  "Um, the only thing that I can see happening is that if we are not underway in the next 20 minutes or so, I will time out and will no longer be legal to fly."  Really?  Time now is 10:53 pm Eastern.  

Fortunately, we made it out of there.  After a few more opportunities to practice patience and restraint, I finally got home at 1:30 am.  Sleep... sort of.  

Curse You, "Cold" Front!

I can't really say WHY it was called a cold front.  It would be more accurately described as "only hot as Hell" while the one in front of it was "hotter than Hell."  An "only hot as Hell" front was pushing through, and thus a squall line from north of Milwaukee curving southwest to below St. Louis was working its way through.  I woke up far earlier than I think I needed to and began packing and monitoring the weather situation.  
I really was not amused by what I was seeing, and I really was less impressed with the the thought of driving a total of 13 hours or so this particular day.  As time moved on, it appeared to me that the storm was dissipating over Lake Michigan.  This just might leave us a good enough hole to get through.  I planned to fly over the lake though that hole, over Detroit and Cleveland, and on toward KDUJ.  We'd depart, have a look, and if it it was bad we'd turn back. 

I shared this plan with my wife - something I don't normally do.  However, one can easy see the traps into which I was vulnerable of falling.  I REALLY did not want to drive that long, and if I"m going to go out there and have a look then there is pressure to soldier on into deteriorating and dangerous conditions.  I said, "pay attention, and if I start getting bull headed remind me that I said that I was going back rather than taking a chance."  

A Mostly Nice Trip

After arriving at the airport, speaking with a weather briefer about my plan, and loading up the Bonanza, we took off in the most unusual direction of north.  Typically when going toward Northern Ohio and Pennsylvania, I'd head south to southeast around the lake.  I was also taught that it was a very bad idea to fly a single engine plane over water when one is out of glide distance.  Since I was going to violate that teaching today, I provided a very careful brief about how to get out of the plane in the event that quick egress was required.  A note to self and others: this does more to increase anxiety than anything else. 

As you can see from the picture below, the sky opened up and the trip was conducted almost exclusively in VMC.
The skies open up!
 Although this screen shot shows a fairly old radar picture, it was only somewhat more narrow than it is shown on this map.  Also, let's just say that I'm very happy that we were going east.  Behold, most GLORIOUS tailwinds at 9000:

Displaying Image-1.png
That's like 253 miles per hour!
On a TAS of 160, this ground speed is fantastic.  This means that I made it from DuPage (KDPA) to DuBois (KDUJ) in about 2.5 hours - including flying north to just before Milwaukee's Charlie to KMKG, getting vectored around Detroit, and finally on to our destination.  This was a hit amongst the family.   

What was not so popular was the increasing heat and rather unpleasant up-and down-drafts as we were on approach to DUJ.  My poor son became airsick as my family took the most bumpy ride they have ever had in a small airplane.  Fortunately, there are provisions for such things in the airplane for such occasions.  

Before moving on, I must tell a story on the ground crew at DuBois.  As we were unloading, an airport worker came speeding toward us in his golf cart to ask us about fuel.  I usually take on fuel, and made that request.  "Well, that's what I was coming up here to tell you about.  See, we don't have no fuel and we won't have any for a few more days." 

"Was there a NOTAM?"  (I had not seen one, but it could have gone up after we departed). 

"Naw, our computer that we do that on is down." 

"So, you could call Lockheed." 

This was aggravating.  Fortunately, between the engine analyzer we had installed at annual and my keep meticulous track of time on each tank, I was able to determine that we had plenty of fuel to make it to our final destination.  However, this could have been a real problem as the V-tail Bonanza has a placarded limitation about taking off with less than a certain amount of fuel in each tank. 

My wife and I were in a hurry, and she was also not feeling terribly well after that hot and bumpy approach.  After stretching and taking care of some pilot and passenger comfort, Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink and I again departed and turned toward Queen City/Allentown (KXLL) to see our friends.  

Can You Hear Me Now?

All was progressing just fine until about I switched over to talk to Harrisburg approach.  Suddenly, I could hear them but they could not hear me very well.  I was yelling just to send a loud enough signal.  Not cool.  We landed at KXLL - much to the relief of Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink and her uneasy stomach - but no one heard me coming in.  It explained why an aircraft took the runway while I was on a mile final. 

We unloaded and were taken to our friends' home, just five minutes before dinner was served and the wine began to flow.  I had taken on what felt like on of the most challenging flights of my flying career, and comfortably lived to tell about it.  Fatigue, some pressure to complete the mission quickly and in the most efficient way possible, weather, sick passengers, and radio problems all affected this flight - and quite honestly, I was pooped.  

The next day, I went out to the field to figure out what was wrong with my radio.  My plane was towed into the shop.  While I was waiting, I updated the GPS database and decided to test those radios ago.  They worked.  I changed to my usual headset, and it worked as well.  WTF?  Let's just say that after flying later in the week to Virginia (KOKV - Winchester Regional) for a few day couple-oriented vacation as well as flying back to KDPA, I learned that the problem had to be an intermittent short in my headset.  We'll see if the warranty will take care of this problem.

The Rest...

As mentioned, Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink and I took the hour flight down to KOKV for a bit of exploration of the Shenandoah Valley.  I expected a relatively straight shot, but instead I was sent almost all the way to Dulles (KIAD).  But it was an otherwise routine flight.  

On the return trip to KDUJ from KOKV, we had very strong thunderstorms moving southeast over Johnstown, so again we had to do some creative avoidance to get to our destination.  The next day, we were back to KDPA with plenty of cloud time and a race against more thunderstorms.  


As I mentioned above, I was quite tired when I undertook the flight from KDPA to KDUJ and then on to KXLL.  I was quite aware of the internal and external pressure I felt to take the flight and complete it, but believe I mitigated this by making certain promises to myself and sharing them with my wife - who would talk me out of my tendency to believe everything will work out OK.  My real concern is why I did not really appreciate what it might mean that Harrisburg could not hear me, and thus why I didn't try to do something about it.  I suspect that it had something to do with my increasing fatigue level.  

I am reasonably sure that I would not have taken this trip hard IFR - even with our reasonable autopilot - because I was just not up to it.  11.7 hours in the logbook, a new state (Virginia), and a few new experiences (e.g., flying over open water).  Nice.