I started my flight Sunday night, as I flew south to a friend’s house. From my home-drone to the airport near his farm is only a 50-minute flight. I checked the weather before I left, and besides being nice on Sunday night, it was also forecast to be decent VFR on Monday morning for my return flight. It looked like the weather would get bad later Monday, with a mild snow storm moving in, but it wasn’t forecast to arrive until Monday at about 4pm.
I got up early Monday morning, and checked the weather again. They were still forecasting VFR until about 4pm for my return flight. After breakfast my friend drove me back to the airport and we arrived right on time at 8:30 a.m.
My first clue that things might not go as planned was when I now checked the weather before takeoff: the front had sped up, and was now expected to arrive by noon. They were still predicting VFR until then. Okay, I’m cutting it closer now, but I still should arrive at home by 10 A.M., and the airmet sierra for my flight path doesn’t start until noon. I also knew that I’d be flying over an area where I have numerous friends and family that could always pick me up if I couldn’t go the whole way (not to mention it was only a 50 minute / 90 nm flight to begin with…I could practically uber the whole way if necessary).
I took off at 9 a.m., just as I planned, and for 75 nm’s of the 90 nm flight, it was uneventful, with the worst of the weather just being hazy. When I was 15 nm South of my home field, I noticed the airport 20 nm WEST of my home field had just gone IFR due to low visibility…and I know the front was moving west to east, so it was only a matter of a short time before my field was IFR. But, I was just 15 nm away (and at this point, my home field was much closer than any other field), and my home field ATIS was still saying 6 nm visibility.
While still listening to my home field, the very next ATIS broadcast said 5 nm visibility, mist. Now I should say, that I’ve always had a problem “absorbing” an ATIS the first time I listen to the broadcast. I usually listen to ATIS at least 3 times in a row, often more. The first time, I’ll get the local altimeter, and whether VFR or IFR. The next time, I make a mental note of the ceilings and the winds/appropriate runway. The third or subsequent time is when I start to hear the “other details” like the notes at the end, the temperature dewpoint spread, approach/tower frequency at controlled fields, etc.
As I was approaching the field, and approaching the 10 nm distance from the field, I turned the ATIS down on my number 2 radio at this point, to call on the CTAF. As I continued towards the field, I noticed the visibility was dropping, but not alarmingly so. At about the point where I was just starting to make out the field, I started to get drops of moisture on the windshield. It was immediately apparent that the drops were not “moving off the windshield” as they normally would, but they were staying put. I turned the ATIS back up, and this time noticed that the field temperature was -6C, visibility 4 miles, mist. I thought, “Well that’s not good, but I can see the field, so lets just get down and land.”
As I start to align myself up to enter the pattern, I start to get the sensation that my engine throttle has been pulled back, even though it is still droning along at the same pitch/rpms. I look at my airspeed: I’ve lost about 10 knots, and I’m also slowly descending below pattern altitude, while unconsciously adding more back pressure. I add power (with carb heat, so I’m sure the effect of adding power is diminished) and more power, and finally full power, just to maintain altitude. I double check that I’ve turned on the pitot heat.
I take a wide pattern, because the plane feels mushy to me, and fly right to short final without slowing down (which the plane felt like it wanted to do anyway). I flared, without flaps, and the plane mushed onto the runway MUCH MUCH faster than normal. I had to fly by looking out the side window, so maybe this added to the feeling of going faster, I don’t know. Luckily, I touched down more or less on the numbers, because it took a while to stop, not to mention it was also apparent that the runway was very icy.
I taxi off the runway, over to my hangar, and shut down. When I get out, I would not describe the weather as “mist” but more of a heavy drizzle. I pushed the plane into my hangar, and took a couple of photos. I started up my hangar heaters and it took quite some time for the ice to melt off…so long, in fact, that I wonder how long it would take for the ice to come off if you were flying and changed to, say, +2 C air.
So here are some pics…like I said, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I felt, but it still scared the crap out of me.
I know I had a pucker factor just reading this one. This pilot did the right things to get the plane on the ground. Assess the situation, make the decision and move forward, pitot heat on, carb heat on, shallow wide bank turns in the pattern, increased throttle, and a no flap landing.Thankfully the pilot landed his plane safely.
We can debate weather all day long, but we all know how fast things can change in the air. His closet field was in view and still reporting favorable conditions. I would have made the same call. It's amazing how long it takes to fly those last few miles, it seems like an eternity. I'm thankful pilots share their experiences for all of us to learn from. I think I'll practice some landings through the side window. As a side note, my recent duct work upgrade really provides excellent defroster and heat in the Sundowner.
I was given permission to post this story and the pilots pictures.
Be safe out there!