Sunday, August 23, 2009

Texas Trip, The Front, The IR

The "Trip" is the planned adventure to pick up Jeff's new purchase, a 79 Piper Archer II in Houston Texas. The "Front" was the stalled weather front over the Appalachians that was held in check by Hurricane Bill. The "IR" is the instrument rating that remains to be completed that could have been put to good use and had us home on time Friday.


Thursday started out very early as the alarm went off and I was out of bed at 4AM. I had already packed the night before and only needed to shower, eat and get to Wilmington Airport to meet Jeff and Lori for my ride to the Philly Airport. Mary extends her thanks since she didn't have to take me to the airport, even though she offered and was ready to go. I loaded up the SUV and needed to make a stop for fuel on my way. My favorite little fuel stop with home made goodies was closed so I went to the first place I could find.

I pulled into the Airport parking lot and enjoyed the ice tea Mary had poured for me along with an everything bagel and cream cheese. Jeff, Lori and their two children pulled in shortly after I was parked, so I finished up and we transferred baggage. The Philly airport was pretty busy even at that early hour of the morning. We each had printed our boarding pass so there was no need to stop, we headed for the dreaded TSA security checks. Jeff cruised through with no problems but yours truly kept setting off the alarm due to all my new metal parts and wires. "Sir, please wait inside this area"....great I'm standing in the fishbowl looking three by five foot plexiglass room while everyone passes me by. "OK sir, please have a seat and we'll be right with you. the agent shouts "we have a male search here". Here comes my special agent complete with his magical wand. While still seated I extend my legs so he can wand my feet, that are still without shoes, thankfully I wore socks for this special occasion. Next is the stand on the footprints so we can see whats making everything chirp like a bird. Un huh, "sir, please remove your belt so we can place it through the machine". Ok not a problem, belt gone but now it's pat down time. Hey that just kidding, I didn't say a word, those folks have no sense of humor. I had to empty out any gadgets in my clothing bag, a portable com radio and my mini Dell lap top computer then let them look through my flight bag. I got the okie dokie to put my shoes on and reload both of the bags. It was determined that I was not a threat to national security so I was free to travel about the country. Jeff patiently waited for me just around the corner and we finally headed for the gate. We were maybe thirty minutes from boarding so we stopped for a quick bite to eat.

We boarded the Embraer 170 and prepared to get underway. I read my IR PTS study guide for the oral exam and took cat naps along the way. I did manage to take a few pictures of the building storm cells to the east. The pilot did a nice job as he landed into a cross wind, more so then usual since you could really notice it from the coach section. It was a short walk to the entrance and Chris, the soon to be former owner of the Archer, was going to pick us up. Chris was right on time and we loaded up our gear and headed to David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport just 12 miles as the crow flies NW of Houston's KIAH, George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport.

QualiTech Aviation, Inc. was not finished with the Annual/prebuy so Jeff had time to take a look at things, go through the logs a bit more and get additional info about the plane from Chris. The folks at QualiTech were really nice and I thought they did a good job of going over the Archer but I wasn't the guy they had to make happy. The three of us headed out for lunch and originally talked about a BBQ place but decided on the airport cafe'. I had some monster burger with mushrooms and cheese, fries on the side and the best big glass of sweet tea. Jeff had a burger and fries and I think Chris got the chicken fried steak. We sat and talked airplanes, always fun stuff, and the guys traded more good info/questions about the Archer. The plan was for a flight test to get familiar with the engine and fuel analyzer along with the avionicss in the plane. Jeff had already spent time with the Garmin 430 sim so he was up to speed and I know the 496 so we were covered. I hung out in the QualiTech office (air conditioning) while they both flew. When they returned we loaded up our gear and climbed aboard for the start of our journey home.

The plan for the first day was to head north east for KLMS, Louisville Winston County Airport, Louisville, Mississippi. From this overnight stop we would head to 35A in South Carolina for a fuel stop then north to KILG. The weather en route was so bad we diverted to KUTA, Tunica Municipal Airport in Tunica, Mississippi. We pulled up to the terminal and the lineman topped off the tanks, ok and spilled a good bit across the wing. The guy just looked at Jeff in horror then started cleaning up. The fuel that 93Zulu took on give or take a bit with the spill matched the fuel analyzer pretty much on the money, this was good to know. We headed in the terminal and the young lady at the desk made a reservation for us at Harrah's casino for $40 a night. We would need transportation but as it turned out there were buses running to shuttle people to Harrah's. What people? We were the only three in the place besides the line guy. No sooner those thoughts entered our heads an Allegiant Air 737 from Cleavland was rolling down the runway and pulling into the terminal. We lined up with those passengers to board the bus, no we didn't just wiggle our way on although that would have made for a great story, instead the guy running the shuttles agreed to gives us a ride if there were seats available. Well, there were no seats, but, there were four other people in the same boat. A short time passed and Harrah's sent out a black stretch limo for the six of us, hey pretty cool and it was a free ride.


Day two of our journey home and we once again try for the 430 mile east leg to 35A Union County Airport, Troy Shelton Field in Union, South Carolina . We had a quick breakfast at Harrahs in the coffee shop then called for a cab to the airport. Our suspicions were confirmed now with daylight providing the view of vast nothingness. I mean there was nothing but the roadway for miles. The airport had a convention center across the highway but that pretty much was it.

We launched with high hopes taking advantage of tailwinds and cruising along at 145 knots. Unfortunatley, not long into this leg we are avoiding cells. ATC is really helpful and the on board weather confirms what the two sets of eyeballs is looking at. We turn south for an end around attempt to clear a large cell slowly moving north but the surrounding layers don't look good either. Jeff and I discuss our options and agree it's time to get on the ground and re-evaluate. This decision was timed perfectly with a very large opening that you can see in the above left photo that we descended through with plenty of ground contact. As we made our way down we also headed a short distance to one of the day one potential stops KMSL, Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Just 135 miles into the day two leg our plan was coming unglued and our alternate plan of running the west side of the Appalachians was looking to be the best choice at this time. We use the courtesy car to run for lunch and hit the Tex Mex restaurant, Rancho Viejo. We ate our meal and discussed our options as to what we thought would be the safest route home. This wx front was stalled and blocking us from the east coast run north and now we would have to settle for our back up plan. We finished up lunch and gulped down the last bit of ice tea. The food was good and the service very fast. We headed back to the airport to top off the tanks on 93 Zulu. Once again we launch but this time we are headed north to KIOB, Mount Sterling-Montgomery County Airport in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. This 265 mile leg is much better but with wx still giving us fits we call it a day knowing we can't make Wilmington, Delaware by nightfall, besides,the wx at KILG is Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), a no go for the both of us.

Jeff cancels flight following once IOB is in sight. Another super smooth landing and we taxi to a tie down area away from the main ramp. The manager comes out to help us tie down and shuttle us back to the terminal building. We are given the courtesy car along with directions for the Fairfield Inn. The Airport Manager Paul gives us his card and said if you have any problems just call. We loaded up the bags and headed for some food and sleep. Jeff is driving I'm navigating well trying to. As we leave the road from the airport to the main road the car died, yep, traffic coming, nose sticking out there and no can start. I jump out, a real sight to see, and start to push while Jeff opens his door and pushes with one leg out and one in still seated and try to steer us backwards to clear the oncoming p/u truck. The keystone cops has nothing on us! Jeff cranks this baby a few times with no luck, finally it starts and he combines the brake and gas to get us across the road into a gas station. I called Paul to let him know we had a problem as Jeff pumped in $15 or so to move the needle off the 1/4 tank mark. The car fired up ok and it seemed to run so I called Paul a second time to give him the all clear. The gauge must be broken because it ran ok after the added fuel.

The Fairfield was a good choice and the young lady working there gave us a great suggestion for dinner. Terry & Kathy's On Main was the choice and off we went. We each had the filet which was cooked perfect along with home made mashed potatoes. There was no room for dessert but we took two slices of Key Lime pie to go. Yep, the pie was excellent too. Day two comes to a close and I passed out while the TV was still on. To Jeff's horror he got to hear me snoring. Mary warned him that when I'm really tired I snore. When we got up I asked if I had snored very bad, his look was priceless and his words were, "Oh My God! I thought you were going to swallow your tongue or something". I'm still laughing as I type this. I'm really sorry Jeff! lol...honest!


We both manage to get up early in hopes of making Delaware today. The wx is looking really bad at Wilmington and in Dover too. There will be no crossing the Appalachians from this point so instead we alter the plan and head 350 miles for KTHV, York Airport, York, Pennsylvania. The weather at Mt. Sterling was perfect, 61 degrees with a light cool breeze and clear as far as one could see. It was to good to be true. We sat on the ground in order for our destination airport conditions to improve. We launched for York figuring to arrive just past the Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) best weather scenario.

The ride was perfect, cruising along at 9,500 feet averging between 150 and 160 knots, outside air temp was 36 degrees (we had to close the air vents)with xm radio playing the hits and the sky was looking great. I think I even heard Jeff singing despite moving his mic up and out of the way so I wouldn't hear him. Flight following handed us off one at a time as we talked with Lexington, Indy center, Clarksburg and a few others along the way. As we approached the Saint Thomas VOR we needed to descend for cloud layers to maintain Visual Flight Rules (VFR). The xm radio was muted, and our alert status was raised a notch or two. We had crossed the Appalachians and had entered into a valley where the cloud layer really was closing in so the decision was made to divert to N68, Franklin County Regional Airport, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Not a very friendly place unless you had a parachute strapped on but it provided a place to land and give us the chance to re-evaluate on the ground with our charts spread out and no pressure to fly the plane.

We sat and waited for the conditions to improve. Finally looking to the north-north east we could see the last ridge lines separating us from our target destination of KTHV, York, PA. A final look at the sectional and a plan to cross was completed. As the plane full of jumpers departed we were number two to bug out. We headed north east shadowing the ridge line wanting to avoid the top elevation of 2,120 and the additional tower elevation to top out at 2,513 feet. The cloud layer was three to thirty four hundred and safety was the main goal here. As we approached N42, Shippensburg Airport we made a right turn direct to York. Our highest elevation was 1,622 and we were passing overhead at 2,700. York was in sight as we announced position for entry. Another aircraft was on a three mile final so Jeff made a right 360 for spacing and re-entered for our landing on runway 17. Another good landing in the book.

Jeff has family in the area so he arranged to borrow a vehicle for our final leg home, on the ground. We gave the last hop some thought but Wilmington was still under the weather so the safe choice was indeed to ground pound it home. I can't count how many times durning this trip we each mentioned the need for the instrument rating. I'm calling/texting Chuck this week, Jeff is going to take his written test in the next couple of weeks. We went out to dinner with Jeff Sr and Peggy at Smokey Bones, a great place. After dinner we went to their home and visited for a short while then saddled up for Delaware. It was a good ride home despite the Lancaster traffic which made us both wish we were still flying. Jeff dropped me off at the Wilmington Terminal to pick up my SUV, which I had left unlocked but all was intact. We parted ways after a hand shake and each shared a big smile as we savored the journey and lessons we learned and shared. It was a great time, I learned more about weather then I ever knew,along with the 'real' art of flight planning and most of all the adventures associated with diversions. I think tops on my list is the fun flying with a fellow pilot and friend as we brought his new baby home, well almost home.


By the numbers:
1150 Miles
10.5 Hours (Plan)
9.8 Hours (Actual)


AdamB said...

Glad you had a good flight. Even if it was an adventure, sounds like it was a great learning experience. That's what it's all about!

Rob said...

Great write up about the adventure. Thanks for the warning on the snoring, if I hear something odd in the middle of the night outside my room in West Virginia in October, I won't be as worried. :-)

Lots of pics with the clouds below, looks like good flying, but I think you are right, time for the IR.

Steve said...

Great recap of the journey, Gary. I was looking forward to this and you certainly didn't disappoint.

I agree, the IR is almost necessary if you want to do any serious XC flying. Once I have the money I'll be partaking on that training adventure myself.

Congrats on a safe trip!