Friday, August 10, 2012

Thank George I'll take it from here!

Remember what those Monty Python boys said, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition"

Day 3 started ok...except for a bunch of rain and storm clouds all around. Inbound was on time. Departure was set for 1:25PM.  I was able to do my preflight without the rain. Mother nature was kind enough to wait until I was done to start the downpour.

The rain was so heavy we could barely see 1000 feet. Didn't last long. We had a good look at the RADAR on our phones before pushing back. Plan was to get a right turn out, hug the coast (stay within 50 NM as we have no life rafts!) and then work our way around the weather.

Thankfully the rain lifted. My leg. Only had to fly about 30 miles off the coast before taking a turn to go around the weather.

The rest of leg 1 was fine. We did pass over the airport for leg was surrounded by weather.

Normal landing in base. Arrived 20 minutes early. Grabbed some food as legs 2 and 3 were long. By the time we got back to base most food options would be closed.

About 30 minutes prior to departure both myself and my Captain were studying the RADAR on our phones. Nothing looked good. There was a hole...a gap...but it looked like it would close up before we arrived.

We had an alternate that was 150 miles on this side of the destination.

My leg. I briefed the departure and discussed the idea of flying far around the south side of the weather. The fuel load was in our favor.

We had enough fuel to get to our destination, alternate, 45 minutes, 30 minutes hold and another 40 minutes "contingency" fuel. Contingency meaning working around the weather.

Normal takeoff. I ate my snack and enjoyed the first hour of great VFR weather.

About 30 minutes out the RADAR...and my windshield...started filling up. Time to get to work.

The weather was a solid wall. My idea of going south around the weather was closed. Other aircraft headed the same direction who wanted to go south were now going north.

ATC advised they would have to go 200+ miles north to get around the weather. On that news everyone I heard was going to work their way through it.

We discussed our options. The RADAR was a wall...but there were sections of green (meaning light returns) between all the red.

One problem is we can only see a small cross section of the weather. Aircraft based RADAR only shows a small section...a slice. I can tilt the RADAR to show weather above or below the aircraft, but eventually I would be painting the ground or the sky....meaning it's a learned skill on using the RADAR and often I rarely get the full picture.

Weather at the airport was VFR. The wall of weather was stationary.

"Cleared to deviate left and right, when able proceed direct to the airport" came through my ears.

I began a descent and briefed my plan. My Captain agreed. We each had a different tilt to show different weather.

It would have been nice to video what was going on...but the FAA would have issue with it.

First 30 degrees left around one cell. There was a good sized hole around the back side...or so it appeared.

On the new heading we were headed toward a thick wall.

As soon as I passed the cell on the right I began I right turn, autopilot on.

On that new heading the RADAR painted an ugly picture. Nothing but red. What was green at FL 280 was nothing but red at FL190.

"Crap, there's no way around it." I said.

"Yeah that stuff came out of no where," replied my Captain.

I had one hand on the yoke and one of the thrust levers.

Heavy rain. Lightening strikes at 11 o'clock and close. Bouncing around a lot.

Working my way around the worst of it.

While in a turn we hit a big bump descending through FL180. Then the sound of the autopilot disconnecting came over the loud speaker.

"You got it?" asked my Captain.

"Yeah I got it." I replied.

My Captain cancelled the master warning flashing on the glare shield. It originated from the autopilot failing. It was all in my hands.

Left, then right while keeping an eye on my speed and rate of descent. Thumb down on the trim to reduce the descent, thumb up on the trim to increase it.

Broke out of the clouds and storm around 13,000 feet. Calm and clear. I looked to my right. Nothing but a wall of ugly, grey clouds. My Captain saw the same on his side.

Airport ahead 21  miles. Cleared for a visual. I was a bit high.

Flaps out, engines idled I was happy to be in smooth air.

Easy approach and landing. Done. Well kinda...there was the whole issue of the autopilot, AKA "George".

Arrived 20 minutes early. Lucky for us there was company maintenance onsite.

The autopilot failed in flight. The mechanic did a full reboot of the avionics and tested the system. All back online within 25 minutes.

While he was fixing the autopilot my Captain and I discussed a way back. We were NOT going back through that wall.

Our dispatcher simply filed us the standard routing....meaning back through the weather. My Captain and the dispatcher discussed the way back. We could go south and go offshore 40 miles and get around MOST of the weather, but would have to pick our way around some. He liked the way the RADAR looked on his phone. Looked good to me as well.

Pushed back 10 minutes early. Had to wait about 5 minutes for the new clearance to get to the tower. Done.

Next two legs were being flown by my Captain.

Departed and headed south. A few bumps, but no where near as bad as the inbound flight.  Long way around. Only flew 35ish miles off shore.

ATC was very busy as just about every aircraft was deviating for weather.

Given a slight reroute. Arrived 2 minutes late and 12 minutes over block time.

Plane swap. The inbound was late. When it arrived there were no ramp personnel to marshal it in. Waited more.

Blocked out 23 minutes late at 8:58PM.

Being late we were cleared direct to the overnight 5 minutes after takeoff.

Hotel leg. Maximum speed. Smooth air.

ETA was 9:45 PM. Scheduled arrival was 9:35PM. The shortcut and higher cruise speed helped. Then it happened.

"Reduce to slowest practical speed, you're number 2 for the airport." ATC commanded.

The issue? Tower was closed, only one IFR arrival at a time.

"Seminole 4AT cleared for a visual approach, cancel IFR on this frequency or on the ground. Frequency change approved." came through my ears.

Seminole 4AT?

"Seminole 4AT can you cancel IFR as soon as practical there is another aircraft inbound for the airport." inquired ATC.

"We can cancel IFR now, 4AT"


We were now able to proceed as normal.

Cleared for a visual.

I used com 2 to make the standard position reports. We were landing on runway 18. The Seminole was landing on runway 3.

I thanked the Seminole for the cancellation.

Dark, clear night.

We saw the Seminole inbound for runway 3. We were still on a 10 mile left base for 18.

The Seminole landed and announced holding short of runway 18. I cancelled IFR on a 8 mile final.

The Seminole was from ATP (my flight school). Not only from ATP but departed from the airport where I did all of my training. I had flown the same flight they flew countless times.

I had a short chat with the Seminole after landing. It brought back memories for me as a student and a CFI.

Blocked in at 9:44PM. Just 9 minutes late.

Today is day 4. Three legs, with the first leg leaving at 2:30PM. I don't finish until 8:55PM.

Tomorrow my daughter turns 2 (2!!!). I'm lucky to be able to be off for her birthday. I haven't missed one yet....of course there's only been one. Ha.

Finally a few photos...and even a video of some of the weather yesterday. They were taken on leg 1 and leg 3.

Photos take a while to load. I'm on my netbook and can't crunch and watermark like I do on my Macbook. I'll fix them this weekend.

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