Oct 7, 2016 Angel Flight in Low IMC

FISHING THE SALMON RIVER: My new son in-law Scot is only 10 years younger than I am. He is easy going and fun to hang out with. Scot was kind enough to arrange a Salmon fishing trip for us to enjoy, and I jumped at the chance to try something new. We brought along my grandson Jake and met several others up in Pulaski, NY to fish the Salmon River.

I had decided early on not to fly up there. We had four people going up, gear, weather, and lots of unknowns on the trip. I’d also never been fresh water fishing before, and didn’t have a good idea how all the lodging and logistics would play out. Four of us piled into Scot’s truck for the ride north, and during that ride I accepted a call from Dominic at Angel Flight with a mission.

This new mission would be later in the same week, picking up two passengers at Baltimore International (BWI) and flying then down to an airport south of Richmond, VA; KAVC – Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport. I accepted the mission and added it to my calendar for Thursday.

We’d been driving in moderate rain all day, and would have Hurricane Matthew pumping moisture onshore along the coast later in the week. I didn’t know at this point if the hurricane would make it’s way up to us or not, but there was not point worrying about it while the trip was still 5 days out. The long range forecast after the call actually called for sunny weather on that day.

The fishing trip was awesome. I stood in the cold and fast-flowing river from daybreak to around 1pm. Caught one small salmon, but had a monster on the line for several minutes. The big one had me for lunch, but I learned an awful lot in that time about what to do the next time I hook one. Definitely a worthwhile experience.

FLYING INTO BWI: Anything can be intimidating until the first time you do it. I’ve been into BWI now dozens of times, in both a regional airliner and in multiple types of GA aircraft. I am very comfortable going in there in all types of weather, so when I saw that the weather would be as low as 1100′ I wasn’t concerned. If the winds would stay light, I expected I’d get the ILS28 with a circle 33R for the direction I was coming in.

KGED Delaware Coastal weather (used to be Georgetown Airport) was overcast 1500′. It was actually higher than that in the area, with the overcast layer to the west. Fuel tanks were all full, giving me seven hours of fuel for the days flying. I departed off of runway 04 and was cleared LAFLN direct BAL direct. Should be on the ground again in under a half hour.

Approaching BWI, I completed the acronym WIRE: Weather, Instruments, Radios, Everything else. Joining the final approach frequency of 119.0, I had everything set up for the approach I had been told to expect. Now I hear Southwest being flown through the localizer on the ILS10, and several others would follow his example to accommodate a delay that the final controller was working around. It was my turn next for 15L, but I was vectored and told that it would be a few minutes before they could send me in. screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-8-24-18-am

Flying along just above the layer now, I was vectored northeast to develop a sequence for the ILS 15L. I appeared to be alone at this altitude, which was confirmed by my new traffic displays afforded by the Garmin GTX-345 I had just put in. I slowed down to minimize everyones workload based on what I saw, using an approach speed of around 140 kts. I turned the autopilot on to fully brief the approach and started talking to myself again.

Weather was being reported as light winds, 10 sm visibility, and 1100′ overcast. This approach would be a non-issue, but I had no intention of allowing myself to become complacent about it. I’d done that in the past – gotten too comfortable and confident – and wanted to be sure I was on my game for the go-around. Recalling a conversation I had with Garrett about a flight he had going into BWI, there was a chance I could be sent around to accommodate traffic. You never know what might happen, so I needed to be ready for anything.

Briefing complete, the vectors back toward the localizer had me on a somewhat tight left doimg_2334wnwind for 15L. I was given a few sharp vectors, and then cleared to intercept the localizer from the north side. On the tower frequency now I was immediately cleared to land. The glideslope came alive and I started down from 3000′.

Winds were light and the air smooth, so the needles remained locked where they should be. I review the missed approach one more time as I passed through 2000′, and included the windshield in my scan.

1300′ now and the clouds aren’t thinning. Speed is good, localizer where it should be, but I’m slightly below glideslope and correcting. 1100′ and the clouds are still thick. The overcast report was wrong or has changed, and a missed approach for weather is now a real possibility. 800′ and then 600′ when the ground appears straight down. There is no forward visibility yet, and the lowest I can go is only 50 more feet.

I focus on the glideslope and tighten my grip on the throttles, expecting to go-around for another try. Just under 600′ the ragged overcast parts and the runway appears in front of me. Another aircraft is coming in behind me, so I keep the speed as long as I can. Flaps to 20 on short final to a smooth touchdown on the centerline. Tower instructs me to stay with him to Signature and I taxi off the runway and make my way along.

Leaving the runway, I suddenly had this feeling of dread. I could not recall  specifically being cleared to land, and thought about asking the tower if I had been.  I reconsidered that, and decided to stay quiet. Only as I write this did I bring up LiveATC to confirm that in fact I had been cleared to land as soon as I contacted the tower. It was all so automatic I just could recall doing it.

The Signature Flight Service follow-me cart met me off of the taxiway, and guided me all the way up to their front door. I was chocked in seconds and given first class handling from the start. Getting out of the airplane, I explained to the flag person that I may be here an hour due to low weather at our destination. “No problem – we’ll move you if that is necessary, but you should be just fine.”.

The PA30 is an amazing machine, and the configuration works very well for IMC. The gear all worked together flawlessly, and I was loving it. Now to go inside to check in with Signature and then do the paperwork with the patient and passenger.

Once inside I made sure the desk had the waivers from Angel Flight that would ensure I wasn’t charged the usual landing and airport fees. Kudos to both Signature and Angel Flight for getting together on that, and probably the airport authority as well. My passengers and I were cared for in a professional manner for this Angel Flight mission, and I wasn’t charged a dime. There was nothing for me to sign either.

I found the passengers and walked over and introduced myself to them. I brought up the waiver form on the iPad that protects me from liability and had them both finger sign it. Once I sent that off, I asked them to give me a few minutes to check weather and get a cup of coffee. I’d brief them on our plan very shortly.

The coffee was fantastic, but the weather at our destination not-so-much. I needed at least 700′ overcast for the lowest approach at KAVC, but the current weather was reported as 200′ overcast. I’d probably be flying all the way there and not be able to land. The forecast (as opposed to current weather report) called for 800′ overcast until 3pm, beginning an hour from now, so I decided to delay departure for that long in the hope that things would improve. Looking around at other airports in the area, it looked like Chase City airport (CXE) off to the northwest would be usable as an alternate based on the current and forecast weather.

I learned that the passengers were being picked up at KAVC, and that their ride would be able to drive to an alternate airport if that became necessary. With that information, I put a plan together that would work for everyone.

I put down coffee and explained that we’d depart in an hour regardless of the weather at KAVC. I expected there’d be a good chance that we would not be able to land there, and would need to either return to BWI or find an alternate like Chase City. They thought the alternate idea worked, and I asked them to give their ride a call and let her know of our plan.

At the appointed time, I checked the weather and saw a slight improvement to 300′ overcast. I gathered the bags and we headed out to the airplane. Departing BWI was easy – love that airport – and we were soon on our way south at 8000′. Well above the overcast layer below, the ride was smooth and the air cool.

On the way we had a traffic alert pop up on the Garmin 530W. It was easy to understand and put my eyes right on the oncoming traffic 1000′ above us. I didn’t hear any audibles though, so I catalogued that question for my installer later. New equipment is always cool, but takes a while to figure it all out.

The weather when we arrived was reported 800′ overcast. I stayed with my plan to accept a tailwind and the GPS19 approach, however, but we broke out about 1100′. I appears that my conservative planning might have been overkill in this situation.  Using a slower approach speed typical for short field work, or in the presence of tailwinds helped, but now I realized that I’d also be landing downhill. My self-briefing didn’t pick that up. I was coming in lower now, trying to make it all come together while still looking professional.

It all worked fine and I chirped it on and used brakes to make the mid-field turn-off. Once out of the airplane, I took a few pictures of all of us. I hadn’t been doing that out of respect for the folks I am moving around. I am changing my view of that now, based on experience and talking with others. Those pictures might encourage others to take on similar challenges and help a few people just a little.

Bev had packed me a lunch, so I put the bag up front with me for the ride home. I’d eat it on the way home.

FLYING ANGEL FLIGHTS IS REWARDING: Approach controllers are almost always consummate professionals and easy to work with. When you do an Angel Flight though, they put a special unspoken spin on handling your flight. Shortcuts come without asking, and delays are often minimized where possible. It is a special experience.

On the ground, Signature Flight Service was exceptionally courteous. On the ramp and getting ready to depart, I am required to enter the airplane first. That left my limited mobility primary passenger to climb aboard by himself, and have to stand there for a time without his cane. Should he fall, he’d not only hurt himself, but most likely damage the airplane in the process. I quietly grabbed a flagman and explained this to him. With no fanfare, he quietly stood behind the gentleman, and made sure both he and the airplane stayed intact. Working together we made it happen, while ensuring the dignity of the passenger.

Angel Flight as an organization was efficient and accurate. The information I get from them has been accurate. The iPad waiver and report submission is awesome and keeps my workload in check. These folks do great work for people who need it.

THE PASSENGERS: Today my passengers included a 63 year old man and his wife. The man has prostate cancer that has progressed and is metastatic. He was accepted to a trial program at Johns Hopkins, and looks to Angel Flight for transport.

While we were having coffee, he shared some of his story with me. He had met his wife in the Philippines some years ago, and brought her home to marry. Before they could get her medically insured, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed surgery. They ended up selling everything to pay for that, and sometime later, he himself required heart stents to be put in. It had been a considerably tough road for them up to that point.

Fast forward to now and he is putting his all into this fight for life. He wants to be there for as much of his 15 year old daughters life as he can manage. He describes his pain as intense and difficult to manage.

All-in-All his attitude is positive. He thanks me repeatedly for what I am doing, but it is not necessary.

Want to appreciate more of the who and what you have in your life – go help other people.

Fly safe.

 

 

About fdorrin

Experienced single and multi-engine instrument flight instructor in the PA30, Cirrus, Piper, Cessna, Diamond and others. Own an Elite simulator and use that effectively for single and multi-engine work. CFII; MEI; ME-ATP; SES; DHC-8 / Dash-8 typed. Retired Manager of Control Systems and Network Operations for PEPCO Holdings, Inc.
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