The last day of this 4 day trip was to start at 5:30 PM with a flight out of Newport News, Va to Philadelphia, Pa. The Captain gave me the choice of legs to fly and I choose the first leg out of the gate. My thought was to warm up with a day ILS approach into Philly. The weather was around 600 overcast and rain, so one more hand flown ILS would improve my scan, tracking, and skills without the additional burden of a dark cockpit.
I’d been awake since 6am and out of bed since 7am. The day before ended late. I went for a walk around Newport News; did a one hour workout at the hotel gym; and got caught up on my magazine reading. I felt pretty good physically and expected to knock out these four legs readily; returning to Salisbury around midnight.
The crew van delivered us to the airport; captain got us signed in and I had the airplane pre-flighted in plenty of time. The weather was such that I’d be excited about flying it in my own twin comanche, but would be alert and looking to manage and reduce risk. Leave early – plan daylight trip – lots of gas – etc.
Since we are Piedmont, they tell me, we’ll be the last to get the open slots into Philly as the mainline (our owners) will prioritize according to their needs. When the weather goes south, Philly goes down to one runway and fewer flights get in and out. This reality makes sense to me from a business perspective, so we accept the two hour delay with stoicism, sarcasm, and derision. No big deal.
I have time to consider my situation, and know that had my wife and I been sitting in our beautiful twin comanche and ready to go; we’d be leaving right now. We’d depart for Georgetown and have an easy daylight IFR approach less than two hours from now. We’d beat the airlines in this case by a long shot.
Instead I will be flying a 35,000 lb airplane in night IMC into a busy airport experiencing weather delays. This would be the start of my workday at 7pm – after being up all day and sitting in the cockpit for 2 hours. This is what I signed up for, so suck it up buttercup.
Back to the topic at hand. We get off the ground at Newport News 2 hours late and I fly the leg up to Philly. By now the weather is 600′ overcast there, and we get vectors for a night ILS Zulu 9 right. I really want to turn off the autopilot and fly the entire thing by hand, but instead opt to be conservative and leave the autopilot on until either I break out or at 500′ above. I’ll give myself time to fly day approaches by hand to ensure I can be smooth throughout.
With the autopilot on, I set new headings and monitor the engines through the turns. Keep the speed up initially means about 85% torque and 210 knots. We are given a turn to downwind and slow to 190 knots – about 70% torque. Base leg is 170 knots and 55% torque, which I am able to hold precisely with this airplane. The approach has been briefed and the descent approach checklist is complete by this time.
Intercepting the localizer I hit the NAV button and the ID-802 message shows the LOC is armed. Cleared for the approach and I hit the APP button and see that the LOC is capturing and the glide slope is now armed. I am instructed to hold 170 knots to the final approach fix, and do so without trepidation. The Captains have been showing me what is required to do this smoothly, and I’m doing it.
We break out somewhere around 500′ and the autopilot comes off. The runway is at 11 O’Clock with the crosswind, and moderate rain slashes at us. This is so very cool. I keep the speed up as a jet is bearing down on us from behind – the next in line. Touchdown and off the high speed taxiway onto Sierra; then Echo; hold short of 9L.
This is a quick turn, since we are already late. We were all thinking that the round trip to LaGuardia would be canceled, and surprised to hear that we are still going. Weather up there is down to 700′ overcast, but at least I’m not do that leg. With all the complexity of night IMC in busy airspace that it comes with, this next leg will be challenging for either PM or PF.
Getting ready to go now, the captain asks me if I want this leg too. ‘Of course I do!’, I respond. No way I’m going to turn down flying, but I admit that I wouldn’t have suggested it without prompting. Hard to explain the mixed emotions, but I think it has to do with wanting to ensure my reputation with these guys remains intact. Personal risk management on a smaller scale. Still – I’m here to fly so here we go.
The flight up to LaGuardia (LGA) doesn’t take but 30 minutes, so you need to stay on top of what you are doing. It is easier to be the PF than the PM – as flying is easier than monitoring. Weather at LGA was 700′ overcast and I admit to still wanting to fly it all by hand. It was dark night in IMC with rain, so I evaluated the risks and used all the tools at hand. I decided to leave the autopilot on for this one too.
Approaching the LGA area, the vectors for the ILS 4 began, along with speed changes. These were just as easy as the Philly ones with the autopilot on, but would have been more challenging to keep my scan going while flying it all by hand. Definitely doable, but more of a challenge.
On final now and breaking out of the overcast around 500′, I could see the runway at 11 O’clock in steady rain. I was tracking right down the centerline compensating for the wind, so I kept the crab in until just above touchdown. Right wheel, left wheel, nose wheel, flatten the props and exit stage left. Frickin’ amazing they let me do this.
Now the flurry of heavily accented radio calls kick off, and I get some help from the Captain with the sequence.
The last thing I’ll say about this trip is that we were delayed on departure for about 15 minutes or so. I got to sit in the cockpit while holding short of runway 13; watched an A320 go around due to an unstabilized approach; and then watched multiple jets drop out of the clouds and land. Crystal clear night under a low overcast with these jets just appearing out of the gloom right before me. I could have sat there all night.
Fly safe and have fun.