December 2, 2014 – The lowest of the low

I am absolutely high on this job.

The most inexperienced Captains have valuable lessons to teach, and the ability to motivate the crew to perform. I am just off a trip with a good number of weather cancellations, but the ones we accomplished were spectacular. The cancellations absolutely were legit.

First time into and out of DCA from Philly, the weather was so low I saw nothing as the pilot monitoring (PM). Only thing I could describe is brilliant approach and runway lights on the last 300′ of the approach, and that lasted only seconds. The Captain was flying; a last minute change since the weather was going down and the day was getting long. We saw what was coming regarding the schedule (at least he did).

Calling in-range, I learned that the outbound flight would be a ferry to Philly, and the DCA-ORF; ORF-PHL; PHL-SBY trips would get hosed. It had been a very long day for the crew, and the new Captain had high minimums to deal with. Everyone on the crew was off the next day.

The Captain and I discussed options and weather, and the Captain called dispatch to negotiate our destination. Weather at SBY was 200 and 3/4 – well below his high mins – but dispatch informed him that high mins don’t apply to ferry flights. If we got out before the weather went any lower – we were golden. Alternates were PHL and LGA. Let’s go.

The National Three departure from DCA must be done carefully. I’d been trained on this for my check ride, but you really can’t make any mistakes here. I’d practiced it quite a bit on my simulator, so I felt I was ready. Let’s do this.

Taking the runway for my leg home, we were asked if we could accept an immediate 90 degree climbing turn to 090 degrees, and we accepted. So much for planning. Now I’m manually avoiding the White House and hoping not to get a missile enema. Takeoff was a real rush – gear up and climbing right turn right into IMC in a big-ass Turbo-prop. Bring it on!

Back at home, the approach into SBY was ILS32 from COLBE. No vectors – we’d be doing the full approach while another DASH held above us. Captain Chris pointed out that the standards call for a parallel entry. I countered with my practice of using a tear drop and told him why – intercepting the final approach course further out and avoiding an S-turn closer in. Chris said it was my call and he’d back me up.

Flying with this guy was like flying with my GA Buddie Mike. He pulled me right in; treated me as an equal; and backed me up solidly. And I get paid for this…..

Following the glideslope on down, I kept my head down and controlled airspeed to spec. Chris was PM and looking outside. I’ve been typically adding 10 knots to final approach speeds in higher weather to blend in with traffic and please controllers. The airspeed is easily bled off at the runway with props, so I planned on the same profile. In this case, however, the Captain reminded me that we needed as much time as we could get to see the runway and get acclimated. We agreed I’d need to be right on our recommended profile tonight. That was easy to do.

Slightly above DA I saw the glow of the rabbit in the IMC and didn’t look up. He called it and we continued to 100′ above the runway. There he called the runway and I looked up and announced ‘landing’.

Visibility was such that It took me a few seconds to get my bearings and I ended up descending too slowly to the runway from that point. Captain did a stellar job of using subtle prompts – keep it coming down and don’t chop the power. I have heard a story of an FO who encountered windshear and hurriedly closed to throttles to ill-effect. I didn’t want to crunch an airplane, so I relied on knowledge of runway markings to judge how things were going.

The Captain worked hand-in-hand and exercised crew resource management – making the most difficult approach ever a non-event. I also think I have turned a corner in that I’m thinking of the crews collective performance, rather than my own individual performance. Today the crew did an amazing set of approaches safely and successfully.

While driving home after all this in fog, drizzle, and poor visibility, I smiled at what we’ve accomplished on this trip. Amazing.

As for single pilot and GA – I was supposed to take the twin up for final adjustments on the 3rd. The awful weather would remain the next day, so I worked with both shops to push it back a day.

Fly safe and try to have some fun. I can’t carry the entire load myself.

Frank