2012-01-22 Winter Instrument Flight

Flew home from Punta Gorda, FL yesterday after three wonderful days (or parts thereof) in 80+ degree weather. Absolutely beautiful. Found a really wonderful location with a 70’s house that needs new bathrooms; a new kitchen; and some upkeep. Bev and I know now that we can find one, so we’ll reflect on what the next step might be. One thing that is abundantly clear – with this airplane I can go anywhere in a reasonable time, so at least short vacations are feasible in the near term.

Trip home yesterday included some interesting flight planning. Tornado warnings the night before on the panhandle and west, and thunderstorm warnings across our route home yesterday. I planned an early departure to have us north of the threat area by 9am or maybe 10am, and into Georgia heading north.

I dropped the ball on my first morning briefing, thinking that since home was forecast to be in the high 40’s, ice would not be an issue. I didn’t check airmets or temps before heading to breakfast, but noted that our planned KISO destination was low IFR at the moment, and forecast not to improve above 600′ all day. KEDE was similar, but I ruled that one out in favor of KISO [better chance of getting clearance on the ground, and the big runway with an ILS didn’t hurt either]. I also figured going inland would give me higher ceilings or better visibility, but that was just a guess.

While Charles and I were having breakfast, I thought I’d better check airmets and temps for icing potential, and went up to the room to get my iPAD. Turns out the airmet covered our northern half of the flight – zulu for ice. The area forecast told me tops would be around 7000′ up north, and we planned 7k/9k for the route. Zulu was to end before our north arrival, but I’d have to watch.

It was VFR here, and the go/no-go decision was clearly a GO. Clearance was easy out of Punta Gorda. We flew north over Disney World, and accepted a few deviations from Miami Center before taking a straight shot for Craig and the rain storm / afternoon potential thunderstorm area (I saw this as a low risk for most of the day in this area near the coast). We flew in VFR conditions right over a 9000′ ceiling that started at the Florida border. That ceiling never ended all the way home.

Every hour I checked weather at our first destination – Kinston (KISO). 400 ovc with the vis slowly improving to 2sm. I spoke to Charlie about the need for a rest stop. He said he was up for whatever we needed to do, but I was concerned that in an hour – pain would be involved. It was a concern for me as well, but ultimately I decided to accept the extra risk for him and I, and do the rest stop at KISO as planned. The risk part is an ILS to minimums and and IFR departure in the same conditions. I was a good choice. Conditions at home called for more gas (options), and a rest turned out to be a good idea. Note to self – don’t keep pushing.

We accepted the ILS, and this would be the first chance to fly a coupled approach with the new Glideslope coupler. ILS 5 was on our route of flight, so a slight vector intercept angle was given and we descended into IMC on the autopilot. WIRE was run and the altimeter set twice on the inbound. It was changing rapidly. The first indication that something was a little different was watching the OAT. Temps at 9000′ were +10 degr C. Upon reaching 3000′ they were down to 5 degrees C, and as I recall, still lower on the ground.

The coupler worked as advertised, though either its limitations or my power management has the capture running us to 1000fpm descent initially and one dot low on the glideslope. It recovers quickly to precision, and it is repeatable. I’ll adapt my technique to accommodate by intercepting higher, I think.

[KISO ILS 5] Down the chute we go. Told approach that I’d try once; execute the missed; and then request my alternate (ORF). I was tracking along nicely to about 600′ when the wind shifted from a significant right crosswind to a strong left cross wind. My scan got hung up for a few microseconds that felt like ten minutes -looking at the CDI to ensure I was on the localizer. I felt I had the leans for a moment; got my scan re-energized; broke out at 400′ with my finger on the autopilot master switch; disengaged; full flaps; props full up; check gear down; land; off a the first exit. This is as close to a carrier landing as I’ll ever get, though much smoother touchdown, thank you very much.

After topping the mains and auxs (not the nacelles), we departed with the ceilings still 400′ and vis at 2sm. Broke out at 4300′ and the ride home was fast and smooth. Flew IFR above the rising ceilings all the way home; checking on conditions for the next landings. ICE was a concern, but Dover had no pireps of any, and the ZULU I received earlier had expired. The temperature inversion was significant in North Carolina, and I’m sure would be deeper here.

Just north of SBY, I requested GPS27 from Sophy (IF) to manage the expected northly winds of about 9 knots. That was granted and I was given a descent to 3000′. I then asked for pilots discretion to 3000′ on the theory that ice could be down there, and there was no reason to go look for it. Heading for sophy at 7000′ now and still in the clear, I looked around for wind information. Thats when I realized that most airports other than Dover favored (by far) an easterly approach, so I changed my request to GPS 9 from ZIZZO. They cleared me to that, pilots discretion to 2000′ now.

[33N GPS 9] This approach went more smoothly. Descending toward the clouds below, I turned up the defrost; pitot heat on; and refreshed my memory as to where the alternate air doors were. I gave Charlie the job for watching the windshield and wings for signs of icing, and also watching for the runway out the windsheild (he was surprised! by it suddenly appearing on the last approach). We did the procedure turn and let Dover know we’d cancel with them on the ground. Breaking out above 1000′ and I was ready for the wind shift and had plenty of time. I plan to develop a simulator scenario around the shifting winds for continued practice when you have low ceilings and visibility. This time I did an extra GUMPS with the additonal time, and minimized the flaps to account for the potential of runway ice. The landing was uneventful.

Squawks include: Vacuum AI slow to spin up and align. Once locked in and warm – no problem. Watch this. #2 NAV Head doesn’t work for VORs. ILS tracked nicely, and the ASPEN could display the signal for VORs and ILS from the radio. Head needs work – talk with Penn Avionics.