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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leg 5 - into the storm

OK, so it wasn't really a storm, but it was something of a first for me.

After filling the Bonanza and emptying our bladders, we started up the hot engine on the second attempt, and taxied out to runway 14 for take off.  At the FBO, I had pulled up fltplan.com and check "file this" against the flight plan already entered, KPEQ direct T31.  The weather was VFR, but with rain clouds catching up from El Paso.

At 4,000 feet, I called Forth Worth Center - "Ft Worth Center, Bonanza 40D is out of Pecos, 4,000 climbing to 7,000, IFR to Aerocounty, T31.  Request my IFR clearance".  "Bonanza 40D, Ft Worth center. Cleared to T31 as filed, climb and maintain 9,000, squawk 1234.  Be aware there is light to moderate rain ahead near Midland".

Continuing the climb, I noted that there was cloud above, so I request to remain at 7,000 - "Ft Worth center, Bonanza 40D.  I'd like to stay at 7,000, if able".  "Bonanza 40D, Ft Worth Center.  Maintain 7,000 feet".  The 496 showed the weather ahead in splotches of light green, dark green and yellow, depicting light rain, light to moderate rain, and moderate rain.  Our flight path, which passed just south of Midland, went though one of the lightest, most narrow sections of a long line of weather reaching up into Oklahoma and down into Mexico.  By this time I was handed off to Midland Approach, which only seemed to be working 2 other aircraft, a Mexican business jet and a Southwest Airlines departure.

I asked for unrestricted maneuvering and for an altitude block from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.  I could see under the rain clouds quite well, about 10 to 15 miles.  I slowed down in case of turbulence, and entered the rain shaft.  The 496 showed that the patch just off my right side was strengthening to yellow, so I steered a few degrees left, and after a short while I saw that the sky ahead and to the right was lightening, so I steered that way, and we came out into the sunshine at 6,500.  I climbed back to 7,000, and when prodded by approach I confirmed I no longer needed the altitude block, and was cleared to maintain 7,000.

The flight under the clouds was slight bumpy, but not really any more than a clear summer day in Texas below the summer cumulus.  We were now in a clear patch, but halfway to the next layer of clouds we hit some moderate clear air turbulence, probably the actual weather front which was clearing the clouds ahead, and forming rain behind.  As the clouds were at my height, I asked for 9,000 feet, which was assigned.  As I climbed, I was handed of the Ft Worth Center again, and they asked my if I could copy a DFW arrival clearance.  "Standby", I replied, as I hand flying and wanted to get back on autopilot to free my hands and brain.  "Ready to copy".

I read back the new clearance: "Bonanza 40D direct Tuscola (TQA), V94 (again!) to Glen Rose (JEN), via the Glenn Rose 064 radial, then the Cowboy (CVE) 213 radial to Cowboy VOR, expect radar vectors to Tango 31".  Why they didn't just say after JEN, direct KNEAD intersection, direct CVE is beyond me, but that's how I entered it into the 430W.  A few minutes later, the clearance was amended to direct KNEAD, direct CVE, then after 20 more minutes, just direct KNEAD direct T31.

On reaching KNEAD, I was given a heading of 050 degrees, and told to descend to 5,000.  This put me directly in a layer of cloud as we flew over Midlothian and Ceder Hill.  I asked to descend to 4,000, but that didn't happen until we were approaching Lancaster airport.  Finally permitted to turn toward my destination, we first flew on a heading of 030 toward Mesquite, then over Richardson and Plano heading 350.  Passing over the Bush Turnpike, I cancelled IFR and flew to T31, landing on runway 35 just before 5pm.  Luckily that just left time to put away the plane and drive like Hell to the vet, and get the pets out of the pokey before they closed at 6.

Well, what a flight!  I was quite proud of myself, it stretched my experience (but not my skills).  I should have expected the icing, but it took me by surprise, and caught me without the pitot heat on. But I thought I handled the situation well, working with ATC to get to a good solution. I would not have liked to do that flight in my old Sundowner - it would have had nothing left to give at 12,000, if it could even get there.  The Bonanza could still climb at more than 500ft/min all the way to 12,000.  I still have a radio problem brought on by moisture, but in dry conditions it works just fine.  And the V35A is the fantastically capable, fast cross country machine that I was looking for.

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