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Friday, July 6, 2012

Thunderstorm Tag

It's vacation time in the Cooper household.  Searching for somewhere cooler, I rented a house on Martha's Vineyard from a friend, and Thursday morning after the July 4th fireworks, I loaded Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the back seats, 80 lbs of baggage (carefully weighed and arranged) in the baggage area, and with Sally in the right hand seat, we blasted off from Dallas only 30 minutes behind schedule.

I filed IFR to Sikeston Memorial Municipal Airport (KSIK), filing IFR starting at the Paris (PRX) VOR, with 7,000 feet planned.  The DFW arrivals controller didn't seem to understand that it is perfectly OK to file from a fix and gave me grief (he needs to re-read his controller handbook ( But after handing off to Ft Worth Center, I was given "as filed" and a transponder code - the pay off for good planning.  I filed PRX - MEEOW - LIT - KSIK, but shortly after PRX I was asked if I wanted to go direct.  Of course I did, and I asked for 9,000 as the bumpy air reached 7,000 feet.

Closing on KSIK, I heard an FAA plane checking the instrument approaches to KSIK mention to the controller that the runway at KSIK was closed.  I called up and talked with her, and she nicely checked with the airport, and confirmed yes, the runway was closed while the manager cleaned up the runway from the previous day's firework display (there was a NOTAM, but it was supposed to be open by my planned arrival time).  And the FAA plane also chimed in to say that they also had no gas at KSIK - rethink time.  I changed my destination to Paducah/Barkely Regional (KPAH), and picked up 25 gallons of overpriced 100LL there, for nearly $2 per gallon more than I had planned.

After a rapid refuel and bathroom stop, we took off again, filed IFR to Allegheny County airport in Pittsburgh PA.  I'd filed to 9,000, but on the climb out there was a layer of summer cumulus cloud starting right at 8,000, so I stayed at 7,000 for a few minutes.  But Sally had complained of feeling ill on the climb out from Dallas, so I decided to ask for and climb to 11,000 where the air was smoother, and visibility enough to go around the tallest clouds.

Nearing Cincinnati (CVG), my cockpit radar display showed severe storms over Cincinnati and stretching south over Kentucky.  ATC gave a re-route over the MXQ (Midwestern) VOR, and a small deviation right kept us in the clear.  That storm killed 2 people on the ground once it reached Tennessee.  We also went around some smaller pop-up storms trying to form, and landed at KAGC still 30 minutes behind schedule.

Checking the radar composite on the ground, I saw a line of new thunderstorms forming East of Pittsburgh, and made an IFR flight plan to go around to the north.  But I forgot to click the "file this" box, so when I asked for my clearance from the ground controller, he couldn't find a data strip.  But he did give a transponder code and set me up for VFR with flight following, which was actually even better, as it turned out.

A fuel injected Bonanza can be hard to "hot start", and mine is no exception.  If you re-start within about 10 minutes it will fire right up, but any longer and it is a bear, because the fuel in the lines evaporates.  I finally got the fires lit with a flooded start (you deliberately over prime and then slowly pull out the mixture until reaching the "just right" mixture and then it will start).  We taxied out, and were given take off clearance.  I did my usual "slow throttle push" - and the engine choked up and died on the runway.  The tower asked if I needed a tug, but since the engine was still hot and flooded, I quickly got it going again, and asked to taxi back to the run-up area.

This time I did a full power run up, and since everything checked out OK, I asked to take off again.  Slowly twisting the throttle up to full power, we took off perfectly normally, and turned on course now over an hour late.  Climbing to 7,500, I could see the storms ahead, but they looked better than the radar picture showed (the XM weather radar display can be up to 20 minutes delayed).  I went North about 10 miles, and went around the Northern edge.  The radar showed some storm patterns to the North (my left hand side), but there wasn't anything there.  An advantage of flying VFR in these conditions is that you do not need clearance to deviate or to change altitude.  A disadvantage is that you can't punch through any benign cloud, but I was able to easily remain VFR at all time.

Landing at Hartford-Brainard (KHFD) just after 8pm, I was tired, like a balloon deflating.  I felt my concentration going on the runway as I started to relax.  Pulling up my "pilot-stockings", we taxied to the FBO, and I shut down after 9 hours for actual flying, and 90 minutes on the ground.  I can see why the FAA limits commercial flying to set number of flying hours in a given 24 hours period.  I was very, very tired.  After 2 days rest staying with relatives in Hartford, we flew the last 45 minutes to Martha's Vineyard.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Indeed, a long day in the saddle. Mary and I understand the gas,potty and go stops while trying to maintain some sort of schedule.