Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meeting Marty for some grub on a rainy Fall day

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-AXV-40I
Weather: Overcast, light rain showers, 59 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 5 knots

I'll be honest up front - this was one of those flights where I really had to use my judgement in evaluating the weather throughout the day before making the go/no-go decision. As recent as yesterday, I looked at today's forecast and saw clear skies. Mother Nature clearly had other plans and the front moved a lot faster, bringing overcast skies and light rain showers. I was checking AWOS reports all afternoon and visibilities were still reporting 10+ miles with ceilings no lower than 8,000 feet. But I held off making the final decision until I called Flight Service on the way to the airport. The briefer confirmed that even though there were light rain showers, visibility remained good and there should be VFR weather during the time I'd be in the sky.

Not only was the decision-making process a good bit of experience to file away in my head, but the weather itself made this a really rewarding flight. I do recall bad visibility and haze on my first solo cross-country as well as some serious haze when we came back from Put-In-Bay last month, but I don't think I've ever flown in rain for an entire flight. Sure it was VFR the whole way and a lot of folks have flown in much worse weather, but - at least at this point in my aviating life - today was a good balance between challenging myself and keeping a margin of safety.

Pretty straight lines from following a Sectional if I do say so myself!

So where was I headed in the first place, you ask? Up to Neil Armstrong Airport in Wapakoneta. Actually it's 8 miles Southwest in New Knoxville but the Man Who First Walked on the Moon is from Wapakoneta so I suppose politics may have been involved during the naming, but I digress. Why the heck would I want to fly up there, you ask? To meet a friend and CFII that I know from the AOPA Forums (seems I meet a lot of folks on there, eh?) who has a flight training business on the field. And, most importantly, he and a bunch of other pilots at the airport have a little barbecue every Thurday night. Free burgers and brats? I'm in!

Visibility off to the East on the way up

Weather-wise, the flight up to Neil Armstrong was better than the return. Upon departing Stewart I turned on course, just a couple degrees left of due North. As I was climbing up to 4,500 I contacted Dayton Approach for flight following. The radio on 18J is a bit of a pain (I've mentioned this on here before) because it blows your eardrums out every time you hit the Push-to-Talk (PTT) switch. So the workaround is to quickly push the volume sliders on my headset all the way down when I hit the PTT, say what I need to say, then quickly push the volume back up so I can hear ATC's response. At the same time, I try to write down the frequency, squawk code, or whatever else it is they want me to do.

Long story short, between doing all that and flying the plane (aviate, navigate, communicate!) I jumbled up a few of my calls and definitely wouldn't call it my best day on the radio. I had to ask them to repeat my squawk code once because I forgot to write it down and instead went right into the above 'slide-talk-slide' sequence to make my callback. Now you see why it's smart to write everything down when you hear it. The radio behavior is more of a pain than anything (and they're supposed to be fixing it when the plane goes in for annual in a couple weeks - but it's hard to diagnose because it only occurs in the air; everything always seems fine when you test it on the ground) but that's not much of an excuse. Quite simply, I wasn't thinking before I spoke every time.

Dayton had me climb to 5,500 - presumably for traffic - and I passed right over top of the airport, which allowed me a great view and the chance to take some photos. Sure beats the usual view out a 6-inch window on a cramped airliner. The clouds were at least 2,500 feet above me the remainder of the short trip and I flew in and out of some very light rain showers. Visibility never dropped below 10 miles and I spotted the airport from 10-15 miles out, cancelled flight following, and made my approach.

Passing right over top of Dayton International on my way North

Raindrops on the windshield as I cruise at 5,500 feet

Passing by Lake Loramie while inbound and descending to pattern altitude

Neil Armstrong Airport from about 7 miles out

As I made my first radio call while inbound, Marty came back on Unicom with an airport advisory and a "hi Steve!" so I was already feeling welcome before I even touched down. I made an easy lap around the pattern and set down on the left main first for a nice and soft crosswind landing. Taxiing over towards the ramp, Marty appeared and marshalled me into a parking spot on the concrete.

It was great to spend time with him and some other pilots, even if I only was on the ground for about an hour. Marty introduced me to a bunch of pilot friends from the area and we all talked about... well, do I even need to tell you what we talked about? One guy has a beautiful biplane that he spent something like 13 years building in his basement - it was impeccable. I had a burger, some scalloped potatoes, and pumpkin spice cookies and all were delicious. About an hour had passed since I landed when I started the engine back up after a quick preflight just as it was starting to rain on the field. Daylight hours are quickly fading so I had to be wheels-up by 6:30 at the latest to get home before sunset. As I left the ground and started to climb, I saw Marty waving down below and rocked my wings in return.

Visibility to the West on the flight back home - slightly lower than earlier

The rain came down with a bit more intensity throughout the flight home. However, I was easily able to navigate from town to town with the help of the Sectional as I made my way Southbound. Visibility was still more than adequate, but I'd estimate it got down to around 7 miles at times. As I passed by Dayton International the rain picked up slightly more and remained that way until I was a few miles beyond downtown. I spotted a C-5 off to the East in the pattern at Wright-Patt and heard him talking to Dayton Approach on the same frequency I was on for flight following. Other than that, the radio was pretty quiet.

Rain picking up and visibility lowering slightly as I approached DAY

...aaaand passing by Dayton once again

The high school where Gina teaches is in the middle of the photo

Passing over downtown Dayton - the fountains at Riverscape were on

USAF Museum in the foreground with Wright-Patt AFB off in the distance

About 10 miles from Stewart the rain lightened up and I could see the clouds were lifting to the West. ATC canceled flight following with me just about the time I was going to call them and do the same, as I had the airport in sight. I descended down from 3,500 feet to pattern altitude and heard someone else in the pattern make a radio call on the CTAF so I announced my position as well. It's quite rare to hear anyone on the radio at Stewart since at least half the traffic is NORDO so it was quite random to hear someone else talking on a day when very few folks were flying. Anyway, I continued on all the way to final where I intentionally landed long to be closer to parking. For whatever reason, however, I really ballooned at first and even though I eventually set 18J down softly it definitely wasn't a great landing by any means.

I'm really glad I had the chance to finally meet another pilot friend. And, you know what? Come to think of it, this may have been my first actual $100 hamburger if you want to be really technical. Either way, the food was tasty and the company was nice. Add to that everything I said earlier about getting experience flying in less-than-ideal weather conditions and I'll write this evening off as one heck of a successful flight in my logbook.

One last thing... if anyone's in the area, I'll probably be at Sporty's this Saturday from 12-1 or so for their usual grill out!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Total Time: 133.3 hours


  1. Great to meet you Steve,
    Drop in again, and enjoy, Marty is a great Chef.

  2. I enjoyed meeting you as well. Great write-up on your trip. Let me know sometime if you'd like a ride in a 182RG based at KMGY.

    We look forward to seeing you again at Neil Armstrong.


    ~ Bob Sachs,CFII,SEL,MEL

  3. Thanks, it was great to meet all you guys as well!

    With the shortening daylight hours I might not be able to make it up again soon, but expect more of me next year for sure.

    Bob - I'll definitely let you know, that would be fun. And it's literally right around the corner from the house.

  4. Sounds like a great flight. As far as the go/no go decision making it sounds like Summer here in Florida. Afternoons are always chancy and even mornings are not sure things.

    I'm planning on attending the AOPA summit one day. Most likely I'll just take in the exhibits and such. Stay in touch so we can catch up for lunch or something.

  5. Enjoyed the photos Steve. Keep up the flights and posting, and let me know if and when you want to help add content to the EAA284 chapter site.