Weather: Scattered clouds, 81 degrees, wind 290 degrees at 10-15 knots
My dad and sister came down to visit for the weekend and I wanted to take them flying with me and Gina. It was sort of a combined Father's Day and birthday present as Lauren turned 21 last week. They've both flown with me before - my sister last June and my dad last August - but they were just short sightseeing flights. I wanted to introduce them to something we as pilots have come to love, the $100 hamburger!
A line of heavy storms pushed through late last night and it was still raining under a low overcast when I woke up at 8am. I had the 172 reserved at 9am but I knew that wasn't happening. Checking the radar, it looked like the weather might push out but I really wasn't sure. I called Stewart and told them I was checking the weather constantly and would be making a go/no-go decision by 10am. Almost as if on cue, I could see the ceiling rising and patches of blue sky when I looked northwest out our kitchen window 55 minutes later. One final check of the radar and METARs enroute indicated things were looking good so I called Stewart and told them I was on my way.
By the time I arrived at the airport I couldn't believe how quickly the weather was improving. The sky was almost completely blue to the west and there were just a few wispy clouds down low, probably due to the humid air rising off the fields. My plan was to get the plane ready and fly over to Wright Brothers (MGY) to pick everyone up. Warm temperatures with a high density altitude and wet grass in a 172 within 50 lbs of gross was outside what I would call my safety margin. Plus, our house is only a mile from MGY and they wouldn't have to stand outside in the muggy air as I completed my preflight and hooked up all the headsets and stuff inside the plane.
Video from the flight to Muncie - click the YouTube logo to view it in full HD
I departed Runway 26 with a left crosswind and made the very short flight to pick up the passengers. Time elapsed from taxiing onto the runway at Stewart to pulling off the taxiway at Wright Brothers was under 11 minutes. There were a ton if Cirri on the ground (one taxiway was even closed and converted to parking) because the Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association Migration is being held there this weekend. I shut down on the ramp and saw Gina, my sister, and my dad standing outside the terminal building. The lineman asked if I needed anything and I told him, "nope, just picking up these folks." Everyone got in, I checked that my portable intercom was working properly with all our headsets, and then I ran the checklist and got the fan turning as fast as I could - it was muggy out!
Takeoff from Wright Brothers was smooth and our ground roll wasn't more than 1,000 feet but I was still glad to have all that concrete in front of me. We climbed at about 500 fpm and I turned west towards Muncie and called Dayton Approach for VFR Advisories. We flew level at 4,500 feet for a while but I had to descend to 3,500 feet about 25 miles from Muncie to remain clear of a scattered layer. Muncie Tower instructed me to report a 5 mile final for Runway 32. There was a field with a NOTAM for model rocket activity about 5 miles out on the Muncie 140 radial - basically right where I was supposed to be when I called straight-in. We all spotted the field off to my left and kept our eyes open but never saw any activity.
Due to the passing front, the wind was now a left crosswind out of the west. I got us aligned with the centerline with a swift kick on the rudder right before touching down smoothly. Tower gave us taxi instructions and I parked at the GA ramp and shut down. EAA's Ford Tri-Motor was in Muncie giving rides and they were taxiing out right when I turned the fan off. As I stepped away from the plane another pilot came over and introduced himself - it was Jim from the Great Lakes Pilots forum. He and his wife flew in because we had a thread on there about meeting in Muncie today.
We went inside the terminal and got a window seat at Kacy J's. It's a relatively new restaurant run by two pilots. Long-time readers might recall that Gina and I flew with another pilot to Muncie over two years ago to breakfast; it was a different restaurant at the time. Today the four of us had sandwiches for lunch - I had the grilled steak and Gina had the pulled pork. The food was quite tasty (I preferred my steak to the pork) although the service was a little slow. However, it was a nice meal and we got to watch the Tri-Motor make three takeoffs and landings through the wall of windows.
Video from the flight back from Muncie - click the YouTube logo to view it in full HD
I went out and did the preflight while they finished up lunch in the air conditioned restaurant. Everyone then strapped back in, I started the engine and ran through my pre-takeoff checks, and then called Ground for taxi clearance. I performed my run-up at the edge of the ramp and then held short of Runway 32 before switching to Tower. He cleared us for takeoff and we departed with a moderate left crosswind and a right turnout on course.
The clouds were still at about 4,500 feet and I wanted to climb above them both for the smoother, cooler air and to take advantage of the tailwind. I had to make a few gentle turns as we climbed to remain clear of the clouds and then turned on course once we were 1,000 feet above them. I then called Dayton Approach and requested VFR Advisories - for those of you skimming this post, here's where things get fun.
Roughly 25 miles away from Stewart I had started our descent from 7,500 feet through an large break in the clouds when ATC called out traffic 6 miles ahead, below us, 1 o'clock to 12 o'clock. Then he advised they were beginning a slow climb - we were looking like hawks but he was still hidden below the scattered layer. About 20 seconds later the controller came back and said the traffic was now climbing fast and recommended an immediate left or right 90 degree turn.
It's interesting in hindsight to think about how the brain works. Obviously the standard procedure is a right turn for head-on collision avoidance. However, I had not yet spotted the traffic and it's pretty obvious to me watching it back on video that as soon as I heard "immediate left..." I was cranking over on the yoke into a 45-ish degree bank to the left. First in, first out I suppose. As soon as I was in the left bank I spotted the traffic, a twin at about 11 o'clock, 1/2 mile away, and 300 or so feet below. Again, it was an instant reaction as I immediately rolled back to the right in another 45-ish degree bank before leveling out back on course. My eyes were on the traffic as he continued past us off the left wing.
The good news is ATC saved our bacon because there just wasn't much time to spot traffic popping out of the clouds. Talk about a great lesson as to why they have that 1,000 foot above clouds VFR minimum! The other good news is that everyone in the plane with me thought it was neat and didn't get sick. Obviously I was in 100% crank-and-bank mode once ATC issued a traffic alert and all "keep the passengers comfy" flying gets thrown out the window. The whole episode, from the first traffic call-out, didn't last more than two minutes and I thanked ATC for the help as I resumed our descent. The entire sequence was captured on video - so be sure to watch the embedded clip above (it starts at about 3:30) if you'd like to see it in real-time!
Since the open space in the clouds was now closer due to the traffic avoidance situation, I increased our rate of descent to about 1,000 fpm to safely drop down below the scattered layer. I could see Stewart as soon as we got under the white fluffy things and pointed us in the right direction for a midfield crosswind entry. Checking the AWOS at Wright Brothers I knew the winds were at 10+ knots out of the west so I was almost positive Runway 26 was in use. Nonetheless, I had my head on a quick swivel as we approached Stewart (most of the traffic there is NORDO, after all) and finally spotted a Pawnee that had been towing a glider on a left base for Runway 26.
Turning base to final I could see we were slightly high so I put in all 40 degrees of flaps to increase the sink rate. Rounding out over the soft grass, I held it off for a very soft touchdown about 150 feet past the threshold. As soon as I turned off the runway I popped my window back open to get some air moving around in the very toasty cabin. I pulled into the 172's tiedown spot, shut down, and we all hopped out after a great day of nearly-summer flying!
Our return leg - the outbound track didn't record for some reason
Both videos were recorded using my new Kodak Zi8 pocket video camera attached to the windshield with a RAM mount. I bought it mainly for recording flying videos because it has an external mic input that I can hook into the intercom and it records in HD. Obviously it was picking up the propeller sync quite a bit. I think it might be so noticeable because I was recording at 720p/60fps. Next time I think I'll try 720p/30fps (especially since YouTube downsamples everything to 30fps anyway) and see if that reduces the visibility of the prop in the video. It uses the H.264 codec to compress the video and while it's not HDTV quality I'm still pretty impressed with the results. What do you all think?
Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.5 hours
Total Time: 156.4 hours