Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Broken clouds, 78 degrees, wind 180-240 degrees at 8-12 knots
Pardon the sensationalist headline; I promise I haven't been watching that much CNN lately. But this was one of those days that required a serious go / no-go decision. For those of you who aren't pilots, a) the title pays slight homage to the media's usual inability to cover anything aviation-related without resorting to sky is falling tactics (I'm sure doctors harbor similar thoughts when anchors wax poetic about viral outbreaks, teachers when they discuss standardized testing, etc.) and b) while departing today certainly would not have led to imminent death, it could have been a very bad first decision in an accident chain by the end of the weekend. Read on.
Ok, tangential discussion aside, back to the decision that did not involve LeBron. We were supposed to fly to Syracuse this weekend for Gina's cousins' graduation party. Flying was really the only option since it's a 10 hour drive or a 4 hour flight and Gina has to work Sunday afternoon (strike one - time and schedule pressure). I've been closely monitoring the forecasts; the trip went from seeming feasible earlier in the week to looking quite iffy by this morning (strike two - forecasts trending in the wrong direction). Nearing our planned departure time, it was obvious a Sunday return would not work due to forecast low ceilings and visibility, but I momentarily considered returning Saturday afternoon before further analysis of the forecast (strike three - VFR pilot flying 400 nm across a stationary front and possible embedded thunderstorms). So, in what I can only label a good no-go decision, we cancelled the trip.
But I was already at the airport. And - an isolated thunderstorm having passed by a half hour prior - the weather was currently quite conducive to flying. Good enough reason to at least putter around the pattern before heading back home.
I loaded far less baggage than lie under my hatchback's hatch into the 172 - just myself, my GPS logger, and my headset. N2814L had flown just prior to my arrival so the engine quickly roared to life with one small shot of primer. I taxied over to the fuel pump and topped off the tanks.
As you can see, the wind picked up at times
Gusty winds had come and gone throughout the day and remained in the forecast but it was rather calm when I first departed. The Skyhawk took to the sky without much fuss under the relatively light load. One of the jump planes on the field departed behind me with a load of meat missiles so I made sure to wait to turn crosswind until passing abeam the jump zone. Though the winds at this point were steady the heat kicked up some decent thermals and I was constantly adjusting the power on short final; I touched down rather smoothly just past the threshold.
The second lap was decent and the third was great - total greaser on the landing in spite of winds that now were a gusting, almost direct crosswind. I was tempted to call it quits right there but I wanted to keep flying. On the fourth time around, I pulled the power abeam the numbers on downwind and negotiated a mostly-successful power-off 180, slowly adding flaps until I had all 40 degrees out right before touchdown. I landed slightly long with a solid thump but it wasn't too bad given the conditions. My final lap was nearly as good as the third with a smooth rotation into a crab on takeoff, culminating in a smooth crosswind landing in the gusty winds.
It's always disappointing to cancel a trip, especially last-minute, but I sure as hell don't intend to be the kind of pilot who doesn't learn from his own past experience. Having discussed the trip with a few more experienced pilots (including Upstate NY local Chris) I'm honestly not even sure we would have launched if I had my instrument rating. But it wouldn't have been remotely logical to make a go of it as a VFR-only pilot. It's better to be down here wishing we were up there, than up there wishing we were down here, as the saying goes.
As you may expect, I couldn't help but check the conditions along our planned route numerous times throughout the weekend. While it may have been clear enough along the Lake Erie shoreline (in lieu of flying the direct, more inland route over western PA/NY) at times, the overall reality was marginal at best. To hit flyable conditions would likely have required near-psychic timing, too, as I saw much more IFR or very marginal VFR both days.
Saturday mid-afternoon radar
Saturday early evening lowest reported ceilings
Saturday early evening TAFs (red = below my minimums)
Even locally I never saw a break in the weather on Saturday (we ended up running errands and driving around the area all afternoon) that I think we would have easily made it home through, had we left earlier. So, now with the benefit of hindsight, initial no-go decision confirmed. Flying to NY was definitely the right thing not to do.
Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 328.5 hours