Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flying from few to solid overcast on the way home

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: OZW-40I
Weather - OZW: Few clouds, 64 degrees, wind 300 degrees at 7 knots
Weather - 40I: Overcast, 60 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 5 knots

After a couple days in Howell, it was time to head home this afternoon. I'd been tracking the forecast since I flew up and, with each update, the clouds in Ohio were expected to clear later and later. But the weather was still VFR and I knew I'd make it. The trip just required slightly more advance mental planning, which ended up working out great.

My sister dropped me off at Livingston County Airport just past 3:00. I wheeled my bag out to the 172, loaded everything in the baggage compartment, untied the tie-downs, and did a thorough preflight. All checked out so - since I'd topped off the tanks upon arrival - I started the engine and taxied down to the end of Runway 31.

You can definitely observe the changes in cloud cover at 8x actual speed

There were a few other planes inbound and one called a few miles out, planning to land on Runway 13. Traffic had been using 31 and I was sitting at that end, so I made my "taking off on Runway 31" call. He came back on the radio asking what runway was in use, I said the wind was mostly down 31 but I'd be out of there in a minute. In the end, he changed his mind and entered the pattern for 31.

The sky was nearly clear in Michigan so I decided to climb to 4,500 feet, knowing I'd likely have to descend partway home. I knew there was better radar coverage up there, which would facilitate the handoff from Toledo Approach to Indy Center - should I be able to remain high enough, long enough. On the way up at 3,500 feet, Columbus Approach couldn't hand me off to Indy and I had to call Toledo and restart flight following from scratch.

Interstate 94 west of Ann Arbor

Crossing over the Maumee River southwest of Toledo

While there were some bumps, the air was smoother than Sunday. I hit some good pockets of rising and cooling air along the way but overall spent far less time correcting my heading and altitude. Visibility was again spectacular, easily 50+ miles for the first half of the flight.

Clouds were still scattered at this point

Near Lima the clouds began to increase in coverage and their bases began to drop. Thankfully, I was able to hold 4,500 feet just long enough to get the handoff to Columbus Approach. As soon as I checked in with them I began a slow descent to 2,500 feet. It's always nice when you plan ahead and it works out in the air.

Columbus vectored me east towards Springfield to avoid Dayton's arrivals/departures and C-17s practicing approaches at Wright-Patt. I got a nice view of the behemoths turning in the pattern as I made my way south. Roughly abeam the Air Force base they turned me back on course. Visibility was still fine, probably 20-30 miles, but the clouds had become a solid overcast. And that's why I descended earlier!

Now underneath a broken layer somewhere east of Sidney

A familiar landmark for Dayton locals - Young's Jersey Dairy

I called Stewart in sight a bit over 10 miles out. Approach cut me loose, I squawked VFR, and made my final descent to pattern altitude. There was only a Cub in the pattern as I crossed midfield and turned downwind for Runway 26. The wind was light and I managed one of those awesome 172 landings where I had the yoke all the way back, stall horn blaring, right as the mains touched the grass. Not a bad way to end a trip.

Even factoring in my time on the ground in MI and my drive home, I still saved 45 minutes compared to driving. And there was far less traffic. On a related note, this was another good example of a flight where an instrument rating would've been quite handy. Instead of the mid-flight descent, I could've flown all the way at 8,500 feet to take advantage of a (slightly) better tailwind before descending through the clouds near Dayton. Oh well, it'll happen. In due time.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.0 hours
Total Time: 316.5 hours

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