Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lunch with the in-laws, assisted by ADS-B

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-S24-MGY-40I
Weather - 40I: Few clouds, 88 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 3 knots
Weather - S24: Few clouds, 88 degrees, wind light and variable
Weather - MGY: Scattered clouds and thunderstorms, 78 degrees, wind 150 degrees at 8 knots

My travel schedule hasn't calmed down one bit (I just spent most of the week in South Dakota) but we actually were home this entire weekend - something of a rarity these days. Accordingly, I couldn't just stay in Dayton; we decided to fly north to meet the in-laws for lunch! The weather forecast wasn't perfect and called for some afternoon pop-up thunderstorms in the humid summer air but it looked totally flyable. It would also be the perfect opportunity to test out my new FlightBox ADS-B before embarking on longer cross-country trips.

It was a straight shot there with a few deviations on the way home

I researched restaurants and airports that were a reasonable distance for both us via 172 and the in-laws driving down from the Detroit area. We narrowed it down to a few spots near Port Clinton (PCW) until I got a briefing and discovered there was a TFR for their annual airshow. Preflight planning, folks - it's important! :) So I did a little more searching and found a little spot in Clyde, OH. It's a small town along US-20 that we used to always drive through on our way to my grandparents' when I was a kid, so I thought it would be neat to return by air.

This dude was chilling on the right wing throughout my preflight

We took off from Stewart around 1:45 for the roughly 1:15 flight north. As I leveled off at 5,500 feet it was rather neat to see all the traffic around us in ForeFlight. I also pulled up the NEXRAD radar and used it to keep close tabs on a line of storms moving slowly towards our destination. It appeared we'd arrive in plenty of time but I planned to divert to an airport along the way (likely Seneca County / 16G in Tiffin) if the window started closing.

Sidenote - I spent the better part of the past month playing around with every EFB application that supports Stratux devices. At this point I've tried FlyQ, WingX, Aerovie, FltPlan Go, iFly GPS, and Garmin Pilot. I intentionally avoided ForeFlight at the beginning since I'm not fond of their lack of official open-source support, nor their pricing model, even though it's clearly favored by many pilots. Aerovie has some of the best weather and planning tools I've come across but it's just not quite as polished as ForeFlight - for now, at least. So, in the end, I'll openly admit that I've found ForeFlight to be the most polished, easiest to use EFB in the cockpit - and they've earned my dollars and support.

Traffic in the area after departing from Stewart

Ok, back to today's trip... we descended towards the airport and I called in on the CTAF between 5 and 10 miles out. Another plane was departing and I spotted him both out the window and on the iPad's screen thanks to the ADS-B traffic display. I entered the pattern and landed quite smoothly on Runway 24. The in-laws were waiting by the door to the FBO; we waved, tied down the plane (the aforementioned storms were approaching), and headed in to say hello.

Lunch was at a TripAdvisor / Yelp recommendation - the Blue Collar Bistro. Unfortunately, their air conditioning wasn't working and it was nearly 90 degrees outside so we got the food to go. We took it back to the airport and all enjoyed catching up and stuffing our faces in their convenient kitchen area while the winds picked up and it briefly rained outside. Everything was delicious - salad, wings, sandwiches, brisket, pizza, and their take on a parfait that's a mishmash of mashed potatoes, chicken, cheese, and homemade BBQ sauce. 

I had been keeping a close eye on the weather and decided it was probably best we get going before more cells flared up along the route home. The cell that passed over Clyde was long gone, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees, and we had CAVU blue skies when I began my preflight sometime after 5:00. We departed on Runway 6 and I waved the wings goodbye as we climbed straight out before turning right on course.

I was quite glad to have in-cockpit radar for the return!

Elliot's Landing (O74) - still need to stop in for some grub at the Plaza Inn

Gina has a habit of taking a nap at cruise altitudes :)

While the radar I posted above may look ominous, visibility was great and the cells were easily visible from at least 20-40 miles away. They weren't moving particularly fast and we were able to fly direct Stewart until well inside Dayton's (well, technically, Columbus Approach's) airspace. I was receiving flight following and the controller and I were talking about the severe cell over Stewart for quite a while. Both he and I thought it would be well east by the time we arrived.

Skirting east of a buildup forming north of Dayton

Another favorite local $100 hamburger destination - Urbana Grimes (I74)

Wright Patterson Air Force Base

US Air Force Museum with WPAFB in the background

However, it just sat there... and sat there... and sat there. From the ForeFlight screenshots alone you can see it was essentially in place for at least 45 minutes based on the timestamps and the fact that it was still there when we landed at Wright Brothers. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The controller turned me slightly SW to avoid Dayton's departures and keep me away from the storm. Then he suggested I fly east (even though the cell was moving very slowly east) to come around from the south where it was clear. I didn't like that plan and instead told him I'd continue west where it was already clear; we'd head towards Wright Brothers and land there if necessary.

There was still quite a storm SW of Dayton

We flew west of the storm - there was visible lightning coming out of this cloud

The cell refused to move, so we diverted to MGY

Turning to enter the pattern at Dayton - Wright Brothers (MGY)

The same controller came back a few minutes later and noted (not that this wasn't obvious outside our windows!) that the cell was still over Stewart and asked what I would like to do. I told him that Wright Brothers was in the clear and in sight, so he told us to squawk VFR, I thanked him for the help, and we continued our descent towards MGY.

As we descended I spotted some large lightning bolts on the west edge of the cell - and quickly turned right to put a little more space between us and the electricity. We hit a few bumps as we continued down, quite mild really, but that got me mentally formulating Plan C. I decided to fly further west and level at 2,000 feet (pattern altitude) before turning back east to enter the pattern. The AWOS was indicating 9-11 knot winds and the storm was clearly past the airport, but I decided that I would immediately abort landing and fly to Middletown (MWO) if we encountered any strange gusts, bumps, or shear as I came in to land.

Turns out the AWOS wasn't lying; as I entered on the 45 for Runway 2, turned downwind, and descended on short final, I didn't run into any unanticipated winds - not even the anticipated usual burbles over the trees. We taxied over to ASI and the friendly line staff came out to see if we needed anything. I said we were just waiting out the storm and they said no problem. We went inside to relax in their lounge for a few as I continued to watch the weather.

At least it was a scenic wait on the ground

Conveniently, pilot friends Tommy and Sarah were at Stewart this evening and they texted me weather updates. Shortly after they told me it finally cleared up we climbed back into 14L and I taxied out, this time to Runway 20. In those 30 minutes on the ground, the wind had completely shifted - as it often does when a storm passes by.

Back on the ground at Stewart after the storm finally pushed east

In under 10 minutes, we were on the ground again, landing on Runway 8. I didn't fly a normal pattern but instead entered on a long left base, staying well clear of the weather that still wasn't all that far east of the airport. I should note here that those figures in your POH about landing on wet grass are no joke - it was extremely noticeable how much longer it took the 172 to slow down after we touched down immediately after a heavy rainfall.

This was a great day of knocking much mental rust off. I've finally flown enough this year, with enough recently, that I feel pretty much back to normal in the mechanics of flight department. But having to make weather decisions, diversions, and being able to utilize in-cockpit traffic and weather definitely upped my cranial competency.

Flying to meet the in-laws for a nice lunch is always cool, too!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 3.1 hours
Total Time: 357.6 hours

Monday, August 8, 2016

Aviating over Upstate NY in Chris' Cherokee

Plane: Piper Cherokee
Weather: Clear, 78 degrees, wind 050 degrees at 4 knots

One of the best things about traveling so much is the ability to meet up with friends all over the country... all over the world, for that matter. I've flown into his home 'drome (Williamson-Sodus) before with Gina but never had the chance to take to the sky in his right seat. Tonight, after arriving via AA mid-afternoon for a week of work in Rochester, we finally corrected that and spent a fall-like, totally beautiful evening in the sky.

Don't mind me shamelessly reusing Chris' photo here

Read more on Chris' blog: