Archive for December, 2006

Go/No Go

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

As you may have seen form Brenda’s blog, we’re weathered in again in Midland, TX.

Go/No go decisions are really the hardest part of trips like this one. We spent yesterday hanging out in Frisco as a sizable cold front blew through Dallas – thunderstorms, tornadoes, the whole nine yards – and today was looking pretty good. The McKinney to Midland leg went pretty well, though we did have a solid, awful, 30-40 knot headwind the whole way, just like last time I flew this direction at this time of year.

We grabbed lunch and I set out to brief the (fairly short) hop to El Paso. Hurm. Icing airmet. And those headwinds. And there aren’t a lot of good choices for alternates out here in the middle of nowhere. I looked and thought a while and decided to stay put. These are always hard decisions to make, because I’m always worried that I’m being too conservative. I’ve made a conscious decision to fight that urge so I made the decision firmly and we decided to stop for the day.
This was a hard decsions to make because I do want to get home. Midland itself looked good, and much less threatening than the printed weather; maybe the El Paso situation was similarly overblown. But If it is as bad as it’s written, that would be a dangerous flight for the Archer, and if it’s worse, it would be a disaster.
However, I’m not beating myself up about the decision any more, because while we were waiting for a cab, I talked to a pilot who had come back after trying to get to El Paso and encountering ice en route. You have to make a fair number of these decisions, and usually there’s nothing more said on a no-go. it’s nice to hear I read the information correctly. Whew.

Pilot Geeking: Day Two

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Not too much to say about Sunday’s exploits. I taxied miserably at ELP, getting redirected twice, but flew OK out to Midland and then on to McKinney. The controller at McKinney basically tried to tuck me in ahead of a seminole with a night short approach. I made the short approach, but didn’t quite get off fast enough to get the seminole in behind me. I think it was overaggressive sequencing, but I was still hoping to make it work. :-(

Anyway, we’re in Frisco and hanging out with Brenda’s family.

Pilot Geeking: Day One

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

As Brenda mentioned, she and I are off on a cross country to see our families in Texas and North Carolina. It’s always interesting to take on the elements in a Piper Archer.

Fighting the elements is usually best done in advance. Earlier in the week, I didn’t like the way the weather was shaping up and moved our route south. Originally the plan was to fly through northern Arizona and wind up in Santa Fe for the night. Watching the weather this week, it looked like those areas would be having some weather (and they are), so I’m typing this in El Paso, TX. I like to be out of the weather’s way. We’ll see if I’m still out of its way tomorrow. :-)

I also got to see a black hole today. If you’re a pilot, you know that landing on an isolated runway at night without surrounding lights for reference can lead to the black hole illusion. The effect is that one can come in much lower than one intends with the result of hitting terrain or stalling. Flying into El Paso tonight (IFR) I was vectored to 26R for landing. As I’m on approach, I realize that I’m looking at the very definition of a black hole: no lights but runway markings, no VASI, no PAPI, no ILS. And the wind’s behind me. So I look at my altimeter and it reads lower than I’d guessed I was – not terrifyingly low or anything – but lower than I thought.
Now, I think it’s within my abilities to land on such a runway. But I’ve already hand flown more than 6 hours today, I’m at an unfamiliar airport, and it’s a sizable international airport. I can hear Southwest jets landing and taking off over on runway 4 oriented appropriately with the wind and I know it’s got an ILS and a PAPI. I think lots of people just land where they’re told, but I (cancelled IFR and) went around on 26R and requested runway 4. The result was a nice uneventful landing and a longer taxi.

I’m pretty sure a fair number of people just take the original landing clearance – and that the landing is usually without incident – but I’m pretty happy with myself for taking the better runway.