Woke up at 7:45 P.M. Took Matt to the airport right away...he had to be up in Daytona Beach as soon as possible to get his radios checked out. One isn't workin' too well. Ate breakfast at The Outer Marker at the restaurant. Nice to just sit down, relax, drink coffee (I am doing that more and more!!!), and just eat at the airport. I like it! I am still convinced that I am going to own my own lil' restaurant cafe someday. Chili. Definitely chili.
Went back to the hotel and had to wait on a couple of packages. Matt was waiting for some discs for his computer that went kerplunk, and I had to wait on some drives for our company. So I just sat around and waited! The drives came in around 10:30, and Matt's package came in around 11:00. So at 11:05, I was headed for the airport!
I had wheels up around noon. Made the quick flight up to Daytona Beach to get my oil changed. I only logged 0.7 hours up there. Went out with the guys to grab some subs, then back to the airport. Turns out Jeff, Matt, and I were headed for Alexandria, Louisiana!!! It's so far away!
I put together an IFR flight plan, then headed west at 3:30. My first stop: Destin, Florida. AGAIN! This would be the third time I'd been there this season! But it's an awesome FBO, and they treat me with respect! It seriously may be my favorite one in the country. And the approach?! Agh, hard to beat!
The first hour or so was pretty easy. I was crusing at 5000 (the altitude they put me at for whatever reason...I had requested 6000). It was all VFR. About an hour in, though, I started having clouds right below me. They were gradually workin' their way up, and sure enough, I ended up "in the soup" for a good portion of the rest of the flight. So fun. Well, most of it, anyway. Some of the clouds were rather dark...
And one of the areas was pretty foreboding. It looked nasty from 40 miles out...and sure enough, as I got closer, it didn't get any prettier. I lost the sun setting behind this massive wall of cloud, and my course put me right into it. I kjnew it wasn't going to be fun! I turned off the auto-pilot and braced for the insides. Sure enough, it was pretty crazy. Not necessarily aggressively bumpy...but loads of updrafts and downdrafts. It had some hefty drafts. Nothin' too crazy, but still enough to make your heartrate shoot up. And just like that, I was out of it. It was probably only 5-10 miles wide...but it kept my attention!!! Focus on the six-pack, keep it level! My altitude was up and down, but that was fine by me. Just ride out the drafts.
Came out on the other side to a beautiful sun setting. With clear skies up ahead. Man, I love this job. I seriously can't believe some of the experiences I get to be a part of. The sites. The wow moments. And this was one of them. I had a beautiful flight up ahead. Some challenging flying just to make it interesting. But man, what a life. Hard to beat.
Landed at Destin, Florida. Taxied to my favorite FBO. It was night-time by now (the last 45 minutes were in the dark), and I did the approach to Runway 32. Out over the ocean, 300 feet above the resorts, runway. Ah, perfect!
I took a can of tomato soup inside to warm up and asked for a top-off. I had flown 3.5 hours already. (Yeah, I was only doing 75-85 knots across the ground...we had a pretty stiff headwind at altitude). I finally received 6000 feet about halfway through my trip but asked for 4000 the last half to get back in the clouds. In and out of the cumulus. I loved it!
The line guys saw I was eating and asked if I wanted some left-over catering food. Um, yeah!!! They brought out green beans, mashed potatoes, and ham. Perfect! I warmed up my soup, ate most of the rest of the potatoes, a few slices of ham, and about spit out the green beans (gross!). But it was a very welcomed meal! Thanks, guys!
I checked out the weather and really wasn't liking what I was seeing! Just west of Alexandria, Louisiana, was a massive cold front moving in...full of heavy rain. The radar was showing a huge green blob just west of the city. I called up a flight briefer, and he informed me of the same. The cold front was moving at 51 knots...and carrying a ton of rain. An advisory was out for mid-level turbulence all across the area...with freezing levels ranging from the surfact to 19,000 feet. I needed to get there!!! All of a sudden, I was eager to get back up in the air...I wanted to get as far as I could and possibly even squeeze in before the front. But I was disconnected with the briefer due to my cell phone losing signal...
So I called again and talked with another briefer. This time I was just trying to file my flight plan since I already had all of the NOTAM's and weather. But after he looked at my route, he felt it his duty to inform me of the weather again. The freezing levels, the radar, etc. I appreciated the concern, but I still already had that information! I did end up filing an alternate, though. There was a SIGMET out for the turbulence...and an advisory saying to expect "less than 1000, less than 3." Looks like we're going to get to shoot an ILS! Seeing as how I didn't have the approach plates, I printed several off for Alexandria, Baton Rouge, and even Nacogdoches. I wanted to be prepared!
I took off just 15 minutes later and climbed to 4000. The temperature was 49 degrees. So far, so good.
Matt was up in the air almost directly to my south...he had landed at Gulfport, Mississippi. And Jeff was heading in to Mobile, Alabama, just shortly after I reach my altitude. How fun!
I ended up taking the lead...Jeff came up about 40 miles behind me...and Matt was even behind that.
For most of the flight, I had smooth skies. And unbelievably clear. It was perfect. Again, I was paid to have this view. I don't get it!!! The moon was so bright (behind me...I couldn't see it) that I could literally see the earth from 4000 feet up! And all around, you could watch fireworks. Everyone else was celebrating New Year's Eve...it was pretty fun to watch. It makes you think, too. Everywhere there is a story occurring...a life happening. And I get to watch it all. It kind of gives you a "God-like" feeling. Not in the blasphemous way, but just in the..."Wow, life is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger than any one person thinks it is." Here is a party, there is a party, here is a celebration, there, there, there. Kind of neat to watch and think about. Plus the colors were neat, too.
Then up ahead I could see a little bit of change. There was something, and I was pretty sure I knew what that something was.
"I see overcast up ahead!!!" I was pretty excited. By this time, we were all back in the air together...I was kind of the "scout" going ahead. And we had all seen the radar...and we all knew that we were flying into something. That made us all a bit nervous...but the excited nervous. Night IFR flying. You have to be on your "A" game.
And sure enough, right at 114.5 miles from Alexandria, I flew over a low layer of overcast. I myself was not in it, but I knew that from here on out, I was meeting the frontal system. Or at least this was going to usher me into the frontal system.
I watched as the overcast kept on creeping higher and higher. Funny thing about flying at night. Once you lose reference to the earth, you really have no clue how you are flying. I mean, in terms of straight-and-level. I wanted to believe the clouds, I wanted to think I was straight...but frankly, even though I was "out" of the clouds, I still had to fly only by instruments. I had an overcast layer above me...and one creeping up below me. I didn't know if its shape matched the curvature of the earth. I was flying IFR outside of the clouds! Oh, how those clouds can play tricks on you! But it was fun. The clouds never really came high enough, though...just a few hundred feet below me. But...
Around 50 (80?) miles out, I entered some clouds. It was go-time. By this time, I had already been studying the ILS approach. I wanted to be ready for it.
But then, around 40 miles out, I was given the RNAV Runway 36 approach. Hmm. I questioned the controller as the briefer in Destin had told me that the RNAV 36 approach was unavailable due to an active restricted area. The controller told me the restricted area was closed. All right then! RNAV approach it is. He cleared me to an intersection...and so began my quest of trying to figure out how to load up the approach in the GPS! I had no problem getting the approach in there, but I couldn't figure out how to make it go to the specific intersection for the longest time! 10 minutes?! Agh, I was getting frustrated! All the while trying to make sure I was level in the clouds. Thank you, aut0-pilot...but I still had to check frequently...it's amazing how quickly you can get off in just a few seconds! Plus the auto-pilot HAD disengaged earlier in the night...I was not taking anything for granted!
At one point, I thought I saw lightning up ahead. NOT cool. I told the other guys. NOT cool. But I definitely saw a glow in the clouds. I was nervous! At 75 miles, I had queried Flight Watch to ask about the weather. She told me there was convective activity 55 miles south of the field (though dissipating). She also said that I should expect rain on the way in...the front was moving over the field. All right. Game on.
Well, I finally figured out how to go direct to the intersection, and I prepared for the approach. But I could see lights up ahead. Hmm. There were clouds below me...and to the north of me...and to the west...but I also had plenty of open space, too...I could see lights on the earth. This is going to be interesting. I also saw another glow in the clouds and was VERY thankful to realize it was only fireworks. I had NO desire to tackle a thunderstorm. Frankly, that can mean death. Not my cup o' tea. But it certainly gets you thinking flying at night. It's just me making the decisions. That's it. Death is a very real reality if I make a stupid decision. It's just the fact of the matter. It's kind of neat to realize...I have a certain power...and I am the only one responsible for it.
Well, I could see the city at 10 miles out. The controller asked me if I wanted to do a visual. No, sir. First of all, I wanted to shoot a legitimate approach. I was incredibly disappointed that it wasn't going to be a challenging approach, but sometimes that's how it happens. I was certainly in quite a bit of rain, but I could see clearly. Second, though, who knew when I would get back in the clouds. This was a mess out here. On my way in, it was very possible to fly through some more soup. I needed to be on track with no questions.
The rain was still flying. The "one-minute-weather" was callin' 1100-foot broken. Light rain.
I lined up for the RNAV approach to 36 and carried it on in. I had rain the entire time the last 30 miles, but the visibility remained good. Tower asked me for a PIREP which I was glad to give. "Visual the entire approach, although clouds just off to my west."
I landed no problems at all. My long flight was over. And what a great one it was!!! VFR in Florida to IFR in Louisiana. Warm sunshine to cold rain. Halfway across the country. Ocean on my right to trees all around. High sun to darkness. And I was paid to do it. Unbelievable.
I waited for the other guys to land...and I watched the ball drop in Times Square. I had landed 20 minutes before New Year's. I'm not goin' to lie, I thought the coverage was terrible, and I was happy to be in the sky above it all. I feel at home up there. Although when they showed people kissing at midnight, I could think of one I wouldn't mind having close right at that moment.
The other guys landed, and we headed for our hotel. Ended up going to bed at 1:30 A.M. 2:30 Eastern time...what my body was used to. Looks like we work in the morning...
What a life.