Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Plans? What Plans?!--April 3, 2010

Woke up at 7:45.  Breakfast, then headed for the airport.  I had to fax in the map again as TRACON didn’t keep it, I guess.  Silly controllers.

I was way eager to get up in the air and get started.  I was going to have a long day ahead of me.  I forgot to call to have my plane pulled out, though, and I had to wait until a Learjet was spooled up before I could get my plane.  Oh well.

I ended up getting on site 15 minutes late.  Of course, seeing as how I only had just over two hours, I did NOT expect everything to go smoothly.  That would just be too easy.  And sure enough, I had an issue.  The winds were kickin’ out of the south…around 30-35 knots.  So when I flew south, I was fine…I could maintain 100 knots.  But when I turned back north, I was flying at 150 knots.  I had to pull the throttles way back and pull the props quite a ways back just to stay under 139 knots.  Of course, I had to pull back on the yoke to maintain altitude.  But I managed.

I did that for several lines…and then…

Right at 11:00 o’clock, I started feelin’ the bumps.  Early today.  Hmm.  And they never stopped.  As a matter of fact, the winds picked up even more.  I could hear the gusts on the airframe.  And I was experiencing it in my turns.  And almost as quickly as it came on, all hell just broke loose.  It was unbelievable turbulence.  I had a nearly impossible time maintaining heading, let alone my altitude.  My turns were way off.  Every time I banked over, I was thrown every which way.  The ball was swinging back and forth rather sharply.  And these were some rather violent jolts of turbulence.

But I was going to finish.  I HAD TO.

11 lines to go.  10.  9.  8.  8.  Grr, I missed a line.  7.  This was getting obscene.  I was missing lines, and I couldn’t maintain my altitude going north.  I had to swing a couple of miles out just to make my line when I turned.  It was violent.  6 lines.  6 lines.  6 lines.  5.  5.  5.  That was it.  I couldn’t do anymore.  I simply could not fly level anymore.  And it was bad.

So I grudgingly (yet eagerly) headed back to Lorain County.  I mean, I was READY to get out of this.  This was certainly one of the top 2 worst cases of turbulence I have experienced.  I did a rather wide downwind and final.  But I landed it rather well.  The winds were around 20 knots.

I called Mom and Dad and told them I wouldn’t be making it.  Then I called my boss and told him the news.  He told me to just wait and finish tomorrow.  AGH!!!  I have tried to leave this place so many times already!  <sigh>  Here we go again.  Then I called Jennifer and told her I wouldn’t be seeing her today.

But as I was talking to her, my boss called again.

“Get out of here.”

Ha!  I knew exactly what that meant.  He said I didn’t need to wait around for five lines.  I needed to be in Denver.  So I hung up and checked the weather.  Ah, yes, about that weather.  The low-pressure system was still sitting between me and my destination.  It didn’t look too foreboding, but it was certainly there.  And the winds were just gettin’ crazy along the route.  30 knots.  40 knots.  And it was picking up even at Lorain.  22 knots gusting to 32.  Hmm.  Just about everything in me told me it probably wasn’t a good idea to go, but I figured I could at least try.  A couple of the pilots at the airport even said they were going to watch me take off.  Hmm.  That is never a good thing…when they are so interested in your take-off.  Why is that?  I already knew.  It was crazy out there, and we all knew it.

But I went for it.  And wow, on the take-off roll, I had to have my feet dancing on the pedals…this plane wanted to go all over.  But I lifted off and headed for Kokomo, Indiana, a town that would let me land ahead of the storm system and then assess it from there.  It was about 180 miles away.  And almost instantly, I questioned my decision.  The turbulence had not changed AT ALL.  It was just as violent.  I climbed up to 6500 feet.  But there was simply no relief.  I was going to have to stick it out the entire way.

About 60 miles west, I had to drop down for clouds.  No worries.  I had some light rain, too.  The controller called out some more rain at 12 o’clock up ahead.  I verified.  And from there, it just got worse.  I dropped down to 4500 feet.  But I wasn’t descending fast enough…and visibility was dropping fast.  It was still raining, and I was beginning to lose the ground.  So I dove down even more.  I ended up doing a 360-degree turn, dropping all the way down to 2500 feet.  I had the earth in sight again, and I had better shots of the rain shafts.  I continued on.

The flight seemed to be dragging on, though.  I didn’t feel like I was moving at all!!!

I flew at 2500 feet for quite awhile, so much so that the controller just came out and asked if I was going to be there the rest of the flight.  Well, that sounded good and all, but up ahead about 10 miles, I had clouds AT 2500 feet.  So I said I would be climbing back up.  And that I did.  I was marveling at the cloud formations all around me.  I had rain back behind me.  I had broken clouds appearing ahead of me.  And to the southwest, I had huge puffy white clouds.  Not towering…but very thick.

And up ahead, these huge white clouds sloped upwards.  I could see it, and I knew it was going to throw me off with my horizon!!!  These slanted clouds were the only horizon I had!  But I climbed to stay above them.  And for the next several miles, I kept climbing.  4500.  6500.  8500.  Every time I thought I could get above them and on the other side.  I was just going to go all the way to Springfield, Illinois, and not even worry about Kokomo!!!  Once I got up and over, it would be smooth sailing!  After all, I had nothing but blue skies visible on top now!  If only I could get over these clouds!!!


10,500.  Still nothing.  So I turned north and tried to go around them.  I finally got around them and turned west again.

But these clouds just gently yet consistently sloped upwards.  So I flew all the way up to 12,500!!!  And even then, I couldn’t get above them.  It was a wasted endeavor.  And oh how thick they were!!!  All I could picture was the two miles of rain I was on top of.  It was unleashing its fury on the earth a couple miles below me.  I knew that because the control had again called out moderate precipitation at my destination.  But I just couldn’t get to it.

I finally just requested a 180.  All that work for nothing.  And I descended all the way back down out of these clouds, looking for some type of hole anywhere.  It wouldn’t come for over 40 miles.  But I had a blast just following the clouds down.  Basically, as long as I followed the cloud line, I was descending at 500 feet per minute.  It was certainly mind-boggling, but it showed me just how steep these clouds climbed.

I finally found a hole and did a few spiraling turns to descend down below.  I saw an airport, and that was going to be good enough for me.  Well, that was until I got down to 3000 feet.  All of a sudden, I could see for miles to the west!!!  Forget landing!  So I forged on…this time UNDER the very clouds I had just tried to out-climb!

And what a terrible and horrendous decision that turned out to be.  I think I only made it 20-30 miles more.  And I was being abused.  The clouds were turning a nasty gray.  The airplane was being thrown around…to the point of fear.  I had everything going through my mind at this point.  Namely just fly the airplane, but I was EXTREMELY aware of what was going on.  This was not a good situation to be in.  The jolts were sudden and aggressive.  Moderate turbulence to say the least.  Maybe even bordering on severe.  And the visibility was just going to crap again.  Oh, how dark those clouds were!!!  I wondered if I saw lightning.  The thought crossed my mind.  I did a 180 AGAIN.  And I just scoured the earth for an airport.  ANY airport.  I tried the GPS that I am not all too familiar with, and I was finally able to locate one 1o miles to the southwest.  Nope, not going to work.  I would enter some nasty weather.  I turned to airport #2.  13 miles to the southeast.  That would have to work.  I dialed it in and searched intently for it.  I honestly didn’t even care about making a radio call.  I was the only person on the radios for most of the flight.  With Cleveland, Toledo, and even Chicago.  It was Saturday afternoon, and I was very conscious of me out here seemingly alone.  Nobody else was flying.

I found the airport and didn’t even make a call.  I assumed it was 122.8, but I just focused on landing.  It required every skill I had.  The winds were just howling.  Thankfully, I had Runway 25, somewhat aligned with the winds.  I fought the turbulence ALL THE WAY DOWN.  I got over the numbers and chopped the throttle, and I just sank into the runway.  But I was down.  Oh, I was down.

I taxied over and shut her down.  It was a pretty desolate airport, but I found a guy working on his airplane.  He was incredibly nice and set me up with a hangar, a van, and whatever else I would need.  Another guy came over to help with the hangar, and he couldn’t believe when he heard me taxi by.  He just couldn’t believe an airplane would be out there flying.

Oh boy.

And oh how those winds were howling!!!  Just standing on my wing, I was being rocked around.  I didn’t guess that the airplane could tip over with its crazy weight, but I started to second-guess that!!!  The trees were bending, and the low clouds were just zooming by.  I was THRILLED to be on the ground.  Here's me just after landing...look at those trees bend!  And look at what I just missed...these clouds were zooming by at 40 knots!!!


This airport didn’t have weather, but I checked the weather around the area.  An airport just 10 miles south of here had 30 knots gusting to 40.  The peak gust was 52 knots.  I kid you not.  That just really put it all into perspective.  I had hoped to wait it out, but I had a line of thunderstorms off to my west.  I waited about an hour, then finally just mentally called it.  I was going to stay here.

I grabbed the van and went into town for supper.

Then I came back to the simple FBO and made my home.  I am sleeping on the couch.  The plan is to go BACK and finish the Ohio project, then head out to Denver.  I’m hopin’ to make a fuel stop in Illinois to see my family on Easter as I fly to Denver.  We’ll see how it all works out.

Oddly enough, though, it is incredibly calm right now.  I can see the stars, and there is no wind.  What a difference a few hour makes.

52 knots.  Locked in by my seatbelt.  Watching that ball swing to and fro.  And knowing that I am not invincible.  It was quite a day.  I certainly have a greater appreciation for weather.  I really do.  It was amazing to see what it can do.  And to see what an airplane can do.  I pushed an envelope a little today.  Frankly, I hated it.  But I won’t lie.  In the middle of it all, I think I said out loud, “This is kind of fun.”  I was literally FIGHTING to stay alive today.  Fighting to keep that airplane on its course.  I was FIGHTING to fly.  It was anything but mundane.

And somehow, in that weird skewed way, the challenge was somewhat welcomed.

But, oh, how I love this ground.

Went to bed at 11:50 P.M.  On a couch.  In some desolate airport.

Thank you, Williams County, Ohio.

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