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Two good days of flying...

Marc Olson

Seattle, WA
Now that we're done with June weather in February here in Seattle, I had a chance to get out for some flying in differently typical March VFR conditions.

Yesterday was a gray day with rain showers, but the ceilings were 4000 feet with visibility of 10 miles. One flaw (IMO) in the current VFR reporting system is that anything over 10 miles is still reported at 10; I'd flown a few times with 'real' visibilities at 10. Most of the time when it's reported 10 you can actually see 30 or 40. I also haven't flown much in the rain.

I made sure to clean my windscreen before departure and then headed out into the 'soup'. I re-discovered a couple of leaks in the left wing root that I've noted before but never track down. I learned that when flying in the rain there's a huge blind spot straight ahead, but great visibility 45 degrees to either side. I kept the plane and my head moving...

Seeing what 10 miles visibility REALLY looks like was informative. The rain also made cleaning the accumulated mud off the wings an easier task once I returned.

Today was similar, but higher ceilings and more wind/less rain. I departed with a friend for her 'first flight' in a powered airplane (she'd done some training in gliders). Winds were straight down the runway, 16 knots gusting to 24.

Off to the East things calmed down and as the day progressed, the rain diminished but the wind built. As we returned to the airport, wind was 150 at 19 (the runway's 16) with gusts to 24. As we got closer, the wind updates from the tower changed with every radio call, ranging from 22 to 30, but close to straight down the runway.

As I approached from the East, intending to join the downwind on the 45, I ended up nearly on base due to the wind. Turning final I put in just 1 notch of flaps and kept the power up, planning to use as much of the runway as needed to get down safely.

The only wind sock is at the south end of the runway, so there was a clear lag in reported vs. actual conditions as we came down on final. 100 feet from the threshold we got a gust that boosted us way up. Given the wind, and how little forward progress I was making while turning 2000 rpm, I figured if I could time it right and ease it down, we'd only need about 10 feet of runway to stop rolling.

Carrying power I worked the throttle to get us closer to the runway, prepared to go to full throttle and go-around if any additional gusts hit us. It was a surprisingly gentle landing as our SOG was barely a walk by the time the wheels touched. I dumped flaps, got all three wheels down and stopped to collect my thoughts and plan our taxi. As we exited the runway the tower commented on the wind and asked whether we could fly backwards if required....

I carefully taxiied with brakes and all of the indicated 'climb into the wind' and 'fly away from the wind' aileron/elevator inputs to the hangar, 'flying to the tie-down' as it were.

The taxiway to my hangar was into the wind, but because of the buildings, it was a wind tunnel. I stayed in the plane on the controls and brakes while my passenger opened the hangar and brought out the tow bar. I asked her to hang onto what would become the upwind strut in a second as I quickly attached the towbar and maneuvered the plane into the hangar. I was fortunate that there were two of us as the gusts could have easily lifted the plane once turned to pull into the hangar.

It's said that the only way to develop judgement is through experience. Both days provided great experience in conditions where I typically don't fly.

Nice to hear I'm not the only freak out there that enjoys slightly challenging weather. Good job Marc! Train for the worst and when it hits you'll be ready.

We stopped in at Big Bend (did you know that the GPS has Carl's place on the topo charts?), but there wasn't anyone around.

Marc Always go flying in the soup that way you will be all alone up there with out worring about running into someone.
You mat try carring a cat and a duck with you. The cat will keep you right side up and the duck will help flying in the soup. It is an old Navy trick. :D
you got your money's worth of experience flying that day. The winds at BFI at one point were 220 @ 15, G25, so that made for some interesting burbles as it blew across the Boeing plant bldgs on the west side of 13R. Did you see how fast the altimeter shot up after the front moved thru? About .2" in less than an hour.
Another thing, I wish people that go fly VFR in marginal vis would study up on the altitudes and locations the IFR traffic around an airport is going to be. I had to peel off sharply at the last moment (<1/2mi) from no less that 3 aircraft NW of BFI that day. Yes I know they are legal and below the Class B, but that doesn't make it smart. "See and Avoid" only works so good, even w/ TCAS to help on those kinds of days.
Good point made about the forward vis, particularly in rain showers. Thats how a lot of people get into trouble, thinking they can still do the 180 based on the vis out the side windows looking back. You make the turn and discover you can't see any better that direction than you could before.
Nice to know you w/ you -12 you can set her down about anywhere into the wind should that become the best option.