Monday, November 20, 2017

Surprise Jet Trip! Part One

In early October, Mark and I were working on one of our cars in my hangar when my buddy Frank wandered over to say hi. He mentioned in passing that he might have an open seat in the HondaJet for a trip the following Monday, so I told him that while I had the mid Sunday into Monday, if the seat was open I'd gladly take it. (I mean, who needs sleep to live?) I didn't hear anything for a few days and figured he found someone else for the flight...until I got a text that Sunday evening as I was getting ready to head to work. "8am departure tomorrow if you'd like to ride along". Of course I would!!   :)

The weather was pretty cruddy when Frank and I met the next morning, to the point that he pushed the departure back an hour. The remains of a tropical storm had pushed through the area overnight; while it wasn't raining anymore, the clouds were still pretty low and the winds were howling. I was looking forward to seeing how the jet handled the weather.

We got our IFR release and taxied out for takeoff. Bye HWY...see you later!

It didn't take long to climb up into the soup...

...and we flew through a few layers as we made our way to the west. First stop: Wheeling, WV (HLG).

I knew that our routing would take us through one of the sectors I work, so I explained to Frank what they would be doing with us and was looking forward to seeing who was working so I could say hi (especially since it was mostly my crew that was working that morning). Turns out my former trainee was training on the sector, and when I heard him reading a full route clearance to someone going to Norfolk, I knew he was probably swamped. (That specific sector works the airspace west of Dulles, and I don't think I've ever sent someone to Norfolk from there!). I laughed as we tunneled underneath an arrival without a traffic call, and laughed some more when my friend (the trainer) took over the frequency and started talking. After a couple minutes he switched us over to Washington Center (ZDC) and we continued on.

We popped out of the clouds as we climbed into the low 20s, and the view was pretty fantastic. You can see some of the clouds from the storm system back behind the wing.

One of the center controllers gave us a shortcut to Wheeling...

...and after what seemed like minutes, it was time to descend back into the soup.

We shot the GPS approach into HLG, and it seemed like we descended forever before we finally popped out of the clouds. You can just make out the runway ahead. Not exactly a great day!

Stuff like this makes me wonder why anyone would ever think it's a good idea to scud run, especially if there's any terrain in the area. At any rate, Frank landed just fine, and we taxied to the FBO to pick up the passengers.

The ramp was pretty empty when we got there, but that wasn't a surprise, given the weather. We wound up having to wait a little while for the passengers; Frank's phone had been eating text messages all morning, so they didn't know what time he was coming until we actually got to HLG. Oops!

We passed part of the time by watching this STAT medivac helicopter arrive. Turns out they had an incubator with a little preemie baby on board; the weather was too crummy to get into the hospital, so an ambulance met them on the ramp. After the ambulance left, I spent a little while talking to one of the pilots; turns out he occasionally flies the STAT helicopters in my airspace! We had fun talking shop about the airspace and procedures around DC.   :)

Our passengers arrived a little while later, and after getting them loaded up and comfortable, it was time to head to our next stop: Boston (BOS)!

Bye, HLG!

It didn't take very long to climb up through the layers to the clear skies above.

While the weather was nice where we were, it wasn't so nice where we were going. You could see the storm system making its way through the East Coast. The ride had been mostly smooth so far, but between the occasional bumps and the climb through the clouds, one of our passengers wasn't feeling the greatest. I felt bad for him, but at least we had a bit of a tailwind so we could get them to Boston a little faster.

Frank and I spent a good chunk of the flight chatting, scanning for traffic (like this guy that passed a few thousand feet above us), and trying to convince the center controllers that no, we could not fly the specific RNAV arrival they kept trying to assign. We couldn't figure out why it wasn't in the plane's database, and Frank was hitting the point where he was about to just program it all in manually, when I saw it: the mandatory speed on one part of the arrival was faster than the HondaJet can physically fly. No wonder it wasn't in the database! Once we told the controllers that, they finally stopped trying to assign it.

We had enjoyed the mostly nice ride so far, but we were getting closer to the weather (and Boston), and we knew we'd have to say goodbye to the blue skies soon.

The areas of yellow on the previous picture are in those slightly raised clouds on the left. We stayed above the weather as long as we could...

...but we had to descend eventually.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Picture of the Day: November 6th to November 12th

November 6th: We spent the afternoon planting the hyacinth bulbs my mom sent. I set them all out before we started digging the holes; it'll be neat to see how this looks in the spring! 

November 6th, part two: Mark called my bluff and actually ordered Domino's. It's been a joke for a while now, but we usually just joke a bit and it ends there. I figured it was the same thing this time until I came out of the laundry room and saw the pizza boxes sitting on the table. I guess he showed me!   :) 

November 7th: I was really excited about having a long weekend this week; I figured I'd be able to get a ton of flying in. Ha! So much for that. This was the lovely weather Tuesday afternoon. 

November 8th: It was another crummy weather day, so we decided to run down to A. Smith Bowman to pick up a bottle of their latest whiskey. The leaves by the river were really pretty.

November 9th: Mark went back to work, and I stayed home to enjoy my random day off. I knocked a few things off my to do list, then hung out on the couch with the doggies for a bit. 

November 10th: Back to work, though we did take a few minutes after the eve shift to hang out in front of the fire with a little bit of whiskey and the doggies. 

November 11th: It's definitely fall; the big tree in our backyard has started losing all of its leafy things. The entire backyard is covered in them, and Bacon is really good at getting them stuck to her fluff. 

November 12th: Mark put some mulch down over the flower bulbs. Now, we wait for spring!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Picture of the Day: October 30th to November 5th

October 30th: So many samples, so little time! Mark had a tough time deciding which whisky sample to try.

October 31st: I went for a short flight just to get in the air again and looped over Culpeper (CJR) on the way back.

November 1st: Looking out from the sun room at the Winery at La Grange. Naomi and I met up for book club, and our buddy Jen joined us, too, since she happened to be in town for a class. It was nice to catch up with my lady buddies for the afternoon!    :)

November 2nd: The big tree in our backyard has turned orange and is dumping leafy needle things all over the yard. Bacon is especially good at tracking them in the house with her.

November 3rd: A gloomy walk on the track at work. I'd be perfectly fine with skipping winter and going right back to spring any day now.

November 4th: Mark and I played a few games of pool after work. His dad put us to shame the week before, so we figured a little practice couldn't hurt.

November 5th: The holly tree in our front yard has a ton of berries this year.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Picture of the Day: October 23rd to October 29th

October 23rd: Mark's parents and grandmother came to visit, though they got stuck in traffic and didn't get to our house until after 10pm. Mark didn't know what pillows they would want, so he piled them all up on the bed in the guest room so they could choose their own. I teased him a bit for having a 'pillow menu', like we're a fancy resort or something.   :)

October 24th: We took everyone down to Lake Anna for a bit. Granny hung out by the water and read her book while the rest of us took a short walk through the woods. The views were pretty sweet, especially with the leaves changing.

October 25th: We had a bit of a late night the night before, so none of us were feeling super adventurous the next morning. We eventually went into Old Town Warrenton for lunch and a little shopping.

October 26th: Mark's family left the night before, so it was back to work and normal airport bum stuff. I spent a little time in the hangar in the morning and realized that there was actually a second part to the practice kit, so I spent a few minutes reading up on that. (Basically measuring and drilling holes, then riveting two pieces of sheet metal together...nothing too crazy.)

October 27th: My mom sent a box down to me when Zach came to visit last month with specific instructions to NOT open it until I got a second box from her. Today the second box came, and after work I finally got to open everything. Turns out it was a box of hyacinth bulbs (my favorite!) from the Netherlands, and a whole bunch of cool gardening supplies! My yard is going to smell amazing next spring...    :)

October 28th: Mark and I both worked day shifts, then drove into DC to see Pink Martini with the NSO at the Kennedy Center. What a fun show! It's a little hard to see, but the last song they did was 'Brazil' and they had a conga line going down the aisles in the orchestra section. 

October 29th: I had day/mid, which was a big ball of fun after being out kind of late the day before. This was the weather when I woke up after my nap in the afternoon. Yuck! Thankfully most of it moved through by the time I got to work.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

September 25th: Goodbye, OBX

I didn't sleep the best and was up pretty early the next morning. Oh well, more time to pore over the weather and figure out when I had to leave!

So far, so good...I could still see blue sky.   :)

After going over a few more forecasts, it looked like I could hang out until about lunchtime before I'd have to take off to beat the lower clouds out. Mark and I packed the doggies into the car for the short ride to the beach.

The waves weren't as big here as they were in Frisco the day before, but we were also a lot further up the coast.

The beach was pretty quiet, though there were a few other people walking by the water. There were already red flags up for the day.

It was still nice to walk along the beach, though.   :)

It would have been nice to spend some more time here, but between the time restriction for the doggies and the time restriction for me with the weather, it was time to head back to the house.

I drank some coffee out on the front porch...

...while Zach made us breakfast. We hung out, listened to music, and drank some coffee for a while, then I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to Zach, and rode to the airport with Mark and the doggies. Time to get out while the getting was good!

It only took a few minutes to wrap up with the FBO, then we drove out to the plane and unloaded the car. The ramp was a lot quieter than it had been the day before, plus the wind was howling (thankfully, right down the runway). I said goodbye to Mark and the doggies, packed up the plane, preflighted, checked the weather one last time, and fired up.

When I took off, the weather was reporting 1000' broken. Definitely not ideal, but still technically VFR. I knew that the weather at home was gorgeous blue skies, and that once I got across the NC/VA state line the clouds should start to break up. Plan A was to take off, climb up through the gaps in the clouds, and cruise home on top of everything until it broke up below me. Plan B was to stay low over the water, under the clouds, and pick my way up the coast until the clouds started to lift and climb when I safely could. Plan C was to take off, say 'screw this', come back and land, leave the plane in MQI, ride home with Mark and Zach the next day, then come back to pick up the plane the following week. No matter what, though, I wasn't going to fly into anything I wasn't comfortable with. Sooo...

...turns out that Plan A worked out just fine! This was shortly after I departed MQI. I had no problem picking my way through the lower layer and only had to make one slight turn to get up through the clouds. (And that yellow spot on the land is Jockey's Ridge State Park, where we were the day before.)

This was looking west; it looked a little gloomier that way, but it was still very easy to keep the legal distances from the clouds and stay VFR.

After a few minutes I was over the first layer...

...and then a few minutes after that, I was over the second layer, too.

For how gloomy that looked and how bad the weather was showing, that was one of the easiest times I've ever picked my way through the clouds!

This is my Foreflight display; it took less than 15 miles to climb out to clear blue skies. Not bad! (And you can see how strong the winds aloft are; that light green circle around my airplane is how far I could glide if I lost my engine. It's definitely lopsided!)

I leveled off at 4500' and cruised up there for a while. I wound up with a 10-15kt tailwind, which was way better than I expected! For fun, I listened to Norfolk approach along the way.

The clouds started to break up below me right around the state line, just like I expected.

The further north I flew, the better it looked...

...and by the time I got up to the James River, the layer was almost completely broken up.

This was somewhere east of lonely cloud.   :)

I stayed up at 4500' for a while, then eventually descended as I got closer to HWY. It was fairly bumpy once I descended, plus I lost my tailwind, but there wasn't much I could do about that.

Ta da - home! It took 2 hours to get back, which was pretty darn good. It would have been nice to stay for the last full day, but I figured I was better off cutting the trip a little short and getting the plane back in the hangar instead of leaving it on the ramp at MQI in a hurricane. Overall, I had a really good time in the Outer Banks, and I'm looking forward to going back someday!