Sunday, April 29, 2007

"It would have been a better motorcycle day"

The forecasts all week had predicted at least one good flying day this weekend, and today was it. Few if any clouds, clear air, high pressure and, well, that's it. I usually will note if it's also going to be a light wind day, but today actually wasn't. The winds were out of the northwest at a repored 10 gusting 18, but having had some direct experience on the matter, I'm going to state that it was more like 18 lulling 10. The winds being out of the northwest is significant as well: that doesn't happen all that often, so most of the runways that I use are situated 45 to 90 degrees off that heading, virtually guaranteeing some exciting adventures in crosswind takeoff and landing procedures.

The destination du jour was Columbiana County (02G) to visit my younger sibling. This is one of those trips that really brings home the beauty of personal aircraft travel: a three hour drive is replaced by a one hour flight. Co-pilot Egg deigned to accompany today, so we packed up her travel gear and headed to the hangar at about 1100. One top-down-Miata-ride later, we were at the hangar and ready to go. Takeoff had the predicted hefty crosswind, and as the wheels started getting light at around 50 mph, I could feel the tires doing quite of bit of lateral slipping and sliding as I worked the rudder to keep us more or less pointed in the proper direction.

We headed due north as we climbed to an altitude that would allow us to cross over the Columbus Class C airspace. The top of the airspace is at 4,800', but I made sure we were well over 5,000' before making our turn to the east. It's only another few seconds to get the extra few hundred foot buffer, so it's worth it to me to not run the risk of having an altimeter or encoder issue cause me some grief with the Feds.

We climbed to 5,500' to get above most of the light turbulence, and to eke out every smidgen of benefit from the tailwind. It was passably smooth up that high and the cruise speed of 164 knots was nice, and as we settled in for the ride I asked Co-pilot Egg to pull her attention away from her Nintendo long enough for me to take a picture. What with her, like me, being pretty much evenly composed of contrarian and clown, I guess I should have expected something like this:

I started listening to the Columbiana CTAF while still quite a few miles out as I was curious about the prevailing runway selection. The runway at 02G runs from SSW to ENE, so either direction would seemingly work as well as the other with the prevailing winds, but the few planes I heard going in and out were using 25. That worked out well for us since our cruising heading would segue directly into a left downwind for runway 25. I also continued to hear reports of fairly decent winds. Not high enough to be out of the comfort zone, but high enough to not be exactly comfortable either. In fact, we were about 30 miles to the west slaloming around the big puffy clouds when I heard one pilot chime in that "it would have been a better motorcycle day." Well, that's as may be, but it certainly does presume that one has a motorcycle to ride, does it not?

Columbiana County is up in the corner of the state that the glaciers missed, so it's a bit hilly. The wind across those hills, combined with the convective activity from the Sun makes for a bumpy ride as you get below 4,000'. Ironically, below 4,000' is exactly what's required to duck down below a tab extending from the Pittsburgh Class B airspace that seems to always overlap my approach to 02G. One of these days I'll remember to fudge my cruise track up to the north enough to give me a straight shot at the airport without intersecting the Pittsburgh airspace, but today wasn't that day so we dealt with the bumps as we finished up the last 10 miles of the trip.

I warned Egg that this was likely to be an eventful landing, and self-fulfilling prophecies being what they are, such was naturally the case. We caught an enormous updraft on short final which necessitated a precipitous withdrawal of the throttle, predictably followed closely by a downdraft. We were still ahead of the game enough to get a nice flare right over the numbers, but a late gust lifted us back up to about 10 feet. I hate it when this happens, I truly do. Ten feet up, no energy left to work with, and the only hope for recovery from a humongous splat on the runway being a quick jab with the throttle and another, hopefully better, flare. All the while, the crosswind is like a Centrist in the voting booth, trying to decide whether certain ruin lies to the Left or the Right and urging us to follow his decision. The second flare went well and we had a fairly decent touchdown, but I'm still awarding myself a grade of 'C' (which, of course, stands for Keeeee-rappppy).

We spent a couple of hours looking at my sister's beautiful new house and tromping the extremely rural environs. My sister is a ground watcher, always looking for new and different flora and fauna, and we were certainly in a target rich environment. We caught sight of the following collection of wildflowers, mushrooms, and critters:

I bought gas at 02G (not bad at $3.79) so we were faced with a full tanks takeoff. 02G is surrounded by hills, and to add insult to injury, the hills are all topped with towers and high power electrical lines. Yet another case where an extra 20 or 30 horsepower would make a big difference. I'm going to start tallying these situations...

Climbing out, it felt weird to have flown in a diametrically opposite direction to last week's trip, yet still be looking at the Ohio River:

I tried staying down at 3,500' to avoid too much penalty from the headwind that I knew we would be battling at the higher, yet smoother altitudes. A few minutes of the head-banging-against-the-canopy ride convinced me, though, that it was wiser to trade a few knots for the smoother ride. AT 6,500', the ride was still a little bumpy, but nothing like what we were getting at the lower altitude. We gave up a 147 knot cruise speed for a 142 knot cruise speed, but it was well worth it for the smoother ride. In fact, it was smooth enough for Egg to nod off and offer me an opportunity to get a picture:

Since we were already at 6,500', I headed direct for Bolton, knowing that I could save a few minutes by going over the top of the Columbus airspace rather than circumnavigating it at the lower altitude. Even though I could have gone right on over without talking to the controllers, I went ahead and called them anyway just as we passed Newark. Sometimes it works out better to call them because they can route you into an area where you won't conflict with the airline traffic, which allows them to let you descend sooner that if you had waited until you were clear of the airspace. An RV can do that, mind you, but the rapid altitude loss required to dive/slip from 6,500 down to pattern altitude (1,800') plays havoc with my ears. Today they vectored us down to the south of Port Columbus (KCMH) and cleared us to descend to 3,000' at our discretion. Knowing it was bumpy down there, I considered waiting until we were closer to Bolton, but the temptation of snapping a couple of pix was we blew past downtown Columbus was too hard to resist:

Bolton was still mispronouncing "18 lulling 10" as "10 gusting 18" when we got back, but they had shifted to runway 4. That lined us up to enter the right downwind, which is not my favorite given that I sit on the left side of the plane. It makes it hard to see the runway, etc. That said, it set me up for this nice shot of my neighborhood:

It was another 'C' landing, and again the touchdown was ok but we got a bit swervy on the rollout. Egg had a fun time seeing her aunt, uncle, and cousins, but the bumpy ride had taken some of the starch out of her. She stretched out on the hangar couch while I got Papa wiped off and settled in. The Miata ride home was rejuvenating, though, and we still made it home in time to watch the last 40 laps of the Talladega race. All in all, a pretty incredible day! Who needs a motorcycle anyway?

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