Sunday, October 24, 2010

There's no such thing as a routine flight

I'm not the first to say that there is no such thing as a routine flight, nor is it an idea that I've but recently pondered. It's just that it was proven to me again yesterday as I made a trip that I have made more often than any other, if I exclude shorter hops like MadCo and Urbana. I'll modify the criteria by defining "trip" as a flight upon which I spend more than an hour on the ground and actually leave the airport itself. I make plenty of those, but none as often as I make the trip to The Farm. If anything in my aerial repertoire could be counted as a routine flight, that would be it.

The last couple of times I've gone, though, I've dealt with events that are slightly out of the norm. The last time I went, I ended up using the Garmin 396 and its XM-based weather radar display feature to circumnavigate an inconveniently placed storm cloud. This trip too involved dealing with a little bit of weather, but it was much more widespread. We had 11,000' ceilings for most of the day, which were easy enough to stay underneath with adequate visibility, but they unfortunately also produced some light to moderate precipitation. There was nothing all that difficult about it, but it is a stark departure from the days when even a hint of green on the radar was enough to me to just decide to stay home.

This is what it looked like on the way home. Note the ground speed displayed on the GPS - that's with the engine throttled back to an economical 2,200 rpm. The trip from Bolton to The Farm was also at a 2,200 rpm setting, but resulted in only 115 knots across the ground. So yeah, it was a bit windy at altitude.

The more interesting event was on the trip out when I saved a minimum of two lives, one (and if I'm honest, the more important) being my own. As I was flying along at 3,500', my normal scan outside the cockpit detected another airplane that was headed on an almost parallel heading, but about 500' higher than me. I say almost parallel because he was slowly converging on me. I watched as he crossed almost directly over me from right to left. Given his obvious fixation on his course, no demonstrable effort to avoid me, and the fact that he was 500' above me, I assumed that he was on an IFR flight plan. This notion was reinforced by the fact that we were just northeast of Dayton International's Class C airspace and he was headed right at it.

I decided to keep an eye on him. As we continued to the west, I could see him a mile or two off to the south. I kept expecting him to start a descent into Dayton, but his altitude remained constant. He made a couple of steeply banked course corrections, something that would be abnormal in true IFR conditions, but we were still in good visual conditions so there would really be nothing precluding him from an aggressive correction. I kept glancing over every couple of minutes or so until about five minutes later when it appeared that he might be getting closer to me again. I increased the rate of my glances to every 30 seconds; it soon became abundantly apparent that he was, in fact, closing the gap between us. Eventually he got close enough that I had to take evasive action. I descended a few hundred feet to allow him to cross directly over me. He never knew I was there! Had I not kept watching for him, there is a very real chance that he would have flown right into me. How close was he? I could have easily read a one-inch high tail number if it had been painted on the bottom of the fuselage.

This is why we look out the window!!

While I was at The Farm, I stopped by my brother's place to see what he's working on. This time around, it was his new race car for next season. The Schmetterling sponsored ride has been stripped of its goodies and relegated to jack stands. Reportedly, the Schmetterling logo will be even larger on next year's car!

1 comment:

  1. I gotta get a Zaon. I wonder how many people are "out there" that we never see, and don't know about?