Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Night in Somerset-- Part 3 of the Long Journey

After checking in and getting Flyer (the dog) settled in the room, we ignored the "Do Not Leave Pets Alone in Room" sign and headed across the street to the Somerset Mall for some food. We were both starving after a long morning of frantically packing, checking the weather, getting to the airport and in the plane, and a stressful flight due to the weather uncertainty. I can't imagine what it would have been like to have tried this trip without the G1000. In fact, I felt a little silly for causing such a production and delaying for weather when the sky still looked okay, and there was just a little wind. I kept telling myself to trust the data we were getting from the points ahead of us on the journey, and that it was better to be on the ground, wishing to be in the air than to be in the air, wishing to be on the ground.

We had an *interesting* meal at the Somerset Tumbleweed Inn and thought about exploring the mall, but just as we left the restaurant, the rain came tumbling down. I have to admit feeling a little vindicated. Husband caught the look in my eyes and called me on it. We laughed, wondering if the kid who had brought us over the hotel was now thinking, "Oh.... That's the storm they were talking about!" After the rain came, we felt pretty at peace with our decision to hole up for the night, and made the best of it. We had both prepared for this sort of contingency and pulled out our laptops to get some work done. We even indulged and ordered pizza from Papa Johns for dinner. Hard to believe how quickly pizza comes when you're in a small town-- and it's the night before Thanksgiving.

After a good night sleep, a little workout on the hotel's treadmill, and a quick breakfast, we jumped in a taxi to head back over the airport. We had continued to monitor the weather through the night, assessing and reassessing our decision to land and overnight. So we thought everything was looking good for a 10am departure (we had waited to give the fog time to lift). On the drive to the airport, we talked to the taxi driver about the town. Apparently it's some sort of tourist town because of a nearby lake. We both lifted our eyebrows at that-- but didn't say anything (it looked like any other southern town to us!).

We climbed out of the taxi at the airport, and the sky did not seem to match our expectations. After preflighting, we were thankful to leave Flyer in the plane and go inside the warm FBO to figure out our options. Luckily, the FBO opened for a Gulfstream that had just come in, otherwise, we would have been sitting outside in the cold! For anyone looking for a quick fuel stop, I can highly recommend SME! They were so friendly, had a nice place to sit, decent computer access, and even had snacks out for us. At one point, they even offered to let us borrow the crew car to drive down to Nashville. We decided to wait and watch for a gap in the clouds that would let us out.

Watching the clouds rolls through and looking for a large enough opening reminded me a bit of being a little girl and trying to get the rhythm of the jump rope down so I could join a game of double dutch. While we waited for our 'jump rope game' to start, we wandered around looking at the airport. It was a nice little airport-- though they were chock-a-block with visiting planes. Another Gulfstream had landed the evening before-- and was still sitting there on the apron. Apparently the taxiway for the airport had recently been moved (perhaps to allow for an extension of a runway? or to provide more space for the airplane mechanic school based there?)-- and this had reduced the apron to the point that the staff weren't quite sure how they were going to turn the Gulfstreams around for departure. We ended up not seeing what they did-- fairly soon after the Gulfstream started its engines, we saw the opening we wanted, and made a dash for it, again with me flying and Husband navigating.

It was nice to be in the air again. We had to stay pretty low because of the clouds-- especially for the first few minutes. But we mainly stayed 100-200 feet above the VFR minimum safe altitude-- so we felt pretty good. Visibility (when we weren't in a cloud!) was pretty good-- and we could mostly see where the clouds were and appropriately ascend or descend as needed, so we only nicked a cloud once or twice. Departing the SME area, we flew right over the lakes the taxi driver mentioned. They were pretty cool! But it was a little alarming to fly so low over a body of water, especially when it seemed to be completely surrounded by state forest-- not a single good landing site around! We talked about what we would do if the engine quit on us right then. We both thought that trying to land in the treetops offered a better chance of survival than ditching in the lake, though maybe that had something to do with how cold we were right then!

Though it was a little strange to go so far 1500 feet above the ground, it was also kind of refreshing. We kept track of our route both on the chart and on the G1000, noting towers in our path. The terrain avoidance definitely gave us a little peace of mind as the landscape was mostly flat, but had little peaks interrupting the flatness from time to time. By this point, we felt very sure that we had made the right decision to wait out the weather, and the tension was measurably less in the cockpit. We both started to enjoy the flight and the sightseeing we were able to do along the way. All too soon, Husband started to notice landmarks that he recognized, and we were entering the edge of Nashville's airspace. We had decided to just fly along under the Charlie airspace (2400 feet), being careful to avoid the stadium TFR on our approach to John Tun airport (JWN).

We managed to get over the airport and into the pattern in the correct direction. The wind was really blowing hard across the plane as we flew downwind. I over-banked a tad turning final and Husband squawked a bit, especially since just as I started to roll out and simultaneously add flaps, the wind gusted preventing me from rolling out and instead keeping me turned steeply to the left. After getting that straightened out, and turning onto final, I was still having a little trouble getting a stable attitude and altitude-- but was relieved to see a four-light PAPI. The ground surface on this end of the runway was all over the place-- ridges, ravines, trees, wires, etc.

We settled out and floated out over the runway. Just as I thought the wheels would come down the last little bit, a big gust blew us up. I added a little power so that we wouldn't come back down too hard. Then, because it was an unfamiliar runway and I felt a little hesitation, I added power and did a go-around. Husband was pretty surprised-- he had been watching the wheels and knew I was only a few feet off the ground. We were both surprised when I took out a notch of flaps and we sank-- we both realized at the same time that I had only put in 20 degrees of flaps to begin with, so I was taking away important lift at a critical moment! Thankfully, the airspeed quickly started moving more to the green, and the stall horn stopped sounding, and the ground started floating away from us instead of toward us. This time around, I was nice and stable, so after a somewhat dramatic go-around, managed to get us on the ground in a respectable manner. We both let out a few "whoops" as we cleaned up the flaps and trim and started our taxi for the apron.

By the time we got the plane unloaded and all our bits and pieces stored, we saw Husband's brother B walk through the terminal and out onto the apron. After 6.5 hours of flying, 29 hours away from home, and a few unplanned detours, we made it safely to Nashville-- our first flying family vacation!


Scott Schappell said...

Awesome! Since my passengers aren't pilots, I'll be the sole navigator and some of my family trips are in fairly mountainous terrain in Northern California so that'll be festive.

I'm hoping I can set the autopilot and enjoy some of the scenery while keeping an eye out for traffic.

flyaway said...

neat trip info that you've been posting, i'm learning a lot from it. on dumping flaps, on the 3rd or 4th time i did a go-around with my instructor months ago i was annoyed at how high i was on final. without even thinking about it i dumped the flaps (went from 30 to 0) all at once without realizing that was a "bad thing" to do. i was lucky that i was high enough and rpms had increased enough to pull us on out of it. was a definite lesson for me.

Head in the Clouds said...

Yeah-- flaps are a little confusing when you first start flying. They can give you so much lift, that you don't quite realize the impact they have on other things. I'm used to landing with full flaps-- and that creates so much extra drag, that you want to get that last flap out immediately if you do a go-around. But it's a very different story with only two flaps. Then, you really need to wait for the two positives and above 60 (at least in a 172). Husband's very first instructor crashed while doing pattern work... so Husband is understandbly concerned with getting that right!