Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Making Mom's Day

Sunday was Mother's Day (which you probably already knew unless you're under a rock or you live outside of the US). I can't remember the last time that I spent Mother's Day with my mom... We just usually aren't in the same place at the same time. So a few weeks back, a little idea popped into my head. "Why don't you fly down and see her?"

I thought about it for a few days, and then asked Husband. We've been trying to get a bunch done on our house lately, so I didn't think it would be a good time to go for the whole weekend... but he was up for a quick trip. I thought about trying to surprise her, but Mom isn't big on surprises. She likes to anticipate and to plan... and sometimes, to anticipate the planning. (Sometimes, I'm very aware of how much I'm like my mom!) So I decided to mention the idea to her about a week out... once I had seen the 7 day forecast and thought we had a small chance of actually making it happen. She seemed interested-- and by a few days later was definitely excited. In the meantime, I'd also mentioned to Dad that he could hitch a ride if he wanted. He wasn't planning to go home that weekend as he had commitments here in DC, but immediately accepted the offer.

So, we spent the end of last week carefully watching the weather. We only had the plane reserved for Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon. The plan was to fly down late Sat afternoon, meet Mom, have dinner, spend the night, have breakfast (or brunch, if we were lucky), and fly back. We got lucky, and the skies cleared just in time for us to launch.

With the three of us in the plane (Flyer got an overnight at daycare), we were a little heavy, and I could feel it in the controls as we slowly lifted off the runway. But, the flight down went relatively smoothly. We flew into Horace Williams, a little airport owned by UNC. Apparently, the state is trying to get rid of the airport to make room for more campus buildings, but it's still there for now. Our landing was a little more exciting than I like. The winds were gusting across the runway as we landed, and didn't die down at all as we came below the tree line. I was surprised by this, and had to use all my focus to fight the gusts to get us on the ground. I was embarrassed by the two big bounces (and I think Dad was a little worried), but all of us were pleased to be safely on the ground given the strength of the wind. In hind sight, I have to wonder if we encountered a bit of tailwind, too. The wind measurement on the ASOS was knocked out of service by a storm the night before, so we relied on information from RDU and the airport advisory given by someone on the ground at IGX.

We had a great evening- Mom seemed to really enjoy us being there, and we had dinner out on her deck. The next morning, Husband and I both slept longer than intended. As soon as we were up, we checked the weather. Uh oh. The front coming across the state was arriving a bit faster than expected. So we nixed the idea of breakfast, and headed out to the airport. The first drops started falling as we drove up. We tried to preflight and get loaded up as quickly as possible-- debating our go-no-go the entire time, but by the time we taxied up to the runway, the visibility had dropped to 2.5 miles and the ceiling to about 2000', and there was no longer a decision to make. We were no longer in VFR conditions.

After a minutes of looking at the Nexrad, we taxied back to the FBO and fueled up. We went inside to get warm and dry, and were able to take a look at the radar as we waited. We saw a break looming, and started discussing the possibility of getting out then. We could tell that after that break, another wave was coming, and the airport would be IFR for the remainder of the day. Around that time, a crew came in who had just flown down from Philly. They confirmed our hunch that if we could get up and out about 10-15 miles, we would be in the clear and able to get home. So, once we saw the visibility go up to around 4-5, and the ceilings up to around 2500, we ran for the plane. We taxied out, did a quick runup to make sure all was good, and went over our procedures. In addition to our normal departure briefing (anything happens on the runway, pull to idle and brake; in the air below traffic pattern, ...), we added what we would do if we encountered low clouds or low vis, Husband would engage the autopilot, I would stay focused on the instruments, and we would use the head indicator to do a 180 and return to the airport.

It was pretty hazy when we first took off-- and there were a few low wisps of clouds, but we had both seen similar conditions at one time or another, so we stayed calm. After a few minutes of visibility around 5 miles, the sky suddenly opened up and we realized we could see at least 15 miles. From there on home, we had a nice, smooth flight. We slowly climbed to about 3500'-- leveling out every 500 feet to make sure we didn't inadvertently enter clouds. We used flight following-- and heard lots of other pilots asking questions about the weather. And we again had deep appreciation for the G1000!

We reviewed our decision making when we got home, and were pretty pleased with it. On the one hand, we were prepared to postpone, cancel, or divert if we needed, but on the other hand, we were able to safely complete the trip. It ended up being very nice flying weather, once we left the initial haze. If we had been a few minutes earlier to the airport, we might have made it out before the visibility dropped the first time, but studying the weather maps and resources for a few extra minutes gave us more confidence on what we would find. Dad must have been relaxed-- he sat in the back and worked the whole flight home!

In the end, I don't know if we made Mom's day, but I think it made our day to expand our flying horizons!

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