Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Convective Activities

Any pilot flying in the US knows that there is a high potential for convective activity (i.e. thunderstorms) late in the afternoon on most days in the summertime. Our flight down to Georgia provided more evidence of that phenomenon.

We tried to leave early for our flight down. Our goal had been to be off the ground around 7am as we knew it was a minimum of 5:15 flying time. Of course, after all the last minute chores were done, we finally made it wheels up around 8:45. The first stretch of the flight was great. There was only a little haze and the sky was clear, smooth, and cool. In fact, once we got established in cruise, Husband set the autopilot and it was almost boring! We had planned a fuel stop for Salisbury, NC. I was pretty glad when we made it on the ground uneventfully-- as I needed a rest stop as well! In planning for the trip, I had even checked fuel prices and knew to tell Husband that if he was willing to pump the gas, we could save over a dollar a gallon, and get the fuel price down to a very reasonable $4.80 a gallon. Not bad for 100LL.

The FBO was nice-- though no food except for a vending machine. We made use of that and bought a few packs of peanut butter crackers to tide us over. I was looking forward to good, home-cooked Southern food, so had put myself on somewhat of a fast in preparation! After only about 30 minutes on the ground, we were ready to take to the sky again.

What a difference that 30 minutes made. The second half was my leg to fly, and it was immediately clear that this half of the flight would be very different from the first. The air had, in that short time on the ground, become very choppy, and we were constantly bounced around in our seats. It had also gotten quite warm, which doesn't mix well with the bumps! We signed on with ATC for flight following, and after some initial vectoring, we were actually cleared through the Charlotte Class Bravo airspace. I still find that exciting as it so rarely happens in DC!

During the entire flight, we were keeping on eye on the weather down south. Even from early in the morning, there were buildups about 50-75 miles south of Douglas, our destination. We hoped they would stay south so that we could get in without issue. By the time we approached the Bulldog MOA, we realized that we were going to have to deviate to avoid some weather. At that point, the question became: which way to deviate, east or west? We ultimately decided to go west-- though that took us more out of our way, it meant we could go behind the storms as opposed to trying to run in front of them. Of course we kept in communication with ATC as we deviated, and noted that others in the area were having to deviate as well. Just as we got abeam the storm cell, ATC notified us that the MOA had gone active, and we could either go all the way around the MOA (and stay with ATC), or we could go through the MOA-- but they would terminate our flight following. We of course chose to go around the MOA.

Once around the end of the MOA, we called and informed ATC that we'd turn south. We thought about then trying to slot between two small cells, but I decided against it when the Nexrad showed that both cells were building. Instead, we picked our way around the west side of that cell, and headed straight south to Douglas. From the Nexrad, we could tell that the storms were buiding a few miles on the other side of the airport. They also loomed large and gray in the windscreen. We decided to go ahead and try landing, knowing that if it didn't work out on the first try, we'd probably need to go ahead and deviate to our alternate airport because we were now starting to eek into our fuel reserves. Thankfully, the storms stayed on the other side of the airport, and we made it down without an additional excitement.

After orienting ourselves with the airport layout, we headed over to Harless Aviation where we were scheduled to get an oil change. Even though we were an hour late, the mechanic was still there, and helped us get fueled and in the hangar. He showed us around and agreed to let us park the plane in the hangar for the next few nights-- which saved us a parking fee!

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