Editor's Log

September 2002 Issue

Shave & a Haircut

It wasn’t really a close call with the developing storm, but it was still a little furry

The first time I tackled a real hill on snow skis, I stood at the top with a confident smile and thought, “I can do this.” Somewhere in the middle, I was riding a tiger and afraid to dismount. At the end, with shaking knees I screwed up my bravado and said, “Let’s do that again.”

So it was with a recent flight. Except for the do it again part. I was flying on a day when thunderstorms were popping up throughout the southeast like fireflies on a summer night. Despite the best efforts of the National Weather Service and the Stormscope, I was heading right toward one as I flew toward my destination.

The approach controller had cleared me for the GPS approach and given me vectors toward the final approach course. I was in and out of cumulus, mostly in, but I found myself in a patch of sky where I could see moderate buildup that appeared to be short of convective size.

Just about the time I was expecting to be switched to the tower, Approach informed me his ASR-9 showed a level 4 between me and the airport, followed by that lovely phrase, “State intentions.”

I decided to divert to a nearby airport behind me, where I knew the weather was acceptable because I’d just flown past it. He gave me a vector to take me toward the ILS, and as I turned, the cloud I was in decided it was time for puberty.

The updraft I hit carried me up, up and away. With the power at idle and the airspeed annoyingly close to the yellow arc, the VSI was still close to the upper peg. The airplane pitched and yawed and felt like it was working up the courage to roll, but I managed to keep wings level. More or less.

After what seemed like an eternity, but really wasn’t more than 15 or 20 seconds, I popped out of that mess and into a cloud that was merely mortal. The Stormscope was clear. I’d not seen a drop of rain. As I was getting vectored to my new destination, I kept an eye on the cloud where I’d hit the updraft. Less than 10 minutes later the Stormscope lit that section of the sky.

I would like to say I shook it off, landed normally and looked back at the airplane as I walked away, saying, “Let’s do that again sometime.” Not quite.

I flew a terrible ILS, chasing the needle back and forth as I focused on the past rather than the future. When I broke out, I circled to land in what was not, shall we say, a graceful arrival.

It was only then that my passenger turned and said, “Well, that was a little hairy.”

-Ken Ibold