Time to Spare

Departing an hour later would have meant arriving a day later on busy holiday


A pilot we know usually starts (and often completes) his preflight in the car on the way to the airport. He calls Flight Service from the cell phone. He pulls the airplane out of the T-hangar, makes sure its got both wings and still has a propeller, and away he goes.

Most pilots are a bit more diligent, calling Flight Service before leaving home or the office and conducting a more thorough walk-around before parking the car in the hangar and heading out. Some are downright anal-retentive about it, plotting the weather for days before a flight and conducting a 100-hour inspection before lighting the fire.

Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I was reminded of how many different faces preflight planning can have. The kids wanted to see their grandparents and I wanted to see my grandmother, who, at 94, may not have many Thanksgivings left to share.

The trip north from Orlando was uneventful. A few clouds along the way, relatively light winds at 11,000 feet and an ILS into DeKalb-Peachtree that broke me into the clear 500 feet above minimums.

The holiday was as holidays are. All too soon, Saturday arrived and it was time to pack up for home.

Yeah, Saturday.

When making personal journeys, especially with kids, I like to leave a day at the end of the trip. Ideally, that gives everyone a day to relax before heading out for school and work on Monday. It also gives time to deal with weather, airplane problems and other unexpected delays.

This particular Saturday was rainy and messy in Atlanta, but the weather south was much better. The briefer said conditions around Atlanta were likely to improve as the afternoon wore on, but I wanted to get home by dark to try to keep the kids sleeping schedules somewhat intact.

We skated along the top of a layer of cumulus, punching through the occasional top but mostly skimming about 50 feet above the clouds at 11,000 feet. A controller idly commented on how quiet the frequency was, bemoaning how busy it was likely to be the next day as more people rushed to get home.

Then I glanced over at the Stormscope. Behind us, about 100 miles to the northwest, stood a wall of dots. Not radial spread from a strong storm, but a huge band of serious weather. We gradually outran the front, but when I got home, the evening news told tales of tornadoes and severe weather it spawned.

If departure had been delayed an hour, I would have smacked into the front. With only 145 knots of cruise speed available, making an end-around would have taken forever. That hour would have cost me a day.

The front that moved in behind me had been visible on the regular weather report the day before, but it exceeded expectations in how quickly it moved east.

Good thing I had that extra day, but even better that I didnt have to use it.

-Ken Ibold


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