I was flight planning from Monroe, N.C., to Augusta, Ga., on a morning that was 8,000 feet overcast with unlimited visibility and 20 knot winds out of the south at my cruising altitude of 3,000 feet.
I called for a standard weather briefing and was told that, while my destination of Daniel Field was reporting clear weather, Augusta Regional about six miles away was reporting freezing fog and a ceiling of 100 feet.The two airports are so close together it seemed impossible that there could be such a disparity. The briefer was also incredulous and checked some other nearby airports. They also reported clear conditions with visibilities greater than 10 miles.
He didnt know what to make of the situation, and neither did I.
I decided to call someone at Daniel, my home field, and verify the weather personally. An instructor there told me it was, indeed, clear. When I explained the situation, he told me it was not that unusual because Augusta Regional is on the banks of the Savannah River, which allows the freezing fog to form.
I have flown out of there for more than two years and had never heard of this.
Sure enough, as I flew back into Daniel I could see the freezing fog formed over the river and across Augusta Regional. The rest of the area was clear.
I learned that briefers are not necessarily meteorologists and that calling your destination is one way to resolve apparent contradictions. Dont just blindly trust FSS, or you may scrub trips that are perfectly safe to make.
Other lessons to consider: Briefers have often been wrong, but then, so have instructors at the destination FBO. At less than 120 nm, your trip did not have the same kind of weather vagaries that can be present for longer journeys. Trusting that destination observer is OK for short flights, but for longer ones it makes sense to stick with the forecasts made by the experts rather than out-the-window guesses made by someone at the other end.
We Kept Going, and Going …
After take off from Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minn., my brother-in-law and I noticed that the Warrior wasnt performing at 100 percent, more like 95 percent.
I flew the airplane the day before on a cross-country trip to Iowa and it was running well then. But on this day it seemed as if a plug was fouled and it wasnt producing the full 160 HP. But we were airborne for an evening local flight and we felt that the performance was tolerable for our flight.
I decided to make a landing at a small grass strip. We had the wind in our favor, about 10 knots right down the runway as we came in on final. It was a good soft field landing and I kept it rolling as we back-taxied to take off. I now noticed how mushy the field was, and that as we back taxied, we were going straight down hill.
We had several things running against us. We had a suspected fouled plug, wet field conditions and a short uphill runway with trees at the end. As I applied full power and began rolling up the runway, I watched in vain as the airspeed indicator needle didnt budge.
At the half-way point, I pulled back on the throttle and we taxied back for another try. Does this sound like good judgment?
We analyzed the field and discovered a high side that was drier and more firm, and we extended our taxi beyond the end of the runway so we could start the takeoff run in a farmers field. Those two adjustments gave us just enough room to get the airspeed we needed to become airborne. Fortunately we had a favorable wind, without it we would probably still be on the ground.
Ive always been a safe pilot and have tried to learn from others mistakes. Usually it is a combination of factors that creates a situation that is unsafe, but now I see how all the factors can add up very quickly.
Other lessons to consider: While we werent there, your risk tolerance appears to exceed our own. Suspecting a fouled plug is reason to land and check it out – especially in a low-power single such as a Warrior.
Landing on a short obstructed grass field doesnt bother us much – except when you do it in an airplane with known performance problems. Having said that, you make no mention of troubleshooting the problem once you did land on the grass field. Did you make a run-up to try to ascertain the problem? A well-leaned runup can sometimes clean off the plugs enough to solve the problem for a while. It can also help determine if your problem is something else – a problem with fuel flow, for example.
We also wonder about the wisdom of using the farmers field for a taxiway and runway without walking the field and making sure its smooth enough to use.
Nerves of Jelly
It was a nice September day. I called for a weather briefing and everything looked like it was a go for a cross country to Oshkosh. I had just gotten my pilot certificate in July and decided to take my husband to see the EAA Museum.
Once I was airborne, I noticed it was a little hazy, but not too bad. I got about 10 miles outside of Oshkosh and called the tower. They told me to call them back when I was three miles out. I fly out of an uncontrolled field, so I am not quite used to talking to tower and it made me a little nervous.
I called the tower back when I was three miles out and they told me to make a right downwind to runway 27 – so I had the additional stress of making an unfamiliar right-handed pattern.
The tower told me to keep my altitude at 2,500 feet. After I was midfield on the downwind, the controller told me I could descend to the pattern altitude of 1,800 feet.
I knew my approach was going to be all messed up because I had to descend rather quickly. Once I got on final, I was so nervous, my arms were shaking.
Well, I made it down – but I porpoised five times. I didnt think the plane was ever going to land, but it finally did. Good thing OSH has long runways.
So, between being a new pilot, doing a right hand pattern, talking to tower, descending faster than normal, and porpoising, it took me awhile to calm down after landing.
As I reflect on it, a number of things are clear now that werent then. If you are not comfortable with what ATC tells you to do, tell them you are unable and they will work with you. After you porpoise two times, go-around. There is nothing wrong with going around.
By the way, the trip home was great.
Other lessons to consider: You might consider working with a CFI to figure out how to descend in the pattern without picking up speed. Early flaps, slips and slipping turns should become a familiar part of your repertoire at this stage.
We think the best lesson you learned is one that many, many pilots would do well to learn: There is nothing wrong with going around.
Slap in the Face
On a return trip to Grand Junction, Colo., from visiting relatives, I was flying my 172H from a fuel stop at Trinidad, Colo., and attempting to go through Mosca Pass into the San Luis Valley.
A Sigmet was in effect for moderate to severe turbulence along this route. I climbed to 2,000 feet above the pass and was approaching it with my airspeed indicator showing 85 mph, which is Vy for this airplane.
Immediately before entering the pass, my groundspeed as indicated on the GPS suddenly dropped from 55 mph to 40 mph. I quickly checked the airspeed, but it was still nailed on 85. I got a greater concern when the VSI maxed out with a descent in excess of 2,000 fpm.
Id seen enough. I made a 180-degree turn, landed at Walsenburg and completed the trip the next day.