I went flying one Friday out of Farmingdale, N.Y., with Matt, a fellow pilot, and my friend John, who we picked up at White Plains. We had planned to go to Nantucket, Mass., for the day, but a front was moving in. Matt and I decided to meet at the airport and discuss it. When I got to FRG at 7:15 am he had already pre-flighted the airplane.
I didnt really want to go to Nantucket because I thought it would be difficult to beat the storms back. We talked it over and decided to pick up my friend at HPN, go to East Hampton to have lunch and return before the storms hit Long Island. The visibility was poor at FRG and it was IMC almost everywhere, so we filed IFR for the trip. Matt flew to HPN and HTO and I would fly the return trip.
Now comes the scary part, the return trip. We had filed to depart HTO at 1:30 p.m. to HPN, but the storm had already gotten there. It was causing major delays at all of the N.Y. airports, and we were told HPN was closed to incoming traffic. They told me to call back in a half hour to get an IFR release. We couldnt depart VFR because visibility was 2 miles in mist. We waited through some delays, but finally I asked if we could get direct back to Farmingdale, where I could drive my friend home to Westchester. This worked and we got a release to depart HTO at 2:23 p.m.
We took off immediately and were in IMC conditions all the way back. About the time we got to the Deer Park VOR I noticed through the clouds that it was getting dark to our northwest, and I was getting a bad feeling. ATC told me the storm was already at the localizer approach to runway 14 at FRG and suggested that I fly direct to FRG and try a visual approach, since the visibility was 3 miles and the ceiling was above 1,000 feet.
As ATC vectored me, the sky to the northwest was getting darker and we could see occasional lightning. We had the field in sight, but there was a Navajo inbound so they vectored us to the south. We were told to descend for the visual approach to runway 19, with the winds 220 at 15. While on downwind we saw the storm right in front of us as we flew toward the rain and lightning.
We had a lot of altitude to lose as I made the base turn, and I put in a slip to get down. On final the wind picked up and the sky got very dark. Matt reminded me that we had to make it in now or we would have to ride into the storm, as if I needed to be reminded. At 500 feet the storm got worse and the wind started to shift and increase in strength.
As I attempted to land I felt the control inputs and knew that any attempt to land with the wind changing like this would not have been successful. I executed a go-around and started a climb with the storm kicking us in the tail. As I was climbing, the tower called and said the wind was now 290 at 20 and suggested that I fly a left base to land immediately on runway 32.
I lined up with 32 and put in a crosswind correction. We were knocked all over the place on final, but I kept the airplane under control all the way down. This time I knew I could land the plane. The landing was a battle, even after the wheels were on the ground we were getting blown about, but I kept the nose pointed down the runway as we rolled out.
There were two business jets waiting to take off as we were landing and both of them aborted and went back to the ramp. As we were taxiing back to the ramp the full force of the storm hit. The sky got black, the winds picked up and it rained like a monsoon. Because of the heavy rain and lightning we sat in the airplane next to the tiedown spot for about ten minutes.
Some lessons learned: If the weather forecast calls for storms to move in at 4 p.m. you can bet that they will move in earlier. Try to gain as much experience in flying in all kinds of conditions – not thunderstorms, but at least take a runway with a crosswind once in a while. Fly often and if your skills get rusty take a ride with an instructor.
Hot Stuff Tonight
I had just gotten my private license a few months earlier and had made it a point throughout my training to get whatever additional instruction I thought I needed. I consider myself a very cautious pilot and would not take passengers until after I had 100 hours.
Having done that, I decided to take my daughter and her boyfriend on a flight from Worcester, Mass., to Mount Snow, Vt., on a clear, calm summer day. The trip there was beautiful, and landing on the 2,600-foot runway was no problem. After dinner, we returned to the airport for our return flight.
It had been a hot day, 95 degrees, but the sun was going down and it was beginning to cool. Taking into consideration my two passengers and the runway length, I decided on a modified short field procedure.
On my previous flights, my Piper Warrior accelerated well, easily running up to 70 knots for an easy 1,600-foot takeoff roll. So I figured we would have no problems. I held brakes and applied full throttle and one notch of flaps, then away we went. As I approached the two-thirds point of the runway, I noticed I was not accelerating over 60 knots.
I pulled the nose up a bit and was able to get 64 knots, then with less than 50 feet left I rotated. At 63 knots. I was climbing very slowly, with 40-foot trees dead ahead.
At this point I was tempted to pull back more, but I understood that a stall would be near. Holding at 63 knots, we cleared the trees by 30 feet and now had a mountain ahead. A very shallow turn left us clear of that and we were homebound.
I consulted my books and charts, followed by review with my instructor, and concluded with a dual instruction return to this field of near-tragedy.
The facts I overlooked were as follows. The airplanes performance was reduced already by the fact that I was at an airport 1,000 feet higher than my home base. The hot day put the density altitude at 4,000 feet. Next throw in two passengers. I was running with the mixture full rich, which cost me 200 rpm. Finally, a second notch of flaps would have helped a lot.
The return dual training trip was very helpful. I learned to always evaluate airport conditions, especially when issues like temperature and weight are different. The charts, had I used them, would have made me clearly aware of the problem. And certainly if I had taken off in the peak of the days heat, the charts would have said no-go.
Last but not least, I found follow-up dual training in issues like this very helpful – I also gained additional respect from my flight school because most pilots dont bother to ask about what they dont understand.
This Silence Aint Golden
I rent Cessna 152s from a flying club in Long Beach, Calif., and preflight carefully to assure everything works, especially the radios and transponder. My passenger and I planned a 40-mile pleasure flight after work. We would be taking off from runway 25L and making a right turn to follow freeways to our destination.
I was cleared for takeoff and was climbing on runway heading through 500 feet when the controller instructed me to turn. I acknowledged, but she said she couldnt hear me. Another try and the controller reported hearing the carrier wave only, no voice.
No problem. I pulled out my handheld radio from the flight bag and … nothing happened. The battery was dead.
The controller recognized the situation and asked me to click the mike twice if I could hear her instructions, which I did. So we were able to establish a communication system. She directed me into the pattern for runway 25R, gave me traffic advisories and turning instructions, and I clicked away to acknowledge each time.
We landed and our controller kept me with her to provide taxi directions crossing active runways, all by double-clicking the mike. She even knew where the flying club parked planes and guided us to tiedown. I later contacted the tower supervisor to extend a compliment and thanks to this controller for her help. As for me, that handheld immediately received a new battery and it gets checked at home before every flight.
Fuel Problem Really Bugged Me
I hadnt flown my 1957 Cessna 172 for several weeks because of illness. Getting ready to make a short flight I noticed the right fuel gauge indicated No Take Off. I dipped the tanks. The left tank had about 10 gallons, which was about right. The right tank had only five gallons. Whoa, I thought, somebody must have stolen five gallons of 100LL for their motorcycle.
I filled the right tank with fuel I had in a plastic five-gallon gas can and took off on a round-trip breakfast flight of 1.8 hours. The next day I was planning to make a few trips around the pattern, when the right fuel tank again was again indicating no takeoff. I dipped the tanks and the left tank had 10 gallons in it. I added 14 gallons to the right side.
The airplane had come out of annual a few weeks earlier and the work included servicing the fuel tank switch. The mechanic said he couldnt check it until the next week. Then a friend came over and said look at this. The left vent tube at the bottom of the wing was covered with gray matter. We cleaned the dried clay off with a stiff wire, then with a portable vacuum cleaned the vent tube of more clay and insect larvae. The next day, I dipped the tanks again and they had evened out to 12 gallons per side.
Then I recalled that during the time I was sick I had taken a half-hour flight around the pattern. No one had stolen any gas after all. The airplane burns 10 gallons per hour, so there went the five gallons. Looks like Id better clean out the ol mill, too!