Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday Night's Flight

As I was leaving KBDR, the TAF for DCA (issued at 1800Z) was still valid and calling for better than 6 miles visibility and scattered clouds at 3000 feet at my planned arrival time. After I got off, I zoomed out the XM Weather NEXRAD display on my Garmin 396 and saw lots of green and yellow stuff just south of DC, with the leading edge maybe 1/2-way between DC and Richmond. Since I had 2 hours of flying in front of me I figured there was a good chance that the weather would get to where I was going before me. Time to brief the approach plate.

It was VMC most of the way down. I started out at 8000 feet going over to Sparta and down to Solberg (that keeps me above the EWR arrivals) and there was a pretty good headwind at that altitude. I knew from the winds aloft forecast that the winds were quite a bit lighter at 6000 so as soon as I was handed off to Allentown Approach I asked for and got 6000. That got me about 9 more knots of ground speed.

The undercast went solid just north of Baltimore. Passing BAL headed south they took me down to 4000. That had me under the cloud layer where it was showery and maybe 3 or 4 miles flight visibility. The approach controller asked me what approach I wanted at VKX and I asked for the RNAV 6
On the way down to Nottingham VOR, Potomac Approach brought me down to 3000, then to 2000 and with each descent the visibility got a bit worse. I went through a couple of pretty enthusiastic showers where it was probably around 1-1/2 miles, and prevailing visibility in the light rain was about 2-1/2 (I estimate).

So...I clear Nottingham and the controller says, "Depart Nottingham on a 270 heading, expect the visual at VKX."


So I said, "Umm...there was some talk with the previous controller about shooting the RNAV 6 into Potomac...", and he said, "Well, there's a lot of traffic coming up from the south tonight -- maybe you can pick up the airport. If not we'll get you vectors to WOBUB." (Note: WOBUB is the IAF for the approach)."

"OK," I said, "we'll see what happens."

Needless to say, I got within 4 miles of the field at 2000 and saw NOTHIN'. So, he turns me to a 240 vector paralleling the final approach course, offset about a mile and a half to the southeast. I get abeam of WOBUB and he clears me direct, cleared for the approach. I already had the approach loaded in the GNS-530, so I just hit Direct WOBUB and away we go. But...it occurs to me that the 530 wants me to get to WOBUB and turn southwest to fly the hold-in-lieu-of-procedure-turn, and Mr. Controller may not want that. I ask, "Do you want me to take a turn in the hold at WOBUB or turn straight in?" He responded, "Thanks for asking! Turn straight in at WOBUB." Fine. Now I have to figure out how to convince the 530 to skip the hold.

Well, necessity is the mother of invention. I got to the IAF, hit the FPL button, highlighted the FAF and hit Direct. The 530 didn't miss a beat, turning northeast onto final. I descended to 1500 and started watching for the airport. I crossed the FAF, which is a bit over 4 miles from the threshold -- still no joy. Started my descent to MDA (680 in this case) and about 3 miles out I saw the red lights of the PAPI...so I stopped descending and waited for some white lights. Runway lights showed up and the actual landing, in light rain, was uneventful.

This was maybe the fifth time since I got my instrument rating that I flew an approach because I had to. It's fun! The Garmin GNS-530 is a wonderful machine. Approach controllers are the nicest people. And it's nice to know that the ILS approach to the 7000 foot runway at Manassas is in your back pocket if you need it.

Here's the flight, by the way.

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