Saturday, January 30, 2010

Optimism Justified

As it turned out, my optimism (discussed here and here) about making the flight from KBDR to KVKX was justified. Not that the trip was devoid of interest.

Here is the surface analysis for 21Z yesterday, a bit before my departure. You can see that the low up in the Canadian Maritimes is still the dominant feature. And those isobars were indeed wrapped pretty tightly, indicating a steep pressure gradient. Therefore, the winds did howl. In fact, when I took off KBDR was just inside the southern boundary of a rare (for these parts) SIGMET for severe turbulence below 6000 feet.

When the weather briefer told me about the SIGMET I asked if he had any PIREP's supporting it. Yes, he had three - which were collectively the proximate cause for issuing the SIGMET. One was from an aircraft in New Hampshire, one from north of Albany and one from a pilot in northwestern Connecticut (over the Litchfield hills). As these reports were all from "hill country", and my flight path would track just inside the southern boundary of the SIGMET area, I decided to proceed.

The METARs that bracketed my departure from KBDR had this to say:
KBDR 292152Z 30015G22KT 10SM CLR M07/M19 A3020 RMK AO2 PK WND 29026/2129 SLP227 T10671194
KBDR 292052Z 31018G24KT 10SM CLR M06/M19 A3018 RMK AO2 PK WND 29029/2021 SLP221 T10561194 53001

That peak wind report of 26 knots at 290, occurring at 2129Z, was just three minutes before my "wheels up" time (fortunately, from Runway 29).

There was some turbulence on the climb-out that you might have called moderate, but everything was smooth by the time N631S and I got up to 6000 feet MSL. Smooth but slow. The headwind component for my westerly course was 45 to 50 knots, so I saw a lot of ground speed readings in the 80's of knots. Over the Hudson the New York Approach controller cleared me up to 8,000 feet. By the end of that climb my indicated airspeed was down to about 75 knots (N631S's best rate-of-climb speed at sea level is 78 knots) and according to the flight log on FlightAware, this was happening:

Time Lat Long Course Knots mph Mach Alt Climb Rate
17:00 41.22 73.80 270° 36 41 0.06 8,000 +180

Yes, that's a roaring 36 knots over the ground. It was one of those days where you could easily drop back into slow flight and watch as the airplane went backwards at 10 or 15 knots.

Soon thereafter I had the following exchange with the New York Approach controller...
[N631S]: "New York, Skylane 31 Sierra, request."
[Approach]: "31 Sierra, go ahead."
[N631S]: "Any chance of Direct LANNA along here?"
[Approach]: "I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you're pretty slow today and I've got Newark arrivals backed up. It'll be a few minutes."
[N631S]: (sounding contrite) "Sorry for that...it's pretty windy up here today."
[Approach]: (best "there, there, it's OK" voice) "That's all right, it's not your fault. I'll have LANNA for you in a couple of miles."
And he did.

At right, here's what the entire flight track looked like. I finally made it to Sparta at 2223Z (about 50 minutes to go about 60 nautical miles), got to FLOAT intersection (just about over Reading, PA) 42 minutes later, and landed at KVKX at 0008Z. Everything happened a lot more quickly after the course became more south than west.

The storm system that has been tracking across the lower tier of states the last couple of days is making itself felt here in Virginia this morning - it's snowing as I write and the forecast calls for about 3 inches of accumulation. But with a little luck this will be gone soon and by Monday morning conditions will be good for a return flight to KBDR. More on that, later.


Keith Smith said...

Fascinating flight! Did you check the winds aloft for other altitudes before taking off? I'm curious if the headwind component would've been less severe at other altitudes?

I've had a few flights lately where the winds progressed through S, SW, W, NW from surface to 9k. I pick my altitude to minimize the headwind component and gain 10-20kts for my trouble.

Frank Van Haste said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I would have picked up about 8 or 10 knots at 6000 but ATC won't clear me at that altitude across the KEWR arrivals routing. Tried that before, no way no how.

As it was, I went down to 6000 before Reading and gained a few, but by that time I was south of the area with the greatest wind velocity.

Best regards,