Monday, March 1, 2010

A First Time for Everything

This morning, after a month-long hiatus, N631S and I got to go flying. It felt really good. We were off the ground at 1304Z and headed for Connecticut. The weather in the DC area was clear and pleasant. I'd filed for 5,000 feet based on last evening's TAF's forecasting scattered layers en route at 5,000 to 6,000.

The layer showed up over the Maryland eastern shore with tops at about 5,200. I didn't want to find out for certain weather the clouds had ice in them, but I really didn't want to climb up to 7,000 feet - because Atlantic City Approach always wants me back down to 5,000 feet on V16. The climb wouldn't be worth the fuel burn.

Then, I thought to myself, "Why not?" and pressed the transmit button.

Me: "Potomac Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra, request."
Approach: "31 Sierra, go ahead"
Me: "631 Sierra would like VFR on top at 5,500 to avoid icing in clouds."
Approach: (silence)
Approach: "Would you like to climb to 7,000?"
Me: "Actually, I'd be happier with 5,500 if it works for you."
Approach: (silence)
Approach: "Skylane 631 Sierra, you are cleared VFR on top, maintain 5,500."
Me: "31 Sierra, climb and maintain 5,500 and thanks very much."

In case you're unaware, "VFR-on-top" is a modification to your IFR clearance where you fly in visual conditions above instrument weather, assume responsibility for your own traffic avoidance ("see-and-avoid") and maintain VFR cardinal altitudes. You are still on an IFR clearance. It took the Potomac Approach controller a few seconds to get his head wrapped around the procedure. I guess it's one that he doesn't get to play with every day. Anyway, the layer stayed in place across the DelMarVa peninsula and then went away approaching Delaware Bay. I asked Dover Approach for a return to 5,000 feet and they happily obliged.

I've always wanted to have a good reason to use VFR-on-top and today I got one. There comes a first time for everything, I guess. Now I need a good reason for a Cruise Clearance.

The winds aloft started to get serious over northern New Jersey. Crossing JFK at 137 knots true airspeed, N631S's ground speed was down to 92 knots. We got a little bit back making the turn to the east to head over to KBDR.

When a deep low goes by and the winter winds really howl in from the northwest, KBDR just doesn't have a good runway. Today, Runway 29 was the least of evils. The ATIS was advertising wind from 330 degrees at 22 knots with gusts to 30. That wind 40 degrees off the runway heading will produce (if I recall my trigonometry correctly) a right-to-left crosswind component of about 15 knots, rising to 21 knots in the gusts. Pretty sporty.

I put on my very best crosswind landing hat and got N631S down on the deck with all pieces attached. Yep, it pretty much used up all the rudder. (Getting slowed and stopped was non-trivial. Have to work on that part more.)

All tolled, 2.5 hours (a long one for the north-bound flight) with some interesting notes for the logbook.

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