Monday, May 23, 2011

The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore!

It's starting to seem that low, gray weather has descended on southern New England and isn't going to depart any time soon! I've commented earlier that last Monday's weather was sufficiently un-promising for me to resort to the train. This week, as of Sunday evening, things looked a bit better. The Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) for Bridgeport as of 00Z (8:00 PM local time) looked like this:

KBDR 222329Z 2300/2324 15008KT P6SM OVC025 
     FM230200 14006KT 6SM -DZ BR OVC012 
     FM230500 14005KT 5SM -DZ BR OVC007 
     FM231600 17011KT P6SM BKN009 OVC012
Anticipating an arrival around 14Z (reference the line "FM230500"), the forecast called for visibility of five statute miles (5SM) in light drizzle (-DZ) and mist (BR) with an overcast layer at 700 feet (OVC007). OK, not so bad. I filed for an 0745 local time IFR departure.

When I got up about at 5:30 AM (0930Z), things were looking less good. Bridgeport was reporting a 400 foot overcast and nearby terminals were that bad or worse. But conditions from central New Jersey and south were fairly good and I was tired of not flying. So...press on! I have over six hours of fuel in N631S and if I had to I could fly to Bridgeport, miss the approach, fly back to Maryland and land where I'd started. Lots of options.

I was off the runway at Potomac airfield at 1152Z (i.e., a few minutes before 8:00 AM), and at that time Bridgeport was reporting:

KBDR 231152Z 12009KT 3SM BR OVC004 12/11 A3010 RMK AO2 SLP194
That's 3 miles visibility in mist with a 400 foot overcast. Since the minimums for the ILS Rwy 6 approach are 3/4 mile and 307 feet, it remained a workable situation.

The flight up into the New York area was uneventful. There was some spotty precipitation over Cape May, NJ and south of KJFK, but none of it was a factor for the flight. Along the way, I picked up an updated TAF:

KBDR 231311Z 2313/2412 13010KT 5SM BR OVC004
     FM231600 16012KT 6SM BR BKN008 BKN015
     FM232300 18010KT 4SM BR VCSH OVC006
     FM240600 20007KT 2SM BR OVC004=
This was telling me to expect visibility of five statute miles in mist and an overcast layer at 400 feet. The "13010KT" group told me to expect a modest crosswind from the right.

New York Approach did their usual professional job getting me across JFK and down to the approach altitude. A nice aspect of using the ILS 6 at Bridgeport is that coming up from JFK, Vectors-to-Final are almost straight in, so the arrival is very efficient.

At the start of the approach the weather was:

KBDR 231352Z 11008KT 4SM BR OVC004 13/11 A3008 RMK AO2 SLP186
Four miles in mist with a 400 foot overcast. N631S and I were vectored to the localizer and advised to maintain 2,000 feet until established. Once we were on the localizer New York stated "Radar service terminated" and "Contact Bridgeport tower on 120.9." I called the tower and heard, "N631S, not in sight, cleared to land."

Since we were going almost all the way down to minimums, I let the STEC System 50 autopilot mind the localizer while I concerned myself with staying on the glide-slope. There was no turbulence at all so staying on the glide slope was easy. Still, a certain amount of tension builds as the altimeter winds down, especially as it approaches the reported ceiling. I think we broke out at about 350 feet, with the runway threshold about a mile ahead. How very nice.

The landing itself was uneventful. As I put the cover on N631S I reflected on how satisfying it is to fly a successful approach to minimums. Now, if only the weather would break - we could use some sun.

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