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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ask For What You Need!

For a variety of essentially uninteresting reasons, last Friday was extremely busy in a way that had nothing to do with aviation. It was noon before I had a chance to look at the weather or file a flight plan. I quickly came to the conclusion that the flight from KBDR down to KVKX might be mildly entertaining. I did, however, file a flight plan for the normal routing that takes me over eastern PA, then south into MD.

When I headed over to the airport at about 20Z, I knew that there was an active Sigmet covering most of eastern Pennsylvania and a good chunk of western New Jersey. I wasn't thrilled with the notion of flying the "usual route", that takes me west from KBDR to Sparta (SAX) then south to Solberg (SBJ) then west again into Allentown Approach's airspace. Lots of convective activity was forecast for that region.

On arrival at KBDR I paused in the flight planning room for another look at the radar depiction. Pennsylvania continued to look bad. Over New Jersey there were two strands of weather (I hesitate to call them "lines" - they weren't that organized), one just over the south-bound airway, one fairly far inland. It looked like I could "thread the needle" if I could get the New Jersey routing.

I went out into the slight drizzle and pre-flighted N631S, then raised Bridgeport Clearance Delivery on the handheld radio. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Bridgeport Clearance, Skylane 631 Sierra requesting a change to proposed IFR routing to VKX.
KBDR: Skylane 31 Sierra, say request.
Me: 31 Sierra is unable the routing via SAX due to extensive convective weather over eastern Pennsylvania airways. Request routing that starts with vectors Deer Park then Victor 1 then whatever they want at the south end.
KBDR: 31 Sierra, they're really busy down there right now. If you can give me the full route clearance you want I'll see if I can get it for you.
Me (ready for this): Skylane 31 Sierra requests vectors Deer Park, Victor 1, ENO, Victor 379, OTT direct.
KVKX: 31 Siera, that's Deer Park, Victor 1, ENO, Victor 379, OTT direct?
Me: Bridgeport Clearance, read back correct. (I always wanted to say that!)
KBDR: [click-click]

The controller was advising other aircraft to expect a significant delay prior to release, so I anticipated a bit of a wait, but in less than five minutes I was given exactly the clearance I'd requested! My comment to the KBDR controller: "Wow! They swallowed the whole thing!"

Bridgeport advised that New York Approach was still "looking at" my clearance and I'd better expect some changes en route. Fine...just get me out of Dodge and over New Jersey. And sure enough, while taxiing, I got a change (which I paused to copy): "after DPK, Victor 16 to DIXIE, Victor 1 to ATR, Victor 308, BILIT, DCA, direct." Not likely to work in the long run but OK for now.

With the modified clearance copied I reported in at taxiway Kilo, ready for takeoff, and was promptly cleared and rolling. N631S and I climbed into the schmoo at about 500 feet and New York approach soon had us radar identified and turned to a 180 heading, vectors for Deer Park. Leveling off at 4,000, I could see that we were just under the tops.

We made the turn to the south at JFK on top in bright sunshine. I was very interested in what weather was in store to the south along the airway. The NEXRAD display on the Garmin 396 (left) showed some moderate precip just west of DIXIE and some heavy (red) precip near Lakehurst NAS (KNEL). It seemed like it would be a good idea to hustle down the airway.
As it turned out, there was plenty of clearance on the way past Lakehurst. The weather was moving to the east quite slowly and I was beginning to feel pretty good about the trip. This spot of weather would not be a factor.
But looking ahead (on the NEXRAD display) I could see another cell that appeared to be approaching Coyle VOR (CYN). I asked the McGuire Approach controller what she saw on her radar. The answer was "there's moderate to extreme precipitation over Coyle." With the first area of rain passing to my right, I asked McGuire for a 10 degree left deviation to put some space between N631S and the weather at CYN. She said, "Approved as requested. Report back on course when able," but before that seemed like a good idea I was handed off to Atlantic City Approach.
I checked in with, "Atlantic City Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra level at 6,000 and deviating 10 left of the airway for weather avoidance." The controller responded, "Skylane 31 Sierra, Atlantic City Altimeter 29.89...tell you what, you can go direct Atlantic City then direct Waterloo now and that should keep you well east of that weather."
The resulting flight path nicely split the difference between the two cells of adverse weather (above left) and gave me a good view of some fairly heavy rain (for example, left) as I made my way south.

This proved to be the last bit of weather to influence the flight. The rest of the trip across New Jersey and the Delmarva peninsula was routine.

Looking back at it, the flight was a good example of an important principal in dealing with Air Traffic Control: "Ask for what you need." As busy as they were, New York Approach accommodated my need for a routing with less convective weather; and the controllers at McGuire and Atlantic City were quick to approve deviations that kept N631S and I away from trouble.

Courtesy of FlightAware.com, the entire route is depicted below.

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