Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ask for What You Need! (cont'd)

Friday's flight from KBDR to KVKX took me back to a theme I focused on about a year ago: the importance of asking ATC for what you need to stay out of trouble. You have to have good situational awareness and an understanding of where you need to be. ATC will help you to get there.

As it got close to the time I'd planned for departure, the weather near Bridgeport was good. But things were happening in central Pennsylvania that needed watching. The Terminal Area Forecasts (TAF's) in effect for Allentown (KABE) and Lancaster (KLNS) contained some strong hints:

TAF KABE 171734Z 1718/1818 24005KT P6SM SCT050 BKN250
       FM171900 22011KT P6SM SCT050 BKN250
       TEMPO 1721/1724 5SM TSRA BKN035CB  
       FM180000 29005KT P6SM SCT050 BKN100
       TEMPO 1800/1803 5SM -SHRA OVC050 
       FM180400 33004KT P6SM SCT025 BKN050 
       FM180800 34005KT 5SM BR SCT020 OVC025 
       FM181400 01005KT P6SM BKN050 
       FM181600 02008KT P6SM BKN100=

TAF KLNS 171726Z 1718/1818 26008KT P6SM SCT200 
       FM172000 23007KT P6SM VCTS BKN040CB  
       FM180400 32005KT P6SM SCT040= 
From 21Z to 24Z, Allentown was forecasting periods of thundershower activity, while from 20Z through 04Z Lancaster was expecting thundershowers in the vicinity. The radar picture showed a fairly extensive area of precipitation and unsettled weather in central Pennsylvania, moving eastward fairly slowly.

N631S and I lifted off from Runway 24 at KBDR at 2013Z. The IFR clearance was the same one that is always issued by ATC's computer: Vectors to SAX, thence V249 to SBJ, V30 to ETX, V39 to LRP, V93 to BAL and thence direct to KVKX. I could have said "unable", and insisted on a routing over JFK and down the New Jersey coast, but that would have entailed a significant delay. I judged the forecast and weather situation to be manageable with ATC's usual enroute cooperation. Shortly after departure, the NEXRAD display on the Garmin 396 was showing (above) the beginnings of the adverse weather still well north and west of the planned route.

Once N631S and I got to Sparta (SAX) I asked for and promptly got a corner-cutting shortcut direct to LANNA; and after the handoff to Allentown approach I asked for and also promptly received clearance direct to FLOAT, which lies on V39 about halfway between East Texas (ETX) and Reading (KRDG). This track kept me south of the weather that was approaching Allentown from the north but I didn't want to go all the way to FLOAT (see above left). So about then, I had a brief chat with Allentown Approach:
N631S: Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra.
Approach: 31 Sierra, go ahead.
N631S: Could you please tell me what level of precip you're painting up ahead at FLOAT?
Approach: It looks like moderate precip at FLOAT...in fact, extensive moderate precip there and to the west.
N631S: 31 Sierra would like to request an early turn toward Lancaster to give that area of weather a wider berth.
Approach: 31 Sierra, I have your request. I'll need to work something out with Harrisburg.
N631S: That'd be great. Thanks.

At the time of this conversation, the view off to the north (at left) was gray and opaque, but I didn't see any lightning flashes. I pressed on toward FLOAT for about five miles and then the controller came back with "Cessna 631 Sierra, cleared direct Lancaster." I thanked her and turned N631S to the southwest.

Just a few miles farther on, the Allentown Approach controller completed the hand-off to Harrisburg Approach. I'd already been looking at the weather N631S and I were now heading toward at Lancaster (LRP) (depicted at left) and I checked in on the new frequency with a proposal for Harrisburg:
N631S: Harrisburg, Skylane N631 Sierra, level 8,000 with a request.
Approach: Skylane 631 Sierra, Harrisburg Approach. Harrisburg altimeter 29.78; go ahead with your request.
N631S: What are the chances of an early turn toward Baltimore for 31 Sierra, to stay clear of the weather along Victor 39 between Lancaster and Reading?
Approach: 31 Sierra, if I can get you down to 6,000 I can give you an early turn toward Baltimore. Can you accept 6,000?
N631S: 6,000 would be no problem for 31 Sierra.
Approach: Skylane 31 Sierra, descend and maintain 6,000. You can expect direct Baltimore in about one-zero miles.
N631S: Skylane 631 Sierra is out of 8 for 6, and thanks!

As soon as I leveled off at 6,000 feet, Harrisburg Approach advised, "Skylane 31 Sierra, steer heading 220." That got me pointed away from the weather (see left – note that the turn has already been made). And just a few miles farther along, "Skylane 631 Sierra, cleared direct Baltimore."

And with that, N631S and I were in the clear. The rest of the journey was uneventful and away from the influence of unpleasant weather. Again, the controllers all along the route – especially at Allentown Approach and Harrisburg Approach – have my appreciation for their skill and responsiveness.

And that's the story. Except...after passing Baltimore under the watchful care of Potomac Approach, N631S and I headed south to Nottingham (OTT) as we do nearly every Friday. I expected a vector after OTT to about a 240 heading and after a while a turn toward "home plate" at KVKX. But I got a pleasant surprise in the form of a clearance direct to the field from a point just north of OTT!

I must admit that I didn't recognize my benefactor's voice – people do sound differently on different frequencies – until I had KVKX in sight and cancelled IFR. That's when I heard, "Have a good evening, Frank..." and figured out that my final controller was my friend Sarah. So, if you read this, Sarah...thanks for the early turn toward home.


Cedarglen said...

Excellent post, Frank. Your point is excellent and another proof of the value of staying well ahead of the situation. The good folks at ATC are willing to help and knowing what you want is certainly better than having to holler, "Get me out of this weather!" You have at least one distinct advantage in that you know your route and the likely options at least as well as do the ATC folks. Happy landings,

Frank Van Haste said...

That's a good point, Craig...about my familiarity with the route being an advantage (tho', I'd question the 'at least as well as...ATC' part).

But I recall some trips in the early days where the process at work was similar. My first suggestion may not have been practical, but I asked for help early and expressed a willingness to deviate as needed...and ATC did their job on my behalf.

Really, all that's changed is the efficiency of the process.

Thanks for visiting,