Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Been Over a Week...

The seasons are changing, the weather is dynamic, and recently the flying has been somewhat entertaining. The last trip N631S and I made from Connecticut down to the DC area was a good example.

It's certainly the time of year when I start paying close attention to temeratures aloft. That Friday was a sort of a drizzly, rainy day so I wanted to see forecasts above freezing for my intended route.

Fortunately, the freezing levels forecast for the eastern Pennsylvania routing (a morning forecast at left, with a valid time of 19Z) looked quite good. The area where my flight path would be at 8000 feet MSL would have the freezing level between 9000 and 11000. That was good news, as I could focus on other things.

I was expecting to depart KBDR between 20Z and 21Z, and the TAF was forecasting basic conditions of six miles visibility in mist with a broken ceiling between 2500 and 3500 feet, but with periods of light showers and four mile visibility, ceiling at 1500.

TAF AMD KBDR 191858Z 1919/2018 15010KT P6SM SCT008 SCT015 BKN035
       TEMPO 1919/1921 4SM -SHRA BR BKN015 
       FM192100 15008KT 6SM BR SCT008 SCT015 BKN025 
       FM192300 17007KT 4SM BR SCT008 BKN015 
       FM200300 VRB04KT 4SM BR OVC015
       TEMPO 2006/2010 2SM BR BKN008 
       FM201000 VRB04KT 2SM BR BKN008 
       FM201300 24008KT P6SM SCT015
       FM201500 24010KT P6SM SKC=
The winds were going to be against me, quite vigorously. I was anticipating about 2:35 enroute, with an arrival at KVKX a bit after 23Z. But the forecast for nearby KDCA was quite benign...calling for good visibility and scattered clouds at 15000 feet. Clearly, it seemed, I was headed for better weather.
TAF AMD KDCA 192038Z 1921/2018 VRB12G20KT 4SM SHRA BR BKN035 
       FM192200 21005KT P6SM SCT150 
       FM200900 27006KT P6SM SCT200=
So I got on with the program and departed KBDR at 2034Z in the midst of a light rain shower. N631S climbed into the overcast and soon broke out into the clear at about 6000 feet. So far so good! The balance of the flight promised to be lengthy but uneventful.

About an hour later, things started to get a bit more interesting. The forecasts hadn't said anything about convective activity; indeed the outlook had used words like "slight" to describe the risk of thunderstorms. But there, up ahead as I approached Lancaster, was a rather nasty looking line of storms headed northeast and most certainly becoming a factor. Who ordered that? Not that I was terribly surprised. The strong southerly flow and warm air aloft indicated considerable advection of warm moist air, moving north and colliding with the cold air approaching from the west. Some atmospheric fireworks were to be expected.

The thunderstorm activity was clearly visible up ahead in the light of the setting sun. I asked Harrisburg approach for an early turn toward Baltimore to put a bit more space between N631S and the weather, and they accommodated with "After Lancaster, cleared direct Baltimore". I expected I'd need further deviations to the east as the line of cells moved north, but that was good for the time being.

By the time Harrisburg handed me and N631S off to Potomac Approach I was not liking the proximity of the weather outside the right cabin window at all. Frequent cloud to ground lightning was appearing about five miles west of my track. So, from the first Potomac Approach controller I requested a 15 degree deviation left, which he promptly approved. That vector pointed me toward Martin State (KMTN) and moved me away from the storm cells just west of Baltimore.

The scheme running through my mind as I was handed off to the next controller was "present heading for about 15 miles, then direct Nottingham (OTT)". I never got a chance to propose that, because the controller said, "Cessna 31 Sierra, fly a heading of 180 for now. We'll do that for 20 miles or so and then you can go direct Nottingham and then to VKX. That should be comfortable." I responded, "31 Sierra, that sure works for me." Have I mentioned that I love Air Traffic Controllers?

Looking ahead, I could see that there were cells in the vicinity of Andrews AFB, just north of KVKX, my destination. It would, I figured, take me about another twenty minutes to get down to a point abeam OTT and I hoped that the active weather would clear to the north by then.

The south heading took me offshore over Chesapeake Bay (not, however, beyond gliding distance from the shoreline). The sun had set, it was getting quite dark, and the sound and light show off to the west was pretty spectacular. So much for the forecast of "slight" chances for convective weather!

Approaching OTT, I asked for the RNAV Runway 6 instrument approach into KVKX. It looked as though the active cells had moved away from the airfield, but I saw no reason to chance that cloud "debris" from the cells would hamper a visual approach. And, the extra 15 minutes or so that it would take to fly the approach would give the weather some extra time to move away. Sort of a useful delaying vector.

The approach was uneventful. The weather had moved off to the north and the final approach and landing offered no problems. I taxied N631S around to the hangar and put the airplane to bed.

Only after closing the hangar doors did I notice that in the half-hour since the wheels had touched the runway a serious layer of fog had settled over KVKX. If I'd been thirty minutes later, I doubt I could have landed there. Timing is, as usual, everything.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Today at KBDR (cont'd)

Watching the weather forecasts this past weekend, it became quite clear that a Monday morning flight from the DC area to Bridgeport's Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR) was a Bad Idea. Hurricane Sandy was on the way and so I resolved to travel a day early.

I believe I could have made the flight on Sunday afternoon, but it didn't seem quite right to be flying an airplane TO an airport that most people were trying to fly away FROM.

KBDR's airport elevation is 10 feet above Mean Sea Level. The National Weather Service was predicting a storm surge in excess of 10 feet on top of an astronomical high tide. You can do the math.

So I opted to leave N631S in its hangar at KVKX and to take AmTrak. I spent Monday morning getting my office secured and the afternoon and evening listening to Sandy's sound and fury outside my window while hoping that the power would stay on – which it did.

At noon today I drove over to KBDR to have a look at what Sandy had wrought...and came away very happy with the decision to leave N631S in Maryland.

That lake over on the other side of the airplane is a couple of feet deep and Runway 6-24 lies at the bottom of it. Yes, that's the glide slope transmitter for the ILS Rwy 6 approach over on the far side.
There stands the BDR VOR transmitter across the pond. Runway 6-24 runs left to right, about halfway from where I was standing to the VOR. You can see that the flooding continues off to the left, to where Runway 11-29 lies. It's under water as well. The airport is closed indefinitely.

The rumor mill is operational, of course. I've been told that there is no plan for dewatering the field because no one has any idea of how it could be done. The airport was built on marsh so there's no place to send the water. A couple of years ago heavy spring rains left a large pond between the two runways. It took many weeks for the water in that pond to subside.

Over on the other side of the field, a T-hangar collapsed during the height of the storm, taking out two airplanes – a fairly new Bonanza that was in the hangar and a nice Mooney that was tied down next to it. In addition, a number of airplanes are reported to have been partly immersed in the flooding...and that's salt water.

So on the plus side of the ledger, I can congratulate myself for leaving N631S in a safer location as Sandy passed through. On the minus side, I may have to arrange to use a much less convenient airport (likely Waterbury-Oxford, KOXC) for my travels.

Of course, I'm in better shape than the folks who have airplanes at KBDR. Even the ones that came through the storm in good shape are faced with a problem...they haven't got a runway.

UPDATE 11/1/2012: I spoke with the Operations office at KBDR this afternoon, and learned that to the amazement and gratification of all, the airport has re-opened.

Runway lights, REIL's, taxiway lights, PAPI's/VASI's, VOR and ILS all OTS. Night ops not advised.

Runway 11-29 is still under water but 6-24 is open, as are a useful array of taxiways. As the ops guy noted to me, the water "subsided amazingly fast. Tuesday we were calling it Lake Sikorsky and figured it was there for a while."