Monday, November 19, 2012

Waiting Out the Fog

Last Monday I was concerned about whether N631S and I would be able to land at Bridgeport's Sikorsky Memorial Airport at the end of our northbound flight. Just over a week earlier the field had been extensively flooded by the surge from Hurricane Sandy. The ILS equipment and the VOR were damaged and out of service. The forecast on offer when I got up didn't look too bad but just a bit worse and the ceiling could go below the minimums for the available RNAV approaches – around 400 feet.

TAF AMD KBDR 120840Z 1209/1306 00000KT 2SM BR BKN007
       TEMPO 1209/1212 1SM BR 
       FM121400 20006KT 5SM HZ SCT015 BKN025 
       FM121600 20010G17KT P6SM SCT025 BKN100 
       FM130300 20012KT 5SM BR BKN025=
Winds calm, visibility one to two miles in mist with a broken 700 foot ceiling; forecast to improve at about my ETA to five miles in haze with scattered clouds at 1,500 and the ceiling up to 2,500 feet. Really, a good enough forecast to depart on. I checked the current conditions at KBDR just before leaving.

SPECI KBDR 121147Z 19004KT 1 3/4SM BR OVC005 11/11 A3047=
A mile and three quarters with a 500 foot ceiling. Consistent with the forecast, and good enough for the RNAV Runway 24 approach.

About 45 minutes after takeoff from KVKX I figured I'd better have a look at how conditions were developing up in Connecticut. So I checked the METAR for KBDR:

SPECI KBDR 121233Z 21006KT 3/4SM BR OVC003 12/11 A3047=
That's not so good. Both the visibility and ceiling had gone below the minimums for the RNAV approach. I hoped that this was just a passing bit of dense weather and that conditions would return to something more in line with the forecast. But hope is not a plan. I looked at the reported conditions at nearby airports so that I could start planning for a diversion. New Haven, Oxford, White Plains and Danbury were little better than Bridgeport. But Hartford-Brainard didn't look bad at all.

SPECI KHFD 121239Z 19005KT 3SM BR SCT009 11/09 A3046=
Three miles in mist, scattered clouds at 900 feet. OK, that's Plan B.

I kept watch on the situation as N631S and I motored northward. We crossed over KJFK at about 1340Z and the fog was much in evidence. The weather at Hartford continued to hold up quite nicely but the reports for Bridgeport just continued to get worse. The fact that the ILS was out-of-commission was irrelevant, as Bridgeport was below minimums even for that approach. It was small consolation, but the forecast for KBDR had finally been updated to reflect foggy reality:

TAF AMD KBDR 121347Z 1214/1312 19005KT 1/4SM FG VV002
       TEMPO 1215/1216 1/2SM FG 
       FM121600 19007KT 2SM BR BKN005
       TEMPO 1216/1217 4SM BR SCT005 
       FM121700 18010KT P6SM SCT025 BKN150 
       FM130100 17007KT 5SM BR BKN015 
       FM131000 22010G18KT 4SM -SHRA BR BKN015=
Visibility of 1/4 to 1/2 mile with vertical visibility of 200 feet for the next two hours; then improving to two miles and a 500 foot broken ceiling. The METARS for KBDR and KHFD were:

METAR KBDR 121352Z 20003KT M1/4SM FG VV001 12/12 A3047=
METAR KHFD 121353Z VRB04KT 5SM BR OVC009 12/11 A3046=
So, Hartford pretty good at 5 miles and a 900 foot overcast. Bridgeport not good at all at less than a 1/4 mile in fog with vertical visibility of 100 feet. I was handed off to the final approach sector controller and checked in with "New York Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra level 3,000, Sierra at Bridgeport, is anyone getting in over there?"

The controller answered, "Skylane 631 Sierra, Bridgeport altimeter 30.46, and no, a Pilatus just tried it and went missed. Whaddya want to do?"

In a triumph of wishful thinking over reality, I said, "Approach, 31 Sierra would like to go to BAYYS and do a couple turns in the hold, and see if things improve at Bridgeport."

"Skylane 31 Sierra, maintain 3000, cleared direct BAYYS intersection, hold as published."

BAYYS intersection is an initial approach fix for the RNAV Runway 24 approach into KBDR. I entered the hold there and pulled the power back. Perhaps in 15 or 20 minutes there would be some sign of improvement at KBDR. After a few turns around the hold, I checked with Bridgeport tower, who assured me that conditions were staying consistently bad. So I went back to New York Approach.

"Approach, Skylane 31 Sierra would like to divert to Hartford."

"31 Sierra, you're cleared to the Hartford-Brainard airport via present position to the Hartford VOR thence direct. Maintain 3,000."

I read that back and departed the hold to toward HFD. Very soon I was handed off to Bradley approach who cleared me direct to LAZRD, the IAF for the GPS Rwy 2 approach, circle to land Runway 20. Brainard Tower then kindly offered Runway 2 for landing with a few knots of tailwind and I taxied over to the ramp at Atlantic Aviation, where the nice folks provided a place to wait out the fog at Bridgeport.

I landed at Brainard Field a little after 10:00 AM local time and settled down to wait. The last timethat this happened I wound up leaving N631S at Oxford (KOXC) for a few days, as the fog at Bridgeport refused to dissipate. This time I was more fortunate. I watched the METARS issuing for KBDR and was happy to note some improvement.

SPECI KBDR 121541Z 00000KT 1SM BR OVC002 12/12 A3045=
SPECI KBDR 121550Z 00000KT 3SM BR BKN002 OVC006 13/13 A3044=
METAR KBDR 121552Z 00000KT 3SM BR BKN002 OVC006 13/13 A3044=
Over the course of a few minutes (from 1541Z to 1552Z) the visibility went from one mile to three and the sky condition from 200 overcast to 600 overcast. I promptly filed an IFR flight plan for a 1600Z departure KHFD to KBDR direct and went back out to N631S.

Brainard ground control gave me my clearance to KBDR via HFD thence direct, at 4,000 and I got underway for the 25 minute flight. By the time I was cleared to BAYYS for the RNAV Runway 24 approach, Bridgeport was reporting "better than 5,000 and 5." N631S and I touched down at 1625Z. Waiting out the fog had taken two and a half hours out of my day, but it was just another one of those things in aviation. Every now and then the old adage applies: "Time to spare? Go by air!"