Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Rainy Flight

A few days ago, in this post I was looking ahead to yesterday's trip from Connecticut to Maryland and wondering how much of an impact Tropical Storm Danny would have. It turns out, not all that much. Still, there was certainly enough weather to make the flight interesting.

The first interesting thing was my clearance. I've mentioned before that no matter what route I file ATC always gives me Sparta to Solberg to East Texas to Lancaster to Baltimore, thence home to VKX. This week turned out to be the exception. My clearance from KBDR was radar vectors to Deer Park (DPK), V16 over JFK, Coyle (CYN), and Cedar Lake (VCN) to Smyrna (ENO, better known as Dover AFB), then V268 to Baltimore (BAL), then direct to VKX.

Here's the FlightAware plot showing how it turned out. N631S and I were off the runway at 2051Z; arrival at VKX came 2 hrs + 18 min later, at 2309Z. The weather depicted on the image is as of 2300Z, just before landing:

If you click on that image to enlarge it you'll be able to see a couple of jogs in the flight path just before and just after JFK. Those were weather avoidance vectors courtesy of New York Approach which kept me out of the heavier parts of a couple of cells that were rattling around the area. I certainly appreciated that.

Once past JFK I started looking ahead to conditions along the V16 airway past DIXIE to Coyle. The picture looked like this at 2134Z:

That looked acceptable to me but for reinforcement I asked McGuire Approach what weather they were painting between my position and Coyle along V16. The answer came back, "Light rain." OK, press on!

By about 2200Z I was talking to Atlantic City Approach and headed toward Smyrna (ENO) where a turn to the west would keep me away from the more active weather.

I accessed the METAR's for DCA and ADW to see how the ceiling and vis at my destination were holding up:

KDCA 282201Z 13008KT 10SM -RA FEW020 BKN036 OVC110 25/21 A2998 RMK AO2 RAB00 P0000

KADW 282156Z AUTO 14012G21KT 6SM +RA BR FEW004 SCT013 OVC025 23/21 A2999 RMK AO2 FEW V SCT SLPNO $

DCA was looking good with 10 miles visibility in light rain and few clouds at 2000 feet. Andrews was not so good, reporting winds gusting over 20 knots and 6 miles visibility in heavy rain and mist, and clouds at 400 feet described as few varying to scattered. The NEXRAD showed a storm cell right over Andrews...that I hoped would move on in the hour remaining before I reached the area.

The weather at VKX tends to be more similar to Andrews than to DCA (save for there usually being less wind). If that cell was still a factor when I got in range, I'd probably have had to ask ATC to send me somewhere that I could hold for a while until it cleared out.

Atlantic City handed me off to Dover Approach and soon thereafter the Dover controller advised me that he had a change to my route. I told him, "Ready to copy," expecting the normal "After BAL direct Nottingham (OTT) then direct to destination." What I got was "After Smyrna (ENO), V268 to CHOPS then V308 to OTT then direct to VKX." That was not what I wanted. Here's why:

See all of that red stuff off to the south of my course? That's where CHOPS is. It was time to explain to ATC that this reroute was not in the Good Idea category. So I asked, "Dover Approach, what kind of weather are you showing over by CHOPS?"

The answer came back, "Dover Approach radar is not equipped to display weather." Thank you, United States Air Force. I guess their radar budget has been a bit lean. The controller then asked me, "Are you aware of severe weather near CHOPS?" Bless his heart. I assured him that my NEXRAD display indicated that CHOPS was not a desirable place to take N631S and he asked me to stand by. A couple of minutes later (I'm guessing he was on the land line with Potomac Approach) he came back to me with "Cessna 31 Sierra, after Smyrna, direct Baltimore and you can expect additional route changes." Fine!

Soon after clearing ENO, Dover handed me off to Potomac Approach and as soon as I'd progressed far enough toward BAL to allow a turn to the south that would avoid the heavier weather I got "direct Nottingham". This sent me through nothing worse than moderate precipitation.

As N631S and I got into the Washington Class B airspace it appeared that the cell that had been beating up Andrews AFB had moved off to the north and conditions around VKX were fairly benign:

There was still a fair amount of broken low level scud in the area so I asked for (and got) the RNAV 6 approach into VKX and landed without incident. All in all, a satisfying IFR flight.

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