Monday, November 30, 2009


As of 12Z this morning there was a low pressure center over northern Vermont with a really long cold front trailing southwest from it, draping across Pennsylvania and down into the south central states. The big picture looked like this:

Ahead of the front, a strong flow from the southwest gave me hefty tailwinds for the flight from KVKX back up to Connecticut. For most of the way I was seeing ground speeds on the Garmin 530W from 165 to 170 knots. The tailwind component was between 35 and 40 knots.

At one point N631S's ground speed reached 174 knots, or just over 200 statute mph. It's not often that you get that from a Cessna 182. Wheeee! Time en route from runway to runway was 1 hour 37 minutes - I believe that's a new record.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today on Wisconsin Avenue...

For no other reason than that it's pleasing to the eye - National Cathedral in Washington, DC, from Wisconsin Avenue in the afternoon sunlight:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Finally, About the Ice...

Now, a fourth and last post about my flight on Wednesday afternoon from KBDR to KVKX.

In the first post in the series, written while planning for the flight, I observed that the routing usually given me by ATC had some issues with potential icing. The clearance always starts like this: vectors to SAX, V249 to SBJ, V30 to ETX. The cruise altitude is 8,000 MSL. Their idea is to take me westbound to the north of the New York Class B airspace and then southbound to central New Jersey while above the EWR arrivals, and thence west toward Allentown. The freezing level forecast for that routing was in the band from 7,000 to 9,000.

As an aside, it seems to me that forecasts of freezing levels are usually very accurate. I've found that freezing level and temperature aloft maps from Aviation Weather Center offer remarkably good guidance even two or three days before a flight.

I considered saying "unable" and trying to insist on a routing over JFK and south along the New Jersey shore (along V16) at 6,000 MSL - but I knew that the negotiation would be time consuming and I was equally concerned about changing conditions at my destination (see post #2). So I decided to accept the clearance and work it out en route if I found any ice.

After departing into the murk I was cleared initially to climb to 5,000 MSL and then stepped up to 8,000 as I approached the Hudson River. I was watching the Outside Air Temperature (OAT) gage closely. At 8,000 feet it showed an OAT of 35 Fahrenheit degrees. OK so far, but I knew that the freezing level was sloping downward to the west so I was not out of the woods.

Understanding that the OAT gage might be optimistic, I watched the left strut and the nose of the left main gear fairing out my side window for any sign of ice accretion.

The OAT dropped to 34 degrees and I figured I'd better give the controller a "heads up". I transmitted, "New York, Skylane 631S," and got a quick "31 Sierra, go ahead."

"31 Sierra is IMC and very close to the freezing level. If I lose a degree or two we will have to work out lower," I said and the controller responded with "OK, 31 Sierra, keep me advised."

I felt better because I was sure that the controller was already thinking about how he'd deal with me if I needed to descend into airspace that was typically used for EWR inbound traffic. But fortune smiled on him (and me), the OAT held steady, and no ice formed. I made the left turn at SAX, got handed off to another sector and as I neared SBJ I was turned to the west and told to contact Allentown Approach.

Still in the clouds, I noted the OAT drop to 33 degrees. Well clear, now, of the flow of EWR arrivals, it was time to do something. I transmitted, "Allentown, November 631 Sierra, Request."

"31 Sierra, say request," came back. "31 Sierra is going to need lower to avoid icing conditions. Is 6,000 available?"

Without delay, I was cleared, "Skylane 31 Sierra, descend and maintain 6,000 feet." N631S and I descended immediately and when we leveled at 6,000 we found the OAT to be 44 degrees. I stopped worrying about ice and devoted all available worrying to ceiling and visibility at my destination.

Here's my take-away lesson from this: It's often said that if you encounter icing you need to do something about it IMMEDIATELY! I'd now add that it is even better to do something about likely icing even before the white stuff starts to collect. You'll be happier and your friendly controller will be happier.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Low IFR Departures

Wednesday morning I devoted substantial attention to a strategy for avoiding icing issues during my flight to the DC area and planning to arrive at a time when I'd have good chance of completing the approach at KVKX.

I confess I didn't pay a lot of attention to the weather there in Bridgeport. When I looked out of my window I saw pretty good visibility and an overcast that had been running about 900 to 1,100 feet MSL for hours. So I was a little surprised that it was actively drizzling when I headed over to the airport and the ceiling and visibility had certainly deteriorated.

By the time I had pre-flighted N631S, picked up my IFR clearance and started the engine, this was the current METAR:
KBDR 251835Z 08004KT 1 1/2SM BR OVC003 09/09 A3000 RMK AO2 P0001

A mile and a half visibility and a 300 foot overcast qualifies as Low IFR in anyone's book. My late instructor, Bob Parks, had gotten me to practice "zero/zero" takeoffs "under the hood". But he also told me, "Don't take off from an airport that you can't get back into."

The wind was favoring Runway 6, which is the ILS runway at KBDR. I looked at the approach plate for the ILS RWY 6. It specified a Decision Altitude of 307 feet and minimum flight visibility of 1 mile. I decided to accept the 7 foot difference between the approach DA and the reported ceiling. Off I went, feeling that I could get back in using the ILS if something surprising happened.

Edit, 11/28: A couple of friends have pointed out that since the DA on the plate is in feet MSL and the ceiling in the METAR is in feet AGL, the values in this case were exactly the same in terms of feet above the 7' TDZE (Touchdown Zone Elevation). It's not a big factor at a near-sea-level airport like KBDR, but with a more substantial field elevation the difference would be more important (and presumably, more obvious).

I was promptly into the clouds. After the New York Approach controller got me radar identified she cleared me to 5,000 feet. I broke out of the lowest layer at about 3,500 feet and was into the clear between layers.

The rest of the flight worked out as planned. On this day, no need to return to the airport emerged. If one had (like, maybe, if my vacuum pump failure had picked 25 November instead of 12 October) I was pretty comfortable that I could fly the ILS to minimums and get back on terra firma. Of course, that comfort derived in part from the fact that I know the airport well and have probably done that approach 20 times.

Looking back I ask myself:

  • Would I have been comfortable departing from an unfamiliar airport?
  • How about if the ceiling was at 200 instead of 300?
  • What if I was in an unfamiliar airplane (like a rental)?
  • Suppose N631S had just come out of significant maintenance?
  • What if it had been a couple of months since I'd flown an approach in actual IMC?

On every departure in challenging weather, there are lots of things to consider. As with most decisions, the Devil is in the details. On this occasion they added up to a "Go" decision with which I was comfortable.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

That wasn't too bad. (Meaning, yesterday afternoon's flight from KBDR to KVKX, which I discussed prospectively HERE.)

When I departed Bridgeport the weather at my destination was not good. The METAR at nearby Andrews AFB said:
KADW 251737Z AUTO 13006KT 3SM BR OVC004 13/12 A2994 RMK AO2 SLP141

The 3 mile visibility in mist was all right but the 400 foot ceiling would certainly make the RNAV (GPS) RWY 6 approach at KVKX a non-starter. However, I had about 2-1/2 hours of flying ahead of me and the Terminal Area Forecasts in the region were predicting quite a bit of improvement by 19Z or so.

So I departed with the hope that things would improve and the backup plan of diverting to Manassas. The ILS approach there was solid as an alternate. And, when I next checked the Andrews weather (about 1-1/4 hour later, via the METAR screen from XM Weather on the Garmin GPSmap 396) I was pleased to see this:
KADW 251839Z AUTO 20006KT 10SM OVC008 13/13 A2994 RMK AO2 CIG 004V012 SLP141

The visibility had risen to 10 miles and the prevailing ceiling was up to 800 feet. The "CIG 004V012" (variable ceilings from 400 to 1200 feet) seemed to me to indicate a dynamic situation...the promised trend of improvement looked to be in motion.

By the time I arrived in the local area, conditions had improved quite a lot. There were scattered clouds at about 1500 feet, in sufficient quantity to make a visual approach to the airport difficult so I asked for the RNAV approach and landed without much ado. Here's the flight track for the trip, courtesy of the nice folks at FlightAware.com:

Of course, timing is everything. By the time I had N631S pulled into the hangar, the view out the back door looked like this:

The cooling air over the saturated ground was generating a nice layer of condensation fog. By the time I was driving off of the airport the fog was thick enough to limit visibility to a fraction of a mile. Had I departed one hour later, I'd have been unable to land at KVKX.

The flight also had some lessons for me about icing considerations and about departures in poor weather. I think I'll save them for later posts. For now, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Will Be Interesting

I'm planning on a departure from KBDR about 1845Z to head for KVKX for the Thanksgiving holiday. I've filed for the "coastal" route at 6,000 feet (i.e., via JFK, down V16, over Dover and into KVKX) but according to FlightAware.com, I'm going to get "the usual route" at 8,000 feet (i.e., west to SAX, on to Allentown, Lancaster, Baltimore then into KVKX. That's the first problem. Here's why:

The forecast freezing level over eastern Pennsylvania is in the band from 7,000 to 9,000 feet. I'm not happy with the icing potential, so when I actually get the clearance I shall see if I can negotiate a reroute to something like what I filed for. If not, I'll have to depart and let ATC deal with getting me a lower altitude if I find ice.

The second problem concerns ceilings in the DC area. That 1845Z departure will likely get me into the area of KVKX around 2115Z. The TAF's show the ceilings beginning to lift a little about then:
KDCA 251123Z 2512/2612 00000KT 2SM -DZ BR SCT006 BKN009 OVC019 
     FM251600 10005KT 5SM BR OVC008 
     FM251900 21004KT P6SM OVC015 
     FM260300 VRB03KT P6SM BKN250
KADW 2512/2609 09006KT 3200 -DZ BR OVC013 QNH3004INS 
     BECMG 2513/2514 09006KT 2400 -DZ BR OVC004 QNH2999INS 
     TEMPO 2514/2515 OVC005 
     BECMG 2514/2515 14006KT 9999 NSW OVC007 QNH2988INS 
     BECMG 2518/2519 17006KT 9999 SCT007 OVC015 QNH2987INS 
     BECMG 2522/2523 18006KT 9999 FEW007 SCT020 QNH2987INS 
     BECMG 2605/2606 VRB06KT 0800 FG BKN002 QNH2987INS

You may recall that the Minimum Descent Altitude for the RNAV Rwy 6 approach at KVKX is 680 feet. At my ETA Andrews is expecting scattered clouds at 700 under a 1500 foot overcast; DCA is anticipating a 1500 foot overcast. If the forecasts verify I should be OK. If not, Plan 'B' is to divert to the ILS at Manassas and either rent a car or wait on the ground for an hour to see if the ceilings lift.

In any event, it should be interesting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Uneventful Weekend

The flight from Connecticut to the DC area on Friday evening was enjoyable. The skies were clear, the headwinds moderate and the airplane was purring like a kitten. There are few experiences in life that offer as much pleasure as a flight on a clear night.

Today's northbound flight was nearly as uneventful. The 1,500 foot ceiling made an IFR departure from KVKX a good idea, but upon reaching 5,000 feet MSL things opened up and quite soon it was a lovely flight between the layers.

N631S and I descended back through the clouds (with the help of New York Approach) and broke out at about 2,000 feet MSL around 12 miles southwest of Bridgeport for the visual approach to Rwy 6.

The next event is to fly south on Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Virginia. From here, the weather looks like it will be flyable, although the forecasts call for lingering clouds and drizzle. Tomorrow will bring more useful forecasts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mid-Air Over the Hudson - Remedial Action

You'll all remember the accident that occurred last August 8th, when a Piper Saratoga and an air-tour helicopter collided in the Hudson River VFR corridor, fatally injuring all nine souls on board the two aircraft. I posted about it HERE, HERE and HERE.

The last of those posts discussed the FAA's proposed remedial actions to improve the safety of aircraft transiting or operating in the corridor. Now, I hold in my hand the recently issued 78th Edition of the New York VFR Terminal Area Chart (TAC). Published by the National Aeronautical Charting Office, it enters into effect at 0901Z tomorrow, 19 November, and it embodies the remedial actions previously discussed. Here's a clip of the affected portion:

A Regulatory Notice on the back of the chart sets out the rules in force in the Special Flight Rules Area. It begins by defining the Hudson River and East River Exclusions (i.e., excluded from the Class B airspace).

For the Hudson, it's essentially that airspace from the surface to 1,300 feet MSL between the banks of the river from the Alpine Tower in the north to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the south. (The East River Exclusion is mainly of interest to local helicopter and seaplane operators.)

The notice then sets out communication requirements. While operating in the exclusion, pilots must monitor the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency and announce aircraft type, position, direction and altitude at (as a minimum) these prominent points:

  • Alpine Tower
  • George Washington Bridge
  • USS Intrepid
  • Goldman Sachs Tower
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Verrazano Narrows Bridge
The notice goes on to specify requirements for aircraft operation. It imposes a maximum speed of 140 KIAS and mandates use of anti-collision lights and position/navigation lights (illumination of landing lights is recommended). Pilots must have the current New York TAC on board and be familiar with its contents.

Aircraft are required to follow the eastern bank of the river when northbound and the western bank when southbound. (Keep Right!) And, aircraft that are not landing or departing the Manhattan heliports or conducting other local operations are required to transit the exclusion at altitudes from 1,000 feet MSL to the Class B floor (i.e., 1,300 feet MSL). The transient VFR pilot thus has a 300 foot altitude band to work with. Interestingly, local operators seem not to be constrained to operate below 1,000 feet MSL.

Adjacent to the Regulatory Notice on the back of the chart is a description of the new VFR Transition Route (referred to as "the Skyline Route"). This route is a VFR "tunnel" through the Class B airspace, not an Exclusion therefrom - so the usual Class B operating rules (14 CFR 91.131) and transponder requirements (14 CFR 215) apply.

The Skyline Route overlies the Hudson River Exclusion from Alpine Tower to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, at altitudes from 1,300 feet to 2,000 feet MSL. The description advises northbound aircraft to contact Newark (EWR) Tower and expect to fly the east bank of the river, and southbound aircraft to contact LaGuardia (LGA) Tower and expect the west bank. The specific transition altitude will be assigned by ATC, and all are advised to "remain clear of the New York Class B until receiving specific ATC approval to enter".

I confess to some surprise that the towers are the primary contacts for the Skyline Route; I'd have expected Approach Control to assume that role. If an approaching aircraft is receiving Flight Following service from New York Approach, will they be handed off to the applicable tower for the Skyline Route transition?

I look forward to giving the Skyline Route a try, probably on one of my Monday morning trips from the DC area up to Bridgeport. I expect that I'll request the route from the first New York Approach sector and then see what develops.

The more interesting experiment will be to take the Skyline Route southbound and then pick up an IFR clearance in the air over New Jersey to facilitate later entry into the Washington Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) and Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), where I live. If that works, it may resolve my ongoing frustration with the "preferred" routing that usually takes me over eastern Pennsylvania.

This will be interesting.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Did I Choose Wisely?

In yesterday's post I discussed the forecasts for KVKX (my home airfield) and my decision to not fly down from KBDR and to instead take the train. So, I'm curious about what I would have encountered if I had decided to fly.

I've learned over time that the weather at nearby Andrews AFB (KADW) closely approximates conditions at KVKX. Here are the METARS (slightly edited for space) for KADW surrounding what would have been my ETA:
KADW 140015Z AUTO 01011KT 7SM -DZ OVC007 11/10 A2987 RMK AO2 RAB0001E0012
KADW 140005Z 01013KT 5SM -RA BR OVC008 11/10 A2986
KADW 132358Z 01012G19KT 7SM -DZ OVC006 11/10 A2986 RMK CIG 005V021
KADW 132355Z 01014G19KT 8SM -DZ OVC006 11/10 A2986 RMK CIG 006V021 T01120101
KADW 132353Z 01013KT 8SM -DZ OVC006 11/10 A2986 RMK CIG 006V021
KADW 132348Z AUTO 01013KT 8SM -DZ OVC009 11/10 A2987 RMK CIG 006V021

There are a couple of interesting things to note. First, we see a 1 degree C spread between the temperature and the dew point, so low ceilings are unsurprising. Over the half hour covered, the prevailing ceiling varies from 600 to 900 feet MSL with some readings as low as 500 (see, for example, "RMK CIG 005V021" in the 2358Z METAR).

With the MDA for the one approach at KVKX at 680 feet MSL, it looks like there was a good chance of my being forced to divert to my alternate, Manassas (KHEF) (which was reporting an overcast at 2000 feet MSL at the time). Since that would have entailed considerable logistical annoyance, I guess I chose widely.

Friday, November 13, 2009

'Tis an Ill Wind

And it's certainly blowing me no good today.

The 18Z TAF's are out and the forecasts for my destination area are poor:

KDCA 131821Z 1318/1418 01018G22KT 5SM -RA BR OVC015 
     FM132000 01017G22KT 4SM -DZ OVC012 
     FM140100 01014G20KT 2SM -DZ OVC009 
     FM140600 36013KT 1/2SM DZ OVC009 
     FM141000 36014KT 1SM -DZ OVC009 
     FM141600 35012KT 3SM BR OVC012
KADW 1317/1417 02015G25KT 9000 -RA OVC015 540209 QNH2980INS 
     TEMPO 1317/1322 3200 -RA OVC005 
     BECMG 1321/1322 36012G18KT 9000 -RA OVC009 540209 QNH2975INS
     BECMG 1400/1401 35012G18KT 9999 NSW OVC009 540209 QNH2970INS
KIAD 131754Z 1318/1424 01014G20KT 2SM RA BR OVC015 
     TEMPO 1318/1320 1SM RA OVC008 
     FM132000 01013G18KT 3SM -RA BR OVC012 
     FM140100 02012G20KT 1/2SM DZ OVC009 
     FM140600 36009KT 1/2SM DZ OVC009 
     FM141000 35010KT 1SM -DZ OVC008 
     FM141600 34009KT 4SM BR OVC012

If I were to depart KBDR about 22Z I'd arrive in the area of KVKX about 00Z, when the KDCA weather is expected to be 2 miles in drizzle with a 900 foot overcast. Andrews AFB is forecasting something similar. The RNAV RWY 6 approach into KVKX has a 680 foot minimum descent altitude (MDA) and a 1 mile visibility minimum. That's too close for confidence, and if I have to divert to Manassas (KHEF), the forecast for nearby Dulles (KIAD) goes down to 1/2 mile visibility at about that time. That makes my alternate a problem.

So, I've opted for the train. I have a good book to read and I should be home by about 10:30. The annoying part, of course, is that I then have to take the train back on Monday morning and the weather will probably be fine.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Warm, Windy and Wet

Another weekend approaches and my thoughts turn to the weather that I'll need to deal with if N631S and I are going to make the flight down to the DC area. At this time of year the first thing I look at is where the freezing level is forecast to be. Here the news is good:

The expected freezing levels are well above my usual IFR altitude of 8000 feet MSL, so whatever else I may be concerned with, icing should not be a factor.

Next, let's look at the "big picture":

The cyclonic flow around that low pressure center off of Cape Hatteras has been pumping wet maritime air into the Mid-Atlantic region for a while now, and the map shows an area of drizzle, showers and rain affecting the area of interest - eastern PA, MD, DC and VA. It'll be a warm flight, but a wet one.

The low is fairly deep and the isobars surrounding it are a bit crowded. This will give me brisk winds both aloft and on the surface from the northeast. In fact, FltPlan.Com is telling me to expect a time en route of under two hours and an average tailwind of 15 knots. Wheee!

It's too early to get pertinent Terminal Area Forecasts (TAF's) for airports near home at time of arrival (namely DCA and Andrews), but the TAF's for the big airports now go out 30 hours, so I can look at BWI and Dulles. Through 00Z on the 14th, they don't look too bad:

KBWI 121734Z 1218/1324 04015G25KT 6SM -RA SCT020 OVC030 
     FM122200 03017G27KT 6SM -RA BKN015 OVC020 
     FM130600 02016G23KT 5SM -RA BR OVC012 
     FM131300 36015G25KT 4SM -RA BKN012 OVC020
KIAD 121734Z 1218/1324 02013G19KT 6SM -RA SCT020 OVC025 
     FM130100 01014G24KT 5SM -RA BKN015 OVC025 
     FM131300 01013G24KT 5SM -RA OVC012

For Baltimore, four miles visibility in light rain with broken clouds at 1200 feet and an overcast at 2000. For Dulles, 5 miles visibility in light rain, and overcast at 1200. If conditions at KVKX are nearly that good, the GPS approach to runway 6 will work out just fine. The things I will need to watch as flight time draws nearer are the ceiling and visibility forecasts for KDCA and KADW. If they are much lower, I could find myself needing to divert to the ILS at Manassas.

And then there's the wind. Both Baltimore and Dulles anticipate winds from the north at about 15 knots with gusts to 25. The winds at KVKX, sheltered in the valley, ought to be a bit less vigorous, but that's manageable in any case.

A warm, windy and wet flight. Final decisions will await tomorrow's data.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On this Veterans' Day...

From For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Let us remember on this day that we need to be thankful every day for the service of those who have given much, or given all, to protect us and all that we hold dear.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Today at KMGJ

No trip to DC for me this weekend. A social engagement last evening required my continued presence here in Connecticut, so here I stayed. With some time today and beautiful VMC weather on hand, I gathered up a good friend and flew N631S from Bridgeport to Orange County Airport (KMGJ) in Montgomery, NY. Orange County is a very pleasant non-towered field about six miles west of Stewart International Airport (KSWF). It offers quite a good on-field restaurant, "Rick's Runway Cafe", and good airplane watching.

One visitor was this really spiffy North American T-6 Texan. Its owner had flown it up from White Plains (KHPN).

Across the apron from the restaurant, near the gas pumps, rested a derelict twin that I just didn't recognize. This airplane is in really sad shape. The tires are flat, the bottom blade of the right prop is digging into the asphalt, the right wingtip is damaged and the paint is flaking in many places.

My friend came to the rescue. After staring at the old airplane for a few minutes he said, "I think it's a Beagle. It's British." And it turns out he's right! A bit of Google research turned up this link which provides specifications and history, and some photos of one in quite a bit better shape. I believe (based on the 2-bladed props) that the airplane at KMGJ is a Beagle B.206S Series 1, powered by Continental GIO-470 engines. (The later Series 2 used more powerful GTSIO-520's.) The FAA Aircraft Registry site shows 10 Series 1's currently holding N-numbers.

The flight over and back was a pleasant chance to hand-fly the airplane in good weather - something I probably ought to do more of. With a little luck, next weekend will bring another trip to Virginia.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Airport Micro-climates

During the first part of last Friday's flight from KBDR down to KVKX there was great VMC on top and a lovely sunset to enjoy.

It was quite warm (about 15 degrees C at 8,000 feet MSL) and there was a strong southerly flow at lower altitudes ahead of the advancing cold front. Most stations below that lower layer were reporting ceilings between 2000 and 3000 MSL.

Sunset happened about 2205Z and by the time I was over Baltimore it was dark. The usual routine is to cross KBWI at 6,000 (headed direct to OTT). ATC will give me a descent to 4,000 a few minutes after crossing over their major airport. So I was not surprised to hear: "Skylane 31 Sierra, descend and maintain 4,000. No weather or traffic information available at Potomac; Washington National is reporting overcast 2,700, wind 170 at 10. Expect the visual approach at VKX."

I expected that, but I wasn't entirely happy with it. Washington National (KDCA) is 7.5 miles NNW of Potomac Airfield. Controllers will usually look at what's happening at DCA and surmise that things can't be too different over at KVKX. I have learned that DCA weather is a poor predictor of conditions at KVKX. So, I responded to the nice Potomac Approach controller: "Skylane 31 Sierra, thanks for that weather, could you please tell me the current wind and ceiling at Andrews?" That got me, "Sure. Stand by."

I already knew the answers, courtesy of XM Weather on the Garmin GPSmap 396. Andrews AFB is 5.5 miles northeast of KVKX and has weather that is much more likely than DCA's to be consistent with conditions at KVKX. KADW was reporting a ceiling of 1,900 feet MSL. The Minimum Vectoring Altitude between OTT and KVKX is 1,700. Not great for trying the visual approach.

The next transmission from the controller was, "Skylane 31 Sierra, Andrews is reporting a 1,900 foot overcast, wind 160 at 8. Ummm, we'll get you down to 1,700 down there and if you don't have good ground contact we'll run you out for the approach."

My answer was, "That sounds good to me, 31 Sierra."

Just before reaching OTT I was cleared to descend to 2,000 feet MSL, and the controller asked for flight conditions. "In and out of the bases," was the response. Then he asked, "I'll get you down to 1,700 in a mile or two - do you still want to try the visual?"

"I'd like the RNAV 6 approach to VKX, please," was the obvious decision. Twenty minutes later, after a routine approach (see below), I was on the ground at home.

Airports all have their own little micro-climates. Even a little local knowledge can be very helpful. The IFR system offers a full toolkit for these kinds of situations and one might as well use it.

Courtesy of FlightAware, here's the track for the 2.9 hour flight: