Winter flying

Yesterday I did some more flying in the club’s Lance. The goal for the other people on the flight was to pick up the club’s Dakota, which was getting painted at Sky Harbour in Goderich Ontario. My goal was to get more time in the Lance, and have the club pick up part of the cost.

Dave had called me the night before to say that the weather looked like it might be doable to do this mission, but he’d check in the morning and if it was a go he’d call me at 7am. Well, 7am came and went, and he didn’t call, so I dressed for work. Note that I did NOT dress for sitting for 8 hours of alternately sitting in a cold drafty airplane or working outside to prepare for or recover from the flight. I checked the weather myself, and it was saying moderate ceilings and occassional snow along the route, so I understand why he didn’t want to go.

At 10:45, Dave calls me and says the flight is on after all, and that everybody is meeting at the airport at 11:15. I rush home to get my flight bag, grab a “Carb Solutions Bar” to eat, and rush off to the airport. I didn’t stop to change – a fact I am harping on a bit because in retrospect it seems like an important omission.

The plane was flown once last week, and thanks to the sort of weather we’ve been having this winter, it’s buried again. We shovel snow, remove the cabin and wing covers, and preheat, all in a stiff breeze (18G30) in temperatures around 12F (yes, I’ve been in the US too long – I don’t think in Celcius any more). After all that shit, I do world’s quickest pre-flight, and off we go on a short VFR flight to Batavia. We had to stop at Batavia to get some minor squawks taken care of – we didn’t want to leave the plane in Canada again this time.

The short trip to Batavia gave us time to review the emergency gear-down procedures on the Lance – I’d put it in my custom checklist, but I forgot where – I need to get those tabs put in the checklist book. We talked a little bit about how to deal with an unsafe gear light as the bumps were causing the unsafe gear light to blip on and off. Also, the prop hub was frozen up, so we had to cruise at low power to keep the RPMs down. I shot the ILS into Batavia without the hood, because I’m still having trouble adapting to an HSI. I don’t know why I constantly get confused by the glideslope indication on the HSI – I have no trouble with the localizer.

On the ground in Batavia, I briefed the weather and filed a flight plan for Goderich. I also called CANPASS and took care of customs. This is my second trip into Canada using the Lance, and both times I’ve ended up arriving at the Canadian and US airports of entry very much later than my customs notification – I think the cruise speed numbers I put into CoPilot were too generous.

I’ve never departed IFR from Batavia before. I knew there was a Remote Communications Outlet (RCO) on the field, but I thought it was to Buffalo Flight Service so I called “Buffalo Radio, Buffalo Radio, Lance November 43977 IFR from Batavia”. Well, it turns out it was actually Rochester Departure on that RCO, not Buffalo Flight Service, so the guy thought I was calling the wrong people (ok, I’m an idiot). Then he gave me a clearance that baffled the hell out of me. I’m used to getting the route section just being “Radar Vectors, As Filed” so often that I usually write it as VAF. This time, they cleared me to the Geneseo VOR (GEE), which is entirely the wrong direction, and then said something about expecting a further clearance later. I asked him to confirm that clearance limit, and he confirmed it. Ok, I shrugged, and took off and headed towards GEE. I called Rochester approach in the air, and he asked me to ident, which I did. Then he said “Radar contact, cleared to Goderich as filed…”, basically the clearance I’d expected on the ground. And since the frequency wasn’t that busy, he then took the trouble to explain that Batavia is almost at the edge of thier radar coverage, especially down low, so they clear traffic from there towards GEE which brings them closer to Rochester, so that they’re sure to get you radar identified and handed off before you start blasting into Buffalo’s airspace. Learn something new every day.

So we climbed up and headed towards Buffalo. As we climbed, we were still getting the occassional bump that would flash the “Gear Unsafe” light. And then suddenly it came on and stayed on. Time to put into practice some of the stuff I’d been taught on the earlier flight. Pushed the gear lever down and immediately up. No help. Made sure that the alternator showed the gear motor was actually doing something during that blip. Did the gear down and up quickly again, still no luck. So we slowed down a bit more, and put the gear all the way down, got three green, and brought it up again. This time the “Gear Unsafe” light went off and stayed off for the rest of the flight.

The air was smoother at 6,000 feet, but with the headwind we were only making about 90 knots over the ground. We appeared to be in a laneway of clear sky – about 10 miles to the north of us was a nearly solid band of clouds below our altitude over the lake, and about 20 miles to the south of us was a scattered to broken layer of clouds below us as well. But where we were flying, we could see the ground below and the sky above and ahead for at least a hundred and fifty miles. I love how clear the sky is in the winter.

The controllers are evidently enjoying the clear skies for a change too, because soon after hitting Buffalo’s airspace they said “turn right 10 degrees, direct London VOR (YXU) when able”. That’s controller weaselling for “I know you’ve got a VFR GPS, you know it’s not legal to navigate by it on an IFR flight plan, but go ahead and do it”. The instruction to change course is a vector, which makes the whole thing legal – even if you didn’t have a GPS you could just follow the vector for the 50 miles or so until you picked up the London VOR, and then fly direct to it. Not too long after passing Buffalo, the Canadian controller further shortens the trip by saying “turn right 20 degrees, direct Goderich (GD) when able”.

And then while we were still following my GPS (sorry, I obviously mean “still on the radar vector”) the Toronto controller told us that due to a failure of a ground based repeater, he wouldn’t have radio contact with us any closer to Goderich and cleared us for the approach and gave us a phone number to cancel our IFR clearance on the ground. Everybody on board was amazed at being cast into the wild and wolly world of uncontrolled IFR – it doesn’t happen much in New York.

Not too long past Kitchener-Waterloo, clouds start filling in below us. At first, it was just scattered clouds, but soon turned to a solid layer. And as we got closer to Lake Huron, the tops of the clouds got higher. I decided that we’d probably pick up some ice in the clouds, so the plan would be to stay at cruise altitude as long as possible, and then descend at 1000 feet per minute or faster down to the minimum sector altitude (2,500 feet) and hope we were out of the clouds, and if not fly the fastest NDB approach we could. The plan worked – around 3,000 feet we started to get ground contact, and at 2,500 we were definitely in VFR conditions, with only a trace of compacted snow on the leading edges.

Man, this is getting long. I think I’ll post this and do part II after I get home tonight.