Winter Flying Part II

After an hour or so drooling over the new paint job on the Dakota, it was time to fly home.

The Dakota’s back seats were full with the wheel pants (which of course were painted to match the new paint job) and the old wing and stabilator tips. Bill whinged that he wouldn’t be able to keep his flight bag in reach if we left all that stuff in the plane, so we transferred two of the wheel pants to the Lance. If only we’d known…

I flight planned the flight home pretty much the way we’d gone. We expected to pick up the clearance in the air because there was nothing on the field, but because of the problem we’d had on the way out with radio coverage, we planned to scud run until we could get somebody.

We were ready to go before the Dakota, so I did some touch and goes while waiting. We thought we could fly with them a bit until we were sure they were ok. But we called them on unicom a few times and they didn’t answer. Then we heard them call a few times on the frequency we agreed on before hand, but they didn’t seem to hear our responses. They climbed out, and it appeared that they were heading right into the clouds, but maybe they were just getting into the ragged cloud bases. Either way, we didn’t want to follow them without radio contact. Figuring that they might be having radio problems (always a possibility when people are messing around near the antennas), we returned to the airport. We shut down and picked up our IFR clearance on the ground, figuring that doing so would give us some time at Goderich in case the Dakota returned.

We got the clearance, and launched. The clearance was to 7,000 feet, but we actually got radio contact before we went into the clouds, which had ragged bases at about 3,000 feet. We climbed up through the tops at about 6,000, and up to our cruise altitude in the clear. We didn’t seem to pick up any new snow or ice on the wings, which is good. Also, the tail wind wasn’t as strong as the head wind had been (of course) so we were only making 160 knots over the ground, or about 20 knots tail wind.

This controller wasn’t quite as accomodating with the short cuts as the earlier ones, maybe because it was dark or maybe because he (and Toronto’s Pearson Airport, where he was based) was busier. Instead of giving me a vector direct to the Buffalo VOR (BUF), he said “turn left to 140 degrees, and I’ll be able to give you direct Buffalo in a little while”. Ok, I decided to cheat a bit, and fly 120 (which is much closer to direct to Buffalo), figuring that they wouldn’t notice too big a cheat. But he noticed. He asked me what heading I was flying – and instead of confessing, I claimed I was still doing 140 degrees as cleared. “Funny, it looks like you’re flying direct to BUF – ok, fly 170 degrees”. BUSTED. Ok, I had two options – go back to 140 while claiming to fly 170, or lie through my teeth. “Sorry about that, I had my DG set wrong.” Yeah, I choose the lie through my teeth option – he couldn’t know that rather than having a DG I need to set against the compass, I had a slaved HSI. “Ok”, he pretended to believe me, “let me know when you’re on 140”. I turned to 140, and before I could tell him I was on it, he said “Ok, hold that heading you’re on now”. Damn, he’s good. Fifteen minutes later, I started to get a twitch on my VOR reciever – I was getting Buffalo VOR for real. I told the controller, and he told me I could go direct to Buffalo. Not soon enough to save me much time, but maybe he needed me clear of his airspace.

Once again, by the time we got to Kitchener-Waterloo (but much further south of it than on the way out) we had a good view of the ground – or at least the lights down there. It was very dark, and we could see the lights of lots of other aircraft. On the flight out, we’d only seen two or three other planes, but here we could see four or five at once, some at least a hundred miles away. That’s one thing that’s nice about flying at night. We could see a layer over Lake Ontario, or possibly over the north shore, and there was a plane flying in and out of the cloud tops. I hope he had de-icing equipment – the tops are where the worst icing happens. We could also see some very localized snow showers. Some of it was extremely low lying, almost like a ground fog.

Some time later, talking to another controller we got a tickle from the Rochester VOR, so we asked for and got cleared direct to Rochester. Once again, kind of late to get much of a time benefit, but even a small cut on the corner is a help.

There were no clouds at Rochester, but the wind was still howling along the ground as it had been when we left. We did the visual approach to 22, but Jon wanted me to do it slower than I would have done it with Lenny. Hell, with such a long runway (and airliners behind us), I would have done it at at least 100 knots and probably 120, but Jon wanted it done at 80 knots. So I did, and got a bumpy ride as a result. But we got down, and taxied to Customs. And this is where we discovered the consequences of Bill’s desire to have a clear back seat. While the Dakota cleared customs with the help of a broker employed by Sky Harbour in Buffalo, we didn’t have any expert help to help us figure out how to declare this stuff we were bringing back into the United States. We spent an hour sitting in this drafty customs shack while trying unsuccessfully to reach Dave to see what paperwork he had gotten from Buffalo customs, while the customs guy was trying to find out the same data from Buffalo customs. Eventually he let us go, but told us that Dave would have to call him and tell him tomorrow morning.

We taxied back to the tie down, and there wasn’t enough ramp plowed off to give us room to turn and position the plane to push back into the tie town spot like we usually do. Jon wanted me to stop straight ahead, and not even try to turn. He had some idea about getting the plow guys (who were still active in the tie down area) to come over beside us and plow out some more ramp. But it wasn’t going to work, so we horsed the plane around into a 8 or 9 point K turn to get it back into the tie down.

It was freaking cold in the dark and the wind – I think it was 11 degrees according to the thermometer in my car. I couldn’t get the zipper on my coat to zip, so I had to go inside for a second to wrestle with it. Damn it felt good to get inside, even for a brief moment, but hard to go out and deal with putting the plane to bed. But I did. Both my bum bag and my flight bag had spilled out all over the bloody place, but in the cold and wind and dark, I wasn’t inclined to linger so I just threw everything in the bags. It seemed like forever to get the wing covers and cabin cover back on the plane – the snow that had been on the cabin cover when we’d taken it off had partially melted and then refrozen, so it was stiff and intransigent.

I’m still stiff and sore from all the horsing around of the plane, but I got 4.5 hours of logged time yesterday, and even though I’ve got 9.9 hours of the required 10 hours of checkout, I still don’t feel comfortable enough to fly the Lance on my own. For one thing, I think I need to practice some approaches, and I need to finish my checklist.