Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rain doesn't guarantee a day off, but thats how it worked out today.

Don't get me wrong, I love flying. Today, however, I was glad to be able to call my scheduled student and cancel our lesson due to weather. The morning started out dark and wet. After about 1pm the day clouds broke up and the sky cleared completely, but the wind is really howling along the river where the airport is located. I'm really happy that this little cold front pushed through and a big rain fell. It has been so hot, humid, and hazy all week long. Now that the weather has changed, I'm hoping this coming week is a little more pleasant.

The only reason I'm glad I was able to stay on the ground today is because I have been so busy all week. I flew with at least 2 or 3 students each day (sometimes more), and had a few other things to do as well. Then, Friday night and all day Saturday I shot video for one of the based-pilots. He owns a Cardinal and a video production company that sells videos at events like recitals, graduations, etc. This is his busy season, so he hired me temporarily to help with all the events. If I never hear "Pomp and Circumstance" again, I'll be alright.

I'm rambling though. The point is that I have been busy, and will be glad to return to the office (i.e. the right seat of an airplane) tomorrow morning. Before that comes, and I get swamped for another week, I'll tell you about my favorite flight this past week...

It was Friday afternoon. 95 Fahrenheit in the sun, hotter on the ramp, and I had had a couple of students that morning. Between the early morning, close to 100% humidity, and dragging planes around the ramp all day, I was pretty miserable. About 3:30, I began preflighting and fueling a 1976 Skyhawk in preparation of flying a photographer. It was supposed to be a short flight, starting at 4pm. I had to leave the airport no later than 6:15pm to arrive at one of the afore mentioned video shoots, so I wanted to get off the ground as soon as the photographer arrived. Well, he got there about ten till 4, but I had noticed the sky darkening and the temperature dropping pretty rapidly, so I called to check the weather.

Flight Services told me that VFR flight was not recommended, though I think that IFR flight would have been equally foolhardy - there was a monster storm bearing down on us. It was about 30 miles west moving about 25 knots, and 1 inch hail had already been reported. After hanging up, I pulled up a radar image on my phone and made the decision: photo flight cancelled.

I went over to meet the photographer and discuss some options with him. He was a cool, mid-40s hippy named Tom, and if he reads this post I hope he doesn't take offence; I say "hippy" with a tinge of admiration and jealousy. Maybe in the next life. Our mission was to fly about 12 miles east and take shots of an outdoor music festival they hold every year called "Appalachian Uprising." The photo company's main work is to travel the country each year and take aerial shots of these kinds of festivals. Apparently the folk music scene has a few more financial resources than they did back in the days of Dylan, Biaz, and Garcia. Anyway, we talked about the weather and agreed that it would be a bad idea to fly. We needed about 45 minutes to complete the flight and I didn't want to either A) get sucked into a storm, B) have to land out and be stuck at a different airport and thus miss my video job, or C) try to race a thunderstorm back to base. Luckily, he completely agreed with my assessment of the situation and left the decision up to my experience. We decided to wait a bit, track the storm, and see what happened. We also looked at the details and decided that we could make the flight in 30 minutes, rather than 45.

On schedule at 4:45, exactly the time we would have been trying to land, the storm hit. Pouring rain along with lots of thunder and lightening proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that we made the correct decision. There were 3 or 4 of us stuck in the FBO, a couple other young pilots and the photographer. We talked about a lot of different things, and generally had a good time watching the storm blow by.

It cleared out around 5:30, and we discussed the possibility of making the flight. By 5:45 we checked the radar, called the festival to ask about local weather conditions, and were in the air. The deal was that we would head home by 6:05 no matter what, and if I got headed east and felt like we were getting too close to the weather, we would go back home also. This wasn't a problem though, that storm moved out of the area pretty fast (as I had suspected after watching it for an hour and a half). I was doing my best to be smooth, professional, and efficient as I did the startup, runup, taxi and takeoff. Got the airplane trimmed, leaned, and contacted approach control for flight following. The air was (thankfully, almost miraculously) smooth, clean, cool, and free of the haze and grit of the past week. We headed east, but were unsure of the festival's exact location. Flying IFR (you know, I Follow Roads), we found it in short order, and I made sure to maintain legal altitudes and distances from outdoor assemblages of persons (the FAA's language, not mine) while side slipping into the wind to give Tom opportunity for some really good shots. Two trips around the area, and he calls "good to go" while closing the window. Full power and a radio call to approach and we were on our way home. Entered the pattern, landed well enough to get a compliment, parked and secured the plane, wrote up a purchase order and ran the credit card in time to get in the car by 6:15.

Why did I like this flight? Its simple. I got to exercise good decision-making, deal with weather, still accomplished the mission on time, and had a lot of fun flying. I made it to the video shoot on time, and really felt like a competent, professional pilot. The best part was seeing Tom in the left seat looking through the shots on the way back though. He was very excited about many of the shots, and found 3 usable ones in the first 5. If the customer is happy, than I usually find it easy to be happy as well.

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