Waypoints: On wet wings

Coming home in the rain

August 1, 2012

Tom Haines Green doesn’t always mean go. I thought of this as I looked at the solid green—and occasional yellow patches—on the Garmin GNS 530W display before me. Sure enough, some of the yellows had morphed into red splotches farther ahead. The Stormscope overlaid a few stray lightning strikes on the green and yellow, but in a pattern that suggested radial spread—meaning they were likely well beyond my destination, which was still more than 200 nm ahead and beyond the range of the Stormscope. Still, the forecast included the possibility of convective activity along the route.

Low overcast conditions, including at my destination—my home airport of Frederick, Maryland—had me frequently checking the METAR page on the 530, hoping for an update. Finally, a New York Center controller’s announcement of a new center weather advisory prompted me to call Flight Watch, something I haven’t done much in recent years since the acquisition of a datalink weather system.

The flight service specialist provided updated weather at Frederick, where the conditions remained much as they had been throughout the morning—light to moderate rain and about 800 feet broken to overcast, with another layer at 1,100 feet and visibilities at 2 to 2.5 miles. The temperature and dew point remained stubbornly synchronized at 21 degrees C.

As my old Bonanza dodged in and out of the clouds, I was reminded of the stark contrast from where we had just left—Bar Harbor, Maine, where a deep blue, cloudless sky ushered in unlimited visibilities with a crisp, dry breeze.

My family and I were wrapping up one of those long weekends only possible by general aviation. No one in Maryland goes to Maine for a three-day weekend by any other means. An airline flight for four to Bar Harbor would be an expensive and all-day affair—each way. No one would drive the 13.5 hours each way through Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton, New York, New Haven, and a host of small cities for a three-day visit. Piling four in our Nixon-era Bonanza, flying lean of peak puts us there in about three hours and 15 minutes—in time for a lobsta’ lunch. Minutes after landing, we’re in a rental car driving across the causeway to Mount Desert Island.

The trip up was VFR; our only weather encounter—the need to descend from 7,500 feet to 5,500 feet to stay below a few scattered clouds.

The IFR trip home was no surprise, as the lazy trough draped over the Mid-Atlantic had been forecast for days. Still—even after all these years, I get a bit of a twinge in my belly at the thought of an encounter with widespread low IFR conditions coupled with the possibility of convective action. Options are the key. I knew the weather in eastern Massachusetts and Maine was forecast to remain good for another day, so I could always turn around. Burning only 13 gph lean of peak, I could keep going—all the way to Cleveland to reach better weather if necessary. And, of course,

I never go anywhere by GA when I have to be home at a specific time. Worst case, we spend another day trolling the rocky beaches, climbing the Beehive again, eating another lobster. There are worse places to be stuck.

But as usually happens, a little planning, some luck, a solid airplane, and maybe some skill got us through the muck, breaking out a couple of miles from the airport in moderate rain. The convection never showed, making this one of those fun IFR days.

This day, green meant go, but the next trip is, well, the next trip

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org; follow on Twitter: tomhaines29.