Friday, May 16, 2008

Why I Fly (Chapter 11)

As my one regular reader knows, I got my Multi-Engine license a couple of years back. However, I am yet to fly the twin-engine plane alone. I recently logged enough time to satisfy the insurance company, but then realized that I did not have a recent Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) nor had I flown on instruments in a while, which the insurance company also requires to get signed off in the twin. Since I have a perfectly fine airplane of my own, I arranged to use it for my IPC flight a couple weeks later.

My real goal is to be able to take my wife out in the twin. I had hoped for a trip to the San Juans for dinner on my birthday, but alas it was snowing. We've had a run of rough and bumpy weather – including a later round of snow on April 20th, and when we finally got a break one Sunday afternoon, I started making arrangements for the trip to the aerodrome. I called over to Regal to reserve the plane, only to discover that it had been more than 60 days (67 days in fact) since I had flown the plane. Another rule shoots me down. Arg!!! How hard does this have to be?

Sandra's birthday is coming up this Saturday, and the weather is forecast to be CAVU, so I reserved the plane and a random instructor for last night to go jump through the next hoop.

As we were preparing for take off, the ATIS alerted us to "Fog to the north." Paine Field sits on a plateau 600 feet above the Puget Sound. So from where we were doing our pre-flight the fog a couple miles away and below us over the water was not visible. We were cleared for take off to the south, and as we climbed up, the fog over the Puget Sound came into view. Our rectangular path took us to the south a mile or two and then we banked right towards the west and then around to the north where we paralleled the runway we had just departed. Sure enough there just north of the field was a fog bank working its way from Port Gardner Bay up Japanese Gulch to the runway threshold.

Ahead and to our right there was a 747 coming in for landing. The 747's decent path kept it skipping the top of the fogbank as it slowed and the wings held the heavy plane aloft. Like the churning water left behind a large ship, the wake of the 747 swirled down and away from the airplane's path, cutting a valley into the fog.

The resulting valley in the fog was an excellent depiction of wake turbulence. As I turned onto final, I flew over the valley and above the flight path of the 747 landing further down the runway than it did, leaving the first 1,500 of runway behind me. Once on the ground we quickly reconfigured the plane for take-off.

As we lifted off, the tower controllers reported the wind had shifted and was no longer out of the south, and it was now coming in from the north. The wind that was pushing the fog away had turned, and was now pushing the fog on to the north end of the runway. We requested and received clearance for a right 90, left 270 turn back to the airport. Our flight path traced the letter "P" over the ground, and we were lined back up on the runway.

Again we touched down and reconfigured the plane for take-off. We lifted off over the fog, the tower controllers reported incoming helicopter traffic head-on, and requested we return to landing to the south. We flew the same "P" shaped approach, landed and taxied towards our parking space. Heading in we watched the Blackhawk fly the length of the runway, and disappear into the evening sky.

Epilogue. .5 hours of running engines and once again I'm a safe pilot according to the insurance company.
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