Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This is NOT why I fly.

Took some time to go flying today. It was rotten weather, low clouds, windy, gusty, raining with limited visibility. It wasn’t supposed to be. When I checked earlier the clouds were middleish (I don’t think that is really a word). There should have been plenty of space between the ground and the clouds to fly. But once I left the immediate area of the airport, the weather set in.

I headed east, out towards Snohomish and Monroe, but it just got worse. I turned and headed north towards Lake Stevens and Arlington. But there was no improvement over there either. At Camano Island I decided to head back. I turned back towards Paine Field for touch and goes.

I kept the power set at 23 squared – 23 inches of manifold pressure and 2300 RPMs. Typical cruise settings like this will get about 135 mph out of the plane. I pointed it back into the wind from the South East and was only making 85 knots over Port Gardner Bay as the plane clawed back into the headwind. I ended up just practicing my cross-wind landings. I made three landings while other planes made their circuits, and the tower steered me clear of their paths.

And then the strangest thing happened. Another plane from my same flight school called in. The shaken voice reported north of the field with limited visibility, and needing help getting back. The tower controller responded immediately, and the other plane did not respond. Again the tower called. And again. And again.  Still no response from the other plane.

I was redirected to another runway where I touched down for the last time that day -- left wing low, partial flaps, some right rudder to slip and counteract the left turn. One wheel on the ground. Hold the wing low. Roll the aileron in as the speed bleeds off. Both main’s on the runway, hold up the nose, rudder for the wind, full aileron to the left. Not a bad crosswind landing for as rusty as I am.

I tied the plane down and went inside. The controllers were still trying to reach the other plane. No response. Inside I talked to the flight school dispatcher and the owner. They called the tower.

I could imagine a student inside the plane, disoriented, panicked, lost, losing ground reference, bouncing around in the wind. Finally calling for help, but it being too late, ultimately losing control of the airplane as it went down.

But not today. The tower reported the student had switched frequencies and gone to one of the center controllers who had guided the plane home, where it had just touched down. Good rescue from the disembodied voices that watch over the skies.

But what did I learn from that? If you call for help on a frequency, stay there for at least a minute and listen for a response. And the second thing was just a reconfirming of a lesson I have not fully integrated. I hate being powerless to help -- knowing there is someone out there who needs help, but I am not the right one to give it.