This was a big one. Number one hundred. I didn’t want a milk run. I wanted something memorable. I got my wish.
Let’s start with the BIG numbers— my 100 flights add up to 33,003 NM and 400.9 hours in 11 years and a month. Number 100 was for Jane Hards. I’ve flown with her a number of times previously. A lot of others have too. She reckoned that she’s been on over 400 trips over the years.
If you open up a dictionary and look for “grandmotherly,” her picture is right there. Her treatments have sent her to hell and back, but you’d never know it. Most of the Angel Flight patients are like that.
Jane lives in Camden, Maine. Usually she flies out of Rockland. For this run, the idea was for her to take Cape Air from Augusta down to Boston, and I would fly her home.
The weather didn’t look very good to get out of Augusta early. Cape Air had canceled the previous day’s early flight. I gave Jane the phone number for the Augusta AWOS.
Her plan was to call it early. If it sounded bad, she would take the bus to Boston.
And that’s exactly what happened. She took the 0615 bus.
The three-hour bus trip threw her late, and her doctor got behind as well. The chemotherapy lasted five hours. It all added up to a (best case) 1830 departure from Boston.
At 1745 or so (2145Z), I called Nashua ground for my clearance. Oh sure, they had the clearance, but there was more… much more. I was to be ground held until 2333Z. I remember falling back in my seat— absolutely stunned. I keyed the mike, “Is my math right? Is that two hours from now?” It was. The tower took my cell number and promised to call me if there was any news.
I taxied back and shutdown. Jane had previously offered to take the bus back home.
I texted her with the latest news, and suggested that the bus would be best. Adios, trip one hundred.
Just then, the phone rang. It was Lenny from the tower. The hold was nixed, and I was OK to go along. He also told me that he expected to read something about how Nashua Tower was very helpful on Facebook! I flashed “never mind” to Jane, along with “leaving now.”
We were off to a rough start, but at least we were off. I had filed “LWM at 3000” because someone had got that using ForeFlight. Nah. “Climb and maintain 6000”
File anything you want, but it’s going to be LWM at 6000. The plan was for a visual to 4L.
The routing was the usual— runway heading, vectors for your climb, direct LWM, vectors.
If you look at the left base for 4L, you’ll see a waiver. I was told to maintain visual separation from a Cape Air Cessna 402 on the ILS 4R. The traffic was pointed out over and over. I couldn’t find it. I was frustrated. The controller was frustrated. I wasn’t using my full call sign. He scolded me. He couldn’t clear me for the approach until I had the traffic. I get it.
I ended up getting vectored off the approach. Just as I turned, I saw Mr. 402 out the left window and reported the same (using my full call sign). I was cleared for the approach.
The taxi in included some zig-zags to avoid parked airplanes—apparently leftovers from the earlier delays. I found Jane and we loaded up with haste. While the airport was clear now, fog banks were visibly closing in. We needed to get out of there.
We followed a Pilatus to 4L at Charlie via Bravo Charlie. The Pilatus zipped right out. We held for enough time that I wondered if I had the radio set correctly. Boston uses this “don’t call us, we’ll call you” system… it was really quiet. A 402 landed, and off we went.
Turn to 010? You bet— just as soon as my wheels leave the ground.
During the climb to 4000, we could clearly see the fog advancing inland. Then it was night. Between layers. Really, really dark. The arrival forecast for Augusta was 1000 and 10. At this point, we were about a half hour behind, so my guess is that the weather would be slightly worse by the time we got there. But that wasn’t the issue. The issue was refueling. Wiscasset and their 24/7 gas dock were already low IFR. Portland was going fast. Skyhaven was gone. Sanford was slipping away. I was left with my last resort of Waterville.
Having ADS-B in the cockpit allows one to worry about all sorts of things. If you aren’t worried, perhaps you are amused. Jane was scrolling, tapping, and zooming the co-pilot side iPad for the entire way. In the end, I had to ignore what she was doing. Every time I looked over to fix whatever she’d done, I wandered off course.
Augusta was down to 700 and 10 by the time we got there. We arrived just before 2030. Did I mention that I was out of bed at 0500? I was tired. The approach was lousy, but the result (a tip-toe landing on the right runway, at the right airport, and everyone OK) was good.
Someone from Maine Instrument (the FBO there) was hanging around waiting for a Citation. He was able to fuel me up. That saved having to file for the 11 NM trip to the now very IFR Waterville.
Using ForeFlight, I briefed and filed for the trip home.With much less traffic than Boston, Portland (and Bangor for that matter) will give you whatever you ask for. When I called for the clearance, they didn’t even bother with “ENE at 4000.” It was shortened down to “as filed.”
The only problem now was that incoming Citation. I saw the runway lights brighten (seemingly) by themselves. I was held until the Citation was clear. The ceiling was down to 500 feet now. The tops were at 1500 feet.
I saw a half moon on the climb out and thought, “This will be easy.” Then it disappeared behind an overcast layer, and I was all alone in absolute darkness. I got some music going, dug out a water bottle from my cooler, got a snack, and settled in.
Fog had been the problem on the way up, but home was good VFR. Let’s check the plot (at right).
Hmmm. I’m heading southwest. The front is moving mostly east. We’re probably gonna hit. The questions are “Where?” and “How hard?” There was nothing to be done except fly and wait, so I did that.
My trek through the Maine airspace was mostly done in radio silence, and absolute darkness. Once I got handed off to Boston, it was busy again. I even saw the undercast once in a while. A chipper gal said, “I’m sure you can’t receive it, but the weather at Nashua is… and I’m painting weather at…”
You know what? I’m not flying around in your father’s Skyhawk. I have three screens, dual WAAS GPS, traffic, weather, and synthetic vision. I’ve been looking at this for the past hour.
“I know. I have ADS-B.”
The 14 approach end of Nashua was a lost cause. I asked for, and received “direct CORNY.” My plan was for a visual to 32 between two areas of precipitation. That was a good plan until the Nashua AWOS started to talk about heavy rain and 2-1/2 mile visibility.
“Nashua just went IFR. Can you give me vectors for the ILS 14?”
They could, and they did. 747 style vectors. <scowl> Along the way, I saw the approach lights. I kept waiting for the turn inbound that didn’t come.
“29HL has the field in sight.”
There was some conversation about exactly what I wanted, but he cleared me for the visual approach, and I took it. You can see a bend in the plot. That’s me seeing the approach lights. I was supposed to be flying 280. Every time I looked at the lights, the course bent left.
See that yellow spot? That was over the airport when I asked for the ILS 14. All the time on the approach (and it seemed like an eternity) was enough for most of the rain to blow away. I barely got wet, and landed at 2235.
In all, 4.3 hours, 2.7 of them night IMC. I think I’ll lay down for a bit.
- An ideal flight: helping a stranger on Christmas - December 15, 2016
- My 100th Angel Flight: memorable for a lot of reasons - November 21, 2016
Makes weather a real concern on a lot of trips. I am VFR only, and recognize that even IFR folks have challenges trying to get there and back. Thanks for sharing and including the flight tracks.
Steve! Just stumbled across this article. Not sure if you still get notifications on comments, but check out the airfacts article “the emergency that wasn’t.” Seems like 9HL is famous ;).