Sunday, August 29, 2010

Flying IFR With An Option

We are on final vectors to runway 17 at Iwannabeontheground airport. The weather is just awful. Visibility ½ mile in smoke, fog and haze with the possibility of a thunderstorm. Ceiling is 250 feet and lowering. Night time is approaching and we are flying a single engine plane. Doesn’t sound too good does it? How about adding that the ILS just went out and we are left with only the localizer, making this a non-precision approach, with no glideslope (much higher minimums). Fuel aboard is 1 plus 15 or 75 minutes. Maybe, just maybe enough to get an alternate field with better weather. Scary scenario? Yes, but one faced by many pilots everyday. Most make it, but not all.

Some things that can be done that make things much less risky. Perhaps the most important is to always leave yourself an out. An escape route or plan if you will. Instead of trying to land with the weather at minimums at airport A, plan on going to airport B that has a better weather outlook. Ok, it may be farther from your destination, but that’s the price you pay for added safety.
Years ago, I was flying a passenger to Wheeling, WV, in B-58 Baron. The flight from Burlington,Vt was to take about 3 to 31/2 hours. Fuel aboard was 5 hours. As we were approaching the Pittsburgh area things began to cloud up, literally. The weather at KHLG (near Wheeling) was so-so but forecast to get worse and be near minimums. That meant we might not be able to land, but would have to go to our alternate, which would have been Allegheny County Airport (KAGC). Flight time between the two only 30 to 40 minutes. Adding everything up though, if we missed at KHLG we might not have enough fuel to return to Allegheny and still have 45 minutes of fuel remaining. The latter is the rule. The other factor was that the weather in the Pitt area was forecast to go down as well, further complicating things. So, after discussing things with my passenger, we decided the prudent thing was to land at KAGC, and the passenger drive to his destination. Yes, I know, not the most convenient, but the safe and prudent thing to do. There were no complaints and all turned out well. Better certainly than if we had disregarded the weather progs and plowed ahead only to find the weather at KHLG as bad or worse than forecast. That can and does happen.

So, the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, may have some meaning here.

Fly safely, and do plan ahead. If not, you too may end up a statistic.