Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Flight......

Piper PA-31-310 Navajo As the end of the year approaches, it is time to reflect on the years activities, good and bad. Since most of what I write about, involves the latter, that’s where I’ll start. Some of the egregious happenings still stand out. Such as professional pilots landing at the wrong airport in a 747, or a flight crew of three or four professionals “forgetting “ how the auto-land really works. The first resulted in embarrassment, the second fiasco in some deaths, injuries and a 777 destroyed. Ouch!
To the good, I will have to reminisce a bit as I think back on Christmas season related flights. The year was 1989, a period of time when I did a lot of charter piloting of freight and passengers in Vermont. As I was often a standby “on call” pilot for the charter operator I flew for, this Christmas Eve I received a special request. A premature infant born in Burlington was in trouble and needed to be transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital. I agreed to take the trip. This normally took a bit over 60 minutes in a Piper Navajo. The largest model, the Chieftain, a Pa-350 (N30SC) would be needed to accommodate the patient in a special crib, a nurse and assistant. A quick check of the weather promised a fairly typical IFR winter trip. Strong NW winds, some snow, light icing probable and very cold.

Before I hopped in the car and drove the 20 minutes to the airport, I quickly filed an IFR flight plan adding a request for the prefix Medevac, indicating the seriousness of the flight and the need for priority handling. Routing was Burlington (BTV) direct Manchester (MHT) then to Lawrence (LWM) and direct Boston. I filed for 9000 feet, as any higher would require that supplemental oxygen be used by the pilot and passengers. At the same time I filed the return trip, estimating departure time at 0400 UTC* (11PM) for that leg. *This used to be Zulu or just Z.

The ambulance arrived at about 0230 UTC (930PM), tiny baby ensconced within the incubator, accompanied by a neo-natal nurse and aide. The plane was pulled out of the heated hangar into the sub-zero cold. As I had already done the necessary pre-flight, the passengers were quickly loaded into the plane and me into the pilot’s seat. Engine start went smoothly and I quickly called for my IFR clearance. It was called back to us and I was cleared to taxi to runway 15, which would point us in the right direction towards Boston, saving us some time. Once cleared for take-off we were switched to departure frequency and cleared on course. Leaving 6000 feet departure control told me to contact Boston center.

 This was a route I had flown often, so I could anticipate what to expect. What was new was the call sign, the prefix: Medevac. We reached Manchester in about 30 minutes and were cleared to the Lawrence VOR and to descend to 6000 feet. As we descended, I tuned into the Boston ATIS for the current weather and active approaches. Before reaching (LWM) we were cleared to 3000 feet and told to expect ILS 4R as the winds were gusting  up to20 knots out of the north. The reported weather was: ceiling 900 feet with 1 ½ mile visibility, with blowing snow. I had already taken the Boston approach plates out of the Jeppesen loose leaf binder and placed the ILS 4 R approach plate on my clipboard. Once on the Boston approach frequency I received vectors for the 4R approach ceiling 900 ft.  Once on the inbound localizer and on glide path, we broke out of the clouds at 950 feet with the runway in sight.

The landing went fine and we were cleared to the general aviation ramp, where an ambulance was waiting. I said goodbye to my passengers, wishing the newborn well, and headed to the coffee machine for a quick brew. The trip back to BTV was uneventful.On reflection, I felt this had been a satisfying, rewarding flight, a tiny person helped. A job well done.

Have a good Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year.