Waiting Waiting WAITING [for the Night Cross Country Flight]

Long waiting game detailed here. Only of interest if you want to hear about bad Alaskan weather. Actual flight described in next post, Night Cross Country Flight.

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Wednesday, Nov. 6: So mad. Crystal clear skies over interior Alaska. That evening’s auroras covered the entire sky for most of the evening [first time I had seen all sky coverage] and were perfectly timed to coincide with my last required night flight hours (!), but the beacon light fixture on the 150 broke and the ELT antenna on the 152 broke (limiting the plane to 50 nautical miles) – leaving me with no rent-able aircraft.

poker_jason110713
UAF’s Poker Flat Research Range – Neal Davis Science Operations Center [credit artist of http://www.flickr.com/photos/musubk/]
The UAF physics students ended up at the Poker Flat Research Range to watch the aurora. It was fantastic – but I couldn’t quite stop thinking about how I had missed a special opportunity to fly relative to the auroral curtain motions (it isn’t usually visible so early [green lights started ~830pm – near the end of my planned 2.5 hour night cross country (xc)] and if it is, it doesn’t usually continue all night – which in this case, it did). In the past, students who fly on aurora nights have been able to talk the instructor into extending the flight plan so they could enjoy the aurora away from city lights (I mean, you’re already in the middle of nowhere, might as well enjoy it). I’ve been told the aurora flying experience is spectacular….now I’ll have to wait til I get my private pilot certificate (or hope the sun is active for my next commercial flight). 😦

I’m definitely still mad at the beacon light situation. Turning it on during preflight had been tricky for about a month now; we kept reporting it on the aircraft logs; just figured it was slow due to the cold temperatures (~20’s °F). On Wednesday, CFI4 reached up to tap on it (try and get it to turn on); it fell off. [How is he freakishly tall enough to not need a ladder?!?  😉 ] I always feel bad about hounding the school over ‘minor’ problems like a light being slow to turn on – especially since every little fix always takes days longer than expected….and that’s time the plane isn’t profitable for the school….but forget that from now on. I don’t want a similar preventable delay to occur in the future.

Screenshot 2013-11-07 23.12.17
Night cross country flight: PAFA-PAML-PACL-PAFA [skyvector.com graphic]
CFI4 had complimented me on my navigation log; after my flight was canceled, he kept teasing me about being ready to give me my solo cross country endorsement at the end of the night if we had flown…ahh (evilness 😉 )!

I’m really rather proud of what I presented for inspection (although I do admit that I hastily put it together ~2 hours before I went to the flight school – ‘my best work is usually done under pressure’??? excuses…). Everything was extra legible, already had all my weather, AF/D runway info, all heading corrections; ground speeds, fuel, and weights&balances calculated, flight plan ready to go, extra notes written in the margins about differences between day and night flying, no mistakes* (with my expectation that I would check all current NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) just before takeoff). It amazed me that some students had shown up for past cross country flights without the basic prep work (and more than once!). They take so long to write up nicely; showing up without the prep work leads to paying for the instructor to watch you sit in front of the computer on the ground, eating up your entire flight block. My only minor slip-up was that I forgot to bring a parka and snowpants to my flight (ugg, I can’t ever move in all those layers). It was only ~+15°F in Fairbanks (you don’t need snowpants until ~ -27°F, they’re too hot), but I still got the ‘mom’ lecture about how one always needs extra precautions when flying in the winter.

*My school has current Airport Facilities/Directories (A/FD) but gives copies of expired A/FDs to students to use in xc planning (Alaska doesn’t usually change that much – but one destination, Manley [Hot Springs], is an exception – airport was constructed this summer). Current NOTAMS say the summer runway 2-20 (only 1 runway listed in my AF/D) is closed permanently, is now a taxiway; a new runway, 18-36, is now in use. I didn’t know this until my instructor checked the online NOTAMS while I rechecked weather – a good lesson to me to always be through (and recheck everything when using expired publications).

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I’ve been rescheduling for basically every night since Wed., Nov. 6. To save me money on my training, I wasn’t ‘supposed’ to do any more flying until I do the night cross country.

Thursday: 150 had last minute beacon electrical problems, 152’s ELT still broken. Cancel.

Weekend: Heavy snow and fog all over interior Alaska.

Monday Nov 11: overcast morning but clear & sunny all afternoon! The 150 had potential engine problems (the engine stopped as a student touched down on the runway during touch-and-goes. We’re not convinced that it wasn’t a carburetor icing/lack of carburetor heat problem…). I’d fixed the 152’s ELT antenna on Sun. Nov 10, so that plane was ready to go. However…..the afternoon’s unexpected sunlight created a fog layer over the runway. So strange, no fog in town/over airport, just a thick layer over the runway (beneath crystal clear skies). The touchdown point was clear but the rest of the runway was covered. This was confirmed by the instrument rated pilot who flies at my flight school. Lucky for him that he had the knowledge to do an ILS (instrument landing system) approach. There was zero wind so the fog wasn’t going anywhere all night. Fog wasn’t forecasted to grow….but CFI2 and CFI4 said not to take any chances – Fairbanks has plenty of winter nighttime left for me to fly in – some other day. Their instincts were right: Fairbanks clouds & visibility dropped right at the time I was scheduled to land back at PAFA.

Tuesday: CFI4’s long day at his ‘real’ job flying military helicopters – he could fly with me, but would he be tired? Plus, my ‘real’ job’s weekly research meeting is on Tuesdays (and they are thoroughly exhausting). No flying.

Wednesday – Thursday: Heavy snow and freezing rain (got half a centimeter of ice frozen to my car – underneath 6 inches of snow, ahhh!). Winds 35kts gusting to 40s&50s. Weather bad enough to warrant a rare Fairbanks occasion: classes canceled due to winter weather. Trees took out many people’s electricity for several days. Flight canceled.

Friday: I was feeling lazy and didn’t schedule anything (naturally, PAFA weather looked lovely). I wasn’t sure if my destination runways were graveled/sanded/plowed after the interior Alaska freezing rain episode (even the main Fairbanks roads were still a bit iffy), so it was probably fine to wait.

Saturday: All day, clouds too low for comfort (2100ft) near one of my destinations (PACL’s nearest weather is Nenana ASOS). Flight canceled and 2 hours later, the skies turned perfectly clear. Darn it.

Sunday: clear at destinations, snow/fog at PAFA

Monday Nov 18: snowing – went night cross country skiing instead of night cross country flying.

Tuesday: Clear weather but lack of insulating clouds means it has finally gotten too cold (FAI in the -20’s °F) to fly the 150 (coldest allowed by flight school: -15°F on the ground, 0°F at altitude). The 152 rental limits are -20°F on the ground, 0°F at altitude. I had 6 hours of afternoon meetings on top of 3 hours of sleep, so I didn’t schedule a flight.

Wednesday and Thursday: It’s soooo cold! -20s to -30somethings °F. Too cold to fly anything but the Arrow (which is good down to -30°F on the ground, 0°F at altitude). Plus, it was weather class nights 1 and 2.

Friday: clear and warm (~+15 even at night) because of the Chinook wind from the south. Looking at this week’s temperature records, it’s completely wild! CFI2 uncomfortable with a night xc for me: clouds at minimum allowable height for night VFR at PACL. Forecast at the Alaska Aviation weather site was interesting: had the Tanana Valley clear but every other forecast zone was MVFR or IFR. Forgot to save that image, but it looked something like this:

Screen shot 2013-11-22 at 9.49.16 PM
Tanana Valley (encloses Fairbanks and my destinations Manley and Clear) boxed in yellow. For most of the afternoon, every forecast zone (orange thin lined shapes) in Alaska was MVFR and IFR except for Tanana Valley. Almost impossible to believe? MVFR boundaries form a pointy boundary? Aii….

Did night cross country skiing underneath the aurora instead.

Saturday: I was busy not dying.

Sunday: clouds were too low for safe night VFR

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It’s been almost 3 weeks since I was last able to fly – and I’m definitely convinced to get my instrument rating so I have more flying day options. Also, safety! (read about my first unexpected IFR ride-along) The example I mentioned above, where you could have a VFR afternoon and return to the Fairbanks airport to find just the runway covered with low fog (but not the town), makes me uneasy.

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2 thoughts on “Waiting Waiting WAITING [for the Night Cross Country Flight]

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