‘As long as we don’t get rain or a big leak in our dikes, we should be OK.’ – Stuart Symington
Sitting around the house when you are wanting to fly can get pretty boring. Boring to the point that it kills people. It’s very easy to succumb to the urge to just get in the air and ‘wing it’. Maybe you make it to the destination, maybe you have to turn back. The problem is that many people, over the years, have inadvertently flown into weather that requires instruments to fly, but they weren’t trained to execute that phase of flight. JFK Jr. flew his plane into the ocean due to spatial disorientation in such conditions and, even though I have practiced such procedures in a simulator as recently as a month ago, in the mountains, it is absolutely not a situation in which you want to put yourself.
I got up at 6:30 and started watching the weather for a meaningful break in conditions. Early in the day a lot of the airports in north eastern Illinois were vacillating between being ok and needing an instrument rating. That’s not good. If you are just going to practice some landings in marginal conditions things might be ok. But if you are going to fly in a straight line from Chicago to the central plains you better have good weather through the entire route of flight. Things would look ok for a while, then bad. There has been a stationary front through the area for a couple days and that was causing the rains to just hover and dump their loads of moisture.
At 4 I was about to give up and crack open a beer when I noticed that all of the storm cells seemed to be rapidly weakening. My guess is that the persistent cloud cover reflected so much warmth back into space that the normal pattern of hot June sun creating big thunder clouds was interrupted. As the energy left over from yesterday started to drain out, suddenly the picture looked much, much better. Best put that beer back in the fridge…
Over the course of the next hour things shaped up almost better than I could have hoped. I did an online flight briefing and almost convinced myself, but was still skeptical. I’m still a low time pilot and didn’t want to make a mistake that could have big consequences so I did something I haven’t done in nearly a year, I called the FAA flight office and got a telephone briefing.
The drill is that you tell them who you are (773SP), what you want (a standard briefing for a VFR flight from KDPA to KJEF via KMUT) and when you intend to leave (45 minutes). They do a very good job of going through the same information that I got in the online briefing, but adding their knowledge and experience to the reading.
I was very happy when the first thing out of the briefers mouth was, “ok, I see you’re going out west and taking a dogleg south from there to avoid the convective sigmet for Missouri”. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing!
The rest of the briefing was similarly encouraging. We walked through the many weather considerations one by one and at the end he said, “I think that plan looks like it will work. Is there anything else I can help you with?” Nope, we’re going flying!
When we left for the airport it was raining pretty steadily. This was expected. There was one more front that had to pass before we would leave, and we were prepared to wait until that happened. By the time we got to the airport the rain had already stopped and we walked from the car to the hanger in a bit of sunshine. You will recall that the plane was already packed and ready to go from our previous attempt, so all we had to do was pre-flight and get going. The pre-flight showed that everything that was supposed to be tight was tight and everything that was loose was loose, so off we went.
The plane didn’t exactly leap into the sky, being as close to the weight limit as it was, but we got into the air without trouble and made our right turn to the west. It was at this point where I had my first doubt. Intellectually I knew that we would have to stay fairly low for a bit and that there were tons of fields to land in if we had engine trouble, but knowing that and looking at the clouds in front of us are different things. No way would I push the envelope into unsafe territory, but the sight picture was still intimidating. We cruised west for a while and had to slalom a few clouds to remain legal, but no big deal. Just had to let go of the notion of following the magenta line and fly the conditions.
Once we got southwest of DeKalb things rapidly improved. We were a bit worried that there would be a lot of dirty air from the storms that had come through, but the flying was actually quite smooth the entire route. We even got to see an absolutely gorgeous sunset shortly before touchdown.
Now we’re sitting in the Capital Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City, MO. The weather to get out of here doesn’t look great, but at least we aren’t city at home. We have a couple options, we can check out the partial ruined penitentiary or perhaps we’ll instead check out the Missouri State Highway Patrol Safety Education Center. The choices are nearly endless!