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800 and 2

I’m so lucky that I don’t HAVE TO FLY today!

That was my thought when I woke up to a tree limb coming down in my yard. The remnants of a tropical system was battering us with wind and rain, and flying somewhere for breakfast was out of the question, so me and Charlie met Mike at a local diner. While the rain was pelting the windows, I was thinking about our airline and biz-jet friends who have to go up in crappy weather. Sure, they have the skill and equipment to deal with it, but on days like this they must really earn their pay.

Getting fuel during the week can be a hassle at our little airport, so after we ate I decided to top-off my airplane while the Sunday kid was manning the pumps, without the usual b-s. By then the worst of the wind and rain had pushed off to the east, and the sky didn’t look too bad. So I listened to the automated weather observation and heard that we had an 800 foot ceiling and 2 miles visibility.

Hmm. I had to wonder, if I had somewhere to go, would I fly today?

Here is an interesting point: General Aviation aircraft (“private” pilots) have no ceiling and visibility minimums for takeoffs. Legally, we can depart in our single-engine flivvers in near zero-zero conditions, while commercial flights are waiting for clearance. I’ve done that when the sea fog rolls in low over Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, and clear blue skies are only 200 feet above the runway. One time my friend Dan (who is 10 times the pilot I will ever be) was stuck on the Vineyard in a multi-engine Cessna 402 full of paying passengers while the tower cleared us amateurs to go in a single-engine Skylane. Go figure.

But how about getting back into our home airport? My Cherokee is equipped with a WAAS GPS which allows me to descend to 600 feet (557 feet above the landing threshold) in 1 mile visibility to find the runway. Not that I’d want to! I like “gentlemen’s” minimums of 1000 feet and 3 to 5 miles. And the more visibility under the clouds, the better.

Also, the tops of these clouds were up at 14,000 feet, way above where I could cruise to my destination in sunshine and calm air. Nor did the low ceilings in every direction leave many options for a diversion or an emergency descent. So even though my Cherokee 180 has good power, I probably wouldn’t takeoff today, even if the weather was good at my destination.


Speaking of power, I’m gaining more faith in my Piper. My previous airplane was a Cessna 182 with 230 horses behind a 3-blade constant speed propeller, which was a rock solid performer. When they say that some airplane is stable and a joy to fly, they are often talking about power. Especially when the weather is bad, power to climb and hold airspeed is a very good thing to have.

So I was happy when I flew the Cherokee to Falmouth with Mike and Damien this week. With three of us and fuel onboard, the 180 hp Lycoming hauled us above the trees only slightly more than halfway down the 2,400 foot runway.



ps – I released my fourth eBook this week. Positive reader reviews are always appreciated!