- was pilot in command of a flight in real IMC, and real it was -- an hour in the clouds on the way down!
- used my new Lightspeed Mach 1 headset -- the fitted earpieces had just come in on Friday!
- spent two nights away
- flew somewhere I had a reason to be
- was cleared for and flew a "visual approach" (you'd think this was easy, but at an unfamiliar airport...)
- dealt with a rapidly changing weather forecast for the return trip, which at times included thunderstorms, and ended up having somewhat lower-than-expected freezing levels
And the heartening thing is that this might have been the best I've ever flown -- of course that involves some luck as well as all the preparation, but without the preparation you don't even give yourself a chance.
I took off on Friday a little after 1:00pm, after a rigorous preflight and obsessing about the weather all morning -- not that there was much to obsess about; it was cloudy, but unthreateningly so. Ceilings were around 5000 in the Bay Area, and supposedly around 7000 further south. I filed a flight plan via Salinas, Paso Robles and Morro Bay at 7000, and got set to go. Preflight was fine, I loaded up the plane with all my luggage (which was considerable, since I had to bring all my stuff not only for a half-marathon, but also for the Halloween party that night), and I got ATIS and contacted ground. Runway 12 was in use -- yesss! Whereas the departure procedure for Runway 30 is a bit intense (see my last entry), the departure procedure for Runway 12 is "fly runway heading." Perfect.
I was cleared for takeoff. I lined up, and took off. After switching to Norcal, I was instructed to make a left turn direct to Woodside (Woodside is on the right at that point, so I had to make a 270 degree turn). He kept me on my filed route, and I ended up in the clouds pretty quickly. And I stayed there for a while. My groundspeed was about 87 knots, and things were bumpy. I was in there for nearly a half hour, when the controller asked if my routing was for training, or if I'd like to go direct Gaviota, and whether I could handle 9000 feet as an altitude. Given that the plane was actually leaking water into the cabin, I eagerly told the controller that direct Gaviota would be great and I could do 9000. He cleared me direct Gaviota, and minutes later cleared me to 9000. I climbed, and broke out of the clouds at 8500.
The rest of the ride was much more pleasant. I was in and out of the clouds a little bit, once even for about 15 minutes, but it wasn't as thick or bumpy. My groundspeed was still achingly slow; I had a headwind of about 40 knots, putting me in the low 80s relative to the ground. I plugged my iPhone into my headset and started playing some music. At some point I missed a handoff to a new frequency, but that was really my only error.
As I got into the Santa Barbara area and began descending, things were decidedly VMC outside. It was a beautiful day! Eventually I got the call: "N35583, Santa Barbara Airport is at your 10 o'clock." I saw it, and told him so. "N35583, cleared visual approach runway 7." Interesting...how do I fly this? Since I couldn't see a visual glideslope aid (there may have been one, but I couldn't see it), I tuned the ILS and simply followed it down, executing a greaser of a landing at the end of a completely stable approach. Good stuff. I taxied to Signature, and parked!
Friday night was awesome, Saturday was fantastic, and today, it was time to fly home. I'd been a little concerned about the weather because at one point yesterday, they were forecasting thunderstorms in the bay area -- and if there was really going to be a lot of thunderstorm activity, I think that'd most likely mean an extra night in Santa Barbara for me. But that forecast went away, and in its place was a forecast that made it very difficult to predict how cloudy the journey would be, and freezing levels around 8000'. I fretted about the situation for a while, then decided I'd just file a route the same way back as I'd come, where the MEAs were such that I could file 6000' as my enroute altitude.
This worked for a little while...I called clearance delivery (first time!) and was given my clearance, called ground for taxi instructions, did my run-up, called the tower, and was given a takeoff clearance. My routing was ... tada! Runway Heading! I was sure that I'd get a departure procedure, but Runway Heading, vectors to Gaviota was all I got. Awesome! Things were fine until near Paso Robles, where the controller boosted me to 8000'. I complied without complaining, and a little while later the controller asked if I wanted my filed routing, or direct AMEBY (a GPS fix on the San Carlos GPS 30 approach). So...I thought I was supposed to file on airways, but am I not supposed to do that? Should I just file direct and see what happens? Of course, earlier in the week when we went to Salinas, I filed SNS direct, and they gave me OSI V25 SNS direct. So...who knows. Anyway, I accepted direct AMEBY, and told the controller I was concerned about ice at 8000 when approaching the bay area, and didn't know what the clouds looked like. He basically said I had no choice, because radar is sketchy at 6000 through the valley. Interesting. So I told him "let's give it a shot" and it ended up being immaterial when I was lowered to 6000 (and eventually 5000) before getting into the bay area anyway.
I got vectored around a little bit on my way back into San Carlos: Fly heading 270! Direct AMEBY! Fly heading 270! Fly heading 310! Direct AMEBY! Okay, okay! I eventually made it into the approach structure (way too high -- they really dropped me in rather suddenly; I was at 5000, and next thing it was "2 miles from AMEBY; cross AMEBY at or above 3200, cleared GPS 30." But I landed without incident, pulled the plane into its spot, and I was done!
I will update this entry with a photoset at some point, but it was an awesome flying experience. A lot of firsts, a lot of learning, not a lot of out-and-out slip-ups. I want to do this more, and I want a faster and more powerful plane!
UPDATE: Here's a photo set from the weekend -- mostly pix from the flight, but a few of my Halloween costume (that's supposed to be Michael Jackson) and of my Team In Training team with whom I ran the Santa Barbara Half Marathon. I have also linked the current flying blog from my pilot friend Russ (who I flew with last weekend) on the left.