Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What I didn't do today

Well, what I didn't do today was fly. At all.

I was going to attempt my long solo cross country today. From my home airport of Reid-Hillview to Lodi Airport to Colusa County Airport back to Reid-Hillview. Trip would have taken approximately 3 hours (including time landing, taxiing, etc. at Lodi and Colusa). We woke up to the normal low clouds and fog this morning, with Airmets predicting mountain obscuration until 0300Z (around 8PM tonight). And the clouds in the Silicon Valley were low and thick. Those clouds typically burn off so I went on down to the club at 7:30 this morning to get the formal briefing and prepare my flight plan.

I got the briefing and there were low clouds and fog almost everywhere on my route at the time, the clouds and fog in the central valley (Sacramento and north) were expected to burn off by 10 AM or so, but the low clouds were still predicted for the Silicon Valley and mountain obscuration ruled the hills. The weather briefer said those magic words "VFR flight not advised" where mountains were obscured. That makes sense, you don't want to fly under Visual Flight Rules where you can't see the mountains you don't want to hit. So I told Scott the earliest I'd take off would be 11. We agreed to meet at 11:30 and see if it was a go or not.

About that time the guy who runs the club, Mike, who I really like, realized my plane needed its 50 hour service and oil change. So he had his guy do the oil change to make sure I could take off today. That was very cool of him, and good for me. The plane was due some sort of oil additive as part of an airworthiness directive, you don't want to fly a plane that is due an airworthiness directive.

Knowing that would be taken care of I hung out around the club and Scott showed up around 9 for his first lesson. He said he was very doubtful about the flight from his experience with the depth of the clouds in the valley. I figured we'd see. I went and washed my car and came back. The clouds were clearing in the Silicon Valley but they were still close over the hills I'd have to fly over to get into the Sacramento Valley. Scott told me the forecasts are posted at 11 but they're available to the briefers a little after 10:30 so I could call around 10:45 and get the latest.

I called for another briefing around 10:50. The latest data still had that mountain obscuration but clearing after 2100Z (2PM) the weather in the valley was predicted to clear up by 2300Z and even what little weather was there was scattered clouds at elevations that should be easily avoided. Especially after 2100Z. Winds aloft looked OK. Not too strong, Colusa was perfectly clear. The briefer mentioned briefly unstable, moist air in the region but didn't discuss any storms or convective activity predicted.

I worked up the flight plan and did all of the calculations for my route, time, fuel, wind correction angles, etc for over 200 nm of flying. I wrote on the white board in the room the current and forecast conditions for each TAF on my route. San Jose, Oakland, Stockton & Sacramento. I wrote the current conditions for Livermore and Concord (two more stops on the route). After noon I updated the current conditions at all. They were all looking better, most showing at least scattered low clouds, but nothing that screamed don't go.

I looked at all of the data and tried to convince myself I should go. I was pretty sure I could go. Especially if I waited until 2100Z. The worst I would have to do would be dodge some small clouds over Livermore or Stockton (remember as a student pilot I'm not allowed to fly OVER a cloud) and even they seemed to be going away. I didn't like the idea of having to dodge clouds directly over or near my checkpoints, especially in the area I was most likely to get lost, which was the central valley between Stockton and Sacramento. I don't have a great record in the central valley. I felt conflicted. I tried to tell myself the clouds would go away or if they were there it wouldn't be a big deal, but I just couldn't convince myself. And something else was bothering me that I couldn't pin point. Finally I made up my mind not to go. (After spending 4 hours at the flight club and taking a day off).

Scott came back in from his flight at this point, he had one student waiting to go, one student to debrief and me. All waiting at once. I grabbed him really quick and told him it would only take two seconds. I told him all of the information I had said I could go, but I felt conflicted so I wouldn't. I was halfway hoping he would tell me that I should go anyway because everything looked fine. Instead he said very simply I should listen to that "little voice". He knew how much I *wanted* to go. But if I felt conflicted I just shouldn't. It was that simple. He said the times he's done that, based on a feeling (and for him when he does that for a corporate flight that's lost money) he's usually been right. Of course, he's been flying most of his life, so his instincts are well developed, I'm sure. I don't think my instincts are quite that sharp for aviation weather.

In any case, the cross country was off for today. I told Scott I'd go up and do some pattern work and slow flight instead since this would be my only chance to fly this week and the clouds had cleared from RHV's area. So, off I went to check out the plane and preflight. I started the preflight and checked the oil and fuel. The fuel wasn't up to the tabs but it was more than enough for a local flight. The oil was so new I couldn't tell where it was sitting on the dip stick. No obvious leaking, flaps extended normally, etc. I got half way through the preflight and I was still bothered. I didn't even feel comfortable doing a local flight today.

Finally I sighed, put the flaps back up, unplugged my headset and put away my kneeboard and decided to put the keys away. I wouldn't fly. I sent Scott a quick text, checked in the plane and ducked out of the club. I felt bad about not flying. Both the cross country and the local flight. I took a day off from work and no fly. So I got an oil change on my car instead, then I went home.

I still don't know if my reluctance foretold a real problem or not. Maybe a storm blew in over the valley. Maybe the winds would have been too strong for me to land (the winds at RVH got to the point they exceeded my solo limitations but who knows if they would have been like that when I came back). Maybe they oil change wasn't done right and the engine would fail on the next flight. Maybe I was just being over sensitive to my husband's remark about how I shouldn't die on his birthday unless its on company time because that would give him 2x the insurance money.

In the end I guess it doesn't matter. Everyone says it's important to listen to one's instincts, even when you know other people would go, and once I decided not to fly at all my uneasiness went away (to be replaced by a bummed out feeling). Next attempt is next Monday. We will see what happens.

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