|My passengers awaiting |
departure from RHV
A Weekend Trip to Oceano Dunes
My husband and a couple friends and I flew down to San Luis Obispo area last weekend to spend some time in Oceano on California's central coast. This was the first time I've been on a flying trip with friends in two planes and it was a lot of fun. I flew a 182P, N20791 with my husband, Jeff, and friend, Randy. I planned on flying the 182 so I could get more familiar with the plane. My other friend, Craig, flew a 180HP conversion 172N with his other half, Kim, and daughter Alexis. We stopped at Harris Ranch on the way down on Sunday for lunch. That was my first time landing a plane at Harris Ranch and being able to land the 182 on that narrow and short runway boosted my confidence managing the plane considerably. Then we headed out to San Luis Obispo after a pass over the Oceano Dunes so Randy could see them. I landed there well and we tied down for the night at San Luis Obispo (SBP) airport. Two good flights and landings at very different airports were very good for me. We landed at SBP instead of Oceano itself because we could pick up a rental van for our group and save money on cab fair. We went to a show called the "Great American Melodrama" which was very fun. Then we went back to the hotel, had a drink and chatted into the night.
|Oceano Dunes from the air|
|Our friends "waving goodbye" under the cloudy skies. |
Click on the photo and zoom in to see the "wave".
None of the options we had to get both planes home that day were really good. The one that was probably the best was the idea of me flying the 172 over to Paso Robles (PRB) IFR, Craig's family driving there and then they could hope to fly VFR out of Paso Robles back to Reid-Hillview (RHV). Then I could drive back to SBP and fly IFR out of SBP in the 182 with Jeff and Randy and head back home. The problem with that idea was the ceilings at PRB were barely MVFR. In the end Craig decided to wait at the FBO at SBP and hope for some clearing weather. Worse case he'd rent a car, drive his ladies home and then come back later to get the plane. I took the IFR option and headed home with Jeff and Randy.
Fluffy, Friendly Clouds
|SBP tower and low overcast|
The ceiling was reported at 2800 feet when we launched on our IFR flight. I got my scan going immediately and we entered the clouds at 3000 feet. I was braced for some good turbulence in the clouds but these were the friendly type of clouds in spite of their dark appearance, no turbulence at all. Our clearance changed immediately when I contacted Santa Barbara Approach, instead of flying the departure procedure they had me turn direct to PRB when we got to 4000 feet. At 4000 feet, still in the clouds I turned towards PRB. We finally broke out of the clouds around 5000 feet and leveled off at 7000' as cleared. I told the guys the change in clearance was totally normal. You rarely get what you file and even more rarely actually fly what you are cleared to fly. You just have to be ready for the changes when they come.
We were in clear air flying over a sold layer of clouds that seemed to cover the entire Salinas Valley from its southern end at Atascadero north as far as the eye can see. When we were transferred to Oakland Center we heard many planes flying IFR on approaches into Paso Robles airport (PRB). A US Air jet gave a pirep reporting the only hole in the clouds near PRB was 40 miles north or 30 miles east. We could see an edge to the clouds out to the east, it appeared to be on the other side of the Diablo range between the Salinas and central valley. That means one would be able to get under the clouds there, but wouldn't be able to make it into the Salinas valley. At this point we knew it was the right decision not to fly the 172 into Paso Robles, Craig and family would not have made it out of there VFR.
|Clouds over the Salinas Valley|
We were handed over to NorCal Approach and the radios were even busier as the controllers had to funnel jets into San Jose and flibs like me into RHV. About 10 minutes from HENCE (over Hollister) the controller asked if I was going to continue IFR, because if I was I should expect a 20-30 minute delay due to traffic into SJC. I could see no real breaks in the clouds ahead so I told him if they could get me under the clouds I'd be happy to cancel but unless they could I'd have to stay IFR all the way into RHV. He said he'd let the next controller know. About five minutes to HENCE I started slowing the plane down. I knew I'd be getting a descent soon and knew the plane doesn't go and slow down, so I had to get one done before the other. I was glad I had discussed just this situation with my CFI two days before. This plan worked out well because I was told to descend to 6000' about the time I had slowed down the plane to where I wanted it.
Flying in a Box
|Our route to RHV with the delay vectors|
When we got the delay vector I started a timer and slowed down even further setting MP to 19" which had us flying this hold at approx 105 knots ground speed. The other benefit of slowing down was we were using less fuel. The engine monitor reported 7.3 GPH fuel burn rate. I was intensely aware of the fuel situation and figured we could allow no more than 30 minutes delay before I would have to tell ATC we were at minimum fuel. When we took off the fuel gauges were showing one tank empty and the other more than half full (the plane was parked on a slope at the airport), at this point the other wing was showing empty and the "full" tank was showing 1/4 full. I had never flown a plane to this level of fuel and it was not a comfortable feeling.
As we cruised slowly in our delay vectors we considered alternates. I called up the ATIS information for airports in the Santa Clara valley, South County, Hollister and Reid-Hillview. We could see the edge of the clouds to our east and were thinking maybe we could get down below the clouds and through the pass over highway 152 into the valley VFR. All of the ATIS reports were just barely good enough. Which meant if we were lucky we could get through, if we weren't we'd be stuck. Not a good plan. I decided we would stay in the box and if we we got to 30 minutes of delay I would notify ATC we were at minimum fuel. I re-briefed myself on the approach we would use into RHV and made sure I was prepared.
Not So Friendly, Fluffy Clouds
We were cruising southeasterly towards the edge of the clouds in our box. I was watching the clouds pour over the ridge line silently. It was a mesmerizing sight. ATC directed me to turn to 330. I went to turn the heading bug to 330 and all of the sudden the plane shakes like we were a bug in a tin can. "What the hell is THAT!" I said as I quickly disengaged the autopilot and manually managed the turn to 330 and altitude. Jeff suggested we must be hitting the turbulence of the winds spilling over the hills. As quickly as it started the turbulence stopped. I turned the autopilot back on.
|Cleared to descend, we headed|
directly towards some less
friendly looking clouds.
I then ran into a new challenge. If I was flying a plane with a 430W GPS I would have activated the GPS Z 31R approach at ECYON. But I couldn't find ECYON as a waypoint on the GPS Z 31R approach in the GPS in this plane. I don't know if this was operator error or GPS error or what but it wasn't there. So I manually input direct to ECYON and let the autopilot manage the track to ECYON as I managed the descent and monitored the what the autopilot was doing as we descended into the clouds. I would activate the approach when I got cleared for it.
This time the clouds were much less friendly. We were getting bounced around pretty good but my passengers were perfectly silent. We got down to 3700 feet and leveled off still in the clouds. So much for getting down and canceling IFR. I was grateful for the autopilot for reducing my workload as I was fighting my body's mixed signals with the turbulence and less familiar instrumentation and plane I was in. I've lost count of the number of approaches I've flown in 172s. This was my first approach (simulated or otherwise) in a 182. I checked manifold pressure, prop and mixture and we were OK. Jeff or Randy said it was really wet outside. I spared a glance at the windscreen and saw water streaming by. A quick double check of the MP showed it still in the green. I decided I would turn on carb heat the moment we got out of the green, to prevent carb icing.
|Water streaming off struts and|
trailing edge of the wings.
At 2000 feet we broke out of the clouds. The air was crystal clear and the windscreen nicely cleaned from the rinsing we got. I was still high so pulled more power and put in more flaps and finally even more flaps. I was cleared to land and another plane was cleared to take off from the same runway. It seemed like the plane was moving in slow motion as it took the runway to take off. We were less than a mile out and the last thing I wanted to do was to have to go around. So I slowed the plane even more to allow the other plane to take off. Then the tower told me there was a dog running lose on the Bravo taxiway. Are you kidding me?!? I really hoped the dog would have the good sense to run the other way, cause I was going to land this sucker! The other plane took off just in time and for once I didn't float the 182 down the runway. I landed the plane nicely and got a round of applause from the back seat of the plane as I exited on Delta. I did the after landing checklist and contacted ground to taxi back to Squadron2.
|Passenger view of an IFR flight|
PS. You may be wondering, how much fuel did we have when we landed? I checked both tanks and one tank was empty (falling into the never-done-that-before category), the other was showing 15 gallons on the dip stick. When we had the plane refueled we found we actually had 13 gallons left total. Right at 1 hour of fuel at a 13GPH fuel burn. Completely legal but if we had flown much longer we would have been flying on reserves and correct in declaring minimum fuel if we had to.
PPS. Craig ended up renting a car and driving home that night. He had some adventures getting the car and his ladies were offered some rides down to LA on some "very nice planes" according to the 3 year old. Wednesday he drove back down to SBP and flew the 172 back with beautiful view of snow dusted hills and mountains from the Monday night/Tuesday morning storm.