Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sometimes ya needs the speeds ya needs...

What a difference a mission can make. What a difference a few days can make.

What a difference GA makes.

The Mission: attend the 61st convention of the National Business Aviation Association, in Orlando, roughly 1,100 nautical away from The Air Capital. Down on Sunday, the day before Opening Day; back on Wednesday, Closing Day. And in between, squeeze in as many conversations, work as many stories, catch up as much as possible on the wild, wonderful world of business flying.

Suitable to our mission was our mode of transportation: My Friend's Piper Malibu -- converted from a Continental six to a Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop and now called "JetProp." The benefits of My Friend's wings are both wholly utilitarian and suitably comfortable. After all, who can't sit for four hours when winds, true airspeed and fuel combine to give you a non-stop leg to our destination airport, Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM).

The Day: One with the potential for challenges. But thanks to an adjusted departure time and the savvy of both on-board aviators, we not only beat weather closing in from the West on departure from Jabara Airport (AAO), we beat developing weather on arrival. Three-hours, fifty-seven minutes, multiple cloud layers, premature descent instructions, frequent vectors, and VFR conditions for the final five miles -- yeah, 5 -- couldn't erase the gains accomplished through 260-knot true airspeeds and the 20-plus knots of push we experienced up at FL260.

The lovely folks at Kissimmee Jet Center even brought our matching-model Rental Wheels directly to the aircraft so we could offload before even seeing the Rental Wheels forms. Nice...and couldn't complain about the severely low daily rental rate or the (these days) shockingly low fuel prices: $4.65 for the Jet A JetProp needs, and $4.85 for that 100LL elixer needed for the suck-squeeze-bang-blow set. As someone later noted, it's amazing at how adaptable we all are when news of under-$5-per-gallon go-juice makes us go wide-eyed in Amazement!

Returning four days later, fuel prices remained the same, checking in the Rental Wheels could not have been easier, and with no add-on ramp or handling fees (like other FBOs on the field that we won't name to avoid embrassing them...), an IFR flight plan on file for Little Rock's Adams Field (LIT), and we were on our way -- with quite the different day ahead.

This was a textbook day for marketing Datalink Weather services and Sferics devices. Lacking either one of these and lacking on-board radar would make now an unwise time to play tag with the clouds.

Thanks to our Doppler Weather Radar image, updated every few minutes on the Multifunction Display, My Friend and I watched and listened as traffic ahead sought and received permission to vector as needed to avoid the line of storms, Level 1 to Level 4, churning from the Florida Panhandle up into East Alabama, West Georgia, and stretching from the Gulf up into Tennessee...

Courtesy of the Stormscope, we noted the areas of most-probable turbulence. With these two informative images to guide us, My Friend and Jacksonville Center coordinated a lengthy excursion of our GPS-direct course between the Seminole VOR near Tallahassee (TLH) and LIT...and what an excursion we needed, at times putting us right of course up to 30 degrees and left of course as much as 70 degrees.

This was no time to fret over time lost and headwinds gain through these heading changes.

This was a time to use every tool and every learned judgment in a play to avoid the discomfort of an errant error in decision making. This was a "Don't-Come-Here" system punctuated by spots both merely soft and totally absent of threat -- at least, up at FL260.

While we twisted and turned, Vectored and return and recross our route over the course of 40 minutes, my mind often turned to those at half our altitude and lower, down at those flight levels more familiar to the majority of us.

Part of me marvelled at how painlessly we transited the system and theorized at, from the images available, a comparably equipped piston bird could make the same crossing, albeit at the expense of a longer period of time and turbulence.

And part of me wondered, so equipped, whether I'd exercise the option that day and make my play, or whether I'd opt to sit out things at George T. Lewis Field on Cedar Key (CDK), enjoying a mid-day beverage and congratulating myself on my patience and judgement.

In the end, it came to me, the decision would have been a "Go" because past experience increased my comfort level -- and the forecast for the next day was even worse.

Somedays, it does pay to pay the piper and put the Piper through its paces.

And that applies, high and low -- at FL260 or at 8,000 msl -- when the equipment gives your the pictures you need to negoitiate wisely.

On this day, size and speed mattered less than informed judgement. Lacking the "informed" aspect, however, absent the technological edge, well, that would have been rolling loaded dice, with Mother Nature serving as the House in this game of chance.



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