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IFR flight Morristown NJ to Latrobe PA

Flight log 4/9/2011

Eric from the flying club asked if I could fly with him to Johnstown PA so he could see his family. Always up for some flying time and an opportunity to fly with another pilot, I agreed. The plan was to depart after work on Friday and return solo that same night. Initial flight planning had the flight time around 2 hours each way, so it would be a long day for me.

As the date approached it was looking more and more like weather might be an issue. Sure enough, as we got closer to Friday it wasn’t looking good so we made the call Thursday morning to move the flight reservation to Saturday afternoon. During the day on Saturday I noticed that the forecast wasn’t playing out as planned. It was a great day in NJ but not so in Western PA. The weather was holding on strong at our original destination of Johnstown; the only good thing was that the winds had died down quite a bit from the 20+ knot gusts from the previous day but it was low. The forecast called for 1500 foot ceilings but that wasn’t happening from what I could tell. They were still reporting 200’ to 400’ overcast by mid morning. I picked my alternant as Latrobe PA KLBE, It was only about 25 miles west of Johnstown but it was about 1000 feet lower so the weather was much better.

I called flight service for an outlook briefing and they confirmed my analysis. We could get into Johnstown but it would be tight. Just then, my phone rang, it was Eric; he had been looking at the weather as well and suggested we land at Latrobe of all places. He would have his family meet him there instead.

The forecast was better at Latrobe and even with the worse case would be an ILS to 1000 feet or so vs the VOR to 400 feet at Johnstown.

Good deal!

Saturday was opening day of t-ball so I had to take care of that before any flying could be done. At about 3:30 I met Eric at the airport. He had taken care of the preflight and fuel before my arrival so we could get going as soon as possible. After receiving our clearance and completing our run-up we were soon cleared for departure

As I lined up on the runway I did my pre-departure heading check. You don’t want to launch into the IFR system with your DG or HSI out of adjustment so I always confirm that the DG/HSI is aligned with the runway heading before departing. Sure enough, the HSI was spinning like a top! We had a few comments in the club from other pilots about the HSI leading up to this flight so I was paying special attention to it. At the time of this writing we have the directional gyro scheduled for replacement this week. At first my thought was to pull the plug on the flight. Then I decided to put the HSI in “free” mode and manually adjust it to the correct heading. If it acted up after departure I could always cancel IFR and return to Morristown in visual conditions. Additionally we have a backup vacuum powered DG so I at least had a backup if the HSI totally failed.

We flew in visual conditions until reaching the Lancaster area. From that point we were above the clouds at 6000 feet until about 30 miles later. I briefly thought about staying in the clouds but decided to request a climb to 8000 feet where the ride was better but the headwind was a few knots stronger. Ice wasn’t a concern on this flight due to a temperature inversion aloft and a relatively dry layer of clouds below us but why push it.

Well before reaching our destination center asked what approach we wanted. I don’t remember if he gave us the winds (he probably did) but they were light. We asked for the ILS 23 and were given vectors soon after reaching Johnstown VOR. It wasn’t until I listened to the ATIS 20 or so miles out that I realized that they were using the RNAV 5 approach. Center didn’t seem to have an issue with it so neither did we. When were handed off to tower he instructed us to report POSER and circle to land runway 5. I mistakenly briefed the ILS DA of 1345 verses the circling minimums of 2380 but Eric quickly corrected me. Not a big deal since we would be in visual conditions by then anyway.

It had been a while since I flew an approach in actual conditions so it got my hart rate up a bit, but like any challenge when you get it done, it feels GREAT!

After landing Eric said his goodbyes and I called for an updated weather briefing. I could kick myself for not requesting an abbreviated briefing as the briefer went through the lengthy standard briefing process.

Do you need the NOTAMS at Morristown? – NO

You know about the Hudson River flight rules? – YES.

Are you familiar with the Washington SFRA? – Yes.

Let’s look at the terminal area forecast for Newark – I don’t need it (have it on my iPad) what’s an iPad? Okay I made that last part up. It’s painful sometimes but I like to double check with the folks who “know” before departing.

The return trip:

The departure was uneventful except that I forgot to turn my ANR headset on again. It’s always fun trying to fish the remote from between the seat and the door during a departure. Gata stop doing that.

I was cleared to 7000 feet and was soon over the top of the clouds with the sun setting to the west. This was a beautiful sight and I am glad I got it on video. I felt truly fortunate to be able to see it from my lofty perch.

Within minutes the view in front of me slowly faded into total darkness. As I cruised along I tuned in the ATIS frequencies of the airports around me. I was planning alternatives if something went wrong. I have to be honest. It was pretty scary flying over the mountains in a single engine airplane when the airports below me were reporting 400 foot ceilings and in one case I was beyond gliding distance to any airport with an instrument approach. I did make good use of Jeppesen Mobile TC. I would pull up the instrument approach plates for each airport and have it ready just in case. This little exercise kept my mind busy and helped calm my nerves a bit but I wasn’t comfortable until I started getting better weather reports from the airports below me.

As I approached the Allentown area ATC had me start my descent to 5000 feet. At my cruising altitude of 9000 feet the outside air temperature was 6c but as I descended the OAT dropped to 2c. This didn’t bother me that much since I knew the air over the ground was above freezing but it did get my attention.

HSI acting up again! Or is it me? Don’t end up like JFK Jr!

As I descended I started to notice that the HSI was indicating a turn to the left. The AI showed level. TC Level backup DG level heck even the GPS track was straight but it was hard to ignore. That’s why I keep the instrument covers with me. I decided to re-engage the compass and put it back into “free” mode. That fixed it.

For the rest of the flight back to Morristown I was in and out of the clouds until about 20 miles out. I made the visual approach and ended the flight with a nice landing!

All in all, a great flight with some things that I will remember for a long time.

One more thing, I highly recommend taking a camera along on your flights and connecting it to the airplane intercom even if you don’t plan on sharing it on the web. At the end of this flight I could probably list 2 or 3 things that I could have done better, but after reviewing the entire footage I found more like 10. Mostly ATC wording issues like not repeating the phrase “cleared for the ILS 23” or “Direct Sparta” vs. “wow that’s direct! Ile take that!” Yup I really said that. What the heck was I thinking.. Never again I try to hold myself to a higher standard than that.

Check out the videos and please leave your comments!
The flight to Latrobe

The return trip

Until next time; happy safe flying everyone!

Thanks for taking the time to read about our latest adventure. Please feel free to add your comments below.

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Amanda Michelle (Younkin) Franklin 3/14/1986 – 5/27/2011 Click for information on Amanda