Tom Haines

Tales of two rides

April 14, 2008 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

Early? With all of the delays and cancellations at American Airlines, just being on time would do, but the Southwest 737 bus dropped me off 25 minutes early at Albuquerque last evening. Two more stops for the bus before the West Coast. The flight attendant quipped upon landing, reminding us we were nearly a half hour early: “Next time we’re late, we’ll just call it even, OK?” At least they don’t take themselves too seriously at Southwest.

The smooth airline flight was a stark contrast to my return flight from Sun ‘n Fun on Saturday in my Bonanza. With copilots and senior editors Paul Richifield and Dave Hirschman on board we blitzed northward Saturday morning, enjoying a 15-knot tailwind most of the morning. After refueling at Florence, North Carolina, we could see by the XM Weather datalink on the Garmin 530 that our plan to fly near the coast to Richmond, fly up the Chesapeake, and hang a left across Baltimore to Frederick wouldn’t cut it. The strong storms had already reached Richmond–the top end of a cold front stretching all the way to Louisiana.

Instead, we found a thin weak area in the line near Greensboro and headed northwest. We punched through just barely in IMC and with only a little light rain. Popping out the back side of the front, we turned northeastward toward Lynchburg, Virginia, and watched groundspeeds climb over 200 knots–about a 30-knot push.

But soon the bumps–big bumps–kicked in. We climbed from 7,000 feet to 9,000 feet to 11,000 feet to just barely make it on top of the scattered clouds. Groundspeed jumped to 231 knots, but alas ATC asked to immediately start our descent, nudging us down 2,000 feet at a time through the roily air. At times I had the power so far back to keep the airplane below maneuvering speed that the gear horn was about to go off.

But soon, we were under the clouds and enjoyed a relatively smooth few miles back into Frederick in time to have part of the weekend to ponder the wonders of Sun ‘n Fun and the most fun part–getting there and back by GA.

Read AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg’s eJournal describing his flight back to headquarters.

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