On two recent trips up from the south there were some ripping good Northwest winds bellowing across the ridges near the home airport. The eastern hills give westerners a good laugh but they can create a momentous ride.
Because of the airlines and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), IFR clearances always take us well west over—and to the lee of—the mountain ridges. Vertically, plan a descent about 60 miles out to get below arrivals and departures coming off IAD. On a calm day that’s fine, but on windy or icy days it’s not especially comfortable. On icy days, it can be a bad deal indeed.
The fork in the road comes well south around Richmond. Tom Haines and I were both flying separately back from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual convention in Florida. Tom went west while I chose east. We compared notes afterward and methinks I got the better deal. It added about 15 minutes flying time to my trip, but 75 miles or so farther east of the ridges yielded a higher altitude from ATC and a much better ride.
Two weeks later, much the same wind scenario. I’d filed “sort of east” out of Richmond but the ATC clearance dictated west. Upon joining departure control, I asked if east might be available. Maybe. A few minutes later I got an up-the-middle routing between Dulles and the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone. Upon thanking the controller he said that the next sector was the one that had done the work.
Ground speed was not good this day (45-knot headwind component) and as I got close to IAD, the controller apologized. He’d have to take me west but would keep me high. That worked but why the change?
It was the mid-afternoon “push” for the airlines. Ever wonder about the HUB in hub and spoke? All the inbound flights pretty much get to the same place at the same time making for a jam. At busy terminals push happens about six or seven times a day, lasting for about an hour: 0700, 0900, 1130, 1330, 1530, 1900, and maybe 2100. As explained to me, don’t try flying up the middle at those times, or as they say in Jersey, “Fuggettaboutit.”
Really good flight planning involves both traffic and weather. Traffic is predictable, weather is not as much. Knowing airspace or anticipating airline push times cuts down on delays and reroutes.
Now if I could just get the soft ride function on my autopilot to work…