Gear Up: Wicked Winter Winds
Sure enough, when I switched to the Boston Center sector that handles KLEB, I was told to expect a hold. I asked for an expected clearance time and got the news: 20 minutes hence. Still descending, I ramped the power back; there is no sense in racing to a hold. The Concord ATIS was holding up. I calculated two laps around the racetrack were possible at 500 pounds per hour burn rate before I would have to break off and head to Concord. “Hold south of the JAMMA intersection,” was the next instruction.
Now slowed to 140 knots, I turned back toward Tampa, undoing all that good tailwind component. As those fates would have it, the favorable tailwinds deposited us on the approach at the exact moment another airplane was arriving from the north. I looked him up later. He was a Cessna 310 who had departed from an airport 90 nautical miles away. He probably had plenty of gas, but first come, first serve. I sat up a little straighter and rechecked Concord.
Before the airplane could make its first circuit, we were cleared for the GPS 36 approach. The tower granted our request to land on 36, despite the broadcast information stating to expect Runway 25. We landed with 800 pounds of gas, more than enough for 1 ½ hours of flying, though I was happily done for the day. Let’s decorate a tree.
Those fates cooked up some humdingers for the next leg. A hoped-for flight on a friend’s birthday to Kerrville with a stop halfway went up in a blizzard. Nobody was going anywhere in the Northeast that day, and the testimony of harried airline travelers on TV saved me from being seen as a wimp. The prognostic chart showed a tightly coiled spring of a low with a long, weather-laden comma of a cold front hanging off it. We settled in to watch the snow.
The next day had acceptable weather in Lebanon, but that was about it. The winds averaged 81 knots, 65 of which were going to hold us back. It is possible we might have seen trucks passing us on the interstate, but the ubiquitous cloud cover would have precluded that. I investigated a stop at Louisville, Kentucky, four hours away at these winds. Next would be a two-and-a-half-hour trip to Little Rock, Arkansas. Then three more hours to Kerrville. I discussed the proposed time en route with my wife and dog, Corbett. I left out the fact that KLIT was calling for 400 over, freezing fog, visibility one half-mile. Even without this helpful information, the dog voted that we head back to Tampa. He said he’d happily check into a pet motel while we flew on to San Antonio on a big, powerful commercial airliner.
We bought two tickets from Tampa to San Antonio for $512 apiece, rationalizing that this was still way cheaper than the fuel costs with those headwinds. I love this line of thinking: A full-price commercial ticket makes sense when compared to flying our airplane. What a sorry state of affairs in many ways. We called the birthday boy and announced we’d be arriving a day late, but that we’d be arriving.
With that we flew from KLEB to Wilmington, North Carolina, into the teeth of the winds. At one point I noticed a ground speed of 168 knots at Flight Level 220, a 75-knot headwind component. Refueled, we made it home by dark and mixed a few adult beverages. The birthday celebrant had sent us buddy passes and found us space on his airline, so the next morning we flew to San Antonio for free. This saved more than $1,000, which I intended to lavish on the guest of honor, but never did find a way to do so.
Even the 737 had some headwind issues, though we did arrive on time. Low ceiling at Kerrville on the day of departure and an RVR of 1,000 feet in San Antonio convinced me, not to say Cathy, that we’d made the right choice by not pushing the Cheyenne into this trip.
This failure to accomplish the original mission left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I always feel diminished when all that experience and all that expense cannot make for a safe, enjoyable flight that arrives on time with the coffee hot. Yet, after 45 years of flying, I know when it just doesn’t make any sense. Had I been alone, I might have tried it. Then again, probably not.