It was advertised to be and looked like a great day; I’d filed IFR, but the Smoky Mountains were emerging from the early summer morning mist and fog as 72B (my 180) and I flew over the hills to Knoxville’s Downtown Island Airport. We did the orals, briefed the flight and then spent four glorious, sweaty hours roaring around eastern Tennessee in N982Z. On the final approach into DKX I, naturally, wowed everybody with a spectacular approach and landing on Runway 27 (translation: I planted it on the approach end and got it stopped before we rolled off into the Tennessee River). But just before turning us over to local traffic, Knoxville Approach had said something about a “convective sigmet for Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia — contact HIWAS, Flight Watch or Flight Service.”
When we shut down and I could leap out, I ran into the FBO for a peek at the radar and, sure enough, there was a nasty looking line of stuff to the west and paralleling my route home. This green-and-yellow thing snaked north from the Gulf of Mexico to, I think, Baffin Bay, and there were great big blotches of orange and red. Not good, but I was pretty sure I could do an end run on it. We expedited the paperwork and I mounted up and pointed 72B north, VFR so I could stay low and circumnavigate the showers that were forming along the route. All was well until I got north of Lexington and that encroaching-but-still-parallel line started curving to the northeast right over Cincinnati; CVG’s ATIS was reporting rainshowers with gusty winds and limited visibility. I picked up an IFR clearance from Cincinnati Approach, and the controller let me stay low at 3,000 feet. He was planning to vector me around to the northeast for the ILS 21L approach at Lunken Airport (LUK) but, seeing the rapidly advancing wall of gray-green off my left wing already obliterating the city, I requested and got a visual to 3R. Wind direction — unless it’s a hellacious crosswind — isn’t too important in the 180 with 6,100 feet of concrete.
Well, after 20 years and several engines, I figure I know 72B pretty well, but trying to land was like riding El Toro the turbobull at Bobbie Mackey’s country music saloon. It simply wouldn’t sit, and I was afraid of what might happen if I did get it on the concrete. The controller thought I was down and cleared me for a 180 back to the hangar, but I was already pouring the cobs to it and going around; I told her this wasn’t going to work. Then she said the wind had shifted just as I was trying to land and it was pretty steady out of 280 degrees at 15 gusting to something. Would I like to try Runway 25? Yeah, I’d give it one try and then turn tail and head off to the east to Clermont County Airport. I know ... first gusts, downdrafts and microbursts, and maybe I shouldn’t have tried. But it worked and I got it to the hangar as the skies opened up and that gray-green wall of rain enveloped the airport.
I’m not advocating anybody flirt around the edges of thunderstorms, and I’m not bragging about my skills or decision-making — there was an ugly element of “get-home-itis” in what I did. But I figured I had an “out.” And, OK, I have one of those “if you’re not living on the edge you’re probably taking up too much room” personalities. Not particularly desirable if you subscribe to the “no old, bold pilots” adage, but it sure beats pureed peas running down your chin in the old ladies’ home.