Radios, Go Arounds, Weight & Balance

It’s funny how the mind plays tricks. Two days prior to our monthly dc99s flyout to Bay Bridge (W29) Airport, I found out that the aircraft I had reserved had one NAV/COMM inoperable. Since I intended to fly in VMC anyway and my destination was a mere 100 nm miles away, I said not a problem. This close to the flyout date I would be hard pressed to find a replacement aircraft considering the gorgeous weather forecast for the weekend. Moreover, I had been preparing the aircraft to be only partially loaded to enable extra passenger weight.

Arriving at the airport, on a beautiful, clear,  fall day, I found the aircraft in perfect readiness for the flight: fuel loaded to the tabs. A big sigh of relief – at least I did not need to go fly in the pattern to burn off extra fuel. I had carefully chalked out the weight and balance and estimated what was the maximum fuel I could safely carry. Pre-flight done, my friends and I departed later than planned but excited and maybe some of u a little nervous. Two X’s marked the inoperable NAV/COMM 2 but were not foremost in my mind. The air was calm, with clear blue skies but hazy.

Once established on the course we headed towards W29 circumnavigating the ADIZ and staying out of the Baltimore Washington Class Bravo airspace.  The performance of the aircraft felt a lot different than normal. The first cause for anxiety arrived when my mind registered the two red X’s across the NAV/COMM panel. This was the first time I was flying with inoperable equipment in the G1000. In my haste, I assumed I had lost the second radio as well since I did not remember seeing the X’s when we departed JYO. Once we had departed JYO we had picked up flight flowing. But for sometime now there had been silence on the radio. The last controller had passed us on to the next and we had not been able to make contact.

My mind raced with thoughts: what are the procedures for lost communication? What light signals are used? Martin State airport was the nearest. Should I head there and land? How do you warn them you were without radios? These and other thoughts raced through my mind. As a first step we decided to re-establish communication with Potomac Approach. Fortunately with the first try we made contact with Potomac Approach this time and simultaneously at the same time we started to hear other pilots on the radio. Relieved, I continued to monitor the instruments. Now that things appeared normal, before long realization set in that the X’s were really on NAV/COMM 2 and not on NAV/COMM 1. If they had been there from the start, I had been oblivious to it. What with constant traffic alerts and congested airspace, I definitely did not want to deal with radio failure!

I knew the runway was short and narrow. Still I came in high, and fast and had no choice but to execute a go around. Full throttle, flaps up we climbed to pattern altitude, turned downwind and came back again for another try – still high and still fast. Same outcome. What an embarrassing situation to be in when carrying passengers one flying for the first time in a small airplane!

Third time’s the charm as they say. With an extended downwind, I concentrated on slowing down and following the pattern procedures and setting up the speeds for downwind, base and final leg. Not my best landing but we made it safely to the ground, parked and met the rest of the dc99s awaiting for our arrival.

After some discussion we decided on the Mexican restaurant R’s Americantina  and Sandra Hawkins played chauffeur, making two trips shuttling the group to the restaurant. There are many choices within easy walking distance from the airport for that $100 hamburger: Kent Island Depot, Ledo Pizza, Americantina, Rustico restaurant and wine bar to name a few.  After a delightful meal with plenty choices in food selection and everyone satisfying their gastronomical senses, it was time to return to the airport and make the journey home. My friends and I decided to walk back to stretch our legs and burn off some of the calories we had consumed at lunch.

The return journey was almost uneventful until the final leg. After repeated attempts to contact the Potomac Approach for that sector, and barely able to communicate with the last controller again left me in a quandary: Should I just squawk the discrete entry frequency to JYO maneuvering area and just head on over to the airport since I had already filed my ADIZ entry flight plan or should I hold here and try to get the clearance from the last controller whom I could barely hear and most of his words were garbled? Fortunately,  the controller decided to use an airline pilot to pass on the clearance to me and a Delta Airlines pilot relayed the clearance. Relieved we pointed the noise direct to JYO and headed home.

There was plenty of excitement along the way even though it was a short hop from JYO to W29. Many lessons learned and memories made. As they say, a good pilot is always learning and I have come to realize  that with each flight I learn something new.

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