Night and Almost Actual
Weather has been weird lately– mild 50 degree days, followed by cold sub-zero temperatures due to the Polar Vortex which dipped as far south as Atlanta, bringing snow, frigid temperatures, delays, disruptions and chaos.
Last year, all the major flying trips I had planned were delayed, postponed or even cancelled altogether. This year though, things looked promising. As the big day arrived, the forecast surprisingly called for a mild 40 degrees temperature, filled with sunshine. Yet, we were not out of the woods. In a reversal of events, the Sunshine State, which we normally expect to be warm, sunny and full of reliable weather conditions instead, was calling for rain, mist, overcast skies and IMC weather for most of the day.
We departed an hour later than planned (but nothing new here :-)) and raced (or rather crawled at snails pace against strong headwinds) towards the Sunshine State, in communication with at least 3 other aircraft in our group, all headed to KFPR. There was much discussion about best flight levels to fly to counter the heavy head winds. Flying the slower C172, Linda and I had fewer alternatives and had opted for the lowest altitude we could safely fly: 2,500ft! We had selected Low Country (RBW) airport for a pit stop for lunch and fuel. Other than a short deviation to avoid some really tall obstructions south of Raleigh-Durham, we made it to RBW without incident after four long hours of flying.
The real fun began, on the second leg of our journey from RBW to FPR. After lunch at the nearby Duke’s BBQ, all of us headed back to the airport in the loaner cars and packed up and departed. Linda and I departed last, much later than I planned. There was no way we would make it to FPR before sunset. As we crossed into Florida, thick clouds laced the coastline. Four aircraft had departed on an IFR flight plan and one under VFR. Hampered by headwinds, clouds, occasional rain and the impending sunset we all crawled south. The faster aircraft, provided periodic updates on flight levels and weather conditions ahead so the slower ones could plan accordingly.
I was glad that Linda and I were both night and instrument current. But….I hadn’t flown in actual IMC conditions since almost a year ago. Although I had done some night solo flying recently, my last actual IMC night flight was conducted several years ago…. and I have never flown in night IMC conditions without an instructor!
But… we were determined to get to FPR, with the backup plan to head inland, where VMC conditions prevailed if necessary. I opted to fly the ILS, either way since, finding an unfamiliar airport under night conditions is a lot harder. Almost an hour earlier, four of the aircraft had landed under IMC at FPR. Another VFR pilot flying a C172 had opted to land at Ferdinanda Beach (FBH).
The sun had set, and night had descended. Weather radar showed a storm system hovering over Melbourne airport, as we were vectored around it and cleared to intercept the localizer. As we intercepted the localizer and turned east, we saw the welcoming flashing lights of the ILS and the twin runway end lights at our 12 o’clock. Clouds hovering in the vicinity of the airport had moved on and FPR was VFR! It felt great to land there after having flown through IMC weather (part of it under official night time) and my first official night landing on a cross-country not related to any rating I was seeking 🙂
7 aircraft with 17 people had made it safely to FPR. 1 aircraft had not left the mid-Atlantic, and 4 aircraft had been stranded at different locations, 3 due to weather and one due to radio failure.
And so began the Bahamas II saga…
Related: Best laid plans by Jill Tallman