Friday, May 18, 2007

Requesting 30 left for weather.....

Last week after our stint in Milwaukee we headed back towards home. The day before it reached +31 and the next morning it was +15 and in between there was some pretty heavy rain and a passing thunderstorm. As I was checking the weather for departure and trying to picture in my mind where the line of thunderstorms was going to be by the time we get to the destination I was reading about tornado warnings in Indiana and massive cells building around London, Ontario. All the airport forecasts had been amended to show a forecasted thunderstorm opposed to the previous 30 percent chance of one rolling through.

Our flight initially took us up to 27,000 feet but couldn't take us out of the cloud base. We entered into cloud at 3000 feet and it was still higher then us so that is a lot of moisture in the atmosphere. About an hour into the flight we broke into the clear and there was a break in the clouds for about 80 miles but out front another looming wall of vertical rain lies waiting for us. Since we were fairly close to Indiana at one point while deviating around some towering cumulus we painted a cell on radar from 120 miles away. Now for those of you that aren't familiar with weather radar the returns that we were getting were making this thing look massive. The farther the signal goes and reflects back it loses more energy so therefore painting something that far away usually does not happen (for our wx radar at least) unless it is hugggge. So thank God we weren't over there :)

So after our short stint in the somewhat cloudless sky we had painted a line of cells ahead and having a visual on them as well we decided to pick our route through. What we could see out the window corresponded to the radar so it looked like the best route to go to minimize bumps and avoid the cells. Of course life would have been easier at 27,000 but ATC punted us out of the nice smooth air and sent us down to 17,000 or about the middle of these cells where it is youthful and full of energy. As we entered the mass of cloud it remained relatively smooth but the icing started and with the noise of the rain hitting us and freezing kinda made the passengers quieten their lively conversation. We were quite close to the freezing level so it was half rain and half sleet hitting the leading edges of the wings.

We were further cleared to 12,000 and now the bumps really started to begin. We skirted the outside of a cell on our right and once past it and still in cloud we hit a few developing towering cumulus which sent us instantly in one direction followed by the opposite direction with the same urgency which got a few slight soprano performances from the back :) As usual it is always the darkest just before the dawn and we bounced out of the last clouds into a wide open hole in the sky. The hole was about 15 miles wide and led straight to the airport which we could see in the distance was getting dumped on by the next line of thunderstorms. The position and width of this hole was perfect for us and was like a giant pathway in the sky just for us. There were storms everywhere but right were we were.

In regards to winds and weather at the destination it was an automatic reporting station so the weather it issues changes every minute when a storm is present because of changes in gusts, wind direction, visibilty etc... Toronto Center initially was advising us that the storm was to the east and south of the airport and recommended we take the localizer backcourse for runway 07 and circle for 25. That way we could avoid the weather, break clear of the clouds and just do a circuit to land into the current 25 knot wind. But now being visual and anticipating the airport visual shortly we wanted to find out what the winds were actually doing and not what the AWOS was reporting as changing every second.

I called tower to ask him what he could see out the window and asked him the trend in the wind direction. Looks like runway 32 is looking good as the front had just passed and the wind had veered to the north west. He then replied there wasn't anyone else in the area so we could land on whatever runway we want. It's not everyday that tower will be so generous :) As we got closer we got the field in sight and landed on a water logged runway. It was nice to be back on the ground but the adrenaline flow was a great feeling also :::)

The whole experience with ATC during the last 100 miles was amazing. They were are so accommodating and it almost feels like you are a 3 crew machine instead of two because he is giving you what he sees on radar and passes along changing weather to help in our planning. Just wanna say thanks Toronto and YKF tower for the great job and as always, we appreciate your help.

The belly of the beast :) After leaving Kitchener we had to go up one last time and deal with Mother Nature and her apparent instability, if it were Father Nature there would never be thunderstorms or any weather because he would be too lazy to get his ass off the couch to do anything ;)

As we departed, the SID (Standard Instrument Departure-basically a standard procedure to fly on departure such as fly runway heading and maintain 4000 feet, it is called the Waterloo 2 in Kitchener and it saves ATC from reading back a list of specific instructions that are already printed on a piece of paper for us) gets us to fly runway heading to 4000 feet and also a noise abatement procedure of no turns before 4.0 DME (Distance Measuring Equipment-basically a ground based station we can tune into which in this case was at the Kitchener Airport and it gives us a constant distance out from that station). So as we get airborne I turn on the weather radar to see what lies ahead. I really don't need the weather radar at this point as I am looking at a black hole of cloud and rain about 10 miles ahead and call already feel the bumps from the gusting winds as the cell approaches.

I tell the co pilot to ask center for a turn to about 050 for weather when we first call him up after departure (you talk to tower till you usually get airborne, then you become center's problem :). The weather radar is painting a lot at the moment because we are pretty low and I haven't had a chance to pith the antenna up to look higher up in the clouds and not paint the ground also. But the turn to 050 will take us into a patch of blue sky between these two lines of weather and hopefully assure us a smooth climb out.

As soon as we switch to center he gives us 050 when able vectors for the climb, and we finally turn away from the massive dark cloud looming just ahead. Now we are headed into the sunshine but then we still have to get around the massive cell which is pounding Toronto. As we switched over to Toronto departure an Air Canada flight was checking in and told departure that they were flying 280 for weather and to tell the tower. I thought about that for a minute and I guess if you are going to be flying into an area of heavy precipitation and are not able to ask for a turn you better save your ass first and answer the questions later. Again that relates to the judged by 12 then carried by 6 quote :) I have luckily have not had to make one of those calls but it is one of those feelings that if you don't do anything you will be answering to a lot more people then just ATC.

So we check in with departure and are told to advise when able to turn direct to Cambelford VOR (basically about 25 miles north of Trenton, Ontario). On radar it is not really painting anything more than green but after listening to what they are dealing with underneath all that green I was a little leary to go driving through it. As you can see from any one of these pictures, no matter if the weather radar painted nothing I still wouldn't want to fly through this wall of wrath. So departure asks us a few more times if we are able and finally we can see the edge and say we can do the turn in 30 miles or so. By now we have almost flown out of his sector and we get handed off to Toronto Center by YSO (Simcoe VOR, it is just south of Lake Simcoe and is an arrival entry point into Toronto).

This Toronto Center Controller is the same guy who two days before invited us to come in for breakfast at the NavCanada building in Toronto where the ATC facility is. Apparently they have reasonably priced food (must be subsidized by our NavCan fees ;) and it is pretty good eats as well. He then offered us after we eat to go for a tour of the place also to check it out. This was all over the radio on a slllow traffic day early in the morning on a Sunday :) You get to know people's voices and also you get to know how they work a little. This guy is the guy who is always looking downstream for you and seems to exert a bit more energy to help us as well as the next controller if there are delays or weather.

So instead of asking us if we are able direct to Massena VOR with the weather he states that if we see what he sees we will want to travel another 30 miles north and then go direct but if I see anything different than that's fine and to let him know. Again he is giving us much needed info because we are paralleling the storm and can't paint our intended track because we are heading pretty much 90 degrees to it (weather radar basically paints 180 degrees or 90 per side, maybe less cause I would be at 90 degrees and it is on the wing tip so that would be bad for me:). We could turn towards the cell and get a better picture but just looking out the window is good enough for me to reaffirm his 30 mile suggestion :) So it starts to smooth out as we level at 25,000 feet and we start fine tuning the weather radar to see where the bulk of the precipitation is. After we finally make the turn and run through the backside of this cell and for the most part no icing or turbulence to speak of. I had the fuel and the time to burn so making my way around to make it a smooth ride for the passengers was my priority. The one passenger was sick twice already from the ride in so I was trying to take it easy for his sake pretty much :)

By the time it was all said and done we had gone about 60 miles off track to miss this thing. But thankfully due to the jet stream being along our track and also the reason for this nasty weather we grounded about 320 knots the rest of the journey and it only added a few minutes.

The edge of the beast about 25 miles west of Toronto.

That little nubbin you see at the wingtip is our weather radar. If you remove the little black cap all that lies behind it is a flat plate that sits on an electrically controlled mount so we can tilt it up and down to properly "look" at the weather ahead of us. It is an old technology but on days like today are as necessary to complete a flight as are the wings :) All I have to say is that this airplane is so well equipped and is a pure joy to fly. I am still trying to figure out how I can buy my own :)