Monday, September 30, 2013

Flying West

I went over today and picked up my faithful flying steed from the mechanic shop following it's 50-hour oil change, and since there was nary a could in the sky and no wind at all, I took off and headed west after a call to Flight Services to confirm that I'd have decent weather on a long-planned airport-hopping trip.

Climbing out of the Shenandoah Valley, I followed the Potomac River west towards Cumberland. Here's a train bridge crossing it.
And here's the south end of that pesky ridge that normally stands in between my airport and Cumberland. Coming down south along the river took me around instead of over it. I'll have to remember this the next time I have low ceilings over that ridge.
First stop: Mexico Farms, a small grass strip one mile directly south of the big airport at Cumberland, MD.
Ignore the big cement runway. I'm landing on that green grass strip running horizontally across the shot just below and to the right of Cumberland's Runway 5. It's 2100 feet long and it had trees and terrain at both ends. It took me two go-arounds before I was able to drop in at a decent speed and get stopped on the third try. Seems I'm developing a bad habit of turning base too soon and too high, forcing me to dive for the deck on final and rocket across the threshold at mach speed. I've been getting away with that at longer strips, but these short grass strips are making me re-think my approaches. I needed this.

Nice "control tower/FB" eh?
And here I am, looking at the cornfields just off the end of the strip as I go full power to take back off. (And then it's a sharp left bank up the valley to avoid the ridge straight ahead.)
Why did I come in here again? Oh yeah...just to see if I could.

Then it was westward, towards Morgantown, WV. But wait--where'd my blue sky go? Once I started going west into the mountains, the sky started to get cloudy and dark and damned low. WTF? This was not in the script. Sight. Radio to 122.0 and let's talk to Flightwatch.

Me: "Hey Flightwatch, I'm over Lonaconing, MD and I've got solid cumulus overcast at 4,000 that's darkening up real fast here. What's the story with this stuff? I'm enroute to Morgantown, WV VFR."

Flightwatch: "We have an amended forecast for your area showing 6000 broken and Morgantown reporting 1500 scattered, greater than 6 miles visibility between Cumberland and Morgantown."

Not 6000 broken.
Me: "Uh, I'm actually dodging dark cumulus stuff at present, solid at 4000."
Flightwatch: "I'm checking radar now and not showing any precipitation in your area."

Me: I've got rain here, just west of Lonaconing."

Flightwatch: "Again, not showing any precipitation in your area."

Me: "Can you repeat? Having trouble hearing you over the sound of the rain on my roof."

Flightwatch: "Pilot reports are always appreciated..."

Me(Speaking aloud off-radio): "I'm trying to report rain, you dick."

Sigh. "Thanks, Flightwatch. Have a nice day."

But it was just a narrow band of showers, and I got past it pretty quick. The low ceilings and haze stuck with me, though.

At least the colors are changing nicely on this side of the mountains.
I shot a touch-and-go at Garrett County, MD and ambled up towards Morgantown, WV. I forgot to shoot a picture of their runway, but here's a towboat on the Monongahela river, doing what towboats do: pushing stuff. (Yeah...I know.)
Then it was south and in to Fairmont. Here's a bridge on the way in.
Their airport:
I actually stopped here for a bit to use their facilities and check weather proper. Once Flight Service told me that most of the crud was to the north, I felt better about going on. So I lifted out and hit the grass strip at Shinnston, Wade F. Maley Field. (aka: Bob's pasture.) And I thought the last one was bad? This one had a 400' ridge just 1,100 feet off the north end. So after a couple of orbits to look it over, I came in from the south instead, touched down, and steered between some hay bales and a fence post or two. But because I came in longer and shallower this time, I also touched down earlier and slower and had no problems.

Turning around, I took a shot before going power on:
2,245 feet long and 45 feet wide. But it worked for me.

Next was Clarksburg, WV. Like in the song, Last Plane to Clarksburg, or something like that.

The tower cleared me in, and made this odd duck wait.
What's that? It came from a hangar behind it with another one that looked just like it parked outside.

And something else that I didn't see there until I was looking at the pic of the turboprop there:
Maybe an L-29 Delphin?

Pity I was just on a touch-and-go and didn't see that thing until I was going through the camera film. Might have to go back now.

I was going to fly down to Buckhannon, but the weather down that way looked as bad as anything to the north so I said "screw it" and headed back east again, pegging Barbour County Regional on the way.
Yeah, mad props to whoever thought to put that inclined runway up on that hill like that. But I hit it, went full-stop, turned around and launched back out back down the valley.

Then I overflew the grass strip known as Simpson Airport, aka Linda and Barb's front yard. Wow. Just 1500 feet long. That's 700 feet shorter than the 2200-foot strips I'd hit earlier. Could I get in there? I overflew it, rocking my wings at the person on the farm tractor working next to the strip. I probably could get in if I was careful, but could I get out again and clear the trees at either end? Maybe that strip wasn't meant for 172s. And that tractor was awfully close to the runway proper and it wasn't moving away.

I chickened out. Damn it. I took a pass and flew on, knowing that it made sense but regretting not at least giving it a try first. And I pulled my pilot operating handbook for the plane out as I flew off and looked up it's take-off roll requirements. Light as I was and at that field elevation, I probably could have done it.


I like my plane too much to roll the dice on a "probably". But it still rankles me that I didn't at least try.

Frank Tallman would have done it, I'm thinking.

As I went back north and east, the clouds got lower again, and the terrain of course got higher. A couple of times I had to resort to heading up or down the ridge lines until I found a highway or river pass and using those to cut through to stay out of the cloud deck. Scud-running in the mountains is no way to grow old, I'm thinking.

But then I was through the worst of it, and the terrain got lower again. And here's Grant County, WV, just the other side of a 4,000+ foot ridge that I went around courtesy of the WV Highway Department.
Yeah, the windscreen's getting buggy. But at least now I'm down in the valley, and the clouds are starting to break up and thin out over here. I can see patches of blue sky now.

In, out, and off to the northeast, heading for home.

By the time I got to within 20 miles of my home field, I had skies like this again:
I flew over Old MacDonald's place here...
and then I was home.

3.6 hours flown, nine take-offs and landings. Now it's beer time.


  1. I love reading these flight log posts. It's cool to see some familiar landscape from a different POV than we get driving too.


  2. A Delfin has the air intakes at the wing root and a T-tail.

    That almost looks like a MiG 15 or 17.

  3. Beechcraft 1900 variant, maybe a C-12J. The big one, that is. Don't know about the MiG.

  4. It is called a 350ER King Air Special Mission.
    It has extended range fuel tanks, 12 hour loiter time over target.
    International range, latest ones sold to USG.
    If I tell you any more info, I will have to have you rubbed out.

    eMail reply to my question to Beechcraft.