Last week I decided to go visit my mother in the upstate. I knew I was in for a bumpy ride on the way up because of a cold front that was coming through, but the forecast was saying the front would push on through. The forecast was right, but I was wrong.
When I woke up the following day to prepare for my flight home I saw that the front had passed, but another was blasting through right behind it… didn’t see that one coming, but I should have. The AIRMETs were calling for turbulence through 4pm, but looking at the outlook charts for the day I knew the turbulence would not be going away at 4pm, but that it would probably only get worse. I started asking around at the airport for pilot reports from folks who had been up in the local area. They all seemed to say it was bumpy, but okay. I decided to take a chance and just go for it, knowing there were small airports all along my route where I could land if it was too much. The tailwind was around 30mph, so at least the flight would only be around 1.5 hours. I got up to my planned altitude of 3,500′ (the most turbulence was above 4,000′) and realized I was in for quite a workout. I made it just about 50 miles before I seriously needed a break. I was being tossed about in the sky, barely able to keep the dirty side down. After I knocked my head on the ceiling during one particularly violent blast I realized I needed to get on the ground immediately.
I landed at the very small Newberry County Airport (EOE), which was understandably abandoned for the day. I thought that while I was there I would get my SCAA passport stamped to prove I was there, but I couldn’t find the mailbox where it was supposed to be kept. The tiny FBO didn’t have much, but it had a planning table, 2 sofas, a water fountain and a bathroom, so I decided to just relax on the sofa and consider my options. Option 1: I could ask my mother to come get me and spend another night with her, but since I was supposed to work at 6am the following day, that option would have lots of people frowning on me…still better than being killed due to get-there-it is. Option 2: I could ask my mother to drive me home to Charleston (a 3 hour drive for her, 2 hours from my current location), spend a few nights with me and then drive back in a few days, dropping me off at the airport on the way. Unfortunately, she wasn’t feeling well and was in no shape to travel. Option 3: I could ask my husband to come get me, a huge inconvenience for all of us, and the weather did have a slight chance for improvement, so that could be in vane (pun intended). Option 4: I could sit it out and see what the winds did later, taking advantage of the down-time to catch up on some reading. I chose option 4, which turned out to be the best option. After about an hour, I felt like it would be okay to give it another go…call it a hunch. I planned a low route that would take me directly over every airport possible along the way. This route has a lot of airports, so I would have the option to land again any time I felt like I was reaching my limit. Luckily, staying around 2,200′ was bumpy, for sure, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first leg of my trip. I don’t like “scud-running” because it limits options should something go wrong, but now and then it becomes necessary…. but ONLY with careful planning and a thorough review of all emergency procedures since my friend, Altitude, is left out of the equation.
Once I got closer to home the uncomfortable turbulence faded into light chop and I was able to breathe easy for the last 40 miles of my trip. I arrived home bruised and sore, a first for me, but I arrived home safely.
Funny addition to my story: I received a phone call from a couple of friends (James & Matt), literally as I was shutting down my engine, asking if I was available to come pick them up from the upstate. I told them I would have gladly offered a free lift had they called earlier, but I was too exhausted from my saga to fly any more even if the winds were calm. Apparently, James was dropping his Mooney off in Anderson, SC for the annual and Matt followed in his RV8 to bring him home. When Matt attempted to start his plane for the return trip, his starter broke. Terrible timing! Then again, James’ wife ‘liked’ my Facebook status saying I was in the upstate for the night, returning Tuesday (the day James was taking his plane up), so he should have just asked me for a lift. I would have been happy to oblige, especially since I would have felt much more comfortable with an extra pilot in the cockpit on that bumpy flight. Why are people afraid to ask for favors? They ended up renting a car and driving back to Charleston.
This flight was definitely a good lesson and, in my opinion, a good testament of my ability to choose to stop a flight to assess my judgement instead of charging on because I really want to get home. I was fully prepared to stay safely on the ground if I felt the flight was beyond my comfort level. In fact, I did make that decision a few days later when Matt asked for a ride to get his RV8 from Anderson. I wanted to fly so badly that day, but that AIRMET was the same as it was on Tuesday. I knew I could make it, but I also knew that it might push me to my limit again. Fortunately for Matt, I was able to hook him up with another local pilot with a faster plane who was happy to make the trip. Win, win, win.