Today we were rolling down runway 22 at 7:35 am heading for Roanoke VA where we would pick up Pamela, our Angel Flight passenger. We knew the ride was not going to be a smooth one due to a fairly strong cold front that was working its way over the region. The erratic strong winds were very evident as soon as we lifted off and climbed up over the Massanutten Mountains. The broken cloud layers began at about 4500 feet AGL and as we leveled off at 6000 feet we were in and out of the bottom layer picking up a little ice as went along (Ice was not a concern for us due to the fact that we had several outs….. just below us we would be free from all clouds and the freezing level did not go all the way to the ground… and if needed, we could have got on top of the clouds at 8000 feet). Due to the direction of the strong winds (coming over the mountain ridges) the turbulence was moderate and at some points extreme as we neared Roanoke Valley. Also due to the direction of the wind we encountered moderate to extreme wave action. Wave action is actually up drafts and down drafts that is in waves due to the winds blowing across the mountains, and it is much more likely when the wind direction is perpendicular to the ridge lines (which was the case on this day) When you are in a up draft portion of a wave and you are maintaining your assigned altitude, the nose must pitch down increasing your true airspeed…. if it gets extreme you could near red line, in which case you would need to either reduce power or let the airplane rise with the wave. On the other side, when you are in the down draft portion of a wave, and you are maintaining your assigned altitude, the nose must pitch up, which in turn reduces your true airspeed…… if this gets extreme you could induce a stall, at this point, if increasing power does not keep you from reaching stall you must break your assigned altitude, lower the nose, and descend allowing your airspeed to increase. Many times the answer to help with this is to request a block altitude from ATC which allows us to vary our altitude a little to average out the change in airspeed due to the wave action.
Now all of this may sound very dangerous to some folks and make you wonder why we would ever fly in conditions such as these….. but the fact is that they are only dangerous if you do not plan and have an idea of what you may encounter…. and more importantly…. if you do not know how to deal with it and have an “OUT” if you do. The bad part about flights such as these is the ride itself…. it can be very uncomfortable and make someone that is not used to it sick and/or very fearful. So we never plan a flight with our passengers knowing in advance that the ride will be extremely rough unless they know in advance…. and have, on flights before, been in these type of conditions and are ok with it. Being an uncomfortable flight does not mean a dangerous flight…. we never ever would commit to any flight that either one of us would have doubt about when it comes to safety !
Once with Roanoke approach we were cleared for a visual approach, and then cleared to land on runway 24. As we landed, the winds were being reported at about 24 knots gusting to over 30 from about 300 degrees making them a quartering crosswind. Captain John made a beautiful crosswind landing and we taxied to the FBO. Once parked, we put in our gust lock and the attendant even secured 49 Bravo for us with tie downs and chocks.
We arrived ahead of schedule and knew that we did not want to submit our passenger Pamela to the rough conditions that we had just flown thru getting to Roanoke…. As we had planned this flight out prior to departure day, we knew the winds would a factor affecting our ride, but our plans are based on forecast and experience, and it this case the forecast had the timing of the passing cold front a little off on the day of this mission. We did not cancel because we knew as the day and the cold front passed, conditions would improve… (again, there was never a safety issue we were concerned with, just passenger comfort) We discussed the situation and decided that when Pamela arrived we would fill her in and then wait one hour longer in Roanoke before departing, this would allow conditions to improve (and in fact they did… considerably).
So it was not long before Pamela arrived and the first order of business was to exchange greetings and hugs ! (It was great seeing Pamela again….. we have flown her many times before and consider her as family…. she also was with us in California back in 2015 when Captain John received the Endeavor Award….. as a matter of fact she was the one chosen to present the award to him)! After our greetings, we explained to her the situation and she was more than willing to do what we thought best…. so we delayed ourselves by one hour and took advantage of the extra time by visiting. Pamela gave Captain John and I some home made goodies and presented them to each of us in a decorative Christmas box that she had customized herself by using an airplane puzzle ! They were very beautiful and unique and the home made goodies inside were fantastic ! (Thank You So Much Pamela !)
When one hour had passed conditions had improved and we departed Roanoke heading for Greenville SC (at Greenville, Pamela would continue on with Angel Flight Pilot Al Brightwell to Newnan GA) As we departed Roanoke and climbed out we could immediately tell our decision to wait was a good one. While heading up to our cruise altitude of 8000 feet we only encountered minor bumps, and once at 8000 feet… the ride was very smooth….. and even though we still encountered some wave action along the way, it was smooth wave action and not turbulent. Also, at 8000 feet, we were well above the clouds so icing was not a factor. We made fairly good time down to SC and along with some great views, we had some great conversation with Pamela !
As we approached Greenville to land, we were greeted by very calm surface winds and 50+ degree temperatures ……. which felt very good compared to the cold and the wind we had just come from. The folks at Cerulean General Aviation treated us great and their FBO was very nice. (A note of interest….. the last time Captain John landed at this Airport I was just 3 months old ……. and it was in an Eastern Airlines DC 9) ! After Angel Flight Pilot Al arrived we took some pictures and gave Pamela our goodbyes (along with more hugs) and then departed Greenville on runway 22 heading for home.
On our flight home we climbed on up to 9000 feet to take advantage of some stronger tailwinds. The ride was fairly smooth with still some wave action at times. Once back into our home area we descended down thru the broken cloud layer and made a visual approach into our home base to runway 4, landing with about an 8 knot crosswind. We felt good that the mission was completed and even though the day started off with a rough ride, we did not have to submit our passenger Pamela to anything out of the ordinary. As we taxied off the runway, both our minds were already thinking about that nice cup of hot hanger coffee !
After tucking 49 Bravo snugly into her hanger we were joined by Jimmy and Danny (our airport staff) and Jimmy’s son Matt. While we were enjoying some great coffee and conversation, it was all topped off by Jimmy’s wife, Karen, showing up with fresh baked cookies for us that were still warm !!!!! (She had planned it this way so they would still be warm when we landed !) Karen is also a Pilot and has here airplane based at Luray as well ……and she is known for making Great Cookies ! Thank You So Much Karen for spoiling us….. the cookies were fantastic ……. what a great way to end a Great Flight ! Then, as always, we departed out on one of the most dangerous parts of the day (much more dangerous than flying in the strong winds) and that was the drive home !
Total flight time for today was 5.4 hours covering 591 nautical miles over 3 States. This made Angel Flight Mission number 417 for Captain John and Angel Mission Mission number 287 for myself (Nevin).
Thank You So Much for your time and we hope you enjoy the following pictures of our flight.