Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Hazy Flying

Having enjoyed my previous x-country flight in a Citabria so much, I decided to try a longer flight to a place with a restaurant for breakfast. My passenger was all for it, the plane was available all day, so I had the luxury of time.

We had some other plans for later in the day, so I decided to fly Collingwood airport that was 40 miles away from my home base, had a good restaurant and, most importantly, was located next to a big lake that would be a hard thing to miss in case I got completely lost.

All planning done the night before, I woke up on Sat morning to find the sun obscured by the same haze that was hanging over all southern Ontario for the previous week. Driving to the airport, and looking at the buildings on the sides of the highway, it appeared that haze was even worse that I expected, especially looking into the sun. Arriving on the field, I called Flight Services and discovered that the viz was 3-4 miles in haze, just above legal VFR, and, to top it off, they were expecting thunderstorms later than day. Strangely enough, it did not look bad on a ground.

I decided that the combination of barely VFR visibility and no navigational instruments in a Citabria was not suitable for a x-country flight to a place I have never been to, even if it was next to the big lake. Instead, we decided to bring coffee and sandwiches with us and fly to Greenbank again or, failing that, Simcoe Regional and have a picnic there. Both were a short hop away from home base.

I discussed my plans and itineraries with my instructor and told him that I will make a decision once I take off and see how bad visibility was looking east (the direction of Greenbank).

The wind was absolutely calm and takeoff uneventful. As soon as we turned to face East, I knew I was not flying to Greenbank that morning as trying to see anything through the haze while looking into the sun would have been very-very tiring and potentially not safe. I called my instructor on a radio and informed him that we were heading to Simcoe Regional and turned north to follow the shoreline of Lake Simcoe.

Flying through the haze was an interesting experience. It was surprising to look up and see the bright blue sky while everything around us and below us was dull and grey. It was tempting to climb out of that thick layer of haze, but I could not as I would lose the details on the ground above 2,000-2,500 ft.

Despite the haze, I found the airport with its 5,000 long runway with little problems, did my calls, checked the sock (limp) and soon I was coming in for a landing. By the time we landed and parked the plane near terminal, it was also very-very hot, so I had to sit in the shade under the wing to record my times.

With sun’s thermostat set at “full hot”, picnic on a grass no longer looked that appealing, so we took our sandwiches and coffee into the cool air-conditioned environment of the FBO and spent time talking to people inside and looking at the “planes for sale” section of latest issue of COPA newspaper and generally enjoying ourselves.

On a way back, we detoured a bit to see the another grass strip that we were encouraged to visit that was easy to find as it sits next door to a giant Honda plant, but it looked a bit too rough and sky was getting darker in the west, so we decided to head home where I had my best landing yet in a Citabria – we did not even notice the point at which we stopped flying and started rolling!

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