I enjoy the challenge, beauty and focus that it takes to fly around the west coast for business. However, I often can’t go very far in the winter – the weather is just to finicky and there is always icing to worry about. So I was surprised to find the forecast for clearish weather actually holding up as my business trip from northern California to Seattle approached.
The problem, it turned out, were the winds. I did my flight planning the day before and discovered although there were no significant clouds, snow or ice, there was going to be 40 to 50 knots headwinds. That meant a VERY early departure in order to get to Boeing Field in Seattle at 9:00 for my meeting. I thought 5:00 am would do it.
The forecast was wrong. I had at times well more than 90 knot headwinds, the most wicked winds I’ve ever experienced, not to mention some fierce up and down drafts near the Oregon Cascade mountains. At one point I was looking at my GPS with a ground speed of 94 knots, about to text my associate in Seattle that I was going to have to stop for fuel and would miss at least the first meeting. My plane holds 6 hours of fuel, but I like to land with at least an hour of fuel in the tanks since running out of fuel is kind of a big deal. I think it would upset my wife Betsy at home.
There were clouds and light snow over Oregon, but with tops forecast between 12 and 15,000 I figured I could go over. However with the winds I needed to stay as low as possible so I toed the line, clipping clouds and spending a short time in them. I called and picked up an instrument clearance south of Klamath Falls when it looked like I may not stay clear of the clouds.
The day before I looked up again the icing temperature range of 0 to -20 C, and was glad to see the outside temp right at -20 C (below zero F) at 12,000 feet because I wouldn’t have to worry much about icing. However the first cloud I went into the windshield and wings immediately frosted over. OK, perhaps I do have to worry much about icing. Fortunately it was clear above so it wasn’t really an issue, it would just be a lot slower should I need to climb.
When I descending into the valleys of Oregon the winds dropped and my ground speed picked back up to a more decent 160 knots. It turns out I was only 20 minutes late for my ride, and since it was the week between Christmas and New Years, the traffic was light and we actually made our 10:00 meeting in Kirkland, WA.
I was looking forward the flight back the next day, hoping the winds would stick around to pay me back a little for the slow flight up. I got to the airport at 7:30 am but the plane’s wings were completely and heavily frosted – a dangerous condition since it changes the point of separation of the wind from the wing and can destroy lift. So I had an hour delay while the airport folks pulled the plane into a heated hangar to melt the ice, while I preheated the engine. I have propane Red Dragon heater that I modified to run on smaller camp canisters, and I bring a 12v car battery that I keep to power the heater and a Christmas tree in the woods. But not at the same time.