It was looking like a good ‘easy’ IFR day yesterday – 3000+ foot ceilings in Lincoln, slightly less going North and West – and I thought it would be a good idea to use this rare weather situation to get some ‘actual’ time. I called Jeff and he was home and available to join me on the flight. Well, I can say that we certainly got what we were looking for…
Looking at destination airports, Santa Rosa appeared to be good – about 45 minutes away, 1500 ft ceilings (tempo 600 with light rain) seemed like a good, easy situation. Winds were mostly calm. We filed using Foreflight for both the outbound and inbound legs via SAC and V494. Minimum En-route Altitude was 5000 over V494. Freezing level was at 6000 and the airmet for icing had been lifted – but we did plan to closely monitor the outside air temperature and the wings for ice traces. Weather in Lincoln actually looked pretty nice. Flight plans filed, we went to preflight and startup
Startup and departure – is the alternator working?
With the brand new battery, the 6 cylinder of the Cherokee-6 started almost immediately. We double-checked flight instruments, suction and… alternator – and the alternator showed no load at all. I remembered having this situation before with this plane and recalled that this could be an voltage regulator issue, that could be reset by turning off the master for 30 seconds. Tried that, but to no avail. We shut down the engine again and read the details of the 45 year old handbook on the topic. Based on the way the system was described, I theorized that, since the gauge indicates the alternator load requested from the battery, that with the new 21st century battery, it may not be demanding any load until some amps were consumed. We decided to try that out and taxied to the runup area to see what would happen. We put on all the load we had, ran up the engine – still no movement in the ammeter. Since ceilings were plenty high for pattern work, we decided to at least fly around the block once. Still nothing, until, during the touch-and-go, Jeff said ‘look, it’s moving’. And sure enough, the ammeter started to show normal load. We climbed in the pattern to 2000 ft and picked up our clearance.
As a Piper pilot, carburetor ice is something you generally don’t worry about – until you are within visible moisture. Everything we had learned about carb ice suddenly became useful – while climbing through 5000 ft, the engine started to run a little rough. I turned on the carb heat, which lead to an immediate reduction in RPMs. What did we learn in training again: if you have carb ice, apply too much heat too fast, too much water will flow through the engine at once and you will lose power. I informed ATC, asked for a slightly lower altitude (which we got, thank you) and started to finesse the carb heat until I could fully apply it and the engine ran smoothly again. 2nd time in 16 years of flying that this has happened to me.
Since winds were reported out of the South-East, we had planned for the RNAV 14 approach – but as it turned out, winds were so low that Santa Rosa was landing downwind on 32. So instead, we were vectored for the ILS runway 32, which turned out to be a good thing. At this point, it became clear that having 2 pilots in these conditions is pretty much a must. While I kept hand-flying the airplane in IMC conditions, Jeff could set up the approach and find the new approach plates. All the while, we were both scanning for icing (which we didn’t get, as forecast). We were vectored for the approach, which, due to the downwind, required quite a bit of descend to stay on the glide slope. We descended through 600 ft (reported ceiling) while seeing some of the ground, but no runway. I was just about to initiate the missed approach procedure when we saw the runway approach lights, right where they were supposed to be. From there, landing was easy.
A nice day for flying…
On the ground in Santa Rosa, we found what we would typically consider the opposite of a nice day to fly. Mist, light rain, low ceilings. In other words – a great day to put all that IFR training to work. We shut down, checked if weather was going to improve any time soon (it was not…), and called up ground for our clearance.
Santa Rosa was the home town for the late cartoonist Charles Schultz, after whom the airport is also named. Our clearance, read without a hint of irony, started with ‘N3739W is cleared to the Lincoln airport via the Santa Rosa 6 departure – Snupy extension….’. Snupy, as it turns out, is the intersection of the Scaggs Island 307 Radial and the Santa Rosa 077 Radial. I wonder if that is right above Chuck’s former residence…
The flight back to Lincoln was uneventful – though 95% in IMC. Breaking out on top would have been a nice treat, but it was not to be. Lincoln still had somewhat higher ceilings and below 1500 ft it was very clear. It was dark by now, and it is always a treat to fly a long final towards the brightly lit Lincoln runway at night.
Actual IMC Time
It is hard to get actual instrument experience in California… In the summer, the best you can do is cutting through a layer, while in winter, too low ceilings and icing often become a factor. This flight was a great opportunity to put the training and simulated experience into actual IMC time. Sometimes, we just need to recognize the ‘nice day to fly’, even if it looks a bit different than what we usually fly in.