…it always clears up!
That’s accepted meteorological wisdom.
It also was my “wishful rationalisation”.
Optimist that I am, I saw some movement in the grey outside of my tent and the last colorful radar returns on the weather forecast display of the Foreflight-app were moving off to the Northwest.
Another confidence boost came from days long gone: the experience from my soaring days.
A “backside day”, as we called the 24 hours after a cold front had moved through, was always worth the effort to get up early, drive out to the airfield and rig the bird.
Nothing to rig today.
WhiskyBlue was right out there, in front of my tent. All I had to do was take the covers off, let them drip off the moisture from yesterdays rain, break down the tent and figure out where to head next.
– Go West –
that was clear, go deeper into that post-frontal sector, where increasing atmospheric pressure would assure good visibility and diminishing winds. The question was how far West…
I settled on Skaneateles, a small town with a nearby airport in New York’s Finger Lakes region, an easy 3hr flight away.
Two hours later the diffuse sheet of mist at about eye level had passed its intermediary state of low overcast and morphed into a crisp blue sky dotted with low flying baby-cumulus.
I shouted “clear prop”, pushed the starter, and after two blades the venerable Continental coughed once and then settled into a low idle.
While I taxied out to the runway I waved an imaginary “Good Bye” to those friendly “recycled pilots” who had made my stay so pleasant.
As the wings began to rock slightly and the tail tried to point the nose of the plane off the taxiway I realised that some remnants of the choppy breeze which had pushed out yesterday’s muggy air was still around.
And if wasn’t for that subtle warning – and a quick shot of adrenalin – I might not have reacted quickly and decisively enough when a sinister gust grabbed the right wingtip and pulled it up violently. Full aileron and rudder saved the day and soon thereafter I was on a steady climb-out, helped along by local upslope currents.
It wasn’t going to be a long climb, cloudbase was still rather low and there were too many cumuli to safely reach the big blue “on top”.
The fresh air and plenty of solar heating, both typical ingredients of a post-frontal atmosphere, made for a convectively active sky. Early on short bumps tickled the wings of WhiskyBlue every now and then, but as soon as we crossed the Hudson River and touched the southern tip of the Adirondack Mountains the cumuli became fatter and the increasing bumpiness didn’t leave any doubts that exuberantly bubbling thermals were their creators.
I didn’t mind the bounces from those updrafts at all. They were a very much welcomed ingredient while racing my fully loaded glider at 120 mph, so why should they bother me in the 170 doing 100mph.
On the contrary, they invited me to play a fun little nowcasting-game: predict the cloud induced turbulence and check it against the kick-in-the-butt feedback.
It wasn’t only that silly meteo game wich kept the glider pilot in me entertained. Flying rather low, 1000 to 1500 feet above ground, another habit from my soaring days chimed in: always be looking for the best field(s) to land in.
Add to that the stunning views, the games light and shadow played on hills and lakes below: I was getting dangerously close to sensual overload.
No worries, though, as a quick check confirmed: the airplane icon on the navigation app on my iPad was right on the course line to my destination.
It was close enough to Skaneateles, in fact, to let them know that I was coming.
Mixture full rich, carburetor heat on, seatbelts tight – with the pre-landing check done I entered a tight pattern. A light breeze right down the runway made for a smooth touchdown, and the second taxiway took me to the fuel pump. I had just shut down the engine, opened the door and stretched my legs when I heard the sweet, low rumble of a radial engine. A Stearman was heading for the grass runway, its pilot waving in my direction.
Ah, gotta love the taildragger community!