Sunday, June 05, 2005

Smooth air, big clouds

I got a chance to go flying this morning. I got to the field around 8:30 and realized that the camera and extra batteries got left behind. The wind was calm, with only an occasional breeze to nudge the windsock one direction or the other. Flat bottomed cumulus clouds covered about 80% of the sky, but they had not yet started to rise upward due to convective currents. They appeared to hang low enough that I would have to limit how high I was going to fly to maintain a safe distance below them. I filled up with gas and did my normal preflight inspection. I started the engine and strapped in and said a prayer before taxiing out to the runway and taking off as usual.

As I was climbing upward, the air was very calm and crisp. Following the breaks in the clouds, I continued to climb until I was eye-level with the bottoms of the clouds. This was at about 1700 feet, and it looked awesome! After establishing the altitude of the cloud layer, I descended to 1200 or so, in keeping with the 500' minimum distance below the clouds that the FAA requires. This is for the safety of all. It is supposed to allow enough time for another aircraft flying on instruments to break through the cloud layer and still see other aircraft that might be in their flight path, allowing both pilots to avoid each other.

I flew north of Fort Deposit, with my intended target the village of Autaugaville, about 40 miles from my home airport. As I was flying, I enjoyed the presence of large fields and calm winds. Over the past 20 minutes or so, the cloud base seemed to get lower. I found myself having to fly lower than was comfortable over land I was unfamiliar with, plus the cloud tops were starting to grow and it was becoming hazier. When I looked at my GPS to see where I was, I noticed the battery on the GPS was low and of course, I didn't have replacements. I made the decision to turn around and go home. It was an enjoyable flight back home, still with smooth air, although it was starting to become bumpier.

As I was overflying the center of the Ft. Deposit airport checking the windsock, I could feel the heat from the runway pavement. As I set up my approach, everything looked good, but for some unknown reason, I flared a bit too high and dropped in from about 2 feet, but there was no damage. What can I say? I made an error! I got in a 1-hour flight and it was enough to fill my addiction until the next time, which I hope will be next weekend!


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