So at seven o’clock this morning…this New Year’s Day morning…I was on the road, headed up to the airport with the intention of flying the Boss. There was very little other traffic, and I guessed that most people on the planet were still safely snuggled in their comfy beds for another couple of hours, waiting to wake up and take some aspirin. But I was headed to work. In fact, I’d been up since 5:30 checking the weather. Obviously, I had not gone out and had a big time last night. Such is the life of a pilot who does it for money.
However, even yesterday I knew we were not going to fly today. I’d been watching the weather as I said. First of all there a line of severe weather headed our way in advance of a cold front off to our west. And the warm, moist southerly wind ahead of it was wreaking havoc, as it does. By sunrise, most airports along the coast were reporting low ceilings (below 1,000 feet) and the temperatures and dew points were all exactly the same. This means one thing: Fog. Which is what Channel 3 had *not* forecast for the area but the FAA did. By the time I left the house it hadn’t yet formed at the Pensacola airport. But I knew it would.
It didn’t take long to find. As I crossed Pensacola Bay headed east on Highway 90, the visibility was bad. Even with the high southerly wind the fog was right on the water. Typical ground fog won’t form when the wind is blowing. But there are many different kinds of fog.
(At 2:00 in the afternoon as I write this, Destin, Florida still has southeasterly winds at 12 mph, with 2.5 miles of visibility under a 300 foot overcast. The temperature and dew point are both still exactly the same. Forty miles to the west here in Pensacola we have 1 mile of visibility with light rain and the same 300 foot overcast. Not good.)
At the town of Pace, I turned north and headed away from the coast. Now the rain began. It continued all the way up to the airport.
Just as I got there the Boss called from his beach house down the coast. “How’s it look?” he asked.
“Not great,” I replied. “It’s been raining just about the whole way up from Pensacola. FAA forecast is ugly. How’s it where you are?”
“Thick fog! You couldn’t get here if you tried.”
I had no intention of trying.
We discussed the weather briefly. We both knew the forecast was for it to be bad. Optimistically, we had hoped the cold front would pass through sooner than expected. But it had not. Even if the fog lifted, the weather would be getting worse as the day went on.
“I’m going to drive,” the Boss said wisely. “Let’s not even try it.” He hates flying in bad weather. I like that about him.
Not long after I got to the airport, the weather improved. Naturally. Often we will cancel a flight due to a bad weather forecast with associated bad conditions, only to have those conditions improve unexpectedly. When it comes to weather, you have to take what you get. Sometimes Mother Nature does not follow the “rules.”
Since the FBO was closed and I do not yet have a “smart phone,” I pulled the helicopter out of the hangar so I could fire up my Garmin GPS that has XM Weather with its special aviation feature. The GPS has to see satellites, and can not do so inside a metal building. Sure enough, we were just in a small band of “good” weather between the bands of nastier stuff. The decision to cancel had been righteous. I just wish I could have done it from my bed instead of an airport an hour away from the house.
As I sat in the helicopter studying the weather Freddie McCall, the guy who runs the airport approached. He had a stern look on his face.
“Can I talk you out of going?” he said somberly. He’d been watching the weather too.
“Oh, we’re already cancelled,” I laughed. But I was grateful for his concern, and explained the reason I’d pulled the ship out.
Some pilots might have been tempted to see the little clearing and blast off with fingers crossed. And some airport operators might have let a pilot do just that. But not Freddie. He cares. He cares enough to be the voice of reason – to be the one who says, “Hey, let’s think about this a little.” You’ve got to love that. No flight…no passenger and certainly no cargo…is so important that it’s worth dying over.
Freddie went inside to put the coffee on while I pushed the ship back in the hangar. As quickly as the weather had lifted, it was back down again. And it stayed that way until I left the field shortly before noon. In the meantime, Freddie and his wife Darleen and I relaxed and engaged in a time-honored aviation tradition: hangar flying. It’s what we pilots do when we can’t fly for some reason. ‘Cuz most of us, when we’re not actually up there doing it, we’re down here on the ground talking about it. And I can talk about flying all day long. And then some.
And there we were, two pilots at work early on a holiday - and a holiday weekend at that! Such is the life of a pilot who does it for money. We’re not normal, we aviators. And you know what? Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have big plans and hopes for 2011. My wish is that you…yes, you have a wonderful, safe, productive year ahead, and that all your dreams come true as well. For you deserve nothing less!
Happy New Year!