Somewhere Over the Rainbow
I had two important reasons to make a weekend trip to Charlotte over the last weekend, and the summer weather certainly made for some interesting flights.
My first stop, and the first order of business was to get an oil change. I had now put on just over 25 hours since my engine overhaul, and it was time to get rid of the mineral oil and replace it with a standard multigrade engine oil. Although I had planned to start my journey at around 9 a.m., mother nature had other plans for me. The day started with some low ceilings and a little radiation fog, so I wasn’t able to get out until just a little before noon. The ceilings were better, but still not ideal, so I kept my altitude to a modest 3000 feet or so for the one hour flight. As soon as I arrived, the cowlings were removed and the oil was drained while we went to grab lunch at a local cafe. After lunch, the oil change was finished up and I was ready to depart by 4 p.m.
As anyone knows, the weather in this part of the country is pretty easy to predict in the summertime. The weather is typically a “30-50% chance of scattered or isolated thunderstorms” every day until October. It’s just the way it goes around here, but that means there is also a 50-70% chance of it not raining, right? While planning for my flight up the Charlotte area, I noticed that some big storms were starting to form to the east, so going direct wasn’t going to be an option. Looking north, it appeared to be clear, so I decided to fly north for a bit, before turning to the east.
This proved to be a wise decision, and generally, the ride was pretty smooth. As I arrived at the edge of the weather, I was able to capture an amazing image of a rainbow forming in the aftermath of the thunderstorm. For those that have been looking for the end of the rainbow, it is located somewhere around Greenwood, South Carolina; or at least it was on this day!
After rounding the corner and turning east, I was easily able to stay well clear of the bad stuff, but the cloud formations made for some amazing views. Before I knew it, I was being asked to lose some altitude to stay clear of the bravo airspace that surrounds the Charlotte area and I made the approach into runway 23 at the Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport (KEQY). My total flight time was approximately 1:20 and I never saw a single drop of rain.
The next day was all about flying. I spent about three hours flying with my friend and instructor, Roger Wood at Skywood Aviation. I am currently working on finishing up my instrument rating and Roger was there to act as my safety pilot while I flew under the hood and practiced maneuvers and approaches. In addition, we spent some time trying to figure out how the GPS and autopilot worked together when shooting instrument approaches. It was pretty amazing to see the automation that’s available in aircraft systems these days. It really takes a lot of the manual workload off of the pilot, allowing for much easier cockpit management and safer flying.
On Sunday, it was time to head back home. Of course, the afternoon heat started to pop up some more isolated storms, so after looking at the entire weather picture, I decided to take a more southern route back into the Atlanta area. North Atlanta has some pretty dense and busy airspace and the weather looked more favorable to the south. After departure, I had to bob and weave a little to avoid a few weather build-ups, and at one point, I climbed up to 8500 feet to see if I could clear the tops of the cumulous clouds that had built up. Of course, no sooner than I got to that altitude, things started to clear up. One advantage of being up that high? The temperatures at that altitude are much more favorable and it was nice to have that kind of cool breeze, even if only for a few minutes.
As I arrived at the southern most part of the Atlanta airspace, I noticed just how busy the airspace was getting again. As many may already know, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, or at least it used to be prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last few months, the amount of air traffic has been dramatically lower, but it seems that things are getting back to more “normal” levels. There were quite a few planes in the airspace, so Atlanta approach control was sure to instruct me to remain outside of the class bravo airspace.
One last little thrill for this trip was passing over the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. I am a NASCAR fan and have been to this track for a few races, but it never ceases to amaze me at just how big these tracks actually are. To put it into perspective, just to the left of the track is the Henry County Airport (KHMP), with it’s 1-mile long runway. It’s always wild to get a perspective like this from the air. When you are sitting in the stands of that speedway with 125,000 other people and 45 cars passing you at 200 mph, you really get a sense of just how huge the place really is!
Then, just like that, the weekend was over. How does that happen? I arrived back home with another 9.8 hours of flight time in the logbook and brought home some “homework” assignments for things that I need to work on for my checkride in September. It’s going be nice to have the instrument rating under my belt and done with, so I can move on to my commercial and flight instructor certifications.