Sunday, March 29, 2009

Butte, Montana - Seattle / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / IFR

This was another marathon flight of over three hours (that's a marathon for me). I hesitated about it because aviation weather reports mentioned some moderate icing in the areas through which my route would pass, but I finally decided to try it, and just be prepared to find a place to land if icing became a problem (I've only had problems with icing a handful of times, but it wasn't pleasant).

I flew airways from VOR to VOR, with routing of CPN MSO MLP GEG EPH EAT SEA—a distance of 432 nautical miles. I had the whole route saved in my GPS, but I semi-hand-flew the route, with autopilot holding altitude and heading and me just adjusting the heading. I used the track info from the GPS to adjust for wind, since the predicted and actual winds aloft were pretty stiff at times (up to 50 knots). I tried to take care to follow all IFR procedures, although I still made mistakes.

During the time I was preparing my flight, the wind shifted, and it started coming from the north instead of the west. That suited me fine, as the obstacle clearance requirements for departures to the west were more stringent than those for departures to the north. After obtaining my clearance, I was off, as there was not much traffic at Bert Mooney airport. Per the obstacle departure, I maintained 800 fpm to 6700 while turning to fly direct to my first VOR, Coppertown. It was pretty cloudy and I was soon in the clouds.

I was supposed to be at 10,500 feet (MEA for the first airway leg of the route) before crossing CPN, and while I was prepared to hold, I didn't need to, as I just managed to squeak by. However, my first mistake was in climbing to 10,500 feet, which isn't an appropriate IFR altitude. I realized this soon enough and climbed to 12,000 feet. I was going to have to use oxygen in any case, so it didn't matter much. Then, after CPN, I had to climb to 14,000 for the MEA of 13,000—definitely oxygen country.

I had to remain at 14,000 for 76 miles, in a very stiff headwind that made my speed over the ground barely 120 knots. Thereafter, crossing Missoula, I was able to descend to 10,000 feet. When I got to Spokane (GEG) some time later, I was able to descend to 6000. But that didn't last long, because I had to be back at 12,000 after Wenatchee. At TAGOR I was able to descend again.

As I approached Seattle, the weather seemed fairly clear, and the scenery at sunset was very pretty, but the weather deteriorated quickly, and my plans for a visual approach went away. I was vectored into the ILS runway 34R approach, and for a long time I saw nothing outside the window, although I was fully established and not worried. The weather looked worse than it was, and I spotted the runway while still six miles out or so.

Landing was extremely smooth. I taxied over to the cargo ramp north of the tower, which I prefer to the transient ramp on the west side. I had started out with full tanks and had used about 60% of my fuel during the trip—still a very generous reserve.