With all my flying experience the last few years, flying almost everyday, either with students or doing my own training I haven’t really had the inclination to take my immediate family out for a flight… precious cargo and all that. However, last week the opportunity presented itself to fly to Temora for the Warbirds Downunder airshow, and I jumped at the opportunity of taking my husband and two small children on their maiden voyage with me. It was also their first time in a small GA plane so I wanted that experience to be perfect. Whoa … the pressure!
This is all of us not long after take off. Doesn’t Oscar, my little boy, look totally excited?!
Well imagine that face in 30-mins time crying and not able to stop throwing up and you can now imagine my hellish first flight with my family.
The forecast was for severe turbulence due to incredibly high winds coming in from the west. We were flying west! So we had forecast of 30-40kt headwinds… which meant the trip was going to be slow and turbulent. Perfect!
Fortunately, I had packed plenty of sick bags for the flight (as Oscar has a history of chucking up in the car anyway), and I had briefed him on the ground as to where to find them and what to do. I would have sat him up the front but we had a fair bit of luggage and with my husband Thom in the back I just felt we were too close to the aft limit. So he sat up front and we talked about him looking after Oscar if he was gonna blow. And blow he did.
My plan was to climb up as high as we could go and try and find some clear and smooth air, so I planned for 9,500ft. It was a good plan I felt and it was definitely a bit smoother higher up but just not smooth enough. The turbulence wasn’t severe as forecast, but it was pretty bad “moderate” turbulence. Enough to give me the willies and to be working hard for my money (if I was getting paid!).
Once I levelled out at 9,500ft I quickly realised that maintaining height in the conditions was impossible (a massive downdraught would drop me down 500+ feet in just a few seconds and then back up 300+ feet the next moment) and I was just about to fly into Canberra control. So I requested a 2,000ft block level clearance from Canberra control who was completely unfazed by the request, and another GA aircraft I heard over the radio did likewise straight after me – I had started a trend.
Whenever I started to loose height I went full power to climb and raised the nose. It was when I was down at my cleared lower level of 8,500ft in this configuration and I was still descending that I thought I better dial them up and request a further extension to my clearance down to 7,500ft! Everyone was having a hard time out there. Add to that I had Oscar in the back seat, crying and wanting to land, cradling his second, very full sick bag. The whole experience was intense. Believe it or not, I did manage to get a couple of nice and high snaps over Canberra in the midst of all of this!
OK, so after a bit I managed to climb up to 10,500ft and it was definitely smoother there, and the kids fell asleep do to all the bumps and Oscar wearing himself out, so the stress of more chucking up dissipated for the moment. 27nm south-east of Temora was my TOPD and I called inbound at 15nm on descent and lined up for a straight in on RWY 27. Everything was looking good. I knew the wind was coming almost straight down the runway, the trouble was it was about 30+kts and likely to be gusting, which meant I might experience wind-shear during my approach. I’d briefed my husband on this likelihood before we got there so he knew what to expect, which I am glad that I did – as I certainly did have wind-shear with my ASI swinging between 85 & 65kts from moment-to-moment on final approach. I trusted that I was probably somewhere in the middle and therefore continued my approach ready to put in power if I needed and ready to go around if I had to. My top tip in conditions like that – give yourself a good pre-talking to.
We came over the mobile campsite of all the Temora Airshow campers just under our final approach path, and we had a massive wind drop, we were sinking fast! Thom reckons that he could have reached out and touched the top of the tents they were that close. But my little talking to kicked in and I quickly jumped on the power (full power) and held the nose down to maintain airspeed. I landed safely after a few intense seconds and came to a rolling stop, adjusting for the wind now that I was on the ground. The wind was still trying to blow me all over the place.
There isn’t really any other tip I can give to any new pilot who is taking their “precious cargo” or flying with your family for the first time (and it happens to be in bad weather), I would just say, be aware of the added pressure and extra stress you are going to experience and as a good counter measure for mitigating any mistakes as a result of bad weather plus family – brief yourself, thoroughly. It may just save the lives of your precious cargo.
Despite Oscar’s introduction to flying with mummy… he said he may still be up for it again. Bless him.