As I’ve written about a few times before, being over 40 years old, I get to visit my Aviation Medical Examiner every two years to renew my third-class medical. I work with a senior AME out in Peoria, IL, Bruce Chien, who is a nationally recognized leader in the FAA medical space. (Plus it gives me an excuse every couple of years for a good cross-country overnight trip!)
With all of my medical reports previously shipped out to Bruce, I just had to get myself out there for the actual exam on May 4th. The weather forecasts at the beginning of the week were mixed, showing some storms throughout the Midwest, though most of the worst was staying south of Peoria. As is the nature of weather, however, it turned out to be a fluid situation as a low pressure area developed over the Midwest and a cold front moved through the Northeast.
On Wednesday morning, I did another check of the weather and filed an IFR flight plan with the first leg from Bridgeport to Lorain County Regional Airport (KLPR) in Ohio, just west of Cleveland and underneath its Class B airspace. It was a blustery, chilly day with a broken ceiling. The winds reported on the ATIS at Bridgeport were 300 degrees at 19kts, gusting to 29 knots.
After another aircraft landed, the tower cleared me to backtaxi on Runway 6 and then cleared me for takeoff. I climbed straight out on the runway heading and popped into the clouds quickly. Eventually, ATC turned me west to climb to 8,000 feet and direct to the Sparta VOR. At 8,000 feet, I was skimming just above the tops of the clouds and it made me look like I was zooming across the sky.
As I worked my way west across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, the cloud deck below me rose a bit and I was soon in the very tops of the clouds, where the outside air temperature was right at freezing and I started to pick up some ice along the front of the wings as the clouds enveloped around me. Since I was already fighting some decent headwinds, I didn’t want to climb to 10,000 feet where they were stronger and I asked ATC to descend to 6,000 feet, hoping it was a little warmer there. It was about 2 degrees warmer there, and I wasn’t picking up any ice any longer, but it also didn’t see the little bit I had accumulated disappearing, so I told ATC that I was diverting to Williamsport, PA (KIPT) to land. They were immediately helpful with a vector straight for the airport (which I was basically going to overfly anyway) and asked if I needed any assistance. I told them no assistance needed and they cleared me direct to KIPT and handed me over to the tower frequency. Tower immediately cleared me land, asking me to report a 5 mile final to Runway 30.
The breeze was pretty steady, almost right down the runway, so the landing roll was pretty quick and I made the turnoff to the ramp. The tower asked if I needed anything and I explained I was just going to be there shortly to review weather and re-file a new IFR flight plan, this time staying at 6,000 feet. I checked the weather ahead and re-filed and then took a quick walk around the plane—no ice or issues found.
Starting the airplane back up, I called for my IFR clearance and got an immediate “cleared as filed” on my routing to KLPR in Ohio. In the tri-state area, we are NEVER given “cleared as filed”—it always catches me by surprise when I get the actual route I filed for approved by ATC! Throughout my trip to Peoria and back, I got this a few times, so it was a nice change of pace!
Shortly after taking off on Runway 27, I climbed up out of the river valley Williamsport is located in and was given an even better routing by ATC—“cleared direct to destination!” That rarely happens as well! I enjoyed the flight across the rest of PA and into OH. As I started to descend into the Cleveland airspace, ATC gave me some vectoring turns to keep me out of the way of jets landing at Cleveland and then the Lorain County airport was 15 miles ahead on my nose. I overflew the airport and joined the downwind for Runway 7.
A linesman from MRK Aviation was waiting for me on the ramp and he was already re-fueling the airplane before I walked into the FBO. The kind folks there let me borrow the crew car for a quick run into town to Subway to grab lunch. I checked the weather on the way out to Peoria for the next leg while I ate and filed my flight plan across OH, IN and IL.
The airport has a great clearance delivery frequency with Cleveland and I was soon ready to go with my clearance (another “cleared as filed”). I took off, turned north per my clearance instructions and then contacted Cleveland Approach who quickly had me heading westwards and up to 6,000 feet, with only a few clouds here and there to punch through. The flight, while pretty shmutzy visability conditions, was smooth and uneventful and 2.7 hours later, Peoria Approach was descending me direct to Mount Hawley airport (3MY) and I joined the downwind for Runway 18.
This one below shows me threading the edges of airmets for turbulence on one side (yellow dashes on right of track) and icing (blue dashing on left).
I parked the plane while a pretty Cessna 210 landed after me. I checked in at the FBO and Tammy on the front desk had the Hertz rental car keys and paperwork ready for me and opened the gate so that I could bring the car around to the plane. While I tied down and cleaned up the airplane, I chatted briefly with Gary, the 210s owner—he said this was the third 210 he’s owned and he’d just hopped over from the other side of Indiana.
On Wednesday night, I had dinner with Bruce and his wife Susan at The Fish House, a Peoria seafood staple. Just like I did 2 years ago, I had the shrimp platter, with shrimp done three ways….yum! Bruce loved his Tasmanian salmon and Susan her crab cakes. They talked about their impending move up to the greater Chicago area in a couple of months and I found that Susan is a fellow Tolkien fan!
After getting an extra hour of sleep due to Central time, I had my exam first thing in the morning with Bruce. As always, he was quick, efficient, and thorough and explaining that he was going to nudge the FAA medical folks (when they were back from a conference) to seek authorization to issue the medical or if he’d have to defer to them. Either way, we’re hoping that since we’re early enough in the month and they’ve had the backup documentation for a while that the new medical will get issued by the end of May, when my current one will expire.
After the exam, I checked the weather and filed my IFR flight plan. The rain and clouds that had stayed south of Peoria on Wednesday were now all between me and home, with some areas showing some heavy rain and an airmet for turbulence. It was going to be a bit of a slog home, but I wasn’t in a hurry as I had all day and all day Friday (if needed) to get home. If worse came to worst, I could land somewhere and sit and wait it out. Additionally, importantly, there was no convective (eg thunderstorm) activity at all to worry about.
I pre-flighted the airplane and taxied over to the fuel tanks where Tammy cheerfully helped top off the tanks and wished me a safe flight. Peoria Approach quickly had my clearance, again “as filed” to Youngstown, OH (KYNG) and I was soon in the air.
The promise of lots of rain and moderate turbulence and the forecast did not disappoint. As soon as I switched over to ATC and made my initial turn to the first waypoint to the east of Peoria, ATC warned of radar returns showing moderate precipitation 15 miles ahead of me and continuing pretty much my entire route. Just east of Peoria, I entered a wall of cloud and didn’t see much of anything else until Cleveland when the clouds finally started to break up. In a couple of places, I had a very filmy glimpse of the ground, but otherwise it was non-stop cloud and after about the first 20 minutes, moderate rain and turbulence. The Nexrad was showing solid yellow/orange returns and a couple of splotches of red, while the NOAA weather on my ipad was showing shades of green and yellow, which seemed to be more accurate overall.
Nonetheless, a long flight of 3.5 hours (2.8 hours of the trip in instrument conditions!) to Youngstown as ultimately uneventful and Youngstown approach cleared me for the ILS 14 approach. I taxied in past some US Air Force Reserve C-130s (Youngstown is home to the Air Force’s 910th Airlift Wing, which is the DoD’s only large area fixed-wing aerial spray capability unit https://www.youngstown.afrc.af.mil/About/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/582163/aerial-spray-mission/). Shutting down at Winner Aviation, the line crew quickly got me re-fueled while I walked across the street for a quick breakfast sandwich at a pizza shop.
Then I was back in the air for the last leg home. Once more, I got the magic “cleared as filed” and, shortly after takeoff was cleared direct to Wilkes-Barre VOR. The trip across PA was quiet, with a nice tailwind and I hit a high of 182kts as my fastest speed on the trip. I was in clouds much of the trip (1.8 hours of the 2.7 hour leg) but the air was smooth as silk, which was nice after the bumpy first leg! As I approached Wilkes-Barre, I got an amended routing, pushing me a bit further northeast and then circling to approach Bridgeport from the north. (If I had to guess, I was arriving at Bridgeport about the same time that Trump was scheduled to touch down in NYC, so the moved the traffic out of the way.)
The total flight time out and back was 13.5 hours, with 6.6 hours of instrument conditions flying. It was also my first run-in with icing, though I found that being decisive and taking action quickly and carefully made it a non-issue. Overall it was some great real-weather flying that proved the value of my instrument (IFR) rating and how wonderfully stable Gwaihir is as an IFR platform.
FOOTNOTE: As I write this, Bruce just called that he's been approved to issue the new medical--it's on its way!