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  • Steve

RV-8 and the Day of the Clouds

Saturday 2/11/23 was supposed to be a little bit better day than it turned out to be. The forecast on Friday called for clearing about noon and ceilings of at least 4,000'. It was going to be cloudy early, but improving through the day.

I got to the airport a little bit early to play around with a camera a little bit. I am looking for some way to be able to use one of my older GoPros to be able to look out to the sides, since neither camera currently in use really gets those views. I wanted something that could be used hands free. I didn't want to have to worry about playing with the camera and flying the airplane. My iPhone 14 takes very good video, but I have to have it in my hand to use. I was looking for a Son of Cap Cam. I still have a ball cap that I bought that has a GoPro mount on it.

The cap cam mount works fairly well, but with the mount in one orientation the camera sticks up above the cap and hits the canopy. In the other orientation I can't quite get the camera pointed down, it points slightly above the horizon. I was hoping that it might be good enough, and I think it might be.

It isn't quite as hands free as I would like because I still have to use my phone to start and stop recording. Once again going back to the lousy battery life of most GoPro cameras, I can't just start recording before I take off and still have it recording when I land. This time I tried leaving it in standby between uses and even that didn't work out too well and the battery was dead before I got back. In future I will have to turn it off completely between shots. I suppose another alternative is to bring more batteries with me and just change them every hour or so.

Shortly after I got to the airport I got a text from Carl that he wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be coming to the airport today. While that was unfortunate, at least he didn't miss much.

At the top of this post I mentioned what the forecast called for. I'm sure that most of you will be absolutely shocked to learn that what actually happened was quite different than what was forecast. To start with, by the time I checked the forecast again Saturday morning, it had changed for the worse. They were now calling for wide spread clouds with ceilings at 2,500' and lower in places. The clearing now wasn't supposed to happen until after 2:00 (it actually happened closer to 4:00).

On Friday it looked like getting to Forks would be doable, so that was my plan. On Saturday however, it was more uncertain. For one thing, the Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) at Quillayute was not working, at least not feeding ForeFlight. I didn't get close enough to see if the radio broadcast was working. That is inconvenient as it is the closest reporting station to Forks. There is a report form the Coast Guard helicopter station at Neah Bay, but that is a good distance away.

It was about 2,200' overcast at Arlington, but was supposed to be better to the west. Port Angeles was clear and the Neah Bay station was reporting 3,400 overcast. I figured if I could get away from Arlington it would get better. It did, but not as much as I was hoping for.

This airplane (possibly owned by Rainier Flight Service) will feature later in the story.

I took off right at noon and headed to the west. I had to stay pretty low getting out. While it was pretty good over the airport, there were some lower clouds I had to get under before I could get to clearer air. Once I got to about Pt. Townsend, I could climb into the clearer air. It was pretty clear that this clearing would last too long. There were some dark clouds near Pt. Angeles. The cloud shelf there extended quite a way into the strait. It looked like the only clear air further west was on the Canadian side of the strait.

I climbed above the clouds hoping that I could find an opening further west to drop down through, but it quickly became pretty obvious that there weren't likely to be any holes where I needed them to be so I turned back and circled until I could lose enough altitude to get under the clouds. The picture under the clouds wasn't nearly so rosy.

I could see a good bit past Pt. Angeles, but I couldn't see any good way to get through the mountain range that runs along the strait. The passes that we usually use when the ceilings are low were filled with clouds. I still had reports that it was 3,400 overcast at Neah Bay, but I would have had to go lower than I cared to to get there and once I did it still didn't look like there was a way to get from there to Forks.

I got down to 2,000' and wasn't really comfortable going any lower. Since it didn't look good, I turned around and decided to try something else. I was using Skagit as my plan B, but with the clouds the way they were, I would have had to go almost all the way back to Arlington to get there, or fly very low over a lot of water to get there from the north and I wasn't comfortable with that either.

I ended up going down toward the Hood Canal as it looked a little brighter down there. I was low enough that I had to fly around the prohibited area at Bangor. The two sub tenders and a lot of other boats were just outside the nets. It looked like a sub was just docking.

Since it didn't look much better in that direction, I decided to head home. Since I was in a break in the clouds I decided to climb on top for the trip home. I thought there might be a hole over Pt. Susan, and worst case, I knew the strait was open and I could drop down there.

I didn't find a hole over Pt. Susan, but was also clear to the south from about Paine Field south. As I was over Whidbey Island I saw a hole in the clouds near Pt. Townsend and thought I could get down there. It actually would have worked, but it had me too close to the restricted areas at Coupeville. Now, being a Saturday, they were almost certainly cold. I could have simply called Whidbey approach and asked. Once I confirmed they were cold, I could have continued with that plan, but where's the fun in that. Anyone can do it the easy way.

Instead, I climbed back up to get above the clouds and headed south and let down near Paine Field. In a recent update ForeFlight added alerts for controlled airspace. I had been wanting to try this feature out and here was my chance. It was pretty good at letting me know what tiers of the Class B I had coming up and made it easy to identify and avoid them.

Once under the clouds I headed back to the airport. I was surprised at how much traffic there was today, not just at Arlington, but pretty much everywhere. Due to the low clouds I had to fly lower than I usually would and had to dodge airplanes on several occasions.

The glider club had been flying since shortly after I got to the airport and as I approached the airport the tow plane was entering the pattern from the east. A little bit earlier I heard the 172 pictured above approaching form the south and planning to make a 5 mile base entry. I called my position, but both of these would have been in front of me.

It turned out that the tow plane and the 172 were base to final at about the same place and same time. The 172 was flying a pretty wide pattern and the tow plane turned base inside of him. From where I was it looked like they got pretty close when the 172 turned out. He said something like "thanks for cutting me off" to which there was no reply from the tow plane.

I thought it was a little crazy that the guy making the non-normal pattern entry was upset at the guy who flew a "normal" pattern.

The problem for me was that I was now at the place where I normally turn base and the 172 was flying south, away from the airport. I was just about to call and ask what he intended when I got a call from him telling me that I could go first and he would follow. I thanked him and proceeded to turn base.

As I turned final there was a glider landing at almost the same time (he was a little in front of me). I managed to pull off a good landing. The only real complaint that I had was that the tail was a little higher than I would have liked. Not bad, just not quite the "tail low" position preferred by many.

As I was turning off the runway I saw the tow plane heading for the pumps. Crap. I should have been there first. From a distance, it looked like he parked blocking most of the island, but when I got closer I could see that we was farther north than I though. Right where I wanted to go (pump 1). There was, however, more than enough room for me to get to pump 3 (pump 2 still has no fuel).

Not as bad as it first looked.

The only real gripe I have is that as soon as the tow pilot got out he left and went somewhere, leaving the airplane right there in the way.

As I was about half finished I heard another airplane coming toward the pumps. I was hoping that he wouldn't pull right in front of me so I couldn't get out. He did.

Could have waited a few minutes.

While I probably could have moved my airplane a little and had room to get out, I chose to sit there and glare at him. Turns out it was a good thing I did since as soon as I sat down I realized that I had forgotten to get my fuel receipt. I climbed back out to get it.

I will say this in his favor though that when he pushed back he got way out of the way so he wasn't in anyone's way.

It didn't take too long to get the airplane put away and wiped down. When I went to do my normal post flight inspection I noticed that the hinge pin on my heater muff was migrating out and was about 1/3 of the way out of the muff. After looking again it was obvious that some bone head had forgotten to install the cotter pins that capture the pin. Pushing the pin back in and getting a cotter pin on it through the cowl opening, while not overly easy, is doable.

On the way home I stopped at Rite Aid and the cashier there, a lady who has been there at least as long as I have been going there, asked what I was up to today, so I told her that I was trying to fly out to Forks but didn't quite make it. She then said that she was born in Forks. I'm pretty sure that's something you don't hear very often.

The track log is here.

The video is here.

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