Thursday, July 14, 2005

Not in This Airplane

There have been some hot sunny days lately, but I'm still remembering flying instead of flying. Dave has a great hot weather story today story for you, so here's one of mine.

I was sitting and sweating, last in a queue of airplanes on a hot day. While we waited on the taxiway, the wind was undergoing its midmorning shift to a new direction. The tower decided to use another runway, more into the wind, and began directing incoming traffic, and airplanes just starting up, towards that runway. Those of us already in line to take off on the original runway were cleared to take off, one by one. By the time the line worked through to me, airplanes that had started up after me were already taking off, on a runway conflicting with mine, so I had to wait even longer for a takeoff clearance.

I was piloting an airplane of the same type as many of our fleet, but which mysteriously would not climb well. It is heavier than average, but not the heaviest. It has had a new propeller, an engine overhaul, and I believe a paint job (which includes having the wings taken off and put back on again) but still climbs like a, well I was going to say 'like a dog' but I've seen dogs climb, and they can get up a hill fairly sharply, tongue lolling about. If this airplane were a dog it would be a fat dog, with a bad leg and have its tongue lolling about just standing still. It's just a slow climber.

Non-mysteriously, a high temperature, a heavily loaded airplane and a tailwind all degrade climb performance. I was sitting pretty close to maximum weight. With the wind now favouring the other runway, I had a tailwind. The poor airplane had to be going forward down the runway at twice the speed of the wind, in order to develop only the same lift as an airplane sitting still at the beginning of the into-wind runway. And because it was so hot, it had to be going faster in still air just to achieve the same pressure differential throught he wing as on a cold day. By the time the airplane was airborne it was further down the runway than it would have been with a headwind or no wind, and further down the runway than it would have been in cold temperatures. Even airborne, the tailwind and heat continued to affect its climb angle, meaning that it gained less altitude than normal for each mile it went forward.

This wasn't dangerous, it was a VFR (looking-out-the-window) flight with no obstacles and a very shallow required climb gradient. I'm patient. I held the climb speed and waited. It would get to altitude eventually. Then tower amended my departure instructions and asked me to make a turn that would require me to overfly another control zone. Or rather the controller expected me to overfly it. I had no such illusions. I accepted the clearance, then requested a radio frequency change. I needed to make a radio call before cutting through someone else's airspace.

There had been a broken layer of cloud in the area earlier, and there were still a few clouds at that level, lurking in a layer of haze. The controller thought that I was unable to climb because there were too many clouds above me to see. It's his responsibility to broadcast advisories on the sky condition in the immediate area of his aerodrome, so before approving the frequency change, he asked me to confirm that I was unable to reach that altitude.

I answered, "Not in this airplane." I spent the rest of the day hearing about how I'd made everyone laugh with that line, from other pilots who knew me and the airplane.

And while I'm reporting funny things from the radio, once I heard a pilot leaving a frequency report, "Just for your information, there's a dead whale here." I'm assuming he meant in the water below, and not plummeting through his altitude like in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


Lisa & Adam said...

He didn't mention a bowl of petunias by any chance?

Anonymous said...

Good the runway was long enough. You should have hedge-hopped, then maybe ATC would have let you alone.

Old Blind Dog said...

There are many comedians on the radio. Yesterday, inbound to IAH, the approach controller directed me to runway 26R. Knowing this would leave me with about a 2 mile taxi to the FBO ramp, he allowed as how tower might let me circle to land on 15L which would take me directly to the ramp if I exited the proper high speed after landing. So, on handing me off to tower I was admonished with "...let the begging begin!"

Clint said...

it's great when ATC has a sense of humor, especially in a terminal area like houston. however, controllers quickly lose their sense of humor when some knuckle-head decides to do their own thing w/o telling ATC. I have seen a happy-go-lucky controller get pretty upset with a pilot who was having a hard time following his instructions. it didn't take long for the controller to ask what flight school the guy was from....and no, the knuckle-head in this case wasn't me.

Aviatrix said...

Hey, he was a pilot, not a cetacean veteranarian. It's probably hard to diagnose airborne whales.