Tag Archives: rain

Stars and Rain

By the time we get to the runway the rain is coming down hard enough to be heard over the engine noise as it strikes the windshield and fuselage. The airplane in front of us, an old Mainline 737, flips on its landing light as it is cleared for takeoff and starts rolling forward. The light beams cut a path through the heavy rain and the engines, set low to the ground under the wing, kick up a huge spray of water vapor. As the blinking strobe light of the 737 disappears into the murk and clouds we are cleared on to the runway and released for takeoff as well.

It’s my leg, and the 4th flight of a day that began 12 hours ago and has yet to show any sunshine. I gave up on that hope hours ago as it is rapidly approaching 11pm and the likelihood of seeing any sun now before we get back to Dayton is slim to none. With the landing lights on and the thrust levers up we start moving forward down the runway into the clouds of vapor left by the recently departed 737.

The FO calls out rotate and we are in the air. Before I can even call for the gear up we enter the clouds and the ride gets bad. I trying to remember when we dropped into the clouds on the descent into Charlotte earlier in the evening, but the day has been too long and I can’t remember. With that happy thought I tighten by grip on the yoke and watch our airspeed and climb rate yoyo back and forth. Due to the late hour and lack of other traffic the departure controller immediately climbs us to 14,000 feet and gives us a turn to the north and towards home.

Through 10,000 I turn off the exterior lights and am debating about calling back to our two Flight Attendants to tell them to stay seated when we break through the top of the cloud layer. The ride instantly smoothes out and I flip the Electronic Device sign off which is the cue for the FAs to get out of their jumpseats.

Overhead, now unobstructed by the clouds, a blanket of stars come into view. As we climb higher they seem to grow in numbers so that as we level off at 30,000 feet the entire dome of the sky is filled with splashes of white. Overhead a meteor flashes by, visible for only seconds as it skips off the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrates in a burst of light. It is followed by another and then another and soon every 30 seconds the sky is torn by a streak of light that fades as rapidly as it appears. My FO and I stare, transfixed at the display as the darkened Kentucky and West Virginia countryside rolls by under the solid layer of clouds below.

Eventually ATC gives us a descent to 24,000 feet but I put off starting down as long as I can. Finally, when I can wait no longer and still keep the ride somewhat comfortable in the back, I roll the nose downward and pull back on the power. We slowly sink towards the clouds below where 100 miles ahead of us the Dayton Airport sits under a low overcast and rain showers. Above us the lightshow continues as the Geminid Meteor Shower passes over the darkened earth.

Up The River

2500 feet finds us tunneling through a solid mass of fog and rain. We are lit up like a Christmas tree and due to the temperature the precipitation captured in the beams of the landing lights is a mix of rain and ice. The FO turned on the engine and wing anti ice system several minutes ago and I am comforted by the green flow lines depicted on the multi function display, showing hot air being carried to the leading edge of the wing and engine cowls. Somewhere below us the sluggish waters of the Potomac River are sliding by, hidden by the clouds and darkness.

Despite the weather the ride has been mostly smooth unlike earlier in the day when we bounced through the clouds on our way into Charlotte. And into Greenville, SC. And back into Charlotte. And down to Columbia, SC. I shake my head slightly and realize that out of 5 legs flown today, at no time have we seen the ground above 1000 feet, something all too typical of late Fall/early Winter in the North East.

At 2000 feet off the ground there still isn’t anything to see forward except a hypnotizing pattern of rain and snow that is blasting by the window. A mile back tower advised us to slow down as much as we could as we were getting too close to the airplane in front of us to allow a departure between their arrival and ours. We’ve slowed down but with 25 knots of wind pushing us along towards the runway there may still not be enough room. Behind us, the next airplane in line (a Mesaba CRJ 900) is throwing out their anchor in an effort to slow down as well.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a blur of lights and look straight downward out the left side window. A string of white headlights emerges out of the fog, stretching off into the distance before it drifts out of sight behind the wing. I take a second to get my bearings and realize I’m watching Beltway traffic cross the Potomac on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. By now the lights are a faint memory and all that’s left is the momentary blur of raindrops, briefly illuminated by our flashing strobe light and beacon.

The gray darkness ahead starts to lighten and then lift as the ground lights come into sight. The runway approach lights are turned off but visibility is reported as 10 miles below the overcast so just the runway edge lights are more than enough. On the far side of the airport, on the other side of the bend in the Potomac and across the Mall, the headlights on 14th St stretch northward. Going from seeing nothing to the entirety of The District laid out in front of us in just seconds is a bit of a shock but fortunately the runway rushing towards us at 175mph forces us to focus on the task at hand.

The pavement starts just after the river ends and despite the steady rain and not so steady crosswind the FO manages a soft touchdown. We slow and turn off the runway. Behind us an American 737 starts accelerating down the runway we just vacated, it’s landing lights flickering behind the spray of water its engines are kicking up. Behind them, rapidly approaching down the river are the lights of the CRJ that was behind us. DC runs things tight, but as the lights quickly settle towards the ground, and the still accelerating 737 I realize they set this one up too tight. Sure enough ATC tells the arriving Mesaba jet to go around and their lights rotate upwards and within seconds they disappear back into the clouds.

The drama over I switch to “driving” mode in my mind and start looking for the line that will lead us to our rain swept parking space.

Racing

Through the rain splattered glass of the windshield the runway is growing larger at an alarming rate. I glance over at the FO who is concentrating on the rapidly approach pavement, the fingers of his left hand flexing on the thrust levers. He’s got a good reason to keep the speed up. We are racing a heavy rainstorm to the field and despite being delayed out of Greensboro 30 minutes earlier it looks like we might actually win the race. This is only the second leg I’ve flown with him and the first he’s actually been the pilot flying, but from what I’ve seen so far I trust him to get the plane slowed in time to land.

The radar is showing a swath of red and yellow returns just a few miles to the south. The good news is we are landing to the West which gives us a good escape path to the North if stuff starts to deteriorate and we need an out. At 5 miles out the plane in front of us, still visible despite the increasing amount of rain streaking up the windshield, touches down on the wet pavement. I glance down at the Traffic Display and see there is another aircraft just 2 ½ miles behind us. ATC has told everybody to go as fast as possible for as long as possible.

The FO takes a quick look at the speed number which is holding steady at 230 knots and the distance to the runway number which is rolling quickly backwards and decides it’s time to start slowing. He pulls the thrust levers back to idle, pulls the flight spoilers all the way out and as the speed starts to bleed off calls for 8 degrees of flaps. Before I can even move the lever two clicks down he’s calling for the flaps to 20 degrees. With the flaps and slats moving back off the wing the speed quickly evaporates but as we pass through 1000 feet and he’s forced to stow the spoilers we are still moving faster than we should be. I rest my hand on the landing gear handle and he takes the hint. Seconds later the 3000 PSI of hydraulic pressure holding the gear up is released and the wheels drop into the rain filled skies below us.

With the gear out the plane quickly decelerates and the FO calls for 30 degrees of flaps as the speed decreases to 170 knots. The last of the flaps follows as we descend through 500 feet. The southern horizon blurs and then turns a dull gray, flecked with yellow streaks of lightening as the storm approaches the southern edge of the field. The windsock, just to the left of the runway, motionless until now, slowly starts to rotate around to the north and extend. We’re at 200 feet now and slowed back to our approach speed. There’s a slight burble of air as we pass through 50 feet and then, as I flip on the windshield wipers the main wheels settled on to the pavement.

The FO deploys the reversers as soon as the nose wheel hits the ground and the wheel brakes come on soon after. We’ve got a plane right behind us and despite the fact that I hate when pilots slam on the brakes after a nice landing, in this case it is 100% justified. We slow through 80 knots and the FO stows the reversers. Through the rain that is now streaming down the windshield despite the wipers on high I can see the runway exit approaching on the right. I match the brake pressure the FOs has on the foot pedals and then let him know I’ve got the controls.

We clear the runway and turn towards the ramp. Back on final, visible through the heavy rain now falling, are the landing lights of the 737 that was behind us. They touchdown and then disappear in a cloud of water vapor as their thrust reversers deploy. I turn my attention back to the ramp where the Lightening Detection System lights are still showing yellow. We just might get our passengers off the plane before the heavy weather hits.

Rain

The cockpit darkened very quickly as we descended into the clouds. What light was left from the setting sun behind our wings quickly faded as the first wisps of gray started flying by the windows, gently buffeting the wings and tail. The radar wasn’t showing anything interesting in front of us, but as the bumps continued to increase in intensity I reached up to turn on the continuous ignition and then pulled the power back slightly to slow to 280 knots, our best speed for turbulence. Ahead to the north were the runways at Philadelphia, but between us and them were 80 miles of swirling, wet and bumpy darkness.

We’d launched out of Nashville an hour ago, 2 hours later than planned; typical of bad weather days in the Northeast. After blasting off a wet runway we’d navigated around (and through) a small line of weather near the airport before turning east towards Philly, some 650 miles away. After 20 minutes of bouncing through the leading edges of the weather we’d finally climbed into clear air and for the first time that day I enjoyed a bit of sunlight. Our stay at altitude was brief and only 15 minutes after getting there ATC had us heading back down and eventually back into the clouds.

With the weather radar sending a constant stream of energy out the front of the airplane we kept descending through 18,000. Most of the radio waves continued on into infinity but a fair number found enough moisture in their path to bounce back and show up as green and yellow splotches on the display screen in front of me. With the First Officer using the second radio to call in range to Philly, I put a quick request in with ATC for a turn to the right to avoid a small cell. They gave me the turn and told me to report when we were back on track. By the time the FO was back working the main radio we were heading in the right direction again and were handed off to Philly Approach Control.

With the weather as bad as it was (low ceilings, rain and mist), Philly was landing on only one runway, which was part of the reason we’d sat on the ground in Nashville so long. Now ATC was vectoring us through the weather towards a radio beam 25 miles away which would eventually guide down to the ground. Passing through 10,000 feet I flipped on the landing lights and turned the No Electronic Device sign back on. As the green PA in use light came on I could hear our Flight Attendant running though her before landing announcement which involves the standard seatback and tray tables up and locked spiel. I’ve heard it a thousand times before and I’ll hear it a several thousand times more before I’m done. Out in front of the plane the landing lights were illuminating a swirling mass of clouds while thousands of drops of water appeared frozen in the air every time the wingtip strobe flashed.

One more turn and we were now heading towards the runway, unseen through the clouds and dark, 12 miles away. The navigation instrumentation came alive and the autopilot locked on the Instrument Landing System’s radio beam which began at the end of runway and ended some miles behind us in the gray, churning sky. 8 miles from the airport and descending at 1000 feet a minute I called for the first of the flaps. They were closely followed by more flaps and as our airspeed bled off, the landing gear. The FO ran the before landing checklist and as we passed through 2000 feet he put out the last of the flaps. As the flaps locked into place, trailing in the clouds and rain 45 degrees below the wing, the Tower controller cleared us to land.

As the plane called off 1000 feet above the ground we dropped out of the clouds and the dark waters of the Delaware River came into sight below us. 3 miles away, out of the murk, the approach lights for Runway 9R came into view.

I made a quick visual check to ensure everything was as it should be. The gear was down. The flaps were full. The “cleared to land light” (the taxi light switch) was on. We were on speed and we were descending at 700 feet per minute. Everything checked. By then the computer was calling off 500 feet. By 100 feet I could make out the damp concrete rapidly passing below me and quickly rehashed a wet runway landing. The power came out at 50 feet and as the aircraft called out “Ten” I gave a slight pull on the yoke and we settled to the ground. In the space of a second my mind switched from “flying mode” to “driving mode” and we started decelerating on the wet pavement.

Rainy Start

My first clue that it might be a long morning came when I walked out the front door of the hotel in Mobile. Rain was cascading down so hard that the headlights of the few cars that were passing by at 5am on Interstate 10 across the parking lot were a soft blur in the rain and mist. The second clue was the bright flash of lighting and loud clap of thunder that was audible over the rain pelting down on the overhang above me. I looked over at my FO who was desperately trying to inhale his coffee and wake up and just wearily shook my head. He mimicked the gesture as did the Northwest Airlink crew who we’d shortly be sharing the van to the airport with. Some days that’s about all you can do.

15 minutes later we were unloading in front of Mobile Regional Airport’s main entrance. The rain was still coming down hard and now I could directionally orient myself with the airport complex and saw, much to my dismay that the majority of the lighting was to the west, which meant it still hadn’t reached us yet. A quick trip through Operations to pick up our paperwork and we were heading out the back door of the airport to walk to the plane. Fortunately most of the walk was under the cover of the terminal building and only the last 50 feet required us to head out into the downpour. Lighting was still flickering across the horizon when I left my back under the relative dryness of the jetway and sloshed through the puddles on the ramp to get the airplane’s door open. I figured my FO would have to brave the elements to do his walk around so I could at least stand outside long enough to get the door open so we could get on board.

That tasked accomplished, the three of us took turns shuttling our various bags and flight cases from under the jetway, across the 50 feet of open ramp, up the aircraft stairs and into the forward galley of the plane which was rapidly filling with water from the windblown rain. Once I had all my gear on board I got started with the daily process of getting the aircraft powered up and then running through the litany of checks and tests to ensure that all the switches (there are over 150 of them in the cockpit) are in the right position and all the systems are working properly. With that completed I stepped back into the galley which now resembled a wading pool and decided that until they got the jetway moved over to the aircraft I would shut the main cabin door to keep the rain out. That accomplished I headed back up front to start looking at the paperwork and weather for the flight.

Other than the local thunderstorm it didn’t look too bad. The weather was in the shape a large backwards “L” with the base starting west of New Orleans from where it headed due east (over Mobile) until it got to Pensacola, FL. From there the system headed north-east to where it died out around Atlanta. Charlotte (or eventual destination) was in the clear of the storm system but in typical early Spring fashion was fogged in to less than ½ a mile. Outside in the rain I watched a gate agent run up the jetway stairs and then a moment later reappear at the end of the cab to move it over to the aircraft. I called back for our Flight Attendant to open the door and as soon as he did the rain started blowing back into the cabin. After several seconds of this I looked back over to the jet way only to see the gate agent was gone. She reappeared underneath by the power unit and after pressing buttons for a few minutes came over to the airplane. Apparently the jetway had been hit by lighting at some point during the night and was not powering up.

We both agreed that loading passengers across the flooded ramp, in the middle of a lightning storm was not in anybody’s best interest so I asked her if we could maybe use Northwest’s gate once their plane left. She said she’d check and a few minutes later came back out to let us to know that we would us American’s jetway which was located on the other side of the terminal. 15 minutes later American Eagle’s ERJ taxied out and we started up our engines, turned out and then taxied the 500 feet around the corner to the other gate. After a brief bit of confusion about the jetway being configured for an ERJ and not a CRJ they got things rolling and parked it against the plane. 10 minutes later our passengers were boarding and 20 minutes after that (and only 15 minutes after our scheduled departure time) we were starting up our engines for the second time that day and taxiing out.

The good news was that due to our delay the first hints of day light were creeping in from the east. Also by now most of the weather had moved over. It was the FOs leg and as we taxied to runway 32 he briefed the take off. Lined up and ready to go the weather radar took a quick sweep to the northwest were it painted nothing but light rain. In the rapidly brightening dawn we could see clear blue sky through the broken layer of clouds off the end of the runway. With the power set the plane lurched forward and several seconds later was clawing its way into the air.

Tower handed us off to approach and before I could check in there was a huge flash of light off to our right, directly between us and where we wanted to go. The back end of the weather was just passing to the north of the field. Approach kept us heading northwest for another 5 miles and then clear of the last cell we turned towards the northeast and Charlotte some 500 miles away. As we plunged back into the clouds and rain I took a quick look out my window to the west where the sky was clear and lightening with the rising sun, even if we couldn’t see it. It would be another 4 legs of flying and 12 hours later before we’d see clear skies again as we dropped the plane into Dayton for the end of our trip.

Bumps & Rain

The rain started just as we were taxiing in from the runway. The last bit of daylight had faded somewhere above the clouds tops on the arrival and the rest of the approach was shrouded in the flat gray light so typical of an overcast dusk. Shutdown at the gate with the first rivulets of water running down the windshield I punched up the weather for our next leg on my phone. It actually didn’t look too bad. While Charlotte was supposed to deteriorate through the evening, Fayetteville, NC was suppose to stay good until well after our time of arrival. Of course that could all change over the next two hours while we sat around the airport waiting for our 8:35pm departure time to roll around.

I managed to fill my 2 hour sit with talking to a few other crews hanging around the crew room and eating dinner. Now, full of the latest rumors and a turkey BBQ dinner I headed back out to the airplane which was just as we had left it a few hours earlier. The rain was coming down now and most of the rampers were dressed in their reflective yellow rain gear and hoods. At night, especially during bad weather, the ramp operations slow down which leads to a somewhat safer operation. Even so, I am much happier sitting inside looking out and not having to worry about the fast moving bag carts and fuel trucks that zip between airplanes.

Finally the ramp finished loading our bags and we shut the door, sealing in 46 passengers and 4 crew members for the quick 25 minute flight over to Fayetteville. We managed to push off the gate 3 minutes early, which for Charlotte is no small feat, and then started out taxiing back out to the runway. About halfway there we ran into the back end of the line. The first time we came to a complete stop and I set the parking brake I counted 18 sets of tail lights in front of us. I passed the bad news on the passengers and went into fuel monitoring mode. We had about 800 pounds above our absolute minimum for takeoff and were burning about 600 pounds per hour between our single engine that was running and the APU. That gave us about an hour and fifteen minutes before we would have problems, which I thought was more the sufficient for the current line.

Sure enough, 30 minutes later we’d reached the top of the line (see picture below) and after two tightly spaced arrivals we were cleared on to the runway.

The final checklist run, I lined up the nose on the centerline and once given the takeoff clearance put up the power. Because of the wet conditions the weight and balance computer had decided we would need all our available takeoff power (mostly it gives us a number for a reduced power takeoff) so with the engines putting out their maximum effort and a lightly loaded aircraft it took just a few thousand feet before the nose came up and the wheels came off the pavement and we were flying.

Tower handed us off to departure as I followed the GPS generated course to the north and then back to the east. Departure climbed us to 14,000 feet and then handed us over to Atlanta Center who climb us some more. Leveling off at our final altitude of 15,000 feet we were in the clouds and in moderate rain and turbulence. Of course our weather radar wasn’t painting anything but that’s typical of winter flying when most of the precip we are running into is in the frozen form.

Finally after 10 minutes of bouncing around we broke into clearer air as we were descended back down to 10,000 feet. By now we had been passed off to Washington Center and were now being watched over by a controller sitting behind a scope in Leesburg, VA. Shortly thereafter we were passed on to Fayetteville Approach who assigned us runway 22 and descended us to 5000 feet. By now we were out of the clouds and the airport beacon was in sight.

With the approach briefed and the Flight Attendants making their final preparations for landing in the back I had my FO let the controller know we had the airport visually. Hearing that he cut us loose for a visual approach which, after letting the autopilot bounce through the skies for the last half an hour, I was only too happy to hand fly. With the runway in sight and the flaps and gear out and mentally coached myself through a CRJ700 landing. I told the FO to think light happy thoughts (it’s very easy to flare too late in the 700 and slam the wheels into the ground) as we dropped through 500 feet. A little burble of wind at 200 feet moved us off the centerline but by 100 feet I was back. At 30 feet I pulled the power out and started to bring the nose up. Because we were so light I ended up pulling to hard and thought we were going to go back up into the air for a second. Fortunately we didn’t and the main wheels came down for one of the softest landings I’ve had in a while. I guess sometimes it just takes a really bumpy flight to force a nice landing.

Rain, Rain and More Rain!

It’s turning into Seattle here in (not so) sunny Phoenix. We’ve had rain off and on for the past few weeks and stuff is sure looking green, but it isn’t helping with the flight training any. So far it hasn’t put me too far behind, but that is a distinct possibility has the week progresses.

I did manage to get up to Havasu yesterday. It was a nice VFR flight over just below a solid ceiling at 11000. Coming back night “VFR” was an interesting thing. The decks had dropped to about 7500 and there was pretty heavy rain. Fortunately we were ok at 7, but the freezing level also came down so the whole way back we were at about 33 degrees in heavy rain. Icing, needless to say, was a
possibility. But, other then that the trip was a nice change from the sim and ground I have been doing.

The other down side of all this rain is ultimate has been canceled for the past couple of games. Blah. Now I don’t have anyway to NOT get fat and lazy. I guess I *could* start running or something…. naw I guess not.

Half Day? Sure.

Flew this morning to Yuma, AZ. (check out pictures!) It was a nice little break from all this sim time that I have been doing with my two students. I was supposed to fly a flight with one of the add on ATPs but due to a slight plane shortage I was off the hook for that. So, by 2pm I was headed home. Sweeet!

Also played Ultimate today. With all the rain we’ve had over the past few weeks the fields were pretty soft, which is something of a rarity around here. Not an over all great day for me (play wise). But, the ankle is still getting better all the time so that is nice.

Tomorrow looks a little bit busier then today. Sim, Sim, Cessna (to Flagstaff, I should bring my skies) and then a series of night takeoffs and landings. Good stuff.