Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Riding the ILS on a pretty wet day.
We flew to Monticello, New York today. It was a wet flight, and it's raining non-stop here. The news people are talking about floods and tornados and more floods and I'm glad we are already safe on the ground, though I should probably get a room on the second floor of the hotel, just in case.
The flight was fine except that the FBO in North Carolina didn't have any bags of ice to put into the various coolers I have on board the airplane for passenger drinks. Stuff like that sounds really minor and stupid, but it's also stuff the passengers are used to, and when it's not there, they notice. They pay crazy amounts of money to fly a private jet, so I feel bad when I can't get the plane set up exactly how they want it. Normally it's not a problem because we travel to large airports where it's easy to get all the goodies the passengers want, but at smaller airports the infrastructure just isn't there, so sometimes we can't get fresh coffee or newspapers or decent catering or boiling water for tea or whatever, and even though it's out of my control, I worry that it looks bad on me.
More pilot geek stuff:
The weather at our destination, Sullivan County, wasn't very good at all. Nothing scary, just a few bumps, lots of rain and low clouds, which make it hard to see the runway. The first time the air traffic controller lined us up for the airport he totally screwed it up and we ended up over the airport at like 5,000' above ground, which is about a mile too high to successfully land the airplane. I think he was distracted with lots of other airplanes who needed to divert around some thunderstorms west of us, but it was still a pain, especially when our direct operating cost is around 30 bucks a minute to run the jet. So we went around and he paid a little more attention and vectored us back for a second approach, which worked out fine.
We broke out a few hundred feet above minimums on the ILS approach into our arrival airport this morning, which was pretty neat. The ILS approach system has been installed for decades at many large airports, and provides a reliable way to attempt a landing in low visibilties and bad weather. An ILS approach is a relatively precise radio aid that lets us line up for a landing straight down the runway, and also tells us if we are descending on the correct slope to land on the runway and not in the trees before or after the runway. On an ILS approach we can use our instruments to get to within 200' of the runway while still being in cloud. At 200', we look up and if we see something that identifies itself as a runway (for example: runway lights, the runway itself, or other visual clues that it's an airport and not a corn field or a mountainside), then we land. If we still don't see the runway at 200' above ground, we push the throttles forward and climb back up into the sky. 200' above ground translates into about 10 seconds from landing, so it really is close. Some of the more modern airliners can have their autopilots fly the airplane right down to the runway, but we don't have that luxury as the equipment required for an airplane to do that is very expensive, and it's limited to only a few of the largest airports.
Anyway, we flew in the rain and cloud and muck right up intil the last few seconds, when we broke out beneath the cloud layer and saw the runway in front of us. I have flown ILS landings a bajillion times but it still amazes me that the system works so damn well. Future systems will use GPS navigation to provide very precise landings in bad weather at almost every airport, but until then the venerable ILS system will be the workhorse of bad-weather landings.
After we landed my pax scurried into the FBO while I soaked myself getting their bags out of the plane. I came to the hotel, had a good soak in the pool and a run on the treadmill, then made up for it with a chocolate milkshake. Life is good.