A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Escape from the clouds

November 1, 2015
Emilie Phillips
Inside of the clouds at the house

Inside of the clouds at the house

By the time any of us woke up Sunday morning, all we could see were a few trees nearby and the inside of a cloud. This did not look promising for getting back to work by Monday. We scoured the weather forecasts. The rain should have ended early morning, but we couldn’t tell from our position in the clouds. Nearby airports forecasted ceilings around 4,000′ above ground level and dropping. Those airports were 3,000′ below us. The area forecast predicted high pressure moving into New England and Mid-Atlantic in the afternoon, missing WV. Not until Tuesday was it guaranteed to be clear. Looking at the non-aviation forecasts, we guessed there was a chance the clouds would lift for a few hours around 2PM. We debated, argued, planned, and unplanned. The house is higher than the lowest passes out of the valley, so there was a chance we wouldn’t see an opportunity from the house. Tyson and my Dad looked up every webcam they could think of. All the ski area cameras in the valley were offline. The forest service web camera from the far ridge was available. To the best they could determine, it was lower than the house and low enough that if it couldn’t see anything, we shouldn’t fly.

We packed our bags just in case the weather changed, but then Tyson and I pulled out our work and my parents played puzzles and games with Isaac. By lunch time there was no change. After lunch, they headed to the top of the ridge to fly the kite in the wind and fog. Tyson and I resumed typing away on our computers. Around 2PM, I briefly thought I saw the clouds clear a little bit, but they fogged back in before Tyson looked. A half hour later while I was brewing my mid afternoon herbal tea, I noticed the clouds had lifted enough to see a sliver of the valley.

Here is what the forest service web cam saw from the other side

Tyson and I watched the clouds for a few minutes while I gulped my tea. We double checked weather conditions elsewhere, and then started hauling bags to the car. My parents’ cell phones were on the diner table, so we couldn’t call them, but they came hurrying down from the ridge. The whole drive down to the airport, we discussed the cloud profile and which way to exit the valley. Even getting into the airplane, we still were not certain we could fly over the ridges. However, once airborne, we saw a clear path out to the north.

The good side of a wave

The good side of a wave

We flew straight to Cumberland (CBE) for gas. They have cheap gas, but bring a check book because their credit card system has had issues both times I have stopped there. We took off and climbed up to 7,500′ cruising altitude. The wind was a little to our side, but mostly on our tail. With enough tailwind, we could make it the rest of the way home with no fuel stops. Both Tyson and I computed a cut off time. If our average speed put us home after that, we would need to stop for gas. Tyson trimmed the airplane for cruise and it looked like we were good. Then we entered an area of sink, and we were too slow. Tyson retrimmed. Then back into the lift — and back into the sink. The whole way through Pennsylvania we rode up and down on invisible high altitude waves. If only we had known the right spot we maybe could have surfed the lift. On average, the GPS predicted we would get home in time for no extra gas stops.

Somewhere in NY we lost the waves and settled down to a constant, if slower speed. We had just enough margin that both Tyson and I were happy flying straight home. Then over western Massachusetts, Isaac declared he needed to go pee. The closest airport was out of the way. The next one on our route was a little farther, but we needed that long to descend anyway. We landed at Turners Falls (0B5). The FBO was closed for the evening, so no gas and we made do with the bushes. From there, we went straight back to Jaffrey to return the Skyhawk.

I was a little disappointed I spent Sunday working rather than on quality time with my parents, but hindsight is 20-20. Had we been stuck in WV extra days, I would have needed to work, and I would have gotten more time with my parents.