May 11, 2024 | A Mostly Boring Flight

Topics: Aviation

2024-05-10 Flight SR20 MtRainier VFR pre-TFR.jpg|600
Inside the cockpit of a Cirrus SR-20 flying on a clear sunny day with Mt. Rainier in the distance, covered in white snow

One of the challenges I've found with flying isn't the flying itself but having a sustaining reason for flying.

To me, it feels wasteful to to spend the money and time to go fly without a specific purpose. Sometimes in the pilot community we call these "missions" (which I'm aware is occasionally discouraged). Some very common "missions" are:

There are also personal "missions" like:

Recently, I've lacked any missions beyond staying current and proficient, and have found my enthusiasm for flying waning a bit.

Yesterday I went out just to fly around.... and it was nice. The only "mission" objective was to get a take off and a landing so that (combined with other recent take offs and landings) I was current to carry passengers. It would be hard to go just flying around without both a take off and landing, so the mission had a high probability of success without any special planning.

In fact, the weather was "severe clear": not a cloud in the bright blue sky and winds less than five knots and almost straight down the runway. The biggest concern was that a TFR for the region would become active later in the day, meaning my home airport would be unavailable for me to take off or land in. The reason for the TFR was that POTUS was flying in to a nearby airport. I planned my flight to depart and return well before the TFR became active, so even this concern was mostly a non-factor. The flight would be pretty rote, and it was.

Until it wasn't. It turns out that many people were out flying just like me on that lovely day. My approximately one hour flight was partially spent picking a place and an altitude that I could maneuver without getting in the way of other aircraft. I flew over my house and explored the area a little bit. That part was really nice.

Then the flight got interesting. The arrival back to my home airport was as part of a string of five or six aircraft who all came inbound approximately the same time. Unusually, I was asked to join a five mile final rather than the typical arrival pattern.

I ended up in a slow flight configuration for the last few miles due to being behind a very slow Cessna ahead of me. Not helping matters was that there was another, very slightly faster, Cirrus, in trail. More than usual, I was both prepared and also expecting to be issued a go-around instruction by Air Traffic Control during my final approach as I watched the Cessna seemingly take as long as possible to land. After landing the Cessna appeared to dawdle on the runway until the Air Traffic Controller issued an "exit runway; no delay" instruction. Even after the Cessna repeated the instruction back, it seemed lethargic by my eye.

It is possible that the apparent slowness was perceptual on my part, so I don't fault the Cessna at all. Even if they were abnormally slow, the Cessna could have been piloted by a student. Or a newer pilot, (for context, I still consider myself a somewhat newer pilot), who hasn't developed the situational awareness for anything but the typical traffic pattern. Or perhaps doesn't have a nice avionics set up to display all the traffic on the MFD that I have available in the Cirrus.

I ended up following the VASI perfectly all the way down and landing safely. Then I exited the runway promptly to allow the Cirrus behind me plenty of time for their landing.

Although I never felt that the was flight unsafe at any point, it did demand more attention, radio work, and just a bit more airmanship than the norm. On reflection, it was a good reminder that even on the most rote of flights, interesting situations can and will happen that require both currency and proficiency. Those situations sometimes lead to learning something new or re-learning a nearly-forgotten lesson. In this case, I was grateful to have exercised (and sufficiently executed!) slow flight in a practical situation. Without the proficiency for slow flight, and had I kept a more normal pattern altitude speed, I would have certainly been instructed to go-around while waiting for the Cessna to exit the runway.

I'm looking forward to more mostly boring but slightly interesting flights while I wait for the next "mission".