A Tale of Two Flights

Roundtrip from Leesburg, FL to DeKalb-Peachtree

Bonanza 85 Kilo is cleared to the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport via Ocala, victor 159, Pecan, victor 97, Atlanta, direct. Climb and maintain 2000, expect 7000 ten minutes after departure. Departure frequency is 121 point 1, squawk 7331. 

I left in the Bonanza early Sunday for a few days of Mortgage Bankers Association meetings in Atlanta, at the Georgia World Congress Center. On departure from Leesburg, the skies were severe clear, the temperature was 65 degrees and the wind was calm. Enroute there were just a few clouds and a slight tailwind. This was a very easy, relaxing IFR flight. Jax Approach even arranged for direct PDK while still over Ocala.


Fifty miles Southeast of Atlanta, I anticipated and was assigned the TRBOW8 Arrival into Peachtree. Before things got too busy I was able to get a photo of Stone Mountain and Atlanta in the background from my vantage point at 4000 feet. 


View of Stone Mountain from 4000 feet

The only hiccup inbound on the arrival was during the letdown process into PDK. I was told to expect the ILS 20L, but I never received those vectors. My last assigned heading kept pointing me towards the Outer Marker on the final approach course. I knew I was about to get “slam dunked” by ATC. 

Sure enough, just as I am about to fly through the final, ATC asks if I have the airport in sight. When I answered “affirmative”, they cleared me for the visual approach to 20L rather than the ILS I had been expecting. I saw it coming a mile away and I was ready for it. I had already slowed to max gear speed in anticipation, and was ready for the acute left turn it would take to land on 20L. 

After landing, I taxied across RW 20R over to Epps Aviation on the NW corner of the airport. I have flown into Epps a number of times before, and even though the ramp was filled with expensive kerosene burners, they still treated me as though they valued my (meager) business. After arranging for fuel, a lineman dropped me off at the MARTA station for my commute to downtown Atlanta. 

The Return Flight Tuesday 

Today was my last day at the conference. When I woke up this morning, the view out of my 10th floor window of the hotel foretold of a somewhat difficult day ahead for the flight home. The ceilings were low, maybe 700 feet overcast, and the winds were gusty. The forecast for later in the day would be for 2000 feet broken with winds out of the Southwest, indicating a strong front was on its way. This system had a history of strong straight-line winds and tornadoes, and I did not want to stick around and see if they were going to hit Atlanta. 

With my meetings complete about noon today, I jumped back on the MARTA at the CNN station for the trip to PDK.  The actual weather at departure time was pretty much spot on with the forecast. Ceilings were at 2000 overcast-to-broken, winds were 180 at 18kts, gusting to 24. It was one of those pre-frontal southerly flows, only on steroids. A quick look at the RADAR plot showed exactly why. 

Here is a screenshot of the radar about an hour before departure. Atlanta is in the lower right where the blue dot is shown. The center of the low is in the upper Midwest.

Radar an hour before departure

After some quick analysis it was determined there was a two hour window to “get out of Dodge” at about 2PM. I needed to depart before the tail end of that huge low pressure system came blasting through. Even the corporate biz-jet guys in the flight planning room were trying to figure out a strategy to keep them clear of the approaching storm.

The clearance to Leesburg from PDK Clearance Delivery was the exact inverse of the above routing, and that is how the radios and GPS were setup.  On departure from RW 20L, I entered the clouds at 2500 feet on a heading of 250 degrees, to avoid some tall radio towers. I was then assigned a heading of 180 degrees, taking me directly over the top of Hartsfield/Atlanta International at 5000 feet MSL. For a brief moment I was able to get a glimpse of the airport and took this pic:

Overflying Atlanta Hartsfield

Flying back today was a completely different experience, weather-wise. While the flight Northbound  was smooth, with unlimited flight visibility, today was just ugly. And bumpy. Head-banging, teeth-jarring bumpy. It must be Karma for Sunday’s easy flight. I tightened up the harness and plowed ahead. At least the NEXRAD image showed no precip or convective activity along my route. 

At 5000, the wind was very strong, and right on the nose. At one point my groundspeed was down to 114 knots, indicating a 60 knot southerly headwind component. Inside the clouds, I pulled the power back and slowed for turbulence penetration and did my best to maintain a level attitude. Many other pilots I heard on the frequency today were complaining of a rough ride while IMC as well, and requested deviations from ATC around the tallest buildups.

 I flew for about 75 miles in the wet, bumpy clouds until ATC gave me a climb to 9000, direct Leesburg. I dialed 9000 into the King altitude pre-select, setting a climb rate of 700 feet per minute, and pushed the prop, mixture and throttle levers full forward. While still bumpy, the worst was over and upon breaking out on top, the skyscape was breathtaking:


As I tooled along at 9000 feet southbound, and further away from the weather, the headwinds decreased a bit and my ground speed settled in at about 150 knots, indicating only a 20 knot headwind. 

Then I received a second re-route from Jax Center: The Moody MOAs went hot, so the new route took me Southeast away from the military jets, over the Vienna VOR, to Waycross, South to the Taylor VOR and finally direct to Leesburg. I seemed to have spent the better part of the flight just re-programming the route changes into the GPS navigator and flight director. 

Once I reached the Georgia-Florida border, just east of Lake City, the weather continued to improve, although the headwinds were still quite strong. At least I was in the home stretch.

Garmin 430 from Taylor VOR to Leesburg

Jax Approach handed me off to Orlando Approach as I overflew the Lady Lake area. I called the airport-in-sight, and was assigned the visual to RW13 at Leesburg, and  handed off to the tower.

This was one flight where I was happy to touch down and taxi to the hangar. Single-pilot IFR flights like this can be very demanding, and I was ready for this one to be over. The positive aspect is that these challenging flights build your weather experience and more importantly, give you the confidence needed to tackle most any weather situation.

The trip up was just two hours, but the flight time back was almost 2:25 because of the headwinds and re-routes. Still beats an 8 hour drive anyday.


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