This past week I needed to make a business trip to South Florida and return in the same day. The choice was to either get up really early and drive 4.5 hours each way on the Florida Turnpike, or make the 1:15 minute flight in the Bonanza. Making the trip in the plane assumed the weather was going to be adequate for an IFR flight in a single engine piston aircraft.
The only problem was that I was on a fairly tight schedule, and that for the last few days the weather over central Florida had been less than ideal. There were no thunderstorms predicted, however, for the last three mornings the weather had been foggy, and ceilings were low. As you might guess, temperatures and dew points were within a degree or two of each other. Low ceilings persisted even later in the day, due to an easterly fetch off the Atlantic Ocean.
Although perfectly legal for Part 91 operators, a 0/0 IFR departure for me is a non-starter. So the calculated gamble was whether to get up at 0’dark thirty and drive to my meetings, or fly and risk arriving late because of widespread fog and low ceilings.
I decided to take my chances and slept in ‘till 6:45 AM.
When I awoke the morning of my trip, it was foggy as expected, but it was predicted to clear later in the morning. My destination, North Perry/Hollywood Airport (KHWO) was reporting good VFR with 4,300 scattered and 6,000 broken. The winds were 12 kts gusting to 16, out of the east.
I drove to the airport in fog, but could see some very small breaks in the ceiling, indicating that there was some blue sky above. Here is where it gets a little tricky. There is no ILS for a return to Leesburg in case the flight needed to be aborted. The lowest MDAs (non-WAAS) GPS approaches require at least 500 feet or better, so returning to Leesburg will not be an option. Orlando Executive and other nearby airports were reporting marginal VFR conditions. Those airports would be my “out” in case I needed to land for any reason, so I decided to launch.
After getting my instrument clearance from GC, I taxied out for departure onto RWY 13. The latest ASOS indicated that the ceiling and visibility had improved to 300 feet overcast and 6 miles visibility. I pushed the throttle forward and lifted off about 1000 feet down the runway. As soon as I rotated, I transitioned to the gauges, as all I saw were clouds.
Climbing thorough 1000 feet, I topped the first cloud deck and was cleared by Orlando Departure to my cruise altitude of 6,000. It was layered all the way up, but climbing through 5,500 feet it was clear on top. As predicted, the weather improved as I flew south.
So did I do the right thing by departing under a 300 foot ceiling in a single engine? Under similar circumstances, what would you have done?
Let me know your thoughts.