Divert choice

Discussion in 'Lessons Learned' started by ircphoenix, Nov 21, 2016.

  1. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    So... there I was in Phoenix. I'm worried about the weather that's supposed to be moving into the Los Angeles area. I don't have the option of leaving while it's still daylight, but I'm strongly considering leaving at night, because then I only have to worry about the darkness instead of worrying about clouds. But the route is fairly desolate, and there's a BKN layer at 15,000 preventing any moonlight from getting through. Plan would be to follow the 10 freeway back home, and I have terrain warnings in my 530, which serves as a good backup just in case.

    Then I look at the following day's weather. I check the TAFs. I get an outlook briefing via DUATS. I check two different weather guesser websites. Everything tells me outlook is VFR until about 6pm, with BKN150. I figure we're going to be wheels up around 9am local, which puts us home at 11:30am local after accounting for the time change going back to California. That should mean we're in the area and safely on the ground well before weather changes. But I'm leery of the forecast, as LAX is always grossly optimistic when it comes to weather reporting. But I figure even if the forecast is wrong, I can divert to a field that will stay VFR for a while before the weather makes it that far inland.

    So I consult my former flight instructor. He convinces me that flying back at night is a bad plan. I am aware that I'm being strongly influenced by a desire to get home before the weather so the get-there-itis is strong. But I also know that I feel comfortable with the circumstances and my proposed outs. I know as long as I'm near the freeway, I have a relatively flat surface next to the freeway in which to land. But the forecast the next day says ceilings remain high until 6-7 hours after my anticipated arrival. So I decide to rest up instead and go with my morning departure plan.

    Wake up in the morning and check the weather. The forecast has updated somewhat, and instead of the METARs saying BKN15, the reports now say BKN12. And the TAF at LAX hasn't changed as far as the timing is concerned. I figure I'm good.

    We depart. Ceilings stay high. Got a little virga and a little bumpiness on the way out. But no big deal. Pick up a strong tailwind, which wasn't forecasted and was nice to have and something I'm not used to on an east to west heading. The rest of the 2+ hours are uneventful. I get back to the SoCal area and I know I'm going to have to descend. METARs say the clouds are BKN055. I'm down to 4,500. Nope. Descend to 2,500. Now I'm just at minimum clearances below them and I can see they're still coming down. CRAP. I look ahead and I know I'm getting close to Fullerton. If I have to proceed straight AND get lower, I'm going to bust their airspace. Then beyond them I have to deal with KLGB which is always a madhouse. I don't want to have to request transitions at 1000 AGL from back to back towers when I'm already feeling overwhelmed by weather conditions.

    Screw it. I'm on flight following so I tell them I'm turning around due to weather and changing my destination. They tell me there's a plane straight ahead and below me just departing Fullerton. I tell them I have the traffic in sight and I make a right 180 to get out of there as the clouds feel like they're closing in. The rest of the flight is uneventful, we land, get treated really well by Luxivair at San Bernardino (KSBD). Delicious cookies, full fountain drink bar, 'vending' machines with free stuff, and a 12 seat mini theater with plush reclining seats. Waited there for an hour to see how weather went. It didn't get any better. My alternate plan was to fly south, get to the ocean, and descend to 500-1000 AGL over the water and squeak in to the home drome SVFR. Girlfriend was with me so I wasn't willing to take that risk. Someone's gotta raise our dog, after all.

    So we rented a car (another adventure in and of itself, this one much less pleasant) and now my airplane is an hour and 45 minutes away.

    Now for the kicker. In case you didn't notice earlier in the story I made it closer to my destination than where my plane ended up. My concern was that an airport was in my way, preventing me from getting to an airport. Because my flight planning said KSBD was my alternate. I was too concerned with aviating that I couldn't think on the fly to just divert to the field that was a few miles away that I would have to descend into anyway.

    So that's the lesson I learned. When thinking about an alternate or divert field, don't get so fixated on your pre-planning that you're unable to see an obvious answer right in front of you.
     
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  2. rtk11

    rtk11 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Glad you made it down safely and despite being 1 hour 45 minutes away from your plane, your ADM kept you safe. I was going to ask why you didn't just descend to Fullerton as that would have been closer to home (and happens to be my home base.) But I understand about having planned the alternate as part of your flight planning.

    One of the partners on my plane was flying the same route from Scottsdale into Phoenix on Sunday and managed to squeak in Fullerton at 12:15 PM. Rain started falling around 12:30 - 12:45 and clouds were scattered at 2,000 feet. If you were much later than 12:30 or 1:00, I think you got caught up in those worsening conditions.
     
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  3. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    I was about 7 miles east at about 11:30am. Going into Fullerton at that point would have been a non-issue. But I think since I'd never landed there my brain wasn't able to comprehend going into there in the moment.
     
  4. Ravioli

    Ravioli Pattern Altitude

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    Overall - you did it right.

    Armchair? I'd pick Chino over San Berdoo. It's closer and has more options to get down. And since you were practically AT Fullerton?

    Fullerton has two interesting "features." Arriving 24 there is a train track that crosses just outside the fence. Arriving 06 there is a large radio tower (KFI) to avoid.
     
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  5. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    Yeah... just kicking myself because I have to get myself nearly two hours away instead of 40 minutes away all because I wasn't able to think on my feet... or on my ass since I was sitting. LoL

    And I could have gotten low level over water experience in low ceilings!
     
  6. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Nice diversion story. You made it and you're fine.

    Now, try to imagine what this would be like if it were ALSO dark.

    Night VFR in questionable weather is a real bad idea. Even in perfect weather, it approximates instrument conditions well outside the city, and there are some real bad illusions you can fall prey to.

    Even night IFR when solo would be a questionable decision under the circumstances you had. It's warm, so no ice. But the workload can get nasty at just the wrong places, particularly if you have to circle to land.
     
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  7. rtk11

    rtk11 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Fullerton uses Runway 24 most of the time, which is good considering those guide wires on the KFI tower are darned near impossible to see. Basically if you're landing on Runway 6, try not to turn base too much further west of Beach Boulevard and be prepared for a short final.

    Now for Runway 24... that's always fun with a train. Love the little uplift you get as it goes by. Or the fun turbulence from the roofs of the warehouses just east of Runway 24 on a hot day.
     
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  8. catmandu

    catmandu Line Up and Wait

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    License to learn. You learned. Plus, you finally got to drive that Kia Soul everyone's raving about.
     
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  9. James331

    James331 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Not too bad, one thing with asking your CFI, that's the default answer, if a student called and asked me the same question, in those same circumstances, even though I didn't see a big hazzard, I'd give that same stay on the ground answer, it's one of those "if you have to ask" things as far as CFIs are concerned.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
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  10. Shawn

    Shawn Pattern Altitude

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    No night was certainly the right call...and I have been in your same situation where things were starting to pile up and weather was not cooperating so I just made the decision the divert and put down ASAP to regroup and strategize. My situation didn't change, but being on the ground thinking about it is much different than in the air!

    Just my observation in your story, there were two things that you mentioned that were barriers in your thought process leading to divert...busting of Fullerton's airspace and LGB's airspace. Both were in your way, but you were on Flight Following. Now I am not advocating for scud running, but a call to ATC to let them know your intentions and they would have coordinated those transitions at whatever altitude you needed. I have had SoCal let me drop through Bravo and buzz LGB at 1000' to remain VFR to my destination under a marine layer without any frequency changes. They have always been super accommodating and will coordinate that for you as it is a common occurrence in the LA Basin. That is a simple request with SoCal on the frequency you were on, not a request you need to make with each tower. You may get a handoff to tower, but that would have just been a standard frequency change.

    I point out those observations not as a second guessing of your decision, but rather to help knock down a few of the growing concerns that were piling up on the workload in your situation.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
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  11. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    I didn't realize Approach could/would coordinate transitions until today. Approach had me descend into Long Beach's airspace while I was looking for traffic and told me that tower was keeping an eye on me too. Had I known that on Sunday I would have definitely made that request. My concern was being handed off to KFUL then KLGB in rapid succession to request transitions when I was already uncomfortable with the weather. Had I known Approach could have helped me with that, that would have definitely alleviated some of the concern I had.

    Yeah. Just to be clear the only reason I was considering going at night was exactly because the weather was forecast to not move in until the following evening. I wouldn't do questionable weather AND night pretty much ever unless I had my instrument and had complete faith in my machine.
     
  12. Shawn

    Shawn Pattern Altitude

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    Yup, essentially when you are on FF all the C and D walls disappear which is critical especially flying low levels in the LA basin...Now that does not mean you can willy nilly fly through that airspace unannounced, but if you communicate with Approach your intentions of where you need/want to be to remain VFR, while on FF it is explicitly their responsibility to coordinate your transition through that airspace to your destination.

    If you were not on FF and you had to make cold calls...yup, that could have been a pretty high workload of uncertainty in an already stressful situation.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
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  13. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    As I said earlier, I don't think that would have been good as solo IFR at night either. IFR doesn't mean you launch into anything. Even without ice or turbulence, there are extra hazards at night.

    When VFR, getting behind the airplane is not good. When IFR, it tends to snowball to a total CF in a very short time. One mistake leads to another rather quickly and easily. And getting out of there safely is substantially more difficult. VFR, it's essentially that you climb and don't hit anything. In IMC, that last part becomes "follow the procedure precisely" which is what you're having trouble doing....

    Workload management quickly becomes a critical topic under IFR. Especially as you near your destination. And it gets REALLY bad if something goes wrong, like you lose power. Loss of electrical power is an emergency in IMC. Not so much in VMC.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
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  14. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Yes, but sometimes that involves handoffs. It's generally not necessary to avoid C and D airspace, and sometimes Approach will keep you. But you do not need to request transitions. Just do a handoff if told to, like it was another Approach handoff. Just don't call Long Beach Tower SoCal.
     
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  15. mfisher

    mfisher Pre-Flight

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    Curious why you ruled out flying back at night. Too tired or something against VFR at night?
     
  16. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    Can't speak for his reason but, for most pilots, it about deciding at what point increasing risk becomes unacceptable.

    Flying has risks. Flying in marginal conditions has risks. Flying at night has risks. Flying over desolate terrain has risks. Flying over mountainous terrain has risks.

    In many cases, those risks are cumulative. For example, night over desolate terrain with almost no visual references in marginal visual conditions has a higher risk than each of those individually.

    At what point do you decide it's too much?
     
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  17. murphey

    murphey Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    Amon
    Just curious-where are you located?
    In addition to Mark's list of cumulative concerns, there are mountain ranges between phoenix and LA. Might not be as high as the Rockies, but at night, definite hazards. Add the very congested LA Basin with some airprorts right next to each other, and it can be rather 'interesting' at times.
     
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  18. denverpilot

    denverpilot Taxi to Parking

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    @ircphoenix - sounds a lot like a few of my early long XC flights VFR. Best to be on the ground looking at a weather map to see WTF, than push it. Well done.

    Side note: The tailwind was a hint you were headed for worse than you thought. Know why? (Think pressure systems and what winds do around them...)
     
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  19. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    It was already 8pm after I'd been up since 5am and I would have had a three-ish hour flight ahead of me over desolate terrain with little outside reference over countryside I am not familiar with. My route would have had me within gliding distance of the 10 freeway but that was my only out in case stuff went sideways. At the time ceilings were reported broken pretty high which would prevent any ambient moonlight from helping visually, and I was concerned that the always optimistic TAF at LAX may not include a layer that might sneak in during my journey home. There were just too many mildly inconvenient factors for me to be comfortable with a night flight with my skill level.

    Had I been solo I would have probably gone. But my girlfriend was with me and that definitely increases my risk aversion exponentially.
     
  20. danhagan

    danhagan Line Up and Wait

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    The palm tree directly aligned with RWY 24 makes things interesting as well ...

    Flew there often with my son (Texas to KFUL) to visit Disneyland. Despite living in the desert and riding thermals, the strongest I ever had was over the roof tops of those warehouses on final the last trip there. I pulled throttle to full idle and full flaps with a slip and still could not descend ... had to do a go around (if you want to call it that as I didn't get down very low at all) ... started descent MUCH earlier than expected to get down. The planes that landed after were coming in hot and we could hear them locking their brakes up in order to stop. On my landing the tower asked why everyone was having problems, I explained the lift-thermal problem over the warehouses ...