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Flight planning and Go/ No Go decisions.

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  • Flight planning and Go/ No Go decisions.

    Saturday Morning rolled around and three clients had canceled due to wind so it seemed like a great day to fly to the AOPA event at Camarillo.

    We have had strong Santa Ana winds for most of two weeks and it has kept me from training. I have had a few hours of solo time.

    People say to me in an accusing tone; ďI thought gyroplanes were good in the wind.Ē They are but it is hard for a low time primary student to separate the wind from their control inputs so winds of 10kts or greater no first flights and 15kts no low time training.

    My personal wind limit at Santa Maria (SMX) is 35kts with a ten knot gust spread. The gusts are actually the bigger challenge at SMX with a ten knot wind shear over the numbers being fairly common when winds are over about 25kts. It is not unusual to lose fifty to seventy five feet of altitude when the wind speed changes ten knots. The gusts are often thirty to thirty five degrees off of the main wind.

    In other words if winds are 300 degrees at 15kts gusting to 26kts I wonít take off from SMX. I have lower limits at airports I am less familiar with.

    I called Flight Service and winds were predicted for my return late in the afternoon to be 300 degrees at 25knots gusting to 35kts. Similar winds were predicted along my route and winds were already at 25kts gusting to 35kts at Camarillo (CMA) and Oxnard (OXR). I have landed at CMA in similar winds and like Santa Maria the gusts are quite a ways off of the primary wind.

    There was an AIRMET for moderate to severe turbulence over most of Sothern California and several not exactly relevant pireps about severe turbulence.

    Conditions were right for mountain wave activity on the lee side of the mountains along the coast by Santa Barbara. In my experience I cannot get high enough or far enough away from the ridgeline to miss mountain wave activity. I have seen uncommanded climbs of 1,500 feet per minute and a sink of 1,800 feet per minute at wide open throttle under these conditions.

    The good news was that I would have a tail wind the whole flight and if I climbed to 13,500 I would have a 49kt tail wind.

    There were extensive NOTAMs about closed taxiways at CMA but I could not find the event procedures. I have found that usually if I call the tower they will let me slip in instead of being part of a conga line that I canít keep up with.

    So I called Ken in the CMA tower and he explained I would need to stay with Magu approach and circle over Lake Casitas before coming in.

    In my experience Magu approach canít see me at 2,500 feet MSL above Lake Casitas and higher would put me in the path of most of the fixed wind traffic. Their radio can be a little spotty there too. Magu Approach would clear me through OXRís airspace and then hand me over to CMA to land on runway eight.

    I felt this was not a good plan.

    The flight back was going to have a 25kt plus head wind most of the way at 4,500 feet; worse higher so the flight would probably take more than two hours requiring a gas stop at Santa Barbara to maintain my one hour fuel reserve.

    I felt the event would be a good place to hand out cards for gyroplane training and I wanted to take another shot at flying in the Camarillo Air Show (Wings Over Camarillo).

    I hopped in the M with the top down and the wind had not come up yet in the Santa Maria Valley so it was a very nice drive.

    As I neared the airport I decided to drive to Camarillo because:
    Winds were predicted to be right at my limits.
    I expected mountain wave activity near Santa Barbara.
    I didnít like the approach plan and didnít like how hard it was to find out what the plan was. This usually means a lot of pilots are unfamiliar with the holding patterns over Lake Casitas.
    I have only had one successful interaction with Magu approach and I have had several that did not go well.

    None of this was over my limits but all of it together distracted from the allure of flying to Camarillo.

    The event was fun and I made some good contacts.

    As I drove home along the coast highway I felt I had made a good aviation decision.

    I share this because many people think a go/no go decision is based on some hard limits and there is not much reason for planning if the destination is familiar.

    This as with most no go decisions was based on the sum total of the information I am required to get before every flight.

    The winds surpassed the expectations of the Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs).

    Do I think I could have accomplished the flight safely? Absolutely!

    Do I think I would have had fun? Absolutely!

    Do I feel I made a good aviation decision? Yes I do. Just because it can be done doesnít mean it should be done.

    Driving an M Roadster along California Highway One is not such a bad second choice.
    Regards, Vance Breese Gyroplane CFI