Hurricane Florence!

September 27, 2018

OK so one of my fondest memories so far in N844X was zooming up to high altitude to see the solar eclipse with some friends: It was just like being in a science fiction movie, in that tiny hi-tech cockpit, hi in the sky, as the sun disappeared behind the moon, casting those solar corona in every direction.

Now, time for the NEXT cool adventure in 44X:

The FAA just came out with new ADS0B weather, including icing forecast, turbulence forecast, and lightning.

I want to see all that weather in Xavion!

But here is the problem: On a regular day with clear weather, how do I know if I am GETTING all that weather properly, and DISPLAYING it properly, if everything is just CLEAR?

I need a STORM.

A really good STORM whose shape and size are well-known, so I can compare what I read and display in Xavion with some other weather source to make sure that they are perfectly in sync.

I need a nice test-case.

And with 844X, I have the perfect steed to ride to any storm, and with my Garmin G900 with Sirius-XM weather, I have my perfect comparison avionics to check my results.

I just need a good storm.

Well, just as I was finishing up the code to read the new ADS-B weather, Hurricane Florence was hitting Myrtle Beach.

I live in Columbia, SC, a comfortable 100 miles from the storm: Far away enough to be safe, close enough to ZOOM IN FOR A CLOSER LOOK! 😉

So, with a handful of ADS-B receivers in my flight bag, and the latest Xavion on a few iPads, it was out to the airport to hop into 844X under the dark, menacing clouds. The line-men elected  not to SAY anything, but you could see them wondering who the heck would be flying an airplane in the face of an impending hurricane. The wind was only gusting to 20 knots at the surface though, which is within my tolerance (barely) so I grabbed some extra fuel to smooth out the ride (844X rides MUCH smoother when full of gas: The difference i mass and inertia from all that heavy jet fuel being spread out to the wing-tips is HUGE), and pushed the start button! The engine spun up and ignited, and it was off I went!

Coming out of Columbia I flew due East towards Myrtle Beach, IFR at 25,000 feet to be high enough to get a good look at everything going on, but low enough to leave myself some margin below my ceiling in case I needed to either climb or quickly get low for some un-foreseen reason.

Approaching the storm, the bands whirled above me at about 30,000 feet, and a cloud-scape of epic proportions spread out below me as well. In winds of at least 50 knots for the entirety of the flight above the traffic patter, 844X soon began to buck in turbulence, the autopilot awkwardly trying to hold altitude and bucking the plane fore and aft in the attempt, the autopilot audibly clunking just behind me under the carbon-fiber floor. I dis-connected the autopilot because it was doing more harm than good trying to hold altitude in the moderate swirling of the air, and now had to keep ATC up to date on my flight-test plans, hold altitude tightly since assigned an altitude, and collect data in Xavion, comparing the Xavion ADS-B-driven weather display to the Sirius-SM Garmin display to make sure that everyone was in agreement. It was quite a bit busy trying to do all that at once, but gosh it was fun!!!

After orbiting inside the outer bands of the hurricane for long enough to collect (and record for replay later!) for a little while, it was a 180-degree turn and back to Columbia! Descending to Owens, the wind was STILL FIFTY KNOTS AT THE TRAFFIC PATTERN ALTITUDE! Flying downwind you could easily see the airport quickly slipping away behind you even though my airspeed was low, and on base it felt like being on a piece of bark adrift in a fast stream: Quickly being blow away from the runway even though it was DIRECTLY off the left wing. Turning final still in a fifty-knot wind, I had only modest fear because the wind had only been gusting to 20 knots an hour before, and Xavion dutifully informed me of a 20-knot wind from the METAR, right down the runway. Sure enough, on final, the wind dissipated until going down to the surface at about 15 knots gust 20 for a slightly-scary touch-down in the gusts.

In I taxied and shut down, most certainly the last plane to fly before the Hurricane moved in and brushed Columbia.

This was a pretty darn fun flight that I hope I always remember!

Xavion on my iPad on the left, Sirius XM on my Garmin on the right!