GA Flying is NOT Always Convenient, but ALWAYS Adventurous
Here it is almost midnight on a Saturday night. I am home and comfortable in Kentucky and my airplane sits in a hangar at the Terre Haute International Airport. Our Thanksgiving trip started out Wednesday, the day before Turkey Day. All of the forecasts for Wednesday showed VFR Weather for the entire day across the route from I39 in Central Kentucky to 1H2 in South Central Illinois. So my wife, my one year old boy and I took off shortly around 3:00 for a two hour flight to the in-laws. All was going well until we were over the southern part of Indiana and I noticed a line of rain, sleet, and snow precariously close to our destination. Ten minutes later, our destination was completely covered in blue on the XM precip display, with areas of rain and sleet nearby. As all of us pilots know, sleet, ice, and airplanes are not a good combination. I had been monitoring Terre Haute and they had clear skies and good VFR weather. I was using VFR Flight Following and promptly notified Evansville Approach that I was diverting to Terre Haute. The flight to Terre Haute went without incident and the FBO arranged for us to have a rental car when we landed. We drove the hour or so to the in-laws and all was well.
We had planned on departing for the return flight this morning, Saturday, November 29th, and again, the weather was forecast to be partly cloudy along the route. As we started driving to the Terre Haute airport this morning, I knew the flight home would be questionable. The TAF's were reporting 1800' to 3000' along the route, plenty good enough for VFR given the good visibility, the terrain along the route, etc. My concern were the winds. Surface winds were from generally 200 degrees at 19 knots gusting to almost 30 knots. Furthermore, wind shear was forecast at 2000' at 50 knots and there were airmets for moderate turbulence across the route. When we arrived at Terre Haute, the winds were howling. As we weighed options, none looked great. We could either endure a bumpy flight home with a toddler, or drive the rental car home for a 4 hour drive and still be left with having to come back and get the airplane, which would end up costing considerably more money. I opted to take the airplane up myself to see how rough it was going to be before putting my wife and son in the airplane. By the time I got to traffic pattern altitude, I knew we would be driving. I climbed out at 85 knots and lightly loaded, and the turbulence were severe enough to have the stall warning horn blaring at me. I lowered the nose slightly, told tower I was coming in to land, tightened my seat belt, and made a pretty uneventful landing and taxied back to the FBO.
We ended up driving 4 1/2 hours back home in our rental car, a little green Kia Soul. It will cost an extra $100 fee to drop the rental car here, plus an extra $80 in hangar fees, plus most likely a couple hundred dollars to get a friend to fly me back to Terre Haute to get the airplane when better weather sets in. Yes, flying small airplanes can be very inconvenient if you have a schedule to keep. However, I wouldn't trade the adventures for anything. We still saved 3 hours of driving on the trip up. My son got to spend time with his Grandma, Grandpa, and Great Grandpa. We ended up having to drive back, but we stopped in Cincinnati and had a great dinner and got a little shopping in with the family and still created great memories. As far as having to go back and get the airplane, well that's just another excuse to fly and create even more memories. Yes, it's gonna cost us a little more money, but that's what money is for. You can't take it with you my friends.
Finally, I learned a few things on this trip. First, trips can be just as fun, if not more enjoyable, than if they had went exactly how you planned them. Second, duct tape works wonders for leaky air vents. Third, the little toaster looking Kia Soul is not such a bad little car. Enjoy the adventures of flying, even if it throws you a curve ball every now and then:)