Cirrus Logo

Cirrus Adventure; Winter in Duluth

"Learning is a lifestyle not an event" Ian Berkely (Cirrus VP)

Cirrus Logo


Weather Challenges Leaving Minnesota: A Wall of Ice Over the Great Lakes!
Ice is not nice! WeatherTap showing ice all the way up Airmets everywhere arrow leftCan you believe this? Looks like a wall!
Duluth is sunny and warmer but en route home looks like absolute crap. The surface reports all through Michigan show freezing rain and 1500 overcast. Though Ithaca is currently clear, the TAF is calling for freezing rain and low ceilings later in the day. Whenever I see airmets and forecasts for any weather I immediately go to the METARS to see if it is really happening. That is wx step one: "validate the forecast" PIREPS here are immensely valuable. Below you can see that ice is happening (not just forecast) and the tops are up in the flight levels (FL210 and moderate over Rochester). So next question: can we divert around this stuff? Lower will not work with freezing rain on the surface, how about high? I had thought about flying entirely over this system. The Cirrus SR-22 at max endurance of 55% power will go 6 hours and forecast ground speeds are 180K. However, the prospect of being low on fuel and forecast wx deteriorating made this plan too risky (never accept the word "maybe" when planning flights) Also as a new Cirrus pilot with 10 hours in type, this made the plan inadvisable. Training at Cirrus for risk management always analyzes "5 Ps" Pilot, Plane, Plan, Passengers and Programming. My "programming" was also very weak because my King Air friend took all my approach charts and none are available locally! Though the Cirrus has C-Max charts, they are not loaded and no current XM weather subscription so updating wx en route will be "old style" as in calling FSS en route SR-22 has icing (not approved for "known ice") but this is for "escape" not for planned penetration and would only last 30 minutes anyway!

Weather was forecast to be lousy in Ithaca

Good Choice; Ithaca did end up closing Sunday with freezing rain!

PIREPS in NY for arrival Forecast for 12 hours at 9K is no ice (I like that better!)
Contrast the Icing Potential Chart in the first row with the one above for 12 hours later and you see the promise (this is still not verified and may not happen!) The trend is in the right direction. Additionally, the Cirrus people are great and have promised some terminal charts tomorrow when I get ready to leave. This plan looks solid. Other factors that were considered. Flying out as far as possible and landing might have been a good idea if the trip was longer (but it is basically a one tank trip) Consider getting into this crap with the plane and getting a load of ice. Now in addition to finding a hotel, you need to also rent a heated hangar to get the plane melted and dried off. Fitger's for another night sounds better. My usual overview on weather problems can be summed up as Delay, divert of drive. Since divert does not work and the plane has to get home we take "door number three." And when you get lemons, make lemonade, so I will go see Duluth then hang out in the library and get some reading done!
The Polar Express arrives at Fitgers This train really moves Nice evening fire
One advantage of hanging out is finding interesting things to do. Fitgers has contracted with a local train enthusiast group to run the "Polar Express" down the old tracks from the hotel to the downtown festival of lights. They sell 5-6 thousand tickets every year! Part of the attraction is bringing Santa with live reindeer and having fires and hot chocolate...wonderful winter fun!
Table full of parts MFD removed for updating Joe SUllivan at work on ailerons
The maintenance guys at Cirrus are relentless with quality control. If it has their name on the plane they will not stop until it is perfect. A technician detected a slight voltage irregularity in the trim motor that could have indicated a flat spot (remember the seized trim cartridges?) It is probable that this could have ruined the motor and this was spiking the autopilot. In maintenance it is important to get to the root cause of a failure and not just treat the symptoms. Robbie and Joe set about putting in a new trim motor and re-rigging the ailerons while Chad updated the MFD with a new chart subscription from a zip drive: wow what service!
Finally saddling up to go! Duluth on departure Ice protection system
Loading and pre-flighting in a heated hangar is a huge privilege. Then you pull out and get fueled by the FBO like a full-service gas station. The delay allowed the weather at Duluth to improve to VFR. I called the tower and had them back up the proposed time by two hours. The ice protection system on the Cirrus coupled with its speed and range made this trip a go. No need to refuel in icy Michigan; fly right over it! Sunday, the destination, Ithaca, was forecasting low ceilings and freezing rain. Today the ceilings were 1500-2,000 with good visibilities.
Icing looks possible Wx Tap forecast icing Wx at Flint MI
Weather has (of course) not improved as forecast. The cold front is still draped over Michigan. What makes this plan workable today? First; several fresh PIREPS in Michigan indicate cloud tops around 6-7 thousand. The big risk is that if a fuel stop were necessary halfway the weather all over Michigan is horrible. 5-6 thousand feet of clouds to descend through and temperatures right at freezing (and ceilings 500-800 feet!) Second; the Cirrus has a TKS glycol ice protection system that allows for for an hour of de-ice capability. (This is not approved for "known icing" in this model), Third; with an economy cruise at a higher altitude the CIrrus predicts 5+ hours at 160 knots. As I passed through the cold front in Michigan the tailwind picked up to 50-60 knots for quite a push. Maximum ground speed observed was 228 knots. This allowed modifying the flight plan all the way to Ithaca with 28 gallons of fuel remaining. The incredibly accurate fuel metering (see below) continuously updates the fuel used and remaining. As I flew over Michigan I climbed to 11,000 to stay mostly clear and ran the de-ice for about 40 minutes (it works great). Fourth (and most important); the weather in Upstate NY was much improved from Sunday. It would not be wise to plan to arrive here at the end of your fuel range and start searching for an airport above minimums in freezing rain conditions! Monday, the ceilings were steadily 2-3 thousand and visibilities 10 miles.
Full up Avidyne Panel Right MFD detail
The full Avidyne system is an amazing piece of technology. The PFD is fairly straight forward and interacts with the pair of 430s to drive the autopilot. The MFD is a quite dense but with a bit of training gives an incredible amount of information. The CIrrus uses "lean of peak" engine operation (this requires carefully metered fuel injection and 6 cylinder monitoring) Small changes in pressure and temperature require re-leaning to get the optimal performance. The lowest I achieved was 12.6 GPH and 163TAS at 11K; what an amazing plane!
Flight Aware track of this flight Brent gets his baby
Four hours and change from Wisconsin to Ithaca is not too shabby! Flying over Michigan with the icing all the way to the surface was the biggest risk (it felt like flying over shark-infested ocean: hostile territory!) This was an amazing learning experience and a wonderful plane to fly. Thanks to Brent we now have this beautiful plane here in Ithaca!