Many of my non-pilot friends and acquaintances assume that four decades of professional aviation experience includes a doctorate level of expertise in weather. I chuckle. Perhaps my knowledge exceeds that of the average local TV news viewer because of experience and tutelage by an admired college professor with an actual Ph.D. in meteorology. But I’ll never claim to have anything remotely resembling a weather crystal ball. One recent trip in our Piper Arrow proved my lack of forecasting skills. But in this circumstance, my error cost only time and money.

The trip began with a flight to Vero Beach, an easy hour and change from our home base. Although the late morning departure allowed for a VFR operation and a scenic coastal route, I preferred an IFR operation. An instrument flight plan eliminated the need to avoid and/or communicate with Class D and Class C airspace that dot the coastline, flight following notwithstanding.

Now that Part 121 no longer provides for my currency,filing an IFR flight plan offers an opportunity to log an approach procedure for my instrument proficiency. Although the expected GPS “T-route” clearance to KVRB was more inland, it was relatively direct. And we could climb above the scattered to broken cloud layer into my wife’s preferred smooth and cooler air.

I had coordinated a myriad of activities: A Piper factory visit; a reunion with a CNN aviation analyst friend and documentary producer; and two nights of Passover seders with friends in South Florida.

The Piper factory tour was an open invitation from Mike Melachrinos, senior manager of structural analysis, and a 16-year employee. After the experience with my Arrow wing because of the spar AD, Mike offered a personalized nickel tour.

When the tour is conducted by a structural engineer, the perspective provides a more intimate understanding. As you might expect, the facility itself is immaculate and well-organized. I had some trepidations on witnessing the process of how the sausage is made, concerned that the recipe would spoil my appetite. But I gained a greater appreciation for the ingenuity, design, and safety incorporated into the airplane-building process. Even though the newer Piper models are constructed with more emphasis on bonding rather than rivets, my wife walked away with an improved comfort level and appreciation for our 50-year-old, traditionally built airplane.

Having toured Boeing’s Everett, Washington, plant a few years back, Piper is on par, with its capital investments in tooling and the use of 3-D printing. One efficiency: A proposed modification to an interior part can be available for testing in a matter of days rather than weeks.

As with many professions these days, Piper is having difficulty finding and retaining qualified engineers. Regardless of the salary, it seems the attraction of working for Elon Musk or NASA offers more glamor than the oc-cupation of designing a really cool GA airplane.

My producer friend, Miles O’Brien, accompanied my wife and I on the tour. He has been considering a partnership in a Piper Meridian 350 turboprop conversion, so the tour piqued his curiosity. As a structural engineer, Mike Melachrinos had trepidations with the conversion since it was not a Piper-ordained modification. Mike pitched the M500 as a better alternative, a project with which he is intimately familiar.

Miles had owned a Cirrus in his previous life, but because of a freak accident that left him absent a left arm, he was no longer able to fly without an FAA disability waiver. Although personal affairs interfered for a period of time, Miles has rekindled his desire to fly and hopes to pursue efforts in obtaining the requisite waiver.

A surprise dividend of the Vero Beach visit was reconnecting with an old colleague from my days employed by Chautauqua Airlines when the carrier was an Allegheny commuter. While calling FBOs to check on ramp fees, I spoke with Rodger Pridgeon, a senior A&P who worked on the Beech 99s I flew out of Lakeland and Vero Beach. It turns out, Rodger owns Corporate Air Inc. He has made incredible infrastructure investments that compete hands down with the Signature FBOs of the world.

As an endorsement of Rodger’s business model, NetJets’ and FlexJet’s airplanes populated the ramp directly outside the FBO. Beyond the comfort of a first-class facility, I found the historic aviation photos that adorned the walls to be an enjoyable time machine of Vero Beach Airport’s past. Corporate Air is also a family affair, with Rodger’s wife, son, and daughter participating directly. All employees were professional and accommodating.

On the morning of our departure from Vero Beach to Palm Beach County Park Airport (KLNA), aka Lantana, my ForeFlight app was already beginning to display hues of green, yellow, and red. Although the convection was located off the coastline, it was beginning to blossom with signs that it would expand inland. The forecast indicated that it wouldn’t be until after 1300 local that thunderstorms would develop on the route. I thought differently.

Not wanting to suffer the consequences for nudging my wife along with her morning routine, and knowing that the flight was only 31 minutes, we moved at a leisurely pace. The unfortunate consequence was shutting down the airplane after a before-taxi review of the Nexrad picture. I scare easily in an airplane that is void of jet engines and a professional copilot.

A further study of the weather picture and forecast said forget about flying for the day. I saw no reason to wait for a window of opportunity. Rodger was kind enough to produce the last rental car key, and soon we joined the Passover and Easter traffic on I-95 via Kia rather than Piper.

After our unceremonious arrival to our friend’s drive-way, it was apparent over the course of a few hours that the weather would have cooperated enough to have completed the flight from Vero Beach. As expected, my wife dismissed the second guessing, instructing me to have a beer and be quiet.

Beyond the expense of a rental car, one positive was that my friend and I began the next day with a superb greasy spoon breakfast, a guys’ road trip back to VeroBeach, and a scenic tour of the coastline at 500 feet, as per Palm Beach Approach Control’s request through Class C airspace. The KLNA airport proved a little quirky compared to KVRB. But an inquiry to a handful of local pilots in a meeting at a flight school produced an answer to tie-down availability. First come. First served. No worries.

Did I make the wrong decision about the weather? Kinda. Would I make the wrong forecast decision again? Probably…but maybe next time I’d have more patience to wait out Mother Nature.


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