The forecast wasn't great, but it wasn't all that bad either. The City Council wouldn't be out grabbing photos to update their tourism brochures with, but with a 4,000' ceiling and 5,000' between it and the next higher layer, it was certainly good enough to get to Jackson, OH.
In theory, anyway.
But it was cold, ever so cold. Twenty degrees in the shade, and with the cloud cover, shade was the rule rather than the exception. This wouldn't present too much of a problem since I would be flying alone, but I recently discovered that the passenger side is quite a bit breezier than my side, Temporary fixes can be put in place, but....
.... it's still not popular. It doesn't help that the radiator, which doubles as the source of cabin heat, over-performs when it gets super cold. The cylinder heads work at a relatively cold 145 - 150 degrees, and the air that finally reaches the cockpit is an even chiller 50-something degrees.
Not everyone enjoys the brisk temps.
Things didn't look much like I expected them to - that ugly ceiling was overcast, not broken, but things looked okay further south,
Sure enough, it got a lot better.
There came a point, though, when I thought out would be a good idea to get below the 4,000' layer as the weather was getting noticeably worse. No sense getting stuck on top when 3,500' would be plenty enough, even when considering that I would be over hilly, wooded terrain when I got further south.
Off to the right, there was a great break in the clouds that I would be able to descend through in a straight line, which is slightly preferable to circling down through a hole. As I throttled back to descend, the engine began running rough enough to show as a vibration in the instrument panel. The right side EGT value also starting jumping around in a most alarming way. You can see a 200 degree differential in the picture below, but it would commonly drop even lower than that. My guess is a fouled plug - the roughness wasn't noticeable at higher RPMs and if the entire cylinder was gone the vibration would have been much worse and definitely noticeable at higher RPMs.
Not thrilled with the idea of a lower than forecast ceiling that would have me down to 1,500' to 1,000' above the hills combined with a rough running engine, I turned around and headed back, but not before accidentally plowing into a the wispy edge of the ceiling, I was only in the clouds for 10 - 15 seconds, which is not enough to be truly dangerous, but it's not supposed to happen at all. It was hard to see where the edge of the clouds was and I had simply not started the descent or turn soon enough.
Heading back was the right thing to do - it was becoming obvious that the forecast (well, it was actually an observation, so it should have been more accurate) was wrong and that there would have been some question as to what would be going on a few hours later when I came back, had I continued on south,
The poor quality of the observation was explained by the ADSB: it was nearly an hour old.
The 7 miles of visibility was pretty close to accurate though, but 7 miles isn't as much as you might think it is. It doesn't matter in the world of GPS, but looking out the window showed very little that wasn't muted by the hazy air. If push had come to shove, though, I would have been able to find my way back in the same way the early airmail pilots did it: I could have just homed on the flame beacon.
These obviously aren't navigation beacons; these are the methane burns from the local landfill. We have a rather more indelicate name for them in my family: we call them "The Fart Flames."
Even three miles out from the runway, it was still somewhat difficult to see:
I had at least one maintenance issue to deal with when I got back to the airport, but that soon became two. I had a bit of a crosswind on landing and I botched the touchdown such that I landed with some side loads on the landing gear.
That's not normally a problem, but I also let the nose wheel touchdown. I could tell right away from the rumbling and griping from the nose wheel that I had broken another of the notably weak wheel bearings.
They're not expensive, but you need a hydraulic arbor press to remove and replace them. I was able to have it done last time by virtue of finding someone that has one, but this seems as if it's going to be a regular task. Off to Harbor Freight for the 12-ton press they had on sale for $109.99 which, as is my luck, they were out of. Not that you could tell from the plentiful 'Take This Tag to the Register' slips, of which there were many.
Irritating, that, but I won in the end. I was able to order one from their web site for $99.99 and $5.99 shipping.