It was good while it lasted, but honestly it was getting old. Three hours of doing pretty much nothing but the occasional "Janet/Southwest in sight, maintain visual, Traffic Watch 1." Is not what I started flying for.
At any normal times, it got boring quick...the spilt shifts, the redundancy. But there were a few exciting times I can remember. Here's a day when the entire PHX metro valley went zero/zero in about a span of 30 minutes. Happened in 1993....16 damn years ago, when I was flying the morning traffic shift. Reprinted from JC, August 2003, by yours truly (should help to curb the depression of this thread):
...The basic predicament was that here I am caught up in the air in my traffic watch Cessna. The WX formed damn quick, one minute it was SCT-BKN clouds around, and next thing I know it's solid undercast, distant in all directions! So I figure all I need to do is a letdown through the clouds and no problem. SDL was my base, but at this time I was over the west valley around 35ave and I-10 (Papago Freeway). I wanted to start coordinating with PHX to get an approach, but EVERYBODY started calling in with various requests and problems, including some private pilots, so I just shut up and figured I'd wait. After a while, the fuel gauges were reading just under 1/4 each, and I had the thing leaned out until the CHT was up there near the red (cleaned off the plugs probably). So by this time after having been airborne @2+40 (it's @0840L right now) I figure I need to get down since I'm rapidly becoming a priority myself now. SDL and DVT ATIS are still calling out zero/zero, and the viz is starting to get worse at my altitude of 5.5. I can't get a hold of PHX and I'd already migrated up I-17 towards Dunlap Road (the traffic planes operated under an LOA with TRACON for routes/altitudes in a sort-of carte-blanche clearance that both law enforcement and us used known as PITA, for Police In The Area, or Pain In The Ass, take your pick.....we asked for, and were approved for this clearance prior to entering Class B). Anyhow, I'm up at roughly Dunlap and I-17 (I'm doing rough bearing/DME cuts off PXR VORTAC, and comparing them to the Terminal Area Chart) and no one is answering me (frequency congested) so I go ahead and descend to 4.0 skirting the deck, squawk VFR and exit Class B @north of Thunderbird Road.
I contact DVT tower and inform them that I've been stuck above this deck and what was their current WX, (since SDL wasn't answering the calls I made, and someone else on the freq said that SDL had gone off the air; didn't have time to query further)? They told me zero/zero, so I made a huge roll of the dice. I couldn't fly the published NDB approach, but I knew every obstruction that was out in the area there. I let DVT know that I was declaring an emergency for WX and would making a WX letdown. Luckily, they didn't inquire as to what that meant. I took my TAC chart and "TERPs out" my own straight-in IAP; funny thing is that I still have the half-assed drawing I made in the cockpit that day..it still sits in my flight bag to this day as sort of a reminder to improvise/adapt as necessary so I'll describe what's written on it to you here. Looking at it, I drew a quick plan/profile view with the plan view having me maneuver inbound on the PXR R330 to the 11 DME fix at 3900'. This kept me below Class B, above obstructions, and was at @Thunderbird Rd/12th street. I then drew an 80/260 course reversal to east to avoid North Mountain and establish me back inbound (on the IAP, outbound on the PXR R-330). The start of my IAP was PXR 330/11, and would be a Terminal Approach (ie-no FAF, just MAP) ending at the PXR 330/16.5 with an MDA of 2300, or 200' below DVT pattern altitude, which I knew from seeing in clear WX would keep me clear of any obstructions so long as I remained on or slightly west of the PXR R330 (anyone that's been to DVT is well aware of the hills on approach to Rwys 25 about 1/4 mile east of.) Missed approach would be climbout north to above 4500' to get back into VMC.
DVT still didn't talk to me and at this point, I flew outbound to make my newly built approach and flew it as drawn. On the inbound leg, I made my letdown to my MDA about 2 miles shy of the 16.5 DME MAP. Just as I leveled off, I began seeing wisps of ground sweep by and recognized the intersection of Bell Road and 7th Street. I maintained flying my approach since I couldn't see ahead almost at all, but I could see down and flew a combo of my homemade IAP and a Contact Approach northwestbound to Central Ave (helps to be a traffic pilot), then north along Central past Union Hills, Beardsley and finally across Deer Valley Road where I overflew the south boundary fence of the airport, passed just east of the current PanAm building and over the runways and taxiways. I called tower and informed them that "Cessna XXX is overhead the field entering right downwind for 25." Tower told me cleared to land Runways 25 (either one without any other questions) and I crossed Rwy 25R and entered an immediate right downwind at about a circling approach offset distance but somewhat closer. I'm still seeing pretty much only the ground only, but I know that if I hug Rwy 25R in order to keep it in sight, I still will have offset enough not to overshoot the final turn for Rwy 25L, so that's what I did. Foward viz was still next to nothing, and I started my base to final turn as soon as I saw the approach end of 25R (staying mindful of the hills to the east) and rolled out on final for 25L right over the 25L numbers, landed and taxied clear at the end. I canceled my emergency, got permission from tower to taxi in and did so after taking a minute to take stock of myself and everything after having cleared the runway. Tower never asked me to call them, so I didn't. I parked in front of the restaraunt and ordered fuel.
The fuel bill said 36.1 gallons uploaded for a 40 gallon plane.