Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tales of the Tin Goose

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hours) Total Time (hours)
4 Aug 2015 N21481 EYE (Indianapolis, IN) - PCW (Port Clinton, OH) -
DSV (Dansville, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY)
4.6 1458.4

Cherokee Squared

I met another old friend, Cherokee, for breakfast Tuesday morning. Because she was kind enough to take me back to the airport that morning, I offered to buy her breakfast. When the hotel credit card machine refused to read my card, our waitress threw up her hands in frustration and declared that our breakfasts were on the house. It was perhaps one of my most affordable acts of generosity.


Cherokee dropped me off at Eagle Creek Aviation on her way to work. It's a shame that she was rushed. I think it would have been fun to take a photo of her together with my Piper Cherokee, sort of a photographic pun. Maybe next time.


It was a beautiful VFR morning and, though Indianapolis International can be readily contacted from the ground at Eagle Creek (it's only seven miles away), I saw no value in waiting for an IFR clearance before launching into beautiful VFR conditions. We departed runway 21 and received our clearance from Indianapolis Approach while airborne.

Out of the Heartland

Conditions of flight Tuesday morning were quite different from Sunday. We cruised at 7,000 feet in a much cooler atmosphere as a tailwind imparted ground speeds in the mid-130 knot range.

Delphos, OH

Flying more than a mile above the farmland in smooth air, I surveyed the unfamiliar patchwork below. Without the turbulence of the outbound flight, the instruments were far less prone to straying from their desired indications.


I took special note of I-75 as we crossed it. Growing up along the path of this highway, I have come to regard it as an Interstate equivalent to the Mississippi River: a massive artery connecting cities and centers of commerce between the north and south ends of the nation.

Tin Goose Diner


Our destination was the Erie-Ottawa International Airport, also known as Carl Keller Field, in Port Clinton, Ohio. This historic field was once the hub for Island Airways, known for flying the world's shortest airline routes among Kelley's Island and the Bass Islands of Lake Erie. The airline started in 1930 and was known for using the venerable Ford Trimotor as its principal hauler.

Ford Trimotor at the Air Zoo, photographed 1 February 2003.

We used to talk about Island Airways as docents presenting the Trimotor at the Air Zoo. Port Clinton is now home to the Liberty Aviation Museum, that celebrates this heritage. The associated Tin Goose Diner, my intended lunch destination, opened in 2012 and is a popular dining destination for pilots and non-pilots alike. I originally learned about the Tin Goose Diner from Schmetterling Aviation.


This was not our first flight into Port Clinton. We landed there as a family in 2010 on The Bear's first cross country flight sans diaper for a precautionary restroom break.


I already knew that ramp space for parking near the Tin Goose Diner was limited. From the air, I saw only a single aircraft, a Bonanza that arrived shortly before we did, parked on the restaurant / museum ramp. The north/south runway was closed for resurfacing, though that did not stop the pilot of the aforementioned Bonanza from announcing an intended landing on runway 18. Doesn't anyone read NOTAMs anymore?


I parked next to the Bonanza as another aircraft taxied onto the ramp. It was a Cessna 140 that I had communicated with on approach to the airport.


In a word, the diner is cool. It is a genuine article, manufactured by the Jerry O'Mahony Diner Company of Elizabeth, NJ in 1950 and originally operated in eastern Pennsylvania. Although I have no information on its previous condition, I can only assume that it has been meticulously restored. Artifacts from 1950 are not usually so immaculate as the Tin Goose Diner without someone's loving intervention.



Upon entering the facility, I found myself surrounded by an authentic Art Deco aesthetic. The diner was absolutely packed with people despite it being a Tuesday, but there were stools available at the bar. My large, free breakfast that morning did not inspire me to order anything particularly heavy, so I had the Doolittle's Turkey Club and found it entirely satisfying. Despite the 1950s sensibility of the place, credit cards were welcome.

Liberty Aviation Museum


After lunch, I paid my admission to the Liberty Aviation Museum ($8 with AAA discount). This is a relatively new museum still finding its way, but it was a nice place to while away an hour. The museum presents a lot of information about Island Airways, Ford Trimotors, and Henry Ford's contributions to aviation that include the National Air Tours and the many impactful firsts of Ford Airport.




Parked near Warrior 481 was what appeared to be a B-24 Liberator bomber.


I met with the pilots from the Cessna 140 (above) and we looked over the massive aircraft together, puzzled. It certainly looked like a Liberator in many ways, but not quite. I asked some questions about it at the museum, but the staff did not seem to know much about it.



Further research indicates that it is a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer, a Naval version of the B-24 developed for maritime patrol.


A single vertical stabilizer serves to readily differentiate the Privateer from its Liberator forebears. Although Naval Privateers were built with gun turrets, this aircraft is consistent with an unarmed configuration flown by the United States Coast Guard. I have to imagine that the large nose, tail, and waist windows replacing those turrets are ideal for aerial observation. This particular Privateer was later used as a fire bomber in Wyoming. The ship is owned by a Phoenix, Arizona company (not the Liberty Aviation Museum) and is currently on the airshow circuit as the only flying example of its kind.


Inside the next hangar, I was amused to find this crate tucked away among a pile of parts. Somehow, I cannot imagine that a pale ginger ale named "Tinkle" would be terribly enticing. Nevertheless, J. Hungerford Smith still exists as a brand, manufacturing syrups (including the flavor for A&W Root Beer) under the ConAgra Foods umbrella. The Hungerford Building is still a Rochester landmark, now primarily used as studio and gallery space for artists.



Inside the hangar, assembly moves forward on a Ford Trimotor. As I understand it, the group in Port Clinton partnered with Maurice Hovius, a well-known Trimotor expert from the Kalamazoo area (Vicksburg, MI) who rebuilt the Air Zoo's Ford to flying condition after insidious corrosion was discovered inside its central spar box. His company, Hov Aire, also maintained a small facility in Three Rivers, MI where I learned to fly. Aviation is an amazingly small world.


The Liberty Aviation Museum is also playing host to this magnificently restored Grumman Avenger.




With the splendid lighting, I took some additional shots of Warrior 481 before launching on the next leg of the return flight. A note of caution: the self-service fuel pump at Port Clinton delivers 100LL like a fire hose.

Rather than file GPS-direct, which would have taken us down the middle of Lake Erie, I included the Jefferson VOR in the route to prevent flying too far offshore.

SIGMET



We launched from runway 27 and climbed to 3,000 feet before contacting Cleveland Approach for clearance.


As we crossed over Cedar Point, we were cleared as filed and instructed to climb to 7,000 feet where the tailwinds were strong and the air cool. We cruised comfortably at 140 knots through smooth air where I enjoyed the view of the lakeshore and the skyline of Cleveland sliding past.


Then, from Erie Approach: "Warrior 481, do you have the convective SIGMET covering an area from Buffalo to Albany?" For the uninitiated, a SIGMET stands for "significant meteorological information" pertinent to flight safety. The fact that it was a "convective SIGMET" meant thunderstorms.

Aw, crap.

"Negative, Warrior 481." The Erie controller proceeded to recite a litany of locations, vertices defining the polygonal SIGMET area. As the controller rattled off these locations, a mental picture of the SIGMET area failed to materialize. But SIGMETs are part of the weather package uploaded by ADS-B and I should have been able to display it on the iPad. I discovered that, for the third time since I started using the Stratus 2 with ForeFlight, weather data was no longer updating. As in the previous instances, ForeFlight was receiving GPS position data from the Stratus unit and Stratus was receiving signal from three ADS-B towers. I rebooted both the iPad and the Stratus and was finally able to receive and display a graphical representation of the SIGMET. Indeed, it covered an area from west of Rochester to well east of Sodus. Radar returns already showed a number of cells in the vicinity.

Looking north across Lake Erie, I could see thunderheads marching eastward over Ontario, feeding the line of storms over Rochester. I acknowledged the Erie controller's advisory about the SIGMET and continued to monitor the situation as we crossed the Pennsylvania - New York state line.

Chautauqua Lake


With the eastern end of Lake Erie in sight, I could see a distinctively thunderstorm-shaped cloud hovering in the vicinity of Buffalo. Though delayed, the radar mosaic showed a trend toward increasing thunderstorm activity in the vicinity of my destination.

Should I divert? Descend below the cloud bases and visually pick my way through? Continue forward while monitoring the situation?


Rochester appeared to be similarly impacted by nasty weather (above). We were still on a direct course for Sodus, but the data I had in front of me showed a cell directly above the airport with others moving in from the west.

Do something.

A voice from within providing a little kick in the ass. I started checking weather at other nearby airports. Le Roy and Genesee County? Both were under cells. Besides, neither offered any food options to stranded pilots and the afternoon was maturing into evening. I fixated on Dansville. It was outside the convective area (barely), very familiar, and always has food available. The ADS-B weather for Dansville was an hour old, indicating a clear sky and a 40° crosswind of 10 knots gusting to 19. Terrain and distance prevented me from tuning the Dansville ASOS and listening to the real time audio broadcast directly.

Old data, but good enough.

Radar track courtesy of FlightAware

I called Buffalo Approach and requested a diversion to Dansville. This was approved and a revised clearance was issued. I was handed off to Rochester Approach just in time to begin stepping down for a visual approach to Dansville. Airliners inbound to Rochester were carefully working around cells dotting the area. I decided that the diversion was a good idea; there was no need to cut my safety margins so close.


About 15 miles out, I was finally able to receive the Dansville ASOS. The crosswind was still strong, but meant little more than a bit of a "sporty" landing. We landed and parked facing northward, the weather system prompting our diversion clearly visible in the distance.

I went for a walk, chatted with "Dave the Cropduster" who was waiting for the wind to diminish enough to spray, and eventually had dinner at the least unappealing fast food option that I could find. With the battery on my iPhone dwindling rapidly, I monitored the weather radar until nothing but light rain remained over Sodus. After two hours in Dansville, my window had opened.

Calm Return


Dave was still waiting for the wind to slacken when I launched VFR out of Dansville. I wished him luck before bringing the Warrior's engine back to life for the final push home.


The air aloft was calm, if not entirely still. As we flew north, conditions at Sodus continued to improve from marginal VFR to high ceilings and unlimited visibility. With the clouds disintegrating, sunlight poured down through their tattered remnants.


On approach into Sodus, I was comforted by the familiar Upstate New York countryside after so much time over Midwestern farm country. We were home again.

By the time we reached Sodus, the only evidence of storms was a very wet surface.

To recap, we flew a total of 12.1 hours, all daytime VFR. I logged landings at three new-to-me airports, including one that has been on my list for many years (Burke Lakefront). I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rick's Cafe Boatyard, the Tin Goose Diner, the Liberty Aviation Museum, and saw the world's only flying Consolidated Privateer. I visited with several old friends, including reconnecting with Mike whom I was privileged to take for his first light airplane ride. Overall, good stuff.