|Date||Aircraft||Route of Flight||Time (hrs)||Total (hrs)|
|27 Jul 2008||N21481||5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - 07G (Seneca Falls, NY) - |
B16 (Weedsport, NY) - N03 (Cortland, NY) - 5G0
My objective for the morning was a simple one: navigate to three unfamiliar airports and practice landing at each. The last landing of my previous flight nearly littered the runway of Le Roy with a breadcrumb trail of Piper parts leading back to my hangar. It was time to nip some bad habits in the bud. But I also love to explore and decided to satisfy both urges by choosing three unfamiliar airports whose names I hear on Unicom nearly every time I fly: Finger Lakes Regional (Seneca Falls, NY), Whitfords (Weedsport, NY), and Cortland (Cortland, NY).
Of course the real reason I was cruising eastbound at 3500 feet was more sublime than any arbitrary mission. The mission was an excuse to put 36 gallons of $5.49/gal 100LL avgas in the tanks and ply the atmosphere with aluminum wings.
My route east toward Syracuse was the exception rather than the rule that morning. Rochester Air Traffic Control was monitoring a veritable conga-line of aircraft bound for aviation Mecca: Airventure in Oshkosh, WI. In the words of the Rochester approach controller, "you would not believe the line of traffic I have heading out across Canada". Squinting into the morning sun, I followed my own course and progressed happily upstream.
Beware the Barbarian Hordes
As I crossed the northern tip of Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake came into view. This meant that my first destination, Finger Lakes Regional, was nearby. I studied the sectional chart a bit closer, noting the position of the airport relative to nearby Seneca Falls and the curvature of the lakeshore. My approach was orthogonal to the north-south oriented runway, rendering it completely invisible from my position. Careful comparison of the chart to the living map spread out below helped locate a field of the correct shape in about the right location. By then, I had reached pattern altitude and announced my intentions to land on runway 1. I pointed toward my best guess field and, within a couple of miles, was able to see the narrow strip of asphalt running across my path that validated my aeronautical intuition. I grinned. The days of being at a complete loss while my instructor played the, "I see the airport, do you see it yet?" game seemed long past.
On short final, I was treated to the sight of my shadow flashing across the lush green landscape. And then, the runway. Closer, closer, pulling the nose up, up, up, stall warning horn going, and … THUMP. Firm. Not bad, but firm. I tried two more times. The other landings were also firm. Not terrible, just firm. After my final landing, a Cherokee 140 took the runway and began practicing landings as well. Perhaps it was my perspective, but his landings appeared to be more graceful than mine.
"Is There Anybody Out There?"
Within minutes, the airplane and I returned to the air. Our element. Our course was northeast across the Seneca River to Whitfords Airport. Though Whitfords is difficult to see from the south, its charted position relative to the town of Weedsport and the New York Throughway made it easy to infer its position. While at Finger Lakes Regional, I had overheard traffic at Whitfords. Now, all was quiet on frequency. The Warrior's wheels squeaked onto the pavement. A perfect landing.
I taxied to the ramp and shut down. A menagerie of interesting aircraft dozed under the shade of wall-less T-hangars: a Cessna 120, a Taylorcraft, and a Citabria to name a few. A Bonanza was resting under an overhead milieu of compact discs suspended by fishing line; high technology repurposed as a low tech bird deterrent.
Like Finger Lakes Regional, the terminal building was open, but deserted. Whitfords seemed like the sort of place that would be a safe harbor for the spirit of grassroots aviation, yet it was deserted on a beautiful Sunday morning. As I explored the quiet airport, I could not shake the sense that I was a thirtysomething dinosaur, still roaming the world after the extinction of his aeronautical brethren.
Another Cherokee landed at Whitfords as I taxied for takeoff. Then I was aloft again in azure skies. I once described my first experience flying an airplane as physics singing to me. Every leap into the sky, every view of the earth falling away, recalls that song. I was a part of the airplane again. Whole.
Bait and Switch
After a short flight, I arrived at Cortland. A Cessna was waiting to depart runway 24 as I entered the pattern on a midfield crosswind. After my assurances that he had plenty of time to launch ahead of me, I watched him take the runway and start rolling. As he broke ground, he transmitted a warning to me about bird activity around the airport.
My original plan included buying fuel at Cortland, which was advertised at $5.22/gal on the internet; a definite bargain in the current climate. Taxiing closer to the pump, I winced as I read "$5.50" on a handwritten sign. I had taken on more than enough fuel for the day's flying at Le Roy and, annoyed by the bait and switch, taxied past the pump and parked.
On the ramp, I was presented with two large FBO facilities. Both were closed and locked. Nobody was around. With nothing else to do, I was soon on my way home.
I looked down and noted an airport with a massive runway on the eastern edge of Seneca Lake. The chart indicated a closed airfield at that location. Looking more carefully at the facility below, it was obviously no longer an operational airport. Web research later revealed that it was the former Sampson / Seneca Air Force Base: another entrance to the sky closed for one reason or another.
The Lycoming O-320 on the nose of my aircraft continued to purr and the instruments indicated that all was well. The controls were solid in my hands. In the distance was the city of Rochester and, beyond that, Lake Ontario. My heart was light as I directed my tiny craft through the sky, buoyed by an emotion that I cannot quite identify; as fleeting as the medium holding me aloft.
Twenty eight miles away from Le Roy, I reduced power and the Warrior's nose dipped lower in order to stay in trim. Descending at 500 feet per minute, I arrived at my home airport right at pattern altitude. My home airport is often like those I had just visited. It is not uncommon for me to be the only living soul stirring there. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see something from the pattern that gave me hope: a new airplane being born.
Dan had been building his RV-7 since before my arrival at Le Roy in November 2005. It was now sitting outside of Dan's hangar sans cowling or canopy. I landed on runway 28 and parked in front of my hangar. As I stopped the engine, I could hear the sound of another engine drawing closer. The RV emerged from the end of the row of T-hangars, circling the building in an earthbound victory loop while recording its first 0.1 hour on the Hobbs clock.
I remained in a pensive mood for the drive home. Fuel costs were more than double of what they were in 2004 when I bought the airplane. Airports that once clamored with the roar of aircraft engines were quiet, or worse, abandoned. These things tempered the sense of satisfaction I had from my wonderful morning flight. But I'll be back: to touch the controls, to float through the sky, and to experience the unique lightness in my heart that only flight seems to inspire. For me, it's still worth it.
The old saying is true: flying is freedom. Costly, over-regulated freedom perhaps, but freedom nonetheless.