Monday, September 1, 2008

A Rare Bird and the Horseshoe

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
01 Sep 2008 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - BQR (Lancaster, NY) -
JHW (Jamestown, NY) > 5G0
2.9 652.7

Labor Day.  The funny thing about Labor Day is that not many people are actually laboring.  While I realize that this is the point of the holiday, it definitely impacted my flying plans.  A high pressure system had settled over Upstate New York.  The skies were bright and clear, the surface winds were no higher than 5 knots anywhere in a flyable radius of Le Roy, and I had the day off from work.  I decided to do some exploring by flying to an unfamiliar airport, preferably one with food available.  The problem was that every airport restaurant I called was closed for the holiday.  Finally, I called the Jamestown Aviation Company at the Jamestown-Chautauqua County Airport.  While the Tailwinds Cafe was closed, the person I spoke to practically insisted that I fly in and take their courtesy car into town for food.  With that being the best offer I heard all morning, I accepted it.

During the take-off roll at Le Roy, I noticed a pair of wide-jawed vice grip pliers lying on the runway centerline.  I jabbed the right rudder pedal to veer around the FOD (foreign object debris).  Then I called Dan on Unicom to have him remove it in case the next pilot was less observant than I was.  No one is sure where the pliers came from yet, but everyone agrees that it would have been bad news for any aircraft that caught it with a whirling propeller.

My first stop was at Buffalo-Lancaster (BQR), where the fuel price was listed on AirNav as $5.22/gal (a veritable bargain these days).  It was my first visit to Lancaster, making it my 82nd airport.  Lancaster resides under the outer class Charlie shelf of Buffalo Niagara International's (BUF) airspace.  While descending to slip under the Charlie airspace, I saw a landmark that had eluded me for nearly three years of flying in western New York: Darien Lake Theme Park.

Flying low over the Darien Lake Theme Park.  That ferris wheel really caught the morning light (click on the photo to see the larger size version).

Roller coasters at Darien Lake: pretty, swooping, vomit-inducing architecture.
When I arrived at Lancaster, I found that the fuel was actually $4.99/gal - probably the only time I have ever been bait and switched in a way that worked out in my favor (actually, AirNav shows that the price was updated on the same day as my visit, but it must have happened after I finished flight planning).  Unfortunately, there was a King Air in front of the pump when I arrived.  After waiting a long time for them to finish fueling the beast, I wandered over to check on their progress.

"What's your fuel capacity?" I asked.

"Over 300 gallons," said the pilot with a grin.  "But we're only taking on 270 today.  Otherwise, this would take forever!"  He invited me to pull the Warrior in front of his Jet A devouring  behemoth.  "Don't wait for us," he admonished.  Good thing - I was hungry!   His ground crew helped me push my airplane into a convenient position to reach the 100LL pump.

Once fueled, I made the short flight southwest to Jamestown.  One unique aspect of the Jamestown airport is a tunnel that allows a nearby road to pass under the final approach path to runway 7.  It's like a western New York version of Van Nuys (with only about 7% of the daily traffic that Van Nuys gets if the numbers posted on AirNav are a reliable indicator).

After I landed, a rare bird took the runway and launched: a 1931 Sikorsky S-39 flying boat.  I recognized it because I had inspected one up close in Kalamazoo during the 2003 National Air Tour.  What I did not appreciate until later that evening was that there is only one flying S-39 left in the world.  Thus, this had to be the same aircraft I had seen in Kalamazoo five years earlier (whoa, taking "Intro to Logic" in college really paid off here, didn't it?).  Perhaps I should have known; how many people would deliberately paint an airplane in a giraffe motif? The paint scheme, of course, is a tribute to the "Spirit of Africa" - an S-39 flown by African naturalists Martin and Osa Johnson back in the 1930's. 

The restored Sikorsky S-39 "Spirit of Igor" as I photographed it in September 2003 during the Kalamazoo stop of the National Air Tour.  The little tyke standing next to it is the son of one of my former Air Zoo colleagues.

A Jamestown lineman directed me to parking and chocked the wheels once I brought the engine to a stop.  As soon as I had my headset off, he welcomed me to Jamestown and asked if I was the one who had reserved the courtesy car.  I responded that I was and he pointed to a white Chrysler minivan parked just outside the airport fence.  He noted that it was already running with the air conditioning cranked to cool it off.

Another Jamestown Aviation employee provided a recommendation for La Herradura (spanish for "the horseshoe"), a local Mexican restaurant just outside of town.  Minutes later, I drove the minivan through the tunnel at the southwest corner of the airport on the final leg of my quest for lunch.

The food and service at La Herradura were fantastic.  The food quality reminded me of Los Amigos, another family owned and much beloved Mexican restaurant in the Kalamazoo area that my palate missed dearly since moving to New York.  Once I was happily stuffed, the minivan hauled me and my bloated stomach back to the airport.  When I returned the minivan keys, I offered the lineman some cash for the gasoline fund.  He refused to take it.

"It's just a nice day to get out and fly.  Enjoy it and come back and visit us some other time."  I seem to have had the good fortune this year to visit some terrific FBOs at some wonderful airports.

I returned to Le Roy in calm air at 5500'.  The winds were slightly favoring runway 10 which meant that I had a rare view of my Warrior's shadow while on final approach.

On the ground at Le Roy, Matt was working on his Lancair while Dan tried to help him overcome an apparent phobia of torque wrenches.  Matt recently finished building and flew his Lancair after thirteen years of work.  Evidence of recent flights (i.e., bugs) were splattered across the leading edges of the Lancair's tiny wings.

"Your wings look like crap," I observed.  Matt grinned and cheerfully responded that I was not the first to tell him so that day.  There was nothing anyone could say that would dampen Matt's enthusiasm over the completion of a thirteen year odyssey.  To Matt, those bugs were a badge of honor; a sign that the Lancair was routinely flying after years of sitting unblemished in a hangar.

As I wiped the splattered bugs from my Warrior's wings, I took the above photo of the instrument panel.  The fancy new glass cockpits in newer aircraft may have more "wow factor" than a six-pack of steam gauges, but as I admired my instrument panel from an oblique angle, it seemed to me that it had more character (especially with the master switch off).

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