Saturday, July 3, 2010

First Time / Last Time

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total
  Jul 2010
5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI)
2.6 828.3
  Jul 2010
N21481 PTK - 5G0 2.3 830.6
"I spy with my little eye something blue that hasn't got any clouds in it."
-- The Bear, 3 July 2010
So decreed The Bear during a game of "I Spy" as we drove to the airport.  She was absolutely correct.  The cerulean blue above was entirely unbroken by anything except a persistent mid-morning moon.  We were bound for southeast Michigan, where we would reunite with my family for the annual fireworks display over Lake Orion.  This would be The Bear's first time seeing fireworks of any kind.  Because my aunt and uncle are likely selling their house on Lake Orion in the coming year, this would also likely be The Bear's last opportunity to participate in a family tradition that fills some of my earliest childhood memories.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York ranks right up there with Lansing, MI on my list of airports I communicate with on a regular basis without ever having landed there.

We saw this nifty looking building while transiting the Buffalo metropolitan area.  Thanks to Google Maps, we're pretty sure that it's the Western New York VA Hospital, conveniently golf-course adjacent.

On flight following across Ontario, Toronto Center cautioned us that there was another aircraft directly ahead at our altitude (6500'), and closing fast.  As we climbed to improve spacing, the aircraft first materialized as a dot and quickly grew into a tangible airplane.  It was a tandem seat warbird trainer painted dark blue, probably either a T6 or a Vultee Valiant.  It passed too quickly to discern any fine detail.  I could not help but be a little surprised that the pilot of a warbird would eschew the hemispherical rule and fly his expensive aircraft eastbound at an altitude used by westbound traffic.

Once midway across Ontario, radio chatter on the Toronto Center frequency was minimal.  At one point, the controller obviously knew the pilot who just checked in and they engaged in a rather casual conversation about their next $100 hamburger trip.  Then, the controller added, "for any other aircraft listening, the Widowmaker hamburger is a pound of ground beef with bacon, onion rings..."  Eventually, the other pilot reached a sector boundary and the controller provided him a new frequency upon which Toronto Center would be waiting hear the "dulcet tones" of his voice.

With that handoff complete, we heard, "Warrior 481, how's your radio working?  It's just you and me now."

"Works fine," I responded.  "Thanks for the burger tip."  The controller continued to expound on a number of other fine meal offerings at various southern Ontario airports until another aircraft checked in.

"...We were hoping for flight following, but didn't know how busy you were," finished the new arrival, emphasizing the word "busy" in a mildly snarky tone.

Unfazed, the controller replied warmly, "well, you just doubled my workload".  After assigning the new aircraft a squawk, he turned us over to Selfridge approach for crossing back into the United States.

Crossing the St Clair river from Ontario (left) to Michigan (right).  It strikes me as odd that the opposite banks of the river have such different appearances.

A freighter docked at a power plant on the Michigan side of the St Clair river.

We landed at Oakland County International (PTK) without incident and parked at the Pontiac Air Center.  The remainder of our time in Michigan was spent with family and friends.  The fireworks over Lake Orion that night were spectacular and everyone agreed that the finale was one of the best ever.  As for The Bear, it was a long day under the sun for her.  Though she spent the first half of the show naming the colors released by each exploding shell, she fell asleep halfway through.  To our complete amazement, she slumbered without stirring through the powerful concussions punctuating each explosion during the grand finale.

We departed Michigan late in the afternoon of July 4.  The temperature on the ramp was about 95°F, the winds were gusting across the runway at a 60° angle, and the recently refueled Warrior was heavy with 100LL.  To put it mildly, I was grateful for Pontiac's 6500' runway.  Before we could climb out of the pattern at Pontiac, The Bear was out cold.

A scattered layer hung over Pontiac and we climbed to 9500' to top it.  We held this altitude all the way home, cruising along at 65% power with a tailwind-assisted ground speed averaging 135 knots.

A freighter transits the Welland Canal from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.  This is my obligatory Canada picture for the trip.

This is the southern bridge connecting Grand Island (left) to the mainland United States (right).  Whenever I drive over this bridge, I feel like the ramps are dreadfully steep.  From 9500', they don't look steep at all.

Downtown Buffalo in the evening, photographed in the blind from 9500' through haze and Plexiglas.  Not a bad shot, all things considered.

Over Western New York, The Bear was awake and chipper for her in-flight snack.  In fact, considering the toddler giggles picked up by Kristy's headset microphone, I think they were having more fun in back than I was having up front.

Back home at Le Roy, The Bear showed that she can earn her keep.  We picked up some pretty big bugs in five hours of flying to Michigan and back again.

Good times.

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