Monday, July 26, 2010

Spelunking Aviatrix

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 Jul 2010 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - AOO (Altoona, PA) - W45 (Luray, VA) - 5G0 5.6 840.2

On the morning of July 26, 2010, two families set out in their airplanes for Luray Virginia, home to Luray Caverns.  It was time for The Bear to visit her first cave.

Darrell and his family flew within a few miles of us.  Along the way, we stayed in contact with various center controllers, but also monitored 122.75, the designated air-to-air frequency, in case we needed to talk directly.  Although Darrell and I occasionally checked in with one another, we mostly listened to a few hours of dreadfully banal conversation between other pilots that contrasted sharply with the professional broadcasts on the Center frequencies.

Our lunch stop was a favorite of Darrell's: the Kitty Hawk Cafe at the Altoona-Blair County Airport.

The Bear has arrived at Altoona, PA and she is hungry!

Traveling companions: Warrior 481 and Cessna 41H.  That's Darrell, prairie-doggin' over the Cessna's cowling.

It was here that I bombed in my attempt at clever humor, when I commented out loud that it would be cool if the Luray airport was run by a guy named Roy (you know, since Le Roy is run by a guy named Ray).  The utter bafflement on the faces of my adult companions clearly indicated to me that my comment was neither clever nor amusing.

Lunch was good, but surprisingly slow.  Our departure was much later than planned, which was when we realized that we would be making a late return to Le Roy.

The Altoona airport is surrounded by a gorgeous, emerald valley.

During the short hop to Luray, we were bounced between a surprising number of Cleveland and Washington Center controllers.  I am particularly grateful to the Washington Center controller who helped me avoid an unseen VFR aircraft lurking at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley.  When we reached the Shenandoah Valley, there was no mistaking it.  It's an amazing sight.

Looking southeast down the Shenandoah Valley while descending to the Luray Airport.  Did I mention that it was a magnificent day?

John at the Luray Airport shuttled all seven of us to the cave which was less than a mile away.  Because we had three child seats between us, the women and children went first while Darrell and I waited with the airplanes.  It was HOT on the ramp in Luray.  Darrell and I waited under the wing of his Cessna to provide some relief from the sun.

We did some low altitude formation work with Darrell on the ramp at Luray.

Luray Caverns are considered to be one of the most "decorated" caves in the world.  Really, the formations are amazing.

A stalactite covered ceiling arches over Dream Lake.  The lake is shallow, but so smooth that it reflects the ceiling like a mirror.

A spectacular column with Darrell and son standing nearby for scale.

This formation of flow stone reminded me of a frozen waterfall.

A spectacular example of so-called "draperies".

More cool stuff.  Really, the whole place is filled with formations like this.

The Bear and Kristy wandered through a fantastic landscape.

Eventually, it was time to return to our airplanes and depart for New York.  Because we did not depart until after 6:00 pm, we made the decision to forgo our originally planned dinner stop at Franklin-Venango Regional Airport in Pennsylvania and fly directly home to Le Roy.

Leaving Luray, I paralleled the western ridgeline defining the Shenandoah Valley.  I contacted Washington Center and once again began receiving advisories.  The first two Washington Center controllers couldn't read Darrell's transponder, but seemed content in knowing that he was flying a mile behind me.  When I couldn't raise Center on my #1 comm radio, Kristy wondered aloud if both airplanes were falling apart (i.e., she switched from mocking the ludicrous chatter on 122.75 to mocking our airplanes).  Darrell assured me on the air-to-air frequency that #1 sounded fine and there were no further problems with it that evening.

Over south central Pennsylvania, we encountered some clouds directly at our cruise altitude.  We climbed to 9500' to clear the clouds and haze.  For a time, the sun was obscured by high clouds.

It was a pretty ride home, cruising along between the haze layer below and the clouds above.  Occasional glances to my five o' clock revealed the reassuring shape of Darrell's Cessna not far behind.

As we crossed back into New York, The Bear awakened and busied herself with her sticker book.  The approach controller at Rochester seemed surprised to have two aircraft inbound to Le Roy and asked if we had the litany of active NOTAMs for the field (including the much-maligned fence NOTAM on the runway 28 approach that no Flight Service briefer yet has been able to deliver without a healthy dollop of snark).  I responded that Le Roy was home base for both of us and that we were familiar with the NOTAMs.  The controller was further surprised that there was additional traffic in the pattern, which turned out to be Matt.  Indeed, Le Roy was hopping when we returned.  It was a good day of flying (and caving) for everyone.

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