Saturday, September 10, 2011

St Lawrence Sunset

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
10 Sep 2011 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - OGS (Ogdensburg, NY) -
FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC (Williamson, NY) - 5G0
3.8 981.7

The evening of September 10, 2011 was forecast to be clear and cool with a full moon, calm winds, and no ceiling or fog.

Such evenings should never be squandered.

I owed myself a quiet cross country flight to someplace new.  Additionally, with days becoming shorter in advance of autumn, I wanted to regain my night currency.  I decided that it would be fun to do a cross country flight to Ogdensburg, NY and return home after sunset.  This flight would take me along Lake Ontario to the St Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands, a region I have not visited since Kristy and I first flew there five years ago

I departed Le Roy at 6:00 pm and flew east along Lake Ontario, past familiar landmarks like Little Sodus Bay (above).  The sun was already low enough to offset ground features with high contrast.  I contemplated a fuel stop at Oswego County Airport (FZY), but wanted to reach the Thousand Islands region before sunset.  I had departed Le Roy with three hours of fuel on board and estimated Ogdensburg to require 1.5 hours.  I really did not need the extra fuel for the outbound trip.

Unless Ogdensburg is sold out, I thought to myself wryly.  That would be inconvenient.

Looking for sandy beaches on Lake Ontario?  They're all on the east end.  As I rounded the end of the lake, I noticed that the full moon had already risen.

While directing my ship along Lake Ontario at 3500 feet, the date did not escape me.  September 10, 2011, the eve of a dreadful anniversary.  On the same evening ten years prior, I was also in an airplane.  I was flying steerage on an airliner en route to Boston Logan for a week of training; my closest brush with infamy to date.

The sun tracked toward the horizon rapidly, saturating eye and camera alike while casting a golden luster across the world.

I arrived at the St Lawrence Seaway, overflying the intersection of I-81 and NY-12.

The Thousand Islands Bridge carries automobile traffic across the St Lawrence between the United States and Canada.

A familiar landmark caught my eye; Boldt Castle on Heart Island.  Something about this island property with its eclectic assortment of outbuildings reminds me of the computer game Myst from the 1990's.  I was careful circling Heart Island because it is literally spitting distance from the Canadian border.  [For the record, I would never advocate spitting at our neighbors to the north]

While I was still over Alexandria Bay, the Thousand Islands were cast into shadow as old Sol reached the end of a day's journey.

I landed at Ogdensburg twenty minutes after sunset.  Warrior 481's wheels sweetly kissed the paved runway.  It was a landing to be proud of and a good way to mark an arrival at a new airport (#128).  Under a twilight glow, I taxied up to the fuel farm, shut down, and swiped my card at the self serve kiosk.

"Verifying transaction..." said the device.  I waited, engulfed in a cloud of gnats attracted by the fuel farm lighting.  Then, the kiosk reset to the welcome screen.

Uh-oh.  Hope they're not sold out.
Evidently, I'm just a poor swiper.  I tried again with the same card and was quickly vetted to purchase some expensive blue petroleum byproduct.

After allowing the fuel to settle, I sumped the tanks and found some water introduced with my newly purchased fuel.  This is not something that a pilot ever wants to find, especially at the onset of a night flight.  After satisfying myself that had I removed all the water from the affected tank, I was back in the air about 45 minutes after sunset.

Across the seaway, the Canadian horizon glowed crimson like a tungsten filament tickled by a low electrical current.  Over time, the glow faded to darkness.  The bright face of the moon shone down on the world, reflecting off of my port wing and illuminating ground features like the Lake Ontario shoreline in a monochrome twilight.  Occasionally, a flash from the ground would draw my eye as the moon reflected back at me from a waterway below.

Watertown passed to the east, an amber constellation of sodium vapor lights draped across the land.  From the southeast corner of Lake Ontario, a scarlet orb bloomed below, became pixelated, and dissolved.  Fireworks.

I reached Oswego County Airport in Fulton, NY to do a night landing.  Turning left from base to final, treetops passed beyond the port wingtip like a rough moonscape, devoid of color under the stark evening lighting.  A flash in the dark marked more fireworks from a community to the south of Fulton.  The landing was smooth, soft.

It was here that I made my most foolish mistake of the evening.  While taxiing back to the departure end of the runway, I discovered an eyelash in my right eye.  Acting to remove it, I firmly planted the tip of my index finger directly on the right lens of my glasses.  After twenty years of wearing glasses, one would think I would be used to them by now.  Departure occurred a few minutes later, after stopping the aircraft and bringing warm breath and a clean shirttail to bear on the smudge.

From the pattern at Williamson-Sodus, the horizon sparkled with other fireworks displays near Rochester.  On final, I eased the throttle back to idle once the runway number was illuminated in the Warrior's landing light.  Squeak.  Another soft landing.  At full power, I accelerated between the parallel strips of runway lights, then pitched skyward and back into the darkness.

On the last landing of the night, Warrior 481 and I settled gently to the pavement at Le Roy.

Mission accomplished.  I was night current and rejuvenated.


  1. Chris - Great essay - Picture number 4, "casting a golden luster across the world", is exceptional. Thanks for sharing...

  2. Beautiful photos! I haven't flown at night in over two years... I miss it.

  3. +1 What Ed said....adding AWESOME to the exceptional sunset shot.

    With the times changing it's good to be night current just in case. I just jumped through the same hoops here.


  4. @ Ed - You know, the pictures in the blog really don't do justice to the ones only in my head. It was a gorgeous evening. I wish I could get decent night photos.

    @ Steve - probably not a lot of night flying in the Cub, huh?

    @ Gary - Great minds... As much as I dislike the shorter days, I do enjoy night flying. At least, I enjoy night flying on clear nights with a full moon over flat terrain.