Saturday, April 28, 2012

Empire State Aerosciences Museum

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 Apr 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - 6B9 (Skaneateles, NY) -
SCH (Schenectady, NY) - 5G0
4.2 1035.6

The Bear and I took advantage of an April daddy-daughter weekend to visit a new (to us) museum, the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Schenectady, NY. It was also our first long flight with just the two of us and the first out of the area with the new avionics.

Our first crisis came shortly after cranking the engine when The Bear said, "Daddy, can you wipe this red stuff off of my MobiGo?"  I turned and saw that she had a paper cut on the tip of her finger and had bled all over her handheld electronics and her coat.  I tore the cellophane off of a first aid kit that I put in the airplane two years ago, used an alcohol wipe to clean up her finger and the MobiGo, applied a bandage, and told some jokes to counteract the falling tears.  Disaster averted.

We flew over the north ends of most of the Finger Lakes.  I played tour guide for The Bear, teaching her the name of each as it passed below.  "Cayuga" garnered a big laugh from The Bear.  I think the only thing she retained is that one of the lakes is shaped like a "Y", but that is a great start.

We landed at Skaneateles Aero Drome (pronounced "skinny atlas"), a picturesque country airport on the shore of Skaneateles Lake, for fuel ($5.40/gal).  While flight planning that morning, I discovered a NOTAM that the grass runway was closed until mid-May.  I could not help but wonder if the closure was directly triggered by the stuck Husky from several weeks before.

We turned left base for runway 28 while over the lake.  The dark blue of the lake water contrasted sharply with the pastel land features.  Only one other airplane stirred at Skaneateles that morning, but it departed shortly after we landed.  Once refueled, we went in search of a restroom.  The field is dominated by two large hangars.  We ventured inside the old terminal building attached to the rear of the westernmost hangar.  It was dark, quiet, and mostly empty inside.  A counter still divided the lobby space, but it was also empty.

One hallway led into the hangar.  Light admitted by the large, multi-paned windows along the walls revealed a large, modern twin and two beautiful Stearman biplanes.  A second exit from the terminal lobby admitted us into a dark hallway.  As we explored, The Bear became spooked and clung to my leg.  She relaxed a bit when I found a lightswitch and filled the space with dim fluorescent lighting.  Most of the closed doors opened onto small bedrooms, some of which still had beds.  Crash pads?

Finally, relief - the last door we tried was a bathroom.  There was a placard above the urinal that read "Ladies".  Funny...I guess.

Back in the air, we contacted Syracuse for flight following and were put into the system with the wrong tail number (typical), despite corrections given to each subsequent controller along the way.  And so, we assumed the identity of N28481 for the day.

We arrived at Schenectady County (KSCH), a towered airport home to general aviation and the National Guard.  The military ramp was lined with C-130 cargo aircraft.  The Bear spotted them from the air.  "Look at THOSE big airplanes!" she shouted over the intercom.  We landed on runway 28 in nine knot winds gusting to eighteen.

We were directed to parking on the southwest ramp in view of the control tower by Hugh from Richmor Aviation.  Hugh, a young pilot and aspiring aircraft owner, was assigned the task of driving The Bear and I over to the museum located on the north end of the field.  There is aircraft parking adjacent to the museum; however, unlike the Air Zoo, there is no provision to get museum visitors through the security fence.  That seems like a lost opportunity.  The Air zoo had implemented a very manageable system that nevertheless complied with security needs.

The Empire State Aerosciences Museum occupies a portion of the mammoth facility that once served as the General Electric Air Research Laboratory (this is a cool link with lots of vintage pictures, many of which were also displayed in the museum).  The main hangar was a massive, concrete Quonset hut.  Although the facility has been converted to other purposes and no obvious GE presence remained at the airport, Schenectady remains the home of General Electric's central research division.  The GE connection is actually very fitting: most of the aircraft owned by the museum are jets and most of those used GE engines.

This hangar was also home to my favorite sign of the day: "Warning - intermittent bird sounds in the hangar."  From actual birds, no less.

Before exploring the museum in earnest, we walked across the street to Manhattan Bagel for lunch.

In addition to gaining sustenance, wackiness transpired as well.

Nothing puts a smile on my little girl's face like a toasted blueberry bagel with cream cheese.  And let me tell you, the folks at Manhattan Bagel are generous with the cream cheese.

The first thing that greets visitors in the museum is a large map of New York state showing all the places that have impacted aviation.  Indeed, New York's contributions are many, including Glenn Curtiss (Hammondsport, NY), Bell (Buffalo, NY), the Grumman Ironworks (Long Island, NY), Republic Aviation (Farmingdale, NY), and many other lesser known contributors.  But I knew that The Bear would not find any of that interesting.  Instead we used the map to trace our path across New York between Le Roy and Schenectady (above is our return GPS ground track).  We touched on the Finger Lakes, naming them again (yup, Cayuga still earned giggles).

The museum had a nice display on Amelia Earhart, about whom The Bear owns several books.  We spent some time peering into the cockpit of a Lockheed similar to hers.  We compared the copious number of instruments on that panel to those in Warrior 481.  Then we looked at a 1920's era light aircraft and compared the number of instruments again (there were three).

We also found an exhibit on everyone's favorite plum-clad aviatrix, Harriet Quimby.  The Bear and I talked about what she accomplished and that she grew up south of Kalamazoo (Coldwater, to be specific - there's a plaque dedicated to her at the airport there).  The Bear was unimpressed by her being the first woman to fly over the English Channel, but her eyes lit up in wonder at the mention of Kalamazoo.  Go figure.

Oddly enough, one of the things that most impressed me about the museum was not an airplane at all, but a massive scale model of the Japanese Aircraft carrier Akagi ("Red Castle") used in the filming of Tora! Tora! Tora!

The model is so large (32' long) that an elevated viewing platform is provided for museum guests.  This photo was taken from the platform.

When standing on the floor, I was eye-level with the carrier deck.

I wish my paycheck had as many zeroes on it as this aircraft carrier.

"Beeeeaaaarrrssss iiiiiinnnnn spaaaaaaaaaace!"

Finally, we walked outside to the "Air Park".  Outside displays of airplanes can sometimes be disappointing.  Let's face it, Mother Nature can be dreadfully abusive.  While all the airplanes sitting outside showed some signs of weathering, they were generally in good condition.  Here are just a few examples.

A nice A-4 Skyhawk against a beautiful eastern New York sky.

This is a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.  I always liked this name and thought it applicable to something considered the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft ever built.  This thing is big.  I asked The Bear if we should paint a face like this one on Warrior 481.

"Oh, Daddy.  You're so funny."

So...that's a "no", right?

When I told The Bear that this A-10 was also known as the "warthog", she insisted on having her picture taken with the "Pumbaa" airplane.  Hakuna matata!

Ok, I know that one of the F-4 Phantom's nicknames is "double ugly", but I think it is a cool looking airplane.  This is a nice specimen

This was an interesting find.  It is a North American RA-5C Vigilante.  It is known as the largest airplane to operate from an aircraft carrier.  It was designed and built to provide the Navy with aircraft-delivered nuclear strike capability, but later morphed into a reconnaissance aircraft.  Only 130 of these airplanes were produced.

The Bear was fascinated by the folding wings on this Grumman Intruder, so we talked about what the folding wings said about the airplane (carrier-based) and why.

As I contemplated this Northrop F-5E Tiger, I was stuck by how svelte it was.  It looked to me like a dragster.  Just look at that wing; it's paper thin.  It looks fast, but it also looks like it would fall out of the air like a lawn dart at speeds below 150 knots.

At this point, the gusty winds (they were fifteen gusting to twenty-two by the time we departed) were making time in the Air Park uncomfortable, so were ventured back inside.  While we were there, we met who I assume to be the director of the museum.  He was very friendly and asked The Bear if she saw anything she liked at the museum.  He had just returned from an event celebrating the donation of three aircraft from the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum in New York City (presumably to make room for the Enterprise).  The aircraft were moved by barge, inaugurating the 2012 Erie Canal season a few days earlier than usual.

After Hugh brought us back to Richmor (nice people there, by the way), The Bear snacked on some applesauce.  The above photo is what I saw after paying the fuel bill.  Way to class up the joint, little aviatrix!

Once we got settled back into Warrior 481, a Cessna 152 taxied in next to us with a teenager in the left seat.  That airplane was immediately surrounded by well-wishing family, so we waited for the celebration to move inside before cranking the engine.  I'm not sure what aeronautical milestone we witnessed, but did not want to disrupt the special moment by starting up an airplane just a few feet away from everyone.

This was our first visit to a large airport since the iFly 700 was upgraded to georeferenced FAA taxi diagrams.  What a cool feature, to see the airplane moving along the diagram of an unfamiliar airport!    Obviously, the above image is an overlay of our GPS track on a Google map, but it gets the idea across.

On approach to Schenectady, we noticed the large ridge immediately west of runway 28 (plainly visible in the earlier photo).  Given the gusty winds, I expected that it would throw some nasty bumps at us on departure.  We were not disappointed.  When it comes to turbulence, The Bear is a trooper.

We flew over the Mohawk River on our way out of the area, the major tributary of the Hudson River and part of the Erie Canal system.  We listened to a three way exchange between a trainee controller in Schenectady tower, a Piper Tripacer approaching from the east, and a Cessna approaching from the south.  As the two airplanes converged toward the same runway, a more experienced controller stepped in and sorted out the near collision.

The Bear sat back in first class, concentrating on the books, magazines, and electronic gadget I had packed to occupy her.  There was no meal service on the way home, but headphones were provided to listen to in-flight entertainment.

We paralleled I-90 for the entire route home.

We climbed to 6500' to escape the bumps and flew home with a 20+ knot headwind.  Although we could see snow capped peaks in the Adirondacks, much of the farm country below had transformed into a green promise of summer.

En route to Le Roy, we flew closer to Syracuse than I had ever flown before.  Here it is from over a mile up in the air.  I have to confess, I only know two things about Syracuse: college basketball and that the original Dinosaur Barbeque is there.

"Waterloo!  Couldn't get away if I wanted to!"  At this point, I just might have been getting a little punchy.  Dan P, that one is dedicated to you.

Overall, we had a good flight and enjoyed the museum.  I think I have learned the key to long flights with The Bear when additional Bear wranglers are unavailable: a first aid kit, plenty of things to read (she went through about four High-Five magazines) and do (MobiGo, some activity books), and an adequate supply of snacks and water.

Not too shabby - we can do this.


  1. Now that's a neat museum. I'll have to make the trip if we fly up there again. It goes without saying at this point... but great photos as always!

    "Beeeeaaaarrrssss iiiiiinnnnn spaaaaaaaaaace!"

    ^ Not gonna lie, I heard the echo when I read that...

    1. This probably does not come as a huge surprise, but "Pigs in Space" was my favorite recurring skit on The Muppet Show. I know, you're stunned.

  2. What an cool day! My favorite is the F-4. Aren't daughters great!? Neat pics as usual. Thanks.

  3. LOL.....Odd, I heard that same echo Steve. Great write up!

    You have a "co-pilot" that sure makes the trip fun. There is nothing better than having some off the wall question come out and you just have to laugh as you come up with the answer. Seeing and reading about your interactions brings back fond memories of my Ryan when she was that age. I can't imagine what she would have thought about flying then.

    +1 on the F4, the "lead sled" my favorite aircraft too!

    1. You know, Gary, just before my daughter was born, I worried that I would not have time to fly and seriously thought about selling the airplane. Now that we have reached the point where she can (and does) participate, I am SO glad that I didn't. We just filled up her little kid logbook and had to buy her a new one!