Saturday, August 10, 2013

"The Clouds Cannot Do Us Any Harm"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
10 Aug 2013 N21481 SDC (Williamson, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 3.2 1193.1

Ticket Moistened

Kristy, The Bear, and I leveled at 3000' beneath a broken layer while I awaited our IFR clearance from Rochester.  Minutes later, it came:

"Warrior 481, cleared to Pontiac as filed, climb and maintain 4000 feet."

Rochester had just cleared my family for their first flight through the clouds.

"Are you ready?" I asked Kristy.  It was her first time aboard Warrior 481 in 2013 and blasting through a cloud layer was a significant paradigm shift for her.

Kristy nodded in response and, from the back seat, The Bear sagely decreed "the clouds cannot do us any harm." I smiled. That was not always true, but the thin broken layer ahead concealed no threats.  At Kristy's affirmation, I advanced the throttle and Warrior 481 rose toward the once impenetrable barrier hovering above.

Photo by Kristy

My family waited expectantly as the relative motion between the clouds and our airplane increased.  We were already closer than VFR cloud clearances allow and drawing nearer.  Just before we reached the clouds, the airplane wallowed in some sinking air and then all outside visual references vanished.

Photo by Kristy

Moments later, we emerged, poised to pass through another.

Photo by Kristy

The Bear was delighted and peered forward through the windscreen as we rushed toward the next wall of white ahead.

Finally back in her element, The Bear asked about our next trip. "I think we should fly because my butt hurt when we drove all the way to Tennessee."  I could only agree with that sentiment.

Kristy was doing fine after her first mild IFR experience. My IFR ticket was not exactly wet, but I had moistened it a little.


We were soon abandoned by the broken layer as it veered northward toward Lake Ontario.  With clear sky ahead and our nose pointed toward Pontiac, we prepared for the flight over Canada to Michigan, our first for 2013.

Our primary goal was to visit Greg, my best friend from high school, who was about to undertake a significant adventure in a place far away from home.  We wanted to see him before his departure.  We also found time to meet with other friends during our brief venture home.

Despite a forecast for excellent VFR weather, I filed IFR to simplify the trans-border operations.  I submitted the flight plan from home, drove to the airport, and checked FlightAware to discover how the FAA computers had processed my flight plan. It appeared that our likely routing would be direct, exactly as I had filed.  I did not expect to log any actual instrument meteorological condition (IMC) time, but the broken layer over Williamson provided an opportunity for us to dip our collective toes into IMC.

From 4000', the site of much chaos from the previous week appeared remarkably placid.

We flew between the Lake Ontario shore and downtown Rochester, whose flagship towers raised their faces to the early morning sunlight.

Niagara River with Lake Erie in the background

Before reaching Niagara Falls, we were settled in and communicating with Toronto Center.  Aside from the 4000 foot cruising altitude, the trip progressed just like all of our past trips.  Certainly, waiting to get my instrument rating meant that I was already very comfortable talking with en route Centers.

Photo by Kristy

With the thrill of cloud busting past, The Bear settled into reading her books.

A strong headwind stretched the journey to the three hour mark.  Eventually, we reached the St Clair River and crossed back into Michigan, where we were cleared for the visual approach into Pontiac.  It was a good thing that the weather was VFR; the Pontiac and Detroit VORs were out of service, the Pontiac localizer was out of service, and GPS reliability in the region was insufficient to shoot a GPS approach.  This more or less eliminated all instrument approaches that Oakland County International had to offer.

We descended through some additional clouds, joined the busy pattern, and made the visual approach into Oakland County International.  Rolling on runway 9R, I was given three taxi clearances in rapid succession. The ground controller finally got it right on the third one. For once, I was not the one tongue tied on the radio.

Worlds Colliding

When Kristy and I lived in Kalamazoo, it seemed as though we lived in an entirely different state from Oakland and Genesee Counties in Michigan where we spent the first half of our lives.  As a result, it was wonderful, but odd, to meet Mike at The Union in downtown Clarkston.  Mike was my director at one point in Kalamazoo and then moved to Rochester, NY with me where he was my direct supervisor for a time; quite possibly one of the best supervisors I have ever had (which is saying something because I have been fortunate to work for some wonderful people over the years).  His current job in eastern Michigan is not far from where I grew up, which gave us a perfect opportunity to catch up over a delicious lunch at The Union. Mike and his wife had just experienced their first balloon ride and they were still exhilarated by it.  As a result, lunch conversation covered a curious mix of professional and aviation topics.

After lunch, we set off on foot for Clarkston Elementary.  I explained to The Bear that this was the very sidewalk I trod on my way to school as a fifth and sixth grader.

"You walked to school?" The Bear queried. Such a thing was entirely beyond her ken.

"Every day," I assured her.  She eyed the sidewalk dubiously, but did not challenge me further.  When we arrived at the school, we discovered that the playground had been completely redone since my elementary days.  The new equipment featured one of those plastic slides that so efficiently impart electrical charge to children.

Maybe it's time to equip The Bear with static wicks?

Later that day, we returned to Oakland County International to meet Garrett.  Garrett was another Kalamazoo friend whom I first met when he was a twelve year old volunteer at the Air Zoo.

Garrett inside the engine nacelle of an F-14 Tomcat in 2002

As a kid, Garrett had an encyclopedic command of facts and figures about the Air Zoo collection. Some of us included Garrett on our tours to supply answers to visitor questions about aircraft specifications that the rest of us could never remember. Garrett was also known to entertain the other volunteers by demonstrating his remarkable ability to squeeze his slender frame through a coat hanger (sometimes we had some slow days at the museum).

Garrett is now the first officer on a Convair-580, flying freight out of Oakland County International.  He proudly opened up one of the airplanes and gave us a tour.

This particular Convair was built in 1958 and much of the instrumentation appeared to be original.  I was very excited to recognize an actual RMI in the panel; the only place I have ever encountered one was on the FAA instrument written exam.

The Bear settled herself into the right seat, looking about in wonderment at the complexity of the panel.

Garrett proudly described what each instrument did and ran through some of the checklists.  I may have been a pilot longer than Garrett, but his current role is serious business compared to my weekend jaunts in the Piper.  Sometimes, I had to stop him for an explanation when his jargon passed clear over my head.

I think The Bear was intrigued by the Convair, but she'll need to reach the pedals before joining Garrett on his travels around the western hemisphere.  From Guatemala City to the Canadian provinces, Garrett regaled us with several stories as gripping as anything shown on Flying Wild Alaska.

Modern day Garrett with the Convair

We spent nearly two hours with Garrett where, just like in the old days at the Air Zoo, he demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of his favorite ride.  With his knowledge and enthusiasm, I think he will do well and I was very proud of him as we said our goodbyes.

I fell asleep that night pleased that I had utilized my new instrument rating and given The Bear her first flight through the clouds, even if only for 0.1 hours. Forecasts for the return trip the following day anticipated similar severe clear weather and I dozed off mentally prepared for another trivial run through the IFR system.


  1. Nothing beats climbing through a layer only to search out where you placed your sunglasses!

    Great pic's as always. Sounds like a fun trip, meeting up with friends, spending time back at "home" and flying to/from.

    The Bear is growing so fast and thats just an observation from following your blog. Such a happy little girl, you and Kristy are lucky parents and obviously doing things the right way.

  2. That's a perfect weekend family trip if I've ever seen one. Love the shot of The Bear as you're about to enter the clouds, so much enthusiasm for something new! So cool that you got to catch up with Garrett and that he's found a career in aviation - reminds me of a Young Eagles success story or two.

    1. It was great to be back and really great to fly somewhere, finally. I'm glad I got to catch up with Garrett, he's a terrific guy. You know how those WMU guys are...

    2. Yeah, we're not all too bad, huh? Forgot to agree earlier with how crazy the differences are between SE and SW Michigan. If we ever moved back, I really don't think it would be anywhere but the left side of the state.

    3. Agreed. Kalamazoo was more of a home to me than the other places I lived in SE MI.

    4. Plus, you know, Bells. :-)

    5. Amen. I had a Bell's Porter on tap tonight! :)

    6. Aw, see, now you're just rubbing it in!

  3. Ok, you know I HAVE to comment on this one! Yay PTK! I don't know what has been up with the GPS and VORs, but I think they have been out of service and unreliable since the beginning of the year! I think the Bear just keeps getting cuter. I'm not sure if I like the static hair picture or clouds picture best. I hope you got the mac n' cheese at the Union :)

    1. I was bowled over by all the NOTAMs. For an airport of that size and activity, I can't believe things are in that state. At least it looks like the localizer is back in service, if I read the most recent set of NOTAMs correctly.

      I think that static hair picture is going to be one of my favorites of all time. That was nothing short of amazing.

      I actually didn't get the mac n' cheese, but I've had it before and it is AWESOME. Unless you are my daughter...she does not like it at all. The Union is a five minute walk from my mother's house, so we go there often when we're home. Plus they have Bells (from Kalamazoo) on tap...

      And, yeah, yay PTK!

  4. Great job with the family! I love seeing Bear's excitement of her new air adventure. I never get tired of seeing the beautiful scenery you fly around. Another cool museum!