Sunday, May 18, 2014

Aeronautical Infidelity and Pancake Breakfasts

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
12 May 2014 N1185X SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 1.2 1271.5
13 May 2014 N1185X SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 1.2 1272.7
18 May 2014 N1185X SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 2.0 1274.7

I confess; I was unfaithful to my partner of the last ten years.

To be clear, I did not indulge in a brief fling with her cousin because she was not talented or pretty enough. I was not bored or dissatisfied with her. We were not "on a break".

In truth, the insurance company made me do it.

Golden Anniversary

The Williamson Flying Club was founded fifty-eight years ago in 1956. What began with the purchase of a used Aeronca Champ based at the now-defunct Palmyra Airport has grown into an organization of approximately 160 active members that owns and operates a modern, public use airport (KSDC) and a fleet of five aircraft. With the renewed emphasis on clubs as a means to affordable flying, the Williamson Flying Club is truly a model of success worth emulating.

Eight years after its founding, the club organized a pancake breakfast at the field where the current airport exists. In the fifty years elapsed since, the annual breakfast has become a traditional component of the Williamson Apple Blossom Festival and a community focal point.

When we were based in Le Roy, we enjoyed attending this very well-organized fly-in breakfast (see: 2010, 2012, and 2013). 2014, the fiftieth annual breakfast, marked my first opportunity to participate as a club member.

50th Annual Pancake Breakfast logo designed by Christina Nasselo (NVus Designs)

While still without a role to play in the breakfast, I was approached by Mike, the club's full time flight instructor, airport manager, webmaster, AWOS voice actor, and occasional mechanic (Mike is pretty much a renaissance man).

"How many hours do you have?"

"About twelve hundred..." I answered with some trepidation.

Mike grinned.  "Step into my office for a minute."

Every year at the breakfast, airplane rides are offered to the public. Usually, Mike serves as one of the ride pilots, but would be out of town for this year's breakfast and was in search of a substitute. Ride pilots need a minimum of 500 hours in their logbooks and, for insurance purposes, need to fly club aircraft (the full FAA guidelines for these kinds of flights can be found here). This meant that I needed a checkout in one of the club airplanes.

What a relief! I felt completely qualified to fly passengers and had feared that assignment as pancake flipper on an unfamiliar grill might result in a lot of burned pancakes.

Thus, Mike sent me on the path to aeronautical infidelity.


N1185X is a 1975 Piper Archer I powered by a 180 horsepower Lycoming O-360 engine. Though designated a PA-28-180 like the Cherokee I used to rent at Three Rivers, the first generation Archer has some slightly different handling characteristics. It features the constant chord ("Hershey Bar") wing of the earlier Cherokees, but the wingspan is longer. During my checkout, this appeared to impart some floating tendency relative to the older Cherokee 180s, if not as much float as the Warrior. It is also possessed of the larger stabilator found on my Warrior, which seemed to foster greater pitch authority at landing speeds whereas the older Cherokee 180 I flew required significant aft trim when slow in order to lift the nose and flare the airplane. On the ground and in flight, the airplane felt stouter than the Warrior, consistent with my recollection of the Cherokee 180 line.


Over the course of 1.2 hours, Mike ran me through a series of maneuvers, stalls, and landings. I will not claim to have dazzled him, but I performed passably.  The familiar-but-different aircraft flustered me at times with its differently organized checklist and flows for equipment similar to the Warrior's. Key airspeed values were different, not only owing to airframe differences, but because of an airspeed indicator calibrated in miles-per-hour rather than knots. At the very least, I was pleased with myself for always using the correct tail number in my radio communications.

An hour into the checkout and after a passable spot landing on the 1000 foot runway markers, we were climbing past tree-top level when Mike instructed me to continue the climb to 3000 feet over the airport, pull the power to idle, and put the airplane back on the runway.

"And, if you don't, we'll do it again until you do."

After a single 360° turn to lose altitude, I rolled out on final approach for a simulated emergency landing. I was too high, put the airplane into a forward slip, and greased the wheels onto the same 1000 foot markers that had been my target for the spot landing.

I do not recall Mike's exact words at that moment, but they were effectively, "that'll do, pig. That'll do." With that, I was officially checked out in the Archer.


The next day, I flew solo for another hour to solidify my comfort with the Archer. It was my first time solo in a new airplane since the morning ten years ago when I boarded Warrior 481 in Guthrie, OK to fly her home. As my comfort and familiarity grew with the Archer, I slipped on the radio and declared, "Waaaarcher eight five x-ray, left base, one zero." (a good save there, I think). Otherwise, it was a good flight and my landings were more consistent than they had been with Mike the previous day.

Combustionally Challenged

On the morning of the breakfast, I arrived at 6:30 am to meet my partner, Dan, to conduct a preflight inspection on Eight Five X-Ray. Dan is a former Air Force pilot who joined the club the same day I did. Like me, Dan also has his own airplane, a Mooney. And, like me, Dan had just completed his own checkout in the Archer. Dan and I would share the flying duties for the morning from roughly 8:00 am until 1:00 pm.

Our plan was for each of us to warm up by flying the course Mike had mapped out for that morning's flights. With preflight complete, me in the left seat and Dan in the right, I stepped through the checklist to start the Archer. Only it did not want to start. After two attempts, Dan and I looked at each other in puzzlement.

We soon had a circle of club members standing around the airplane offering advice. There was no fuel smell outside the airplane, no fuel dripping from the cowling, and flooded start procedures did not remedy the situation. We concluded that the engine was not flooded. One of the other ride pilots, an instructor, offered that Eight Five X-Ray was finicky during cold starts and recommended pumping the throttle while cranking. This is somewhat notoriously a vector for starting fires and I did not want to experience another fire, especially in an airplane that was not mine (actually, it is about 1/160th mine), but I was careful to pump only while cranking and this did the trick. Mike later revealed that the primer had been inoperative, but Dan and I were both too unfamiliar with the quirks of the airplane to recognize that its behavior that morning was unusual.

I flew the appointed course at 2000 feet: west to the Spencer Speedway, north to the shore of Lake Ontario, east until due north of the airport, south over the airport, and a teardrop entry back into the pattern. I squeaked the wheels back onto the runway, returned to the staging area, and shut down. Dan and I swapped seats and I rode through the course as he flew.

With our successful return to Earth, we started flying rides.

Paying Customers

Each trip required approximately 20 minutes from engine start to engine stop. Dan and I fell into a routine of switching off after every two hops. While Dan was flying, I brought friends and coworkers who attended the breakfast into my hangar and let the kids sit in Warrior 481 (I may have been cheating on her that morning, but I certainly did not ignore her). I even managed to sneak into the breakfast line for a late meal around 11:00 that morning.

Here I am taxiing out with a load of passengers. Photo by Rick M, Williamson Flying Club

Giving airplane rides at the breakfast was tremendous fun. I flew eleven passengers in five hops that morning. Everyone was very friendly and talkative and all left the airplane smiling, even those who boarded with trepidation. I allowed some of the front seaters fly the leg along the lake shore. The orchards below were white with apple blossoms, making the event a very well-timed festival.

Eight Five X-Ray performed well that morning except that the parking brake lock ceased to work such that loading and unloading of passengers required diligent application of toe brakes. When I needed fuel, I and my passengers were treated to a ride on the ground as a crew pulled us through the breakfast crowd to the fuel farm while I steered from the pilot seat. Once stopped at the fuel farm, I turned to see Kristy, The Bear, and friends from The Bear's school standing nearby waving at me excitedly.

Airplane rides were popular that day and we stopped selling tickets mid-morning in order to ensure that we could get everyone into the air. When ticket purchases outpaced the frequency of flights, a fourth club airplane was brought onto the flight line to reduce the backlog. I flew the last ride of the day, which was a bit bumpy with afternoon thermal activity finally reaching its stride. When I returned with my passengers, the other airplanes were parked, much of the breakfast trappings had already been torn down and stowed, and the field was visibly less populated. It is my understanding that the club sold 1600+ breakfasts that morning. One need look no further than that to understand the strength of community support for this event.

Archer 85X departing SDC with breakfasts guests. I cannot discern who is flying here, me or Dan.
Photo by Rick M, Williamson Flying Club

Overall, it was a terrific experience and opportunity to introduce the non-flying public to general aviation. Though I am very practiced in giving rides to first-time flyers, it was my first time flying paying strangers for a community event.

I used to tell my friends in the Williamson Flying Club that "they" put on a fantastic pancake breakfast. I am very proud to change that to a "we" for 2014!

I hope Warrior 481 will forgive my public indiscretion. It was all for a good cause.

1 comment:

  1. Keeping the tail number straight is a noteworthy feat; I can't begin to tell you how often I spout out "Skyhawk 2814L" when, in fact, I'm in something else. I guess that's what happens when most of one's non-NORDO flying occurs in the same aircraft for a few years in a row!

    Also, from one fellow pilot who's caused a carb fire to another, I share your trepidation for pumping the throttle while cranking - even if it's also a "recommended" procedure for some of the planes I regularly fly.

    Nice work as far as the rides go, too. That's still one of my most favorite things to do as a pilot. Nothing like being able to show people the beauty the skies offer. Glad you've found such an awesome local airport with a great community - maybe I'll be landing there again soon!