Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Social Flyer

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
2 Aug 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC 1.3 1305.5

For the typical private pilot, flying is not a team sport. Most of us fly airplanes requiring only a crew of one - ourselves. Sometimes, we fly entirely alone. In many ways, aviation is a strikingly individualistic activity. Somewhat incongruously, then, most pilots are rather social. Not only do we enjoy being around other aviators, but we enjoy sharing the wonder of flight with non-aviators. For many, sharing the experience with others is one of the greatest gifts that comes with the government issued pilot certificate.

5 December 2004, 481 parked next to Ron and Dave at Coldwater (KOEB) for breakfast

Nine years ago, I was based at the South Haven Area Regional Airport (KLWA). This was a very social field. We had cookouts most Saturday nights during the summer, did group fly-outs to other destinations, and hosted "Take Your Coworkers to the Airport Day" several times to give the uninitiated a taste of general aviation. There was almost always someone at the airport, an open hangar door around which others would gather and talk.

Le Roy, NY (5G0) is a terrific, well-maintained airport owned and operated by one of my favorite people around. There are some terrific folks on the field. Even though we got along well, we rarely did anything together as a pilot community (some noteworthy exceptions to this include Darrell's family hosting "Thanksgiving in February" and Ray's airport barbecues). In fact, most of the time, I had the airport entirely to myself.

By joining the Williamson Flying Club, I hoped to get more people flying places together. I was not the only one with these aspirations and I soon found myself added to the club's recently formed activities committee.

Our first fly-out event was to a pancake breakfast at Frankfort-Highland Airport (6B4), just on the other side of Syracuse from Sodus. It was a great success. Most of the club's fleet made the trip along with two privately owned aircraft, one of which was Warrior 481. Several of the experienced pilots, including me, brought students with them. One of the club planes was flown by a student and the club's chief instructor who turned the morning into a fun lesson. Everyone enjoyed hearing other members of the "Williamson Fleet" checking in with Syracuse Approach as we overflew Charlie airspace to reach our destination. It was exactly the sort of social flying that I missed since leaving South Haven. If there was a downside to the whole event, it was that the destination airport was small with limited parking and, frankly, we swamped their bandwidth when we arrived.

Our second fly-out was scheduled for August 2. We settled on Williamsport, PA (KIPT) and the on-field restaurant, Cloud 9, as our destination. I suggested them because Cloud 9 is a nice restaurant; Williamsport is an easy flight, but sufficiently out of the local area that it would be a new experience for many of the club members; the field has plenty of parking (learning from previous experience at 6B4); and it is a sleepy towered field that might give low time pilots some confidence-building experience with a tower.

When the weather forecast for central Pennsylvania turned ugly, we activated Plan B: a quick hop to nearby Oswego County Airport for breakfast at Puddle Jumpers. As before, we paired up students or inactive pilots looking for a ride with pilots flying airplanes that had open seats.

I had arranged to fly Joe, the former club president who recruited me to Williamson in the first place, and his daughter. However, when they arrived at my hangar, they were accompanied by Gary who hoped I had an extra seat. Well, certainly, I had an extra seat in my four place airplane, but did I have the ability to carry everyone's weight? It is very rare for me to fill all four seats and, when I do, it is generally with small children in at least two of them.

Together, Joe, Gary, and I accounted for 600 pounds, plus an extra 100 for Joe's daughter. With this information in hand, I did something that I had not done in years - I worked a new weight and balance problem (I keep a set of pre-worked scenarios in the airplane, but this situation was not covered by any of them). Fortunately, I did not refill the tanks after our return from Ann Arbor the previous weekend. There was plenty of fuel to make the hop to Oswego County and back with my preferred one hour reserve, but the low fuel load allowed us to come in at 50 pounds under gross weight. Vetted for flight by some simple arithmetic, Gary joined us. The more, the merrier!

Though we delayed departure to allow some of the haze to burn off, forward visibility was still not terrific as our small fleet of ships flew toward the morning sun.

We gathered on the ramp at Oswego County until everyone arrived. Note how beautiful the sky was when looking to the northwest...

...compared to the haze visible when looking east toward the sun. John, who just earned his private pilot certificate in June, managed to find the airport in all that haze and literally toed the line as he taxied past in Five Five Whiskey.

Upon arrival, I parked in my usual spot, which meant that I was not parked with everyone else. Despite having organized that morning's event, I evidently have some kind of stubborn individualistic streak.

Photo by Ellen

Ellen snapped a few pictures of the whole group, skillfully juggling three cameras at once (where "skillfully" = "without dropping"). Then we invaded Puddle Jumpers.

Once inside, a chaotic game of musical chairs and tables ensued, but everyone was eventually seated. As shown above, who needs a hangar to hangar fly?

This is the Mooney Table, which is something akin to the Kiddie Table, but much faster.

Photo by Amber

As she passed out menus to everyone, Amber (the Assistant Puddle Jumper?) paused when she reached me and said, "oh! Hi! Where's your little girl this morning?" She usually recognizes us when we come in for breakfast, but I expected that I would pass unnoticed without The Bear in tow.

Photo by Joe

Joe's daughter ordered the Cookies and Cream Pancakes. They looked amazing! The Bear is not going to be happy about missing out on these, I thought to myself when I saw them. Indeed, when The Bear saw the above photo, she wasn't very happy with me. This was an instance where, "you snooze, you lose" was literally true.

The breakfast run that morning was really no different than what I have been doing for the last several years with a single airplane and family or other friends on board. But flying, arriving, and eating with a larger group is just much more enjoyable.

Even us individualistic pilots like to travel in flocks sometimes.


  1. Looks like a fun time! I sure do miss the North East Flyers events, that was a fun bunch that always had a big turn out.

    It's always nice to share flights and spend time with like minded folks (Pilots). Hmmm...W&B for four, I account for half of that fourth seat in the sundowner and with fuel reserves I can only carry two plus me. But it's a roomy three place plane :)

    1. It was fun, Gary! Like that time we met up at Williamsport (too bad we had to bug out so quickly that day).

      Yeah, as you can probably tell from the write up, adding a fourth person really gave me pause. I normally consider the Warrior to be a three place airplane. I've flown loads with just two passengers that were closer to maximum gross than usual for me. The performance difference was noticeable in the long take off run and the glide behavior on final. Where it was REALLY noticeable was on roll out...the brakes did not work particularly well at all (in fact, they got hot...I could smell them as we taxied in). All l can say is that I'm glad that I did not add fuel at the end of the previous trip. I normally keep it filled to the tabs and, if I had done that, we would have been way over gross and our fourth would have needed to find a different ride to Oswego County.

  2. You really do have an awesome airport up there. That's pretty much the only thing I wish there was more of at Stewart - a group of folks who flew places together more often. I've met a ton of awesome people there and we do things (i.e. New Year's breakfast or formation fun) from time to time, of course, but it's no club. Glad to see you're keeping SDC so lively. You know we'll stop by next time we fly up that way!

    1. It really is a great place, Steve. I'm glad that Joe talked me into joining.