Sunday, September 28, 2014

Spreading Cheer, a Few Gallons of Avgas at a Time

"Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 Sep 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.6 1341.3

"Warrior 481 is cleared to Pontiac as filed, climb and maintain six thousand."

"Woo hoo!" said Kristy from the right seat, sufficiently experienced now to appreciate the benefits of being cleared "as filed" while flying on an instrument flight plan. We settled in for a smooth flight westward over Niagara Falls, Ontario, and southeast Michigan.

Over a year had passed since we last visited with my Dad and stepmother in Tennessee. Neither he nor I had been to visit my grandparents in Michigan since November 2013. 2014 was a challenging year for all of us on several fronts and it was well past time for us to converge on Oakland County to visit and spread some cheer.

After all, who wouldn't want to have this delivered to their house?

Departing at 5:00 pm on a sunny Friday in September, Niagara Falls was already in shadow by the time we flew overhead on our mission to Michigan.

Indeed, this was the view directly in front of us for the entire 2.5 hour flight, the glare effectively making this an instrument flight despite good visibility and a clear sky. It was an unfortunate alignment of heading, time of day, and time of year. Fifteen miles from Oakland County International, the sun sank into haze near the horizon, its output shifting toward the red. In a seeming effort to hasten the end of a day's journey, the copper disk rapidly dwindled, as though viewed through a closing iris, and disappeared.

Nice timing.

No longer blinded by the sun, I informed Detroit Approach that the airport was in sight. Cleared for landing on runway 9L, we were momentarily wingtip to wingtip with an Arrow on approach to the parallel 9R. It was faster than us and reached the airport first, but we were down and stopped sooner and in much less distance. It all comes down to energy management and I am more acclimated to landing on short runways.

Once parked at Michigan Aviation, my mother arrived to take us to a late dinner at Qdoba, which we cannot get in New York.

Back in Clarkston

The next morning, we met my buddy Garrett (a pilot and former Air Zoo docent now living in Waterford) for breakfast at a diner in my hometown.

It was my first time back in Clarkston since November 2013 and I asked Kristy to take this picture of me and The Bear as proof that we were actually there. As I have said before, after twenty years away, memories of my home town feel like they belong to someone else.

We found this alien on the sidewalk leading to the little house I grew up in. Oh boy, my dad and grandparents were clearly in for a treat that afternoon!

Spreading Cheer

After a stroke and a stay at a rehabilitation facility in 2013, my grandfather is back home with my grandmother. Unfortunately, neither of them gets around extremely well and I don't think that living in their condo affords them opportunity to do much of...well...anything. Having such a goofy Bear in their midst for a few hours must have been both a lovely diversion and absolutely disorienting for them.

They were glad to see us though and, in that, was a mission well accomplished.

Energy Management

The next day, after another terrific breakfast at the Old Village Cafe, we took The Bear to a playground at Clarkston Elementary and let her run off excess energy before spending the next few hours in the Warrior. Just as landing an airplane is all about energy management, so too is flying with The Bear.

Frankly, I think she just likes being able to look down on me from above for a change.

Sometimes, You Need to Leave Home to Get Home

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 Sep 2014 N21481 PTK (Waterford, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 2.8 1344.1

I sat in the living room of my late-childhood home and filed a flight plan from Oakland County International back to Williamson-Sodus. As described previously, the last several times we departed a towered, metropolitan Detroit airport for Sodus, we have been given an undesirable IFR routing over Lake Erie starting with MOONN intersection. To avoid this, a few people have recommended including a "request no flight over Lake Erie" sort of remark in the flight plan.

So I did.

When the expected route from the FAA materialized on my iPad, it was the same MOONN-V90-DKK-BUF clearance (i.e., a low altitude MOONN5 departure procedure with a DKK transition) that I hoped to avoid. Deciding that the route was probably computer generated and that there would be time for human intervention later, we departed for Michigan Aviation.

Usually, we use the Pontiac Air Center (PAC) when we visit Oakland County International. The fuel prices tended to be the lowest on the field and the owner, Doug, has always taken good care of us. He helped preheat the Warrior on a cold morning in November of 2006 when my primer was not working. He pumped up the nose strut when it went flat after we were forced to abandon the Warrior there for a week in 2011. While planning this trip, I noticed that their hours of operation had changed to a 5:00 pm close. Arriving nearly three hours after PAC's closing on Friday, we parked at Michigan Aviation instead.

Sunday morning, it was obvious from the Michigan Aviation ramp that nothing was happening at PAC. When I asked the lineman about it, he shrugged. "Some kind of SNAFU," he said, explaining that PAC shut down a month previous for reasons unknown to him. Evidently, no one notified air traffic control of the closure. For a time, the tower still sent arriving aircraft to PAC, only for them to be met on the ground by security and turned away. Kristy and I patronized Doug and PAC for nearly eight years over the course of many trips into Oakland County International. Now we wonder what became of them.

Although Pontiac Ground cleared us home via the MOONN intersection routing, the controller informed me that we would receive radar vectors to keep us from flying over water. While I appreciated that ATC responded to my flight plan remark, I still had to spend a few minutes dialing the original route into the Garmin 430W. Aloft, Detroit approach vectored us about five miles north of the airport (directly over Clarkston), then cleared us for a right turn direct to Buffalo. "That should keep you from flying over the lake," he noted. Nearly an hour later, a Toronto Center controller would call and say, "hey, Warrior 481, how would you like direct to your destination?"

Toronto Center made it look it easy.

After turning direct to the Buffalo VOR, I looked down and realized that we were paralleling Clarkston Road. This road connects the Village of Clarkston to the Lake Orion farm where I spent my early childhood. My eyes followed the road until I saw the familiar shape of Elkhorn Lake, upon whose shores I lived and played as a child. The farm is now a housing development and sandy evidence of new construction was apparent below. After nearly 20 years of trying, the last of the farm's subdivided properties is sold and no one in my family owns any of that land down there anymore. It seemed an odd coincidence to overfly the farm for the first time in nine years just weeks after the property passed out of my family's control; the ultimate visual reminder of "you can't go home again".


With the mission in Michigan accomplished and a satisfactory route programmed into the navigation system, there was little more to do but listen to quiet symphonic music from the iPad while watching the autumn landscape roll past. Kristy and The Bear both had their noses in books as we flew.

Lake Huron and the St Clair River

Canada, eh?

Pumped storage facilities on the Canadian and American sides of the Niagara River

Pumped storage facility in Lewiston, NY

Irondequoit Bay near Rochester, NY

"Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?"

Back home, we pushed Warrior 481 into the hangar. Actually, it's a new hangar to us; we recently moved to a south facing "T" hoping to have an easier time with ice on the ramp this winter. Kristy and The Bear took care of cleaning off the bugs while I logged the time and put the cockpit into order. On the drive home, I pondered several questions.

- What if Clarkston does not actually exist in an objective reality, but is only hastily constructed immediately upon our filing a flight plan to Pontiac? If so, is that why my childhood home is so poorly insulated? (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that it was built around 1902 and that newspapers were considered appropriate materials for insulation)
- Why are we so much at the mercy of celestial objects? We were assaulted by the sun while flying west and challenged by the MOONN going east.
- Why is it trivial to fly IFR direct from Sodus to Pontiac, but the reverse course always requires negotiation? Is it an aerial one way street? A Zener diode?
- Does Santa Claus do his thing at night so that he doesn't have to fly directly into the sun the way we did? If so, he's really clever.
- If a lead acid battery could be constructed to deliver the equivalent current output of the Lewiston Pumped Storage facility, how big would it have to be?
- Is Niagara Falls really nothing more than a leak in the east end of Lake Erie? If so, are the falls the only things keeping Cleveland from flooding?


- What is the shelf life on cheer spread by a Little Bear who visits her great grandparents by airplane?

1 comment:

  1. It's always nice to fly to see family. Even when there's insanity elsewhere, few things clear the mind better than a cross-country flight.

    The weather certainly cooperated for your weekend excursion, too!