Sunday, December 20, 2015

Chesapeake Delights in Central Pennsylvania

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 Dec 2015 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - IPT (Williamsport, PA) - SDC 2.5 1495.4

December Sunshine

We climbed into a sky bisected; overcast east of the Williamson-Sodus Airport, clear to the west. A southeasterly morning sun cast its brilliant gaze over a rare December landscape devoid of snow. For our first flight together as a family since September, we set a southerly course for Williamsport, Pennsylvania and breakfast at Cloud 9. The Bear and I have been to Cloud 9 several times, but it was to be Kristy's first visit.

In the back seat, The Bear crouched low to escape the blinding visage of the sun. Being a Flying Bear can be rough sometimes.

Proceeding south, away from the warming effect of Lake Ontario, we encountered a narrow band of snow accumulation running parallel to the Pennsylvania state line.

Looking east across Keystone State terrain, haze diffused the sun's penetrating rays.

For her part, The Bear achieved tenuous respite from the sun behind one of the Warrior's window pillars until we made our approach into Williamsport.

No Greasy Spoon, This

Of the many airport diners that we have patronized, Cloud 9 is my absolute favorite. The restaurant affords a beautiful view of a high ridgeline south of the sleepy towered field. The food is a cut above the greasy spoon fare at many other airport diners. Because of its food quality and unique ambiance, the restaurant thrives as a destination for locals rather than a place dependent on the fickle nature of private aviation for support. Ours was the only aircraft parked on the ramp, but the restaurant was busy. Santa Claus was even working the crowd.

"Do you have a reservation?" The hostess looked at me expectantly.

"No." Then I added, as though it was somehow an acceptable excuse, "we just flew in." This seemed to matter to the hostess, who peered around the restaurant a second time, then seated us at a high table usually serving a more decorative role. Note to self: next time, make a reservation.

Shades were drawn to filter the intense sunshine, restricting the usually excellent view. "That sun is really bright," commented a nearby diner.

Trying staring into it for an hour while flying an airplane, I thought. I know: First World problems.

Cloud 9 does not have a children's menu. Kristy and The Bear split an order of blueberry waffles, my wife ordering a side of bacon and The Bear indulging in sausage. Everything was delicious, but what really impressed me was the sausage; plump, tender, and sourced from a local farm. I chose the Chesapeake frittata made from three eggs scrambled with sauteed asparagus, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes. It was cooked to perfection (I'm picky about browned or overcooked eggs) and the whole thing was topped by one of the best crab cakes I have eaten in recent memory. In a word, it was fantastic; all of it.

As we finished our meal, a family entered the restaurant led by a youngster who burst through the door, cast her gaze about the restaurant, and cried out, "where's Santa?" Evidently, word had spread.

Santa or no Santa, it does not get much better than dining on Cloud 9.

Ten Minutes of Winter

Back on the ramp with the airplane, we affirmed that The Bear has not grown out of her "bunny ears phase" yet. Maybe next year.

With the sun at our backs, we were smiling more and squinting less than on the southbound journey.

We returned to the narrow band of winter, existing in the tenuous equilibrium of a sufficiently northern latitude, but not so far north so as to be spoiled by the still-warm Lake Ontario. We cleared the microclimate to the north, the landscape returning to hues of brown and muted green as our airplane carried us back out of winter in a matter of minutes. Science and technology aside, flight is still magical.

Corning, NY

Kristy does not fly with me as often as she once did. I found myself reflecting on how this flight differed from our cross country flights of ten years earlier, both in terms of the hardware in the panel, the way we interacted with air traffic control, and the fact that I am now instrument rated. In some ways, it is hard to believe that those early flights occurred in the same airplane under control of the same pilot.

ADS-B: Distant Early Warning

Inbound to Sodus, my iPad depicted ADS-B traffic five miles to the starboard on a heading that apparently converged with ours at the Williamson-Sodus Airport. I took note.

Ten miles out from Sodus, I cancelled flight following. "Warrior 481, traffic, 2 o' clock and five miles, northbound. I'm not talking to him. Frequency change approved, squawk VFR," Rochester signed off. I gave Kristy the privilege of pressing the cool [VFR] button on the new transponder as I flipped to the next frequency. ForeFlight continued to depict the target on a convergent course. I slowed down and began a shallow descent.

"Williamson-Sodus traffic, Warrior Two One Four Eight One, five southwest, landing two eight." There was not a peep from our target. I diverted west to provide better spacing with the other aircraft. We reached pattern altitude with our traffic target still 1000 feet above us. Given its altitude, I wondered if the other aircraft intended to overfly the field rather than land. I continued trying to pick it up visually.

Moments later, ForeFlight gave a traffic alert. Our target was descending rapidly ("like a rock" as I commented to Kristy in the moment). Despite my avoidance maneuver, our target had also diverted west and was directly above us. Then I saw it, ahead and slightly above pattern altitude. It was much closer than I like to see other aircraft in flight, close enough to easily identify as another Cherokee.

The frequency was not terribly congested, but it was not idle, either. In addition to myself broadcasting position reports inbound to Sodus, Dan from Le Roy was flying a practice VOR Alpha approach into my former home field, and the Canadians across the lake at Markham were transmitting their usual garrulous radio calls.

On seeing the other Cherokee drop into view at the top of my windscreen, I mashed the push-to-talk and broadcast, "Williamson-Sodus traffic, Warrior 481, two point five southwest on the forty-five, two eight, Williamson Sodus." (translation for non-aviators: "we're two and half miles southwest of the Williamson-Sodus Airport making a 45° entry into the downwind leg of the traffic pattern for runway two eight").

That got his attention.

"Where are you?" A completely new voice on frequency; elderly, hoarse and tremulous. It could have been from anyone at any number of airports on 122.80 MHz, but I was certain that it came from the Cherokee that had just dropped into the downwind leg of the pattern. To his credit, in the beat of silence that followed, the Cherokee driver realized the vagary of his call and tried again.

"Warrior, where are you?" Well, that was a little better. I responded that I was behind him and had him in sight. He continued to fly the pattern, calling final for runway "eight two", a transmission that utterly failed to engender any improved confidence from me.

Though the encounter ended without incident, I wondered how it would have gone had I not seen and been tracking the other Cherokee via ADS-B, if I had not slowed down and diverted westward to give him more room before I could get a visual on him. For anyone wondering about my opinion of ADS-B, on the basis of this incident alone, I have to say that the pricey upgrade was worth every penny.


  1. Wow...Great pics and what looked like a fun flight up until the traffic. Thankfully everyone is safe and ADS-B did it's job.

    1. It did. I'm not someone who thinks that starting at my iPad is better than looking out the window, but having the knowledge that someone was out there to be sough visually, that was really valuable. Coming from someone who called ADS-B a "pay to play boondoggle" in a previous post, I have to concede that it had value in this instance.

    2. I am loving my ADS-B as well. It's frightening at times to now be able to "see" more of what's out there. I also like the fact that it is all GPS based and much easier to judge where other planes are geographically when comparing their position overlaid on the chart to where I'm looking outside.
      I realized on my first flight with ADS-B that having the traffic now made it all worth it!

    3. Hey, Geoff! I agree, it is frightening at times seeing what's out there. I was already unsettled by the number of times over the years that ATC has called traffic to me that I never saw. This takes things to a whole new level. This is a good tool in the toolbox, I think.

      It's good to hear from you - you've kept a low profile and I was wondering recently how you were and if you were getting any flight time.