Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wall In the Sky

Out of Sorts

After earning my tailwheel endorsement, I made preparations to depart the Aeroflex-Andover Airport for home. I had checked out of the Wooden Duck and returned the rental car early that morning. The airplane was already packed. I filed an IFR flight plan from Andover to Sodus with an anticipated 5:00 pm departure. Forecasts indicated some possibility for thunderstorm activity that was anticipated to be done by early evening (blunt foreshadowing: it wasn't).

I unlocked the door to the Warrior and slid inside with a practiced ease that was entirely unlike my ungainly entries to the Cub. Despite this comfortable familiarity, everything felt wrong as I settled into the left seat. I was sitting up too high with incredible visibility, like sitting in the bubble canopy of a D-model Mustang. Compared to the Cub, the cabin seemed too roomy; Warrior 481 was a Cadillac.

After engine start, she rolled docilely in whatever direction I prompted, making no effort to test my attention on taxi. S-turns were entirely unnecessary. I was utterly amazed at how a mere seven hours in a vintage Piper Cub could make the familiar Warrior seem so foreign and trivial to operate.

No Clearance

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
15 Jun 2017 N21481 12N (Andover, NJ) - FZY (Fulton, NY) 1.6 1653.2

New York Approach has a phone number listed in the Chart Supplement (former A/FD) for obtaining IFR clearance on the ground at Andover. With good VFR conditions in New Jersey, I decided to contact New York Approach for clearance once airborne rather than risk an extended wait for IFR release.

As it turned out, that was a terrible plan.

Climbing away from Aeroflex-Andover, I tuned New York Approach and listened to a steady stream of communications with no opportunity to say anything, let alone request clearance. I climbed to a VFR cruise altitude of 4500' and decided to ask for clearance at the next facility.

On the emergency frequency, the captain of an airliner bound for Newark broadcast his final descent and tray table disposition announcement to all aircraft within line of sight. Yeah, that never gets old. His broadcast was answered by a chorus of "on guard!" delivered by a series of silly voices that were punctuated with "nice announcement!" It is reassuring to know that the sky is so full of professionals.

The next facility was Wilkes-Barre and I planned to contact them for clearance once over Cherry Ridge Airport. To my surprise, the approach controller at Wilkes-Barre was managing a lot of traffic as well. As I listened, I also discovered that the controller was a trainee. At one point, he provided a frequency for New York Approach to an airliner. He evidently got the numbers wrong because, before he released his mic, everyone on frequency heard his trainer shriek (and I do mean shriek) the correct frequency at him. Twice. That must have been a fun training relationship.

Hmmm...maybe I don't want to trouble Wilkes-Barre Approach with my request for clearance, either.

As I continued along, I was eyeing the height of the cloud deck. It appeared that I would need to fly either through or just above Binghamton's airspace. I contacted them from 20 miles south and requested flight following.

The Wall

Via ADS-B, ForeFlight depicted a line of thunderstorms and heavy precipitation arrayed along a stationary front extending from Rochester and Sodus south-southwest across Pennsylvania. It was a veritable wall in the sky and there would be no getting into Sodus anytime soon. Nor would any of my old haunts be reachable: Dansville, Le Roy, Canandaigua, Genesee County, or even Rochester. I chose to divert east to the Oswego County Airport (FZY) and wait for the storms to either dissipate or pass overhead.

I arrived at Oswego ahead of the rain around 6:00 pm, landed in a brisk southeasterly wind, and tied Warrior 481 down on the ramp in the event that the winds kicked up even more as the weather advanced.


I had not eaten since noon and was already tired from a rigorous training session with Damian that culminated in a series of the most extreme simulated engine out landings that I had ever managed. I ate peanuts from my flight bag, monitored the weather radar, and called my Dad to catch up with him while I waited for a break in the weather.

Years ago, Kristy and I were stranded by weather on a flying trip to Michigan. She asked me if an instrument rating would have helped us get home. I answered in the negative; we were stranded by thunderstorms and going IFR would not have been wise. Now, I was an instrument rated pilot living that exact scenario.

The weather picture remained ugly for the better part of three hours. Around 9:00, I was becoming extremely hungry and I knew that I needed to make a decision. I imagined that I could sleep in the comfortable leather recliners of the FBO if need be, but there still would not be any food available to me in the morning. The stationary front, true to form, was not going anywhere, but with dwindling sunlight, the energy of the storm was dissipating. The yellow and red returns on the radar reverted to green with both Sodus and Oswego Country airports going VFR. Oswego's version of VFR was lousy; eight miles visibility in rain with a 3,000 foot ceiling just after sunset. Lousy, but perfectly workable.

Instrument Conditions

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
15 Jun 2017 N21481 FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 0.5 1653.7

I saw my chance and took it. I filed an IFR flight plan from Oswego County to Sodus with a departure at 9:30. It was my first flight in the dark in a few months. Climbing away from the airport, conditions in the direction of home looked particularly non-VFR. I contacted Syracuse Approach at 1500 feet over Oswego, received my clearance in the air, and set course for home through the rain and murk.

For much of the route, I found myself in nighttime instrument conditions and engulfed in a gentle rain left in the wake of the storm. The frontal passage was choppy, but not unreasonably or even uncomfortably so. Syracuse passed me to Rochester Approach, who cleared me direct to WALCO, a fix on the RNAV-28 approach into Sodus.

Radar track provided by FlightAware

Once established on the approach and beyond the stationary front, the visibility improved dramatically. Tracking the GPS-generated localizer, I cancelled IFR with Rochester and finished the landing into Sodus with a 10+ knot direct crosswind.

Warrior 481 required some TLC because the rain was insufficient to remove many of the bugs picked up on the way to New Jersey a few days earlier. I made it home around 11:00 pm and indulged in a very late dinner.


The wall of storms as depicted by FlightAware. Clearly, the FAA computer (dashed lines indicating the
anticipated route) was confused by my filing, but not using, an IFR flight plan.

I did not earn my instrument rating out of a strong desire to fly in instrument conditions for long stretches at a time (though I have). I earned it because I wanted the ability to push through thin ceilings or mild weather preventing safe VFR flight at either the departure or arrival end of a trip. Once the intensity of the weather died down, this example fit the bill exactly, a short hop through mild weather to get home (albeit with the added risk factor of nighttime).

The brief IFR flight tapped a very different skill set than what I'd exercised much earlier that day in flying the Cub at Aeroflex-Andover. It means that my envelope is broader than it once was and that is a very good thing.

Dragging Tail


N6114H, Andover Flight Academy's 1946 Piper J-3 Cub

A few cumulus clouds provided crisp contrast against a deep blue sky. Below, surface breezes barely stirred. My right shirt sleeve fluttered in the slipstream from the open door at my side as I guided the 1946 J-3 Cub off the grass runway and out over Lake Aeroflex. Our shadow touched a a pair of kayakers whose faces lifted to watch us pass overhead. From the front seat, Damian waved and they returned the gesture as we continued to climb over the lush countryside of rural New Jersey.

Though I was in the midst of training, I allowed myself to dwell briefly in the moment, on the view of our shadow flitting across the sparkling water, the feel of the wind from the open door, and the honest simplicity of stick and rudder flying.

Quest for the Tailwheel Endorsement

I took my first light aircraft flight with Dave in this American Champion Citabria.

I got my start in taildraggers, tandem-seat tube and rag airplanes designed in the World War II era or earlier. When grounded, they lean back on their tails, noses perpetually lifted skyward. [Purists may point out that modern taildraggers (e.g., anything built after World War I) are more properly called tailwheel airplanes and that true taildraggers were earlier aircraft built only with tail skids. Nonetheless, the taildragger term persists as an affectionate nickname for tailwheel airplanes, which is why I use it here.] Despite the fact that I have stick time in a number of taildraggers (e.g., Citabria, Super Decathlon, Stearman, Champ, Travel Air 4000), I have never performed a take-off or a landing in one. There is a good reason for this.

Aircraft constructed with the third wheel on the tail and the center of gravity aft of the main gear lack directional stability on the ground. Any tricycle gear airplane (e.g., a "nosedragger"), like Warrior 481, can be nudged into taxiing the proper direction with easy rudder inputs; hold until pointed where the pilot desires, then relax. But tailwheel airplanes must be actively and assertively managed. Once a rudder input is made, the airplane will continue to yaw until the input is deliberately neutralized. There is no relaxing unless the pilot wants to become a passenger. Additionally, the taildragger stance means that forward visibility on the ground can range from poor to nil depending on the airplane. Both of these factors complicate the acts of taxiing, taking-off, and landing. As a result, a tailwheel endorsement is required before anyone can act as Pilot in Command of a taildragger.

For several years, I have wanted to earn a tailwheel endorsement. I craved the experience and wanted an opportunity to sharpen my skills as a pilot. Additionally, I have an odd affection for the venerable Piper Cub and specifically hoped to do tailwheel training in a J-3. This may seem strange considering that I have never even sat in one, let alone flown one. After several false starts, I finally scheduled time with Damian DelGaizo, tailwheel Jedi Master and owner of Andover Flight Academy at the Aeroflex-Andover Airport in northwestern New Jersey. I have read about Damian and this destination for tailwheel training many times over the years in various aviation publications and decided that, if I was going to pursue the endorsement, I might as well go to the best.

Outbound Folly

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
13 June 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - MSV (Monticello, NY) - 12N (Andover, NJ) 2.4 1644.6

Perhaps the less said about my outbound flight, the better.

I departed from Sodus at 7:45 am on an IFR flight plan, logging 0.2 hours of actual IMC along the way.

My goal was to stop at the Cherry Ridge Airport (N30, Honesdale, PA) for a late breakfast so that I would be well-fueled for my first tailwheel lesson at 11:30 that morning.

Cherry Ridge Airport, N30, Honesdale, PA

My arrival at Cherry Ridge epitomized the word "ungainly". I was too high, too fast, and landed long.

The ramp has a definite grade to it and I awkwardly managed to roll the Warrior to the edge of the pavement and used the towbar as a temporary wheel chock while I set the parking brake. This probably sounds pretty straightforward in print, but the reality was awkward and probably did not reflect well on my ability to problem solve.

On top of it all, the restaurant was closed. Though ForeFlight indicated summer hours on Tuesday for the restaurant, ForeFlight's information did not match reality. Lesson: always check the actual website of the destination rather than relying on third party data. On the bright side, my clumsy arrival and parking antics did not occur in front of a large restaurant audience.

I knew that Sullivan County Airport (MSV, Monticello, NY) was nearby and also had a cafe, so I hopped over there (airport #175). It was closed, too.

Lacking lunch, it is a good thing that I always fly with water and peanuts.


The Aeroflex-Andover Airport is famous for its relatively short runway (1981' x 50' of parallel asphalt and grass) and "aircraft carrier" approaches with both ends bounded by water. My mentor, Dave, used to speak fondly of this airport and did his tailwheel training there. While certainly not too short to land a Warrior, Aeroflex is known as the local short field airport. Joe, the assistant airport manager, told me about a Skyhawk that came in earlier that morning. It made four attempts at landing, was high and fast on all of them (Joe should have seen me at Cherry Ridge), and all four ended with a go-around. "At least he was smart enough to do the go-arounds," I told Joe.

I saw comments on ForeFlight warning about power lines on the runway 21 approach and expected something low and close to the threshold. The reality is that they are high tension wires over a mile from the threshold (out of frame past the bottom of the above photo). My pattern was well inside them. Another ForeFlight user warned that folks at Andover were prickly about where people parked their airplanes. Joe offered me several parking options, including leaving the Warrior right on the main ramp in front of the New Jersey Forestry office where I parked in the first place. You can't believe everything you read, even from other pilots. The only real caution that I would raise about Aeroflex is that the road into the airport crosses the runway 21 threshold. Watch for vehicular traffic on final.

Super Cub and Ordinary Cub

Joe gave me a brief tour of the airport. We examined this beautiful, freshly restored Cub tied to the ramp. Seeing that I had a keen interest in old airplanes, Joe also showed me a Stinson project in one of the hangars.

On arrival, there is no mistaking that Aeroflex-Andover is a haven for taildraggers.

In addition to Joe, I also met Orville, Aeroflex's seventeen year old feline mascot.


My stay in the Andover region made me realize that there is a lot more to New Jersey than what I had experienced around Newark. Manageable traffic, a beautiful landscape of wooded hills and ridges, and really friendly people. Everyone at Aeroflex-Andover Airport was friendly, welcoming, and talkative. It's the kind of airport where people just drop in to chat and to see what's happening. The Enterprise office in Newton, NJ will pick up clients from the airport to get their rental cars. My driver was a young woman who was both a biologist and a former student pilot.

The Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast

The Andover Flight Academy webpage highly recommends The Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast, which offers a "corporate rate" for students from the school and is located within a ten minute drive.

The Carriage House at the Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast

I booked a room in the Carriage House for $124/night, which included the corporate discount; the rooms get fancier and pricier from there. Jason and Maryann, owners of the B&B, were friendly and helpful. Jason is a lapsed pilot and seemed to enjoy having a kindred spirit in the house. Maryann excitedly told me that they watched part of my lesson on my second day of training. When she described a biplane, however, I knew that they had actually been watching John in the Stearman (probably a more interesting sight anyway). They provided recommendations on a number of excellent restaurants in the area: Sheridan's Lodge, Stonewood Tavern, Thai Nam Phet II, and Cafe Pierrot. The latter was a small bakery and sandwich shop near the airport at the intersection of highway 206 and Limecrest Road where I bought sandwiches in the morning to eat during lunch breaks while training.

Each morning, Jason and Maryann prepared a fantastic breakfast for their guests. On the second day, I explored a trail that departs the west edge of the property and eventually connects with the Paulinskill Valley Trail in a former railroad bed.

My stay at the Wooden Duck was wonderful and my only disappointment is that Kristy was not with me to enjoy the experience.

Back to Basics

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
13-15 June 2017 N6114H 12N (Andover, NJ), local, with flights to 13N (Andover, NJ) 7.0 1651.6

Andover Flight Academy provides a range of flight training options including basic private pilot instruction, tailwheel training in the J-3 Cub and Stearman, and bush training in a modified Super Cub. My homework prior to arriving was to watch Damian's "Tailwheel 101" DVD, which provided a terrific overview of the training that I would receive from him.

Andover Flight Academy's Stearman

As an instructor, Damian is bluntly laconic. When I did a good job on something, Damian would tell me so. When I screwed up, he would explain it directly and specifically. His insight as an instructor came from a talent to diagnose what I was doing wrong, despite sitting in front of me in the J-3 (the J-3 is soloed from the back seat). "You weren't looking in the right place and you over flared," he would declare each time I'd drop the airplane to the ground. This apparent clairvoyance was born from many hours of tailwheel training. Make no mistake; the phrase "Cherokee landings" is definitely derogatory.

The front office of  N6114H. It's way easier to see those instruments when there isn't a person sitting up there.

I spent 7.0 hours flying a 65 horsepower Piper J-3 Cub, N6114H. It was in excellent condition, particularly considering that its use as a trainer. My training took place in 1.0 - 1.5 hour blocks that alternated with other students. On my second day, for example, Damian was also working with John, who was sent to Andover Flight Academy by the Owls Head Transportation Museum for a Stearman check-out.

My first attempt at climbing into the back seat of the Cub was awkward at best. "Well, that was ungainly," Damian deadpanned once I managed to pull my legs into the Cub.

He should have seen me at Cherry Ridge, I thought at the time.

Actually, it's probably just as well that he didn't.

It's not often that I capture a picture containing multiple airplanes that I've flown

We started with taxiing and S-turning. The latter allows the pilot to clear the area ahead of the airplane while taxiing to compensate for the lack of forward visibility; turn left, look right, turn right, look left and so on. Next, we did a few fast-taxis down the runway to teach me the sight picture and rudder inputs needed to keep the airplane straight. Those went well and we moved on to three point landings on the grass at both Aeroflex and the endangered airport at nearby Trinca (13N). We also did some steep turns and stalls with the Cub for me to get a feel for the airplane. The stalls were docile and the Cub showed no inclination to drop a wing like the Cessna 150 from my original training. Within a couple of hours, I was consistently doing three point landings with the Cub on the grass without significant coaching.

"You're doing better than average," Damian informed me at the end of the first day. "Good job." Not bad considering that it had been a grueling day owing to no lunch, temperatures reaching 93°F, and the dehydrating effects of a constant wind blasting at us through the open Cub door.

On the second day, we started on wheel landings where the Cub was landed on the main gear and forward stick is used to keep the tail off the ground. Before I did it the first time, I was concerned that pushing the stick forward during the landing roll-out would require finesse, a delicate balance between failing to keep the tail up and putting the airplane over onto its nose. That was not the case and, in fact, the whole process felt surprisingly natural. We varied between slight forward stick for tail low wheel landings and using enough forward stick to put a negative angle of attack on the wing, useful in gusty conditions to keep the airplane on the ground. My wheel landings went very well right from the first try, one of the few things that did.

Success with wheel landings meant that my three point landings immediately went to crap because the landing sight pictures are so different. Wheel landings look and feel more like how I land the Warrior and it was easy for me to slip back into old habits. I was also surprised by the amount of force required to go full aft on the stick while three-pointing the Cub and would occasionally stop flaring prematurely. "All the way back. Put it on the tail," Damian would prompt. Failure to flare sufficiently would result in the mains hitting the ground first. When that happened, momentum carried the tail down, which increased the angle of attack on the wing and resulted in a balloon back into the air. Though not technically a bounce, it felt like one. I felt terrible every time I "bounced" Damian's Cub.

We spent the rest of my training time on the second day alternating between wheel landings and three point landings until Damian was satisfied that I could switch back and forth.

Between lessons on the second day, I talked with Dave, current president of the Paramus Flight Club and John from the Owl's Head Transportation Museum in Maine. We overheard John ask Damian about training Harrison Ford on tailwheel flying while Ford was preparing to film Six Days, Seven Nights. Damian is not one to gossip and stuck to the facts. He praised Ford's skill in executing an engine out landing to a golf course in Santa Monica in 2015 and avoided speculation when asked about Ford's mistaken landing on the taxiway at John Wayne Airport in 2017.

On the third day, we went back to Trinca Airport and practiced crosswind landings. Compared to the Warrior, the Cub slips like a dream. The distraction of managing crosswinds led to my three point landings going to crap again. I will probably hear Damian's voice saying "keep it flying" every time I flare an airplane from now on. Back at Aeroflex, I did my first landing on pavement. A wind gust swung the nose to the right, I caught a glimpse of the runway center line in my peripheral vision, fixated on it, and dropped the airplane on. "Forget the center line. No Cherokee landings," Damian admonished. He decided that we should stop for a break at that point. I suspect that he knew I was tired.

I was sitting outside on a bench, head down while devouring a sandwich, when a passing shadow stopped and a woman's voice exclaimed, "Are you from Sodus?" Ginny was from the East Hill Flying Club in Ithaca and noticed my Williamson Flying Club shirt. While I ate, she flew the Stearman with Damian.

Damian and John with the Stearman

As I waited for them, I scratched Orville's head between the ears. Purring immediately, Orville climbed up on the bench to lay next to me. "Not very cat like," Ginny observed when she returned.

"Nope," I agreed. I carried a significant amount of Orville fur home on my clothing that night.

On my last flight with Damian, I successfully made some decent three point landings on the pavement. I had one minor swerve, but managed to get on top of it to keep the airplane straight. When geese began congregating on the grass runway, Damian took control of the Cub, throttled up aggressively, and we literally chased the geese around with the airplane until they grudgingly retreated back to the water.

Next, we did about five simulated engine out landings from different parts of the pattern. The most memorable occurred while still climbing on a crosswind leg for runway 21. I was slow to get the nose down and initially did not bank steeply enough. "Steeper bank or we won't make it," Damian cajoled. I rolled the wings somewhere well past 45°. I don't know how steep the bank was, but I am certain that I have never cranked an airplane around that steeply ever before and I would not be surprised if the side of the fuselage was providing some of the lift during that maneuver. When we rolled out over the pond at the departure end of 21, I could see that we did not have enough altitude to reach the runway. I kept the airplane on course at best glide speed, expecting Damian to rescue the approach with throttle and provide coaching on how to do it right next time.

Instead, he told me to dive for the water. I did and the windscreen filled with blue. "Level off," Damian instructed. I leveled just slightly higher than the weeds separating the water's edge from the runway and we floated right over them. I was stunned that we made it. We had gained kinetic energy in the dive, then reduced drag in ground effect just enough to stretch the glide to the runway. It was an impressive demonstration. On top of it, my landing was excellent. When I told him that I was most pleased with the good landing after the distraction of the engine-out procedure he said, "That's why I'm doing this with you, to see if you go back to old habits when distracted with something new. That was a good landing. Good job."


After the final engine out landing, we returned to the Aeroflex ramp and I switched the Cub's mags off for the last time. Damian endorsed my logbook for tailwheel PIC and for a flight review. As he shook my hand, I thanked him for letting me bounce his airplane off the runway (for bounce it a few times I did). To my surprise, he actually cracked a smile. "Well, thanks for coming to bounce my airplane off the runway."

Damian encouraged me to apply what I'd learned to my regular flying. "You can fly a trike like a taildragger, but you can't fly a taildragger like a trike," he noted.

I finished the training very pleased with the experience. I was pleased to have done something new, pleased to have sharpened my skills, pleased to have benefited from Damian's excellent coaching, pleased to have finally flown a Piper Cub, and pleased in general because the entire experience was so much fun.

I found the people of northwest New Jersey to be very friendly and welcoming, from Joe at Aeroflex-Andover Airport, to the women at Enterprise, to Jason and Maryann at The Wooden Duck. Heck, even my interactions with the world's clumsiest waiter at the Stonewood Tavern were pleasant. I kept thinking to myself, is this really New Jersey?

As I prepared to depart Aeroflex-Andover, I powered up the avionics in Warrior 481 and realized something else. In seven hours of flying with Damian, I did not use a radio once. The Cub does not have an electrical system and there was no radio available to use.

I found that I did not miss it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Billy Bishop's Alternate Universe, Part 2

Born in the USA

A well-known truism of international travel is that it is easier to exit the United States than return. I spent the early morning of May 28th putting the pieces into place to allow for a smooth flight back to New York. Comparatively speaking, this was the hard part.

Based on the weather forecast, we planned for a 4:00 pm arrival in the United States.We would need to fly to an Airport of Entry, with the most obvious candidates being Buffalo and Rochester (US ports of entry and their hours can be found here). I chose Buffalo because it was closer to Toronto and thus our ETA was less likely to be impacted by wind, weather, or ATC whimsy. Moreover, Buffalo's customs office is staffed seven days a week whereas Rochester's is only staffed on weekends by request. It seemed to me that, if a customs officer needed to make a special trip into Rochester on a Sunday just for us, it would not go well if we were late. Besides, I had never actually landed at Buffalo before and this provided opportunity and excuse.

Prior Aviation Service is the sole FBO on the field at Buffalo and conveniently located customs adjacent. Unfortunately, it has a reputation for expensive fuel (currently $6.60/gal) and high ramp fees. I called Prior in advance of the trip and was told that, if just clearing customs, we would only be charged a $5 landing fee.

I filed our arrival eAPIS manifest using the departure manifest as a template, then filed an IFR flight plan from Billy Bishop to Buffalo. After breakfast, I called US customs. US customs must be called at least one hour and no more than 23 hours prior to arrival. Unlike Canada, the United States does not have a single notification telephone number. It is necessary to call the office of interest directly. When I called Buffalo Customs, the officer asked whether I had filled out an APIS (but did not ask for the confirmation number) and he asked for our citizenship, my CBP decal number, the number of crew and passengers, my phone number, aircraft tail number, and ETA. He indicated that arriving +/- 30 minutes versus our ETA would be acceptable. At the conclusion of our discussion, he indicated that we were "cleared for landing".

A few minutes later he called back, having found an error on the manifest. I had typed 2017 onto the APIS manifest for The Bear's birth year and, since that date had not yet come to pass, the officer correctly surmised that it was an error. I fixed this in the eAPIS system, resubmitted, and called him back to verify that all was well. We were cleared again for landing.

Yes, But Do They Serve Wicked Butter?

With flight and customs planning complete, it was time to enjoy our day. We started with breakfast at Evviva Breakfast and Lunch, a quasi up-scale diner piping in a lot of early 70's American music hits. Our waitress seemed to be a native French speaker, but the Evviva radio spoke Eagles.

Breakfast was delicious. And filling.

And wacky.

And...oh, I have no idea what is happening in this picture.

After breakfast, we returned to our room at the Delta for the last time. Can anyone find the hidden Bear?

We Finally Found the Dinosaurs!

The Royal Ontario Museum has world class collections of dinosaurs, minerals, and artifacts from ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and Japan. We spent most of Sunday exploring the treasures that the ROM had to offer. I miss the little round metal tags that the ROM used to issue as tickets; one was clipped to the visor of my college-era beater car for years.

Since our last visit in 1990, the ROM added more space with mildly less traditional architecture.

This bronze dragon topped a Chinese ceremonial bell and it was my favorite find of the morning.

Evidently, the Chinese were using magnetic compasses long before Europeans. Nearby was a set of Chinese movable type that appeared to significantly pre-date Gutenberg.

It was almost as if we'd flown all the way to Egypt and only burned 8 gallons of avgas to get there!

The Bear was caught red-handed admiring Greek pottery.

"Oh, this looks just like my closet at home," said no one ever.

We spent well over an hour in the mineral and gems area because The Bear is a rock hound and the ROM has some really high end rocks.

Copper from Michigan's upper peninsula.

The lobby of the ROM features a Futalognkosaurus, a 2007 discovery. The ROM's Futalognkosaurus is the first casting to be mounted anywhere in the world and is the largest dinosaur displayed in Canada.

A stegosaurus with thagomizer on prominent display.

We ended our visit with this guy: the T-Rex and his stubby widdle arms.

Island Departure

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
28 May 2017N21481CYTZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) - BUF (Buffalo, NY)0.61637.8

Porter knocked loose one of my cowl plugs while moving the airplane.

We returned to Billy Bishop Airport to find that the wind was howling. It nearly tore the cabin cover out of my hand when I loosened the straps.

Porter is not an inexpensive place to spend the night. They charge a $60 CDN overnight fee on top of the landing fee assessed by the Toronto Port Authority, which, incidentally is $20.91 CDN (including HST) for US-registered aircraft and $15 CDN for Canadian aircraft. I detect a bias! The bill arrived in the mail within three weeks of our visit.

With the engine running, I called City Ground for clearance.

"Cherokee November Two One Four Eight One is cleared to Buffalo Airport via [blah, blah, blah], oscar lima alpha mike oscar, squawk 6356."

I read back what I heard of the clearance, including the OLAMO intersection. The controller repeated the "blah, blah, blah" portion and corrected, "OLAMO, not ALAMO." Well, I actually had the intersection correct, but was still stuck on the first part of the clearance. When she repeated it again, I understood her to say: Island One Departure, runway 8. It was my first time being assigned a SID (standard instrument departure). On my third try, I was rewarded with "readback correct."

Smooth. I was clear and confident on the radio with City Ground the day before. Not so today.

Billy Bishop Airport has multiple SIDs and it appears that anyone flying out of there IFR is going to be assigned one. I studied the SID, which featured a steeper than normal ascent. Remember that smokestack we saw the day before? We would soon be flying directly at it. I programmed the route into the Garmin, thankful that I'd upgraded the database.

Ground kindly directed us to the preferred run up area for runway 8. She probably guessed that I was not familiar with the airport given my US tail number and my lack of familiarity with the SID. We stopped to run up the engine just shy of the runway hold short line and to the far right with enough space for Porter's turboprop commercial aircraft to pass by on their way to the runway. As during our arrival, the airport was quite busy.

Lined up on runway 8 Billy Bishop Airport. Photo by Kristy.

City Tower instructed me to "line up" on runway 8 (no "and wait") while the wake from a turboprop dissipated. On the take-off roll, we were instructed to contact Toronto Terminal on 133.4 once airborne. On with Terminal, we were given a series of vectors to guide us away from the airport before reaching the first waypoint on the SID.

I'm finally in one of the photos! Photo by Kristy.

Our last view of the CN Tower. Photo by Kristy.

The vectors took us significantly out across the lake. Toronto Terminal called to ask if we'd like to go direct to Buffalo, or turn west toward land. I accepted the direct route because we were already a third of the way across Lake Ontario as it was.

Photo by Kristy

We made "landfall" near the mouth of the Niagara River.

The United States side of Lake Ontario was significantly hazier and cloudier than Ontario had been and we logged a few minutes of IMC time bouncing in and out of cumulus before ATC cleared us to descend for the airport.

Bridge from mainland NY (top) to Grand Island (bottom)

Buffalo provided a series of vectors for a visual approach to runway 5, descending us over Grand Island on a southerly heading. Considering the past decade of east-west flights taken through this part of the world, our altitude and heading seemed disconcertingly low and orthogonal to normal operations.

Downtown Buffalo. Photo by Kristy,

Landing on runway 5 at Buffalo (airport #174). Photo by Kristy.

GPS ground track from Billy Bishop to Buffalo. Plotted by ForeFlight.

Runway 14-32 and a significant number of taxiways were closed at Buffalo. We taxied to Prior without incident and were directed to parking by a lineman. He called customs on our behalf and, a few minutes later, an officer appeared carrying equipment used to scan for radiation. She noted our CBP decal number, asked why we were in Canada, then requested our passports, my pilot certificate, my medical certificate, and Warrior 481's registration. Within minutes she told us that we were cleared and wished us a nice day.

We had done it! We had successfully (if inelegantly, at times) worked the process. Toronto was a test run for future flights to Canada. Next stop: Quebec!

(Unless the zoo strike ends, in which case The Bear will want a return to Toronto.)

Sign at Prior Aviation Service. Just in case we were lost.

At Prior, I paid the $5 landing fee and we all took a restroom break before the last leg of the trip.


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 May 2017 N21481 BUF (Buffalo, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 1.1 1638.9

Passing the commercial terminal at Buffalo.

While holding short to cross runway 5 at Buffalo, a cluster of landing lights in the distance quickly resolved into a Southwest Airlines 737 that proceeded to plant itself on the runway directly in front of us in a cloud of smoke from the tires. Viewing the approach and landing nearly head-on, I found the rate at which the airliner closed the distance between us to be disorienting. The landing itself was an impressive thing to see from such a close vantage point and gave the impression of a massive amount of energy being dissipated.

We flew from Buffalo to Sodus VFR, avoiding some build-ups that were developing on the straight-line course by flying an intercept heading for the lake that gave us a smoother ride. Hope of a smooth landing disappeared when we flew within radio reception range of the Williamson-Sodus AWOS.

 "...Wind 150 at 9 gust 15...," it said. The AWOS usually reports low when the wind is from the south because it is partially blanked by trees surrounding the field and, indeed, the wind seemed stronger than advertised. I planted the upwind wheel on runway 10 with minimal fuss and we taxied back to our hangar.

Home! Why do I always make her stare into the sun for these return photos?


Our first foray into international flying was a success and we logged a few firsts along the way:
  • First landing at a foreign airport.
  • First successful working of the system to depart and return to the United States.
  • First time (without an instructor) contacting Clearance Delivery over the phone for an IFR departure from a non-towered airport.
  • First Standard Instrument Departure (SID).
  • First time landing at Buffalo, which seemed odd after so many years of flying overhead and talking with Buffalo ATC.
Kristy and I have traveled to Toronto via tour bus as college students and train as graduate students. Now we can add private aircraft to the list. In all, it was a unique way to walk down memory lane.

GPS ground track from Buffalo to Sodus. Plotted by ForeFlight.

My Checklist

While preparing for this trip, I  assembled a checklist of activities and information needed for a successful flight. AOPA has a terrific page describing the necessary steps to fly to Canada, but there are other sources out there as well. Below is my checklist, assembled from multiple sources. All of the information below is included in the body of the blog post, but I present it here as a concise summary in hopes that it might be useful to others.

Paperwork Preparation
  • Passports: $110 / person
  • FCC Radio Station License ($170) and Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit ($65)
  • CBP decal ($27.50 annual user fee)  
  • Canadian Flight Supplement and necessary charts (alternatively, upgrade ForeFlight for Canadian charts, $100 annually)
  • Create eAPIS account
  • GPS database upgrades desired or necessary? For Jeppesen Navdata on the Garmin GNS-430W, the "East/Central US" subscription costs $360 annually. Canadian data are only available in the "Americas" package for $550 annually. Jeppesen will allow single cycle (one month) upgrades for $185, which is not worth the cost versus the $190 dollar cost for an annual upgrade.
  • Verify that aircraft insurance allows Canadian flight.
  • Verify cell service and credit card use in Canada with service providers.
Before Departure for Canada
  • Verify operational hours of customs at Canadian Airport of Entry.
  • File eAPIS departure manifest no less than 1 hour prior to departure. There is no limit in how long in advance these can be filed. Save confirmation email and verify that flight is cleared. See this guide to fill out APIS properly.
  • File ICAO compliant flight plan (IFR or VFR).
  • Notify Canadian customs at least two hours but no more than 48 hours prior to arrival: 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CANPASS). ETA should be accurate to +/- 15 minutes (per the officer I spoke to).
Arrival in Canada
  • Do not leave aircraft until cleared to do so by Canadian customs.
  • If VFR, close flight plan with Canadian Flight Service (1-866-WXBRIEF).
  • Call Canadian Customs at 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CANPASS) and record check-in number provided by officer. 
Before Departure to United States
  • Verify hours of customs at US Airport of Entry. It is best to pick an airport of entry close to the border to minimize variability in ETA with a full time customs office, if available. Buffalo is open 8:00 am to midnight seven days a week (716-632-4727).
  • File eAPIS arrival manifest no less than 1 hour prior to departure. Save confirmation email and verify that the flight is cleared. See this guide to help fill out APIS properly.
  • File ICAO compliant flight plan. 
  • Notify US customs at the intended office of arrival no less than one hour and no more than 23 hours prior to arrival. Provide officer with: citizenship, CBP decal number, number of crew and passengers, callback phone number, tail number, and ETA. The officer I spoke to advised an accuracy of +/- 30 minutes for ETA. The officer will verbally indicate that you are "cleared for landing".
Arrival in United States
  • Call customs on arrival. Prior Aviation Services in Buffalo did this for us. Do not leave aircraft until cleared by customs.
  • If VFR, close flight plan with US Flight Service (1-800-WXBRIEF).
  • The US customs officer wanted to see: passports, pilot certificate, medical certificate, aircraft registration. She had equipment to measure radioactivity with her.