Sunday, December 3, 2017

Partial Panel

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
02 Dec 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - ROC (Rochester, NY) - SDC 2.5 1744.0

Lacking a functional attitude indicator (Garmin claims shipment for the G5 on December 15), I have not flown actual or simulated IFR in many weeks. Feeling that my proficiency was aging poorly -- my most recent approach in actual IMC was to Parkersburg, WV in August -- I decided to don the hood for the first time since July. As a break from the usual routine, I would need to fly partial panel for the entire duration of the practice session airplane only has a partial panel at the moment. Tom C was willing to fly as safety pilot. One of the perks of basing at Williamson-Sodus is that when I need a safety pilot, I usually get more offers of help than I can accept.

I arrived early that morning as the sun was just breaking over the trees surrounding the field. It was glorious.

I was the only one at the airport, nothing else moved except tendrils of fog dissipating over the runway. Chris' Bonanza was beautifully highlighted in the golden morning rays.

Tom and I launched around 9:00. I flew a southwest heading on the Genseo 050 radial to perform an overdue VOR check. For a morning that began in such breathtaking fashion, the rest of the day unfurled in a hazy and uninspiring VFR-ish manner. With the VOR check completed, I turned the Warrior northbound, put on the Foggles, notified Tom that he was responsible for visually clearing the airspace around us, and contacted Rochester Approach. While I was be-Foggled, Tom indicated that I was not missing much in the haze.

Without an attitude indicator, I relied on altimeter and vertical speed indicators to provide pitch information while the rate of turn indicator and directional gyro provided indirect bank information. I chose not to display the AHRS data from the Stratus as a digital artificial horizon in ForeFlight. That would be too easy and I wanted to work for my approaches

Ground track from ForeFlight

We flew Rochester's ILS-22, ILS-28, RNAV-25, and RNAV-28 approach procedures before departing eastbound for Williamson-Sodus. I did the hold in lieu of procedure turn (HILPT) at WALCO to establish on the Sodus RNAV-25 approach, flew the procedure to LPV minimums, then the missed approach procedure to GOYER where I established in the missed approach hold. From there, I flew the RNAV-28 approach a second time into Sodus for a full stop landing. In 2.3 hours under the hood, I hand-flew six approaches, all without an attitude indicator.

I remarked to Tom that I felt like I was S-turning all over the place the entire time.

"It's not as bad as you think," he assured me. The ground track above supports that, though the occasional wobble is visible. My interceptions were all crisp and I did not detect any mistakes flying any of the approaches. Though my flying was not as crisp as it would have been with an attitude indicator, I was pleased with how the morning progressed and, despite a lapse of several weeks since the attitude indicator failed, I still felt proficient flying my ship on instruments.

All in all, it was a satisfying way to spend the morning. I view this kind of early December practice session as being akin to winterizer fertilizer, fortifying my IFR skills prior to their going dormant for the next couple of months.

Then again, as club president Steve reminded me recently, there's always the simulator.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Difference a Decade Makes

Flight of Firsts

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 Nov 2006 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.4 475.9

Niagara Falls photographed November 23, 2006.

Flight training is a dichotomy. Though rigorous, its completion nonetheless opens the door for the new pilot to have many new experiences and adventures. It is the very fact that newly certificated pilots do not know everything that makes flight training so worthwhile; there is always something new to be learned, some new adventure to be had. In the first few years after I earned my certificate, it was not uncommon to accumulate several firsts in a single flight. A perfect example was Thanksgiving day in 2006. We were newly relocated to western New York when surprisingly excellent weather and a desire to enjoy the holiday with family led to a flight with multiple firsts:
  • First flight over Niagara Falls
  • First flight through Canadian airspace
  • First time speaking with a Center controller (Toronto Center)
  • First time speaking with a Class Bravo controller (Detroit)
  • First time speaking with a military controller (Selfridge Air National Guard Base)
  • First landing at Oakland County International ("Pontiac") which was the busiest airport I had landed at to date (at the time, PTK routinely logged 670 operations per day)
One other first occurred that day, though I did not include it in the original blog post from 2006. It was also The Bear's first flight. Granted, she was the size of a peanut and would not actually be born until the following year, but it was technically -- very technically -- our first flight as a family of three.

Our first landing (of 24 to date) at Pontiac on November 23, 2006. Photo by Kristy.

At the time, this flight was a huge milestone for me.

It was also our last time flying on Thanksgiving until 2017.

Low and Slow

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 Nov 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 3.3 1739.2

Since 2006, we have celebrated Thanksgiving in New York with close friends and, in recent years, Mom has made the drive from southeast Michigan to join us. Because she was in no condition to make the trip this year, we resolved to go to her; preferably by air if at all possible. It would be our first Thanksgiving dinner with the family at my cousin's home since that day in 2006.

November weather did us no particular favors, but permitted flight on Thanksgiving day at 3,000 feet to Oakland County International against a stiff headwind. Cloud layers prevented flight at higher altitudes. Forecasts along the route presented a single pinch-point; Buffalo was likely to go IFR that morning under a low ceiling with two mile visibility in snow. Surprisingly, Niagara Falls International just thirteen miles north of Buffalo expected higher ceilings (a "generous" 3,500 feet) and no snow. As I explained to Mom on the phone shortly before departure, if we got past the Niagara River, we would make it without problem.

Normally, the thought of planning an extended cross country flight at 3,000 feet would make me cringe. Altitude equates to options by providing potential energy that can be exchanged for kinetic in the event of an emergency.  But southern Ontario is extremely flat and open, a perfect emergency landing site stretching from Buffalo to Detroit. If we were departing in any other compass direction, I would want more altitude between the airplane and the terrain. 3000 feet over the Adironacks? Central Pennsylvania? No way. But over Ontario? I could accept 3,000 feet. Nevertheless, this would be the lowest altitude I had ever flown the route.

Cruising to Michigan at a lowly 3,000 feet would introduce some additional minor challenges: the need to dodge stuff. Not cell phone towers, terrain, or anything physical, but airspace. Specifically, the restricted airspace over Niagara Falls, the Delta airspace around Niagara Falls International, and the Class E, D, and C Canadian Control Zones around St Catherines, Hamilton, and London, respectively. I plotted a course direct to Pontiac via AIRCO intersection to avoid the Niagara Falls flight restriction and decided to manage the other inconvenient obstacles en route based on which agency we were talking to at the time we encountered them.

Caution, Succulent Birds

After a flurry of activity to get underway, the first step in our journey was a whimsical one. Tuning the Rochester ATIS broadcast that morning, we heard an advisory for "succulent birds in the vicinity". Rochester ATC slipped a Thanksgiving joke into their ATIS broadcast! A familiar controller put us into the system for flight following and wished us a happy Thanksgiving as we shuffled off to Buffalo.

Our Warrior steadfastly plodded westward against the atmospheric current, her ground speed slowing into the 88-92 knot range. Ahead lay the Niagara River and a ceiling that angled progressively lower with distance from Lake Ontario, slanting earthward in our windscreen from right to left. Frequency chatter was dominated by icing reports from airliners as they descended through cloud strata on approach to Buffalo. Even if we were IFR capable that day, there would be no sampling of the clouds for us. From our position, we could see Niagara Falls and sunlight on Canadian soil beyond, but Buffalo was invisible, lost in the murk beneath that angled ceiling. The differential forecasts between Niagara Falls and Buffalo were spot-on.

Ground track near Niagara Falls International from ForeFlight.

Buffalo approach handed us off to Toronto Center well east of the international border. I realized that I had become too accustomed to IFR flying when we reached the Delta airspace around Niagara Falls International. While IFR, airspace mostly becomes invisible and, if a clearance passes through controlled airspace, then approval to enter that airspace is implicit. But we were VFR and I was speaking with a Canadian controller instead of Buffalo Approach (the controlling authority for the Delta), which meant that a hastily executed detour was in order. I cut it much closer than I should have.

With that invisible obstacle managed, the next presented itself immediately, necessitating a frequency change to St. Catherines Radio to advise on our transition of the Class E Control Zone around St. Catherines airport. I was thankful (right day for it!) for the time I spent this summer learning Canadian airspace rules. Had Toronto handed me off to St Catherines Radio back in 2006, I would have been utterly baffled as to why I needed to contact a Flight Service Station for passage through Echo airspace. These are not procedures that come into play while flying in the United States.

We also navigated around the irregularly-shaped Class D Control Zone surrounding Hamilton and ensured that our course would keep us clear of London's Class C Control Zone. Our low cruise altitude yielded a new perspective on southern Ontario; still sparsely populated, but the limited civilization below appeared in greater detail and made for a unique perspective on a route that has become so familiar over the last eleven years.

A Room at the Inn

After three hours at 3,000 feet (have I ever flown three hours at 3,000 feet before?), Oakland County International finally emerged from the gloom. It was my fourth landing at Pontiac since Mom's diagnosis in September, but only the second time in eleven years that I landed on 27R.

Parking on the ramp at Michigan Aviation, Scott emerged from the FBO to chock the airplane as he has so many times over the years. I called the day before to investigate whether I could plug in my engine heater overnight. The lineman I spoke with indicated that I could, but that it would be easier for them to push the Warrior into the hangar.

"Your sheet says that you want your airplane in the hangar," Scott said to me as I climbed down from the wing.

"Or we could just plug in the engine heater, whichever works." I'm flexible.

Like his colleague, Scott decided that the hangar would be easier.

"What is that going to cost?" I asked, suddenly anxious.

Scott shrugged. "I'll write 'do not charge' on your sheet."

Well, that was easy. A free hangar stay for the night? Who was I to refuse? Michigan Aviation has always treated us well.


At Mom's, we had some time to play with the dogs before departing for dinner at my cousin's house in Oxford. When one of the dogs mounted one of the others, The Bear exclaimed, "Aw! They're having snuggle time!"

This was quickly followed by, "What's so funny?"

We received a warm welcome from my family when we arrived for dinner with nearly everyone reminiscing about how Kristy was pregnant with The Bear on our last visit. My cousin's daughter had announced her pregnancy at that same Thanksgiving dinner in 2006. Having successfully reached the grand old age of ten, both former fetuses spent much of Thanksgiving 2017 playing together. On-line research was necessary for us to parse their exact relationship and we concluded that he was The Bear's second cousin once removed.

My uncle's absence was keenly felt on this first Thanksgiving since his passing. If anything, it made me appreciate the family still around me all the more.

Express Lane

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
24 Nov 2017 N21481 PTK (Waterford, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 2.3 1741.5

A 30 knot tailwind was expected to propel us back home accompanied by an AIRMET for turbulence from the surface to 12,000 feet that enveloped our entire route. Best case scenario was smooth sailing, worst case scenario was getting knocked around the entire way home. Waiting was not an option; surface gusts and low level wind shear were expected to increase throughout the day. We stopped at our favorite breakfast spot in Clarkston for people fuel, then proceeded directly to the airport without delay.

Michigan Aviation had pulled the Warrior out of the hangar and topped off her fuel tanks. She was waiting for us on the ramp, warm(ish) and ready to go.

Pontiac Tower was too busy to put us in for flight following that morning. "Cherokee Four Eight One, cleared for take-off runway 27L, east departure approved." That was the last call directed at us by Tower.

Surface winds were eleven knots out of the southwest. Climbing out, we were shaken by turbulence and the stall warning horn squawked as we passed through a shear layer and into the high velocity air aloft. Still at pattern altitude and indicating 80 knots in the climb, Warrior 481 was already showing a ground speed of 120 knots.

Screen shot from ForeFlight near London, Ontario showing a 150 knot ground speed in level flight.

We climbed to 7,500 feet in the smooth current flowing eastward, our ground speed constant at all altitudes in the climb. Usually, wind speed increases with altitude, but not that day. My mind conjured an image of the atmosphere as a snowplow, a vertical wall several thousands of feet tall moving over the Earth just two thousand feet above the surface. It was no wonder that there was a low level turbulence warning; the shear layer between the snowplow and the surface air was bound to be abrupt and unpleasant. We maintained approximately 150 knots (173 mph) of ground speed for the entire route home in perfectly smooth air.


"Cherokee Four Eight One, radar services terminated, squawk twelve hundred."

Selfridge Approach put us in for flight following across the border, but dropped us once we were in Canada without recommending a frequency for additional flight following. The possibility of this exact scenario had kept me up the night before our first trip through Canadian airspace in 2006. In 2006, I would not have known who to call next. In 2017, I consulted the low altitude IFR en route chart, found the Toronto Center frequency for my region of airspace, and was soon back on a discrete transponder code with Canadian ATC. It is amazing what a decade of experience and some additional training can do for one's ability to manage minor issues in flight.

The rest of the flight passed incredibly quickly and, before long, Rochester was in sight. On descent, we maintained a constant ground speed until about 3,00 feet when we hit the shear layer again. Warrior 481 shook significantly for a few moments as our ground speed abruptly dropped to almost match our airspeed. There were definitely some potholes on the exit ramp from the express lane.

When we touched down in erratic wind at Sodus, the transponder showed a flight time just shy of two hours and one minute. I asked The Bear if she felt like the fastest bear alive.


Our round trip Thankgiving flight this year was an absolute mess of contradictions. It was slow and fast, routine and yet still novel, a happy family reunion and a melancholy reminder of loss. On this Thanksgiving, I found myself thankful for family, thankful for my first decade as father to The Bear, and thankful for the eleven years of aeronautical experience that I have had the good fortune to accumulate since our previous Thanksgiving flight.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ode to the Hundred Dollar Hamburger

"Hundred Dollar...What?"

Non-aviators might struggle to understand the attraction behind the so-called $100 hamburger (or $100 pancake, or $100 omelet, or -- if flying to Kalamazoo -- $100 Erbelli's calzone). Why would anyone spend money on flying an airplane just to grab a burger?

The most important thing to understand about the $100 hamburger is that the hamburger itself is not the point. It's an excuse to take wing, to explore the world, to have new experiences, and to share camaraderie with other pilots. I can make hamburgers and pancakes at home, but $100 hamburgers are always served with a side of aeronautical adventure.

By my reckoning, I flew sixteen $100 hamburger flights in 2017. A few were solo (e.g., Bethany's at Block Island State Airport). Some were with Kristy and The Bear, often as required en route during longer journeys (e.g., Le Bistro M in Bromont, Quebec or Ali Baba in Morgantown, WV). The majority of them included members of the Williamson Flying Club with up to seventeen participants flying to a destination together in as many as seven aircraft (e.g., Lake Placid, NY and the EAA pancake breakfast in Elmira, NY).

In all cases, even when the meal is good, it is the journey that makes it all worthwhile.

A First Time for Everything

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
12 Nov 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - SDC 2.8 1735.9

My good friend Ed earned his private pilot certificate in late September, coincidentally a day before my fifteenth anniversary as a private pilot. He recently checked-out in the club's Archer, Eight Five X-Ray. With keys in hand to something more closely resembling a travelling airplane, Ed was looking for an excuse to stretch his wings. He suggested a breakfast run and I suggested a destination: the Cherry Ridge Airport Restaurant in Honesdale, PA. From there, a mission was born. I invited Scott and Jamie to join me in the Warrior for the trip.

Owasco Lake

We set out shortly after 8:00 am with Ed flying approximately five miles ahead in Eight Five X-Ray. The first snowfall of the season occurred earlier that week and the remnants still lingered on higher  terrain between the Finger Lakes.

For some reason, the Pink Floyd song "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" came to mind as we flew southeast toward Cherry Ridge. Scott forgot to bring his sunglasses, so I shared with him the wise words once imparted to me by my first flight instructor:

"The trick to dealing with the sun in flight is to not look at it."


It was a beautiful morning to fly and the air was utterly still. Warrior 481 tracked so true that Jamie asked if the autopilot was engaged. Autopilot? Clearly he has my airplane confused with a fancier ship.

Ground track from Williamson-Sodus to Cherry Ridge from FlightAware.

Though Ed had a five mile head start, Eight Five X-Ray gradually transformed from a tiny dot in the windscreen to an airplane-shaped flying object as we gradually overtook him.

Cherry Ridge

While planning the trip, I was concerned about available ramp space at Cherry Ridge during the breakfast rush. I need not have worried. A relatively early arrival meant that ours were the first two airplanes on the ramp that morning. They were soon joined by many others, but for us, parking was a snap.

Scott, Chris, and Ed. Photo by Jamie.

Ed and Eight Five X-Ray

Mission accomplished! It was Ed's first flight of any distance in the Archer, his first landing in a state other than New York, and his first "destination" since passing his check ride! It was a big day regardless of the particular $100 foodstuff he chose to consume at the point of landing.

Some Pipers are bigger than others. Walking around the twin, it became clear to me why the Aztec is so often referred to as the "Az-truck". It was a monster.

A full ramp after breakfast. Photo by Jamie.

Apparently, the early bird gets the ramp space. The parking apron at Cherry Ridge filled quickly with a variety of aircraft after we landed. While watching aircraft arrive for breakfast, we were surprised to see Six Echo Sierra, the club's Skyhawk. We introduced ourselves to Bob, the WFC member flying; we did not already know each other.

Ten years had passed since I last dined at Cherry Ridge. Mom was with me on that flight. Restaurant ownership has changed, but everyone's breakfast was excellent and the view of the runway from the second story eatery was as excellent as before.


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Sep 2003 N3470R HAI (Three Rivers, MI) - OEB (Coldwater, MI) - AZO (Kalamazoo, MI) - HAI 2.3 148.8

I remember my first breakfast flight as Pilot in Command well. I launched from Three Rivers in Seven Zero Romeo and rendezvoused with the "South Haven Tribe" (two Cherokees and a Super Decathlon out of my future home base) en route to Coldwater, MI.

Ron and Carl over southwest Michigan, photographed 21 Sep 2003.

I recall seeing the other airplanes emerge from the morning haze and following them to our destination. Inbound to Coldwater, I had my first experience with wake turbulence when Carl, who was flying some distance ahead, abruptly veered in front of me. The abrupt roll moment that I experienced when I rode through his wake was a learning experience and memorable encounter.

Coldwater - Branch County Memorial Airport (OEB) looking to the northeast, photographed 29 April 2006.

After landing, I followed the other three aircraft to the far northeast corner of the airport and then, to my surprise, off the pavement and along a grass taxiway that led to a restaurant hidden by a low hill.

Seven Zero Romeo parked at Coldwater, photographed 21 Sep 2003.

My first $100 hamburger run as PIC is one of my strongest early flying memories. Do I remember anything about the meal in Coldwater? Not at all. In fact, I have a vague recollection that the restaurant was adequate, but not particularly good. But, as already noted, that was not really the point.

Back To the Present

With the sun at our tail, much less squinting occurred on the way home.

Photo by Jamie.

Hey! Shouldn't somebody be looking straight ahead? Photo by Jamie.

Before long, we were cruising past Owasco Lake again, entering the home stretch of sky to the Williamson-Sodus Airport.

Back at home base, Ed was deservedly excited about his first $100 hamburger flight as Pilot in Command. Sure, breakfast was good, but the true excitement came from a brand new private pilot beginning to explore on his own.

I was glad to have been a part of it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Omelet Quest by Air

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
04 Nov 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - OYM (St Mary's, PA) - DUJ (Dubois, PA) - SDC 3.31731.8

A litany of NOTAMs for Williamsport Regional Airport (KIPT) represented a rotating closure of runways and taxiways that was carefully orchestrated to keep the airport open to landing traffic. Access to my favorite breakfast stop, Cloud 9, would not be affected by the ongoing runway and taxiway work. However, the closure of the east ramp to transient parking just might.

A call to the FBO that morning confirmed the problem. "They'll send you here for parking. If our courtesy car is available, you can use that to get to the other side of the airport for breakfast. Otherwise, you'll have to call a taxi."

"So realistically," I said, catching Tom's eye as I summarized the situation in my own words, "Getting to the restaurant will be a crap shoot depending on whether your courtesy car is available." I was not going to pay for a taxi ride to the other side of the airport.

The fellow laughed. "Yup, that's pretty much it."

Scratch Cloud 9 for breakfast.

It was time for Plan B, The West Wind at St. Mary's (KOYM). While I did a last check of the weather, Tom called the restaurant. Though he did not speak to a live human being, a recording indicated that the restaurant opened at 8:00 am on Saturday.

Perfect. We were airborne minutes later.

As we flew high above the Southern Tier of New York, ground fog tenaciously clung to the low valleys below and made for a striking view.

Although there were airplanes parked on the ramp at St. Mary's, the CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) was strikingly quiet for a popular breakfast destination. This was our first hint.

Taxiing to parking, we noticed that all of the airplanes parked on the ramp were tied down and covered. These were not breakfast transients; hint number two.

A piece of paper on the locked restaurant door indicating that The West Wind opened at 11:00 am was the final, and least subtle, of the hints that there would be no breakfast for me and Tom in St. Mary's. When Tom called the restaurant again, a live person confirmed that they did not open until lunchtime.

"Did you suggest that they change their outgoing voicemail greeting?" I asked. We suspect that we were caught by a recent transition from summer to winter hours for the airport diner.

On to Plan C.

The only problem with Plan C is that I did not already have one in mind.

I realized that The Flight Deck at Dubois ("Dew Boys") was not far from St. Mary's; just ten minutes in the air. I called the FBO at Dubois Regional Airport (DUJ) to verify that the restaurant was open. It was. Plan C was a go.

Breakfast at The Flight Deck was quite good, though we arrived late enough that the lunch crowd was coming in as we finished. Still, it was a beautiful day to fly and I was glad to be able to share it with another pilot. In November, a savvy pilot never ignores decent weather because there is no telling when it might return (incidentally, the same mindset applies to December, January, and February).

Who knew that finding breakfast would be so difficult? Maybe some things never change.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Over the River(s) and Through the Sky To Grandmother's House We Go

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Oct 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) - SDC 5.6 1728.5

Mom is sick.

That story is still developing and it is not mine to tell at the moment, but it leaves me with a new challenge. How do I provide support from a distance with all of the other responsibilities on my shoulders? How do I provide moral support and access to her only granddaughter when she is unable to visit on her own?

Flying is one solution. When Saturday arrived conveniently wrapped in the package of a stable high pressure airmass, a day trip to Michigan with The Bear became a must.

For this trip, I took advantage of the capability in ForeFlight to activate and close VFR flight plans with the push of a (virtual) button on my iPhone. This method is far superior to the "clunky radio call over an RCO" technique from the old days.

The route was familiar and comfortable: cross the Niagara River into Canadian airspace, make a quick journey over a sparsely populated agrarian Ontario landscape, cross the St Clair River into Michigan, and arrive at Oakland County International Airport. Just another jaunt to grandmother's house. There was a headwind to battle and it stretched our outbound flight to three hours.

I always enjoy trips with my diminutive (though steadily becoming less so) copilot. My daughter read a book and listened to music from her iPad en route. She declared that the Broadway version of the Lion King made for good flying music and I caught her humming "Morning Report" frequently enough throughout the day that I started humming it, too.

After a long week of hard work, the flight provided me with a much needed mental respite. We floated serenely over Ontario, calm air fostering hands-off flight and lack of radio chatter allowing me to enjoy some quiet music. A confluence of waterways below caught my eye; the aqueduct that carries the Welland Canal over the Welland River. I was intrigued by the notion of an aqueduct supporting mammoth Great Lakes freighters as they crossed the land between Lakes Erie and Ontario. I imagined myself in a kayak on the river, looking up at a massive laker crossing high above on a water-filled overpass.

I enjoyed these details of the surface below. They provided welcome distraction to a restless mind.

Crossing the St Clair River, I photographed a freighter passing below. It was just like the imaginary one from the aqueduct. The zoom lens brought her name into focus: the Algoma Equinox, a freighter with her very own Wikipedia page. It is good to know that a laker can be famous without suffering the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

A hand-off from Selfridge ANGB to Detroit Approach always marks the home stretch. From 25+ miles east, I had the parallel runways at Oakland County International in sight. We landed and successfully navigated the re-jiggered taxiways to Michigan Aviation. Even Ground Control stumbled when using the new taxiway names. A lineman at Michigan Aviation explained that the project was enough of a disaster that the taxiway names were likely to change again.

Having significantly recovered from her surgery, Mom is driving again, able to walk farther, and eating substantial meals again. The Bear popped open the Warrior's door to find Mom waiting there on the ramp at the trailing edge of the wing for us. They were delighted to see each other.

We stopped for lunch at Parker's Hilltop Brewery and Spirits, a relatively new pub on Waterford Hill with great beer (that I could not sample because of the return flight that afternoon) and great food (that I sampled with relish). Coincidentally, this new establishment in my home town is owned by the brother in-law of a colleague in Rochester, NY. What are the odds?

Deeming it something of a special lunch, I allowed The Bear to do something she had never done before: she ordered a pop with her meal. Just as mine did at her age, her tastes skew toward orange.

We had a great visit with Mom. We walked! We talked! We played Exploding Kittens!

Today was about the enjoyment of crisp fall air, the flutter of colorful leaves falling earthward, and three generations spending time together. We enjoyed the calm before the storm. Mom starts a new treatment regimen soon and no one knows how it will affect her.

The Bear was very proud to be in charge of Dougal as we strolled through downtown Clarkston, but I think Dougal was the one actually running the show. I still feel disoriented when in town; the same buildings are there, but with the notable exception of Rudy's grocery store, everything else is changed and unfamiliar.

After lots of hugs for Mom, we departed at 4:00 that afternoon. A tailwind aided our race back to New York before sunset. At one point, I looked down from our 1.5 mile high altitude to see definitive evidence that we were still in the vicinity of metropolitan Detroit. For my friends in Rochester, NY, I want to point out that the Red Wings are a hockey team.

Partway across Ontario, I became curious and removed the cover on the attitude indicator (AI). It is still covered and placarded as "inop" since the failure in September. Installation of an electronic replacement AI has been pushed back to the first week of December, which effectively ends my IFR flying for 2017.

"Daddy, that's creeping me out. Cover it back up," instructed my copilot. Yes ma'am.

We returned home at 7:00 pm, exactly twelve hours after we departed. It was an exhausting day, but a very worthwhile one. The Bear and I helped Mom the only way we could, by giving our time. Thankfully, it was all made possible by our wonderful blue and white time machine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Expedition to the Outer Lands

Something in the Water at ZBW?

Transitioning eastward out of Albany's airspace, I switched frequencies for the next sector. "Boston Center, Warrior Two One Four Eight One, seven thousand five hundred."

After a pause, my missive was answered in a businesslike tone with the typical response of a controller distracted by other duties during an initial contact. "Calling Boston, say again."

I repeated the call and received an unusually enthusiastic response beamed back at my ship from a radar room somewhere in Nashua, New Hampshire. "Warrior Two One Four Eight One! You picked a beautiful day to fly to Block Island! Radar contact, Bradley altimeter three zero zero six!" His delivery could almost be described as Neganesque with all the enthusiasm that entails, but fortunately none of the pathological narcissism.

If that's not validation for my choice of destination, I don't know what is.

Venue Change

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
10 Oct 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - BID (Block Island, RI) - 4B0 (South Bethlehem, NY) - SDC 5.6 1722.9

Fall is my favorite time of year to fly. Weather permitting, I usually take a vacation day in early October to fly somewhere and enjoy the fall color. More often than not, I go to the Adirondacks. This year, a shroud of mist and clouds was forecast to hide the mountains of northeast New York. As I pondered alternative destinations, I remembered that I had an unaccomplished secondary goal for 2017 of landing in a new state. Most of the nearby states have already been sampled except for Rhode Island and Delaware and, honestly, web searches did not reveal much that interested me in Delaware.

Rhode Island, however, has Block Island. Standing in the Atlantic Ocean about 10 nautical miles off the Rhode Island coast, Block Island is part of an archipelago formed by the terminal moraine of a glacier that once covered North America. Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Block Island, and Long Island are all land features created from the moraine and are collectively known as the Outer Lands. The forecast for the eastern seaboard was excellent and so I settled on Block Island as my fall flying destination.

That morning, I stood on the ramp of the Williamson Sodus Airport looking up at low scud hanging over the field. I was trapped.

Isn't this the reason I earned my instrument rating? 

It was, but the Warrior was not equipped, still lacking a reliable attitude indicator. The Garmin G5 replacement instrument is back ordered another few weeks.

However, it was a dynamic ceiling, alternately presenting gaps showing swaths of blue sky, then closing in. Toward Lake Ontario to the north, the sky was completely clear. By the time I finished refueling the Warrior, there was a large hole immediately west of the airport in addition to clear sky on the north side. I launched in marginal VFR conditions and climbed above the loose patchwork of clouds hanging over the field.


Not only was there an outstanding forecast for the Connecticut / Rhode Island shore, but the Stratus 2 fed updated weather reports to my iPad throughout the trip showing the eastern seaboard to be clear of clouds. By way of ADS-B, I can "see" weather conditions much farther ahead than in the past when in-flight weather gathering was limited to radio reception of distant automated weather observation systems. Though I was above an overcast for much of the flight over New York, I had few concerns about being trapped above the deck.

At 7500 feet, the Warrior reached ground speeds as high as 152 knots (175 miles per hour), making for an expeditious trip east. The winds aloft were forecast to relent over the course of the day such that I would not pay much penalty for my enjoyment of the tailwind that morning. Such two-way wins are rare and the timing was fortuitous.

I remained above the ceiling until reaching the Hudson River. There, I found the entire river valley clearing. The Catskill Mountains lay beneath the dissipating clouds along the west edge of the Hudson River valley. It was here that I saw my first widespread fall colors of the season.

Foliage color varied with elevation, green to yellow to red, much like terrain hazard warnings in many aviation GPS units.

As I approached the eastern edge of New York state, I could look across the breadth of Connecticut and Rhode Island to where the morning sun reflected dazzlingly off of the Atlantic Ocean. With the ocean in sight, Albany Approach handed me off to Boston Center for enthusiastic affirmation of my plan for the day.

Feet Wet

Rather than fly direct to Block Island, my route took me through LAFAY intersection due north of the former Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Station. A direct flight to Block Island from LAFAY would minimize the distance flown over Block Island Sound to a mere ten nautical miles.

Airport in Westerly, RI

I was saddened by the sight of the dead and decaying airport below, the former Charlestown NAAS. During World War II, the field was a training hub for night fighter Hellcats equipped with ungainly radar pods beneath their right wings. The base was closed in 1974.

From the air, Block Island appears to consist of two geologically distinct regions; an eastern rocky portion probably remaining from the original moraine and a sandy extremity on the leeward side of the island that reaches back toward the continent like the tail of a comet.

Stick-like shadows showing against the glare of the morning sun betrayed the positions of wind turbines set directly in the ocean off the eastern shore of the island.

Descending over Block Island Sound, I flew a wide, arcing path that positioned me for a 45° pattern entry to the left downwind for runway 28.

Block Island State Airport sits on what appears to be the highest point of the island (108 feet above sea level). It features a single runway with an unusual aspect ratio measuring 2502 feet long and 100 feet wide. The unusual width for a runway so short makes the runway appear even shorter than it actually is. The topography and taxiway layout suggest that land east of the airport was built up to extend the runway at some point in the past.

The town of New Shoreham is arranged around the Old Harbor. Block Island can only be reached by aircraft or ferry. A ferry was docked in Old Harbor when I arrived.

New Harbor was created when the Great Salty Pond in the middle of the island was dredged to create a channel to the Atlantic.


Thanks to the tailwind, I landed at Block Island State Airport a mere two hours after climbing away from the scud over home. I exited the runway at the midfield taxiway and parked next to a V-tailed Bonanza as directed.

A couple of years ago, the airport authority significantly raised landing fees on Block Island, resulting in enough backlash from the pilot community that the airport authority backed down. Today I paid the compromise $10 landing fee, which seemed reasonable considering that I would have paid more for a one-way ferry ticket from the mainland.

Although several web resources made it appear as though bike rentals were available through the Block Island Tourism Council office located at the airport, this was not the case. I needed to either walk the mile into town or take a taxi (a taxi ride from the airport to Island Moped and Bike is free) to reach bike rentals. Hungry, I decided to have a late morning second breakfast (western omelet, yum!) at Bethany's Airport Diner, sitting outside at a shaded table adjacent to the airport ramp. My second breakfast was excellent and provided necessary fuel for what was an active day.

As I finished eating, I stuck up a conversation with another Cherokee pilot named Ray who accompanied me into town as far as Island Moped and Bike. We parted company there and I continued my tour of the island alone. The bike rental was $15 for the day with lock included.

I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like
It's got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good
I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.
-- Pink Floyd, "Bike"

This was the (t)rusty steed that allowed me to explore the entire seven mile length of Block Island like a BOSS.

Coastal Beacon

First lit in February of 1875, the Southeast Lighthouse stands atop the impressive Mohegan bluffs that form the island's eastern edge. In 1993, erosion of the nearby cliff necessitated moving the entire structure a few hundred feet farther inland. Tours are available in-season, but not the day I visited.

Not How I Would Want Anything Named for Me

In the mid-16th century, the Mohegans tried to conquer Block Island. They failed spectacularly and were forced over the bluffs to their doom by resident Niantic. Centuries later, the bluffs still carry the Mohegan name.

A steep wooden stair takes visitors most of the way down to the base of the cliff.

I considered taking a rock home for The Bear, budding rock hound that she is, but decided against it. Though it was not the same as plucking a flower in a wilderness preserve, I also did not want to carry a rock around with me for the rest of the day.

The climb back up the stairs was not nearly as strenuous as other people made it appear. Then again, I had to wonder about the person who paused partway up for a smoke break. That struck me as a little self-defeating.

I saddled up and proceeded inland away from the bluffs. Perhaps that explains the saddle sores I had the next day.



On the Comet's Tail

From the Fresh Pond, I rode north, briefly stopping at the airport for water, then continuing on to Sandy Point and the North Lighthouse. The road ends approximately a mile prior to the lighthouse and I traveled the rest of the distance on foot through the dunes.

At first, I mistook the structure of the North Lighthouse for weathered wood.

On closer inspection, the 1867 structure was actually crafted from brown granite. Its isolation on Sandy Point made the North Lighthouse seem a lonelier place than the Southeast Light.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sights on Block Island and look forward to sharing them with my family someday. I wished that I had more time to loiter, but after four hours on the island, I knew that I would be chasing the sun home.

Cruising [Over] Block Island Sound

The journey back to New Shoreham from Sandy Point was a slog. The bike had functional gears, but the sprockets were rusty and the chain poorly aligned such that it rubbed on the derailleur in the lower gears. As I puffed my way up a couple of hills, I developed a deep seated regret for my choice of transportation every time a moped zipped past me. I returned my bike in town and drank a lot of water to re-hydrate. Note to self: bringing a water bottle on a trip is only useful if it is not left in the airplane.

Block Island State Airport terminal

On departure, I gained altitude near the island before crossing the sound. Every time I read the words "Block Island Sound" on the sectional chart, Billy Joel's "Downeaster Alexa" would start playing in my head. Days later, it was still stuck there. Curse you, Billy Joel, for your catchy, pop-rock sensibility.

Although the winds aloft had diminished, they did not slow as much as originally forecast. From Block Island to Albany, best ground speeds were in the range of 95 to 100 knots.


Crossing the Hudson River south of Albany

I used ForeFlight's fuel price tool to find $4.19/gal avgas at South Albany Airport (4B0) in South Bethlehem, NY. A fuel stop was necessary because Block Island does not have fuel available. South Albany was an unfamiliar airport and the only things that I knew about it were that it was small and that there was inexpensive self-service fuel to be had there.

Landing on runway 1 at South Albany, I passed directly over a large train yard on final approach. Cars were actively being coupled together as I crossed overhead and I wished that I could hover there on short final to watch. Alas, the tyranny of gravity.

South Albany Airport was a pleasant surprise. I expected a small, quiet field with a weathered shack of a terminal building and a battered, but wholly adequate, self service fueling system. What I found instead was a fastidiously maintained gem of an airport.

Everything at the airport was in excellent condition and clearly maintained by a group of people who took great pride in their facility. I felt right at home immediately and, though I did not meet anyone while I was there, I could not help but think, I like these people.


As darkness mounted, I ran up the engine in the shadow of my own greatness (apparently - just look at those wheels). As I departed, someone from the airport radioed to ask if I had left a jacket in their pilot lounge. "No, but thank you for asking!" I responded before flipping over to Albany Approach.

See? I knew I liked these people.

For once, I caught a break flying westward at dusk; my 300° heading placed the setting sun behind the pillar at the edge of my windscreen. Reality finally caught up with forecast and the wind aloft now allowed a 105 knot ground speed that crept up to 110 knots for the last half of the flight home. As natural light dwindled from the sky, the streets and buildings of Syracuse lit the world from below.

A memorable autumn day trip ended in the glow of runway lights at the Williamson Sodus Airport. I was home again, after an adventure in a beautiful place, a landing in a new state, the addition of two new airports to the map (for a total of 184), and my first night landing since June.