Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Flying Bear Flies Lighter Than Air

My first flight of any kind took place in a hot air balloon. It was 1980-something-or-other and I was slightly older than The Bear is now. Thus, it was only fitting for The Bear to get her first balloon ride as her age ticked over into double digits. This was made possible last Christmas when we received a gift certificate from Mom for the entire family to fly with the Liberty Balloon Company based south of Rochester, NY.

Thanks Mom!


Liberty Balloon Company is a family run business started in 1976 by Carroll Teitsworth. His sons, Lee and Lance, were raised with ballooning much as The Bear has been raised around airplanes. For our flight in N9095L (I suppose they don't call them "tail numbers"), Lee was our pilot and Lance crewed. These guys genuinely love what they do and it shows by the way they answer questions and interact with their passengers.


We met the Liberty Balloon folks in Castile, NY and followed them to the launch site, a small glade in a farmer's field. This launch site was chosen because it was northwest of Letchworth State Park and the wind was expected to carry us directly over the park.


A test balloon confirmed the wind direction. After a safety briefing, assembly of the balloon started in earnest.




Lee and Lance recruited The Bear to assist in filling the envelope with air. Here, Lance outfits The Bear with official ground crew gloves.



This experience pleased The Bear greatly.










The Bear bonded with our pilot, Lee, before going aloft. At the time, both were unaware that they had crossed paths a few years before.


Once the balloon was ready to go, we climbed into the basket without much ceremony (but with much awkwardness, like climbing into the back seat of a J-3 Cub). At first, the balloon was unstable on the ground, tipping back and forth as the wind worked against the envelope.


With a prolonged blast from the burners, we rose from the ground. As soon as we broke ground, the balloon stabilized.


We left Lance to clean up and begin the chase.


Our car is the one with the AOPA sticker.



Kristy seemed to be enjoy her second ride in a hot air balloon. The Upstate NY scenery was much more eye-catching than the flat suburban expanse of Holland, MI where she had her first hot air balloon experience circa 2002 (also courtesy of Mom - what's up with Mom and hot air balloons, anyway?)


As we drifted to the southeast, I studied the landscape of what was my "backyard" during the Le Roy years and commented aloud, "We're heading straight for Middle Falls in Letchworth."

Lee nodded with a twinkle in his eye while wearing an "I love it when a plan comes together" sort of smirk.

Photo taken at The Bear's school in 2013. The Bear is walking on the gold stripe in the teal coat with reflective trim.

As we neared the gorge, The Bear explained to Lee how a balloon company came to her school four years ago and partially inflated a hot air balloon envelope in the field house for the younger kids to explore.

Lee gave her a quizzical look. "Where do you go to school?" When she answered, Lee exclaimed, "That was me and my Dad!"


And then, we were over the gorge and descending rapidly.

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park

The wind bore us to a portion of the Genesee River roughly halfway between Upper and Middle Falls.


The drop-off is Middle Falls



Lee brought the balloon down into the canyon. I have seen many photographs of balloons navigating the Letchworth gorge below the rim, but never thought I would experience it firsthand. Lee explained that Letchworth is a favorite destination of many east coast balloonists owing to the gorge's navigability.


Within moments, the bottom of our wicker basket was in contact with the surface of the river and the balloon was tracking north. Lee explained that, once sheltered in the gorge from the winds aloft, surface air moves along with the river current. Thus, we were able to drift north (downstream) while the prevailing wind was out of the northwest.

We drew quite a crowd. "Are you OK?" a man on the riverbank shouted. I gave a thumbs up and Lee assured him that we were fine. I don't think the fellow believed us and proceeded to explain why we clearly could not be fine.


Lee noted that the airflow in the gorge was carrying us toward the west bank of the river. We gained altitude momentarily to catch enough of the prevailing northwesterly wind to push us back toward the center of the river before descending again for another "splash and go" near the edge of Middle Falls.


"Ever hear about going over the falls in a barrel? How about a basket?" Lee asked.


And over we went, while camera flashes twinkled from the bluff overlooking the falls.

Middle Falls from a very unusual perspective


Then Lee put the coals to the balloon and we climbed steadily out of the canyon.


Back in the northwesterly wind, we left Letchworth behind and floated to the southeast over farm country. While skimming tree tops, Lee snagged some maple "helicopter" seeds and presented them to The Bear.


Lee and Lance coordinated to find a suitable landing site. The owner of the farm was thrilled to have us, indicating that ten years had passed since a balloon last landed on his property. To reach the yard, Lee needed to navigate around a stand of trees. Below tree top level, the wind pushed us toward the east, above tree top level, the wind pushed us in a more southerly direction. By working the balloon's altitude alternately higher and lower, Lee was able to track around the trees and zig-zag southeast toward the yard. He described the technique as being like tacking a sailboat, which I thought was particularly apt. 

For us, this was the flight of a lifetime and allowed us to explore one of our favorite local landmarks from the air in a manner that we could never accomplish by airplane. It may be tempting to describe this sort of flying as an art. In some ways, it is, but that is misleading. Our pilot demonstrated significant knowledge and skill. As Lee said to me while lining up on the landing field, "Using ailerons and rudder is just cheating."

For anyone local to Rochester interested in a balloon flight, I highly recommend Liberty Balloon Company. Lee and Lance not only know their craft well, but they made sure that everyone had a wonderful experience.

Sometimes, you just gotta fly 1783 style!

Too Close for Comfort

A Beautiful Day Not To Look Out the Window

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
30 Jul 2017 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - ROC (Rochester, NY) - 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - SDC 2.3 1673.5

"Cherokee Four Eight One, five miles from SUUSA, maintain VFR, cleared for the ILS-28 approach, contact Tower one one eight point three."

It was a perfectly beautiful morning, but I could see only the Warrior's instrument panel owing to the Foggles that I was wearing. Rather than looking outside, I was chasing phantom paths through the sky, riding invisible radio beams and tracking courses synthesized within the electronic brain of the ship's GPS.

A few days before, I polled a group of friends in hopes of finding a safety pilot, someone to look outside while I practiced some instrument approaches and was unable to watch for traffic. It was my good fortune to get two takers, Jamie and Tom. Both are relatively recently certificated pilots, but meticulously careful and responsible. Not only did they enable me to get some instrument practice, but they got an introduction to what IFR flying (at least approach-phase IFR flying) is all about.

Ground track courtesy of FlightAware

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"

How did I do? I give myself a C+.

I flew five approaches: the ILS-28, RNAV-25, and ILS-22 at Rochester; the published missed approach for the ILS-22, which involves a hold with left turns at the Geneseo VOR; then the VOR-A into Le Roy with the published missed approach, a holding pattern with right turns at the Geneseo VOR; and, finally, the RNAV-28 back into Sodus. My interceptions of all courses were really crisp, the holds were flown well with only reference to VOR and timer, and altitudes were managed well. In fact, most of the approaches were flown as well as I have ever flown them. I like reviewing the ground tracks after each session because they provide an unbiased assessment of how well I hand flew each practice approach.

That sounds pretty good. So, why the C+?

As shown in the ground track by the dog-leg on the ILS-22 approach, I blew through the final approach course and had to turn back to intercept the localizer. This happened because I had the wrong localizer frequency tuned; the localizer frequency for 28 was still active and the 22 localizer frequency was in stand-by. Sometimes the flip-flop button on the GNS-430 is a little sticky and, though that may have been a factor here, it is beside the point. The problem is that I "verified" the frequency by listening to the Morse code identifier broadcast by the localizer. I clearly fell prey to confirmation bias and concluded that I heard the correct identifier even though I would have actually heard the ILS-28 localizer ID. This is a valuable lesson. It indicates that, even though I may think I am listening to those Morse code identifiers critically, that is clearly not the case. This is why we practice.

This is also where I envy Jamie. As a ham radio aficionado (expert? Zen master?), Jamie can translate Morse code conversationally in real time. He would not have made the same mistake that I did because his ear is far more discriminating to "dits" and "dahs" than mine.

"Still Lurking About"

The longest leg of the day's flying was 42 nautical miles, which came when we departed the last hold over Geneseo for JORAX, an initial approach fix for the RNAV-28 approach into Sodus. Though I was still under the hood, this should have been the most relaxed segment of the morning's flight. We listened to the trainee controller at Rochester Approach who seemed to be stretched to his limit working a few aircraft flying practice approaches into Rochester and Batavia. We heard him enter my friend Ed into the system for flight following as Ed flew his long, solo cross country (way to go Ed!).

N1185X

As I cross checked instruments, I noticed that the iPad depicted "company traffic" nearby. Eight Five X-Ray from the club was flying a meandering path north of us. I remarked on it to Jamie and Tom. A few minutes later, Rochester called traffic at our twelve o' clock. It was Eight Five X-Ray again.

Tom had it first, directly ahead at our altitude and tracking south across our eastbound path. I lifted my chin to peer out from under the Foggles and verified the tiny block dot, apparently no larger than a gnat,  moving along the horizon and across our path.

No factor, I thought.

"Cherokee Four Eight One has the traffic," I reported back to Rochester Approach.

In ForeFlight, the avatar of Eight Five X-Ray changed trajectory and turned toward us. I looked outside again. The little speck on the horizon was no longer tracking left to right across the windscreen. Its relative motion had nearly stopped. It was no longer a speck, either. It was rapidly becoming airplane-shaped and heading slightly to our right.

I banked steeply to the left, yanked the throttle to idle, and literally stuffed the yoke into the panel. We turned and dove. Once committed to this evasive maneuver, I saw Eight Five X-Ray change trajectory again. She was now heading directly at us.

Dammit! As Tom said later, shoulda gone right. I decided to go left rather than right because I did not want to turn into where Eight Five X-Ray was tracking. It was the best decision at the moment I made it, but the situation continued to change.

The Warrior's vertical speed indicator was pegged at -2000 feet per minute. The dive was steep enough that, still wearing the Foggles, I never saw Eight Five X-Ray pass overhead. Tom and Jamie certainly did. Tom later described getting a "beautiful view of Eight Five X-Ray's undercarriage". I wondered if it was well-cleaned.

At a 220+ knot closure rate, everything happened very quickly. In moments, Eight Five X-Ray was behind us, leaving several elevated heart rates in her wake. I climbed back to 3100 feet and intercepted our original course to JORAX. We completed the approach to a gentle full stop landing at Sodus and taxied back to the hangar.

Jamie volunteered to clean up the airplane (thanks!) while I took care of other post-flight activities. As we worked, I answered questions from Jamie and Tom about the instrument procedures we flew that morning.

Post-Processing

All three of us left the airport still processing the near miss. Jamie started the dialog that evening with an email asking some simple questions.

Did the system fail?

Was someone or something at fault?

Ultimately, I don't think so.
  • ADS-B gave us an early warning that Eight Five X-Ray was in the vicinity. We had the technology available, we made use of it, and it put us on alert.
  • I was flying simulated IFR under the hood with a safety pilot in the right seat and a knowledgeable and capable pilot observer in the back seat. They spotted the traffic and kept tabs on it, just as they should have. No failure there.
  • The controller at Rochester Approach, though green and nearly task saturated, also notified us of the nearby aircraft. His attention probably went elsewhere once I confirmed that we had the traffic in sight.
  • Finally, once it was clear that a conflict was likely, I acted quickly and decisively.
In other words, the system worked as it should have and everyone did what they were supposed to do. Since gaining ADS-B traffic capability, I have preemptively avoided other aircraft without ATC ever calling them to me as targets. I did not do so in this case because Eight Five X-Ray did not present as a hazard until she turned nearly ninety degrees toward us. It was this course alteration that rapidly changed the scenario from a non-event to a near miss.

I think that a lot of pilots still put stock in the Big Sky Theory, the notion that the sky is vast, our aircraft small, and the probability of encountering another aircraft midair is low. That may be true in some locations, but it is not universally true and certainly not true in the vicinity of an airport.

The Big Sky Theory is also a poor surrogate for risk assessment. Ultimately, risk is a product of two factors: the likelihood of an incident happening multiplied by the severity of the outcome if it does. While the Big Sky Theory may reduce the probability of a midair collision in some locations, that probability is far from zero (there is no such thing as zero risk anyway) and the severity of a midair collision is likely significant. From the perspective of risk assessment, the Big Sky Theory offers very little "protection".

This is why we fly simulated IFR with safety pilots, why we keep our eyes outside of the airplane in visual weather conditions whether flying VFR or IFR, why there is a market for traffic alerting gear (be it via ADS-B (TIS-B), Mode S (TIS-A), or detection of nearby transponders), and why many of us choose to operate on radar flight following when VFR. After all, it was the aftermath of a serious midair collision between commercial airliners over the Grand Canyon that led to the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, creation of the FAA, and a mandate for the new federal agency to regulate United States airspace.

All pilots know this already, but reminders never hurt. Stay vigilant.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Le Vol Vers le Québec: Comedy of Errors

Comedies Penned Before "Airplane!"

When I studied Shakespeare in high school, I was taught a very simple classification system for The Bard's larger works. Essentially, his plays could be sorted into two buckets: tragedies and comedies. Tragedies were easy to classify because serious, not-so-subtle bad stuff happened to the characters (e.g., Hamlet, everyone dies). Comedies were not necessarily humorous, but differentiated themselves from tragedies by resolving into positive outcomes (e.g., Much Ado About Nothing, nobody actually dies).

Our return to New York from Quebec falls squarely into the Elizabethan definition of a comedy. Without being particularly amusing, the flight ended with a positive outcome. I suffer no delusions about my skills as an aviator. Most of the time, I can fly my airplane, make decisions, and work the system in a wholly adequate manner. I am not Super Pilot, but I usually do a passable job of aviating. In contrast to this general adequacy, our international flight on July 21 was riddled with small, annoying errors all committed by yours truly.

Maybe I was a little off because it was the twelfth anniversary of "Box Lunch Day".

Maybe I had developed a severe case of cranial rectosis that morning.

Or, maybe, it was just one of those days.

Regardless, dessert service on today's flight included humble pie.

Cheese Fort



The weather forecast for our return on July 21st inspired enough confidence that I comfortably solidified my schedule the evening prior by filing IFR flight plans, submitting an eAPIS manifest, and calling US Customs in Burlington, VT to schedule our arrival. I planned a 10:30 am departure from Bromont with an 11:10 am arrival in Burlington, VT.


We arrived at the Bromont Airport at 8:30. While Kristy, her parents, and The Bear ordered breakfast at Le Bisto M, I untied the Warrior from the ramp, removed the cabin cover, and taxied to the fuel pump. The attendant's English was rough, but like most people we met in Quebec, sufficient for communication. A little patience and good will go a long way. Once fueled, I taxied back to the tie down and paid the bill which, in addition to the fuel, included roughly the equivalent of $75 USD for seven days of parking.

This timing worked out well. I returned to our table before breakfast was served. When it arrived, my omelet was delicious and filling. It contained "cheddar fort", which is obviously French for "cheddar so strong one could build a fort out of it".

After breakfast we did the necessary restroom breaks and loaded our baggage into the airplane by 10:00 am. We exchanged hugs with Kristy's parents and watched them drive off across the ramp in their Honda CR-V.

Mistake #1

Packing the airplane was a bit of a challenge because we were returning to Sodus with more luggage and people (The Bear) than we departed with. Once everything was packed and everyone in their seats, I began setting up the avionics. It was my plan to wait until 10:15, then call Canadian Flight Service (1-866-WXBRIEF) for my IFR clearance out of Bromont. Everything was humming along right on schedule.

"Where is [The Bear's] headset?" asked Kristy.

I simply gaped at her while I envisioned the case with our extra headsets sitting on a shelf in the hangar; the case that we had not needed for the outbound flight, and thus did not have on board. My heart sank.

Ug.

We agreed that The Bear should wear the second Zulu headset and that we would improvise ear protection for Kristy. I know that previous generations of pilots flew around in Pipers and Cessnas without hearing protection, but I also know that the airplane is loud and headache-inducing without a headset and I felt awful that Kristy would be subjected to that kind of racket on our return to the United States.

An Attaboy from Flight Service

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Jul 2017 N21481 CZBM (Bromont, Quebec, Canada) - KBTV (Burlington, VT) - KGFL (Glens Falls, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 3.7 1669.5

With the engine leaned and idling, I called Flight Service via the Bluetooth link between my headset and phone. I was on hold for nearly ten minutes before a specialist answered. I gave my tail number, location, and indicated that I was requesting IFR clearance to Burlington.

"November Two One Four Eight One," responded the Canadian briefer brightly. "You were a little broken up, but I imagine you're looking for your IFR clearance to Vermont!" When I affirmed this, he put me on hold while he contacted Montreal Center on my behalf.

"Novermber Two One Four Eight One," he said on his return. "There's an amendment here, but let's run through everything and check to make sure that we understand each other." He read the clearance and I wrote everything down, including the addition of the Bromont One departure procedure. When I read it back, he responded with, "That was perfect! Anything else I can help you with?"

There wasn't and we said our goodbyes. Our void time was 1445 Zulu (10:45 am) and it was already 10:35. I followed local practice and called UNICOM for a departure advisory (twice), but there was no response. The UNICOM operator also had line responsibilities and was probably away from the radio. That was fine, I could see the windsock and had already set my altimeter to the field elevation.

I throttled up, dragged the left brake, and the Warrior pirouetted in a counter clockwise circle on the ramp while I scanned the sky. There were two gliders southeast of the field and a returning Super Dog tow plane on base for the pavement. There is only a single taxiway connecting the ramp to the runway and I did not want to block it, so I waited on the ramp for the Super Dog to land.

Mistake #2

The Super Dog rolled off the runway about midfield to join the glider operation on the parallel grass at the southern end of the airport. I advanced the throttle and taxied to the runway hold short line before noticing a Cessna 150 on final that I had not seen in my prior scan nor heard on the radio. There was a lot of French being spoken on frequency and I probably missed his radio calls. Canadians seem to be very diligent about their radio calls and I do not doubt that he was making them. If the Cessna needed access to the ramp, I was now blocking him.

Ug. Maybe he'll do a touch and go.

The Cessna touched down and brakes were applied aggressively enough to compress the nose strut. Then the Cessna pivoted on one wheel with a burst of throttle and back taxied on the runway to where I was blocking the entrance to the ramp.

Figures.

I maneuvered the Warrior to the far side of the taxiway to make room, thankful that the landing aircraft was a high wing instead of another low wing. As the Cessna taxied past, I keyed the mic while reading his tail number. "Sorry about that Echo Foxtrot."

The other pilot waved. "No problem." It probably happens there all the time. Regardless, I felt like a complete ass. Rude American.

The Bromont One departure for runway 23 involves a climb, a turn back to the Bromont NDB, and a hold at the NDB while climbing to 4,000 feet. This procedure is a way to manage terrain clearance before radar contact can be made with Montreal Center.

Still climbing, we passed beyond the five nautical mile boundary for the Mandatory Frequency. I gave a final position report, then contacted Montreal Approach. I was "radar identified" at 3,000 feet before turning back for the hold. The hold was cancelled and we were cleared direct Burlington.

Mistake #3

We enjoyed a quick flight across the border over a scattered layer of clouds. Burlington NOTAMs showed a variety of taxiways closed and early morning runway closures indicating significant construction on-going at the airport. At the time of our arrival, all runways were open, but taxiway closures were complicating ground handling.. We were cleared for a visual approach to runway 19.



As I maneuvered to enter the pattern, Tower called. "Cherokee Four Eight One, are you heading for runway 15?"

No, I'm pointed at 19, I thought. Then I looked again.

Ug.

Instead of going straight in to runway 19, I was set up on a left base for 15. I have landed at airports that had closely aligned runways with adjacent thresholds at night without ever making a mistake like that. Why today? Insert "admonition to back up visual approaches to unfamiliar airports with an instrument procedure" here.

I confessed my mistake and apologized. "No problem," Tower responded. "Clear to land 15, right turn runway 19, no delay." Because of ramp work, runway 19 was being used as both runway and taxiway while 15 was primarily in use by the airlines and there was an airliner on its way.

Mistake #4

"Cherokee Four Eight One, contact ground for parking."

"Ground, one two one point niner, Cherokee Four Eight One." I already had this frequency set on Comm 2 - something I'd done correctly that morning! Except that, when I changed radios and tried to raise Burlington Ground, there was no response. I had found 121.9, a common ground frequency at many airports, listed in ForeFlight while still approaching Burlington. I was puzzled for a moment. Was it not the correct frequency? If I had the wrong frequency, why didn't Tower correct my readback? For that matter, why didn't Tower provide the frequency in the first place? The likely answer to both is that they were busy.

Still rolling down runway 19, I consulted the taxi diagram and it listed 126.3 for Ground Control. Success! We received taxi instructions to the customs ramp adjacent to Heritage Aviation, shutting the engine down within ten minutes of our scheduled ETA.

One Problem Solved

Our view from the customs ramp.

Once shut down, I called Burlington customs. An officer strode out to the Warrior and scanned my ship for radioactivity, both inside and out. Then, he invited us inside the customs office where he reviewed our passports, asked some questions, and cleared us back into the country. The process in Burlington was quite different from the process in Buffalo.

From customs, we walked over to Heritage Aviation to use the restrooms. When I indicated that we were there to clear customs in a Cherokee, the woman at the counter smiled and said, "Oh, then you don't owe us a thing! Have a great day!"

With a moment's inspiration, I asked if they had a pilot shop that sold earplugs. "No," she responded, "but it you need earplugs, you can have some." She opened a cabinet and provided me with a fresh set of foam earplugs.

Wow! That is the second time this month that a high end FBO has come to the rescue.

Mistake #5


While enjoying some chocolate chip cookies prepared in Quebec by the Collaborative Aunt Collective, we watched some Vermont Air National Guard F-16s moving around on the ramp. Once the cookies were finished and the the crumbs managed, we climbed back into the Warrior for the next step in our journey: lunch at The Aviator Restaurant in Glens Falls, NY. I had already filed an IFR flight plan to KGFL the night before and, so far, we were managing to stay close to the original schedule.


We received our clearance (as filed, with the addition of the Burlington Eight departure procedure) and then proceeded to execute a series of short taxis to the north end of the airport. Taxi Charlie, hold short 19 for a landing Archer. Back taxi 19, left on Golf, right on Alpha, hold short 15 for two inbound airliners. Cross 15 on Alpha, hold short 19.

With modern airport markings, it would be really hard to inadvertently taxi onto a runway. I'm sure it still happens.

Ready at 19, we waited while ATC moved other ground traffic around on the departure end of our runway. Clearly, the taxiway closures were significantly complicating ATC's job at Burlington. Once the runway was available again, we were cleared for an expedited take off ahead of a general aviation airplane on a two mile final.

We crossed over the tops of the trees at the end of 19 while pitched to Vy to satisfy the minimum climb gradient required by the SID.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, reset transponder, squawk 5566, and contact departure."

I looked down at the transponder, still programmed with the 6202 code assigned on the ground at ... Bromont.

Really? Ug. Total amateur mistake. Foul: inadequate use of checklist.

To his credit, Burlington Tower was cool about it. As I punched in the correct squawk from my clearance and hit the flip-flop button to bring up the departure frequency, a brief scene played in my mind in which the Tower guy looked at the Ground guy and said, "Hey, remember that guy who couldn't tell runway 15 from 19 and didn't have the right ground frequency? He doesn't know how to operate his transponder, either."

Shoot me now.

I'm Givin' Her All She's Got, Cap'n!

We were at 8,000 feet, leaned and trimmed for cruise. Kristy was enjoying her new earplugs and a quieter ride. My ears, on the other hand, were filled with constant chatter from Boston Center. Below, Lake Champlain was visible between scattered clouds.

Then, the Warrior began to sink. There was no plummeting, no nose diving. She just started to sink. I pitched up to compensate in  hopes of maintaining my assigned altitude, but it wasn't enough. I firewalled the mixture and throttle while pitching to Vx (best angle of climb, 63 KIAS), but it still wasn't enough. We were sinking.

Per the tach, the engine was producing the expected amount of power. Grasping at straws, I activated carb heat to check for ice. By all indications, carb icing was not causing a loss of power. Then again, I was not exactly in prime carburetor ice conditions and the Warrior's carb has only iced up once in thirteen years, so icing was a long shot.

When flying IFR, certain occurrences must be reported to ATC. One is vacating an assigned altitude. Another is a change in airspeed of more than 10 knots or 5%. I had just experienced both as the Warrior was sinking while pitched skyward in a maximum performance climb at 63 knots. As the altimeter continued to unwind through 7,700 feet, I contacted Boston Center and informed the controller that I was unable to hold altitude.

I had his attention immediately. "Cherokee Four Eight One, are you OK?"

I responded that we were fine, that the engine seemed to be performing normally, but that we were sinking. A downdraft, perhaps? We were downwind of the Adirondacks, maybe it was a mild mountain wave?

"Cherokee Four Eight One, descend and maintain six thousand. There's nothing in your way down there." When I leveled at 6,000 feet, all was right with the world again from an aircraft performance perspective. We were now in and out of the clouds, however, which Kristy did not particularly appreciate. To compound the issue, without a headset, she was completely unaware of what had just happened.

Boston Center checked on us two more times to ensure that we were safe before handing us off to Albany Approach as we neared Glens Falls.

$100 Lobster with Style


"I've never been here before," The Bear stated flatly as we climbed out of the Warrior at Glens Falls.

"Actually, you have," I told her.

"Isn't this the airport where she peed on me?" asked Kristy.

"Yup," I confirmed.

"WHAT???!" exclaimed The Bear, aghast. We recounted the tale of the leaky diaper.


While former airport restaurants occupied a corner of the old terminal building, the new restaurant is immediately south of the terminal in its own building and is accessed from the street side of the airport fence.


Called "The Aviator Restaurant", the eatery is open for lunch and dinner and features a fancier menu than the average greasy spoon.


The children's  menu was also educational.

"I already know all of this stuff," deadpanned The Bear.


She may have not been enthusiastic about the educational value of the menu, but she clearly lit up when the plate of food was placed before her. Chicken fingers! Good old reliable chicken fingers! Kristy had a delicious looking salad and I had a lobster roll with a house salad. Everything was excellent.

Dressed in t-shirts and shorts, I think we were the only fly-in patrons in The Aviator that afternoon. Aside from making us feel under-dressed, presence of non-aviator clientele was a good sign that indicated a healthy amount of street traffic. This appears to be critical for the success of airport restaurants.



After lunch, we relaxed on a shaded bench at the base of the old control tower. We enjoyed the fresh breeze and watched aircraft come and go.

A lineman from Rich Air walked past, wiping the sweat from his brow. "Let me guess, you're waiting for a jet to take you away from this heat. Maybe to Alaska?"

That sounded nice. A couple of private jets landed while we dawdled, but they were not for us.

Home Again

Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, Glens Falls, NY.

I filed IFR for home because Rochester was forecasting a low broken layer. Albany was busy when I tried to get our clearance in the air, but we finally received it about twenty miles west of Glens Falls.

At 6,000 feet, we busted a few clouds while tracking our airway route home. I backed up our navigation with the VORs, completing a VOR check in the process. Kristy dozed. The Bear played games on her iPad while complaining that she could only hear out of one ear on the Zulu, something we discovered very recently about the back seat intercom jacks. First World problems, anyone?

Syracuse in the haze from 6,000 feet.

A hot, humid day in Upstate New York had created a hazy atmosphere reminiscent of flying through Georgia in mid-summer, blurring ground features only a mile below our wings. Other than the pervasive summer haze, we found the Williamson-Sodus Airport under a clear sky and good VFR conditions. I cancelled IFR with Rochester and brought the airplane home.

Ground track from KGFL - KSDC courtesy of FlightAware.

After a string of stupid errors committed throughout the day, execution of a good landing at home was just what I needed to end the day's flying.

Because the bureaucracy of international flight is still new to me, I spent a lot of energy on flight planning, getting the timing correct, and understanding applicable Canadian air traffic control practices. All of these aspects of the flight went well and, in that regard, the trip was a success.

Pursuit of Excellence

Pilots often talk about flying the perfect flight, a flight where absolutely everything is done properly. Wiser pilots may admit that this is chasing a ghost, that there is always something about a flight that could have been done better. Fortunately, the system is robust enough that individual minor mistakes rarely become major mistakes. Perhaps the only pilots to ever fly a perfect flight are those too oblivious or egotistical to see the flaws. Despite this, even if we can only approach it asymptotically, perfection is nonetheless a worthy goal.

This flight, on the other hand, was far from perfect. If only I could have kept track of the number of headsets required for the trip, had better situational awareness while taxiing out at Bromont, had lined up for the correct runway at Burlington, had found the correct Ground frequency for Burlington, and had used my transponder properly at Burlington -- all things, incidentally, that I have successfully accomplished for years without issue -- then maybe, just maybe, this flight would have been almost, possibly, close to something resembling a nearly perfect endeavor.

Of course, in the narrow scope of Elizabethan-era theater, I would much rather headline a comedy than a tragedy.