Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day, International

Promises, Promises

As tears still streamed down her face, I assured The Bear that we would return. It was May 2017 and we had just completed our first international flight to Toronto only to learn that the Toronto Zoo was closed due to a strike. It never occurred to us to check beforehand. Who ever heard of striking zookeepers?

It was a promise that was easy to keep. What pilot could resist the allure of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport?

No Thank You, I'll Take the Long Way Around

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
15 Jun 2018 N21481
SDC (Sodus, NY) - CYTZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
1.5 1796.6

As on our previous visit, I filed via AIRCO to LINNG, then direct CYTZ to reduce flight time over Lake Ontario. Buffalo Approach offered a direct shortcut across the lake, but doing so would have resulted in an early arrival for our date with Canadian customs and increased the distance flown over open water. Neither of these outcomes were desirable, so I declined the shortcut.

"Turn direct destination after crossing LINNG," instructed the Buffalo controller, his tone underpinned by an unspoken "whatever, suit yourself" sentiment.

Haze veiled the Toronto skyline until we were a few miles out. With a caution about wake turbulence issued by City Tower, we entered the pattern for Runway 8 second to land behind one of Porter's ubiquitous Dash 8s.

We followed the small airliner on a right base, but swung wide of the final approach course to delay our arrival when City Tower slipped a Cessna Skylane in front of us for a low approach.

Once cleared to land with the sun at our backs, the view of Toronto's waterfront skyline was breathtaking.

We waited on the ramp momentarily for a helicopter to launch before proceeding to the Porter FBO. Porter charges $60 CAD/night for overnight parking. The other FBO on the field, STOLPORT, charges the same fee. I had investigated flying into Oshawa Executive Airport, situated east of the Toronto Zoo. Surprisingly, for a more rural airport, Oshawa's overnight parking fees were $100 CAD/night, making Toronto's downtown airport more cost effective.

Welcome to Toronto!

With a quick phone call to Canadian Customs, we were welcomed to Canada for the weekend.

This time, there would be no tears. This trip was all about making my little girl happy. The zoo would be open and waiting for us the next day.

Of course, the night before we departed, we learned that the giant pandas were relocated to Calgary at the end of March. That was disappointing, but not enough to dampen our spirits (literally or figuratively).

My highly experienced ground crew took care of the Warrior's canopy cover.

As we bundled up the Warrior for a two night stay on the island, a steady stream of Porter Dash 8s planted themselves on the runway nearby, one of which stopped behind us and waited at the edge of the ramp for an available gate.

I may not be able to talk them into ascending the CN Tower, but it sets a nice scene for pictures.

Island bound, the airport is connected to the mainland via either a 90 second ferry ride or a tunnel. We used the tunnel on our last visit.

To change things up a bit, we rode the ferry to the mainland. The ferry is free for pedestrians and $11 CAD/car. Next, we retrieved our rental car from Enterprise and drove eastward out of the city to a hotel within striking distance of the zoo.

Toronto Zoo Highlight Reel

We had a long, hot, wonderful day at the Toronto Zoo. Here are some highlights in pictures.

This giraffe was pondering just how far he had to bend over to drink from that water bucket.

Have you ever seen a hippopotamus glower?

It was a hot, sleepy day for the cheetahs. Either that or we utterly bored them with our presence.

Feeding time at the zoo!


Fight! Fight! Fight!

A new definition of adorable: a six year old polar bear snacking on an intact, frozen, cantaloupe.

This komodo dragon was not for hugging.

On the other hand, this komodo dragon was totally cool with it.

The Toronto Zoo has white lions, but they were not engaged in recording any kind of scratchy-voiced hair metal. These white lions were napping.

We had a very satisfying visit to the zoo and, best of all, The Bear thoroughly enjoyed herself.

That night, I filed my IFR flight plan and eAPIS manifest, then called the Buffalo customs office to advise a 2:30 pm arrival. Because The Bear was already asleep, I wandered out to the hotel lobby to flight plan and make the phone call. At 9:00 at night, the lobby was cacophonous with multiple people engaged in loud, public Facetime sessions on their phones. When did this become thing? I had to ask the Buffalo customs officer to repeat himself several times as I struggled to hear him over the obnoxious din of people shouting at moving, talking pictures of their distant loved ones.

Father's Day with the Fishes

On Father's Day, we visited the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada set at the base of the CN Tower.

The Ripley's name is not a selling point for me, but this is a truly excellent aquarium.

A highlight of the aquarium is a serpentine glass tunnel that winds through a massive tank populated with sharks, sawfish, sea turtles, rays, and lots of fish.

It is both amazing and disconcerting to have sharks swimming just inches over your head. Lined with sharp, curved teeth, their open maws certainly make an impression. The large sawfish in the tank seemed to enjoy draping their pasty white bellies across the top of the glass tunnel. They have no modesty whatsoever.

It looks like someone found Nemo!


We watched a diver feeding the rays, at one point becoming so inundated by eager rays that we lost all sight of her. Clearly, there was a "bad boy" ray in the tank (note the edgy EXIT "tattoo" on his face).

After a great visit to the aquarium, we had lunch at the nearby Loose Moose, then retrieved our car for a return to the airport. At this point, we were on a clock and I became anxious that we would miss our appointment with customs in Buffalo when we were caught in a Blue Jays-related traffic jam.

Despite the traffic delays, we returned to Billy Bishop Airport a full hour prior to our planned departure.

No sweat.

Lost and Found

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
17 Jun 2018N21481CYTZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) - BUF (Buffalo, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY)1.71798.3

During the ferry ride back to the island, we watched sailboats traverse the channel between the airport and the Toronto waterfront.

Looking beyond the air side windows at Porter revealed a disconcerting sight: Warrior 481 was nowhere to be seen. When I asked where my airplane was, the line staff was not entirely sure. Thirty minutes later, Warrior 481 was towed back onto the ramp where the line crew proceeded to spend several minutes trying to park it just right. As a result, we reunited with our airplane around the same time I originally intended to have the engine running.

I uncovered the airplane and performed a preflight inspection. I was thorough, but felt rushed. As before, City Ground assigned us the Island One departure procedure, then the OLAMO intersection toward Hamilton, Ontario. We were already running late and the new routing would increase our flight time significantly.

As before, the airport was busy. We were number four in line to take off with arrivals of Porter Dash 8s interwoven with the flow of departures. Once aloft, Toronto Terminal offered us a direct route to Buffalo, which I accepted. Because of the shortcut, we were right on time for our appointment with customs. In this case, the shortcut was a beneficial one.

This time, there was no need to call customs. As soon as I shut the airplane down on the Prior Aviation Service ramp, a uniformed customs agent made his way to the Warrior. He invited us out of the airplane, we chatted for a few minutes (mostly about how Rochester no longer had published customs hours on weekends), then he wished us well and wandered off.

"Are we all set?" I asked him.

"You are unless you want me to do more," he responded jovially, waved, and headed back to the CBP office.

Well, that was easy. Evidently, one's mileage will vary with customs agents. Going through customs stresses me out, but this experience was completely anticlimactic.

Our return home fell into a familiar pattern; it featured the worst landing of the entire trip.

The More Things Change

I remember going to the Detroit Zoo with Dad when I was about The Bear's age. Like The Bear's big zoo trip, I remember the day being uncomfortably hot. I also remember Dad locking the keys inside his Pinto and a police officer using a "Slim Jim" to unlock the recalcitrant door with the aplomb of a master car thief. I guess it was a good thing for Dad that no one in their right mind would ever actually want to steal a Pinto because it appeared to be really easy.

Flash forward a few decades and The Bear's trip to the big zoo featured a misplaced airplane.

That's more or less the same thing, right?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and Hamilton


First things first: I am not particularly enamored with hip-hop as an art form. This is not a value judgement, but it is a personal preference.

When Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton first hit the scene with its hip-hop infused score, I was skeptical. When people went crazy for the show and declared it a work of genius, I became really skeptical. Despite Kristy's initial trepidation and The Bear's early disdain for the cast recording, both were eventually hooked. During our 2017 trip to Copperhill, TN, Kristy participated in an on-line lottery for face-value tickets and successfully emerged from the digital abyss with three precious seats for a May 27, 2018 performance.

I was still skeptical, but I was not throwing away my shot.

Short Cut

As further evidence that The Bear is on track to be more worldly than her aviator / scientist father, she has been to New York City four times in her short life; only two times fewer than me. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that we live in New York does not mean that The City is a quick jaunt down the road for us. A typical journey begins with driving five hours to Poughkeepsie, home to the northern terminus of the Metro North commuter rail line. From there, two hours on a southbound train delivers us into the elegant and cavernous Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan's east side. This route has worked well for us and taking the train eliminates the hassles of driving and parking in NYC.

In 2017, New York state legalized ride sharing services like Uber, creating a link between airports and train stations and enabling us to use our time machine to expedite the journey. Though we traveled to NYC in March 2018, we were blocked from flying by low clouds loaded with ice. However, Memorial Day weekend found us aboard the Warrior and en route for our date with Hamilton.

Kingston / Not Kingston / Kingston

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 May 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - POU (Poughkeepsie, NY) 1.9 1790.9

We launched on an IFR flight plan for an easy hop to Poughkeepsie (or "poo KEEP sie!" as The Bear and I call it for no particularly good reason). Along the way, Boston Center changed the final fix of our route from the Kingston VOR to FILPS intersection. Minutes later, New York Approach changed it back to Kingston.

To-may-to, to-mah-to.

In a setup that is not at all confusing, the tower at Poughkeepsie's Hudson Valley Regional Airport still uses the airport's former name, "Dutchess Tower". That morning, a trainee controller directed us to join the pattern on a right base for runway 24 with another Cherokee already on a left base, essentially placing us on a collision course. I turned the Warrior away from the final approach course (temporarily putting us on a collision course with a third Cherokee on a five mile final) to yield the right of way, then aggressively rolled back onto final approach to land number two.

We watched the Cherokee ahead of us bob and weave in the wind on its way to the runway, prompting Kristy to clutch her seat in anticipation of a rough ride. We tracked straight and true to the runway center line, touched down softly, and taxied to the FlightLevel Aviation ramp.

Darn students making conditions look worse than they really were...

Dutchess County Tower at KPOU

FlightLevel Aviation is a small FBO chain comprising four locations: Poughkeepsie, NY; Norwood, MA; Brunswick, ME; and Cape May, NJ. I am happy to report that we have had good experiences with the three that we have visited to date. At Poughkeepsie, there is a $15/night parking fee; the first night is waived with purchase of ten or more gallons of fuel.

The Bear at POU...does this make her a "POU Bear"?

"That's a small tower," remarked The Bear.

Clearly! As these photographs demonstrate, The Bear is taller than the tower. If Peter Jackson can play games with forced perspective, so can I.

The ramp at Poughkeepsie was busy! I bundled the Warrior in her pajamas for a two night stay at our 186th airport.

As I paused to admire this twin turbine beast, I had to confess that it looked like a better way to travel than our humble Warrior.

It probably gets better IFR routes, too (foreshadowing).

Tail Winds West

Hudson Valley Regional is home to the Tail Winds West diner, a sister diner (are diners gendered like ships and airplanes?) to the popular original Tail Winds diner at nearby Sky Acres airport (44N).

"Check out the pancake special," urged the pilot of the number three Cherokee that landed behind us. Three pancakes with strawberries, blueberry compote, and whipped cream. We wisely ordered a single pancake special with sides of sausage and home fries, then divided everything into thirds.

It was absolutely wonderful. Not ordering my own plate was a fine example of exercising good PIC judgement outside of the cockpit that morning. All three of us departed very happily sated.

All Aboard!

After a quick Uber ride to the Poughkeepsie train station, we went in search of lemonade at some nearby restaurants. This was a more challenging quest than I expected, so I compensated by getting a beer instead. After all, the day's flying was done and I had earned it by eliminating all that boring drive time on the highway.

Photo of The Bear preparing to board the Metro North train at Poughkeepsie earlier this year, 30 March 2018.

There was something very gratifying about looking down over gridlocked cars on NYC streets as the train glided through Harlem along its elevated rail. The train may not be fast, but it is easy.

Running the Cookie Gauntlet

We arrived in Manhattan during a heat wave and hiked from Grand Central to the DoubleTree Times Square South hotel in near 90°F temperatures. One particularly delicious perk of staying at DoubleTree hotels is the hot, yummy, check-in cookie. Unfortunately, being presented with these cookies on check-in serves as a reminder for The Bear that her peanut allergy prohibits her from eating certain baked goods (e.g., the aforementioned cookies). This usually makes for a tense moment. I intercepted the cookie proffered to her as gracefully as possible and squirreled it away in my backpack.

In our room, The Bear collapsed on her bed after a walk that Kristy described as "a little death-marchy." A bit hyperbolic, I think, but I will grant that the heat worked against us.

Being the excellent parents that we are, we waited for The Bear to use the restroom before secretly devouring our DoubleTree check-in cookies. They were still warm. When she emerged from the restroom, The Bear eyed us suspiciously. "How was your cookie, Mommy?" she asked Kristy pointedly. Kristy merely nodded without speaking, her mouth still full of delicious awesomeness.

The Room Where It Happens

After a brief rest from the heat, we left the hotel to find dinner and reconnoiter the area.

We found ourselves at Azuki, a nearby sushi restaurant on the corner of 36th and 8th Avenue where we dined on a previous trip.

We paused for a moment to contemplate the works of art that we were about to devour.

Dinner was excellent. In the process, The Bear declared her love for shrimp, though I wondered if what she really loved was the tempura coating.

During our visit to NYC in March, we took The Bear to see Frozen, but could not commemorate the moment with a photo outside the theater because of the crowd. While roaming the theater district, we captured a belated photo of The Bear outside the St James. Given the heat, the notion of being "frozen" sounded positively blissful.

Then she found it: the room where it happens.

Masochistically, we made a brief visit to Times Square. The biggest problem with Times Square? All the damn tourists. I fully recognize the irony of this statement and I stand by it.

The Bear held by a walking contradiction

Compensation for putting up with Time Square tourists came in the form of Ben & Jerry's and taking a very touristy souvenir photo.


We awoke on May 27th to the drenching of Manhattan. Rain fell deafeningly on the sloped glass roof of the hotel's greenhouse-style restaurant. The heat had broken as well; high temperatures for the day floated around 60°F.

In preparing to face the downpour outside, we took the opportunity to play everyone's favorite party game: "Dementor or Palpatine?" Opinions vary widely, but it is not a high stakes game, there is no single correct answer, and no prizes. Thank you for playing!

The top of the Empire State Building was lost in the belly of a cloud. Even on foot, it can be hard to keep a pilot from thinking about the weather.


We debated about a morning destination. With the weather precluding outdoor activities, our choice fell along a decidedly geeky path and we visited the well-regarded Museum of Mathematics (or MOMATH) for the first time. Did I mention that it was reasonably close to the hotel?

Did someone say pie? I love pie!

MOMATH was a decent way to spend a few hours out of the rain that morning.

When we departed MOMATH, we discovered that the ceiling had risen several floors. Lunch was fish and chips at Irish pub Tir Na Nog on W 39th street near Times Square.

Wait for It

With lunch out of the way, our nine month wait to see Hamilton was over.

The Bear wanted to be photographed with all three Schuyler sisters, including the two important ones and the one that disappears mid-show without explanation.

View from our seats before the show. Photo by Kristy.

Our seats were in the fourth row, but off to the side and classified as obstructed view. This made them less expensive, but still brought us so close to the performers that we felt like part of the action.

We had a very excited Little Bear as we waited for the show to start.

How was it? I am still not a hip-hop convert. However, Hamilton's story is both compelling and extremely well-told. Lin-Manuel Miranda has a gift for presenting nuanced, well-formed characters that are interesting and relatable. And the music, infused with clever wordplay, veers stylistically from rap to traditional Broadway to Britpop in a way that complements the story and characters. It is difficult to judge Hamilton by individual musical numbers because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Melodic and lyrical motifs are woven throughout and evolve with the characters as the story progresses. Once he establishes them, Miranda calls on these ideas by the utterance of a single word or phrase with inspiring or heartbreaking effect. Considered holistically as a single work of art, Hamilton is brilliantly constructed to tell an engaging and moving tale and I was stunned by how strongly I responded to it. It truly is something special and, despite my initial skepticism (or maybe because of it), I am grateful to have had the experience.

At The Bear's insistence, we dined on Indian cuisine that evening at a tiny, but well-rated restaurant called the Indian Project on 38th Street. Everything was quite tasty.

Escape from New York

We departed NYC the following morning on the 8:45 train to Poughkeepsie. Forecasts called for marginal VFR over Hudson Valley Regional, necessitating an IFR clearance to get home. I was concerned about receiving a crummy clearance from New York Approach, but hoped that Poughkeepsie was sufficiently out in the sticks to avoid too much entanglement with busy New York airspace.

The Bear in Grand Central Terminal

As the Hudson River Valley passed beyond the train's windows, I completed my flight planning and filed a reasonably direct airway route home from Poughkeepsie. Within moments, I received an expected route containing only a very minor change. After we arrived in Poughkeepsie, our Uber pickup happened within a minute of requesting it.

WEARD and Weirder

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 May 2018 N21481 POU (Poughkeepsie, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 2.3 1793.2

Behind the blur of a turning prop, I contacted Dutchess County Ground for IFR clearance. ForeFlight had already warned me to expect a minor change in routing versus what I filed, a substitution of WEARD intersection in place of HELON. Either route was expected to cover 183 nautical miles in one hour and forty-three minutes.

My filed route home: 183 nautical miles, 1 hour, 43 minutes

The expected clearance route: 182 nautical miles, 1 hour, 43 minutes

"Cherokee Four Eight One is cleared to Sierra Delta Charlie via the Dutchess Seven departure, radar vectors, WEARD, LAAYK, the 306 degree radial from Elmira, BENEE, Victor 164, direct, climb via SID, expect 8,000 one zero minutes after departure, departure frequency 132.75, squawk 7103." I scribbled furiously on my kneeboard to capture all the information, then contemplated my assigned route.

The actual clearance home: 286 nautical miles, 2 hours, 38 minutes

Seriously? What happened to the expected route?

As I plotted the course home, I began to wonder who I angered at New York Approach that morning. This new clearance added 104 nautical miles and nearly an hour to the return flight home. Moreover, the final portion of the clearance involving V164 made no sense; running southeast from Buffalo to Wellsville, the airway passed nowhere near Sodus. I resolved that I would request a better routing as soon as I escaped New York airspace, preferably long before reaching LAAYK.


In counterpoint to the hot air that pooled so thickly around Manhattan's skyscrapers on our arrival, Memorial Day temperatures in the greater New York City area were in the high 50s beneath a thick overcast.

Our ascent from Poughkeepsie entered the clouds around 2,000 feet while still flying the Dutchess Seven departure procedure. New York Center cleared us to 5,000 feet, direct WEARD. When we emerged into brilliant sunshine after a morning spent acclimated to a leaden gray sky, the white of the clouds and the crisp azure sky were so brightly intense that they stung my eyes.

Despite clearing the deck, the air about us shimmered in thick haze as sunlight reflected off of the almost palpable moisture that hung, barely suspended, in the air. It was a haze that seemed thick enough to drink.

Radar ground track from FlightAware

Past WEARD, we were handed off to Boston Center and cleared to 8,000.

"November Four Eight One, climb and maintain 8,000."

"Climb and maintain 8,000, Cherokee Four Eight One. Any chance we could get a more direct routing to our destination?"

"November Four Eight One, I'll see what I can do."

A moment later, the controller was back on frequency. "November Four Eight One, that's quite a route they gave you! You're cleared direct to your destination."

We had left a dull gray world below to journey home in a fantastic realm of mist and vapor. Surely this was a more peaceful way to travel than five hours of hurtling down a confined highway while dodging rolling boxes of metal and glass.

The Bear stretched out in the back seat and read for much of the flight home.

Noticing that The Bear appeared to be sleeping peacefully in the back seat, I tried to capture an adorable moment. She was neither unconscious nor peaceful. Stinker.

Entering the Finger Lakes region, the character of the clouds changed, transitioning from stratus to cumulus.

Meanwhile, in the back seat of the Warrior, wackiness prevailed.

After experiencing cool temperatures in Manhattan and Poughkeepsie, we were stunned by how hot it was in Sodus. Travel from NYC to Rochester is not usually something done in search of warmer weather.

We returned to the Williamson-Sodus Airport victorious, having had a New York City getaway by plane, train, and automobile. Yes, we could probably tweak the route: perhaps use Westchester County Airport (HPN) and the Tarrytown train station to reduce our overall travel time. On the other hand, using Westchester County would bring with it higher cost, higher traffic, and probably an even less favorable IFR routing owing to its location beneath the New York Bravo. So, perhaps going through Poughkeepsie is not such a bad choice.

Considering the number of trips that we have made to The City in recent years, I am certain that this one will not be our last.