Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Human Chain: The Forever Home

A Well-Worn Path

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
31 Aug 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.9 1844.5

It was my eighth flight from the Williamson Sodus Airport to Oakland County International for 2018.

In cruise north of Rochester, NY

On our previous trip, we sorted through documents, photographs, and identified those items from Mom's house that would come home with us to New York. This included two pieces of furniture with strong sentimental value for me, a grandfather clock bought by Mom when I was a kid and my grandfather's antique desk. Our goal for this trip was to transport these things back to New York.

Niagara Falls on a hazy evening

A secondary goal was to accept Judy's offer of a visit to the farm. I had every confidence that Judy would be an excellent adoptive mother for Maggie and Dougall, but wanted to see so for myself. Besides, The Bear and I did not get a proper goodbye with Dougall a week prior because he was confined to his pet carrier for the entire time we spent with him.

Turning left base for runway 9R at Oakland County International

Rather then spend time driving a truck from New York to Michigan, resulting in a late Friday night arrival well past The Bear's bedtime, we chose to fly in and rent a van for one-way transport of the furniture. This meant that, while The Bear and I would fly home, Kristy would be driving the van solo to New York.

While it all made tremendous logistical sense, I am pretty sure that I got the best end of this deal.

Turning final for runway 9R at Oakland County International

According to routine, Scott parked us at Michigan Aviation.

"Do you ever leave?" I asked him.

"Nope," he responded laconically.

With Mom's Subaru parked just tens of feet from transient aircraft parking, we were on our way to a late dinner in Clarkston within minutes of arrival.


The Bear at Honcho

Breakfast the next morning was at the Old Village Cafe in downtown Clarkston. I do not habitually lavish superlatives on my hometown, but this is probably my favorite breakfast diner anywhere. I ate there so frequently this summer that the staff recognize me when I walk in.That is a weird feeling considering that I have not actually lived in town since 1991. Walking back to Mom's, we stopped at Honcho to get coffee for Kristy. While we waited, I explained that the hip new restaurant used to be Morgan's Marathon gas station. It was where I used to have my college car repaired, work that would take place right about where we sat waiting for coffee.

The Bear up to no good during dinner at The Clarkston Union

Later that day, we picked up the Dodge Grand Caravan that would carry everything back to New York. Though she agreed to drive the one-way trip, Kristy had balked at the idea of driving a U-Haul truck for so many hours. The Grand Caravan was more comfortable for her to drive, but also required more creative packing to fit everything inside. Unfortunately, the nearest Grand Caravan available though Enterprise was in a sketchy part of downtown Detroit. Pickup made for an interesting excursion. On the positive side, it was my first time driving on The Lodge, so now I feel like a real native of metro Detroit.

With Chad and Ken during a quick flight out of Oakland County on 8 Sep 2018.

My friend Ken from high school, an expert in grandfather clock repair, helped me prep the clock for shipment. He loaned me a pendulum box, a box for the weights, and a cardboard retainer for the chimes. With his expert assistance, we not only moved the clock safely to New York, but got it running again in short order.

On Sunday morning, Pam and Stephen helped us pack the van carefully. It took us over an hour to fit everything inside to our satisfaction and we used all the available space from deck to ceiling. Kristy rolled out of the driveway at noon on Sunday for an eight hour drive to Rochester, NY.

Down on the Farm

While Kristy was driving south toward Ohio, The Bear and I drove north to Judy's farm to visit Dougall and Maggie. We brought some additional pet carriers and supplies from Mom's as donations to the cause.

I think that Dougall was glad to see us.

Really, really glad.

The Bear with Maggie and Dougall

Maggie was never far from his side. We watched them both happily trot around within the enclosed yard. They had other friends to play with and even a pony in an adjacent pasture to harass. Judy's farm looked like puppy paradise to me.

I know that The Bear would have been thrilled for Dougall to live with us, but our current lifestyle is not amenable to caring for a dog; we struggle with leaving the cat alone for long periods of time as it is. If he was doing poorly in Boston, that seems to have turned around. He now has a good home, lots of attention, the comfort of an old friend, and a safe place to run free. Those are not things that we could have offered Dougall or any of Mom's dogs.

We departed content in the knowledge that Dougall was a happy fellow.


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
02 Sep 2018 N21481 PTK (Waterford, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY)  2.5 1847.0

At 9,000 feet, The Bear and I slalomed around cloud build-ups over Canada on the way to Sodus. We were targeting an 8:00 pm arrival at home to meet Kristy with the van.

There may have been some goofiness at 9,000 feet. Early onset hypoxia?

As she observed the Garmin 430 sequence to the leg from AXOBU to HAVOK along our IFR route, The Bear mused, "Too bad the previous place wasn't WREAK." Clearly, it was a lost opportunity. Sometimes, the FAA shows a definite sense of humor in naming waypoints, such as those along the GPS instrument approach for runway 16 at Portsmouth, NH: ITAWT - ITAWA - PUDYE - TTATT with a missed approach fix of IDEED.

We navigated around a small thunderstorm near London, Ontario. After years of deviating around thunderstorms over London, even in my VFR-only days, I had to wonder why it is such a nexus for convective weather.

A rainbow took shape in diffuse mist drifting downwind from the thunderstorm. It was the only sight along the way that significantly pulled The Bear's attention away from her iPad.

We landed at Sodus near dusk and managed to beat Kristy home by ten minutes. Mission accomplished and accomplished well! That night, the grandfather clock was ticking away contentedly in our living room.

For Love of Dougall

All attention was on The Bear while she doled out treats at the farm with Dougall front and center

Most importantly, I ended the weekend with the knowledge that we had absolutely done right by Dougall. All four of Mom's dogs were important, of course, but Dougall was special. He was special to Mom and he was special to us. Seeing his happy doggie face in his wonderful new home was more soothing to my heart than I can possibly express in words.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Human Chain: How Dougall Got His Wings

Witness Protection

Maggie and Dougall

In the weeks after my mother passed away, I found myself wondering about her beloved dogs. How were they faring since the Colonel Potter Cairn Rescue Network whisked them away to new homes? I reached out to contacts at the the rescue and learned a few details. First, it appears that being rescued is tantamount to entering a witness protection program. All four dogs now lived in different cities and had assumed new names. Second, I was pleased to learn that Colonel Potter made good on the promise to care for all four of them

Shy Tia was living in the greater Boston area. Dougall, Mom's favorite, was also in Boston. His health was good; there had been no more seizures and dietary changes were improving his digestion. Kayla had relocated to Wisconsin. Only Maggie, the gentle sixteen year old of the quartet, was still local. She remained at Judy's farm. I was surprised by this because I was sure that Judy would keep Dougall all for herself rather than Maggie.

Unhappy Dougall. Photo by Judy.

I was surprised to hear from Judy directly on August 18th. She explained that Dougall was not doing well in Boston and that the consensus decision within Colonel Potter was to return him to Judy's farm where he would have open spaces to run and play like he had at Mom's. They also hoped that being reunited with Maggie would improve his spirits. I understood completely; the previous weeks had been rough enough for me and I had not been displaced from my home and separated from my closest friends.

Judy indicated that the transport was planned for the following weekend and asked if I was willing to help. Within the time it took to exchange a few text messages, I was committed to transporting Dougall back to Oakland County International in the Warrior.

The Human Chain

I was the eighth link in a human chain transporting Dougall from Boston to southeast Michigan. Coordinators of the transport were anxious about my involvement because it was their first time working with an aircraft in the mix. I worked openly and honestly with them to address their concerns and coordinated directly with Judy for the exchange at Michigan Aviation once we landed at Oakland County International.

I was impressed when the seventh volunteer arrived at the Williamson Sodus Airport right at her appointed 3:00 pm time. Considering how many volunteers were in the mix, there was a lot of opportunity to stack up errors. We loaded Dougall, carrier and all, directly from her car into the Warrior. He would ride next to The Bear in the back seat. As much as she was overjoyed to be reunited with him, the carrier made it a tighter fit than usual for her.

Flight from Walton's Mountain

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
24 Aug 2018N21481SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI)2.91839.1

While waiting for Dougall to arrive, I mentioned to Paula, a student pilot preparing for her check ride, and Brad, one of our instructors, that we were participating in a dog rescue flight. The airport was bustling when we taxied for departure. Brad was doing touch and go's with a student in One Delta Tango, Paula taxied to the runway behind us in Five Five Whiskey, and Ray was giving a helicopter lesson over the grass adjacent to the taxiway.

When I announced our departure on the radio, Brad responded by wishing us a good flight.

"Thanks!" I said.

"Have a good flight!" This from Paula.

"Thanks!" I said.

"Goodnight, John Boy," came a snarky broadcast that I'm reasonably certain came from the helicopter. As I went to full throttle, Kristy and I howled with laughter while The Bear fumed over not getting the joke.

So it was that, a month after I surrendered the dogs to Colonel Potter, we were bringing Dougall back to his forever home. I charged The Bear with monitoring his condition throughout the flight. If the sound of the ferocious Lycoming O-320 bothered Dougall in any way, he made no sign. At one point, I looked back to see him lying on his side in the carrier and idly scratching his snout with a paw. It was almost as if he was bored.

Other than an odd detour over Western New York requested by Buffalo Approach, it was a routine flight across Ontario. On final for runway 27L at Oakland County, we were asked to keep our speed up to accommodate a King Air behind us. I flew final at 120 knots, but Pontiac Tower sidestepped me to land on the shorter 27R at the last minute anyway. I landed smoothly in a 10 knot crosswind with a textbook slip to settle on the upwind wheel.

Colonel Potter's rules state that Dougall could not be removed from the carrier until he arrived at his new home. Fatal accidents had resulted in the past from a loose dog, so the rescue took no chances that Dougall would dart off into danger if freed from his portable prison. I understand the reasoning, but sympathized with the little guy. He spent thirteen hours in that carrier without a break and I imagine that his little doggie hind legs were crossed the last couple of hours.

I had provided Judy with a FlightAware link and she was already waiting at Michigan Aviation when Scott marshaled us in to parking. I called the Colonel Potter coordinator to let him know that Dougall was safely in Judy's custody. He sighed in relief. Clearly the entire international flight by light aircraft aspect of the transport made him anxious.

Photo by Judy.

And that was how Dougall got his wings. I carried him to Judy's car and discovered Maggie waiting for us. The two little Cairns were obviously pleased to see other.

Mom's car was parked just fifty feet away from the Warrior. While I buttoned up the airplane, Kristy packed the car and we left in search of a late dinner. We wound up at a sushi restaurant in my hometown.

Sushi in Clarkston, MI? Now I've seen everything. Overall, it was good, though the restaurant was not as crowded as a decent sushi restaurant would have been in New York on a Friday night. All the better for us, I suppose.

Dougall newly arrived back on the farm. Photo by Judy.

Even before dinner was served, I received a text from Judy showing a very perky Dougall arrived at his new home.

Mission accomplished! What a wonderful use for an airplane.


We spent Saturday, August 25 in Clarkston cleaning out Mom's house. I reviewed every document in the house, sorting between those that needed to return to New York with me and what eventually became sixty pounds of shredding. While dozing off that night, I felt a purposeful tapping on my shoulder. I opened my eyes expecting to see The Bear standing before me, but there was no one there. Spooked, I slept fitfully the rest of the night. Kristy revealed that she dreamed people were banging on the windows trying to break in, which disrupted her sleep that night as well. We were a sorry bunch the next day.

Before departing Sunday morning, I mowed the lawn at Mom's for the first time since I was a teenager. Within an hour, we were back at Michigan Aviation. We drove directly to the airplane, unloaded the car, and returned the Subaru to its parking place alongside one of the large hangars.

When I entered the FBO, I was cheerfully greeted by one of the supervisors. "Hi Chris!" While I settled the fuel bill, he asked me, "What part of Wisconsin did you say you were from?"

"The part near Rochester, New York...?" I responded with a questioning lilt. Once a smart ass, always a smart ass, I suppose. Perhaps he had me confused with Kayla. With genuine sincerity, I thanked him for all of his help, especially allowing me to leave the Subaru on site. Having a dedicated car waiting there for me at the end of a 2.5 hour flight through Canadian airspace definitely made life easier.

Departure into the Clag

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
26 Aug 2018N21481PTK (Waterford, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY)2.51841.6

After obtaining our clearance, I was instructed to taxi to runway 27L for departure, only to be cleared for take-off from 27R by Tower.

"Pontiac Tower, was that 27 LEFT for Cherokee Four Eight One?"

There was a surprisingly long pause. "Yes, cleared for take-off 27 left, thanks for checking!"

We launched from Oakland County International with two miles of visibility and a 700 foot ceiling. Tower advised that the tops were reported at 4,000 feet and, indeed, we finally broke out in that vicinity.

En route to ADRIE, we were switched first to Flint Approach, then Selfridge Approach.

A VFR aircraft (seriously, in those conditions?) called Selfridge looking for flight following to "Knoxville, Delta X-Ray Kilo."

I looked at Kristy in alarm. "That's not right. It's Delta Kilo X-Ray." Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (DKX) was one of our homes away from home and I knew it well.

"Say again the identifier for Knoxville," responded Selfridge. Kristy gave me one of those see, he already knows sort of looks.

"Delta X-Ray Kilo," repeated the pilot.

"I don't have an airport with that identifier in my database," responded the controller at Selfridge. I have never butted-into a conversation between a controller and another pilot before, but I could not help myself in this case.

"Selfridge Approach, Cherokee Four Eight One. If it helps, the identifier for Knoxville Downtown Island Airport is Delta Kilo X-Ray."

"Oh, yeah, that's it," responded the other pilot.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, thanks," answered Selfridge. I was curious about how the pilot of a VFR aircraft planned to get south of Detroit in the low weather, but we were handed off to Toronto Center shortly thereafter and, as so often happens, the story was over without an ending.

Bombardier's view: a break in the clouds over the St Clair River while crossing from Michigan to Ontario.

With a 20 knot tailwind and groundspeeds around 140 knots, we returned home quickly. Though there was a significant line of clouds at our altitude, we flew alongside without our paths intersecting.

Tracking just south of Buffalo, we crossed the Niagara River in the clear, but clouds to the north were substantial. A club trip to Niagara Falls had been scrubbed that morning because of those clouds.

I requested the RNAV 28 approach into Williamson Sodus, but spotted the airport in the descent to the initial approach fix, canceled IFR, and turned directly onto an extended 45° entry to the downwind.

We were excited to have flown a successful mission. We had helped Dougall in his time of need and, in the process, flown our first animal rescue flight.

I went home and mowed my lawn in the sweltering summer heat, unintentionally adding another advantage of airplane ownership to my growing list: the ability to mow two lawns 300 miles apart in the same day.

On second thought, maybe that is not really much of a perk.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Airport Day at Fuzzy

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
11 Aug 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC 1.2 1835.4

Those who manage the nearby Oswego County Airport decided that they needed to stand up and be recognized by their community. To that end, they organized Airport Day on August 11 with invitations for the public to see and experience what the county airport has to offer. Offerings included Young Eagles rides, helicopter rides, drone demonstrations, aircraft on display, and a barbecue lunch provided by the the Tailwinds Diner.

After all of the serious flying I had been doing since June, it seemed like a great opportunity to gather some friends from the Williamson Flying Club and bask in the simple joys of aviation for part of a day.

I was joined in the Warrior by Max, one of Kristy's high school band students and a student pilot learning to fly with the club, and Lesly, a rusty pilot getting back into aviation.

Lesly and Max bonded after their harrowing flight experience with me.

OK, it wasn't really harrowing. It was probably a little boring. Can people bond over shared boredom?

It was my first time flying with Max since October 2016 when I gave him and his mom their first ride in a light aircraft. I'm pretty sure he's taller now.

With such confident poses, clearly these guys know what they're doing. At least the one on the left does. I'm still dubious about the one of the right.

Noticing Lee's arrival in the Colt, we waited on the ramp for him. From a casual count, about ten aircraft and sixteen WFC members made the short flight from the Williamson Sodus Airport to Oswego County that morning for the festivities.

Lee brought an enthusiastic copilot with him that morning.

A portion of the WFC fleet in attendance: Eight Five X-Ray, Warrior Four Eight One, and Colt Seven Zero Zulu.

Scott and his daughter were well fed and ready for a nap. Or, at least one of them was. The other was simply in denial.

The Tailwinds Diner did such a good job with the barbecue chicken that these WFC members devoured theirs! After lunch, we explored the airport to see the aircraft on display.

The first one to really catch my eye was this beautiful Globe Swift.

To be honest, my arms and shoulders ache just looking at the polished aluminum skin of this beauty.

Lesly selected this Pilatus as his next (yeah, OK, first) airplane. Why start small?

This L-29 Delfin is a Czech-built military trainer. It is locally owned and based at the Oswego County Airport.

Finally, I was very taken by this striking vintage Beech Bonanza.

Between ice cream, barbecue, cool airplanes, and great company, I would say that Airport Day was a success! But of course, I am already an enthusiastic member of the choir; no need to preach to me. I sincerely hope that the general public had as much fun at Airport Day as I did.