Monday, February 17, 2020

The "Daveciples"


Mark and me with N3343P. Photo by Joel.

Mark and I have a lot in common. We both grew up in the metropolitan Detroit area, both hold advanced degrees in Chemistry with the same specialty, both work in the same industry (though never for the same company), we're both pilots, and as the photo above shows, we even have the same Alton Bay Ice Runway hats. I knew of Mark before meeting him in person because one of his research papers is cited in my dissertation.

Dave in the cockpit of his beloved Stearman at South Haven Regional Airport. Photo by Gary E on September 17, 2005.

But our personal connection is through Dave, who inspired us both to fly. Mark one-upped me in that regard; he bought Dave's first airplane, the Citabria in which I had my first light aircraft ride, when Dave moved up to a Super Decathlon.

Mark in 33P and Dave in 68W flying formation off Warrior 481's wing over South Haven, MI on July 30, 2005. Photo by Jonathon W.

Mark and I have been trying to reconnect for the better part of a year and finally met for breakfast at Cherry Ridge.

"Remember That Time...?"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 Feb 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - SDC 3.0 2084.3

Though excited about visiting with Mark, my memory of the day will probably be overshadowed by circumstance and I suspect that I will always recall it as "that time I flew a three hour cross country with an injured wrist."

That morning, I gave the flight a 50/50 chance of actually happening. Though the sky over Cherry Ridge was predicted to be clear, most of western New York was under a low overcast. I had no desire to fly across the state at 2,000 feet, especially toward the higher terrain to the south. However, I could see a few holes in the deck and expected that the lakeshore might actually be clear, so I readied the Warrior for flight to investigate my options.

I admit that I was rushing because I was running late. As a result, when I walked around the wingtip and encountered some black ice, my legs went right out from under me. In an instant, I was staring up at the bottom of my wing. I landed on my left shoulder, left hand, and judging by the bruise I found a couple of days later, my head. I climbed back to my feet and assessed my condition. For the most part, I felt fine. There was some mild pain in my hand, but that was all. A few minutes later, I was motoring skyward. The ice-cold of the Warrior's cast aluminum yoke felt good on my injured hand and I could detect no impairment in my ability to manipulate the controls.

Aloft, I could see that the ceiling cleared over Lake Ontario, but that I would need to fly halfway across the lake into Canadian airspace to fly around the edge. That was a no go. After hunting for a couple of minutes, I found what was probably the only hole big enough to safely admit me VFR to my desired cruise altitude. I could have filed IFR, but was not enamored with climbing through clouds along the south shore of Lake Ontario in a region covered by an icing AIRMET. As a result, VFR definitely seemed like the way to go and I climbed through the large hole without any ice-inducing tendrils of vapor contacting my aircraft.

At 7,500 feet, a tailwind compensated for my tardiness. I averaged 152 knots over the ground in cruise, which allowed me to arrive at Cherry Ridge right at the appointed 9:00 meeting time.

About fifteen minutes into the flight, the adrenaline from my fall ebbed away and I realized that my left hand and wrist took more damage that I initially realized. My grip was strong, but my wrist and the heel of my hand were injured and swollen. My wrist did not want to twist, bend, or bear any significant weight. Inspecting the heel of my hand, I discovered some new bumps that did not belong there. When I arrived at Cherry Ridge, I successfully flew the pattern and landed using my left hand, but I was lucky that the air was calm so that the flying was not too strenuous.

Catch Up

At breakfast, Mark, his friend Joel, and I talked engine overhauls, electronic magnetos, career development, homebuilt airplanes (Joel is a repeat offender in this category), and the dynamics between teenagers and their parents. It was great to meet Joel, visit Mark, and enjoy an excellent breakfast from the wonderful folks at the Cherry Ridge Airport Restaurant.

That day at Cherry Ridge was the first time I ever got a picture of Warrior 481 parked with the Citabria partly responsible for sparking my love of flying. Joel's RV is parked next to the Citabria.

Photo by Joel

We took photos for Dave that commemorated this meeting of his disciples. Minutes later, Mark and Joel turned their airplanes back toward New Jersey while Warrior 481 and I pushed against a headwind that stretched the ride home to two hours.

Through the Layer

To stay out of the clouds, I climbed to 8,500 feet. This gave me a beautiful, lofty view of the winter landscape, but it also placed a stronger headwind on my nose.

Though the forecast suggested a clear sky over Sodus by the time of my return, an overcast still hovered over most of western New York. After listening to cloud base and tops reports fed to Rochester ATC by a few airliners, I learned that the layer was about 1,000 feet thick. No one reported icing while climbing through the layer. Rochester granted a pop-up IFR clearance for the descent through the clouds and I pushed the nose forward for a 1,000 foot/minute plunge to minimize exposure to potential icing conditions. It was my first time in instrument meteorological conditions for 2020, but it was brief by design. I did not pick up any ice in the descent, cancelled IFR once in the gloom beneath the layer, and flew the pattern to a landing on runway 10.

The surface wind was squirrely and I experienced a lot of pain in my left wrist as I worked the controls to land the airplane. Once landing was assured, I flared with both hands on the yoke to ease the load on my left wrist. After the flight, my hand and wrist ached deeply, clearly overworked. Fortunately, John G was available to help me push the Warrior back into my hangar.

Painful Lesson

On the way home, I stopped at an urgent care clinic. X-rays showed nothing broken, but I had a severely sprained wrist and my hand sported some additional bruising and inflammation.

The lesson for me is, the next time I injure myself at the airport, I need to pause and assess more carefully than I did in this case. Had I waited twenty minutes and allowed the adrenaline rush to subside, I would have made a more accurate assessment of my condition. Had I done that, I probably would have chosen to stay on the ground. All's well that ends well, but I did not do myself any favors by working my injured wrist as hard as I did while flying.