Friday, August 31, 2007

The Flying Bear

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total 
Aug 2007
5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - D95 (Lapeer, MI) - AZO (Kalamazoo, MI)
3.8 556.9
  Sep 2007
N21481 AZO - HAI (Three Rivers, MI) -
LWA (South Haven, MI) - 6G0 (Davison, MI) - 5G0
4.6 561.5

My infant daughter's brilliant blue eyes fixed on the sky outside the Piper's window, twinkling from between the slightly oversized hearing protectors bracketing her head like a padded c-clamp.  I wondered what she found so compelling outside that window and what sense, if any, the view made to her.

The journey itself was nothing new, if not quite routine; traversing the sliver of foreign airspace interposed between Buffalo and Detroit.  We had made this trip before.  But this was the first time with our two month old daughter aboard, gazing out the window or snoozing in her car seat as though flying a mile above the countryside was the most ordinary thing in the world for an infant to do.

The Right Stuff
Our daughter, affectionately known as The Bear (as in, "don't poke the..."),  took her first trip aloft at the tender age of five weeks.  It was a simple test to see if the sound and fury of our single engine Piper Warrior would induce a fit of screaming.  We belted her car seat to the rear seat of the Warrior and, with Kristy sitting alongside, made a trip around the pattern.  The momentous occasion lasted a handful of minutes and ended with our daughter falling asleep on short final.  The result, however anticlimactic, was exactly what we had hoped for. 

Shhh...don't poke the sleeping bear...

Next came the altitude test.  How would she -- and perhaps more importantly, her ears --  handle ascents and descents?  Once again, with Kristy and baby sitting together in the back, we slipped the surly bonds and climbed to 5500'.  Lulled by the white noise and vibration of powered flight, our daughter fell asleep before ever climbing out of ground effect.  This was a good thing as it meant she did not object when Kristy adorned her with the hearing protectors that scrunched her face up a bit but nevertheless covered her ears.  Up to 5500' and back down at no more than 500 feet per minute.  For the descent, we woke our daughter so that she could indulge in a bottle as a way to balance the pressure in her ears.

Back on the ground, we were the proud parents of a grinning baby aviatrix and knew that she most certainly had "the right stuff".

Friday: "Shuffle Off to Buffalo"

We had meant to visit our adoptive home of Kalamazoo, MI before our daughter was born but never made it.  With summer drawing to a close, we decided to make the trip with baby in tow.  As we planned the trip, we included a stop in Lapeer, MI to visit with relatives.  The flight from Le Roy, NY to Lapeer, MI would require about two hours, providing us with a nice break en route before finishing the final hour to Kalamazoo. 

The ground track flown by The Bear on her first cross country flight.

Canadian overflights are relatively straightforward, provided that some minimal criteria are met.  In short, border crossings must be made while on an active flight plan, squawking a discrete transponder code, and engaged in two way communication with air traffic control.  Should we be unable to meet these criteria, our backup plan was to divert south of Lake Erie and effectively fly the long way around.  

Unfortunately, I viewed this backup plan as a necessity as I had concerns about our ability to meet these simple criteria.

Since the aggressive consolidation of flight service stations in early 2007 by Lockheed Martin, the aviation media was rife with complaints about the new system.  The litany of issues focused on long telephone hold times, briefings given by flight service personnel with no local knowledge of the planned route, and most worrisome, flight plans lost in the system.

On August 31, at 1700 universal time, the three of us were still climbing away from the Le Roy airport when I called Buffalo Radio to open our flight plan.  "Buffalo Radio" was actually a misnomer - the Buffalo Flight Service Station had been closed months before.  The sectional still read "Buffalo", but the call was actually relayed to some other geographic location.  Regardless, Flight Service answered the call and activated our flight plan to Lapeer.  No lost flight plan meant no circuitous trip around Lake Erie.

And I relaxed for a moment.  Then I tuned into Buffalo Approach on 126.15.

Stand By

It is not unusual to change frequencies and arrive in the middle of a transmission between air traffic control and one of the many distant specks buzzing around an airport like Buffalo.  We were 12 miles east of Buffalo at 6500 feet and needed two way communication with ATC and a transponder code before reaching the border.  I waited for dead air time.  And waited.  The controller was barking out a continuous stream of commands to multiple aircraft in such a fluid manner that I wondered how he had time to think and plan before issuing each directive.  It was amazing to hear, but frustrating to be excluded from participation by simple frequency congestion.

Several minutes later found us due north of Buffalo with the border looming closer.  I was still unable to get a word in edgewise.  I had never heard an approach frequency so congested before.  When a lull finally came, I stabbed the push-to-talk button like an overzealous game show contestant and blurted, "Buffalo Approach, Warrior 21481".   Upon releasing the push-to-talk, the controller's voice returned to my headset immediately and I worried that I had stepped on his transmission.  The next minute sounded something like this:

"Cessna ABC contact tower 120.5; Northwest 123 turn left heading 180, vector for traffic; Experimental XYZ, proceed inbound, expect runway 23; Cessna DEF, request denied, remain clear Buffalo class Charlie; Cherokee GHI begin your procedure turn; Warrior 21481, stand by, remain clear Buffalo class Charlie; Experimental TUV, how will this approach terminate?"

I finally had my foot in the door (better than in my mouth, which is more often the case).  The flow of commands issuing from that darkened radar room somewhere below continued unabated.  The border was a mere 10 miles, or five minutes, away.  I began to coax the Warrior's nose northward to buy some extra time for the controller to get back to us. 

Five miles from the border we heard, "Warrior 21481, go ahead."  I gave my spiel and was rewarded with a beacon code of 0430 which I hastily dialed into the transponder a couple of minutes before soaring over Niagara Falls and through the intangible boundary demarking United States and Canadian airspaces. 

Niagara Falls

In the back seat, my daughter slept soundly, lulled by warmth of the afternoon sun and the gentle vibrations of the Lycoming O-320 on the nose.  There was absolutely no need for her to worry about such ridiculous adult things as border crossings and transponder codes.  For their part, the adults relaxed a bit too and settled into a comfortable cruise through sunny Canadian skies.

Saint Clair

From 6500 feet over the Niagara River, the skyline of Toronto was clearly visible.  While we were too high to discern building shapes, the large white dot appearing on the shoreline of Lake Ontario was undeniably the Skydome. 

The transponder code assigned by the harried Buffalo controller had a short shelf life, lasting just long enough to get us across the border.  Not quite to the Welland Canal (connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario), we were told, "Warrior 481, you are leaving my airspace.  Squawk VFR and contact Toronto Approach on 133.4 for continued advisories."  We did and, once established on a new beacon code, resumed sightseeing.

Looking west across the St Clair River

The trip across Ontario was unremarkable except that our daughter received her first meal at 8500 feet, an altitude that took us high enough to clear clouds and choppy air that materialized just west of Hamilton, ON.  And then the St Clair River came into view.  As the Sarnia airport slipped under the Warrior's nose, Toronto Center remained oddly quiet.

"Warrior 481 is five miles east of Sarnia, should we contact Selfridge for the border crossing?"  Toronto Center amicably agreed that we should do exactly that and so our daughter's first visit to Michigan occurred under the watchful electronic eye of the United States Air National Guard.
In order to avoid an excessive descent rate, we began to let down for Lapeer just west of Port Huron, MI.  As we passed through a scattered cloud layer at 6000 feet, we terminated radar advisories from Selfridge and tuned to Lapeer's Unicom frequency.

The Blue Water Bridge facilitates travel between the US and Canada at
this point, in spite of efforts of customs agents from both nations.

"We Are Family"

I visited Lapeer twice in the past.  Both times, I experienced an unexpected downdraft at the approach end of runway 36 that terminated in an embarrassing plunk of a landing.  Of course, both times this occurred with passengers aboard.  This time, with the left wing down to compensate for a light crosswind, the Warrior's wheels squeaked onto the pavement.  Something about having my daughter on board seemed to make a difference - I have yet to make a crummy landing with her tucked away in the back seat.

With The Bear fed and changed, she was ready to meet some of her family for the first time.  Grandma Linda was the first arrival to the airport and joyfully renewed acquaintance with her granddaughter.  Uncle Ron and Aunt Barb arrived shortly thereafter with Uncle Brian and Aunt Karen following on their new motorcycle.  Uncle Brian recently decided to become a "biker", so when the two of them roared up to the airport, they were garbed in appropriate leather attire.

"She packed my bags, nine a.m., preflight, and I'm gonna be high as a kite..."

The Aunts and Uncles smiled at the two month old aviatrix, who held up her end of the bargain by smiling right back.  I inspected Uncle Brian's new bike and he inspected my Piper.  A spirited discussion ensued regarding the best place to change a baby's diaper at the airport, with a picnic table just outside the terminal door winning.  Meanwhile, students, instructors, and other aviators passed through the terminal building, favoring us with amiable, but confused expressions that clearly said "where did all these strange people come from and what are they doing at our quiet little airport?"

Ford Fusion: The Vomit Comet

With evening approaching, we were airborne again at 4500 feet, passing through Flint's airspace on the way to Kalamazoo.  Despite the evening sun shining into our faces, the flight was a comfortable and familiar one.

Flint handed us off to Lansing.  In turn, Lansing handed us off to Kalamazoo.  Before calling Kalamazoo, I tuned to the Kalamazoo ATIS to catch the current conditions and it was here that I discovered that Flight Service had failed me.  I had not received any NOTAMS for Kalamazoo, yet the ATIS contained a litany of runway and taxiway closures that were broadcast with such rapid fire enthusiasm that, even after listening to the broadcast four times, I could not get past "runway 9-27 closed, taxiway bravo closed south of runway 9-27..."  I looked back at Kristy, who gave me a "I didn't get any of that either" shrug.  I called Kalamazoo approach and hoped the tower would not be too busy to provide progressive taxi instructions when the time came.

From just north of Battle Creek, the Kalamazoo airport is not always easy to spot and the trick is to interpolate its position between Austin Lake to the south and downtown Kalamazoo to the north. With these landmarks in sight, I was able to point the nose in the correct direction when instructed to enter the pattern on a right base for runway 35.

In the pattern, I spared a moment to peek at my former office while turning final, but was too busy to bask in nostalgia of any kind.  There would be time for that on the ground.  Kristy was busy with her own landing checklist as she returned The Bear to the five point harness of her car seat.

It was another greaser landing on runway 35 at Kalamazoo.  The place was uncharacteristically dead and the tower controller cheerfully helped us navigate the morass of closed runways and taxiways. 

Warrior N21481 tied down at Duncan Aviation with the Kalamazoo tower in the background.

Inside Duncan's lobby, we waited a little while for the rental car.  Our daughter spent her time grinning at everyone who looked at her and I was both proud and relieved at how well she was traveling. 

This feeling was to be short-lived.

The rental car was a relatively new Ford Fusion that smelled of cigarette smoke.  The moment we placed our grinning infant daughter into this car, she began to shriek.  The screaming continued as we drove north on Portage Road, through a section of Kalamazoo once described to me on a 1999 interview trip as "a little seedy", and into the parking garage at the Radisson hotel.  Once out of the car, the screaming stopped.  Either my little girl had some fundamental issue with Ford or she found the cigarette smell as unpleasant as we did.  Either way, she did not hesitate to loudly share her opinion.  Frankly, we were happy that she did not have the same opinion of the airplane.

The plan for the night was to meet our buddy Cap'n Dave at Chinn Chinn, a reincarnation of a Chinese restaurant that had been a lunchtime favorite during my time in Kalamazoo.  Back in the Fusion, the screaming began anew.  Driving in the dark along the Red Arrow highway, a curious spluttering sound announced the coming of projectile vomit.  Our daughter was soaked, her Graco car seat was soaked, and she had even managed to hit the seat of the Fusion.

To put it mildly, it was a rough night.  Dinner was fantastic and we enjoyed Cap'n Dave's company.  But our daughter was fussy for the remainder of the evening and we had quite a mess to clean up when we returned to the hotel.  Despite the vomit, she showed no other indication of illness and the symptoms did not recur.  Because we were on the ground for nearly 45 minutes before The Bear showed her displeasure in the rental car, we do not believe that her distress was related to the flight, but we'll probably never know for certain. 

Saturday: Giant Asparagus and a Pink P-40

The next day was spent visiting with old friends.  The Bear got to meet a plethora of chemists, actors, aviation enthusiasts, and teachers.

During the last 3.5 years we lived in Kalamazoo, I had been a fixture at the Air Zoo on Saturday mornings, giving tours of the museum's excellent collection of aircraft.  So it was fitting that we returned to the Air Zoo that Saturday morning for a visit.  We started by searching the patio in front of the Air Zoo for the brick that my fellow Saturday morning volunteers and I had purchased as part of a fundraiser. 

My brick

Inside, The Bear and I crashed Dar's tour, already in progress when we arrived.  Dar is a consummate storyteller and I could not help but grin foolishly when he finally noticed us and was thrown completely off his game in surprise.  Before leaving, we took a mandatory portrait in front of the museum's most well-known totem, Sue Parrish's pink P-40 Warhawk.  It was the airplane that always caught the attention of little girls on my tours at the Air Zoo.

At one point, we drove past my former office.  Across the street, the former world headquarters of the Upjohn Company lay in ruin, the foundation overflowing with the superstructure it once supported.  I had not worked in that building often, but was nonetheless saddened by the tangible end of an era that its demolition symbolized.

We had Mexican for lunch with Larry, Kent, and Simpson.  Later that day, The Bear had a catastrophic diaper failure at Pete and Marcy's house (if related to the Mexican food, it was only indirectly so).  And we got a glimpse of the future by visiting Matt and Andrea with their two young children. 

Kristy, The Bear, and a doppelganger of Sue Parrish

For dinner that night, we met Chris (a college roommate) at the new and improved Food Dance restaurant.  It was our first visit to the new location a couple blocks east of the previous site.  I had first eaten at Food Dance in the winter of 1999 on my interview trip to Kalamazoo and it had been one of my favorites ever since.  Though much larger than the original cafe, the new restaurant maintained the fanciful decor (yes, including the giant asparagus) and excellent menu that we had come to expect.  The Bear's dinner of milk also met her expectations, though it was not provided by the restaurant.

Sunday: A Quick Aerial Tour of Southwest Michigan

Cap'n Dave met us for breakfast Sunday morning.  By midmorning, we had checked out of the Radisson, returned our stinky Fusion, and loaded the airplane for the flight home.  With The Bear strapped in and all baggage stowed, I started the engine and contacted Kalamazoo clearance delivery.  Our plan was to visit the Three Rivers airport where I did my flight training, check out this year's corn maze at Carpenter's Dairy Farm, and drop into our old home base of South Haven.  From there, we planned to set off for home.

I was surprised when Kalamazoo clearance instructed me to squawk 1200 and remain on tower frequency for the flight to Three Rivers.  It was my first time ever flying in Kalamazoo airspace on anything other than a discrete beacon code.  As we taxied slowly to runway 17, our daughter made the cranky sound she always makes in the car at stoplights; the one that means "hey, let's get moving".  True to form, she was placated once we reached flying speed and pitched skyward.  Climbing away from the airport, we could see the full extent of the demolition activity on the old Upjohn world headquarters.  The sight was even more depressing from the air. 

Since we moved away from southwest Michigan, the city of Three Rivers had switched from pricey full service fueling to self-service.  The concomitant drop in fuel cost made Three Rivers quite competitive with other airports in the area for the first time since I had started flying.  As I stood on the Three Rivers ramp fueling the Warrior, it was difficult to shake the sense that I was breaking the rules, like pumping my own gas in New Jersey.  

We wandered into the terminal building and found that some renovations and improvements had been made.  Overall, it felt like a much more open and friendly place than it had before.  After talking with Robin and Mark from Destination Flight, it was obvious that that was the intent.  Though we had not met before, both of them recognized us from this website, a result of them having Googled their own airport and finding my accounts of training there.  Not exactly fifteen minutes of fame for me, but perhaps fifteen seconds.
We departed Three Rivers bound for Carpenter's Dairy Farm in Bangor, MI.  To our utter disappointment, there was no corn maze this year.  But with the South Haven Airport about five miles away, we landed there for a visit.  None of the old gang was present, though there was an airport bum lounging in the terminal with whom I had some vague acquaintance.  He shared some of the latest airport gossip involving some of my friends, but then pursued an awkward line of questioning with Kristy on the specifics of The Bear's feeding.  Deciding that we had spent enough time at South Haven, we checked weather and NOTAMs and hastened back to the Warrior for the journey east.

College Connections

We landed at the Athelone Williams Memorial Airport in Davison, MI, just on the eastern edge of Flint's Charlie airspace.  On my my first visit there, I wrote the Simpsonesque comment "saddest little airport ever" in my logbook.  It was little more than a narrow asphalt runway surrounded by trees on all sides save for a tie down area.  There was no structure of any kind on the field, only an electrical box to power the runway lights.  But it was very close to the home of Jason, my college roommate and close friend to both of us during our undergraduate years.  He was available and came right over to the field.  While we waited, I contacted Flight Service and filed a flight plan for the ride back home across Ontario.

At this point, The Bear must have decided that she had traveled enough.  She was very fussy while we ate dinner in town and I think Jason was somewhat amused to see how busy our little aviatrix managed to keep us.  But we had a great conversation with him and enjoyed a solid meal for the trip home.

What Next?

Climbing away from Davison, three distractions arose almost simultaneously.  I was completely unable to raise Flight Service on the Flint RCO (remote communications outlet), despite being a mere ten miles from the Flint VOR.  After behaving normally on run-up and during take off, the Warrior's tachometer abruptly stopped working and pegged to zero.  And The Bear became very fussy.

Our daughter was easy - she was hungry and not happy about being strapped into the car seat for the departure from Davison.  Once we had a few thousand feet under the wings, Kristy was able to take care of her needs. 

Wide-eyed and ready for the journey home.

Managing the tachometer situation was less trivial. A required instrument for VFR flight (the "T" in the delightful mnemonic GOOSE A CAT describing the pantheon of required VFR equipment), it was supposed to be like the old American Express slogan: "don't leave home without it." But we weren't at home. The failure occurred in the air over Michigan after departure from a facility so austere that it did not even boast a toilet on site, let alone a maintenance shop.

There was no point in returning to Davison and I had no idea where else to go. Upon reaching 5500', I pulled the throttle back to the usual position where I get 75% power at that altitude, crosschecked it with airspeed, leaned by ear, and set course for home. It was not the most conservative decision that I could have made, but a dead tachometer was not realistically going to put the outcome of the flight at risk. I learned later that the failure was due to a worn fitting on the engine end of the tachometer cable; a simple repair.

Through it all, I continued to broadcast, "Lansing Radio, Warrior 21481 on 122.3".  As we flew eastbound, there was nothing but silence.  Unfolding the sectional chart, I looked for the next closest RCO.  We were flying through a portion of Michigan lacking a large number of navaids.  The Peck VOR up in the thumb region and the Pontiac VOR well to the south were the next closest.  I tried Peck first.

"Lansing Radio, Warrior 21481 on 122.1, listening 114.0".  Silence.  This was distressing.  We had not planned for the longer trip south of Lake Erie and could not fly across Canada without activation of our VFR flight plan.

"Maybe it's the radio?" suggested Kristy.  A good idea.  However, before I could switch radios, we heard:

"Warrior 21481, Lansing Radio.  Sorry, we're having problems with our receiver.  Say request."  Evidently, it was their radio with the problem, not ours.  That was great, but my first priority was opening the flight plan so we could get home.

"Warrior 21481 calling to open flight plan to Le Roy at 2200 Zulu."

"Warrior 481, say again."  I repeated the request.

"Warrior 481, do you want us to open your flight plan?"

"Affirmative."  Was that some annoyance creeping into my tone?

"Ok.  Wh..." And that was the last we heard from Flight Service that night.

At this point, we were 10 miles from the Canadian border and I tuned to Selfridge Approach and made an initial call.

"Selfridge Approach, Warrior 21481."

"Warrior 481, go ahead."

"Warrior 481, ten miles west of Port Huron, 5500 feet, VFR to Le Roy New York, five golf zero."

"Warrior 481, the radar at Selfridge is out of service.  In another 20 miles, you should be able to reach Toronto Center on 135.3."  I was stunned.  Flight Service had been more than happy to tell me about lighting outages on towers that would pass thousands of feet below the Warrior's belly along our route of flight.  Why did they fail to mention more pertinent information like a radar outage along the way?

"Thanks, Warrior 481 will try to raise Toronto Center for the border crossing." 

And that, mercifully, worked.  With the flight plan active, two way communication with Toronto Center established, and a Center-assigned squawk code dialed in, we were ready to cross the border.  

The Bear, now well fed, was back in her five point harness and grinning at Kristy as we crossed the St Clair River.  To our surprise, she stayed awake for the entire ride back to Le Roy, the most wakeful we had ever seen her in a moving vehicle of any kind.

Our journey across Canada was boring, with the most excitement coming from the tongue lashing an IFR pilot received from Toronto Center for not repeating back his clearance.  With Niagara Falls visible in the distance, Toronto Center handed us off to Buffalo Approach.  As the sun began to set, we were transferred to Rochester approach and eventually cut loose from ATC altogether for the approach into Le Roy.

The Bear holding hands with Mom somewhere over Ontario.


Overall, traveling with an infant proved to be challenging.  Perhaps the most valuable lesson we learned was in regard to backup clothing.  Our approach was simple.  We determined how much backup clothing The Bear goes through at home.  Then we doubled it.  We should have doubled it again.  Obviously, the number of catastrophic messes an infant can make increases as a function of distance from home.  Lesson learned.

Perhaps most amazing is the impact that a snoozing twelve pound human being can have on a pilot's perspective and performance.  Descent planning becomes more critical than ever and trivial problems are amplified in importance.

Our daughter logged a total of 8.2 hours that weekend, flying 773 nautical miles as high as 8500 feet.  For her, aviating was the easiest part of the trip.  Throw in a lot of strange people and places and life became a little more overwhelming, though none of us would have guessed that a rental Ford would put her over the edge.  But overall, she did not do too badly for a two month old.  Not bad at all.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back to the 'Dacks

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 Aug 2007 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - LKP (Lake Placid, NY) - K09 (Piseco, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - 5G0 5.1 552.7

I was craving another visit to the Adirondacks and finally found a cool day with high pressure dominating northeast New York.  The high pressure meant minimal wind in the Adirondacks, perfect conditions for a mountain flying newbie to go exploring.  Departing Le Roy at 9:30 am, I found myself in smooth air, though conditions were far from photogenic with a high overcast seeming to sap the landscape of all color.

My destination was the Lake Placid airport.  I had meant to land there in January 2007, but the 20+ knot direct crosswind conditions that day prompted a diversion to Adirondack Regional in Saranac Lake.

Part way to Lake Placid, my Warrior and I emerged from under the overcast.  As I flew eastbound toward the mountains, my groundspeed converged with my true airspeed; the forecast for calm conditions actually came to pass.

On approach into the Lake Placid area, Whiteface is unmistakably the dominant peak.

This large example of contour farming is just south of the Lake Placid airport.  I first noticed it in satellite photos while flight planning and had assumed to it be a landfill. 

These ski jump towers remain from the 1980 Winter Olympics.  At 90 and 120 meters tall, they are hard to miss because they are (1) huge and (2) very close to the airport traffic pattern.  As I looked at these things from the air, the phrase "no way in Hell" came to mind.  And some people think that flying is crazy...

On the ground at Lake Placid, the FBO folks notified Lake Placid's free trolley service that there was a passenger at the airport.  For lunch, they recommended "The Cottage" north of town.  So I boarded the trolley and was whisked through town to my destination.  I ate a terrific lunch outside, sitting on a patio overlooking the aptly named Mirror Lake.  Afterward, I wandered around town playing tourist.  Overall, it was a very relaxing afternoon spent exploring.

Lake Placid, as seen upon departure from the airport.

At 5000' above Lake Placid, the Warrior finally out-climbed the immediate terrain. 

Turning south, the overcast settled about 2000' above the highest peaks.  Though ominous looking, there was no precipitation and the air remained glassy smooth.

This photo was taken on the ground at Piseco Airport.  I noticed this butterfly fluttering about during my preflight.  It's not so much the profile view of this insect that caught my attention in this picture, but the classic butterfly outline reflected in the paint of my right wing.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
05 Aug 2007 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - 5G0 3.3 542.3

Returning from lunch at Cherry Ridge in northeast Pennsylvania, we encountered this sight on the ground:

In the early days of aviation, the names of cities and towns would often appear painted on the roofs of large buildings or cut into nearby fields to aid pilots in their navigational awareness.  Clearly, someone down there thought we should revive the practice, though it's a shame they did not make an effort to be more specific.