Saturday, December 19, 2009

Newsprint Vista

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
19 Dec 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - CZG (Endicott, NY) -
FZY (Fulton, NY) - 5G0
1.9 882.7

After three weeks stranded on the ground (transatlantic flights in a flying Greyhound notwithstanding), the landscape is transformed from the soft browns of late fall into winter's austere dress.  The view is painted from the same palette as newsprint and I am reminded of the Calvin and Hobbes bit where Calvin's dad claims that old pictures are black and white because the world actually used to be black and white.  Days like this are almost enough to suggest that Calvin's dad could have been on to something.

The day's journey began with a flight eastbound over the Finger Lakes.  A couple of big hills stand between me and Canandaigua Lake in this photo.

Gunmetal gray Canandaigua Lake seen from 5500'.  Upstate New York has some very cold "fingers" in the winter.

You are here.

I flew from Le Roy to Tri-Cities Airport in Endicott, NY (CZG, airport #100 - a milestone of sorts) to sight-see over the Finger Lakes and explore someplace new.  Tri-Cities Airport was nice, had great fuel prices, but was very quiet.  Arriving at noon, I was the first aircraft to land all day.  Unfortunate.  From there, I decided to journey north to Oswego County (FZY) for lunch at Melony's Landing.  Between Endicott and Fulton, I passed Skaneateles Lake (above), one of the small easternmost Finger Lakes.

Returning home from Oswego County, westbound at 3000' along the Lake Ontario shoreline.  At 75% power, I am indicating 115 knots with a groundspeed of 139 knots.  The dot-matrix vista seen here is a sampling of the myriad orchards located along the lake.

Along the lakeshore, some bona fide color appears: brown!  It is a splash of pigmentation among shades of gray.

 A frozen river splits on its way through marshland  toward frigid Lake Ontario.

East Bay, located appropriately east of Sodus Bay, is entirely frozen over.

Standing water and some huge icicles in a quarry near home base.  The quarry is immediately northwest of the airport and makes for some squirrelly breezes on days that the wind blows from that quarter.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Morning Glory

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
01 Nov 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - OYM (St Mary's, PA) - 5G0 2.3 775.5

A breakfast run with Mom, Kristy, and The Bear to The Silver Wing in St Mary's, Pennsylvania.  The restaurant is open this time, fuel is now self serve, and the frittata amazing.  

While dining, the clouds roll in and the return trip is bumpy under the newly formed ceiling.  We chance upon a hole in the deck of sufficient size and spiral above the downy cumulus.  Climbing above the overcast, Warrior 481 casts a shadow on the cloud surrounded by the ever-elusive glory.  I have tried for years to get a decent picture of this phenomenon, but am rarely close enough to a cloud for it to look like much of anything.

This shot really shows the rings of the glory.  The phenomenon is a result of light backscattered from a cloud and appears as a halo around the shadow of the observer.  Always a treat to see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nature's Rust Belt

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total 
  Oct 2009
5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - Local flight
1.4 767.2
  Oct 2009
N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - 20N (Kingston, NY) - 5G0 4.6 771.8

When I hear the phrase "rust belt" I think of a specific geographic region: the upper Midwest where I grew up.  I recall derelict automotive plants in Pontiac that I used to see as a kid, painted dark brown with lots of little windows that were all broken.  While flying recently, the phrase came to mind again, but in a very different way.

I had a three week hiatus from flying imposed on me by a perfect storm of work, illness, and crummy weather.  As a result, I was unable to fly over Upstate New York while it was still dressed in its autumn finest.  Missed it by that much, as the man used used to say.  While there was still some color to be seen, much of the crimson had faded to rust.

Nature's rust belt does not exist as a place, but as a time reserved for tardy leaf peepers.

This is the corn maze at Cobble Creek Farms in Spencerport, NY.  Mere hours before taking this picture, Kristy and I explored this maze with friends while The Bear rode on my shoulders.  Signposts bearing verbose clues helped direct us through corn and spun a crazy tale about two knights ("ka-nig-its"), their falling out (yup, a chick was involved), and their eventual reconciliation.

After photographing the corn maze, I flew south of Rochester to do an aerial Dance of Joy over finally getting back into the air (i.e., a bunch a steep turns, about as exciting as it gets in a Warrior) .  Along the way, I captured this shot (not while doing a steep turn).

The next day, I spent the afternoon aloft.  I decided that I wanted to fly a short cross country to someplace new and chose the Catskill Mountains.

Along the way, I photographed this clever corn maze in Trumansburg, NY near the southwest end of Cayuga Lake.  For those unfamiliar with the region, the maze depicts all the Finger Lakes and some salient Upstate activities (auto racing, ballooning, winemaking, and sailing).

The Catskills were largely rust colored, with some individual flecks of color still visible.  Above a certain elevation, the peaks were dominated by evergreens.  From a distance, this gave all the peaks a somewhat darker, almost singed look as seen in this photo.

Another photo of the rusty Catskills.

This photo looks west from near Kingston, NY.  I was on the southeast side of the Catskills.  The Ashokan Reservoir is visible in the foreground.  I landed at the Kingston-Ulster airport (20N, airport #98) for a brief rest and fuel.

This is the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge spanning the Hudson River.  The western end of this bridge is extremely close to the approach end of runway 33.  The base and final legs of the pattern for 33 are flown over the river while pointed directly at this bridge.  It's a little unnerving and I could not help but wonder how drivers on the bridge reacted to aircraft in the pattern.  The airport itself was reasonably active; small, but well-equipped; and the FBO staff was friendly.  The selling point for me was the little picnic area on a hill overlooking the ramp, complete with gas grill.  It seemed like a terrific place and the fuel price was significantly cheaper than that available around Rochester.

I departed around 4:00 in the afternoon, flying toward the setting sun.  The photo above shows the sun gleaming off the surface of the Pepacton Reservoir where the Catskills begin to dwindle into mere hills.  The flight home was wonderfully relaxing.  When I arrived at Le Roy, the winds were completely calm and I settled Warrior 481 onto the new runway in what had to have been my best landing of the year.  It was good to be back in the air again.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Unlikely Hues and Airport Improvement

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
25 Sep 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - N66 (Oneonta, NY) - 5G0 3.1 765.8

I love this time of year.

Most of the year, farm country is entirely monochromatic.  Winter white fields melt to reveal chestnut earth waiting to produce life.  In time, signs of life arrive as a rich green carpet across the countryside.  But in fall, before succumbing to a winter blanket once more, the fields display a vast array of improbable colors.

I found myself above the planet on a quiet Friday afternoon after a long, difficult week.  I had never seen the Catskill Mountains and decided that it was time.  As I flew over the Finger Lakes, familiar fields exploded with the unlikeliest of hues.  Purple fields?  To paraphrase Ralph Wiggum, "that's unpossible!"

I fought a rare easterly headwind and simply reveled in the kaleidoscope world below.

In time, the Catskills came into sight (not pictured) and I stopped at Oneonta (N66, airport # 97) for a brief rest.  Oneonta is perched on the top of a wooded hill, a mere slot in the trees wide enough for a single runway and tightly clustered hangar buildings.

Having reached the doorstep of the Catskills, I chose to head home rather than explore further.  I promised Ray that I would take some pictures of the Le Roy airport that evening and wanted to take advantage of the golden light provided by the evening sun.

Le Roy recently completed a runway extension, lengthening from 2640' to 3855'.  With the longer runway now open for use, Ray terminated the ban on touch and go landings at Le Roy.  After nearly four years based at Le Roy, I did my first touch and go there that afternoon.

I arrived at the airport eager to experience the new runway.  Le Roy has always been subject to squirrelly winds.  With the runway 28 approach end moved farther east, I wondered what quirks the new runway microenvironment would offer approaching aircraft.  The cruel joke of the day was the rare wind from the east, forcing me to use runway 10.  As a result, Warrior 481 did not once roll upon new pavement or sample the new approach.

Completion of the runway extension project came less than a week after USA Today published a biased article on general aviation airports entitled, "Little Used Airports Cost Taxpayers Big Money".  I don't normally read USA Today, but I happened to be on a business trip September 17 and the article was waiting for me outside my hotel room door that morning.

The intended take-home message of the article is that taxpayers are being gouged by "little airports" (i.e., those shunned by American Airlines and Delta) that receive grant money from the Airport Improvement Program.  How so?  Because airline ticket taxes are an income source for this fund.  And why should taxpayers be angry?  Because they may not personally use an airport that the fund benefits.

Yes, the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) is funded by tax dollars.  Those tax dollars come from several sources, including fuel taxes paid by every pilot that buys gas.  Airports receiving AIP money are public use facilities that the FAA deems worthy of receiving grants.  Public roads, public parks, and public schools and even unpopular wars all receive tax dollars in much the same way.  In the judgment of the article (a paragon of objective journalism), little airports don't merit public funds because fewer people use them than, say, Chicago O'Hare.  It's a curious kind of logic.  Would we not build a road to a small town?  Would we not allow a suburban school district to exist because it is smaller than the New York city school system?  The fact of the matter is that little airports are training grounds for future airline pilots, they allow companies to transport personnel and equipment close to far flung sites, they provide rural access to advanced medical care, they are fueling depots for crop dusting aircraft, and they are centers of recreation.

Did Le Roy deserve funding to extend the runway?  The FAA thought so.  Le Roy is a designated reliever airport for Greater Rochester International.  This does not mean that your United 737 flight is going to divert to Le Roy if things get hairy at Rochester.  It means that Le Roy provides a place for general aviation traffic to go, thus relieving congestion at the main airport.

The runway at Le Roy was too short for even some light aircraft, meaning that it was less effective as a reliever airport.  Training flights often shunned Le Roy because touch and goes were forbidden owing to the short runway.  Ray proposed to the FAA that lengthening the runway will make Le Roy safer (I witnessed an accident earlier this year in which the relatively short runway was a factor) and a more effective reliever for Rochester.  The FAA agreed and supported the extension work through AIP money.  The project focused on practical safety and security improvements: lengthening the runway, lighting it appropriately for night landings, and fencing it all in.  Contrary to implications by USA Today, many AIP grants are just like Le Roy's: safety and security improvements intended to improve the overall national airspace system.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Simple Pleasures

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
13 Sep 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - DSV (Dansville, NY) - 5G0 1.1 762.7

On the second Sunday of every summer month, EAA Chapter 486 at the Oswego County Airport hosts one heck of a fly-in breakfast.  From the mandatory pancakes to homemade doughnuts prepared on site, it's quite an operation.  For one reason or the other, we were unable to attend any breakfasts this year.  September 13 was the last one of 2009; the herald of season's end.

The glorious blue skies over Rochester belied the IFR (instrument) conditions prevailing over Oswego that morning as Kristy, The Bear, and I made ready to depart from Le Roy for breakfast.  We settled for a quick trip to Dansville for breakfast at the family restaurant within walking distance of the airport.

En route to Dansville, the mountain obscuration forecast for points south appeared as a thick ivory blanket on the horizon between us and The Keystone State.  A thick tendril of fog spilled from the higher terrain, twisting and creeping along the Genesee River valley (above).  We diverted south of Letchworth State Park to view the spectacle before alighting at Dansville for breakfast.  Under glorious blue skies, we flew VFR into Dansville as another aircraft on the radio announced an instrument approach to our original destination at Oswego County.

The striking image of ground fog meandering through the Genesee Valley remained fixed in my mind's eye for the remainder of the day.  Why?  What was so "striking" about it?  I contemplated the comparatively binary perspective of people on the ground, either entrained within the cold mist or living and breathing beyond the next hill, unaware of its existence.  As I flitted through the air a half mile above the terrain, I could simultaneously experience both points of view and see the grand design of it all.

Despite a cool morning, brilliant sunshine warmed the cockpit interior.  The Bear's eyelids fluttered as her delight in flying gave way to the seductive influences of warm sunshine and the smooth vibration of the engine.

Then I understood.  Our early morning flight was not about breakfast or staying proficient or circulating oil for the sake of engine longevity.  It was about the simple pleasures of flying: a unique perspective, the grand beauty of nature, and even the trace smile of a contentedly dozing toddler.  As an avocation under attack from seemingly all quarters, we sometimes forget about the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Live Free or Die (or Something to That Effect)

Date Aircraft Route
of Flight
Time (hrs) Total
04 Sep 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - LCI (Laconia, NH) 3.1 758.5
06 Sep 2009 N21481 LCI - GFL (Glens Falls, NY) 1.0 759.5
06 Sep 2009 N21481 GFL - 5G0 2.1 761.6

Kristy, The Bear, and I took to clear skies on a calm morning to visit our friends Ann and Greg in New Hampshire.  We had planned to go a few weeks ago, but the weather would not allow.  It was our second annual pilgrimage to their home in the White Mountains.

Over Syracuse, we observed these short cloud streets running orthogonal to the main cloud formation.

The air was significantly less humid than our trip last year; even distant mountain peaks in Vermont were visible with reasonable clarity.  This photo was taken at 5500 feet with full (12X) optical zoom on the camera.

This photo was taken looking northeast while on approach to Laconia Municpal Airport (visible as the grayish stripe at frame right).  The body of water in the foreground is Winnisquam Lake.  Beyond is the expansive Lake Winnipesaukee.  The White Mountains can be seen in the background.  Lots and lots of water in this area - it reminds me of the aerial view over Oakland County, Michigan.

This capture from Flight Aware shows our actual radar track on the trip.  Occasional bumps and wiggles along our flight path show where we deviated around minor cloud buildups.  Once east of New York, we communicated primarily with Boston Center and, for the last bit of the flight, Boston Approach.  At one point while talking with Boston Center, the controller asked another pilot, "can you do Mach 0.8 or is that too slow?".  We didn't catch who he was talking to, but it was obviously not us.

After a couple of days with Ann and Greg, it was time to head back to New York.  We took this picture of Lake Winnipesaukee while departing from runway 8 at Laconia.  Love the color.

Lake Winnipesaukee reminds me of the Thousand Islands area of the St Lawrence River.  There are islands scattered everywhere!

More islands in Lake Winnipesaukee seen from a higher altitude; a truly beautiful sight.

This is the Ragged Mountain Ski resort, photographed shortly after we leveled off at 6500 feet for the flight home.  Can you say, "off season"?

As we crossed into Vermont, the terrain became more mountainous.  This ridge stood out because it was bare, as though someone had shaved it of trees with a giant razor.  In the distance is Mount Ascutney.

Another shot of Mount Ascutney.  This mountain is best known as Vermont's only monadnock ("lone mountain" - enhance your word power!).  Though its peak only reaches 3,143 feet, its isolation makes it stand out from a distance.  I think the town in the foreground is Windsor, VT.  Yay for situational awareness!  Ok, so I cheated and used Google after the flight was over.

More Vermont Mountains south of our route and immediately east of the New York border.

We stopped for lunch at Glens Falls, NY.  Glens Falls lies in the green valley pictured here.  This photo was taken looking north from just north of the airport.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Glens Falls is a terrific place to visit.  It is active, well maintained, friendly, and home to "Carol's Airport Cafe".  All of Ann's talk about the best cheeseburgers in New Hampshire predisposed me to craving a cheeseburger.  Carol's makes a great cheesburger with the bun toasted just so.

We called Ann and Greg to tell them we had arrived at our lunch stop in New York and they were stunned.  "We just got back home from dropping you off at the airport!" Ann exclaimed.  I did not point out that New Hampshire and Vermont are tiny little states, but rather, allowed her to be impressed with the tremendous velocity at which we must have hurtled through the air.

The stop at Glens Falls was not all roses.  While sitting in Kristy's lap, The Bear's diaper leaked, which led to a quick change of clothes in the restroom after I rooted through Warrior 481's baggage compartment to find something sufficiently clean for both of them to wear.

As we left, our waitress presented The Bear with a little Styrofoam airplane.  The Bear was delighted with the little airplane (above, photo by Kristy), but managed to tear it in half before dozing off for her afternoon nap at 8,500 feet over the Adironacks.  She awoke during the descent into Le Roy and was quite displeased with the lack of toy airplane.  We bought her an unbreakable one on the way home from the airport as a consolation prize.

Our experiences with air traffic control that afternoon were varied.  From his responses, it seemed we caught the Griffiss controller napping with our initial call-up (surely not true, he was probably distracted with a landline call or some similar task).  From Syracuse, syllables tumbled through the radio so rapidly that I feared that I would not understand my own tail number.  Then, we were handed off to Rochester.  Though he was reasonably busy, the Rochester approach controller cautioned us about the NOTAMs at Le Roy for the nearly complete runway extension project.  I assured him that we were familiar with the NOTAMs, but was nevertheless very impressed that a moderately busy controller would take the time to provide extra information.  It was above and beyond the call of duty.  Thanks, to whoever you are.

Landings at Laconia and Glens Falls were nice, perhaps some of my best in recent memory.  Even though our landing at Le Roy was not quite as nice, our audience (Darrell and Neil) offered a score of "10".  No arguments from me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stupid Pilot Tricks

Bless me, Bubba, for I have sinned.

For the uninitiated, Bubba is the fictitious deity of All Things Aeronautical and it is upon His capricious whimsy we enjoy good flying weather. Bubba was an invention of Dave's meant to cajole us into playing hooky from work to fly lest we incur Bubba's wrath for squandering the gift of a nice day.

On August 24, 2009 I lived my own "Never Again" scenario.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
24 Aug 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - SDC (Williamson, NY) -
OYM (St Mary's, PA) - OLE (Olean, NY) - 5G0
3.2 754.9

The "adventure" actually began a few days previous with The Bear's simple request.  "Me fly in the daddy airplane?"  Kristy and I planned a quick trip around this request, an early dinner at Venango Regional (FKL) in Franklin, PA.  Venango is reputed to have a nice Italian restaurant on the field called Primo Barone's.  About an hour's flight from home base, it seemed like a perfect destination.

The intended day arrived with a dreary flourish of low scud hanging over the treetops.  Nonetheless, I made the 45 minute trek to the airport to work on the airplane.  While there, I planned to meet a mechanic for some  preventative maintenance on my nose strut.

Time passed quickly and my stomach announced arrival of the noon hour with a loud rumble.  After four hours at the airport, the strut was repaired, the wings were washed and waxed, and the ceiling had lifted significantly.  I flew to nearby Dansville for lunch and though conditions were VFR, the ceiling was lower than I prefer for long trips and the ride was bumpy.  I decided that a flight with Kristy and The Bear was not in the cards.

After lunch, I practiced some touch and go landings before spiraling up through a large hole in the cloud deck.

At 7500 feet, I discovered that the low ceiling was a highly localized phenomenon (above).  The cloud cover was breaking up at a rapid pace under the afternoon sun and the air no longer seemed to be full of potholes.

I set course for Le Roy as the ceiling continued to dissipate.  Perhaps there was still opportunity to give The Bear that airplane ride she wanted.

Back on the ground at Le Roy, I did the necessary flight planning and talked with Flight Service.  Conditions were improving all along the route.  Winds aloft were forecast to be relatively light and orthogonal to our heading, so they should not have been much of an issue.

I called Kristy and told her that our trip was a "go".  Rather than drive herself and The Bear all the way to Le Roy, we decided to meet at the Williamson-Sodus airport, closer to our house.

Whenever I preflight the airplane, I always check the fuel level and repeat to myself, "I have X hours of fuel on board".  Leaving Le Roy, I had three hours of fuel available.  Venango Regional would be a 1.5 hour flight from Williamson and fuel was available on the field there for the return trip.  This seemed more than adequate.

The East Branch Reservoir north of St Mary's, PA.

Flying through Rochester's Class Charlie airspace en route to Williamson, I hoped that Kristy remembered to bring The Bear's hearing protection from home.  Without it, I did not want to take her flying.  When I landed and taxied to the ramp, I was relieved to see that Kristy had remembered this important piece of safety equipment.  Holding hands, they walked across the ramp to the airplane and The Bear greeted me with an enthusiastic, "hi Daddy!"  She pointed to her car seat, already belted in place.  "Me sit in my seat?"
In cruise flight, the majority of the cloud ceiling was gone.  We were past Rochester when Kristy realized that she had left "The Backpack" in her car.  "The Backpack" is a critical toddler travel item containing diapers, paper, crayons, and a variety of toys.  Fortunately, The Bear seemed perfectly content to watch the landscape passing beneath our wings and did not require further entertainment.

After forty five minutes, we were still in New York.  The winds aloft were significantly stronger than forecast.  I began to do the math in my head.  If we continued to Venango and ate dinner, we would have a late night.

We decided to divert to St Mary's, home of The Silver Wing restaurant.  St Mary's was due south of us and I turned to the new heading while communicating our change in plans to Cleveland Center.  On our new heading, we gained an additional 20 knots of groundspeed.

From the traffic pattern, it was obvious that we were not to find food at St Mary's.  I could see that the restaurant's parking lot was completely empty.  Nevertheless, we landed to stretch our legs.  At this point, it was 6:45 pm and we were all very hungry.

Checking the fuel levels with a dipstick, as I always do, I was surprised to find only one hour's-worth remaining.  How could that be?  As I pondered this, I realized that there were two contributing factors at play.  One was the unexpectedly strong headwind that held us aloft and en route to Venango for much longer than planned.  This should not be a problem if I had closely monitored our flight time.  I didn't.

Another factor was that I consider the Williamson-Sodus airport where I met Kristy and The Bear to be part of the "local area" to Le Roy.  And, yes, while a cross country flight between Le Roy and Williamson-Sodus does not exactly push the envelope for me, they are nearly 40 nm apart.  I had not properly considered this in my flight planning.

We would need fuel from somewhere to get all the way home to Le Roy.

I made an attempt to use the non-standard self-serve kiosk near the fuel pump.  It did not recognize my credit card and I realized that it probably required a special card issued to airport tenants (or "Kard", per the front panel of the battered device).  The airport was completely deserted.  Thoughts of hunger were gone, replaced by thirst for 100LL.  How would I get my family home safely?

I considered my options within 30 minute's flight.  Bradford Regional was on the way home, but the FBO would be closed and I already knew it was full service only.  Farther north along our route of flight home was Olean, NY.  Per the sectional chart, fuel was available and I decided that looked like our best opportunity.

Once on the ground at Olean, we taxied to the fuel farm where I surveyed the area and let fly with an expletive that, fortunately, The Bear could not hear.  The pump lacked a self-serve terminal and the FBO was closed for the night.  I checked fuel levels again with the dipstick.  The right tank held 30 minutes worth.  The left was too low to measure, so I called it "zero".  

I called Ray, owner of the Le Roy airport, to see if the next nearest airport with fuel (Wellsville, about 10 minutes away) had self-serve fuel.  Ray verified that it did not and that the FBO would be closed.  It was just as well, I was too far into my reserve fuel to comfortably fly anywhere else. It was 7:30 pm and the sun had already retreated behind the large hangar west of the fuel farm.

So I pursued the only option remaining to me.  I dialed the emergency number listed on the Olean airport FBO door and threw myself on the mercy of Bruce, who answered.  After explaining my situation, Bruce told me he would be there in thirty minutes to help with the fuel.

As the sun set, the air cooled significantly.  Kristy and The Bear spent time doodling on scrap paper in the relative warmth of the airplane.  When The Bear grew bored of this, she and I wandered down to an open T-hangar and chatted with the old timer there.  He was preparing to sell his Piper Tripacer.  Both airplane and owner looked tired and the fellow explained that neither of them had flown in the few years since he decided that he was too old to fly.  He told me about finding the airplane years ago in an apple orchard near Rochester and pointed out that the wings were aluminum skinned rather than the factory stock fabric.  "Painted the wings myself, though it's starting to flake off," he added with a touch of melancholy.  It was obvious that the airplane meant a lot to him - why else would he have held on to it for so long after he stopped flying?  "Spent my younger days working when I should have been flying," he lamented.

The Bear snuggled tightly under my chin and nodded when I asked if she was cold.  I thanked the fellow for his company and wished him well.  He echoed the well wishes and told me that he would have gladly given me fuel out of his own tanks if they weren't already dry.

True to his word, Bruce arrived at 8:00 pm as the sun was setting.  With tanks full to the tabs (3+ hours of fuel), we departed runway 4 in still air.  The western horizon glowed crimson in the wake of the departed sun.  It was a tranquil end to my "Never Again" story.  While displeased with myself for being lax, I was happy that my habit of regularly checking the fuel ensured that the story did not end with the engine going silent en route as many "Never Again" stories do.

I don't know what penance Bubba demands for such a sin, but I do know that the lesson was well learned.

Cruising home through the darkening heavens, Kristy suggested that this blog entry be titled, "A Series of Unfortunate Events."  I replied that something along the lines of "Humble Pie" might be more appropriate.

"You're forgetting, there was no dinner OR pie tonight," she reminded me.  Right.

After an unremarkable landing at Le Roy, we wiped bugs from the freshly waxed wings.  Exhausted and hungry, we settled into the car for a long drive; we still needed to retrieve Kristy's car from the Williamson-Sodus airport about 75 minutes away.  Though we left Le Roy around 9:00 pm, we would not arrive home until after 11:00 pm.

Ray stayed late at the airport to ensure that we arrived safely, as I knew he would.  After checking in with him, we drove through the airport gate and The Bear offered this cheery coda to our difficult evening: "Bye bye airplane house!"

Despite it all, The Bear still enjoyed herself and her airplane ride.  In fact, two days later, she asked to fly again.

Bubba be praised!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Flight of the Fudgies

Fudgies (noun, pl): Slang term for summer tourists to Mackinac Island, Michigan. Usage varies from the affectionate to the derogatory.
"A Big Black and White Come and Crushed My Groove Again"

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
05 Jul 2009N214815G0 (LeRoy, NY) - D98 (Romeo, MI) -
3BS (Midland, MI) - MCD (Mackinac Island, MI)

Romeo State Airport was quiet as Warrior 481 rolled to a stop on runway 36. Absent radio chatter or any other movement on the airport surface, Kristy and I taxied to the ramp for parking. I methodically shut down the avionics and brought the engine to a stop. Tidying the cockpit, I caught a flash of movement in my peripheral vision; a police cruiser purposefully heading directly for our parked airplane.

The cruiser stopped in front of Warrior 481 where it would block any forward movement and an imposing, uniformed figure stepped out. I opened the vent window and asked, "Is there a problem, officer?". Having my airplane "pulled over" by the police seemed an auspicious way to start a summer vacation.

Anniversaries Abound

Before describing what happened next, some context is appropriate. 2009 marked the achievement of two milestones: ten years of marriage to Kristy and twenty years since graduating from high school.

When Kristy and I married, I was still a graduate student. This meant that we lacked two critical prerequisites for a proper honeymoon: time and money. To compensate, we decided to take a trip for our tenth anniversary. We discussed going somewhere "exotic"; someplace requiring passports and driving on the wrong side of the road.

Enter The Bear, now two years old. We did not want to take a prolonged vacation away from her. Our grand plan morphed into a short excursion and we decided on Mackinac Island as the destination. The last time I set foot on Mackinac Island was thirty years earlier.

As for the high school reunion, timing was poor and I decided not to go. But I had reconnected with a few friends whom I lost track of over the last 20 years. So the trip morphed again to add visits with old friends along the way.

With The Bear at home under the watchful eye of Granny and Granddaddy, Kristy and I climbed into clear blue skies over Rochester, NY. This was Kristy's first time in the front seat of Warrior 481 in over two years. Her official flying title was "Changer of Squawk Codes and Decipherer of Air Traffic Control." We turned toward southeast Michigan, activated our VFR flight plan for passage over Canada, and contacted Buffalo for flight following. We soared over the always-spectacular Niagara Falls, crossing at 4500' in smooth, clear air.

Rainbow Bridge over the Niagara River

Aside from dodging some building cumulus clouds, flying over Canada was entirely uneventful. The Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mount Clemens, Michigan had difficulty tracking us on radar, but was helpful in giving advisories about the parachute jumping activity near our first stop in Romeo, MI.


In high school, Jeff was one of my closest friends. We remained in contact through college, but gradually drifted apart when he got married and started a family while I left the state for graduate school. As he stood in front of my airplane in his uniform, sergeant's stripes on his shoulder, it was our first time seeing each other in 15 years.

"Is there a problem, officer?" I challenged. He laughed. A van rolled to a stop behind him; his wife, Kathy. We rode back to Jeff's house for lunch and were later joined by our friend Mike and his family.

"How long can you take for lunch?" I asked Jeff. He responded that the other sergeant on duty could manage most calls while he had lunch, though if something like a domestic disturbance occurred, he might have to leave. He managed to finish half of his first piece of pizza before the dispatcher's voice crackled from the radio to announce a domestic disturbance. Jeff finished his pizza, responded on the radio, and excused himself.

"Next time, we'll spend more time together," he promised. "And, we won't wait 15 years."
We visited longer with Mike, Kathy, and Mike's family before Kathy returned us to the airport for the next leg of our journey.

We departed Romeo State Airport in a direct crosswind, climbing above pattern altitude before turning back over the airport on course. A Cherokee was landing on runway 36 and I reached out with my camera's zoom lens to capture him prior to the landing flare.

"Bay City, Saginaw, Midland, Flint"

Our next goal was a fuel stop at Jack Barstow Airport in Midland, MI. We negotiated the airspace south of Saginaw Bay with help from Flint and Saginaw approach controllers. Considering this geography, I could not help but hear the old tagline from FM 102.5, WIOG, run through my head: "Bay City, Saginaw, Midland, Fliiiiinnnttt!". On approach into Barstow, we passed directly over Dow Chemical, a massive monument to chemical enterprise that somewhat resembled the Upjohn plant in Kalamazoo except that it was much, much larger.

Barstow was a nice airport with a beautiful new terminal building. Harkening back to our trip to Fort Myers, the FBO received high marks from Kristy for having hand lotion (among many other niceties) available in the women's restroom. We bought some current charts for the journey ahead, did some additional flight planning, and topped Warrior 481's fuel tanks with relatively inexpensive fuel.

Voices from the Past

Departing Barstow, we attempted to find smooth air by climbing above cumulus clouds floating over the hot landscape. As a result, we found ourselves over 9000' and still monitoring Barstow's 122.8 MHz frequency. As any aviator knows, 122.8 is the aviation world's garbage frequency and is used by many non-towered airports, including every one that I have ever called home (Three Rivers, MI; South Haven, MI; Le Roy, NY).

N2515U at South Haven, MI on July 2, 2005

As we flew nearly two miles above Michigan, we overheard this herald from a past life:

"Allegan traffic, Warrior 2515 Uniform, left downwind, two eight, Allegan." I smiled. I had logged exactly 1.1 hours in Warrior One Five Uniform as a stepping stone in a journey culminating (so far) in this very vacation.

Ron in Cherokee N95192 on September 17, 2003

The next call was even more amusing. "South Haven traffic, Cherokee one niner two, left downwind three two, South Haven." A familiar voice and tail number from my former home base. Though I disdain chatting on frequency, I couldn't resist keying the mic.

"Cherokee 192, Warrior 481, make it a good one!"

Ron was startled. "Chris? That you?"

*click* "Affirmative." *click*

"Where are you?"

"About 9000 feet over Houghton Lake en route to Mackinac," I responded. It was a chance meeting between friends 120 nautical miles (138 ordinary miles) apart.

Home of "Gitchie Manitou"

We never successfully cleared the building cumulus clouds, but as we approached the Straits of Mackinac where Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas are at their closest, the sky cleared. Ahead, we could see our densely wooded destination resting in the waters of Lake Huron like an emerald jewel.

We joined the traffic pattern for runway 26, heeding local noise restrictions to remain beyond the lateral boundary of the island. The automated weather observation system noted that the winds were variable from 280° to 330° and gusting between 12 and 18 knots.

The above photo looks south along the eastern bluffs of Mackinac Island while on long final approach for runway 26. Round Island appears nearby and the mainland of Michigan's lower peninsula is in the distance. A close look at this photo reveals Arch Rock, one of the island's more distinctive geological features.

Considering the gusty conditions, landfall was surprisingly gentle. We taxied amongst the other aircraft parked on the ramp until we found an available tie-down. Expecting rain the next day, we fit Warrior 481 with a cabin cover and cowl plugs.

While crouched beneath the left wing tying the airplane down, I suddenly saw stars and pain exploded in my head. After 5+ years of Warrior ownership, I had finally hit my head on the pitot blade for the first time. I inspected the pitot head carefully and satisfied myself that it was undamaged before investigating my own injury. Touching my head gingerly, I found that I was bleeding and that a significant bump had risen virtually instantaneously.

Still a little dazed from the blow to the head, I made my way to the Mackinac Island Airport terminal, which was closed and locked for the evening. As I contemplated the combination lock on the door, I entered the passcode from South Haven and smiled as the door unlocked. One thing about flying in Michigan: there's a consistency across airports that seems lacking in other states.

For the uninitiated, Mackinac Island (pronounced MAK-in-naw) is free of motor vehicles. When they were first introduced in the early 20th century, "horseless carriages" spooked island horses and residents were quick to legislate a ban on the noisy contraptions. Today, in the 21st century, that ban is still in effect. What started as resistance to progress has evolved into a uniquely quaint island lifestyle. With horses still being a significant mode of transportation, however, visitors need to watch where they step when crossing the street. Fortunately, the large population of bicycles on the island is less messy.

A taxi arrived to take us into town, a surrey (with a fringe on top, no less!) drawn by two horses. Charmed as I was by the notion of stepping from an airplane into a horse drawn taxi, my head was pounding and I was ready for some modern day Motrin by the time we reached our hotel.

Our hotel

To a syncopated clopping resembling the sound of someone banging two halves of a coconut together, the pair of horses pulled our taxi out of the island's interior, past the iconic Grand Hotel, and into town. Our destination was the Main Street Inn and Suites.

Though the point of the trip was not to have a nice room, the room was very nice. Spacious and elegantly decorated, the room exuded warmth and comfort. Our balcony overlooking Main Street afforded a tremendous view of the harbor and town.

Looking west from our hotel room balcony.

The next morning, we rented a tandem bicycle. Although riding the tandem bike was reasonably easy, mounting and getting started was not. Our initial departure was a very wobbly near-disaster, but with sufficient forward momentum, we grew comfortable on the bike. Our goal was to ride the perimeter of the island, a mere eight miles.

Along the way, we made several stops for side excursions. The first started with a climb up the face of the island's eastern bluff. At the top, we were able to see Arch Rock, one of the more distinctive island landmarks.

During the second to last mile, the rain began and we picked up the pace of our cycling. After successfully circumnavigating the island on the tandem bicycle, we returned to the congested Main Street where pedestrians, other cyclists, horses, and the inevitable byproducts of those horses added extra challenges to maneuvering the tandem bike.

Lunch was at Sinclair's Irish Pub, where I devoured a delicious example of fish and chips made from Great Lakes whitefish. The pub was named for Patrick Sinclair, the British Commandant of Fort Michilimackinac located on the south side of the Straits. Sinclair decided that, with the American Revolution in progress, the fort should be relocated to the more defensible Mackinac Island.

After lunch, we climbed up the long, steep rampart leading to the entrance of Fort Mackinac. Sinclair chose an excellent site for the fort, perched atop a bluff overlooking Mackinac Island's harbor. We spent hours exploring the fort, site of the first land battle in the War of 1812 (we lost). The fort was remarkably well preserved / restored and the existing grounds matched ancient photographs of the fort taken during its time of active duty.

Fort Mackinac

Dinner that night was at the Yankee Rebel Tavern, recommended by Emily, a former student of Kristy's working on the island for the summer. As we dined with Emily, the heavens sent a deluge of rainwater to soak the island. I worried briefly about Warrior 481 sitting outside at the airport, but did not act on my concerns. After all, the airport was a two mile walk from town. The airplane had to wait.

The next day, July 7, dawned dark and gloomy, but dry. After breakfast, we set off on foot to explore the island's interior. It was immediately obvious to us that the majority of the island's visitors stay close to town or the island perimeter. We had most of the trails to ourselves.

Sugarloaf Rock viewed from an overlook near Fort Holmes.

We visited Fort Holmes, an earthen fortification set atop the island's highest point that was built to protect the vulnerable back side of Fort Mackinac (see prior comment about Americans losing the first land battle in the War of 1812). From there, we visited Skull Cave, Sugarloaf Rock, the Crack in the Island, the Cave in the Woods, and various other interior destinations. And, of course, we enjoyed our time simply being alone together.

The Crack in the Island. It does not appear to go all the way through, which is probably a good thing.

After so much time alone in the island's interior, it was jarring to return to the densely populated tourist area of town. After a late lunch, we decided that we had done everything we wanted to do on the island. It was time to take wing for St Ignace in the Upper Peninsula for our final night in northern Michigan.

The Cave in the Woods.

The Patron Saint of Volcanic Rock?

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
07 Jul 2009N21481MCD (Mackinac Island, MI) - 83D (St Ignace, MI)0.3733.9

Our taxi ride back to the airport was mostly uphill and the driver gave her team of horses two rest periods. As a result, the trek lasted nearly thirty minutes.

Sectional chart depicting Mackinac Island and St Ignace

I was relieved to find the interior of the Warrior to be dry and the fuel uncontaminated with rainwater. We loaded the airplane, paid our landing/parking fees, and launched into gusty winds with a 2100' scattered layer of clouds above. The flight to St Ignace was a short one, just five miles, and I suspect that the recorded tachometer time of 0.3 hours probably reflects more time spent taxiing than flying.

My family vacationed in the Mackinac area when I was still quite young. First hearing "St Ignace" at that age, almost immediately after learning about volcanoes in school, I misheard the name as "St Igneous". Evidently, the Patron Saint of Volcanic Rock is one of the lesser known saints, like Spinal Tap's Patron Saint of Quality Footwear.

We refueled in St Ignace, then covered and tied down the airplane. It was only five-o-clock in the afternoon, but we were wearied from a day spent hiking around the island. The St Ignace FBO provided us with a courtesy car for the night and we drove it directly to the Best Western Harbour Pointe Lakefront hotel. We ignored the pool and the 9:00 bonfire, opting instead for dinner and a dumb movie on HBO. It was all quite relaxing.

A Partially Unplanned Aerial Tour of Western Michigan

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
08 Jul 2009N2148183D (St Ignace, MI) - LDM (Ludington, MI) - MKG (Muskegon, MI) -
08C (Jenison, MI) - HAI (Three Rivers, MI) - AZO (Kalamazoo, MI)

After breakfast on July 8, we returned to the St Ignace airport and prepared for the flight home. We found the airplane beaded with dew, but ready to go. The flight would not be direct. After some aerial sightseeing along the west coast of Michigan, we planned to stop in Ludington for lunch, and visit a couple of other old friends before returning to New York.

Though the sky over the Straits of Mackinac was crystal clear, Traverse City and Charlevoix were blanketed with low clouds. I received a "VFR not recommended" admonition from the weather briefer based on those inland reports, but we launched anyway. Past experience indicated that the shoreline would be clear of clouds and, happily, it was.

Before proceeding south along the shoreline, we circled the Straits of Mackinac to capture some aerial photographs. I have been fascinated by the Mackinac Bridge since I was a child. The bridge spans the five miles between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. At age six, I participated in the annual Labor Day bridge walk, walking the entire five miles of bridge. The suspension portion is considered the longest suspension bridge between anchorages (the two large concrete blocks at the edges of the above photo) in the western hemisphere. It is an impressive sight.

After the bridge, we flew around Mackinac Island, once again careful to keep our noise footprint offshore. The Grand Hotel on the island's southwest side stood out as a prominent landmark.

Circling the island, the airport came into sight. Situated within the island's interior, it is well-hidden from typical visitors who rarely stray from the island's perimeter.

After circling the Straits, we ventured south along the western shore of Lake Michigan. True to the weather briefer's comments, the inland areas were covered with low clouds, but the lakeshore itself was clear.

Lake Charlevoix

We wound lazily along the shoreline, following every contour. We flew over the distinctive Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, noting the steep incline of the massive dune as it climbed away from Like Michigan. We circled lighthouses at Point Betsie and Frankfort.

Lighthouse at Point Betsie, Michigan.

Eventually, we found our way to Ludington, a favorite flying destination during our past life in Kalamazoo. My landing there was probably the best of the trip. We walked across the street from the airport and had a late breakfast / early lunch at the local Big Boy. My omelet really hit the spot. Kristy, of course, went for the strawberry pancakes. Breakfast was very true to form for us both.

North pier lighthouse at Frankfort, MI.

The north pier lighthouse at Ludington, MI. Nearly four years ago, Kristy and I spent part of an afternoon leaning against this lighthouse and pondering our collective future.


Our next stop was Muskegon, MI - the site of one of my less-than-stellar flight training experiences. Our objective was to meet with my friend Ross. Though I came to regard him as a kindred spirit during my senior year of high school, we completely lost contact for twenty years.

We landed at Muskegon and parked at the Executive Air FBO. Ross met us at the airport and brought us back to his nearby home to meet his wife Lisa and three kids. It was terrific to see Ross again and learn that he was doing well. We talked with a comfort level that belied twenty years apart.

Last Stop...?

After parting company with Ross, we made the brief hop from Muskegon to Jenison Riverview Airport. For this leg of the trip, it took us longer to taxi for takeoff than it did to actually make the flight.

Waiting for us in Jenison was my friend Kristen, whom I have been friends with since junior high school. After many years of hearing about them, I finally got to meet her husband Bryan and their two daughters. They were quite insistent on taking us to dinner and asked if we liked Thai food. Being huge fans of Thai food, Kristy and I were immediately on board with their plan.

The restaurant was named "Bangkok Taste" and, upon entering, we were struck by how similar the decor was to our favorite in Kalamazoo, "Bangkok Flavor". I asked our waitress if this restaurant was affiliated with the one in Kalamazoo.

"That's my aunt's restaurant," the girl responded somewhat shyly. The panang curry with chicken I had for dinner was clearly prepared from a different recipe than used by the aunt's restaurant in Kalamazoo, but it was nonetheless good.

Reflecting back on the visits with my old friends, I was amazed at how comfortably conversation flowed after so many years apart. Though all the visits were brief, the original spark of friendship was alive and well. I was left with a warm feeling in knowing that these people with whom I had been so close years ago were all still out there and doing well in their lives. The three brief visits were more enjoyable than I anticipated a full-out class reunion would have been.

Downtown Grand Rapids, MI

As Kristen drove us back to the Jenison airport, Kristy and I were thinking of The Bear and how much we missed seeing her. We were very ready to be back home. Returning to the airport, however, our plans to get home that evening began to disintegrate.

Returning "Home"

The plan was simple: dinner with Kristen and Bryan, top off the Warrior's fuel tanks with inexpensive fuel from Jenison, then fly directly home across Canada. But time, weather, and circumstance were against us and I was slow to realize it.

First off, we were running much later than planned. When we returned to the airport after dinner, we discovered that it was closed. We also discovered that the fuel pump was not self-serve. Another fuel stop would be necessary. We decided to launch from Jenison, fly to Owosso (just outside of Flint), refuel, file the flight plan, and fly home. Before launching, I let myself into the terminal (same code as Mackinac Island and South Haven) and checked the weather. Though weather radar showed spotty rainfall in western New York, Buffalo and Rochester were reporting VFR conditions with scattered layers at multiple altitudes.

We launched from Jenison and contacted Grand Rapids approach for flight following to Owosso. As we climbed, I began to run scenarios through my head. Sunset would probably occur while we were still over Ontario. Twilight would linger long enough for comfortable completion of the trip. Except...

...I suddenly remembered that I was not night current...

...and that VFR operations at night require a special rating in Canada.

To the east, I could see scattered cloud layers that would become invisible after dark; a potential hazard for the entire flight home.

Hmmm. Links in the proverbial accident chain? 

I decided that, at a minimum, flying over Canada that evening was a bad idea.

I looked at Kristy and shook my head. We both wanted to see The Bear, but the simple reality was that our window of opportunity was closing. We agreed that staying the night in Kalamazoo was the best thing to do.

A few minutes later, we were on final approach to runway 35 at Kalamazoo (above, photo by Kristy), another homecoming of sorts. We landed gently and turned onto Bravo 3, the taxiway leading to the Air Zoo.

We parked on the Duncan Aviation ramp at 8:30 that evening. Because we were only staying for the night, the line guys were content to park us directly in front of the lobby doors rather than banishing us to the tie-down area. The smiling young woman sitting behind the counter has been there every time we've walked into the lobby over the last four years. She grinned and said, "I recognize you." We suspect she remembers us because The Bear was with us the last three times we visited. There are probably not a lot of infants traipsing through the Duncan Aviation lobby.

The Obscene Radio Call

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
09 Jul 2009N21481AZO (Kalamazoo, MI) ) - 5g0 (Le Roy, NY)3.7741.7

We awoke the next morning refreshed, with clear sunny skies over our entire route home. We departed Kalamazoo, climbed to 5500 feet, and pointed the nose almost due east to Le Roy.

Flying in our former home territory, we observed I-69 to slide under the nose. "Kalamazoo will probably hand us off to Lansing soon," I noted to Kristy. Kristy chuckled when we received our hand-off a few seconds later. The trick to being comfortable with air traffic control often lies in knowing what to expect.

Lansing passed us to Detroit approach and I received my first ever clearance into Class Bravo airspace. At this point, I realized that we had talked with every radar-equipped airport in the Lower Peninsula on this trip: Selfridge, Flint, Saginaw, Muskegon, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Detroit.

The outlet of the St Clair River into Lake St Clair.

Finally, we were in communication with Selfridge approach for the border crossing. Right after making initial contact, another transmitter broke the squelch on frequency, but nobody said anything. The silence persisted for an extended period of time.

"Sounds like someone's got a stuck mic," I said to Kristy. She nodded, understanding that this could render us deaf to any directives from air traffic control.

"And it sounds like they have asthma," she noted. Indeed, the only sound being transmitted was audible breathing that gradually became louder and more urgent sounding as the minutes passed.

As the breathing built to a crescendo of sorts, I turned to Kristy, " someone joining the Mile High Club?" She laughed and commented that the same thought had occurred to her. By now, several minutes had passed and we were in Canadian airspace. Finally, after the breathing became progressively louder and faster, the frequency was released and we were able to transmit again.


"Selfridge approach, how do you read Warrior 481?"

"Loud and clear," came the response, "why?"

"The frequency has been tied up for the last several minutes with some heavy breathing and I wanted to make sure we didn't miss a call from you."

Though I expected my comment to confuse the controller, instead, his voice immediately hardened. "Are you hearing that on 119.6?"

Had this happened before?


"Ok," the response dripped with ire. "Warrior 481, thanks for reporting that. Contact Cleveland Center on 132.25 and have a good day."

The remainder of the flight was uneventful - no more heavy breathing, no traffic to speak of, and not much to look at on the ground in Ontario. Back in United States airspace, we crossed directly over downtown Buffalo and descended toward Le Roy. True to form, after making several decent landings at unfamiliar airports, I plunked the Warrior down gracelessly at home. 


In the end, we had a wonderful trip that served as a rejuvenating escape from the responsibilities of the real world. Time alone together is precious and we both marveled at how well the airplane made such a trip possible. With that recognition, we both realized how much we missed The Bear. We quickly packed the car and hurried home for a reunion with our two year old daughter.