Monday, January 19, 2009

On a Short Leash

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
19 Jan 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - SDC (Williamson-Sodus, NY) - 5G0 1.6 683.7

In the winter, Rochester is continuously threatened by forecasts of snow made unpredictable by the whimsy of two nearby great lakes.  Today was no different, though the brilliant blue sky belied the 60% chance of snow in the forecast.  I decided that some flying was appropriate as long as I stayed on a short leashIt's no wonder that this is the time of year when aeronautical wanderlust sets in and I just want to go SOMEWHERE.

I departed Le Roy and flew northeast at 3000' through Rochester's Class Charlie airspace and past downtown Rochester itself.  The city presented an opportunity to fiddle with the high optical zoom on my new camera.  This is a close up on the three tallest structures in downtown Rochester: the bell-bottomed Chase tower, the classy Bausch & Lomb building, and the Xerox tower.

Northeast of downtown is Bausch & Lomb's manufacturing and R&D complex known as the Optic Center (or, to locals, "The Bausch").    

I ventured as far east as Sodus Bay and circled Chimney Bluffs once.  Icy pseudopods from the frozen shore stretched jagged little fingers into the waters of Lake Ontario.  Not far from shore, some unpleasant looking clag hung low over the lead gray water, serving as a reminder not to stray too far from home base.  It was at this point that I turned around and started back home.

Another angle on seasonally whitewashed Chimney Bluffs.  Is it just me, or does the large, ridged depression at frame left look as though it were made by the forehead of one of those Next Generation Klingons?

Sodus Bay was partially frozen, the channel blocked by broken ice floes.  As I flew over the shoreline, I reflected on the recent ditching of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River and how cold that water must have been.   Note that I did not say "crash".  "Crash" connotes something out of control (i.e., the drunk driver crashed his car into a telephone pole).  This was a case of a disciplined pilot who maintained control of a crippled aircraft and deliberately put it down in the safest place possible.  Cory Lidle crashed his Cirrus into a building near the East River.  Chelsey Sullenberger, on the other hand, performed a near perfect emergency landing.  It irks me that the media continues to use the word "crash".  It's dishonest.

Back through Rochester's airspace toward Le Roy, the approach controller wryly noted that "Le Roy is kind of popular today."  In addition to me being inbound, he had a Cessna practicing a VOR approach and an unknown VFR target maneuvering to join the pattern.

Somehow, I was able to handle all the excitement.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kinesthetic Memory

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
11 Jan 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - 5G0 1.4 682.1

20°F.  Another cold winter day.  Black ice on the ramp.  Kent and I carefully pulled Warrior 481 out of the hangar while Ray and Dan continued to clear snow from the airport's movement areas.  As we buckled into our seats, the Warrior provided welcome shelter from the biting cold.  Mixture rich...throttle cracked...master switch on...fuel boost pump on.  The sound of the boost pump diminished as fuel pressure rose into the normal operating range.  I primed the engine four times and engaged the starter.  One blade...two blades...three blades...the engine caught and the propeller vanished in a blur of motion.

"Wow, that was easy," Kent remarked.  Indeed.  It's amazing how an old sleeping bag and a light bulb can make for such an effective pre-heating system (at least, until incandescent light bulbs are completely replaced by compact fluorescents that waste far less energy as heat).

The Three Rivers Airport photographer from N9327U while Kent was flying, 10 Dec 2002

Minutes later, airborne, I was reminded of a winter six years ago.  Kent and I both earned our private pilot certificates in the fall of 2002.  That winter, we sometimes rented the Cessna 150 that had been our trainer and shared the flying in airspace surrounding Kalamazoo, MI.  While he flew, I used to take pictures out the milky windows of the well-worn trainer.  For me, those days occurred six years, three cameras, and 600 logbook hours ago.  Whereas I kept flying, Kent did not.  To the best of my knowledge, Kent's last flight as pilot-in-command was between Three Rivers, MI and South Haven, MI  in August of 2004.

Southbound at 3000 feet, I throttled back to 65% power, leaned the engine, and fine-tuned the trim.  "She's all yours," I said.  Kent took the controls and confirmed that he had positive control of the airplane.  For my part, I settled back to watch.  I have let many passengers over the years try their hand at guiding my little blue and white ship through the sky, but I am always amazed by the skill level retained by lapsed pilots.

With Kent at the controls, we flew south to Letchworth and circled Middle Falls.  I split my attention between the sights below, scanning for traffic, and checking the instruments.  As we banked around the falls, the centered inclinometer ball proclaimed well-coordinated flight.  I have seen this with other lapsed pilots that have taken the Warrior's controls.  While the unused "book learning" part of aviation gets fuzzy with the passage of time, kinesthetic memory has amazing persistence.  Practiced hands and feet always seem to remember exactly what to do.  Kent's feet obviously knew what the rudder was for and how to use it.

With the sightseeing complete, I suggested Kent try some steep turns.  We put some distance between ourselves and Letchworth, then Kent crisply rolled the Warrior into a 45° bank.

Here's Kent flying a steep turn to the right, as evidenced by all that ground visible out the window.  Kent made several more  turns with aplomb, as though the intervening years since his last maneuver had never elapsed.  As we wheeled through the sky, first to the left, then to the right, the ball remained centered and my stomach unperturbed.  Seriously, kinesthetic memory is an amazing thing.

With the sun beginning to set, we turned back to Le Roy, content that the mission was accomplished: I received an aeronautical "fix", the Warrior spent over an hour circulating the balm of hot oil through its powerplant, and Kent was able to tap his dormant pilot skills.

It was a good day.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sunrise / Sunset

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total 
  Jan 2009
5G0 (Le Roy, NY), local flight
0.9 679.3
  Jan 2009
N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - BQR (Lancaster, NY) -  5G0 1.4 680.7

Poor weather and a plethora of obligations conspired to make entries in my logbook scarce after November 2008.  During the first weekend of the New Year, I managed back to back sunset and sunrise flights.  Tethered close to home base by time constraints, I nonetheless enjoyed shoving air molecules around in my back yard.  It was also a great opportunity to try out the new camera I received from my wonderful in-laws this Christmas.  A combination of 12X optical zoom and image stabilization will make for photographic opportunities that would have been impossible with my prior equipment.

I flew south to Letchworth State Park.  The crimson sunset and accumulated snow worked together to highlight fine detail in the wall of the northern gorge.

My Warrior's old tech wing with each rivet and screw head highlighted obliquely by the setting sun.  Below, the Genesee River winds through Letchworth State Park.

I returned to Letchworth the next morning.  At the right of frame is the "Archery Overlook", where ground-based visitors to the canyon get an incredible view of the gorge.

The Glen Iris Inn (far right) glowed in the sunrise, but Middle Falls remained in the shadow of the river gorge.  Temperatures were hovering around 10°F that morning when I left the ground and the trees nearest the 107 foot waterfall were visibly frosted with mist rising from the river basin. 

Another angle on the Glen Iris Inn and Middle Falls taken from 2500' AGL at maximum zoom on the camera, which kept me and my airplane well out of the freezing moisture rising from the waterfall.  The image-stabilization obviously helps capture a crisp image, even at high zoom.

This is the gorge wall just downstream from Middle Falls.  We didn't have sheer rock walls like this where I grew up.  Mist in the foreground is rising from the base of the waterfall.

Meet New York state's newest cash crop.  And what a crop it is, too...always in season and continuously harvested.  These windmills are springing up across New York's countryside at an astounding rate.