Saturday, January 23, 2010

Carpe Diem

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 Jan 2010 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - local flight 1.5 788.2

After 45 minutes of driving under a clear azure sky, I arrived at the airport Saturday morning to discover that the only cloud in all of Upstate New York floated about 500 feet directly over the field.  I wondered if this errant scud would ruin my morning plans to share the crisp winter sky with friends.

My friendship with Ed began roughly eleven years ago.  His first time flying with me was on a hazy August day in 2005.  As a birthday surprise, Ed had arranged for his father to fly with Dave in the Stearman.  We flew in formation with the vintage biplane while Ed snapped pictures of his father grinning back at us from the open cockpit.  After the photo shoot, I encouraged Ed to take the controls of Warrior 481 and experience flying a light aircraft firsthand.  With Ed at the controls, we smashed some bugs for a few minutes before returning to Earth.

Today, Ed had arranged for his thirteen year old son, Nick, to take his first light aircraft ride.  When they arrived, the offending overcast still hovered over the airport.  We passed the time talking about things aeronautical, ending with Nick in the front seat of Warrior 481 learning more about airplane controls and instruments than he had probably expected.  Nick remained blasé through most of this.  If I wanted to get an enthusiastic reaction from him, he was going to make me work for it.

A peek out the hangar door revealed a brilliant blue sky overhead as Mother Nature rewarded our patience with a departure clearance.  Just before I pulled the airplane out of the hangar, Nick asked the key question: "Will I get to fly it?"

"That's up to your Dad," I told him.

Ed gave his son an enthusiastic nod.  Behind Nick's stoic facade, there was a flash of barely contained enthusiasm.  As I reached for the tow bar, grinning, Ed looked me in the eye and said, "I don't know if I told you this story before.  When I was Nick's age, my father had a friend with a small airplane who took me for a ride.  He offered to let me fly, but I didn't do it.  I regretted that for years until I flew with you."

I was moved.  I never realized that our flight in 2005 had been such a meaningful second chance for him.  Even more affecting was Ed's keen desire for Nick to experience something that he himself had let slip by as a boy.

Photo by Ed

With Nick in the right seat and Ed in back (once again, as photographer), we departed Le Roy, contacted Rochester Approach, and promptly entered the imaginary cylinder of controlled airspace floating over Greater Rochester International.  Ed and Nick looked for familiar landmarks as we flew east.  Chatter on the Rochester approach frequency provided a soundtrack to Nick's first flight.  I wondered how much sense they would glean from those transmissions.  No sooner had this thought occurred to me than we overheard the pilot of a Cessna (tail number changed to protect the guilty) read back a transponder code that bore no resemblance to what Rochester had just issued to him.  The pilot's transmission ended with the awkward coda of an open microphone that momentarily tied up the frequency.

"Cessna One Alpha Bravo," responded the controller, "that was entirely incorrect."  It was an experienced controller, his tone unrushed, professionally pleasant, and firm.  His vocal inflection carried traces of the forced smile he must have worn in the darkness of the radar room.  "Squawk zero (pause), seven (pause), zero (pause), four (pause) and, please, un-key your microphone when you are done transmitting."  

The expressions on Nick and Ed's faces clearly indicated their understanding that Cessna One Alpha Bravo had just received a public spanking.  A polite spanking, but a spanking nonetheless.  Trained ears certainly help, but are not always necessary to understand air traffic control.

Photo by Ed

After leaving Rochester's airspace and sightseeing over Chimney Bluffs, I pointed the nose at Canandaigua Lake and passed the controls to Nick.  "Fly to that lake," I told him.  Without hesitation, Nick put both hands on the yoke and we made turns to the left and to the right, never drifting beyond 100 feet of our starting altitude.  In the last six years, I have encouraged many people to try their hand at flying my ship.  Few are so smooth and precise their first time.  Nick was a natural.

Nick guided Warrior 481 first to Canandaigua Lake, then past Bristol Mountain Ski Resort, and, finally, back to Le Roy.  As the landscape rolled by, Ed or I occasionally asked Nick if he was getting bored yet.  Never taking his eyes from the horizon, Nick responded each time with a terse "no", prompting chuckles from Ed and I.  I do not think Nick heard the chuckles or noticed the gentle teasing; he had better things to capture his attention (not being easily distracted by trivial things is a great quality in a pilot).

Back at Le Roy, Nick shook my hand and thanked me for the flight.  The impassive teenager had returned.  Watching them drive away, I hoped that they had as much fun as I did.  I got my answer a couple of days later when Nick's mother told me about excited congratulatory calls from grandparents, envious younger siblings, and a professed desire to fly again.

I have often said that flying in clear, smooth air is a good way to spend a Saturday morning.  But to so thoroughly make someone's day at the same time is a great way to spend a morning.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blue Skies

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
10 Jan 2010 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - 9G5 (Gasport, NY) - 5G0 0.9 786.7

What a difference clear skies make!  The landscape may still be black and white, but brilliant blue above the horizon gives the world an entirely different look and feel.  While taxiing for takeoff, I heard Ed on Unicom announcing his approach into Le Roy and asked him about his ride.  "Pretty bumpy around 2000 feet, smooth above," came the reply.

I set off for Royalton Airport in Gasport, NY (airport #101).  On a northwest heading out of Le Roy at 3500', I was indicating 120 knots with the GPS showing a ground speed of 85.  That's quite a headwind for such a low altitude!

Pictured above is I-90, the New York State Thruway, heading east toward Albany.  Warrior 481 virtually crawled to Royalton against the invisible tide.  Despite it being my first time there, I found the airport easily, even though the runway was covered with 1 to 2 inches of snow.  On final approach, I could see patches of asphalt under the snow and shallow tracks from other airplanes, so I deemed it safe to complete the landing.  As I rolled out, I needed to add some power to taxi to the ramp through the crusty snow.  

Inside the main building, I encountered the two guys who run the place and wound up spending at least a half hour chatting with them.  It was a good conversation and a delight to discover kindred spirits at another airport on a blustery winter day.

Psychedelic, huh?  I think this is a water treatment plant of some kind near Sonyea, NY.  For scale, there are some pretty big trees at the bottom of the picture.

The bumps Ed warned me about were clearly caused by wind shear and as the winds increased, lenticular clouds began to appear; a good sign that it's time to land the airplane.

I discovered that my camera has a "self portrait" mode.  So I tried it out.

Despite the bumps, it was nice to be out flying under blue skies again.  "Blue skies, smiling at me.  Nothing but blue skies do I see..."