Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fog Turbines

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
31 Mar 2010 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) 0.7 801.9

Six years after taking ownership of Warrior 481, it was time again for an annual inspection.  I took a vacation day to ferry the airplane to the shop and get my hands dirty doing whatever needed to be done.  My plan was to fly about 30 minutes to warm the engine thoroughly before compression testing took place at the shop.

Surveying the countryside, I was surprised to see substantial fog banks surrounding the local area.  Southwest of Buffalo, an array of wind turbines was engulfed in the fog, their rotor blades projecting above cotton candy vapor.  

From an airplane, it is difficult to appreciate how large these turbines are.  Difficult, that is, until you see the structure in the lower left and realize that's somebody's two-story house!  These people have giants in their back yards.

Disembodied turbine rotor heads projecting above ground fog.

In some cases, the windmills appeared to hasten the clearing of the fog.

Scanning the instrument panel, I noted that the oil temperature was pegged at 180°F, meaning that the engine was warm and it was time to land at the Genesee County Airport in Batavia.

I turned back through the rising sun and assumed a northeast heading toward Batavia.  Low level sunlight accentuated the undulating terrain and isolated pockets of fog extending toward the horizon.

Warrior 481 settled gently toward runway 28 at Genesee County, spending a few moments simultaneously flying and rolling before finally resting her weight on the landing gear.  It was a short flight, but the morning's vista was spectacular.  And the compression numbers?  They were excellent, too.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bradley International and the New England Air Museum

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total 
  Mar 2010
5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - 1B1 (Hudson, NY) - BDL (Windsor Locks, CT)
2.3 796.9
  Mar 2010
N21481 BDL - 5G0  2.9 799.8

Like much of the country, Upstate NY experienced an early thaw in mid-March.  Snow banks melted away as temperatures rose into the 50's and grass became visible for the first time since before Christmas.  Granted, it was ugly brown grass, but it was grass all the same.  With the return of sunshine and grass, I was inspired to venture out of the local area.  I chose the New England Air Museum near Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, CT as my destination.

I departed Le Roy at 9:30 am and climbed to 7500'.  Relatively high winds aloft pushed my groundspeed up to 150 knots (173 MPH).

Most of the world moving under my wings was brown, but I discovered a little residual patch of winter still clinging to the Catskills as I passed them.  My first stop was at the Columbia County Airport (1B1) located south of Albany between the Hudson River and the Massachusetts border.  While descending toward the airport, I encountered rough air from where the Catskills perturbed the westerly airflow.  Crossing the Hudson River, Warrior 481 hit a bump that flung me straight up out of my seat.  My head stopped just short of the Piper's ceiling when my seatbelt interceded.

Columbia County was a nice, active country airport with cheap fuel: $4.10/gal.  Thanks to the tailwind, I arrived there one hour and 15 minutes after departing Le Roy.

Bradley was not far from Columbia County.  Inbound, I tuned the ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service) to get current weather, altimeter, and other pertinent notices.  This is usually a trivial part of flying into any towered field.  At the time, Bradley was reporting lightly gusting winds and both runways 24 and 33 in use.

ATIS broadcasts are assigned a letter identifier as they are updated throughout the day; Alpha goes to Bravo, then to Charlie, and so on.  Upon contacting air traffic control, pilots are supposed to give the current identifier so that the controller can verify that the pilot has the most current information.  Simple.

Unlike most airports I have experience with, Bradley's ATIS was not a human recording, but a somewhat muddy computer synthesized voice.  I listened to the broadcast twice to verify that "Information Golf" was current.

With all the necessary information gleaned from ATIS, I tuned the appropriate of three approach frequencies and announced my presence.

"Bradley approach, Warrior 21481."

"Calling Bradley, say again."  The controller sounded distracted.

"Bradley approach, Warrior 21481, 25 miles northwest at 5,500, landing with 'Golf'."

The controller's tone became agitated.  "Landing where?  Golf is not current for any of the fields I'm working."

"Uh..."  This was the sound of my hard won "professional radio voice" crumbing into bits.  I was literally at a loss for words.  "Sorry, just listened to Bradley ATIS and understood Golf as current."

"Warrior 481, continue inbound, expect runway 24, remain at or above 4500 feet."  I repeated the instructions.  Then, after a pause,  "Warrior 481, winds are out of 290 at 18 gusting 22.  Do you want runway 24 or 33?"  Runway 33 made the most sense with respect to the wind and to minimize taxiing on the field.  I responded with 33 as my preference.  Despite having given me the option, the controller seemed annoyed by my choice.  All the while, Warrior 481 continued to buck through rough air like a possessed colt and, though I held my assigned altitude well, I was working for it.

Approach vectored me to a high downwind (I was still at 4500') for runway 33 while directing the inbound airliners to queue up for runway 24.  Finally, I was granted permission to descend, switched over to tower, and cleared to land on 33.  This photo was taken as a one-off blind shot out the windscreen after stabilizing on a very long, high final approach course.

I am not very interested in flying Greyhounds and rarely take pictures of them, but sharing pavement with one is novel for me.  I was on runway 33 holding short of 24 while a Southwest flight completed its landing roll out.  I do not see many behemoths like this at Le Roy. 

I parked at Signature, nose to nose with this little fellow.  In the lobby, I was the only "flight crew" member wearing jeans amongst uniformed professionals and their well-dressed customers.  Despite the fuel price ($5.92/gal - egad), or perhaps directly because of it, the folks at Signature were terrific and very accommodating.  They provided me with a ride to the museum and a coupon for $1 off museum admission.  This took 1.5% of the sting out of paying $65 for three hours of parking and 8 gallons of avgas.  Bradley was not an inexpensive place to fly into, but the team at Signature (or, "$ignature", as they are often called on the web) worked to deliver value for the money, even to small potatoes pilots like me.

The New England Air Museum exceeded my expectations.  It was filled with airplanes, helicopters, and great stories.  Here's a sampling of what I saw, starting with a P-47 Thunderbolt parked at the entrance to the Warbirds Hangar.  

Shiny.  I like shiny.

The Civilian Hangar was dominated by the "Excambian", a massive Sikorsky VS-44 Flying Boat.  Wow.  This thing is HUGE.  I took this photo by holding the camera well above my head and shooting over the wing of a Stinson.

A Lockheed Electra, very similar to the one flown by Amelia Earhart.  Not a great photo, but I always thought the Electra was a good looking airplane and just had to include it.

In my opinion, this is the crown jewel in the collection: "Jack's Hack", a restored B-29 Superfortress.

The nose art on "Jack's Hack" was not as racy as some that I have seen.

I spent about two hours at the museum and walked back to the FBO so that I could enjoy the fresh, warm air.  At Signature, I was offered a crew car to get lunch.  It was a fairly new Ford Fusion and definitely not of the "don't drive it any further than you're willing to walk" variety I usually get.  The only stipulation placed on me was that I "bring the car back the same size it was when I got it".  I agreed that this was a perfectly reasonable request.

After lunch and back in Warrior 481, I prepared to do a better job with Bradley's air traffic control.  I double checked the Bradley ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service) frequency against two sources and verified that I was using the correct frequency.  I also noted that the broadcast began with "Bradley International".  Information "Charlie" was current.

I contacted clearance delivery and gave my spiel on who I was, that I had "Charlie", where I was, where I wanted to go, and how high I wanted to fly.  The controller's tone was bright and friendly on the radio.  She provided my clearance along with all the numbers I needed, and then offered, "by the way, information 'Golf' is current."  Hmmm...

I switched immediately back to the ATIS broadcast and discovered that it had just been "Delta", not "Golf".

Are you kidding me?  Something was obviously out of sync somewhere.  But other than being a head scratcher, this did not present any real problem.  I taxied off the Signature ramp behind a corporate jet.  My original taxi clearance involved taxiing about 2/3 of a mile to runway 33 via a small handful of taxiways.  I was just barely on my way when Ground Control called again to offer an intersection departure on runway 24 just ahead of my current position.  "Available take off distance is 2500 feet," the controller added helpfully.  It was a win-win and I accepted; easier for me and easier for them.

Runway 24 is 200 feet wide and, to my eye, felt more like a parking ramp than a runway.  With a gusty crosswind I broke ground in a fraction of the available distance and immediately crabbed about 30° into the wind to track out on runway heading.

The Catskills were still stuck in winter as I passed them traveling much slower than before.  My heading toward Rochester was aligned directly into a 25 knot headwind that suppressed my groundspeed to just shy of 100 knots.  The Turbulence Fairy seemed to have left a lot of bumps for me to find along the way, too.  After nearly three hours of bumping along while making continuous heading and altitude corrections, I returned home quite tired and made an unremarkable landing in 22 knot winds gusting to 28.

This is the radar track of my return voyage as captured by Flight Aware.  That little kink in my route near the Hudson River was me deliberately avoiding the tallest peaks of the Catskills.  Who needed more bumps thrown at them on an already bumpy day?

When I recounted the day's events to my wife, she shook her head and offered sympathy for it having been a bad day.  A bad day??!  I spent time flying my humble little airplane, visited two new airports, enjoyed a terrific aviation museum, and successfully took a mental break from work for an extended period of time.

In my book, that's a pretty good day.