Monday, September 26, 2011

Backyard Flying

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 Sep 2011 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - 5G0 1.4 987.5

I departed Genesee County Airport after a successful VFR transponder check, one of several recurring maintenance items that aircraft owners need to manage.  A scattered cloud deck had moved in, drifting over a landscape already blushing with the faintest hint of autumn. The atmospheric conditions seemed to filter those solar rays reaching the Earth, enhancing the developing color.

Rather than return home immediately, I flew around the local area, a region I've taken to calling the "backyard".

When I was a kid, I had a swing set and a sandbox in my backyard.  When the Warrior and I were based in Michigan, my backyard featured a huge lake and a nifty little red lighthouse at the end of a long pier.  Now I have a 107 foot high waterfall (Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park).  I really like the waterfalls in my backyard.

Here are Middle Falls again.  High zoom + image stabilization = the illusion that I am flying way too low (I'm not).  The little red and white dots in the lower right corner of frame are people and provide a good sense of scale.

Just upriver from Middle Falls are the 70 foot high Upper Falls, a narrow horseshoe that seems to focus the energy of the rushing Genesee River the way a parabolic mirror might focus light or radio signals.

The scattered cloud deck at 4000 (-ish) feet cast blotchy shadows across the farmland in my backyard.

Parts of my backyard are striped.  I know there's a practical reason for this, but prefer to ascribe it to whimsy.

The curious quality of today's late afternoon sunlight seemed to make the harvest fields pop with color.

I'm not entirely sure what this area is.  World's dullest golf course?  A tree farm with poor space utilization?  Maybe I don't know my backyard as well as I think I do.  It was Mark who later identified this as Davis Countryside Meadows golf course.

Eventually, just like when I was a kid, it was time to stop playing in the backyard and return home.  Ray recently had new stripes painted on all surfaces.

An obligatory close up of the ramp area, all dressed up with new sealant and paint.  The home 'drome is looking pretty good!

I felt quite content after my casual jaunt in the backyard this evening; over waterfalls, windmills, and patterned fields.  The best part about this backyard is that I can enjoy it without ever needing to mow.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
11 Sep 2011 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - 5G0 2.0 983.7

At the start, the day was all about pedal planes.

On the second Sunday of every summer month, EAA chapter 486 at the Oswego County Airport (FZY) puts on a terrific fly-in breakfast. The Bear's favorite part about these breakfasts are the pedal planes built by EAA members that are available for children to "fly". September 11 was to be our first and final chance to attend in 2011. The Bear was quite eager to put her longer, stronger legs to good use in a kid-powered P-51.

I checked the AWOS before we departed Le Roy and conditions at FZY were good VFR. The skies around Rochester were clear as The Bear and I passed through Rochester's airspace. Ahead, I could see an isolated patch of low clouds, but believed our destination to be beyond them.

I was wrong.

As we approached, the automated weather reporting system was now calling for cloud ceilings at 400' and 3500', broken. The report of a broken layer at 3500' over the airport was dubious; we were near this altitude and there was no layer. But there were clearly low clouds over the field and they may very well have been at 400'. I circled the field, debating internally about what to do, dreading having to explain to The Bear that some water vapor stood between her and a nirvana of pedaling.

Then I watched a Cessna depart and saw that he was able to fly the pattern below the clouds. The ceiling was most definitely not 400 feet. We flew a wide pattern to clear the low clouds in Class E airspace and turned final for runway 15. The clouds were actually much higher than they appeared from above and the approach and landing were trivial as we remained clear of them in the Class G airspace immediately overlying the airport.

As we ate our pancake breakfast, a 9/11 memorial began. Everyone stood for the presentation of colors. This was followed by some short speeches from elected officials. The next presentation was the "Toast to Fallen Comrades", adapted from the military tradition as a moving tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11, from first responders to those working in the twin towers. The presiding officer provided a narration of the symbolism surrounding each aspect of the round, white-clothed table set for six. He punctuated the description of each symbol with the word, "remember". A lone piper stood in the rear of the hangar and played Amazing Grace.

"The table is round – to show our everlasting concern for our fallen comrades. Remember.

The tablecloth is white – symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. Remember.

The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of our fallen comrades, and the loved ones and friends of these comrades who keep the faith. Remember.

The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to remember our fallen comrades. Remember.

A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those who will never return. Remember.

A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by the families of those who have sacrificed all. Remember.

The Holy Book represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country. Remember."

The toast concluded as six cadets, in unison, inverted the goblets at each unoccupied place setting.

"The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us at this time," the officer finished. "Remember."

During the moment of silence that followed, I held The Bear's hand. She observed the memorial without comment, without impatience, and with a gravity that belied her four years. During the weighty silence in the crowded hangar, I wondered how I would explain to her what she was seeing. Outside, the muted sound of airplanes landing and departing could be heard.

To me, that was the sound of freedom. In spite of what happened a decade ago, the wonderful roar of aircraft engines are still heard at little airports like Oswego County.

We slipped out before the memorial was over. I had forestalled The Bear long enough in her quest to fly the pedal planes.

My little aviatrix skillfully navigated the wooden airplanes around the ramp, having come so far from the first attempt in 2008 when her legs were not long enough to reach the pedals.

She tried all three and had an absolute blast. Others watched her with smiles on their faces, taking respite from the somber memorial.

In that was a useful lesson, I think. We marked the occasion of 9/11 with remembrance. But we also reveled in soaring through the sky that morning, in spite of those who tried to transform aircraft into symbols of terror. We exercised our freedom to fly, with piston and pedal power. It is important to remember, but it is essential to go on living.

The Bear(s) posed with Warrior 481 prior to departure.

The low clouds had long since burned off once we climbed above the airport. I tried to get The Bear to see the difference...

...but her focus was elsewhere. Though the outbound flight held her attention well, she retreated to her MobiGo for the flight home.

Once back at Le Roy, we cleaned bugs off of the airplane together and departed for home.

"Did you like your pancakes this morning?' I asked.

"Yes!" The Bear enthused, then became thoughtful for a moment. "Daddy, why did those people come in?"

"During breakfast?"

"Yes," she confirmed.

"Because something very bad happened ten years ago, before you were born. They were remembering what happened."

The Bear thought on this for a moment. "Why?"

"Because, sometimes, it's important for us to remember even bad things."

The Bear accepted this without further comment on the subject.

"Remember those pedal planes, Daddy?" she asked, moving on to a new topic in the typical "oh look, a chicken" manner of a four year old. After expanding on how cool they were and how much fun she had, she fell into a contented slumber for the remaining drive home.

The lesson for me that morning was simple. As a citizen of the world, it is important to remember. But as a father, pedal planes are important, too.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

St Lawrence Sunset

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
10 Sep 2011 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - OGS (Ogdensburg, NY) -
FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC (Williamson, NY) - 5G0
3.8 981.7

The evening of September 10, 2011 was forecast to be clear and cool with a full moon, calm winds, and no ceiling or fog.

Such evenings should never be squandered.

I owed myself a quiet cross country flight to someplace new.  Additionally, with days becoming shorter in advance of autumn, I wanted to regain my night currency.  I decided that it would be fun to do a cross country flight to Ogdensburg, NY and return home after sunset.  This flight would take me along Lake Ontario to the St Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands, a region I have not visited since Kristy and I first flew there five years ago

I departed Le Roy at 6:00 pm and flew east along Lake Ontario, past familiar landmarks like Little Sodus Bay (above).  The sun was already low enough to offset ground features with high contrast.  I contemplated a fuel stop at Oswego County Airport (FZY), but wanted to reach the Thousand Islands region before sunset.  I had departed Le Roy with three hours of fuel on board and estimated Ogdensburg to require 1.5 hours.  I really did not need the extra fuel for the outbound trip.

Unless Ogdensburg is sold out, I thought to myself wryly.  That would be inconvenient.

Looking for sandy beaches on Lake Ontario?  They're all on the east end.  As I rounded the end of the lake, I noticed that the full moon had already risen.

While directing my ship along Lake Ontario at 3500 feet, the date did not escape me.  September 10, 2011, the eve of a dreadful anniversary.  On the same evening ten years prior, I was also in an airplane.  I was flying steerage on an airliner en route to Boston Logan for a week of training; my closest brush with infamy to date.

The sun tracked toward the horizon rapidly, saturating eye and camera alike while casting a golden luster across the world.

I arrived at the St Lawrence Seaway, overflying the intersection of I-81 and NY-12.

The Thousand Islands Bridge carries automobile traffic across the St Lawrence between the United States and Canada.

A familiar landmark caught my eye; Boldt Castle on Heart Island.  Something about this island property with its eclectic assortment of outbuildings reminds me of the computer game Myst from the 1990's.  I was careful circling Heart Island because it is literally spitting distance from the Canadian border.  [For the record, I would never advocate spitting at our neighbors to the north]

While I was still over Alexandria Bay, the Thousand Islands were cast into shadow as old Sol reached the end of a day's journey.

I landed at Ogdensburg twenty minutes after sunset.  Warrior 481's wheels sweetly kissed the paved runway.  It was a landing to be proud of and a good way to mark an arrival at a new airport (#128).  Under a twilight glow, I taxied up to the fuel farm, shut down, and swiped my card at the self serve kiosk.

"Verifying transaction..." said the device.  I waited, engulfed in a cloud of gnats attracted by the fuel farm lighting.  Then, the kiosk reset to the welcome screen.

Uh-oh.  Hope they're not sold out.
Evidently, I'm just a poor swiper.  I tried again with the same card and was quickly vetted to purchase some expensive blue petroleum byproduct.

After allowing the fuel to settle, I sumped the tanks and found some water introduced with my newly purchased fuel.  This is not something that a pilot ever wants to find, especially at the onset of a night flight.  After satisfying myself that had I removed all the water from the affected tank, I was back in the air about 45 minutes after sunset.

Across the seaway, the Canadian horizon glowed crimson like a tungsten filament tickled by a low electrical current.  Over time, the glow faded to darkness.  The bright face of the moon shone down on the world, reflecting off of my port wing and illuminating ground features like the Lake Ontario shoreline in a monochrome twilight.  Occasionally, a flash from the ground would draw my eye as the moon reflected back at me from a waterway below.

Watertown passed to the east, an amber constellation of sodium vapor lights draped across the land.  From the southeast corner of Lake Ontario, a scarlet orb bloomed below, became pixelated, and dissolved.  Fireworks.

I reached Oswego County Airport in Fulton, NY to do a night landing.  Turning left from base to final, treetops passed beyond the port wingtip like a rough moonscape, devoid of color under the stark evening lighting.  A flash in the dark marked more fireworks from a community to the south of Fulton.  The landing was smooth, soft.

It was here that I made my most foolish mistake of the evening.  While taxiing back to the departure end of the runway, I discovered an eyelash in my right eye.  Acting to remove it, I firmly planted the tip of my index finger directly on the right lens of my glasses.  After twenty years of wearing glasses, one would think I would be used to them by now.  Departure occurred a few minutes later, after stopping the aircraft and bringing warm breath and a clean shirttail to bear on the smudge.

From the pattern at Williamson-Sodus, the horizon sparkled with other fireworks displays near Rochester.  On final, I eased the throttle back to idle once the runway number was illuminated in the Warrior's landing light.  Squeak.  Another soft landing.  At full power, I accelerated between the parallel strips of runway lights, then pitched skyward and back into the darkness.

On the last landing of the night, Warrior 481 and I settled gently to the pavement at Le Roy.

Mission accomplished.  I was night current and rejuvenated.