Monday, May 26, 2014

Flapjacks, Fly-Ins, 'n' Finger Lakes

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
25 May 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - 01G (Perry, NY) - SDC 1.5 1278.5

After an onslaught of unfettered ice, snow, and cold, a return to "pancake breakfast season" and verdant landscapes is almost jarring, but happily embraced. And, of course, everyone knows by now that The Bear loves pancakes.

We did not originally plan to attend the fly-in pancake breakfast at the Perry-Warsaw Airport, located a few miles south of Le Roy. But when I received a text from my friend Amanda noting that she and Darrell were planning to go, it seemed a good opportunity to spend time with my favorite flying family from Le Roy.

A direct flight from Sodus to Perry would take us directly over the Geneseo Airport which was NOTAMed for rocket launch activity. Instead, The Bear and I flew direct to Canandaigua Airport, visually acquired Honeoye Lake (one of the lesser Finger Lakes) and flew due west from it to Perry. This route took us south of the warning area and minimized the risk of being shot down by amateur rocket enthusiasts.

At 3000 feet, high hills surrounding Honeoye Lake passed five to six hundred feet beneath our wings. An increasing westerly wind sent jolts skyward as we cleared each hill.

Canadice Lake, which I had never actually heard of until I looked up its name on the map.

In time, The Bear and I cleared the Finger Lakes and emerged over the rolling plains to the west through which the Genesee River carved the gorge of Letchworth State Park.

From this image, it would appear that the purpose of the Mount Morris Dam is to convert clear water to muddy. Though the dam looks like overkill here, I have seen the water level reach close to the top of the dam in times past.

Typical of springtime, the Genesee River actually spanned the entire width of the gorge.

Nearing our destination, we overflew this farm with its distinctive contour farming. Located south of the Le Roy Airport, this was a favorite and distinctive landmark for me once.

I turned southwest over Silver Lake to make an appropriate pattern entry. Silver Lake is another excellent local landmark that can be spotted readily from miles away despite its diminutive size.

Drive-in movie theaters are rare in the 21st century, but this one survives. When I was a kid, going to the drive-in was the norm. When my family and I went to see Star Wars, I knew that it was going to be a special experience because, prior to that, Bambi was the only movie I had ever seen in an indoor theater (and that was way more traumatic).

On final, we could see that the field was not terribly crowded. Darrell had landed while we were still over the Finger Lakes.

The Civil Air Patrol directed us to parking once I spotted the marshal. Breakfast visitors greeted us when we emerged from Warrior 481, clearly charmed by the arrival of our young aviatrix. Darrell, Amanda, and their boys were hungrily waiting for us at the Warrior's tail.

While I waited for eggs over easy, The Bear sat with Darrell and Amanda. When I joined them, The Bear excitedly informed me that she had poured her own syrup. Yikes!  Indeed she had. She ate well, though: one sausage, three pancakes, one cup of milk, and one cup of orange juice. Flyin' makes a bear hungry!

When breakfast was over, we wandered out of the hangar to look at the airplanes. Darrell and I were drawn almost immediately to this Piper Cub.

It was spotlessly immaculate.

I think The Bear was ready for a Cub ride! I know I am.

The Bear also saw her first set of Bushwheels and was clearly very impressed by them.

A highlight on the ramp was this beautiful WACO biplane.

I can scarcely imagine how much elbow grease needs to go into maintaining this powerplant in such shiny condition.

Not to be outdone, this RV-6A built by Le Roy pilot Larry drew quite a crowd upon its arrival.

The Bear and the boys walked together to the terminal building for a pre-departure restroom break.

We said farewell to Perry-Warsaw and our friends.

I settled my copilot at the controls and prepared to depart. With the Warrior's engine running, I waited to taxi until a woman standing in the middle of the taxiway videoing the event moved out of the way (I might have suspected that a spinning prop and a set of strobes pulsing would be enough to deter anyone from standing in the middle of the taxiway, but I obviously overestimated people's aviation savvy).

For the return flight, I sought calmer air at 5500 feet.

We crossed over Conesus Lake, set a course for the Williamson-Sodus Airport, and flew home with hands off the controls in calm air.

To the southeast of Rochester, we passed over Eastview Mall or "The Shmancy Mall", as Kristy calls it.

Almost home; it was good to see farmers returning to the business of growing things again.

The Bear waited for a "ride" in the airplane that would come when I pushed it back into the hangar.

Once back in the hangar, however, she went immediately to her job of helping to wash bugs off the wings.

As I finished my post-flight work, I noticed what appeared to be an "airport bum" in my hangar.

Yup. Definitely an airport bum. I wonder if she engages in hangar flying with her friends?

Caution: six year old at the wheel! Summer departures from the airport (by car) often make use of this private airport drive through the woods. It is the one place where I'll allow The Bear to drive the car because there's absolutely nothing to hit. Though we got the speed up to 15 MPH, The Bear informed me later that she was really hoping for 20.

20 MPH? This little girl really wanted to live life on the edge!

That, or perhaps she was still juiced up on pancake syrup.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Aeronautical Infidelity and Pancake Breakfasts

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
12 May 2014 N1185X SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 1.2 1271.5
13 May 2014 N1185X SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 1.2 1272.7
18 May 2014 N1185X SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 2.0 1274.7

I confess; I was unfaithful to my partner of the last ten years.

To be clear, I did not indulge in a brief fling with her cousin because she was not talented or pretty enough. I was not bored or dissatisfied with her. We were not "on a break".

In truth, the insurance company made me do it.

Golden Anniversary

The Williamson Flying Club was founded fifty-eight years ago in 1956. What began with the purchase of a used Aeronca Champ based at the now-defunct Palmyra Airport has grown into an organization of approximately 160 active members that owns and operates a modern, public use airport (KSDC) and a fleet of five aircraft. With the renewed emphasis on clubs as a means to affordable flying, the Williamson Flying Club is truly a model of success worth emulating.

Eight years after its founding, the club organized a pancake breakfast at the field where the current airport exists. In the fifty years elapsed since, the annual breakfast has become a traditional component of the Williamson Apple Blossom Festival and a community focal point.

When we were based in Le Roy, we enjoyed attending this very well-organized fly-in breakfast (see: 2010, 2012, and 2013). 2014, the fiftieth annual breakfast, marked my first opportunity to participate as a club member.

50th Annual Pancake Breakfast logo designed by Christina Nasselo (NVus Designs)

While still without a role to play in the breakfast, I was approached by Mike, the club's full time flight instructor, airport manager, webmaster, AWOS voice actor, and occasional mechanic (Mike is pretty much a renaissance man).

"How many hours do you have?"

"About twelve hundred..." I answered with some trepidation.

Mike grinned.  "Step into my office for a minute."

Every year at the breakfast, airplane rides are offered to the public. Usually, Mike serves as one of the ride pilots, but would be out of town for this year's breakfast and was in search of a substitute. Ride pilots need a minimum of 500 hours in their logbooks and, for insurance purposes, need to fly club aircraft (the full FAA guidelines for these kinds of flights can be found here). This meant that I needed a checkout in one of the club airplanes.

What a relief! I felt completely qualified to fly passengers and had feared that assignment as pancake flipper on an unfamiliar grill might result in a lot of burned pancakes.

Thus, Mike sent me on the path to aeronautical infidelity.


N1185X is a 1975 Piper Archer I powered by a 180 horsepower Lycoming O-360 engine. Though designated a PA-28-180 like the Cherokee I used to rent at Three Rivers, the first generation Archer has some slightly different handling characteristics. It features the constant chord ("Hershey Bar") wing of the earlier Cherokees, but the wingspan is longer. During my checkout, this appeared to impart some floating tendency relative to the older Cherokee 180s, if not as much float as the Warrior. It is also possessed of the larger stabilator found on my Warrior, which seemed to foster greater pitch authority at landing speeds whereas the older Cherokee 180 I flew required significant aft trim when slow in order to lift the nose and flare the airplane. On the ground and in flight, the airplane felt stouter than the Warrior, consistent with my recollection of the Cherokee 180 line.


Over the course of 1.2 hours, Mike ran me through a series of maneuvers, stalls, and landings. I will not claim to have dazzled him, but I performed passably.  The familiar-but-different aircraft flustered me at times with its differently organized checklist and flows for equipment similar to the Warrior's. Key airspeed values were different, not only owing to airframe differences, but because of an airspeed indicator calibrated in miles-per-hour rather than knots. At the very least, I was pleased with myself for always using the correct tail number in my radio communications.

An hour into the checkout and after a passable spot landing on the 1000 foot runway markers, we were climbing past tree-top level when Mike instructed me to continue the climb to 3000 feet over the airport, pull the power to idle, and put the airplane back on the runway.

"And, if you don't, we'll do it again until you do."

After a single 360° turn to lose altitude, I rolled out on final approach for a simulated emergency landing. I was too high, put the airplane into a forward slip, and greased the wheels onto the same 1000 foot markers that had been my target for the spot landing.

I do not recall Mike's exact words at that moment, but they were effectively, "that'll do, pig. That'll do." With that, I was officially checked out in the Archer.


The next day, I flew solo for another hour to solidify my comfort with the Archer. It was my first time solo in a new airplane since the morning ten years ago when I boarded Warrior 481 in Guthrie, OK to fly her home. As my comfort and familiarity grew with the Archer, I slipped on the radio and declared, "Waaaarcher eight five x-ray, left base, one zero." (a good save there, I think). Otherwise, it was a good flight and my landings were more consistent than they had been with Mike the previous day.

Combustionally Challenged

On the morning of the breakfast, I arrived at 6:30 am to meet my partner, Dan, to conduct a preflight inspection on Eight Five X-Ray. Dan is a former Air Force pilot who joined the club the same day I did. Like me, Dan also has his own airplane, a Mooney. And, like me, Dan had just completed his own checkout in the Archer. Dan and I would share the flying duties for the morning from roughly 8:00 am until 1:00 pm.

Our plan was for each of us to warm up by flying the course Mike had mapped out for that morning's flights. With preflight complete, me in the left seat and Dan in the right, I stepped through the checklist to start the Archer. Only it did not want to start. After two attempts, Dan and I looked at each other in puzzlement.

We soon had a circle of club members standing around the airplane offering advice. There was no fuel smell outside the airplane, no fuel dripping from the cowling, and flooded start procedures did not remedy the situation. We concluded that the engine was not flooded. One of the other ride pilots, an instructor, offered that Eight Five X-Ray was finicky during cold starts and recommended pumping the throttle while cranking. This is somewhat notoriously a vector for starting fires and I did not want to experience another fire, especially in an airplane that was not mine (actually, it is about 1/160th mine), but I was careful to pump only while cranking and this did the trick. Mike later revealed that the primer had been inoperative, but Dan and I were both too unfamiliar with the quirks of the airplane to recognize that its behavior that morning was unusual.

I flew the appointed course at 2000 feet: west to the Spencer Speedway, north to the shore of Lake Ontario, east until due north of the airport, south over the airport, and a teardrop entry back into the pattern. I squeaked the wheels back onto the runway, returned to the staging area, and shut down. Dan and I swapped seats and I rode through the course as he flew.

With our successful return to Earth, we started flying rides.

Paying Customers

Each trip required approximately 20 minutes from engine start to engine stop. Dan and I fell into a routine of switching off after every two hops. While Dan was flying, I brought friends and coworkers who attended the breakfast into my hangar and let the kids sit in Warrior 481 (I may have been cheating on her that morning, but I certainly did not ignore her). I even managed to sneak into the breakfast line for a late meal around 11:00 that morning.

Here I am taxiing out with a load of passengers. Photo by Rick M, Williamson Flying Club

Giving airplane rides at the breakfast was tremendous fun. I flew eleven passengers in five hops that morning. Everyone was very friendly and talkative and all left the airplane smiling, even those who boarded with trepidation. I allowed some of the front seaters fly the leg along the lake shore. The orchards below were white with apple blossoms, making the event a very well-timed festival.

Eight Five X-Ray performed well that morning except that the parking brake lock ceased to work such that loading and unloading of passengers required diligent application of toe brakes. When I needed fuel, I and my passengers were treated to a ride on the ground as a crew pulled us through the breakfast crowd to the fuel farm while I steered from the pilot seat. Once stopped at the fuel farm, I turned to see Kristy, The Bear, and friends from The Bear's school standing nearby waving at me excitedly.

Airplane rides were popular that day and we stopped selling tickets mid-morning in order to ensure that we could get everyone into the air. When ticket purchases outpaced the frequency of flights, a fourth club airplane was brought onto the flight line to reduce the backlog. I flew the last ride of the day, which was a bit bumpy with afternoon thermal activity finally reaching its stride. When I returned with my passengers, the other airplanes were parked, much of the breakfast trappings had already been torn down and stowed, and the field was visibly less populated. It is my understanding that the club sold 1600+ breakfasts that morning. One need look no further than that to understand the strength of community support for this event.

Archer 85X departing SDC with breakfasts guests. I cannot discern who is flying here, me or Dan.
Photo by Rick M, Williamson Flying Club

Overall, it was a terrific experience and opportunity to introduce the non-flying public to general aviation. Though I am very practiced in giving rides to first-time flyers, it was my first time flying paying strangers for a community event.

I used to tell my friends in the Williamson Flying Club that "they" put on a fantastic pancake breakfast. I am very proud to change that to a "we" for 2014!

I hope Warrior 481 will forgive my public indiscretion. It was all for a good cause.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Hi Mom!"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
11 May 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - SDC 1.2 1270.3

"Hi Mom!"

A child's high pitched voice from the ether with a Mother's Day message slipped between congested pattern calls on 122.80 MHz. From within the cockpit of Warrior 481, we smiled, unsure if the intended recipient heard the message directed at her. If so, she remained silent.

The Bear and I started the day early, before Kristy rose, with an errand to Wegman's. We woke Kristy with a tray containing a hot, yummy beverage; a sampling of small pastries; and a just-germinated flower from school in a Bear-painted pot.

This early morning run actually solved a conundrum.  The Bear desperately wanted to present Kristy with breakfast in bed (as we had done the previous year), but also desperately wanted to attend the Mother's Day EAA Fly-In breakfast at the Oswego County Airport.  With a light first breakfast leisurely completed by the day's Woman of Honor, there was time for a flight to Oswego as well.

Once we climbed to altitude, the GPS indicated a 15 minute flight time to Oswego County, a significantly shorter flight time than the 45 minutes required to fly there from Le Roy. The cool northwesterly wind off of Lake Ontario had its way with us as we waited in a long line for breakfast at the EAA hangar.

The Civil Air Patrol and EAA Chapter 486 were serving up pancakes, eggs to order, French toast (which we failed to convince The Bear was NOT finger food like regular toast), ham, potatoes, sausage, and homemade doughnuts.

Shown here are what remained of The Bear's two pancakes, one slice of French toast, and two sausages. Ok, in full disclosure, I ate The Bear's second sausage (which might be why she stuck her tongue out at me).

The Bear demands a high price for a nice photo.  Her currency: she insists on taking a silly one first.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted.

On the way back out to the ramp, we encountered Gustavo, whom I knew from the Piper Forum, but had never met in person.  Gustavo flies what has to be the nicest Cherokee 140 I have ever laid eyes on.  "He looked at airplanes for three years!" his wife exclaimed. That search completely paid-off; his is a beautiful aircraft.

We loaded back into the Warrior to complete our first family flight together since going to the Outer Banks last fall.

I let The Bear demonstrate her prowess on the controls to Kristy. When Kristy's complexion began to skew toward "David Clark Green", I resumed control.

It was a truly beautiful spring day. The flight to Oswego County and back was largely flown hands-off as we surfed through the smooth air.

Silt from river and bay effluents endowed the water of Lake Ontario with a ghostly appearance.

I found it deeply satisfying to find Sodus Bay no longer entombed beneath ice and a definitive shade of green creeping across the landscape.

Putting the airplane away is always a bit of a production. Despite her status as Woman of Honor, Kristy assisted The Bear in cleaning up the airplane. She is a most humble Woman of Honor.

Remember what I said about requiring a goofy picture in order to get a good one?

Yeah...there it is.

Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful wife and mother of our little Flying Bear.