Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dreams and Flight

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
29 Nov 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - VGC (Hamilton, NY) - SDC 1.7 1359.3


Midday. Famished. 

I traverse broad corridors largely emptied over the past fifteen months to reach my goal, the company cafeteria. It is a scaled down version of what was, necessarily made smaller in response to a significantly dwindling population. 

However, today is different. Today, the space is filled with people. They are ravenous, cacophonous. A reduced kitchen staff is overwhelmed by customers for the first time in months. I patiently negotiate the throng and emerge with a meal. Seating is scarce and I seek a table with familiar faces amid the lunchtime horde.

Ah! There they are. I move toward them.

My smile wavers. Something is wrong. Everyone is there: Ed, Dan, Kent, Brian, and many others; all raucously discussing whatever topic struck the group's collective interest for the day. Their voices compete in volume with clamor from neighboring tables. This is normal, a routine established almost nine years ago...

...except that it is all wrong. Caught in recent corporate machinations, none of them belong there anymore. They are all gone and have been for months. I am the only one of the assembled cafeteria patrons who actually belongs in that place.

But there is no room at the table for me.


I awoke with a sense of suffocation. Rational thoughts ponderously spooled up, hindered by a dull headache.

Ack. A headache on waking rarely foreshadows a good day.

I laid still for a while as the mental fog cleared, ruminating on the not-so-subtle message my subconscious served up for me while asleep. Clearly, mental churn over recent developments continues whether consciously directed or not; latent processing in an effort to grasp new realities.

I needed to clear my head and taking wing is one of the best ways that I know of.

Warrior 481 has been stranded at ground level for the past two weeks due to weather and circumstance. As a result, I have, too. A brief flight would be good for both man and machine. I examined the sectional chart and located Hamilton Municipal (VGC), an airport southeast of Syracuse that I had never visited before.

Perfect. Nothing clears the head like a bit of exploring.


We launched from runway 10 as a nearly-direct crosswind blew across the pavement at ten knots, gusting to fifteen. As gusts slithered around the wings and fuselage from between the bordering trees, the Warrior wanted to fly prematurely. I held her on the ground a moment longer, aileron rolled partly into the wind, while airspeed built. With a sufficient airspeed margin, we broke ground and crabbed into the wind to track straight. I pushed the nose over to stay low, both to build airspeed and to prevent a slow climb through the turbulence likely present at treetop level. At 90 knots, satisfied, I pitched upward. As expected, the Warrior bucked and shuddered as we penetrated an invisible barrier above the trees, squawking the stall horn twice before we climbed above the mechanical turbulence.

At 3000', Warrior 481 and I cruised to the southeast, crabbed 15° right of course to track true toward Hamilton. We were bumped around under a gloomy overcast, manhandled by the troposphere. Shortly after establishing two way radio contact with Syracuse, we were jolted so abruptly that my posterior momentarily departed the seat. I slowed the airplane (to protect her) and tightened the seat belt (to protect my noggin).

I wondered if such a rough, uninspiring day would be good for the soul after all.

I should not have doubted. When we reached the edge of the cloud ceiling, the landscape transformed. Gloom above was replaced with sapphire blue and the dirty beige winter world below became a gleaming, pristine wonderland. Emerald evergreens that had previously escaped my notice suddenly popped against the landscape, their branches accented artfully with snow. In the parting of the clouds, the world seemed to renew and my state of mind followed suit. It is truly amazing how a veil of cloud can color moods and landscapes alike.

At 3000' and flying toward rising terrain, I noticed a few towers south of Syracuse rearing their metallic heads to significant heights. I located them on the sectional chart before the nearest triggered an obstacle collision warning from the GNS-430W. I watched it pass below and to the starboard; warning or no, we were beyond its reach.

The Hamilton airport was well cleared of snow. We overflew the field 900 feet above pattern altitude and maneuvered for a 45° trajectory to the downwind for runway 17. We passed picturesque Lake Moraine, a reservoir created high in the hills overlooking the airport. On short final to runway 17, we overflew a pond, its surface rippling towards us in the strong, southerly wind. I countered sinking air over the pond by advancing the throttle and made a smooth, full stall landing directly on the runway numbers.

The sky, the perfect landing, the exploration of a new place; they were all exactly what I needed that day.

I took on fuel and spent a few minutes visiting with the friendly group of pilots hanging out in the FBO. I was offered a courtesy car to run into town for food, but I had eaten before leaving Sodus and declined. I was also offered a doughnut, which was something that I could not refuse. Hamilton Municipal seemed like a nice operation with plenty of life, even on a cold, blustery day.

With up to twenty knots of wind on the nose, we climbed quickly away from the runway and turned out over the village of Hamilton.

Ever dynamic, the cloud cover began to reassert itself.

By the time we crossed the north end of a gunmetal toned Skaneateles Lake, the world was once again rendered in shades of gray. But that was OK, my time exploring under blue sky had already accomplished the goal.


We entered the pattern for runway 10 at Williamson-Sodus. On a left base, the GPS groundspeed indicated 25 knots below the Warrior's airspeed. That was sure to diminish somewhat on final approach, but it hinted at a significant crosswind component for landing. Cross-controlling the airplane into a slip, I tracked the center line and gently brought her back home.

I would love to say that it was a perfect landing, but a strong gust carried us airborne again moments after making contact with the runway. The second time down was not so pretty. It was not a hard landing, but it was sloppy. You win some, you lose some.

Regardless, my head was cleared. Somehow, I always return from the air fortified. Aeronautical exploration will not actually fix any real problems, but it always infuses me with confidence and clarity of purpose whenever I need it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seneca Lake Exploration

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
15 Nov 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 1.7 1357.2

On winter's edge with traces of snow accenting higher terrain, we circumnavigated Seneca Lake on a sightseeing cruise. At 38 miles long, Seneca is the second longest of New York's Finger Lakes. It is the largest in volume and, with a maximum depth of 618 feet, it is considered the deepest lake in New York State. With 75 miles of shoreline, Seneca Lake lies ribbon-like across the landscape.

Once past Geneva on the north end of the lake, we proceeded south along the western shore as wine country passed below the Warrior's wings.

Watkins Glen lies at the south end of Seneca Lake, known for its magnificent eponymous geological formation (and a race track or some such thing). From above, the actual glen is so narrow that it appears as little more than a crack in rising terrain.

To the south, higher terrain appeared to converge with a broken ceiling through which sunbeams illuminated remnants of the season's first snowfall.

To the east, with Cayuga Lake in the distance, snow remained in a state of tenuous equilibrium on higher elevation fields.

Cayuga Lake, inscribed across the landscape in a twisting course not-quite-parallel to that of Seneca, is the longest of the Finger Lakes.

Proceeding north along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, we encountered a large airport.

It was the former Sampson Air Force Base / Seneca Army Airfield, a closed military facility whose massive runway survives in apparently pristine condition despite years of neglect.

At the northwest end, faded paint hints at the piano key and runway 16 markings that once existed there. Now, even the "X" painted across "16" to formally close the runway has faded to virtual nonexistence. Of the many closed gateways to the sky that litter upstate New York, this is one of the most magnificent. As emergency landing fields go, this one would serve more capably than most.

An unusual pattern is etched across the adjacent land, remains of the former Seneca Army Depot constructed in 1941. It was a munitions storage and disposal facility made up of an array of concrete "igloos". Some of these igloos once stored radioactive materials from the Manhattan Project, which strikes me as a curious use for prime farm land tucked between the two largest Finger Lakes.

I concluded the flight with a few practice take-offs and landings in a moderate crosswind at Williamson-Sodus. Satisfied, I stowed the Warrior away in her hangar until our next flight together.