Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tales of the Tin Goose

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
4 Aug 2015 N21481 EYE (Indianapolis, IN) - PCW (Port Clinton, OH) -
DSV (Dansville, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY)
4.6 1458.4

Cherokee Squared

I met another old friend, Cherokee, for breakfast Tuesday morning. Because she was kind enough to take me back to the airport that morning, I offered to buy her breakfast. When the hotel credit card machine refused to read my card, our waitress threw up her hands in frustration and declared that our breakfasts were on the house. It was perhaps one of my most affordable acts of generosity.

Cherokee dropped me off at Eagle Creek Aviation on her way to work. It's a shame that she was rushed. I think it would have been fun to take a photo of her together with my Piper Cherokee, sort of a photographic pun. Maybe next time.

It was a beautiful VFR morning and, though Indianapolis International can be readily contacted from the ground at Eagle Creek (it's only seven miles away), I saw no value in waiting for an IFR clearance before launching into beautiful VFR conditions. We departed runway 21 and received our clearance from Indianapolis Approach while airborne.

Out of the Heartland

Conditions of flight Tuesday morning were quite different from Sunday. We cruised at 7,000 feet in a much cooler atmosphere as a tailwind imparted ground speeds in the mid-130 knot range.

Delphos, OH

Flying more than a mile above the farmland in smooth air, I surveyed the unfamiliar patchwork below. Without the turbulence of the outbound flight, the instruments were far less prone to straying from their desired indications.

I took special note of I-75 as we crossed it. Growing up along the path of this highway, I have come to regard it as an Interstate equivalent to the Mississippi River: a massive artery connecting cities and centers of commerce between the north and south ends of the nation.

Tin Goose Diner

Our destination was the Erie-Ottawa International Airport, also known as Carl Keller Field, in Port Clinton, Ohio. This historic field was once the hub for Island Airways, known for flying the world's shortest airline routes among Kelley's Island and the Bass Islands of Lake Erie. The airline started in 1930 and was known for using the venerable Ford Trimotor as its principal hauler.

Ford Trimotor at the Air Zoo, photographed 1 February 2003.

We used to talk about Island Airways as docents presenting the Trimotor at the Air Zoo. Port Clinton is now home to the Liberty Aviation Museum, that celebrates this heritage. The associated Tin Goose Diner, my intended lunch destination, opened in 2012 and is a popular dining destination for pilots and non-pilots alike. I originally learned about the Tin Goose Diner from Schmetterling Aviation.

This was not our first flight into Port Clinton. We landed there as a family in 2010 on The Bear's first cross country flight sans diaper for a precautionary restroom break.

I already knew that ramp space for parking near the Tin Goose Diner was limited. From the air, I saw only a single aircraft, a Bonanza that arrived shortly before we did, parked on the restaurant / museum ramp. The north/south runway was closed for resurfacing, though that did not stop the pilot of the aforementioned Bonanza from announcing an intended landing on runway 18. Doesn't anyone read NOTAMs anymore?

I parked next to the Bonanza as another aircraft taxied onto the ramp. It was a Cessna 140 that I had communicated with on approach to the airport.

In a word, the diner is cool. It is a genuine article, manufactured by the Jerry O'Mahony Diner Company of Elizabeth, NJ in the 1950s and originally operated in eastern Pennsylvania. Although I have no information on its previous condition, I can only assume that it has been meticulously restored. Artifacts from the Fifties are not usually so immaculate as the Tin Goose Diner without someone's loving intervention.

Upon entering the facility, I found myself surrounded by an authentic Art Deco aesthetic. The diner was absolutely packed with people despite it being a Tuesday, but there were stools available at the bar. My large, free breakfast that morning did not inspire me to order anything particularly heavy, so I had the Doolittle's Turkey Club and found it entirely satisfying. Despite the 1950s sensibility of the place, credit cards were welcome.

Liberty Aviation Museum

After lunch, I paid my admission to the Liberty Aviation Museum ($8 with AAA discount). This is a relatively new museum still finding its way, but it was a nice place to while away an hour. The museum presents a lot of information about Island Airways, Ford Trimotors, and Henry Ford's contributions to aviation that include the National Air Tours and the many impactful firsts of Ford Airport.

Parked near Warrior 481 was what appeared to be a B-24 Liberator bomber.

I met with the pilots from the Cessna 140 (above) and we looked over the massive aircraft together, puzzled. It certainly looked like a Liberator in many ways, but not quite. I asked some questions about it at the museum, but the staff did not seem to know much about it.

Further research indicates that it is a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer, a Naval version of the B-24 developed for maritime patrol.

A single vertical stabilizer serves to readily differentiate the Privateer from its Liberator forebears. Although Naval Privateers were built with gun turrets, this aircraft is consistent with an unarmed configuration flown by the United States Coast Guard. I have to imagine that the large nose, tail, and waist windows replacing those turrets are ideal for aerial observation. This particular Privateer was later used as a fire bomber in Wyoming. The ship is owned by a Phoenix, Arizona company (not the Liberty Aviation Museum) and is currently on the airshow circuit as the only flying example of its kind.

Inside the next hangar, I was amused to find this crate tucked away among a pile of parts. Somehow, I cannot imagine that a pale ginger ale named "Tinkle" would be terribly enticing. Nevertheless, J. Hungerford Smith still exists as a brand, manufacturing syrups (including the flavor for A&W Root Beer) under the ConAgra Foods umbrella. The Hungerford Building is still a Rochester landmark, now primarily used as studio and gallery space for artists.

Inside the hangar, assembly moves forward on a Ford Trimotor. As I understand it, the group in Port Clinton partnered with Maurice Hovius, a well-known Trimotor expert from the Kalamazoo area (Vicksburg, MI) who rebuilt the Air Zoo's Ford to flying condition after insidious corrosion was discovered inside its central spar box. His company, Hov Aire, also maintained a small facility in Three Rivers, MI where I learned to fly. Aviation is an amazingly small world.

The Liberty Aviation Museum is also playing host to this magnificently restored Grumman Avenger.

With the splendid lighting, I took some additional shots of Warrior 481 before launching on the next leg of the return flight. A note of caution: the self-service fuel pump at Port Clinton delivers 100LL like a fire hose.

Rather than file GPS-direct, which would have taken us down the middle of Lake Erie, I included the Jefferson VOR in the route to prevent flying too far offshore.


We launched from runway 27 and climbed to 3,000 feet before contacting Cleveland Approach for clearance.

As we crossed over Cedar Point, we were cleared as filed and instructed to climb to 7,000 feet where the tailwinds were strong and the air cool. We cruised comfortably at 140 knots through smooth air where I enjoyed the view of the lakeshore and the skyline of Cleveland sliding past.

Then, from Erie Approach: "Warrior 481, do you have the convective SIGMET covering an area from Buffalo to Albany?" For the uninitiated, a SIGMET stands for "significant meteorological information" pertinent to flight safety. The fact that it was a "convective SIGMET" meant thunderstorms.

Aw, crap.

"Negative, Warrior 481." The Erie controller proceeded to recite a litany of locations, vertices defining the polygonal SIGMET area. As the controller rattled off these locations, a mental picture of the SIGMET area failed to materialize. But SIGMETs are part of the weather package uploaded by ADS-B and I should have been able to display it on the iPad. I discovered that, for the third time since I started using the Stratus 2 with ForeFlight, weather data was no longer updating. As in the previous instances, ForeFlight was receiving GPS position data from the Stratus unit and Stratus was receiving signal from three ADS-B towers. I rebooted both the iPad and the Stratus and was finally able to receive and display a graphical representation of the SIGMET. Indeed, it covered an area from west of Rochester to well east of Sodus. Radar returns already showed a number of cells in the vicinity.

Looking north across Lake Erie, I could see thunderheads marching eastward over Ontario, feeding the line of storms over Rochester. I acknowledged the Erie controller's advisory about the SIGMET and continued to monitor the situation as we crossed the Pennsylvania - New York state line.

Chautauqua Lake

With the eastern end of Lake Erie in sight, I could see a distinctively thunderstorm-shaped cloud hovering in the vicinity of Buffalo. Though delayed, the radar mosaic showed a trend toward increasing thunderstorm activity in the vicinity of my destination.

Should I divert? Descend below the cloud bases and visually pick my way through? Continue forward while monitoring the situation?

Rochester appeared to be similarly impacted by nasty weather (above). We were still on a direct course for Sodus, but the data I had in front of me showed a cell directly above the airport with others moving in from the west.

Do something.

A voice from within providing a little kick in the ass. I started checking weather at other nearby airports. Le Roy and Genesee County? Both were under cells. Besides, neither offered any food options to stranded pilots and the afternoon was maturing into evening. I fixated on Dansville. It was outside the convective area (barely), very familiar, and always has food available. The ADS-B weather for Dansville was an hour old, indicating a clear sky and a 40° crosswind of 10 knots gusting to 19. Terrain and distance prevented me from tuning the Dansville ASOS and listening to the real time audio broadcast directly.

Old data, but good enough.

Radar track courtesy of FlightAware

I called Buffalo Approach and requested a diversion to Dansville. This was approved and a revised clearance was issued. I was handed off to Rochester Approach just in time to begin stepping down for a visual approach to Dansville. Airliners inbound to Rochester were carefully working around cells dotting the area. I decided that the diversion was a good idea; there was no need to cut my safety margins so close.

About 15 miles out, I was finally able to receive the Dansville ASOS. The crosswind was still strong, but meant little more than a bit of a "sporty" landing. We landed and parked facing northward, the weather system prompting our diversion clearly visible in the distance.

I went for a walk, chatted with "Dave the Cropduster" who was waiting for the wind to diminish enough to spray, and eventually had dinner at the least unappealing fast food option that I could find. With the battery on my iPhone dwindling rapidly, I monitored the weather radar until nothing but light rain remained over Sodus. After two hours in Dansville, my window had opened.

Calm Return

Dave was still waiting for the wind to slacken when I launched VFR out of Dansville. I wished him luck before bringing the Warrior's engine back to life for the final push home.

The air aloft was calm, if not entirely still. As we flew north, conditions at Sodus continued to improve from marginal VFR to high ceilings and unlimited visibility. With the clouds disintegrating, sunlight poured down through their tattered remnants.

On approach into Sodus, I was comforted by the familiar Upstate New York countryside after so much time over Midwestern farm country. We were home again.

By the time we reached Sodus, the only evidence of storms was a very wet surface.

To recap, we flew a total of 12.1 hours, all daytime VFR. I logged landings at three new-to-me airports, including one that has been on my list for many years (Burke Lakefront). I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rick's Cafe Boatyard, the Tin Goose Diner, the Liberty Aviation Museum, and saw the world's only flying Consolidated Privateer. I visited with several old friends, including reconnecting with Mike whom I was privileged to take for his first light airplane ride. Overall, good stuff.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Crossroads of America

"Are you guys, like, scientists or something?" 
- Girl on commercial flight, June 5, 1997 after the 45th annual ASMS Conference

Limestone and Lasers

In the late 1990s, I was a graduate student at Indiana University - Bloomington studying Analytical Chemistry. Located in a small city approximately one hour south of Indianapolis, the campus defies many people's expectations of Indiana: beautiful, architecturally-diverse limestone edifices arrayed across a densely wooded, rolling landscape. At the time, the program was generally recognized as being among the top three of its kind nationally.

It was also a crucible, as growth experiences tend to be. Along the way, I forged some excellent friendships. One of them was with Mike, who was in my wedding and went on to become a professor at Butler University in Indianapolis. Roughly thirteen years had passed since I last visited Mike. I decided that I was overdue for a return to Indiana, the self-styled "Crossroads of America" (during my time there, it said so right on the license plates, so it must be true).


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
2 Aug 2015 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - BKL (Cleveland, OH) -
FDY (Findlay, OH) - EYE (Indianapolis, IN)
5.8 1452.1

On departure from Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, we were turned due north over Lake Erie, then gradually vectored along an arcing trajectory to a southwest heading. Landfall occurred between Lorain (above) and Sandusky.

The peninsula ending at Cedar Point, a popular
amusement park destination from my childhood.

Anticipating a strong headwind, I chose to cruise at 4,000 feet. At this altitude, we still faced a 20+ knot headwind and were too low to escape the heat and turbulence. Crossing landward over the Lake Erie shore, the bumps simply intensified in frequency and magnitude. I tried to stay hydrated by drinking water along the way, but the bumps nearly always coincided with sips and I found myself wearing more water than I consumed. I could have chosen a smoother, cooler ride at higher altitude, but would have prolonged the flight significantly in exchange. I stand by my choice.

I passed the Bellevue Train Yard near Bellevue, OH. Owned by Norfolk Southern, it is touted as the second largest freight car classification yard in North America. It was certainly impressive to see from the air.

The train yard tapered down at the outlets like the throat of a venturi. Wryly, I wondered if the trains shot out of the end of this thing at a higher velocity than they possessed in the wider portion of the yard.

After a decade of flying primarily in Upstate NY, the pancake flat terrain of Ohio, largely deforested and subdivided by rectangular section lines, seemed strikingly foreign. I was reminded of stories that my mentor Dave would tell about flying his Decathlon VFR from Michigan to near Louisville, KY; he would simply select a section line and follow it all the way south to his destination.

When you live in a place flattened by glaciers - nature's steam rollers - it evidently becomes necessary to take extraordinary measures to keep water around. Witness this highly unnatural lake, the Findlay Reservoir.

I chose to land at Findlay because it was along my flight path to Indianapolis and fuel was priced at $4.65/gal (full service). Given the headwind I faced, a fuel stop made a lot of sense. My radio calls on Unicom were made to no one in particular; the place was deserted when I landed. The facility was beautiful, two long runways in excellent condition. The wind velocity blowing down runway 25 was in the high teens, gusting into the twenties. Warrior 481 and I practically descended vertically and touched down gently.

Findlay was quiet. Eerily so. I popped the Warrior's door open to provide some relief from the heat and, though this increased air movement in the cabin, the breeze came in like the hot breath of a furnace. As we taxied, the wind at our tail was strong enough to open the door against the propwash. As I took in the deserted facility, I began to wonder if I needed to fly elsewhere for fuel. Findlay does not have a self service pump.

My concerns were put to rest when a solitary city employee shambled out to the ramp and off-handedly waved me forward to the park at the pump. He was helpful enough, but not interested in chatting.

When I saw the Marathon corporate hangar, I suddenly understood the funding source for the beautiful airport. Perhaps it also explained the low fuel price.

As I disembarked, the aggressive wind clutched at me and I realized that my shirt was soaked through with sweat. I hydrated with the rather warm water that I still carried with me, then took advantage of the free Wi-Fi and air conditioning in the terminal building to file an IFR plan for the final leg of the flight to Indianapolis.

Fancy Schmancy $100 Hamburger

Bump...bump...left rudder...adjust pitch...bump...roll to heading...bump...adjust pitch. So went the remaining flight to Indianapolis, a bit of a slog in the heat.

Pictured above is a southward looking view of the border between Ohio and Indiana. Can you see the difference? Neither could I.

Sectional chart depicting Eagle Creek and Indianapolis International

We passed through areas controlled by Toledo Approach, Fort Wayne Approach, and eventually, Indianapolis Approach. The Indianapolis controller provided a vector to line us up with runway 21 at Eagle Creek Airpark, tucked well under the outer Class Charlie shelf of Indianapolis International's airspace. Despite the haze and my unfamiliarity with the area, I reported the field in sight from fifteen miles out. Indianapolis cleared me for a descent and cut me loose from the system over a collection of towers whose tops reached nearly 1900 feet above sea level (yikes!).

Stratus / ForeFlight GPS ground track from BKL - FDY - EYE

I was thoroughly exhausted when I landed at Eagle Creek, but proud to have hand flown the route so precisely as shown by my radar track.

The staff at Eagle Creek Aviation were very attentive and courteous. In the time it took me to use the restroom, they had already relocated Warrior 481 and securely tied her down. The folks at Granite Air Center in Lebanon, who also charge $15/night for parking, could take some lessons from these guys.

Though tired, I was happy to be back at the "Crossroads of America". The day's flight included landings at three new-to-me airports (BKL, FDY, EYE). Flight planning prior to the availability of winds aloft data anticipated a four hour and five minute total flight time. With headwind, the actual time flown was 5.8 hours.

Eagle Creek is reasonably well known in the aviation community. Microsoft Flight Simulator X even featured a mission involving a Piper Cub at Eagle Creek. Across the street from Eagle Creek is Rick's Cafe Boatyard, a casually upscale restaurant focused on seafood. I was seated quickly, plied with lots of water (per request), and had an excellent dinner while I waited for Mike. I think that I can say without hyperbole that Rick's served the best airport meal I have ever consumed.


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hours) Total Time (hours)
3 Aug 2015 N21481 EYE (Indianapolis, IN) - BMG (Bloomington, IN) - EYE 1.7 1453.8

There is something amazing about reconnecting with old friends and discovering that the bond is still strong after so many years apart. Mike and I had a great conversation the evening I arrived, part current events, part reminiscence.

The next morning, Mike got his first light aircraft flight in Warrior 481. We launched from Eagle Creek and flew to Bloomington. Along the way, we discovered an abandoned airport (the former Speedway Airport) and Mike took the controls and flew a circle around a farm.

Comrades and Artifacts

At the Monroe County Airport in Bloomington, we parked at Cook Aviation and borrowed one of their Cadillac courtesy cars to visit campus. Both of us strained our rusty memories to navigate a city neither of us have inhabited for fifteen years. On campus, we encountered a former contemporary, Steve, who was leaving his role there as a staff scientist to take a tenure track position at the University at Buffalo. We found my former office mate, Jon, on the fourth floor of the Chemistry Building where he manages the IU Mass Spectrometry Facility. Jon's heartfelt claims that I taught him much of what he knows were warmly appreciated but, I think, a bit exaggerated. We also chanced upon Randy, another alumnus of my old research group now working for a scientific instrument company. He happened to be on site making a sales call. This impromptu reunion moved to Siam House for lunch, an old favorite where I had my very first taste of Thai food many years ago.

After lunch, we sought out my graduate adviser. We found him working in the lab with his college-aged son. While there, I found that the mass spectrometer I built (with help from group mates Randy and Noah) was still in place. It had been unused for several years and the diffusion pump was cool to the touch, but the chamber was still under a partial vacuum. I peered inside at the interior components, reliving late nights in the lab figuring out how to minimize electronic noise in a device designed to accept up to a 16,000 V pulse delivered over tens of nanoseconds. Cables and power supplies still bore labels written in my hand, now faded and brittle.

I published four papers with data acquired on this instrument, though I think the most important moment for me was the day that it started producing useful data.

Stratus / ForeFlight GPS track from EYE to BMG (including Mike's circle) and back.

We returned to Cook Aviation and launched toward the puffy cumulus crowding the sky. I have only high praise for Cook; we were welcomed warmly and at $4.96/gal, their fuel prices were well below the on-field competition (which I used previously).

Back in Indianapolis, Mike escorted me through the chemistry laboratory at the Indianapolis Museum of Art where he periodically volunteers in support of artwork conservation efforts. It was a fascinating look at the application of chemistry to restoring damaged antiquities.

The day ended with dinner at Mike's house with his wife Laura and their teenage daughters whom I last saw as infants.

Good food, good friends, and good science makes for a great trip by general aviation!