Thursday, December 27, 2018

Reflection 2018: The Commuter

A Well-Worn Path

2018 was an interesting year to fly, if not a good year to explore new places. Instead of visiting new airports, I pressed the Warrior into service as a commuter between Michigan and New York. Flying the same route twenty four times between my current and childhood homes highlighted how weather can twist the same path into a very different experience each time, requiring me to manage darkness, rain, turbulence, IMC, thunderstorms, and icing. Even the routing varied according to the whimsy of ATC. Until I had this experience, I would have never suspected that flying so many trips between the same places would have been such a rich learning experience.

The Highlights

In no particular order, the most significant flying experiences of 2018 included:

The Numbers

156.9: Total number of hours flown in 2018, my highest annual total ever. I completed 2018 with 1904.0 total flight hours logged. Since buying the Warrior in 2004, I have targeted 100 hours per year.

11.1: Total number of actual IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) hours flown in 2018. This is also my highest to date in a single year. I now have a total of 46.4 hours in IMC.

66.8: Hours spent commuting between Sodus and Oakland County International (KPTK), 43% of my 2018 flight time. This time does not include the two rides I flew out of Pontiac, nor our post-Thanksgiving stop at KPTK on the way home from South Bend.

Clearly, this is quality time

50.7: Quality hours spent with The Bear on board Warrior 481. The Bear completed 2018 with 451.0 total hours logged since birth. When it comes to General Aviation, she is a well-flown bear.

7: The number of states and provinces visited in 2018 (IN, MI, NH, NY, OH, Ontario, PA) with no new additions to the list, sadly. Alaska does not count because I did not fly myself there.

3: Only three new airports visited in 2018. Is it any wonder that I've ended 2018 itching to visit some new places?

25: The number of people that came along for the ride in 2018. Thanks to Tom C, Ed C, Jamie O, Dave P, The Bear, Kristy, Mom, Max K, Lesly J-L, Dougall (dogs are people too, right?), Chad M, Ken F, Brenda V, Tre'vyon, Lee S, Paula S, Armelle F, Madalenn F, and seven others from the community who rode with me in One Delta Tango at the Apple Blossom Breakfast. Particular thanks to Tom C, Ed C, and Dave P for acting as safety pilots during instrument practice this year.

The Photographs

I have always said that a sizable portion of my fascination with flight is visual. Here's the proof, my favorite images from 2018.

Final, runway 10, Williamson Sodus Airport (KSDC). This is what coming home looks like.

The Bear modeling her stylish David Clarks somewhere over Canada

Upstate NY obscured by a thin veil of mist
("Opportunistic Breakfast")

Outlet of the St Clair River in Lake St Clair
("Celebrating Normal")

Flying along a moraine of the Knik Glacier northeast of Anchorage, AK
("Alaska 2018: Seaplane Excursion")

Warrior 481 and crew at the Billy Bishop City Airport in Toronto, Ontario
("Father's Day, International")

Eastern edge of Lake St Clair near sunset
("Sudden Autumn")

Diverting around a storm near Buffalo
("Dust of the Stars: Part 3")

Niagara Falls
("The Human Chain: The Forever Home")

N21481 somewhere over Canada (98 nautical miles due east of Pontiac, 8,000 feet, to be more precise)
("Dust of the Stars: Part 3")

Over the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, AK. Photographed from a helicopter operated by TEMSCO.
("Alaska 2018: Of Helicopters and Glaciers")

Riding back seat in Mike's Champ, landing runway 28, KSDC

On the ramp at St Marys parked behind One Delta Tango
("The Patron Saint of Gallinaceous Digits")

A Beaver in Ketchikan, AK as photographed from the balcony of our cruise ship
("Alaska 2018: Gratuitous Beaver Shots")

Club members Brad R and Paula S taxi Eight Five X-Ray at Lake Placid with Whiteface Mountain in the background
("Annual Placidity")

The Bear back on the controls for the first time in 4+ years
("Bear Versus Airplane")

A World War II era Naval SNJ advanced trainer at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum
("Lair of the Black Widow")

Our TEMSCO helicopter parked on the edge of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska
("Alaska 2018: Of Helicopters and Glaciers")

Warrior Four Eight One back home after returning from Michigan
("The Human Chain: The Forever Home")

Overflying Ontario, Canada
("Sudden Autumn")

A seaplane departing Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the busiest seaplane base in the world
("Alaska 2018: Alaska Aviation Museum")

The southern coastline of Canada

Low clouds hover immediately over the cold water of Lake Ontario - it was -2°F at the surface
("Square Peg")

Harvest colors seen from over Ontario, Canada
("Sudden Autumn")

Flying along the end of the Knik Glacier in a Cessna 206 seaplane
("Alaska 2018: Seaplane Excursion")

On approach to Billy Bishop Toronto City Centre Airport (CYTZ)
("Father's Day, International")

Lake Ontario Shore west of Sodus Bay
("Polar Bear Flying")

Thunderstorm over Buffalo with Grand Island in the foreground
("Dust of the Stars: Part 3")

Sunset photographed over Rochester, NY
("Sunsets and Plow Trucks")

Headwaters of the Knik River north of Anchorage, AK
("Alaska 2018: Seaplane Excursion")

Canadian highway 401 between London and Windsor, Ontario
("Sudden Autumn")

The Adirondack Mountains
("Annual Placidity")

A partial glory cast upon a thin cloud near Canandaigua, NY
("Fragments of Glory")

Short final to runway 01 at the Alton Bay Ice Runway (B18). Photo by Ed C.
("Ice Runway Pilots")

Interchange of I-490 and I-390 west of Rochester, NY

Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park
("Polar Bear Flying")

East of Lake St Clair at Sunset
("Sudden Autumn")

Bear Versus Airplane

A Return to Form

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
27 Dec 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - SDC 1.8 1904.0

For the first time in four years, The Bear tentatively reached for the yoke and held it gingerly with both hands.

"The airplane is yours," I told her. She continued on course along the Lake Ontario shoreline, countering the occasional bumps that caused one wing or the other to dip earthward. But it was banking the airplane into a turn that eventually summoned a triumphant smile to her face.

A Flyer Is Born

The Bear's first flight, July 29, 2007. Photo by Kristy

The Bear has been flying in Warrior Four Eight One since she was five weeks old, and she made her first cross country flight from Le Roy, NY to Kalamazoo, MI just a few weeks later. She has been immersed in aviation her entire life.

Flying home to Le Roy, NY from Kalamazoo, MI in August 2007. Photo by Kristy

The Bear with Warrior Four Eight One at St Marys, PA, August 24, 2009

At the tender age of two and squarely in her "caveman syntax" phase, she was known to make requests such as, "Me fly in the Daddy airplane?"

The Bear was very excited by her first steep turn during her first flight in the front seat. July 30, 2011.

On her first promotion up front from the back seat, we discovered that she loved steep turns. "Wow! That was some turn!" she exclaimed.

That she would one day take control of an airplane in flight was an inevitability. I waited patiently for her to grow tall enough to see over the glareshield.

The Bear's first time at the controls. September 1, 2012.

The moment she first bent the airplane to her will was a truly exciting milestone for both of us.

Making Kristy nauseous at 3,000 feet. May 11, 2014.

To my surprise, The Bear's last time on the controls was Mother's Day 2014, flying back to Sodus from breakfast at the Oswego County Airport. She simply hung up her headset and refused to take the controls again.

What happened?


"Does she fly your airplane?"

Jill Tallman from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) peered at The Bear hovering shyly behind me. It was an unusually warm and sunny November day in 2017 and the Williamson Flying Club was hosting AOPA in preparation for a feature story about the club in AOPA Pilot.

I shook my head and explained that The Bear was spooked a few years previous when some mild turbulence caused the airplane to behave unexpectedly while she was at the controls. She went left, but the atmosphere banked the airplane right. This so unnerved her that she had gone without touching the controls ever since.

My daughter is a lot like me. She wants to do things at her own pace and pushing her to do anything she does not want to do usually draws the process out even longer. I had decided not to push knowing that she would come back to it on her own someday.

As I explained this, I saw the glint of interest fade from Jill's eye and we moved on to other topics about the club and the airport.


Ready for Her Closeup

"Dad, can I fly the airplane again one of these days?" It was December 2018, four and a half years since her last time on the controls. She had finally turned the corner.

Should've brought some sunglasses.

We launched December 27, 2018 for what was likely to be our last time aloft in 2018, me with my heart beating a quickened rhythm, The Bear eagerly clutching her camera. Before we departed, Williamson Flying Club instructor Mike warned her not to hit that rare, bright shiny thing in the sky.

"He means the sun, doesn't he?" she muttered at me with a full-on derogatory pre-teen tone. I was not looking directly at her at the time and can only infer the eye-roll.

"Yes, sweetie, he means the sun." Hey, it's Upstate New York. Appearance of the sun at this time of year is a noteworthy event.

We climbed to 2,500 feet and flew along the Lake Ontario shore from Sodus Bay to Chimney Bluffs. As we flew, The Bear busily snapped photos.

High clouds. Photo by The Bear

A local marina. Photo by The Bear.

Division between East Bay and Lake Ontario as well as a random seagull. Photo by The Bear

Island in a field. Photo by The Bear.

Flying westward toward Rochester, I surrendered control of the airplane to The Bear. She was tentative, but knew what to do. She followed the Lake Ontario shoreline, making gentle corrections to keep the airplane on course, sometimes correcting for the imperfect atmosphere, sometimes for the rambling shore.

At The Bear's request, I agreed that we could fly over our house. We do not do this often because it is under Rochester's Class Charlie airspace. I called ATC with radial, distance from the Rochester VOR, and altitude to circle. This was granted and, with me back on the controls, we made a single pass over our house.

Our house. Photo by The Bear

We exited Rochester's airspace to the east and I asked The Bear if she wanted to fly again.

"Not really," she answered. But her second thoughts came so quickly that her hands were already reaching for the yoke.

I grinned and removed mine. "Your airplane."

Beaming, she directed our ship eastward along the shore. When the Warrior began to oscillate in pitch, I glanced at her only to find a devilish smirk on her face as she worked the controls fore and aft. She was not only comfortable back on the controls, she was actively toying with me.

It was time to stretch her wings a bit further. "Want to circle? Any direction you want," I encouraged.

"No," she declared, but then second thoughts caught up with her yet again. "What would I have to do?"

"I'm not asking for a loop, just a complete circle. You can go left or right."

She chose a right turn out over Lake Ontario.

"How was that?"

"That was really fun!" Her smile rivaled the radiance of the sun (which, somehow, we managed to avoid hitting per Mike's recommendation).


The Bear's favorite bridge (yes, she has a favorite bridge in town, the "Freddie-Sue"). Photo by The Bear.

When I reported five miles out for the Williamson Sodus Airport, my call was answered by Darrell from the base station in the Le Roy Airport office.

"Wait...what?" I broadcast in surprised response. I have not seen much of Darrell since he moved to Florida. So, just ten minutes after dropping flight following with Rochester, I was back on with Approach requesting a VFR transition of Rochester's airspace to Le Roy.

Landing on runway 10 at Le Roy at the conclusion of The Bear's first flight on July 29, 2007. Photo by Kristy

Landing on runway 10 in a rare easterly wind, I could not help but reflect that it was the same runway (and direction) on which The Bear first landed as an infant over eleven years ago. It made for nice symmetry on this day of aeronautical reboot for The Bear.

We had a great reunion with Ray and Phil, Darrell and his family, and Ron (one of the other Le Roy pilots). It was The Bear's first time landing at the Le Roy Airport since we moved to the Williamson Sodus Airport in 2013. No one could believe how tall she had become.

Final approach, runway 10, Williamson Sodus Airport. Photo by The Bear.

When we packed the airplane away back at Sodus, it was with a sense of great accomplishment. We had regained what was lost. The Bear had tamed her fear and forged new confidence for later forays into the sky.

I knew she'd come around eventually.

Selfie by The Bear

More than any words that I can offer, the success of the day is best summarized by The Bear herself, who took this selfie as we entered the pattern at the Williamson Sodus Airport.

Happy kid, grateful father, time well spent in our airplane; a perfect close to 2018.