Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sudden Autumn

Displaced in Time

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Sep 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.7 1862.9

Solo over Canada. Again. It was my twenty-first flight across Ontario between New York and Michigan for 2018.

Clouds over Lake Ontario just east of Hamilton, ON

The Warrior's wheels seemed to drag through the tops of a ragged stratus layer that occasionally allowed peeks of the underlying farmland.

I was swimming upstream against a significant headwind and chose a lower altitude of 4,000 feet to shorten the flight time as much as possible. I had a lot of work to accomplish in Michigan that day.

I caught my breath when the colors below finally registered. What happened to summer? Nature had slipped on her colorful autumn gown while I was not paying attention. My mind reeled for a moment. The last time I consciously thought about the season, it was July. I have clearly been distracted.

Near London, the 401 swings to the southwest toward Windsor and Detroit.

As I neared the St Clair River and the international border, Toronto passed me to Selfridge Approach. Selfridge was in contact with two other aircraft crossing from Canada to the United States. One of them was a speedy Lancair Legacy.

Selfridge: "Legacy XYZ, overtaking traffic, five o' clock, same altitude, a Cherokee. It will pass off to your left."

Overtaking aircraft: "We're a Pilatus."

Selfridge: "Legacy XYZ, correction, overtaking aircraft is a Pilatus, not a Cherokee."

Legacy XYZ: "I was wondering what kind of Cherokee could overtake us!"

So was I. I may be a "fast Cherokee", but I know my limits.

"This Is Your Life"

Oakland County International was busy that morning and landing to the east. As a result, Pontiac Tower vectored me north of the field to sequence me into the flow of traffic.

Lake Orion nearly slipped under my wing before I noticed it. I lived the first six years of my life in the eponymous town and spent nearly every Fourth of July until I was in my 20s watching the municipal fireworks show from my uncle's lakefront property. Lake Orion was where The Bear was introduced to fireworks. Eventually, my uncle and aunt moved away from their house on the edge of the lake and then, my uncle was gone. More than mere geographic distance separated me from the place of my childhood.

In the next moment, I was over Elkhorn Lake (lower right corner of frame) and the subdivision that supplanted the farm where I was raised. When I was six, we moved from Lake Orion to Clarkston. Following historical suite, my trajectory led me over Clarkston next.

Looking southwest over Pine Knob with the I-75 / Sashabaw Rd interchange in the upper left corner of frame.

My perception of distance between Lake Orion and Clarkston, my two home towns, was forged when I was six years old. Still flying vectors for sequence to Oakland County, the airplane covered the distance from one town to the other in mere moments. That these two places were instantaneously adjacent confounded my youthful memories of time spent traveling Clarkston Road between them.

Clarkston is perhaps best known by Michiganders as the home of Pine Knob, a ski resort with a large outdoor amphitheater (much like CMAC in Rochester or Deer Creek in Indianapolis). The music venue is now known as "DTE Energy Music Theater", but most people still stubbornly call it Pine Knob rather than appease the corporate sponsors (not to mention that the DTE name is a mouthful). My high school graduation was held on the Pine Knob stage. It was the only local place large enough to accommodate a 500+ graduating class.

After all these years of flying, it was my first time photographing Pine Knob from the air. Because of its proximity to Oakland County International, I have always avoided loitering in the vicinity.

Directed to join a left downwind for runway 9R, I passed just east of downtown Clarkston. Below was one of four different elementary schools that I attended (lower left corner of frame), what was left of the old junior high (lower middle portion of frame), downtown Clarkston (upper right corner), and the Clarkston United Methodist Church that hosted Mom's memorial service (center). Mom's house is hidden under the trees to the right of frame. The world of my teenage years was handily contained within a single snapshot. My world is so much larger now.

I have some good memories of that playground behind Clarkston Elementary

As I completed the flight from Sodus to Oakland County, my early life literally flashed before my eyes.

Jetsetter Lifestyle

I parked at Michigan Aviation and stowed my iPad and Stratus before locking the Warrior. I walked 50 feet to where Mom's car was parked and brought the engine back to life. A guy could get used to that kind of convenience, but it was about to end.

Mom's car at PTK, 26 August 2018

Though Mom's house was not officially on the market yet, I already had a buyer and a fair offer in hand. My goals for the day included signing paperwork for the house and returning Mom's car to the dealership. I had some angst around the latter because the Subaru was leased and there is a lot of conflicting data out there on what actually happens when the lessee passes away.

Mom was told that, if anything happened to her, all I needed to do was return the car and the remainder of the lease would be excused. The finance manager at the dealership affirmed that most people in my situation simply return the car and walk away. However, I was told by someone else at the dealership that the estate would be liable for the 18 months remaining on the lease and the bank echoed this. I had been making the lease payments during the time that I used the car because I wanted to do the right thing, but the need for the car was dwindling with the sale of the house on the horizon.

I washed the car (it was filthy), removed all personal effects, and placed the original floor mats in the trunk before journeying to the Southfield dealership to surrender the car. Kathy followed in her Jeep to return me to Clarkston. I decided that the best way to resolve the mixed messaging around the lease was to speak with someone in person. I accosted the first salesperson I encountered and explained the situation. His face twisted with a grave expression and he began lecturing me about all of the estate's obligations under the original lease.

My face fell. Then he paused for a moment and asked, "Wait. Is this a Subaru or a Hyundai?"


"Oh, you're all set. Just hand over the keys. Subaru does not go after the estates of deceased leaseholders. Hyundai is really aggressive about it, though."

I provided him with all sets of keys and he pushed a form across the table at me that required my signature to "ground" the car. "Subaru may contact you for a copy of the death certificate to verify everything, but otherwise, you're all set," he explained.

"Oh. OK. Do you want my contact information?"

"No. They'll figure it out." Kathy and I exchanged confused looks and I glanced at my illegible scrawl of a signature on the paperwork, the only link that the dealership had to me.

"How, exactly, will they do that? I can give you my contact information."

"No, don't worry about it. You're all set. Have a nice day." He practically shooed us away.

And, with that, the matter of the car was settled more easily than I expected.

Back in Clarkston, Kathy reviewed the real estate paperwork with me and I signed where indicated. Then I mowed the lawn and took a stroll around town, walking the adjacent street where my childhood friends lived. Perhaps it was my last time to roam the old neighborhood. I did not stop at any of the houses, though. Even my friends' parents had moved away in the decades since I last played on that street.

Another Case of Mistaken Identity

My Mom's dear friend Tracy asked if she could visit the house one last time while it was still "Mom's". I invited her over for the afternoon. I had also promised that I would take her sixteen year old son Tre'vyon for an airplane ride. It would be his first time flying. Tracy and Tre were kind enough to drive me back to Oakland County Airport now that I was without wheels.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Sep 2018 N21481 PTK (Waterford, MI) - local flight 0.7 1863.6

Aloft, we turned north to avoid the Detroit Bravo. As we crossed I-75, I oriented Tre by pointing out Great Lakes Crossing, the "new" mall that directly precipitated the demise of the mall from my youth.

Tre seemed comfortable enough, so I offered to let him fly. He shyly declined and I was not inclined to twist his arm. We had a nice ride, flying over a late afternoon landscape that glowed warmly with an amber hue.

Approaching from the north, I was directed to enter a left downwind for runway 9L.

"Pontiac Tower, Cherokee Four Eight One, could we get 9R? We're parking on the south side at Michigan."

"Cherokee Four Eight One, I have another Cherokee on a long final for 9R. Once you see him, you can follow him in to land 9R."

I scanned the horizon and located a small black dot moving in the correct direction. "Cherokee Four Eight One has the Cherokee on final," I called.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, cleared to land Runway 9R, number two."

I studied the dot as it drew closer and noticed a distinctive forward slope to the vertical stabilizer on the low wing aircraft. My gut liquefied in fear. That was no Cherokee! Was I following the wrong aircraft? Was I about to cause a conflict with another airplane that I did not see? I immediately swung the Warrior's nose back toward the downwind for safety while scanning the sky for a different aircraft.

"Ah, Pontiac Tower, the traffic on final appears to be a Mooney. Four Eight One does not have the Cherokee in sight," I broadcast.

"Oh, correction, traffic on final is a Mooney. There is no other Cherokee in the pattern. Cleared to land number two, 9R."

It was the second case of mistaken identity for the day, but this one nearly caused me to wet my pants.

I gave Tre a sweet landing on the enormous runway and returned him safely to his mother. When I told her that Tre declined the controls, Tracy exclaimed, "I would have done it!" Tre is a quiet kid and it was hard for me to discern if he had fun, but Tracy later assured me that he enjoyed his first flight very much.

Here's HHOWE To Fix It

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Sep 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.7 1866.3

After paying my fuel bill, I informed Scott that I had surrendered the car and would no longer be keeping it on Michigan Aviation property.

"Does that mean you're not coming back?" To my surprise, he actually sounded disappointed.

The "ADRIE" route between PTK and SDC

The struggle continues.

After a summer spent successfully filing the ADRIE route home (above), the FAA had another, "better" idea for my return home that evening. A new departure procedure had been commissioned, the HHOWE1 departure. I was issued a route that would carry me southeast via the HHOWE1 departure BROKK transition, then northeast to DERLO, then southeast along T608 to WOZEE, then northeast to KSDC. If it sounds inefficient in writing, it looks even worse when plotted on a chart (below).

The cleared HHOWE1 route home

I was already departing later than intended and knew that I would be flying much of the trip in the dark. The new clearance would add an unnecessary 30 minutes to the flight through uncongested airspace.

As the sun settled toward the horizon, I made the interminable taxi from Michigan Aviation to the west end of the airport for departure on runway 9R for the second time that evening. I shielded my eyes from the sun as I taxied directly toward it, the light flickering nauseatingly as it was sliced by the Warrior's propeller at low RPM.

I admired the Warrior's shadow on the taxiway as I waited for IFR release.

Downtown Pontiac was positively aglow as I passed overhead while direct to MALTB intersection, the first fix on the HHOWE1 departure.

Temporarily held at 5,000 feet by Detroit Approach, I flew deeper into the Bravo, passing a few miles northeast of downtown Detroit as shadows stretched eastward.


I crossed the edge of Lake St Clair with Lake Erie ahead in the windscreen. Colors in the sky gorgeously morphed from a peach blush to crimson as the sun retreated beyond the horizon.

As I approached BROKK intersection over the cold water of Lake Erie, Cleveland Center called.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, proceed direct WOZEE after BROKK." Evidently, the ridiculous detour to London, ON from my original clearance did not make sense to Cleveland Center, either. Cleveland's unsolicited short cut saved me a respectable fifteen minutes of flight time.

The Gift

Actual ground track from PTK to SDC courtesy of FlightAware. Not bad for hand-flying the whole way.

Unfortunately, proceeding direct WOZEE (Buffalo, essentially) from BROKK meant a lot more time over water. From 7,000 feet, I was within gliding range of shore at all times, though sometimes just barely. Through the wonders of geometry, I have known for years that I can glide to any point that appears under the left wingtip from my vantage point in the left seat. But it was also a dark night, which put me right on the edge of my comfort zone. Still, I preferred this new routing over the absurd excursion via London.

With the radio virtually silent after nightfall, I broke my usual rule about only listening to instrumental music in flight and enjoyed the Hamilton soundtrack as I flew east. It was a beautiful flight along the dark Canadian shore, then over the lights of Buffalo and Rochester before landing at Sodus around 9:30 pm. I returned exactly 14 hours after departing that morning. It was a long, but productive day, from making significant progress on managing Mom's estate to giving a terrific sixteen year old kid his first airplane ride.

Somewhere along the way, I saw the fall colors spread across Ontario and experienced a sense of lost time as though I had somehow skipped from summer directly to fall. Thoughts of "how is that possible?" dominated my internal dialogue, but I knew the reason at a deeper level. It spoke directly to my state of mind since July.

The true gift of the day was looking beyond the Warrior's windows -- momentarily putting aside the instruments and the responsibilities and the work and the grief -- to not only gaze at the harvest quilt draped across Ontario, but having the mental bandwidth to actually see it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


There I Was...

...plunging blindly earthward through the clouds, GPS-direct to the safe haven of a runway mere miles away. Again, I scanned the gauges. Something was very wrong. Both fuel gauges were nearly pegged at empty. How was that possible?

An hour and twenty minutes earlier, I departed Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, OH with 25 gallons of fuel on board. The simple arithmetic that always worked to stave off fuel exhaustion in the past had failed. Over the last several minutes, I had watched the needle of the selected fuel tank visibly swing toward empty. I had the mixture pulled abnormally lean in an effort to keep the engine making power for as long as possible. Somehow, the Lycoming ran smoothly and the head temperatures read unusually low despite the aggressive leaning.

Too late, I understood that the possibility of fuel exhaustion before making port was very real.

How did I let myself get here?

Club Outing

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
15 Sep 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - BKL (Cleveland, OH) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - SDC 5.0 1860.2

2018 proved to be a difficult year to organize fly-out excursions for the Williamson Flying Club. Most were scuttled by poor weather, including a planned August flight to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, OH. We last visited as a club in 2016. Everyone had a great time, but we recognized that there was more to see and do on a return trip. For a 2018 flight, we decided to skip the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (been there, done that) in favor of touring the USS Cod, a WWII submarine, and the Steamship William G Mather, a restored early 20th century Great Lakers freighter.

A September 15 rain date for Cleveland was also nearly cancelled because of marginal forecasts along the route. We target good VFR conditions for fly-out trips to make them accessible to all of our club pilots. Fortunately, we held off on a decision until the morning of departure and, to our delight, conditions were much better than forecast. Eight people in three aircraft departed the Williamson Sodus Airport around 8:00 am.

Ed joined us in his recently purchased Archer II, Four Four Papa. He had Rick along for the ride.

Tom, Alicia, Mike, and Mike's son made the flight in Archer Eight Five X-Ray. Tom flew the outbound leg and Mike flew the return.

Brenda decided to ride with me when Kristy and The Bear bailed-out at the last minute (it might be tempting to call this prescience, but I think it was more about the early departure time). Brenda was an old friend and a former direct report from the Kalamazoo days who was visiting Rochester for the weekend. Having flown to Groton, CT with me in 2014, she was no newbie to General Aviation flying.

Despite some low clouds south of the New York Thruway (above), the sky was clear most of the way to Cleveland.

Brenda and I had a wonderful opportunity to catch up after a few years out of touch. I had changed jobs twice since the last time we flew together and her company had undergone a significant change in ownership and culture. We had a lot to talk about.

Though the Warrior purred smoothly through the air, something was a little off. Cylinder head (CHT) and oil temperatures were cooler than usual and, at 6,000 feet, the airplane was not quite achieving the usual RPM, even at wide-open throttle. True airspeed hovered around 115 knots, about 5-7 knots lower than normal. Sure, I was still pulling away from Eight Five X-Ray, but Ed's Archer II was outpacing us.

Troubleshooting silently in the midst of conversing with Brenda, I discovered that pulling the mixture back more aggressively than usual achieved better power, though the CHTs still ran low. Although something was clearly different, the airplane ran so well that I was not alarmed.

Burke Lakefront was landing runway 6R that day and we were held high and vectored out over Lake Erie for sequencing before being cleared to make a short approach.

On left base for 6R, we flew directly at the Cleveland waterfront with the steamship William G Mather and football stadium prominently filling the windscreen.

As I reduced power in the descent, I noticed that the #1 cylinder was running much cooler than the others. It reinforced that something was different, but given that low CHTs are not harmful to the engine, there appeared to be no specific danger.

As directed, we parked in front of the control tower and waited with Ed and Rick for the others to arrive in Eight Five X-Ray.

When Tom lined up on final approach, I could see Mike's son in the back seat actively taking photographs with an iPad.

I captured a "behind the scenes" shot of Tom and Alicia's Burke Lakefront selfie.

Alicia, Ed, Tom, Me, Mike, Mike's son, and Rick. Photo by Brenda.

Finally, we had a quorum assembled on the Burke Lakefront ramp. It was time to explore the waterfront!

The Three-Armed Astronaut

The Burke Lakefront terminal building is home to the International Women's Air and Space Museum and features a number of exhibits spread throughout the interior.

One artifact that I had missed previously was this Coke machine that flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 1995 as part of an experiment (one evidently sponsored by Coca-Cola). I can say without hyperbole that, as I read the plaque, a voice in my head proclaimed "Tooth-rot in spaaaaace!" with the same inflection used by the "Pigs in Space" narrator.

We also discovered this strange three-armed astronaut at the museum. They sure do grow 'em differently in Cleveland!

Das Boot

Though Mike and I toured the USS Cod on our previous trip to Cleveland, we enjoyed our second exploration. It was a first time visit for everyone else.

First, we basked in the undeniable gravitas of a bronze plaque.

The USS Cod is a diesel-electric submarine first launched in March 1943. It is 312 feet long and only 27 feet wide. That is not a lot of space for a crew complement that eventually numbered 97.

It was a hot day and this big fan provided absolutely no cooling whatsoever. Useless.

To quote Risky Business, "Who's the U-boat commander?" For the record, quoting Risky Business is not usual behavior for me and, yes, the Cod is American and not German, but I could not resist the opportunity to make an eighties callback.

My friends finally decided to stop goofing around on shore and board the submarine.

If the USS Cod were about to attack Cleveland, I believe that the sight picture would look something like this.

Photo by Brenda

Whoever heard of a bunch of pilots hanging out on a submarine? How fast does this thing go, anyway? Like 22 knots maximum? Does that even qualify as moving?

Photo by Brenda

The same group of pilots with a big gun behind them needs to be taken a bit more seriously, however.

Mike literally went down the hatch, as did we all. The USS Cod is mostly preserved in its active duty configuration. That meant climbing ladders and negotiating tight spaces with a strong likelihood of a bumped noggin or bruised shin while going from compartment to compartment.

Evidently, the bunks in the forward and after torpedo rooms were popular because those spaces were quieter, cooler, and less prone to foot traffic than bunking midships. Pictured above is the forward torpedo room with enough space to bunk fifteen crewman. Looking around, I would have guessed something closer to five. Clearly, my concept of personal space is not applicable to submarines.

That looked like a door meant to withstand some pressure.

Gauges and valves were everywhere. Which spigot was hot and which was cold?

I am not claustrophobic by nature, but I think sleeping on that middle bunk would have made me anxious. Side sleepers need not apply.

Officers on board the Cod had more elbow room, an obvious benefit of moving up through the ranks.

This little office was so tight that I wondered if it came equipped with a crowbar to facilitate crew member extraction.

As a pilot, I am well aware that red lighting is used to preserve night vision, but I wondered about the need for red lighting in the control room. A nearby plaque supplied the answer: so that crew members could go topside at night with their night vision intact.

The USS Cod control room had enough gauges to put the complement of instruments on a typical Cherokee panel to shame.

Pitch is set with two brass wheels operated by a bow planesman and a stern planesman acting as a team. No gyroscopic attitude instruments here, simple bubble levels provided suitable attitude information.

Clearly, the entire 77 - 97 crew complement did not dine simultaneously. I noticed that the tables and benches were on rollers. Was that to open up the space for dancing?

Located in the engine room, it was not clear to me where this temperature reading was being taken, but any temperature gauge that pegs at 1200°F clearly needs to be taken seriously (though, to be fair, the Warrior's exhaust gas temperatures run hotter than that).

One of four sixteen cylinder, 1600 horsepower Cleveland-built General Motors diesel engines used to recharge the Cod's batteries. Because the diesel engines cannot be run while the boat is submerged, all energy for propulsion is provided by electricity, hence the name of the Cod's manufacturer: Electric Boat.

The way out!

The electric motors used to propel the Cod were controlled by this panel in the Maneuvering Room. Here, electricians controlled the speed of those motors and selected their power source, switching between diesel-powered generators when the Cod was on the surface and batteries while submerged.

Ed and Mike in the aft torpedo room.

As I learned the hard way, it is very challenging to climb a ladder through an access with a diameter less than the length of your femur. There was just not enough space to lift a foot from one rung to the next. I hope that the average WWII submariner was shorter than I am.

Mike and son setting up to defend the Cod. So long as that thing is not pointed anywhere near aircraft parking, I'm fine with it.

To quote an old Far Side cartoon, "Never, never do this."

I was fascinated by the rifling of the gun barrel. This photo was taken from the breech of the gun to avoid "pulling a Mike".

After a great tour of The Cod, we departed around noon for lunch.

Trendy, Hipster Tacos

The nearest restaurant was right on the waterfront: Nuevo - Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar.

Our food was excellent. Most astronauts in Cleveland agree, three thumbs up! Nuevo was as good a $100 hamburger destination as I have ever sampled. It may have been trendy, hipster Mexican, but it was genuinely good trendy, hipster Mexican. Prices were reasonable, particularly for an upscale eatery set in a tourist destination. As for the tequila, no one partook.

Suspicious Behavior

Over lunch, I raised the issue of the Warrior's aberrant engine behavior with the group. I did not feel that the airplane needed to be grounded based on its performance flying to Cleveland, but I suggested that Brenda ride back to Sodus with Ed just in case. I also asked Ed to delay his departure until after I was aloft in case I discovered anything worrisome during run-up or initial climb out.

Tom and Alicia seemed to enjoy the Cleveland waterfront.

Cleveland is a pretty good looking town! At least, from where we stood.

We skipped the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because I'd/we'd been there and done that before.

Even learning that the incomparable John Oates was playing an outdoor concert there, we still took a pass. Sorry, John.

Wally World...Again

Finally, we were about to explore something new to everyone, the Steamship William G Mather!

This was the closest I had ever been to a Laker and it was impressive.

When we reached the entrance, we discovered that the freighter was closed for the day because of a fire that occurred the day before. We had all been Griswolded!

Trusting the Clock

Despite the disappointment of the freighter's closure, everyone had a great trip to Cleveland.

For me, the journey became more complicated when it was time to fly home. As decided over lunch, I flew solo in the Warrior and Brenda rode with Ed.

Pilots are taught that a clock is a better gauge of fuel quantity than the notoriously unreliable gauges built into our aircraft. Leaned for cruise at 75% power, the Warrior will reliably burn about 8.5 gallons per hour. For planning purposes, I usually round this up to 10 GPH both to simplify the arithmetic and to conservatively pad the calculations. This approach has served me well for years; it is not just a rule of thumb, it is a mindset.

On preflight, I discovered that the Warrior's tanks collectively held 25 gallons (2.5 hours of fuel remaining per the 10 GPH assumption described above). Given that the flight to Cleveland was 2.1 hours, I should have had closer to 32 gallons remaining in the tank based on the usual fuel burn. Instead, I consumed close to 12 GPH on the way to Burke Lakefront.


Because I always plan to land with an hour of fuel in the tanks, I decided to amend my clearance partway home to include a fuel stop, most likely at Genesee County Airport in Batavia. With 25 gallons on board, I should have had plenty of fuel to reach Batavia with an hour reserve. On run-up, the engine ran smoothly and behaved well. I launched and the Warrior climbed easily to 7,000 feet.

Fairport Harbor, OH

My cleared route kept me slightly offshore along Lake Erie and out of the clouds. In cruise, I noted that the engine was running cooler than usual again. Aggressive leaning achieved proper cruise power, but the engine still ran cool. This time, cylinders 3 and 4, usually the two hottest, were indicating 315 and 295°F, respectively.

As I passed Erie, I saw a few isolated rain showers farther inland. ForeFlight depicted Eight Five X-Ray and Four Four Papa in trail behind me.

Chautauqua Lake

Significant build-ups towered over the Canadian shore, pillars of white that reflected off the remarkably calm surface of Lake Erie.

At the eastern end of Lake Erie, I asked Buffalo for a diversion to Genesee County airport. This was quickly granted and I adjusted my trajectory a few degrees left to proceed directly to Batavia.

As I approached the wall of clouds ahead, it seemed that the fuel gauges were indicating much less fuel than I would have expected after an hour of flying. Still, I had departed with a nominal 2.5 hours of fuel on board, so reaching Genesee County should not have been a problem.

Nonetheless, as the fuel quantity decreased, I actually observed the needles moving in real time. Though the engine was leaned aggressively, the Warrior appeared to be guzzling fuel like never before. While notoriously unreliable, the gauges for the left and right wing tanks both exhibited the same behavior despite being completely independent of one another. Though I did not understand what was happening with the fuel quantity, the indications were undeniably real.

Farther inland now, I entered the clouds and stayed high, unwilling to give up any altitude prematurely. As I bounced through the clouds toward Genesee County, the fuel levels dropped precipitously. Finally, eight miles from Batavia, I dropped out of the bottom of the clouds, cancelled IFR with Buffalo, and pointed the Warrior's nose directly for the numbers at the end of runway 10.

A Cessna announced five miles west of Genesee County with intentions of entering the pattern. I spotted it off my left wingtip.

"Genesee County Traffic," I broadcast. "Cherokee Two One Four Eight One is five miles southwest, landing one zero. I have a mechanical issue and am planning to land straight in."

The Cessna's pilot indicated that he did not have me in sight, but circled to allow me to land first. I glanced at the fuel gauges and saw that they appeared to be bottomed out, raising doubts that I would reach the airport.

How did I get here? Why did I let things get this far?

For a moment, I considered the reality of becoming another fuel exhaustion statistic, but then focused on flying the airplane. I had stayed high -- as high as possible while still remaining VFR -- and, eventually, had a sight picture clearly indicating that I could glide to the airport. Relief washed over me. The engine could have sputtered and quit right there, I still would have made it.

It never quit. I rolled the Warrior onto the runway at idle with surprising grace, then added power to taxi to a tie down.

Technical Support by Phone

Unprecedented fuel consumption paired with low CHTs pointed to an excessively rich mixture rather than a leak. Somehow, I managed to burn close to 25 gallons of fuel in 1.3 hours, more than double the usual rate of fuel consumption. But why? Though it was a Saturday afternoon, I called Ray.

"Uh oh," he said by way of greeting. With the unusual timing of my call, he knew that something was wrong before answering.

I explained what had happened and answered all of Ray's questions. He suspected that the primer was leaking and drawing excess fuel into the engine.

I suggested that I could leave the airplane at Genesee County for Boshart's crew to examine. Maybe Ed could be persuaded to retrieve me in his Archer. Ray did not think that was necessary. Though he allowed that abandoning the Warrior in Batavia was a fine solution, he suggested that the airplane was running fine other than an excessively rich mixture.

"Fill it up, lean it out, and fly it back here. I'll look at it on Monday."

After thinking about it for a bit, I decided to follow his suggestion.

Welcome Home

The Bear's favorite canoeing destination just off the south end of Irondequoit Bay

A straight line flight from Genesee County to Sodus takes about 30 minutes. Despite the unusual position of the red lever, the airplane flew wonderfully going home. I just used a lot of fuel getting there.

After rolling to a stop on runway 10 at the Williamson Sodus Airport, I added throttle for taxi to the hangar. The engine actually sputtered, running as though started with a full rich mixture at a high elevation airport like Leadville, CO. Pulling the mixture way back soothed the stumbling powerplant. Had it idled that way in Cleveland, I would have never departed.

Ed and Brenda, Tom and Alicia, and Rick had all waited to make sure that I made it home. They heard my request to Buffalo Approach for the diversion to Genesee County, but did not know anything beyond that. I was gratified that they cared enough to wait.

The Fly in the Ointment

The problem was not a leaky primer, it was far more obscure than that. A thin strip of felt from the flapper valve in the carburetor heat air box had detached and lodged itself in the throat of the carburetor. Its presence in the venturi appears to have directly affected the metering of fuel. Once Ray removed the strip of felt and replaced the seal in the air box, Warrior 481's engine went back to running normally again. It was an easy fix.

With the airplane back in shape, what about her pilot?


This episode represents a string of failures on my part. While openly dissecting them is not pleasant, I think it is necessary and worthwhile.

My first opportunity to manage the issue was right after Brenda and I leveled off for cruise flight in Rochester's airspace that morning. I noted the low CHTs and convinced myself that, because the airplane was running so well, there was nothing seriously wrong with it. None of the indications were inherently problematic, but they signified that something was unusual. I could have turned back at that moment, but chose not to.

The next best opportunity to manage the issue was during preflight in Cleveland when I noticed evidence of high fuel burn. As pilots, we are constantly reminded to trust the clock with respect to fuel planning. This is really good advice, except that it was a poor strategy in this case because I had data suggesting an unpredictable burn rate. Granted, it is difficult to overcome a mindset established over 18 years of flying, but aviators need to react to changing circumstances.

In my subjective reality, the rate of fuel burn seemed to increase drastically after I was approved to divert to Genesee County. Whether that is true or merely my perception, an earlier diversion would have pulled me back from the ragged edge in a more satisfactory way. Was I too fixated on Genesee County after making the decision to go there while still on the ground in Cleveland? I cringe when I contemplate the number of airports I passed only to just barely reach Genesee County.

With the fuel burn approaching 18 GPH on the way to Genesee County, all of my endurance calculations were significantly flawed. I was slow to realize that the fuel burn was higher on the way home than it had been going to Cleveland. Unfortunately, I do not have any fuel flow equipment installed that would have indicated that quantity directly. As a result, I continued to put my trust in the clock for too long.

I think that I can lump all of these issues under a general failure to recognize and meaningfully react to changing conditions in a timely manner. Usually, I think that I manage changing conditions quite well, particularly with respect to variable weather and en route decision making. I did not do well in this case. The difference is that I expect weather to be dynamic, but view fuel consumption as a constant. It took a lot of data to convince me otherwise.

Did I do anything right that day? Maybe one thing. Once I was suspicious of an issue, even a poorly defined one, I asked Ed to fly Brenda back in his airplane as a precaution. I think that was a good choice; do no harm.

As for making it to Genesee County Airport with the engine still running, I may have improved the situation with aggressive leaning, but the positive outcome was really just dumb luck. Considering the farmland around Batavia, I had many good options for landing out, but am delighted that I did not need to use any of them.

For me, this was a relatively inexpensive lesson in the dangers of complacency. Airplanes talk to pilots in many ways. Sometimes those messages are unambiguous, but at other times, the meaning may be unclear. In those latter cases, it is essential to stop and listen.