Sunday, November 4, 2018

Opportunistic Breakfast


How much time do pilots spend studying weather forecasts?

It's a rhetorical question. The answer is: a lot, whether there's a flight planned or not. I was weighing a final flight to Michigan on November 7 to attend the closing on Mom's house in person. I knew that I could do all the paperwork remotely, but a part of me wanted to be there for sentimental reasons. Unfortunately, the winds aloft forecast translated into a predicted flight time in excess of four hours to reach Michigan that day. I decided that it was not worth the slog and that it would be a remote closing after all.

However, while perusing the surface prognostic (or "prog") charts, which is where I usually start my weather planning, I noticed that high pressure was forecast for western New York and Pennsylvania on Sunday, November 4. MOS models suggested good VFR ceilings and no rain was in the forecast. In short, it looked like a perfect fall day for flying, the sort of day that should not be squandered.

I proposed an opportunistic breakfast run for the Williamson Flying Club to the West Wind restaurant at the St Marys, PA airport (KOYM). Within a couple of days, sixteen other people signed on to join me.

Friday night, I called the West Wind to make a reservation for seventeen people.

"Is this the flying group?" asked the person who answered the phone.

"Um...yes...we're a flying group." I was puzzled because she would have had no way of knowing from our conversation that I was calling on behalf of the club. As it turned out, another pilot group had called to make a reservation. In fact, multiple people from that group called to make reservations and had managed to thoroughly confuse the restaurant staff. This group was flying in from southeast Pennsylvania and could not provide the restaurant with a definitive number of seats to reserve.

She sighed as she finished explaining the situation to me. "Because you gave me a number, we'll have a table set up for your group. The rest of them will just have to fill in where they can." I have never heard of making a reservation for an indeterminate number of people and it did not strike me as a strategy for success.


To minimal grumbling from the Williamson contingent, I shifted our arrival time earlier to make sure that we would not be competing for ramp space with the other flying group. The pain of this was offset somewhat because the clocks were set back an hour that evening, making the earlier departure time sound worse than it actually was. I also hoped that if we arrived before the other group, it would help the kitchen staff by staggering our orders.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
04 Nov 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - OYM (St Marys, PA) - SDC 2.6 1885.6

It is rare for me to fly the Warrior at maximum gross, but with myself, Dave, Paula, and 44 gallons of fuel on board, we were right at the legal edge. Fortunately, it was a cool morning and the Warrior climbed to altitude with great enthusiasm.

A layer of cloud floated over the Finger Lakes like a thin, gauzy blanket. Standing waves rippled throughout the surface like a windblown banner frozen in time. The ripples were shadow etched, highlighted with great contrast by the low morning sun.

It was my second time flying with Dave for the week. On Tuesday, Dave was my safety pilot while I practiced five instrument approaches. It was Paula's first flight with me.

As we continued over central New York, the layer below thinned to a point where it resembled a sheer curtain barely concealing the autumn landscape below.

As is common for this time of year, fog pooled in the deeper valleys of the so-called Southern Tier of New York.

As we passed over the top of the Wellsville Airport (KELZ), the automated weather observation called a low IFR ceiling.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, is there a fly-in or something going on in St Marys?" The question came from Cleveland Center.

"No, just a group flying out for breakfast," I responded. Cleveland warned that there was a large gaggle of airplanes inbound to St Marys from the southeast. So much for trying to arrive before the other group.

Though I was closer to the airport and on a 45° pattern entry for runway 10, the lead aircraft from the other group -- a flight of three that included a Lancair, a rare GP4, and an RV -- were travelling a lot faster. They barreled directly onto the downwind from the east at high speed. With Ed somewhere behind me in his Archer and given my proximity to the airport, my options were limited. It was not a good place to do a 360° turn for spacing. Instead, I entered the downwind leg ahead of the Lancair.

"I've got some speed on you," the Lancair pilot warned.

I negotiated with the Lancair, who flew a wider downwind and extended his pattern to allow me to land. I agreed to keep my pattern tight and aimed for the numbers. I pulled the throttle, dumped the flaps, and twisted the airplane about two axes to slip earthward. Given that I was high, heavy, and in a Warrior prone to floating, I was pleased with the short field landing that I accomplished. I was one of the few that morning who made the turnoff for the ramp. St Marys does not have a parallel taxiway and most of the other aircraft that came in behind me rolled to the far east end of runway 10 to exit on a short jughandle taxiway loop. They accumulated there until a break in landing traffic allowed them to back taxi to the ramp.

Meanwhile, ours was the first aircraft on the ramp for the morning.

Breakfast Rush

In all, I counted about twenty five aircraft on the ramp at St Marys, only six of which were from Sodus. The West Wind held true to their word and set up a single long table for us while pilots from the other group filtered in to the tables left over. We completely filled the restaurant.

The staff unlocked the balcony for me so that I could get some photos of the ramp. One of the waitresses joined me to take photos for her son, commenting that the ramp had not been so full in over a year and that he would have been thrilled to see it.

Whereas we arrived with five Cherokees and a Cirrus SR-20, the other group arrived with a wonderful diversity of aircraft.

For example: a Mooney, a gyrocopter, a homebuilt GP4, a pair of RVs, a Bellanca Viking, a Navion...

...a Taylorcraft, an Ercoupe, a Stinson...

... a Super Cub, and a Lancair. We filled the ramp and then some. Tom parked Eight Five X-Ray in the grass between the ramp and the runway.

Tom got a closer look at this gyrocopter than he would have preferred. It was slow to clear the runway while Tom brought Eight Five X-Ray in on short final.

I have always admired the burly form of the Navion, but the gear strikes me as looking disproportionately spindly.

Since my last visit to St Marys, the ramp had been completely redone and the markings rotated 90° so that the danger of rolling downhill while parked was eliminated.

Whenever I see a Stinson, it makes me nostalgic for the South Haven days when we used to fly to breakfast: three Cherokees, one Super Decathlon, and Phil's distinctively orange Stinson.

I had to pity an Ercoupe travelling with the likes of a Lancair, a Mooney, and a Viking. I wonder how much of a head start the Ercoupe needed to arrive at the airport within an hour of the others.

Ed's new-to-him Archer II

It was great to see Ed participating in the fly-out. It was even better to see Stacey join him. It may have been his first visit to St Marys, but Stacey had been there with The Bear and I seven years earlier, back when the restaurant was still known as The Silver Wing.

Eight Five X-Ray

The last three WFC arrivals parked on an adjacent ramp. Having heard the craziness on the radio while inbound, all three pilots were unanimously pleased that they did not arrive when I did.

Cherokee twins from the Williamson Flying Club.

The Lancair and I were parked side-by-side, but I did not have opportunity to meet the pilot in person.


Though the restaurant was filled to capacity, the food came promptly and it was all excellent. Kudos to the staff of the West Wind for keeping up so well despite being overrun by hungry pilots.

The whole gang! Photo by Mike.


The ramp cleared quickly once the Pennsylvania pilots finished their meals, leaving just the six WFC aircraft on the ramp.

I was able to capture a picture of proud-new-aircraft owner Brad with his SR-20.

Photo by Stacey
The rest of us posed in front of the St Marys terminal building before dispersing to our aircraft.

ForeFlight display. Looks like I neglected to reverse the route, but I don't use ForeFlight for navigation.

On the way home, I admired the conga line of WFC ships returning to Sodus, all evenly spaced about 4-6 miles apart. Tom was in the lead in Eight Five X-Ray, then Ed in his Archer, then us, and finally Mike in Five Five Whiskey bringing up the rear. Brad's Cirrus had already left the rest of us in the proverbial dust.

The last bit of fall color was fading as we crossed Honeyoye Lake. With Dave along for the ride, I went back under the hood near Rochester and we flew a practice RNAV 10 approach into Sodus. Someone remarked that I should have flown a practice approach into St Marys, but I knew that was a bad idea even before we arrived.

As much as I enjoy flying with the other WFC pilots, these trips always feel a little anticlimactic when everyone lands at the Williams Sodus Airport only to go their separate ways. I caught a quick photo of Dick and Greg while they were refueling Dick's Cherokee 140. Then I headed home.

For an excursion planned at the last minute, I think it was a terrific success and very likely our last hurrah of flying as a group for 2018.

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