Saturday, May 18, 2019

Field Trip

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
18 May 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - B16 (Weedsport, NY) - SDC 1.5 1948.8

On a gorgeous Saturday morning, the Breakfast Club returned to Whitfords Airport (B16, Weedsport, NY) for more of John's cooking. As before, I flew an extended "delaying vector" to the Oswego County Airport so that I arrived on the tail end of the other six ships that departed Sodus that morning.



Spring finally arrived in Upstate New York and the grass was lush and gloriously green. All of the cool kids parked on grass somehow made more appealing by a smattering of dandelions. I envied them their glorious field.


But because I was the last one in, there was no room for me on the grass. So I parked on Whitford's small ramp like a significantly less cool kid.


This single-seat, two cylinder experimental ship lives in the T-hangar bay behind mine. Two or four cylinders, tube-and-rag or all-metal, tail dragger or nose dragger, certified or experimental - our WFC fleet for the morning covered all of the requisite bases.


There were pilots and aircraft from other airports as well, including the cool Stearman from Penn Yan.

Denny, Lee, Mike, me, Alan, Mick, Paula, and Mike (l-r)

As always, John whipped up a terrific breakfast for us, fast and delicious. The fast part was important because we all had business back at the Williamson Sodus Airport at 9:30 that morning. We were on deck to help set up for the next day's annual Apple Blossom Fly-In breakfast.


I think I drove Mick crazy every time I referred to his speedy Sparrowhawk-conversion Cessna 152 II as a "150". His bird is most certainly not the same sort of C-150 that I flew in my original training.



This Piper Colt is the "honorary tail dragger" of the Williamson Sodus Airport.



Back at Sodus, the fuel pump enjoyed some brisk business. Hey, airplanes have to eat, too.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Welcome to 1946"

If It Weren't for Bad Luck...

Plan A for Sunday morning was a flight from Sodus to Lock Haven, PA with the Williamson Flying Club. Several members were planning to fly south for pancakes, including Jamie and me in the Warrior. Unfortunately, a forecast for low clouds over central Pennsylvania ended that plan sixteen hours before the intended launch time.

Plan B was a short hop over to the Tailwinds Diner at nearby Fuzzy (Oswego County Airport, KFZY) for breakfast with the same crew.

Unfortunately, the Warrior had a minor airworthiness problem owing to an AD that turned my oil cooler hoses into pumpkins at the end of April; we were slow to catch it during the annual and the hoses need to be replaced before the airplane can fly again. In looking for available airplane seats for me and Jamie, I accumulated multiple offers of help, but Barry's was first.

Barry keeps a Piper Seneca and a 1946 Grumman Widgeon at Rochester and offered us a ride in the Widgeon. 

Um...yes! 

We met him at Greater Rochester International Airport at 7:15 am. Though fog spilled onshore from Lake Ontario socking-in Sodus and Fuzzy, Rochester was far enough south of the lake to be clear of it.


That was how Jamie, Barry, and I became the only club members to make it in to Fuzzy for breakfast that morning. And we did it in style; 1946 amphibious style. It was one of the best flying experiences I have ever had while the Warrior was grounded.

Two and a Half Tons of Fun

November Four Zero Two Echo is something of an icon in the Rochester aviation community. It was based here for decades before Barry acquired it, at one time belonging to Ray Hylan, founding father of aviation in Rochester (Hylan's mausoleum in Mount Hope Cemetery even bears an engraving of a Widgeon). It is usually granted premium parking at fly-in events and radio calls on Unicom frequently elicit anonymous "Hey, Barry!" responses.

Photo by Jamie

Though it is the smallest of Grumman's World War II-era amphibious designs, the Widgeon was a behemoth to wrestle out of Barry's hangar that morning compared to the average Cherokee or Skyhawk. Still, with Jamie and I pushing and Barry steering with his custom-built tow bar, we had the Widgeon ready to go without much fuss.

Jamie with Barry's Widgeon

Our plan was to fly to Fuzzy, check out the weather conditions, and land if able. I got the right seat for the outbound flight.


At the hold short line for runway 7, Tower was chatty with Barry. "I've never seen his face, but he knows me," Barry commented. Everyone knows you, I thought to myself. How could they not?


As Barry ran-up the Widgeon's engines, I was amused to note that the gear lever ended in a small tire. There was no mistaking the purpose of that control!


The Widgeon rose majestically over the Rochester skyline, tracking solidly and smoothly through the air pointed eastbound toward Fuzzy. On climb-out, we passed just north of the University of Rochester.

The Kalamazoo Air Zoo's Grumman F6F Hellcat, photographed 2 January 2006. Fast, easy to fly, and incredibly rugged, the Hellcat boasted a 19:1 victory to loss ratio in the Pacific against Japanese fighters.

As a sibling of the mighty Hellcat of World War II, the Widgeon felt every bit as solid as one would expect from an aircraft conceived and forged by the Grumman Iron Works.


We enjoyed an up-close view of the Rochester skyline from 1900 feet. In the distance, a low stratus layer blanketed the waterfront.


We passed just south of work.


Irondequoit Bay often provides a path for lake fog to penetrate inland. This morning was a prime example.


A mirror-like surface indicated dead calm conditions on the bay and revealed a phantom bridge span in reflection.

Photo by Jamie

Along the way, Jamie happened to capture a photo of my neighborhood.

Above the Layer


As we flew toward Sodus, the cloud layer thickened below. No one would be getting out of the Williamson Sodus Airport for breakfast that morning.

Photo by Jamie

Barry turned the controls over to me and asked for a 360° turn. The Widgeon flew smoothly and solidly as we circled Webster. It was an absolute joy to fly.

Photo by Jamie

Curse my luck.


An overflight of the Williamson Sodus Airport confirmed our expectations that the rest of the club was trapped below.


Through holes in the clouds, I could see activity around hangars as the others waited for a break that did not come until late morning. My phone buzzed with a text message from Mike. "Is that you in the Widgeon with Barry?" Those gaps in the clouds obviously worked both ways and, for those on the ground, there was no mistaking the unique silhouette of the Widgeon passing overhead.

Fuzzy


As we neared Fuzzy, conditions were definitely...fuzzy. Barry picked up an IFR clearance with Syracuse. However, field conditions improved steadily and, by the time we arrived, we were able to cancel IFR to fly a normal VFR pattern to land.

On approach into Fuzzy

A cemetery in Fulton, NY


As a machine, the Widgeon is a chimera; it's a boat, it's an airplane, it's a tail dragger. Barry rolled the Widgeon onto runway 33 at Fuzzy, working the rudder bar to keep the ship straight.

The Widgeon's panel is a mixture of old and new technology


At breakfast, Barry shared his unique aviation origin story, telling us that his wife was the one who wanted to learn to fly in the first place. Because the ground school class was free to spouses, Barry went along for the ride. While he stuck with it, she did not.

Jamie shared his long-held dream of flying seaplanes. Unfortunately, until that morning, he had never flown in a seaplane at all, let alone experienced a water landing. Barry planned to rectify that.

Nice upholstery!


Splashdown!


"Welcome to 1946!" Barry said as Jamie maneuvered himself into the right seat. A post-WWII aura permeates the Widgeon in spite of the presence of a modern transponder and a Garmin 530 GPS navcom.


Jamie was clearly excited as Barry set up for final approach to Lake Neatahwanta outside of Fulton, NY. It was the realization of a childhood dream for him. The landing was smooth as Barry settled the Widgeon's hull into the water.


Jamie took the controls on the way home.



Seeing light boat traffic on Sodus Bay, we made another impromptu landing there before returning to Rochester. As Barry pulled the Widgeon off the water on departure, I saw the driver of a powerboat waving to us in farewell (at least, it appeared to be a wave of farewell - all of his fingers were extended instead of just one).


"I think that may have been an expensive ride for Jamie," Barry observed as we disembarked at Rochester. Jamie's drive to pursue a seaplane rating was certainly bolstered that morning.


We helped Barry tuck the Widgeon back into a hangar and bid 1946 a fond farewell. Thanks to Barry, we had an amazing experience that morning, especially considering that the circumstances were crafted by a string of bad luck.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Connections

Hijack

My phone buzzed with a Saturday afternoon text. Paula was seeking advice on a cross country flight she was planning with her husband for Sunday morning. It would be Steve's first flight of any significant distance to breakfast and she wanted it to be a good experience for him. Somehow, that text evolved into a change in breakfast venue (from St Marys, PA to Cherry Ridge, PA) and several other pilots and aircraft joining in.

Fortunately, Paula was pleased with the way I hijacked her trip.

"We Ran into Some Old Friends"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
07 Apr 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - SDC 2.9 1936.7

Fifteen miles from the Cherry Ridge Airport, I cancelled flight following and switched to the airport's UNICOM frequency. Ahead of me, I heard Ed call out his intentions to land. Immediately thereafter, a GP4 and a Lancair announced five miles west of Cherry Ridge and inbound for landing.

GP4s are relatively rare and it is my understanding that there are only about twenty-five of them in existence. Hearing the GP4 and the Lancair bearing down on the airport, I made a mental connection.

"These are the same guys we ran into at St Marys last fall." I recounted to my passengers -- Scott and Kim -- the story of how the Williamson Flying Club and a group of pilots from Bloomsburg, PA had chosen the same morning for breakfast at The West Wind last fall. We completely overflowed airport parking and created quite a challenge for the kitchen staff. I sincerely hoped that the Bloomsburg group did not have 18 airplanes with them again because parking can be tight at Cherry Ridge and the restaurant is not large.

As before, the two speedy experimental aircraft plunged directly into the pattern. Ed wisely circled north of the field, then followed the faster aircraft in to land. On short final, the GP4 pilot announced that he did not have three green gear lights and aborted his landing. The Lancair went around with him. Ed landed. After some troubleshooting, the GP4 and the Lancair came back around for landing and I entered the pattern behind them.

Eight Five X-Ray and Four Four Papa bracket the Bloomsburg GP4 and Lancair

Energy Management

Cherry Ridge can be trickier to manage than one might register at a first glance of the chart. The runway is nearly 3,000 feet long, which is not short by any means. However, it lies across a north-south oriented ridge and crosswinds can be challenging. There are also significant displaced thresholds on each end, meaning that the landing distance is much less than 3,000 feet.


I pulled the power on final, glided in, and made the only midfield taxiway turnoff. There was plenty of parking available on the ramp, but more traffic was inbound behind me, including Paula in Eight Five X-Ray and Mick in his Cessna 152.

Mick's Cessna 152 II, which gave Warrior 481 a run for her money in terms of climb rate and cruise speed.

I maneuvered close to a parking spot on the sloping parking apron, held the brakes, cut the engine, and asked Scott to climb out with the wheel chocks (always bring your wheel chocks to Cherry Ridge). As I relaxed pressure on the brakes, the Warrior rolled backward toward the edge of the pavement. While making small course corrections with the rudder pedals, I backed an airplane into a parking spot for the first time. Satisfied that I was well-positioned, I engaged the brakes again and asked Scott to chock the nosegear. It was a team effort, but we were down and parked.

An RV (foreground, yellow) and gyrocopter (in front of the windsock) from the Bloomsburg group.

As I disembarked from the Warrior, Ed called out good-naturedly from across the ramp. "When did you have reverse installed?" Ed, Alan, Scott, Kim and I made our way to the Cherry Ridge Airport Restaurant and put our names on the list for a table seating eleven.


Community

As we waited for a table, I chatted with the GP4 pilot whom I had met previously, briefly, at St Marys. This time, we exchanged names and phone numbers. I invited them to the Williamson Sodus Airport for our scheduled Saturday lunches and they invited us to the Benton Airport fall fly-in that takes place at a private grass field east of Williamsport, PA. It was another new connection between the Williamson Flying Club and the broader Northeast flying community.


Through the cafe window, I saw Paula in Eight Five X-Ray skimming low over the runway with flaps extended, but already halfway down the runway and too fast to land. Conversation between the Sodus and Bloomsburg pilots stopped while all eyes followed the Archer's trajectory. When the power came back in and the airplane pitched into a climb attitude, pilots from both groups nodded with satisfaction. Paula made a great decision to abort the landing.

Members of the Williamson Flying Club at Cherry Ridge. Photo by Steve.

Before long, we had eleven Williamson Flying Club members seated at a table and more connections were made. Because not everyone from the WFC knew everyone else, names and cell phone numbers were exchanged as our club tightened its own internal connections.

Reunion

Mark in 33P and Dave in 68W off Warrior 481's wing over South Haven, MI on July 30, 2005. Photo by Jonathon W.

As we waited, I saw a flash of red and white through the restaurant windows as a Citabria settled to the runway. It was Mark in Three Three Papa. Three Three Papa was, of course, the aircraft in which I had my first general aviation flight nineteen years ago out of Dowagiac, MI. Like me, Mark was mentored by Dave. When Dave traded up to a Super Decathlon, Mark bought the Citabria and took her back to New Jersey. Coincidentally, Mark and I have similar academic backgrounds and at least one of Mark's research papers is cited in my dissertation. We had been trying to reconnect for months. Mark led his fellow pilots from South Jersey Regional, all of them wearing Alton Bay Ice Runway caps like mine, to our table and a new round of introductions were made. Later, I was able to spend a few minutes catching up with Mark to hear about his experiences with the ongoing consolidation that plagues our industry.


Seeing Three Three Papa again transported me back in time to when this whole adventure first began, the summer evening in 2000 when I flew an airplane for the first time. That grass runway in Dowagiac, Michigan seemed very far away from Cherry Ridge, Pennsylvania in both time and space.


As I enjoyed my excellent breakfast, sunlight illuminated Cherry Ridge with a warm glow. It was the first truly balmy spring day of the year. I felt the individual elements of the day click together into a perfect morning. It was a great meal with great people. With a little prodding from me, it became an envelope stretching experience for Paula, who had never been to Cherry Ridge before and had to work a little to manage the new runway environment. It was a thrilling experience for Steve, for whom the entire $100 hamburger (or omelet, in my case) concept was new. But for me, it was the connections made that morning -- within the WFC, with the Bloomsburg group, and with Mark and my own aeronautical past -- that made for such a memorable day.

And to think...it all started with a text.

Where it all began 19 years ago. You'd think I would look happier. Photo by Ed.