Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Holiday Road: Smoky Mountain Hop

Somebody Call Noah

We abandoned Warrior 481 at Knoxville Downtown Island Airport on July 21 and continued on to Robbinsville, NC by car. In the days that followed, Knoxville was absolutely pounded by severe storms. Fortunately, it was just heavy rain and no hail. Unfortunately, Knoxville was under flood warnings the entire time, which made me anxious considering that my airplane was sitting on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River. But even in the absence of a specific weather threat, I always feel better when the Warrior is close by and more under my control.

I still had Carol's Subaru and the eventual trip home to New York was on my mind. Kristy and The Bear declared that they did not want to experience The Tail of the Dragon a second time and the alternate driving routes back to Knoxville were circuitously inconvenient at best.

Neither Pam nor Nate had flown with me since August 2006 and December 2007, respectively. Both were interested in flying again and neither was troubled by tales of the Dragon. For all of these reasons, retrieving the Warrior as soon as possible made a lot of sense. From late Tuesday (July 23) through the end of the week, the weather forecast was absolutely pristine.

So the plan came together: the three of us would negotiate the Tail of the Dragon early Wednesday morning on our own terms (i.e., before the traffic hit) and bring Warrior 481 south to Andrews, NC where it would be readily available for the flight home.

Taming the Dragon

The mountains were still socked-in with fog when we departed for Knoxville. At 8:00 in the morning, there was virtually no traffic on US129. With a little mental preparation and without any tailgaters, I completely enjoyed driving the Tail of Dragon the second time.

We reunited with my Dad and Carol at Downtown Island Airport and swapped a Subaru for a Piper. Warrior 481 fared reasonably well in the multiple storms that passed over Knoxville in the preceding days, but the carpet on the passenger side rear floorboard was damp. That has happened before, but only when the airplane has been subjected to an extreme deluge. The best way to dry it out is to fly it. So we did.

Misty Smoky Mountains
(No hobbits or dwarfs here)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
24 July 2019 N21481 DKX (Knoxville, TN) - RHP (Andrews, NC) 1.0 1996.7

Have you heard the one about the surveyor, the professor, and the scientist who walked into a bar? Neither have I, but given what I know about this crew, it's probably hilarious.

Photo by Pam

After the obligatory cockpit selfies, we taxied to runway 8 for departure where Warrior 481 did something unexpected: she failed a mag check. I checked twice and the engine definitely ran rough on the right mag only. The JPI analyzer indicated that the problem was localized to cylinder #2, so it was probably a fouled plug. Without doing anything particularly aggressive to clear the problem, the roughness disappeared and Warrior 481 ran smoothly again. It was the first fouled plug I've had on the Warrior since 2004 and also probably the most trivially-fouled plug I've ever experienced (going back to the days of flying Cessna 150s behind fouling-prone Continental O-200 engines during the 80 octane to 100LL changeover).

We launched from Downtown Island and contacted Knoxville Approach for flight following. Approach vectored us a little closer to the Smoky Mountains than I preferred in order to keep us clear of their departure corridor. On the bright side, we had a wonderful view of them.

As we flew along the northwestern rim of the Smoky Mountains, we passed over the Calderwood Dam near the Tennessee end of the Tail of the Dragon.

Sectional chart depicting Western Carolina Regional and the surrounding terrain. 

I flew my original plan from July 20: direct to MARBL intersection, then following the Hiwassee Reservoir southeast toward Murphy, then finally tracking inbound over the highway (US19) to Western Carolina Regional.

Hiwassee Reservoir

Maneuvering over Andrews, NC. Photo by Nate.

The wind picked up during our flight and we experienced some buffeting and downdrafts while flying in the valley.

Final approach, runway 8, Western Carolina Regional Airport (KRHP). Photo by Nate.

Nate expressed his pleasure with the quality of the landing (airport #194). I admit it; I enjoy receiving these compliments.

Ground track from DKX to RHP from ForeFlight

A good time was had by all and the flying Family Truckster was now close at hand for when it was time to depart. There would be no tilting at Dragons for Kristy or The Bear on the return home.

When we landed at Western Carolina Regional, there was already a welcome wagon (Mustang convertible) waiting for us. The Bear ran over to fulfill her usual ground crew responsibilities. Those of us who did not fit in the Mustang climbed aboard a Dodge Caravan and we resumed our family vacation, already in progress.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Holiday Road: On the Tail of the Dragon

Time To Spare, Go by Air

Let's recap.

Sunday morning, July 21. It was the second day of our vacation and we awoke at my Dad's place in Knoxville, TN. Not a bad place to be, but we were expected elsewhere.

House in Robbinsville, NC. Photo from the VRBO profile of the property - I did not take this one, but I wish I had.

Specifically, we were supposed to be at a rental house in Robbinsville, NC where Kristy's immediate family had congregated for our annual SurnameFest (edited) vacation together. Weather the previous day resulted in flight delays that necessitated a diversion to Knoxville a mere flight hour north of our destination. "Time to spare, go by air," is the old chestnut that Ray, the owner of the Le Roy Airport, used to trot-out with some regularity.

Translation: travel by General Aviation is super convenient...until it's not. Frankly, things just did not go our way on July 20 between the ship closure and the weather delays. But at least we got a visit with Dad out of the situation, which I consider to be a huge positive.

So what happens now?

Healing Properties of Pancakes

Dad, Carol, Kristy, The Bear, and I had breakfast at a Knoxville Cracker Barrel. The Bear's disposition improved markedly with a good night's sleep and a belly full of pancakes. In fact, I don't think that she scowled or glared at me again for the rest of the trip. Those must have been some good pancakes. Or maybe it was successfully solving the ubiquitous Cracker Barrel peg game twice in one sitting. Regardless, it was a good morning.

Low clouds sat atop the hills ringing Knoxville and the weather forecast looked rough for the next couple of days. We accepted Carol's offer to borrow her Subaru Forester to complete our journey to Robbinsville while Warrior 481 remained tied-down and under cover at Knoxville Downtown Island Airport.

There was just one catch...

The Tail of the Dragon

The shortest, most "direct" (relatively speaking) route to SurnameFest was via a stretch of highway known as the Tail of the Dragon. US129 is a two lane highway that twists through the Smoky Mountains and connects Tennessee to North Carolina. Claiming to be "America's number one motorcycle and sports car road", the Tail of the Dragon is an eleven mile portion of US129 notoriously featuring 318 curves as it climbs up and over Deals Gap on the Tennessee / North Carolina border. Many of the curves are marked with speed limits of 15 to 20 MPH, are steeply banked to prevent vehicles from sliding off the side of the mountain, and have names like "Copperhead Corner", "Beginner's End", "Gravity Cavity", and "Wheelie Hell". Even the straightaways are capped at 30 MPH and 18-wheelers are banned (though apparently the occasional trucker sneaks through on his own personal "Kessel run"). Total elevation gain is just shy of 1100 feet. Talk about nap of the Earth flying.

One of the gentler of the 318 curves along the way. Photo by The Bear.

Being poorly rested, driving an unfamiliar car, and having my family on board made for a stressful ride. Their discomfort with the route was palpable. Though my southeastern-Michigan aggressive driving tendencies put me consistently over the speed limit, I was not fast enough for the adventure seekers on their sport bikes looking to blaze through at top speed. It was eleven miles of the most active driving I have ever done and, to my surprise, I found myself with both hands on the wheel. I never do that.

When it was done, Kristy and The Bear declared that they had no desire to drive that way again. Ever.

Stall Warning

An unusual landmark near the house was a sign on US129 advertising nearby cabins that inexplicably incorporated a wrecked Beechcraft. (Maybe they were crash pads?) From there, we turned onto a "driveway" that climbed steeply up the mountain. As the driveway pitched ever steeper, I had an uncontrollable urge to push the nose of the Subaru over. If we were in the Warrior at full power and the same pitch attitude, the tail would have been buffeting while the stall warning horn shrieked.

"This can't be the right place," I verbalized as we made the uncomfortably steep climb at stall pitch in our Subaru-turned-mountain goat. Abruptly, the driveway leveled off at the house and, just like that, we had arrived at SurnameFest.

The house was lovely. Spacious, well-appointed, and clean. It was one of the better SurnameFest houses we have rented to date. The one from Vermont is still my favorite, mostly because it was so weird (weird in a good way as opposed to the place in South Carolina that was weird in a "why the Hell did they do that?" kind of way).


The owner of the house, Billy, took an usual path through life. At one point, he worked in the Piper plant in Vero Beach building Cherokees. (Considering the year, I wonder if he helped build N3470R?) As a teenager, he ran away with a carnival and, at some point, made a sufficient fortune to own two of them. Not surprisingly, he has a soft spot in his heart for carnival totems. A bumper car marks one of the entrances to the property. A blue Ferris wheel seat is prominently placed outside the house.

And, of course, there is the Ferris wheel.

Higher up the mountain, perched above the house, sits an intact Ferris wheel. It was a treacherous scramble up a steep two track path to reach it. The amount of effort that Billy must have invested in dragging that thing up the mountain suggests to me that the man has an overdeveloped sense of whimsy. I completely respect that.

It was a Big Eli Wheel, built by the Eli Bridge Company of Jacksonville, IL (incidentally, they are still in business and still making carnival equipment) with patents dating back to 1905. The Big Eli Wheel was specifically built for travelling carnivals and is iconic of the breed.

When not goggling at the Ferris wheel on the mountain, the views were absolutely magnificent. We sought a remote location for SurnameFest this year and I think that we succeeded.

(When I took this picture, JJ Abrams was standing off to the side shouting a Walkenesque, "It needs more lens flare!")

The wheel is lighted with LEDs at night. Screened by trees on the slopes of the mountain, we were never able to spot the wheel from anywhere beyond the property, not from the road nor from any other spot we visited in Robbinsville. This was not a local landmark, a beacon set high on the mountain to uniquely mark it from all others. From what I could tell, this was a hidden artifact specifically placed there by Billy for his own enjoyment. That probably says everything about Billy that anyone needs to know.

As the sun set on our mountain retreat, we enjoyed being surrounded by family once again. We had faced the Tail of the Dragon, reunited with family, and had the entire week ahead of us. SurnameFest had begun!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Holiday Road: But There's No Place Like London

Wrong Number

Ground track on departure from BKL generated by ForeFlight

Lakefront Tower loves to vector departures out over Lake Erie and away from the heart of the Bravo encircling Cleveland Hopkins. Over the water in a climb attitude, Warrior 481's Plexiglas was filled with a non-differentiated cobalt blue where water and sky merged without even the slightest hint of horizon. It was an instrument flight condition in broad daylight. Eventually, we were given westbound vectors, then cleared direct to our destination through the Cleveland Bravo.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 Jul 2019 N21481 BKL (Cleveland. OH) - LOZ (London, KY) 3.4 1994.8

At 6,000 feet, the air blasting forth from Warrior 481's vents was strikingly warm. I glanced at the outside air temperature and saw that it was 28°C (82°F). Even flying a mile above flat Ohio farmland, we found little relief from the heat.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, contact [garbled] Approach, one two four point zero."

"One two four zero, Cherokee Four Eight One, see ya," I signed off with Cleveland Approach. I did not know which facility I was calling next because neither Kristy nor I heard an intelligible name, but I tuned the provided frequency and made a general call.

"Approach, Cherokee Two One Four Eight One, six thousand."

"What was that tail number calling Cleveland Approach?" Cleveland? It didn't sound like she said Cleveland.

"That was Two One Four Eight One at six thousand," I answered. The controller literally responded with a non-committal grunt and never called us back. After the passage of many minutes, I became suspicious and scanned the sectional chart for other likely approach facilities. We were northeast of a towered field in Mansfield, OH. Mansfield. I replayed my memory of the garbled transmission. That fit; she might have said Mansfield. The approach frequency was one digit off from what Cleveland Approach had provided: 124.2. That's gotta be it.

I switched frequencies and called Mansfield Approach. "Cherokee Four Eight One, Mansfield Approach, radar contact, Mansfield altimeter is..." That was certainly more welcoming than the last guy.

For a three hour cross country leg, it is a good sign when a wrong number from ATC is the most exciting thing that happens.

Counterintuitive Cooling

Although she could have borne the weight, I only fueled Warrior 481 to the tabs (36 gallons) in Cleveland rather than topping off (50 gallons) because of the heat. That placed a three hour leash on our flight time. I chose the London Corbin Airport (KLOZ, airport #193) in London, KY as our next stop because of good reviews and inexpensive fuel ($4.35/gal). That is how we found ourselves in the home town of Harland Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Actual flight time to London was three hours and three minutes, our longest leg for the day. It was an uneventful flight over unexciting terrain. As the flat countryside began to wrinkle south of the Kentucky border, the atmosphere blowing into the airplane cabin became increasingly more refreshing. Counterintuitively, the flight south brought us into cooler air that decreased from 28°C (82°F) over Lake Erie to 22°C (70°F) near the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Ground track from ForeFlight, BKL to LOZ

Before we signed off from Indy Center for landing in London, we overheard Center coordinating weather deviations for airliners, particularly those bound for Knoxville, TN. Towering cumulus crowded the southern horizon ahead and weather radar (ADS-B) displayed red and yellow blotches over Knoxville. All indications foreshadowed a weather delay.

Home of the Colonel

London Corbin Airport sported a massive runway that appeared to have been meticulously scrubbed of all essential markings. From the pattern, only when the sun fell on the surface just right could I see hints of chevrons at the approach end, a faint breadcrumb of a center line, and a ghostly vestige of the number 24.

That's some cheap airplane fuel right there.

While I fueled Warrior 481 to the tabs, Kristy and The Bear went in search of air conditioning. They found it in what appeared to be a former passenger terminal (London Corbin no longer hosts commercial flights, but it did in the past). London only suffered from normal summer heat instead of the sort of heat suffocating Cleveland. Despite it being cooler in Kentucky, the cumulative effect of a hot day was taking its toll on all three of us.

We were one hour away from our destination in Andrews, NC. But the view to the south was not suggestive of a safe flight; forget fun or easy. No wonder commercial flights were deviating around Knoxville.

As I stood on the ramp surveying the weather in our path, I decided that London, KY seemed like a wonderful place to grab dinner. I had no idea what sort of cuisine the town had to offer (fried chicken, maybe?), but it just simply did not matter. The sky told me that it was dinnertime.

There's nothing like a textbook thunderhead to admire on the way to dinner.

I poked my head into the FBO office. "Do you have a crew car we could borrow to get dinner?"

The fellow at the desk started, then gaped at me for a moment. "What did you say?" he asked in a thick Kentucky accent. As we looked at each other, it was clear that we were both thinking exactly the same thing. Whoa, that guy has quite an accent!

I asked again about a car and he tossed me a set of keys along with a map to get to "The Strip". "All the restaurants and hotels are right along here, but you can also hop on I-75 and find more stuff at the next exit," he explained helpfully.

The car was a Nissan SUV with the official logo of the London Corbin Airport emblazoned on the side. As it turned out, The Strip only boasted fast food places (humorously, without a single KFC in sight). We found the most palatable option available, ate, drank a lot of lemonade, and returned to the airport.

Weather Delay

When the sky looks like this, pilot discretion is the better part of valor.

Back on the ramp, I studied the sky. The storms were moving north toward London. Going through them was not a possibility and they were sufficiently widespread that an end-run around them would have been a significant detour. I decided that the easiest thing to do was let them roll overhead and continue to Andrews in their wake.

The Bear was no longer scowling at me. She was glaring, now. She took the ground stop as a personal affront, yet another delay on the road to SurnameFest. Kristy and I realized that, in recent years, our luck with weather has been quite good and en route delays have been rare. The Bear had no memory of past thunderstorm delays. Being held personally accountable for a convective atmospheric phenomenon rising tens of thousands of feet over the world is no easy thing.

I passed time chatting with one of the flight instructors about the airport and its history. The absence of runway striping was not the product of in-progress maintenance, but the unfortunate outcome of a cut-rate contractor that watered down the paint. "Barely lasted three years," he explained in reference to the striping. With the precision approach runway markings essentially nonexistent, he expressed surprise that the FAA still allowed the airport to operate its ILS approach.

The FBO was set to close at 8:00 pm and, as the staff went about their end of day duties, we were invited to stay as long as needed, even if it came to spending the night. When I assured them that we would be able to get out that evening, they indicated that the airside door to the building would be unlocked if we needed to return. The guys from the London Corbin Airport were genuinely friendly and helpful; what a wonderful place!

Racing the Sun

The storms never came to London. Tracking northward, the weather split and passed on either side of the airport. With the southern route clear of weather, we returned to the Warrior and plotted a course to Western Carolina Regional (RHP) in Andrews, NC.

Looking west from the London Corbin Airport at the time of our departure.

Though the storms to the west and east of the airport were far enough away that I was comfortable departing, the distant sound of thunder still rumbled disconcertingly across the otherwise deserted airport.

Looking east from the London Corbin Airport at the time of our departure

I was very cognizant of the hour and of how little daylight remained. The airport in Andrews was situated in a one-way valley in the Smoky Mountains. It was not the sort of place that I wanted to trifle with in the dark of night. My plan was to fly direct to MARBL intersection, follow the Hiwassee Reservoir southeast to Murphy, then track the highway to the airport.

KRHP and the surrounding terrain. Note 1A3 in the lower left corner where we stayed for the 2017 eclipse.

Aloft and bracketed by the two storms on each side, I called Indy Center for flight following to Andrews. The air was smooth and the dying sunlight highlighted the various towering stacks of cumulus in all their menacing glory. It was particularly gloomy to the southwest, the darkness occasionally split by searing filaments of distant lightning.

Looking east over the KY-TN border

As we crossed the Tennessee border, it was evident to me that our race with the setting sun was one that we would not win; we were stymied by the immutability of celestial physics. Thirty-five minutes remained to Andrews, yet the valleys below were filling with ground fog and the deepening shadows allowed humanity's feeble artificial constellations to outshine daylight. I did not want to descend into that unfamiliar mountain valley in Andrews after dark. No way.

I made the decision to divert to Knoxville for the night.

Strike Three, Yer OUT!

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 Jul 2019 N21481 LOZ (London, KY) - DKX (Knoxville, TN) 0.9 1995.7

If the intensity with which The Bear pummeled the back of my seat was any indication, she did not take this news well. If Cleveland was strike one and waiting on weather in London was strike two, then a diversion was clearly strike three.

Kristy isolated me at the audio panel and talked The Bear down while I arranged with Knoxville Approach to divert to Knoxville Downtown Island Airport. "Island Home" as the locals call it, a fitting name for a port of refuge on a long journey.

The weather system that split around London Corbin Airport. Track from LOZ to DKX courtesy of FlightAware

While I was isolated, The Bear may have said something along the lines of, "If we flew on a REAL airplane, this wouldn't have happened." Kristy calmly reminded her that we heard the "real" airplanes being diverted all over the place that evening because they are not immune from thunderstorms, either. She also pointed out that Robbinsville was far away from the big airports, whereas the Warrior was capable of delivering us to within a half hour of SurnameFest. The diversion was part of the cost of  that convenience.

I have a good copilot.

Silver Lining

My Dad lives in Knoxville and the Downtown Island Airport is a frequently visited destination. Mentally settling my internal debate about diverting versus continuing on, I took solace in the sight of the runway lights glowing at the familiar island haven. I adjusted our flight path to avoid the tall radio towers northwest of the field and touched down softly on runway 8 in the darkness.

Me, The Bear, Carol, and Dad at the Knoxville Downtown Island Airport, August 2017

The silver lining in all of this is that the diversion to Knoxville meant a visit with Dad and Carol. I had been trying to incorporate a visit with them into our itinerary, not expecting that circumstances would present the perfect opportunity. They were only too happy to receive us. Within 30 minutes of our initial contact, they had collected us from the FBO (open until 10:00 on a Saturday night!) and whisked us away to air conditioning and comfortable beds. While I appreciated the offer, sleeping at my Dad's place was a much better solution to our problem than the couches at the London Corbin Airport would have been.

We did not make SurnameFest on the day intended, but the extra time spent with Dad made it well worth the delay. The alternative was a 13+ hour drive in the car from New York to North Carolina. I prefer six hours in an airplane with some interesting stops along the way to spending half a day in the car. I may have struck out with The Bear, but I still feel like I won the day overall.


Could I have made it into Andrews that evening? In principle, yes. There's an instrument approach to runway 8 (not surprisingly, there is not one to 26 because of the terrain). The lowest minimums are 2298 feet above the ground, so it is not a particularly precise approach, but it would have lined us up with the runway and helped us manage our altitude around darkened terrain on a clear night.

Here's the thing: I was so tired from the week prior and the travel and the heat that the thought of using those instrument flying tools never occurred to me. Even if it had, I was probably too tired to tackle it. So, yes, I could have made it to Andrews on the scheduled night had I been up for the challenge. But considering my level of fatigue that evening, I stand by my choice.

Holiday Road: The Laker

"Me mind on fire, me soul on fire, feelin' hot hot hot!"
- Alphonsus Celestine Edmund Cassell

Best Laid Plans

Airborne on the first day of a week-long family vacation.

Whether the Family Truckster goes on wings or wheels, when the first stop on a journey involves a heat advisory, a grumpy Bear, and a balky ninety-four year old laker, it is probably best to expect the unexpected.


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 July 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - BKL (Cleveland, OH) 2.5 1991.4

I felt a pang of guilt as we entered the clouds, staying true on the direct course to Cleveland.

The other Williamson Flying Club members changed direction and altitude to remain free of cloud layers looming over Rochester. Ed swung to the north and Paula to the south, both seeking a clear passage forward. From the cockpit of Warrior 481, I monitored their positions in ForeFlight.

I do not normally file IFR for club trips because, if I cannot make the trip safely VFR, then I should not expect VFR-only club members to push into unfavorable conditions either. But this was no ordinary club trip for us. Kristy, The Bear, and I were embarking on our annual summer journey to SurnameFest (renamed in keeping with my policy of not using last names in the blog). This year, we were meeting Kristy's family for a week in Robbinsville, NC via Western Carolina Regional Airport (KRHP) in Andrews.

Guilt notwithstanding, filing made sense. Barring a line of thunderstorms, we were pressing forward no matter what. If the weather was foul enough to turn Ed and Paula back (unlikely, but not impossible), we would still continue on. Also, by filing, I guaranteed that Warrior 481 would appear on FlightAware for any inquisitive family members tracking our progress. Finally, when flying in the vicinity of a Bravo, sometimes IFR is just easier in that it eliminates concerns about busting airspace.

I filed and traversed the gauzy heavens with impunity while the others chose their paths with greater care.

Warrior 481 spent a few minutes climbing through the clouds before leveling on top. When we found an edge to the deck, I reported it back to Rochester ATC, who dutifully let Paula know that an end to the clouds was just ahead. Regardless of any guilt that I carried, all three aircraft emerged into clear air between Rochester and Buffalo without issue and continued on their way direct to Cleveland. Despite his more circuitous route, Ed's faster Archer II still made it to the destination before us.

"It's a Quest, a Quest for Fun"

Burke Lakefront Airport (KBKL) in Cleveland is one of my favorite destinations. To my mind, the scenic approach along Lake Erie, the proximity of downtown, and the abundance of interesting destinations along the waterfront make this a great General Aviation destination.

This story really begins last year, in September 2018 ("Thirsty"), when I led a group of WFC pilots to Cleveland to visit the USS Cod (a restored World War II submarine) and the Steamship William G. Mather (a restored 1920s Great Lakes freighter). After a fascinating exploration of the USS Cod, we were disappointed to discover that the Mather was unexpectedly closed due to a fire the day before. It just seemed like a one-off instance of bad luck and we vowed to return. Of course, the overshadowing bit of bad luck that day was a fuel burn so radically increased that it almost put me into a fuel exhaustion scenario while airborne.

Ed organized the 2019 return trip and happened to schedule it on the same day that SurnameFest was set to begin. I wanted to bring some closure to 2018 by finally touring the Mather, I had always wanted to introduce Kristy and The Bear to Burke Lakefront, and the detour through Cleveland only added 40 minutes of flight time to North Carolina. It seemed straightforward to me to include the WFC trip to Cleveland as the first leg of our journey to SurnameFest. Win-win, right?. Nonetheless, The Bear was grouchy about what she viewed as a delay to reuniting with her grandparents and her wacky aunts and uncles. This became something of a theme for the day.

It would be my fourth visit to Burke Lakefront and Ed's second while, for Paula, the excursion represented her first landing in Cleveland and her longest cross country flight to date. While old news for me, the trip was a big deal for the newest pilot in our group. As a new aircraft owner, I would have balked at flying into a place like Burke Lakefront. The fact that Ed did it during his first year of ownership and that Paula was following suit is fantastic. They both deserve a lot of credit for exercising their wings.

Sneak Approach

On approach to Burke Lakefront's 24R.

A trainee was working our sector of Cleveland Approach that morning and she was neither as responsive nor clear with pilots calling for services as she could have been. If it was mildly annoying to me, it made the trip more challenging for Paula than it had to be. But Paula hung in there.

On my second foray to Cleveland in 2016, I was told to expect a visual approach, then asked to intercept the localizer to runway 24R. That resulted in a bit of a scramble in the cockpit for the localizer frequency - my fault for not being prepared.

This time around, I was also told by the trainee controller to expect a visual approach. When she asked me to intercept the localizer, I was ready with the frequency set and the Morse code identifier verified. Then, a few minutes later, a new controller came on frequency and flat-out cleared me for the ILS-24R approach.

I still consider myself an IFR newbie. In my limited experience, most ATC facilities are very up-front with pilots about their expectations on flying a visual versus a specific instrument approach procedure. It was amusing to me that Cleveland snuck this approach in under the radar (so to speak). I am happy that I was prepared for the task.

Short final, Burke Lakefront, runway 24R. Photo by Kristy.

Just an observation: neither Kristy nor The Bear seemed as smitten with the view on final approach as me, but Kristy was willing to take a few photos as we neared the ground.

Moments before touchdown at Burke Lakefront. Photo by Kristy.

I have historically avoided the FBO on the field (Signature) due to their high costs (fuel is roughly $7/gal). However, because of our travel profile, it made sense to buy fuel at Lakefront and I decided that it was worth paying for the convenience. The others made similar decisions and, before long, three aircraft from the Williamson Sodus Airport were parked wingtip to wingtip on the Signature ramp.

GPS ground track from SDC to BKL as shown in ForeFlight

Hot in Cleveland
(Where's Betty White?)

It was hot. Cleveland baked in an intense heat that was only slightly ameliorated by a residual overcast. A heat advisory was in effect for the day. Because of it, I actually ran take-off performance numbers for the Warrior at Lakefront to ensure that we could claw our way airborne when it was time to continue on to North Carolina. I need not have worried, Lakefront has plenty of runway for even the hottest of days.

Frankly, every one of my visits to Burke Lakefront has been on an oppressively hot day. Despite the added nuance of a heat advisory, the temperature did not seem much worse than previous visits. Instead of solely associating Drew Carey with Cleveland, I am now hardwired to associate heat and humidity with the city, too.

While I was thrilled to share one of my favorite airports with my family, The Bear scowled her way through a photo shoot on the Lakefront ramp. She scowled at the heat. She scowled at the delay to her arrival at SurnameFest. She scowled for the sake of scowling.

Photo by Ed

Those are thumbs way up from the crew of Niner Four Romeo. Paula was thrilled to have navigated to Burke Lakefront.

Airplanes are meant to go places and it was very exciting to see Paula making such excellent use of hers.

Paula, me, Kristy, The Bear, Ed, Steve, and Thomas (l-r). Photo by Will from Signature.

It turns out that, in addition to parking and fueling, line service at Signature is also adept at capturing well-framed group photos.

Ed's Archer, Warrior 481, and Paula's Cherokee 180 (l-r).

Momentarily setting her scowl aside, a wild Bear prowled the Signature ramp beneath the watchful eye of Lakefront Tower. I am pleased to report that no Pipers were mauled in the creation of this photo.


Ed and I enjoyed the neo-Mexican cuisine at Nuevo in 2018 and decided to return. It may have been one of the only lunch options along the Cleveland waterfront, but the food was so good that that limitation was really not a factor in the decision.

I enjoyed this sentiment from the Nuevo brunch menu.

The Bear was won-over by delicious house-made guacamole. Now that she is nearly in full-on teenager mode, she devoured her lunch and part of Paula's. This was done with Paula's encouragement, of course. I would never falsely imply that The Bear steals food from the plates of my friends during club fly-outs. Never. Not even for humorous effect.

Photo by the Neuvo wait staff.

Photo by the Neuvo wait staff.

I think Nuevo was a success! There were many clean plates around the table, some big smiles, and The Bear's scowl disappeared for the time being.

Fool Me Once...

There it was, the white William G Mather. Finally, we would manage to explore it from stem to stern. Anticipation ran high, especially for Ed and I who had already made the trek only to literally find the door closed in our faces.

Backside of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Approaching the ship, I was struck by a profound sense of deja vu, as though I was reliving last year's walk to the Mather only to discover that it was closed. Obviously, the outcome in 2019 would be very different than last year.

"Steamship William G Mather is CLOSED today due to the heat advisory"

Except that it wasn't.

CLOSED??! AGAIN??! Due to the heat advisory?

Fool me once shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on...oh...DAMMIT!

"Dad. That boat hates you," remarked The Bear in perfectly timed deadpan. Her scowl was returning. If she was annoyed at having to detour from SurnameFest to visit a ship, she was even more annoyed that we had detoured from SurnameFest to not visit a ship.

At least we enjoyed a terrific lunch and camaraderie during our stop in Cleveland. Clearly, the heat advisory impacted more of our trip than mere take-off performance in the Warrior.

The others decided to visit the World War II submarine, USS Cod. Having toured the Cod twice in the past, I decided that my family would depart Cleveland for North Carolina. This decision was enthusiastically endorsed by The Bear.

Aw... Who's a gwumpy widdle astronaut? The Bear is!

Signature is expensive, but the staff were wonderful and the air conditioning was absolutely heavenly after Cleveland's blast furnace climate. After launching, we would discover that the heat diffused upward into the higher altitudes. At 6,000 feet, the outside air temperature was still 28°C (82°F). It is not often that the air vents blow warm air in cruise.

"So...that was Burke Lakefront." I remarked anticlimactically as we waited, sweltering in the Warrior, for IFR release at the end of runway 24R.

Though I could not see her, I imagined The Bear scowling at me from behind.