Sunday, April 7, 2019



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.


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.


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 all started with a text.

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

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Thunder Pig of Beaver County

Playing Hooky

Six years ago, I took a day off from work for car maintenance in the morning and flying in the afternoon. After landing at the Beaver County Airport (KBVI) for the first time, I enjoyed a truly spectacular calzone and explored the Air Heritage Museum.

As much as I enjoy seeking out new places, I also enjoy returning to those places after a few years to see what has changed. That was my mission for the day.

Cloud Surfing

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
01 Apr 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - BVI (Beaver Falls, PA) - SDC 4.1 1933.8

It is a shame that sliding across the cloud tops makes no discernible sound. I think it should. I imagine it to be the sound of a sled on newly fallen snow combined with a subtle background "whoosh".

I logged some momentary IMC time, my first of the year, climbing through a thin cloud layer that separated the choppy atmosphere below from the smooth air above.

Along the way, breaks in the clouds revealed hints of the Finger Lakes framed by a dormant landscape. Someday soon, that landscape will transition from brown back to lush, living green. I can hardly wait.


With ice disappearing, the Allegheny Reservoir spanning the New York-Pennsylvania border was well on its way to spring.

The massive lidless eye of the Seneca Pumped Storage facility peered directly upward at the lazily passing clouds.

Beaver Falls, PA

I descended back through the cloud layer on approach to Beaver County Airport. Though I evidently dodged any ice present on the way down, I returned to restive air. One jolt put me on track to smack the overhead console with my head again, but my seatbelt intervened just in time. 

Consistent with previous experience, Beaver County was very active with a nimbus of training aircraft orbiting the field. Tower instructed me to follow the river south, intercept the final approach course, and follow a Cessna in to land.

Who's the Boss?

I parked at 2:00 in the afternoon and departed on foot in search of a late lunch.

"Sorry Goose, but it's time to buzz the tower."

From Piper Street to Airport Drive, it was a short walk to Sal's.

I indulged myself in "The Boss" calzone packed with ham, pepperoni, salami, sausage, and hot pepper rings. I am not a compulsive food photographer, but I found the tasty calzone simply too compelling. Its brief existence in this world deserved to be captured for posterity.

And it was brief. I was very hungry.

Air Heritage Museum

Six years ago, I described the Air Heritage Museum as "modest". That is still the case. No admission is charged, but I contributed a donation. Little had changed with the museum itself, but the hard work of its volunteers was evident in progress made on several projects.

I have heard folklore about radios with switchable crystals, but having been raised on solid state equipment with 25 kHz frequency spacing, I am frankly at a loss as to how they worked. Even my ancient-appearing KX-170B radio is quite modern compared to this artifact.

Southeast Michigan, represent! Too bad that the Air Heritage Museum does not have the rest of the B-24 Liberator to go with this instrument panel.

In short order, I connected with Dave, a volunteer who generously shared his knowledge and time with me for the afternoon.

The museum's T-28 Trojan is being painted and I was struck by the appearance of the large radial practically spilling out of the tightly cowled business end of the airplane.

Good progress is being made on the Fairchild 24 restoration. This airplane is one of many submarine hunters that patrolled the eastern seaboard during WWII.

Both wings are completed, one skinned with Poly-Fiber, the other a mere skeleton. The unskinned wing is more interesting to look at, if far less functional.

This in-line Ranger engine came out of the Fairchild. I still think that these inverted in-line engines look ungainly compared to their radial or horizontally-opposed counterparts. I understand that the geometry is driven by where the thrust line needs to be while keeping the cylinders from blocking the pilot's view, but it seems like hydraulic lock is probably a huge problem.

Spittin' Distance

In the southwest corner of the hangar, a private individual is painstakingly crafting a Spitfire nearly all in wood. Though difficult to see in the photograph, the craftsmanship is outstanding, particularly the elegant elliptical planform of the wings.

An Allison 1710 engine is installed in the nose. It's no Merlin, but packs more of a punch than the Lycoming O-320 in Warrior 481.

The museum's 1950s era British Provost jet trainer comes with an interesting story. It seems that a fellow living near Latrobe, PA was offered a bonus to be granted either as cash or in the form of an airplane. He chose the airplane, which raises a lot of questions for me about the exact means of its delivery to his house. However it got there, it sat in his yard for many years and now resides at the museum.

"Really?" I asked Dave while peering into the Cold War-era cockpit. Dave gave something of a combined nod and shrug. "I won't touch a thing," I assured him. Air Heritage did not need a hole in their hangar roof.

The Provost's long fuselage aft of the cockpit is all engine. I am not a turbine expert, but this looks like the type that excels at converting jet fuel into noise.

This is the nose to a B-25 gunship variant, much like the Air Zoo's. I am amused by the nose art. many legs do beavers in Beaver County have? Is this like Springfield's three-eyed fish?

"If You Don't Like What You See Here, Get the Funk Out"
(with apologies to Extreme)

Another significant project in the works is this restoration of a rare 1930s era Funk Model B.

Can You Spare a Couple Thousand Horsepower for an Airplane Down on Its Luck?

There's nothing quite like having spare Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines just lying around. I am perpetually in awe of these machines, their complexity, and the amount of power that they produce.

This L-21 (military designation for a liaison aircraft based on the Super Cub) served in Italy for many years.

Though not affiliated with the museum, here's a Fouga. Just because.

Air Quest fueled Warrior 481 for the return flight and I got a ride back to the FBO in the fuel truck to settle my bill. That was a first.

Beyond Thunder Pig

The Air Heritage Museum's most impressive aircraft primarily live outside and are temporarily relocated to a parking apron nearer the runway.

When I visited in 2013, this F4 Phantom was a decidedly non-photogenic pile of airplane parts on the ramp.

It is now immaculately restored for static display.

Next to the Phantom is the museum's Fairchild C-123 Provider cargo ship, the only one of its type still flying, the aptly named Thunder Pig.

Air Heritage actively flies Thunder Pig to airshows around the Northeast and it is arguably their most recognizable claim to fame.

This portly beast of an airplane is well-named.

There is something familiar about that other airplane over there...

The pods immediately outboard from the piston engines (P&W R-2800s) once contained jet engines used to coax the C-123 airborne when heavily loaded or launching from short runways (or, more likely, both).

My aviation OCD created a strong impulse to place both props in the same orientation, but I kept my hands to myself. It is never a good idea to get handsy with other people's propellers.

Florida Refugee

Many northerners move south when they retire. This Douglas C-47 bucked the trend and moved north after retirement from mosquito abatement flying in Lee County, Florida.

The museum's C-47 photographed February 18, 2013

It was a new arrival when I visited in 2013, still wearing her State of  Florida colors and plumbed for spraying mosquitoes.

With a little research and a new paint job, the team at Air Heritage have returned this WWII veteran to her glory days as "Luck of the Irish". She recently received an airworthiness certificate in the Experimental category.

Ed "Elmo" Frome captained the museum's C-47 during the war. He was still alive when the airplane came to the museum and was able to fill-in many blanks of the airplane's story.

I particularly like what Air Heritage has done with Luck of the Irish. She is not just a random old airplane. She has a story and a crew. She is a veteran. She is unique. Air Heritage has resurrected her from anonymity.

Whenever I see an F-15, I flash back to my childhood playing "F-15 Strike Eagle" on my Tandy 1000 in the 1980s.

Tower was in rapid fire mode on my departure, managing several aircraft in the pattern. I waited at the hold line for three aircraft to land, then Tower extended the downwind legs of the other aircraft in the pattern to allow me to launch IFR. I probably had a release time from Pittsburgh Approach that Tower was trying to match.

The ride home was smooth and generally quiet. I like to think that every time I go aloft, I leave behind a bit of my stress and daily worries.

Thanks to Dave and the other volunteers at the Air Heritage Museum. An afternoon spent around old airplanes and people who appreciate them is an afternoon well-spent and I thoroughly enjoy visiting these types of grass roots museums.