Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sneaky

Borderline Audacious

Somehow, I found myself planning a surprise party for Kristy in another state.

I wanted it to be a reunion with our college friends, but was constrained by the simple reality that most of them live in Michigan, not New York. It made much more sense to bring the guest of honor to the party than the other way around. I booked space at Parker's Hilltop Brewery in Clarkston, MI, chose a menu, and pulled our available friends together. Not everyone could come, but I had some nice catch-up conversations with everyone regardless.

Still, there is a logistical challenge to pulling off a surprise party in another state. It's a good thing that I had an airplane up my sleeve. Even with that, there was risk inherent to the whole endeavor. As I signed the Hilltop contract, I desperately hoped that I knew what I was doing.

Misdirection

I blocked out the day on the family calendar months in advance, but waited until the night before to provide any details. "We're flying to Michigan tomorrow morning," I informed Kristy. "We're going to do something with Pam and Stephen. I'm not going to tell you what."

I arranged for Pam and Stephen to pick us up at Oakland County International and asked our friend Cher to meet everyone at Hilltop around 11:45 am for the noon party. Once we arrived in Michigan, The Bear's task was to declare that she was famished (which would probably not require any actual acting) and ask to go to Hilltop for lunch before doing whatever it was that we were going to do with Pam and Stephen.

"Void If Not off by One Two Four Five Zulu"

In the days leading up to the event, the weather forecast was remarkably pristine for the entire route except that our point of departure was forecast to be marginal VFR. That morning, the Williamson Sodus Airport was under an 8,000 foot ceiling when we left the house. So much for marginal VFR being a factor, I thought at the time. However, by the time we drove to the airport, prepared the Warrior for flight, and taxied to the departure end of the runway, we were informed by the AWOS that the ceiling had fallen to 900 feet. It seemed a bit abrupt, but explained why conditions looked so much lower than expected.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
30 Jun 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 3.3 1976.6

After a brief delay while I phoned Cleveland Center for a clearance, we were soon climbing through the clouds bound for Michigan. We traversed a layered wonderland of mist for the first half hour of the trek, but the air was generally smooth and it still beat driving (which, incidentally, was a Plan B that I was pleased not to have needed that morning).












Closer to Buffalo, the ceiling finally disintegrated.


We overflew some residual cloud streets in the vicinity of the Niagara River.




The problem with this route is that the sights along the way are just so boring.

Was DTE Energy in on It?


We arrived at Oakland County International right on time. Pam and Stephen met us on the ramp. I dawdled to give our guests an opportunity to gather at Hilltop before we arrived and sent a text message to Cher. "We're at the airport."

"Slight issue. Power's out. They're closed," responded Cher. There was a pause that allowed a sense of panic to spin-up in my chest, then...

"Nevermind." So...we're all good then?

On arrival at Hilltop, we were greeted by a handwritten sign on the door indicating that the place was indeed closed due to a power outage. Hmmm...that explains the small number of cars in the parking lot.

I planned for several risks that day, most of them aviation-related in terms of delivering Kristy to Clarkston in the Warrior. Failure in a portion of the metropolitan Detroit electrical grid was not a risk that I had even considered.

Pam and I exchanged "what now?" looks. Where is everyone? I texted Cher again, but her response was slow in coming while we dithered outside the closed restaurant.

"There's a Qdoba down the street, we could take The Bear there," Kristy offered naively, puzzled about why I was not actively driving a new lunch plan.

Should I just fess up? We've come this far, it seems a shame to reveal the plan if there's still a chance to salvage it. I pretended to investigate other dining options on my cell phone.

Finally, my phone buzzed. "We're inside," it said. I showed the phone to Pam.

"Maybe we go in and see if they have an estimate on when the power will be back on," Pam offered. Everyone except Kristy quickly agreed that this was a very good idea. Kristy found it odd, but majority ruled and inside we went. Much of Hilltop was dark, including the area I'd booked for the party. However, I could see a group of people seated on the far side of the restaurant. With a large bar occupying the center of the main dining room, it was difficult to discern who was there.

As Kristy wandered deeper into Hilltop ahead of me, I stopped a waitress and asked, "We were supposed to be having a party here. Are you closed?"

She beamed at me, "We are closed to everyone but you today."

On the far side of the restaurant, Kristy found herself in the midst of tables crowded with our college friends. Seated, they looked up at her with expectant smiles on their faces, eyes darting between her and me. With a gasp, she recognized the first person. Like a spreading flame, recognition swept through the room, person to person, face to face. Flabbergasted, she turned 360° in place, then fixed her gaze on me. "You're so sneaky!" she exclaimed as the room reverberated with everyone's laughter.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that she was completely surprised. Everyone also acknowledged that our failure to video Kristy's priceless reaction was one of the great lost opportunities of our lifetime. Faces in the room ran the gamut from those we had seen within the week (by unusual coincidence) to those we had not seen in twenty-five years.

The Rest of the Story

When Cher arrived at Hilltop fifteen minutes before us, she saw the large sign indicating that the restaurant was closed. In dismay, she sent her original text message to me. Looking closer, she noticed that there was a smaller sign below the main one. It read, "Cher, come in." That was when she sent the "nevermind" text. Obviously, that second sign came down before we arrived.

A portion of the local electrical grid was actually down. Hilltop was operating on partial power supplied by a generator in order to make our party happen. Everything was delivered as promised, all the food was excellent, and everyone had a wonderful time. We had complete and exclusive run of the place. Especially considering that we had come in from out of state for the event, I think Hilltop went above and beyond to make Kristy's party happen.

Frankly, with a debacle averted, the power outage turned a good story into a great one.

Photography Fail

The three hours passed incredibly quickly and it was a genuine joy to reconnect with our college friends. Once everyone dispersed and we were once again in the car with Pam and Stephen, I realized that no one thought to take a single picture from the party. I suppose that's a good reason to have another one soon.

It just won't be a surprise party next time; I don't think I can handle the stress.

Friday, June 21, 2019

A Shower Before Dinner

Inspiration


Inspiration struck in July 2017 when Kristy, The Bear, and I were on our way home from Montreal in Warrior 481. We stopped in Glens Falls, NY (KGFL) for lunch at The Aviator Restaurant. Among the pantheon of airport diners where I have spent my $100 hamburger money, The Aviator clearly rests at the "fine dining" end of the spectrum. I wondered about making it an evening destination for the Williamson Flying Club (WFC). A fancy dinner, flying near sunset...it sounded to me like a wonderful evening out.

The Aviator Restaurant on 21 July 2017.

I was too busy in 2018 to make that idea a reality, but organized a dinner fly-out to The Aviator on the evening of June 7, 2019. When an American Airlines mechanical issue stranded me in Boston for seven hours following a restless overnight flight from San Diego, I returned to Rochester as a zombie. Zombies should not fly airplanes, so I stayed home. Those who went thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Scott, arguably an expert in the preparation of red meat, declared his steak to be the best he'd ever had in a restaurant; undeniably high praise.

Not wanting to miss out, I organized a repeat trip for June 21. This time, I had sixteen takers. It is always great to generate enthusiasm for one of our Club excursions. Unfortunately, this was too much of a good thing.

The problem was that The Aviator would not accept reservations for a party of sixteen on a Friday night at 6:30. It was their peak time. Could we do a different day? Smaller group? Earlier in the evening? Later in the evening? Concerned about overwhelming their kitchen, they suggested anything and everything to move our group away from peak dining hours. After a few conversations with the restaurant, it was clear that The Aviator was not going to work out for the evening we had planned. For clarity, I am not disparaging The Aviator; they are protecting their quality standard. I hope to make it there someday with a smaller group.

Plan B

All good aviators have a Plan B (I had a Plan C, too, but it was not very good). I switched the destination to The West Wind in St Marys, PA. While not exemplifying fine dining in quite the same way as The Aviator, The West Wind is definitely superior to the average airport diner. To their credit, when I called The West Wind on Wednesday night and asked if they could handle sixteen people on Friday at 6:30, the immediate response was "no problem!"

All of the Club members signed up for the event stuck with me through the change in venue. I fielded questions from newer pilots about recommended cruise altitudes, navigating the Duke MOA, and whether they should be night current for the trip. With respect to night currency, I think that it is better to be night current and prepared to fly in the dark than to spend the entire evening worrying about racing the sun home. The latter seems like a perfect recipe for sucking all the fun out of the experience. Taking my suggestion, everyone refreshed their night currency. That included me, because my night currency lapsed a few weeks prior. In my case, this meant a round robin flight to various Finger Lakes area airports an hour after sunset on a rather rainy, but surprisingly VFR night.

Philosophy

My philosophy around Club fly-outs is that they need to be conducted in good VFR weather. Ragged-edge, gusty, marginal VFR days are best avoided. Not only is it my intent to make our trips accessible to pilots of all skill levels, but also to ensure that newer pilots do not feel peer pressure to fly in conditions exceeding their ability, experience, or comfort level if other participating Club members are willing to launch. I have no desire to shame anyone -- tacitly or explicitly -- into flying in weather that makes them uncomfortable. This is supposed to be fun; we're not delivering organs to transplant patients. None of these trips need to happen and if the weather is terrible or borderline, we cancel them.

A weather system was moving through the area that day and I followed its progress with great interest. Would it move out in time for us to go? By mid-afternoon, all signs pointed to "yes". Ceilings along the route rose to 8,000 - 10,000 feet. The evening looked to be just about perfect.

The Pinch

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Jun 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - OYM (St Marys, PA) - SDC 2.9 1972.0


We queued up for departure from runway 28 with Kristy and The Bear in Warrior 481 as the lead ship; Tom, Alicia, and Bonnie in One Delta Tango; Brad, Aubrie, and Mike S in Cirrus Two Mike Sierra; Paula and Steve in Nine Four Romeo on their first cross country flight since purchasing their immaculate Cherokee 180; and Ian and Rachel in Five Five Whiskey. Rachel, Ian, and Bonnie were joining on their first WFC group fly-out.

An underwing view of Warrior 481 from One Delta Tango, courtesy of Tom

Content that the ceiling was sufficiently high, I contacted Rochester for flight following and declared an intended cruise altitude of 6,500 feet.


It was a stunningly beautiful day, rich green below and sharply defined clouds popping in crisp blue heavens above.


In the vicinity of the western Finger Lakes, the terrain rises and the clouds were clearly much lower than when the previous METARs were issued. I descended to 4,000 feet, but was feeling the pinch. We were now lower than the altitude I had recommended to one of the other Club pilots.


My eyes and my iPad both told me that there were showers of light to moderate intensity scattered beneath that cloud layer. I diverted westward toward higher ceilings (above). It was evident from the weather display that precipitation tracked eastward from Olean, NY. I reasoned that it was in my best interest to detour around it on the upwind side.

I watched electronic avatars of the other aircraft each take somewhat unique courses around the scattered weather and listened to their interactions with Cleveland Center. I was the only one who chose to make an end run around the upwind side of the weather. Cleveland Center was helpfully providing vectors around individual showers, but some of the newer pilots were a bit tongue tied as this was a new experience for them. Conditions were far from my "easy VFR" ideal for Club fly-outs. I watched and I listened and I worried.

If anyone is uncomfortable with the weather situation, will they do the right thing for themselves and turn around? Does the fact that I continued on create pressure for the others to proceed as well? Though I decided that everyone was an adult in possession of an FAA-issued pilot certificate and that I did not need to play mother hen to them, I still worried as I steered my own ship around the weather.

ForeFlight ground track from Sodus to St Marys.

Near Olean, we cleared the rain showers, escaped the overhanging clouds, and emerged back into sunlight. I set a direct course to St Marys under a clear sky, leaving the weather behind.

Ten minutes after turning direct to St Marys, Cleveland Center called. "Cherokee Four Eight One, you should be able to turn direct to St Marys now."

I stifled the flood of sarcastic comments that came to mind and simply responded with, "Four Eight One."

Some of the other Club ships had disappeared from my ADS-B display, but I could still hear Tom and Paula interacting with Cleveland Center. I wondered about Brad and Ian until I saw that Brad's faster Cirrus had circumvented the weather to our east and was already on approach to St Marys.

After all of the gusty weather we experienced flying to Chicago the previous weekend, Kristy was not thrilled when the St Marys AWOS blurted out a report of strong, gusty wind. But it was right down the runway and, despite bumping and rolling a bit in the pattern, the landing was as smooth as anyone could ask.

We joined Brad, Aubrie, and Mike on the ramp and waited for the slower airplanes to arrive. Eventually, all of them did. Not a single pilot chose to turn back.

Weather Wise(r)

As we gathered on the ramp, I expressed my apologies to the newer pilots, explaining that I had not predicted the low weather and rain showers. I certainly did not mean for the flight to be quite as exciting as it became.

I need not have worried. All of them were thrilled with the flight. For several, it was the first time working around weather and receiving weather deviation vectors from air traffic control. Though the weather needed to be managed, it was scattered and not particularly severe. Several contemplated turning back, but made their own carefully weighed decisions to proceed. In short, everyone thought that they had received an excellent learning experience on what would otherwise have been just another $100 hamburger run. It was a success beyond my highest expectation.


The Bear went immediately for the crab stuffed mushrooms. She has an expensive palate, my Little Bear.


Dinner was truly excellent and The West Wind staff took great care of us.

Photoshoot on the Ramp

We paused on the ramp after dinner to commemorate the adventure in photographs.



Aubrie made her second cross country flight ever with Brad in their Cirrus and is still smiling about it! Meanwhile, Mike traded flying the champ for a ride in the fastest airplane in play that evening.


Bonnie joined Tom and Alicia in One Delta Tango, a lapsed pilot returning to the cockpit after many years and discovering that the rules and the technology of flying have changed significantly since her last flight as Pilot in Command.



Paula and Steve were thrilled to have flown their recently purchased airplane somewhere new. Paula had visited St Marys in 2018, but as a passenger in Warrior 481. It is exciting to see her confidence and experience grow with each new adventure.


Ian revealed that this was his longest distance flight to date. Rachel described how training for her private pilot certificate in Arizona did not prepare her to manage clouds like the ones we encountered that evening.


Airplanes in the Gloaming



We climbed into the sky as the sun slipped beyond the horizon.


The bumps were gone and, though some clouds still loitered near our cruise altitude, the weather had shut itself down with the arrival of dusk. On a gorgeous evening, our ride home was everything that a night flight should be.


Tom departed ahead of us in One Delta Tango and we caught up with him while passing southeast of Rochester.

"One Delta Tango, do you see the Cherokee passing you on the left? He's overtaking by ten knots," advised Rochester Approach.

"Yeah," Tom responded sounding vaguely annoyed. "I see him." Kristy and I howled with laughter at the tone of his response, but judiciously confined our mirth to the cabin of Warrior 481.

Brad arrived first in the Cirrus, hopefully scaring all the deer from the runway. Ten miles out from Sodus, I cancelled flight following with Rochester. "Cherokee Four Eight One, frequency change approved, squawk VFR, we'll talk to you soon." 

Tom later groused at me that I received a "talk to you soon" from the controller, but that he got "nothing" when he switched frequencies. Honestly, I suspect that some of the controllers hear me often enough to recognize when I call.

Self Reflection

In the final analysis, we had a beautiful flight, a great meal, and a manageable learning experience about working around weather for the newer pilots. But the evening held a lesson for me, too. I take my role as an event planner for the Club very seriously and strive to make smart weather decisions on behalf of the entire group whenever we fly-out together. I might also angst about the weather a little too much. I learned that, no matter how much I fret over what the weather is doing, the unexpected can still occur. When it does, I need to trust that our well trained WFC pilots will make the best decisions for themselves; that it is not just all up to me. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

One Weekend, Four Aircraft

A Veritable Spam Can Quadfecta!

As an aircraft owner, I do not rent other airplanes as a general rule of thumb. I already pay to fly my own airplane, why would I pay to fly someone else's? I hold tightly to this rule, though flying the J-3 Cub for my tailwheel endorsement or the Schweizer sailplane are obvious exceptions.

In a definite excursion from the ordinary for me, I flew four different aircraft as PIC in a single weekend during May 2019. I can imagine the wheels turning in the mind of the reader now, a mental perusal of the ol' aircraft bucket list Rolodex. Lessee...a Staggerwing, a Mustang, a Corsair, and ... aw heck, how about an SR-71 Blackbird? Why not? This is an understandable response, but not particularly realistic (especially since all the Blackbirds are in museums now).

Confession: one of those four was my own airplane. The other three were Williamson Flying Club (WFC) aircraft. Two were Cherokee 140s that I have flown previously and are arguably not so different from my Warrior. The fourth was a Cessna 172 Hawk XP. It was my first time in the left seat of a Cessna in over 15 years and the Hawk XP has some attributes that it made it worth the rental cost.

More Power!

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 May 2019 N736ES SDC (Sodus, NY) - local 1.2 1947.3

Because I fly often and am generally proficient, my philosophy on Flight Reviews is that they are a great opportunity to learn something new. I try to fly with different instructors when I can because every one brings their own unique insights. As a result, in 17 years of flying, I have flown with 14 different instructors. There is also something to be said for consistency within a curriculum, so I worked with the same instructor for all of my Private Pilot certificate and the same instructor for all of my Instrument Rating.

Mike B at the controls of the Club's Hawk XP at Re-Dun Field on 27 May 2019

This year, I had an opportunity to fly with my friend Dan, a retired Air Force officer. Dan and I joined the WFC on the same evening. He is a recently certificated instructor pursuing a third career in General Aviation. At the WFC Christmas party, I won a certificate for an hour of free dual instruction with him. The only catch was that the instruction had to be in the WFC's Hawk XP, the club's grossly underutilized flagship aircraft. Dan is trying to drum up business for the Hawk, which does not fly as often as it should because it is a bit more complex than the rest of the fleet. Somewhat unusual for a Cessna 172, the Hawk XP has a 195 hp, six cylinder, fuel injected Continental IO-360 power plant with a constant speed prop. It would be my first opportunity fly behind a constant speed prop and that made it worth the rental cost.

Sitting in the left seat of the Hawk XP, I felt a little claustrophobic. My line of sight is above the top of the side windows, so I had to duck anytime I looked outside for clearing turns. On top of that (literally), there's a wing right there. The claustrophobic feeling also arises from how far forward the wing is positioned versus the pilot. It blocks a significant arc of sky. This is in contrast to the Cherokees where the pilot sits at the leading edge of the wing and has a better view downward than a 172 pilot has upward.

N736ES at Lake Placid, 10 October 2015

Just shy of rotation speed on take-off, the oil door popped open and I quickly throttled back and brought the aircraft to a stop. After a much more successful second take-off attempt, I contacted Rochester Approach for flight following.

"Rochester Approach, Cherok...er...Cessna Seven Three Six Echo Sierra."

"Six Echo Sierra, Rochester Approach, are you a Cherokee or a Cessna?"

Sigh.

"Cessna. Six Echo Sierra."

Aloft, we cycled through a series of steep turns, slow flight, and stalls. After each maneuver, Dan would nod and say, "Good job, that was to ACS (airman certification) standards!" Well, except for the first steep turn. I lost some altitude in the turn before I had the proper feel for the airplane.

It is a capable aircraft and is palpably more powerful than my Warrior. That six cylinder Continental was wonderfully smooth in flight. Dan walked me through the practical application of the new-to-me propeller control. It would probably take me a couple more lessons to internalize setting power by manifold pressure, but it was less complicated overall than I expected.

I made two landings in the Hawk, both without assistance from Dan. They were smooth, full-stall beauties right on the center line. I swear, that tailwheel training in 2017 really did wonders for my landing technique. On the first landing, we were caught in some squirrelly winds, but I got the airplane back on track before flaring.

Dan was complimentary as he signed off my logbook for a successful Flight Review. "A couple more lessons to get used to the constant speed prop and you could be signed off to solo the Hawk," he added for encouragement.

We'll see. Now that I've had the experience, I am starting to bump back up against my rule about not paying to fly other people's airplanes. I enjoyed flying the Hawk XP, though I also think that the experience solidified my preference for low wing aircraft.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Club

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

Warrior 481 at Whitfords on 18 May 2019

The very next morning, I departed Sodus with the rest of the Saturday morning Breakfast Club for Whitfords Airport as described in the post called Field Trip. After I returned to Sodus, I helped with preparations for the following day's pancake breakfast.

The WFC Breakfast Club at Whitfords on 18 May 2019

Apple Blossom Fly-In Breakfast

Sunday, May 19 was the annual Williamson Flying Club Apple Blossom Fly-In Breakfast. My job at this event over the last few years has been giving airplane rides as a fundraiser for the club. I can do this legally under the rules governing charity flights. For liability reasons, I have to fly club planes rather than Warrior 481.

Bad Fit

I was assigned N701DT that morning. I had not flown it in over a year and so flew a quick circuit to reacquaint myself with its performance. Because it has the stubby constant-chord (Hershey Bar) wing of the early Cherokees, the handling characteristics are slightly different than my Warrior, particularly when landing.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
19 Nov 2019 N701DT SDC (Sodus, NY) - local 0.3 1949.1

One Delta Tango recently received a new interior that greatly improved the appearance of the cockpit. Unfortunately, the new seat cushions were quite thick and, because the seat height is not adjustable, I had very little headroom.

Matt P with One Delta Tango at the Oswego County Airport, 11 September 2016

I'll give it a shot, I thought. I ran the checklist, fired up the aircraft, and departed the Williamson Sodus Airport.

The top of my head rubbed uncomfortably on the cabin headliner for the entire flight. When I reached for the flap lever in the pattern, a searing pain bloomed in my skull. I had hit my head on a corner of the sheet-metal housing of the compass because I was sitting so high. Fortunately, I wore a hat and was not bleeding, but the bill of the cap was what prevented me from seeing that the compass was there to hit in the first place. On short final, I struggled to compensate for the left crosswind. With the seat being so high, my own knee prevented me from turning the yoke enough to adequately correct for the wind. Did I not check that the controls were clear before take off? I could not remember, but the answer appeared to be "no".

Uh oh.


N9701DT at St Marys, 18 March 2018.

The landing fell somewhere well short of pretty. My heart was racing as One Delta Tango rolled out on runway 28. There was no way that I would have been comfortable flying passengers in that airplane. I simply did not fit.

Others confirmed for me that there was no vertical adjustment for the seat. One person suggested that "We need to get some more fatties flying that airplane to compress the cushion." Though there was a certain practicality to this comment, it was definitely not a short term solution.

I was offered N9855W instead because the interior was significantly more "tired".

The Goldilocks Cherokee

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
19 May 2019 N9855W SDC (Sodus, NY) - local 2.0 1951.1

As I climbed into Five Five Whiskey for the first time that morning, I was asked to take a pair of paying passengers with me right away.

"So..." I  put on my how do I saw this politely? face. "I haven't flown this airplane in four years. Mind if I get reacquainted first?"

N9855W photographed from the back seat of Mike S's Champ, 05 May 2018.

I was glad that I took that solo flight. Five Five Whiskey was built in 1967 and features the "shot gun" instrument layout whereby all of the instruments were just put wherever they happened fit. One Delta Tango, Warrior 481, and most aircraft built after the mid 1970s use a standard layout for the essential instruments. For me, flying Five Five Whiskey is always a bit of an exercise in, OK, I need to know the airspeed now, where is that located again?  Engine controls are the push-pull type and spread out across the lower section of the instrument panel rather then being clustered together as in other airplanes I have flown. Other differences included the pushbutton starter, the absence of toe brakes (there is a hand brake that is used instead), and the overhead crank for the trim that I always manage to turn the wrong way no matter which direction I'm trying to trim. I sat for a moment, checklist in hand, locating the instruments and controls.

Despite those differences, the seat height was perfect for me. I fit in this airplane almost as well as my own.

Tom, Jamie, and Mike with N9855W in Williamsport, PA 24 June 2017

When I pressed the starter button, the engine turned over enthusiastically. On take off, my left elbow lay naturally on the armrest in just the correct position for my left hand to comfortably manipulate the yoke. I wish Warrior 481 had an armrest on the pilot's side, but that was omitted from the previous-owner's refit of the interior.

There is a reason why Five Five Whiskey tends to be everyone's favorite trainer at the Club. She is a sweet flying airplane, smooth and docile. By the time I was on short final, I already felt like I was at home in the cockpit (except...crap...where is the airspeed indicator again?). I greased Five Five Whiskey on to the runway and declared myself open for the ride business.

I flew sixteen passengers in seven hops (at least, I can account for seven hops - there may have been more that I simply forgot about), only stopping when my blood sugar crashed sometime late morning. Because of the limited cabin size of the Cherokee 140, I usually had a parent in the right seat and a kid or two in back. At the request of one fellow, I flew him and his son over their nearby farm. Behind us, Mike B had the man's wife and daughter with him in One Delta Tango. We made a couple of orbits around the farm positioned 180° apart from each other before returning to Sodus.

N9355W at Oswego County Airport, 09 July 2017.

Mid-morning, a woman and two children were presented to me as my next passengers. As I introduced myself, the little girl said, "You flew my Dad to Pennsylvania once!" That threw me for a loop. I looked at the woman, thinking that I should recognize her, but did not.

"Sadie, tell him who your dad is is," encouraged the woman. The girl pointed back at the crowd waiting for airplane rides and her father waved at us. She was the daughter of my friend Bill. The Bear and I flew Bill down to Pennsylvania to join his family for vacation in 2015, then continued on with a trip of our own.

But I was puzzled because the woman I was talking to was not Bill's wife. Then I located Bill's wife among the crowd as well. As it turned out, my passenger was Bill's neighbor and her son wanted to be a pilot. Sadie was just along for the ride. They thoroughly enjoyed their flight, though I gently skipped Five Five Whiskey on landing. "Congratulations, you got two landings for the price of one!" I told them to cover my lousiest landing of the day.

I connected them with Kristy afterward, who took them all to our hangar to check out the Warrior while I continued hopping rides. The Bear tried to explain parts of the airplane to the boy, who waved her off impatiently. "I already KNOW all that," he declared.

Aviation Weekend

Between a Friday night Flight Review in a new airplane, a Saturday morning run for breakfast, and successfully flying several rides at the pancake breakfast after the rough start in One Delta Tango, I flew a combined total of 5.0 hours in four different airplanes on what was truly an aviation-themed weekend. Weekends like that do not come around often for me, but I was glad to have had the experience.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Chicago Bear: IFR To the Cereal City

Squeezing in More Silliness

On our final morning at the Airbnb on Chicago's south side, there was ample time for additional misuse of furniture.



On the one hand, what the heck? On the other hand, nice form!


Breakfast that morning was at the Red Line Cafe. Da Bear had a fancy quiche! Kristy got one of those highfalutin coffees with a pattern on top! I had scrambled eggs. They were kind of salty, but the presentation was outstanding.

Fog

Chicago waterfront, 03 April 2005

As we could see from our fourth story crash pad, the city of Chicago was overcome with fog. It was my hope to fly along the Chicago waterfront as I did in 2005, get some pictures, and maybe do a quick trip to the Schaumburg airport for lunch at Pilot Pete's. But it was not to be. Instead, we would be lucky to launch out of Lansing once the ceiling raised to something more respectable than the 100 feet reported during breakfast.

I planned a 10:00 am departure based on when the airport was expected to go from low IFR to merely IFR. I wanted to make a single fuel and lunch stop in Michigan, but because southern Michigan was also IFR, I was looking for suitable towered airports for convenience. I ruled out Kalamazoo because the runway closures eliminated several instrument approach options. I considered Jackson because of the on-field diner, but then fixated on Battle Creek (KBTL). In my years of flying over the impressive 10,000 foot long runway there, I never had a reason to land. Today seemed like a good opportunity and so a plan was born.

Stephen dropped us off at Lansing Municipal before getting on the highway and pointing his car toward Michigan.

"Yeah, I'm relatively new, but I've seen a lot of people confused by the fuel pumps over there," said the woman at the Midwest Business Center. With full service fuel only $4.55/gal, I decided to simplify my life and have the FBO fuel Warrior 481 while I did a final round of flight planning. Taking on fuel spared me the $20 ramp fee, but I was still charged the $10/night tie down fees. 

Cheaper than parking a car in Chicago overnight, I reasoned. I was a little surprised when the confessed newbie hopped into the fuel truck and proceeded to fuel the Warrior. She did a good job, though, and only filled the fuel to the bottom of the filler neck -- just the way I like it (it helps avoid fuel dribbling out of the fuel vents on hot days).

Blindness

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 Jun 2019 N21481 IGQ (Lansing, IL) - BTL (Battle Creek, MI) 1.3 1965.8

ForeFlight ground track at Lansing Municipal

Lansing Municipal Airport resembles two adjacent airports of different orientations that someone decided to connect with a taxiway. With wind out of the north, we taxied across the convoluted field to the departure end of runway 36 before calling Chicago Approach on the phone for clearance. The person I talked to at Chicago Approach was terrific and, to my delight, we were cleared for immediate departure with a ten minute void time. At 500 feet, we were in the clouds over those big box houses east of the field and communicating with Chicago Approach.


We broke out somewhere around 4,000 feet with sunlight reflecting brilliantly from the apparently infinite layer of stratus clouds below; it was like suffering from snow blindness. I thought longingly about the Tibetan snow goggles I saw at the Field Museum the day before. As I squinted into the glare, I watched a Southwest 737 inbound to Midway pass 3,000' feet overhead. We saw them, but they did not see the small, mostly white airplane skimming through the cloud tops.

I was not the only one squinting that morning.

I am always struck by how the tenor of ATC communications changes on IFR days. Not surprisingly, the frequency was dominated by experienced voices verbalizing IFR-speak. It was enough that anyone listening to the approach controller for a few minutes could have divined the local weather conditions.

South Bend Approach and Great Lakes Approach were busily coordinating instrument approaches by general aviation aircraft to some of the outlying fields. Over Dowagiac (C91) where I soloed, Great Lakes Approach cleared us direct to WEVSO to execute the RNAV 5L approach at Battle Creek (airport #191). As we slid down the electronic banister of the approach procedure, our environment morphed from dazzlingly, blindingly white to gray, then shading continuously darker until motion in my peripheral vision gave the first hint of restored ground contact, and, finally, 10,000 feet of asphalt materialized out of the mist. We broke out at 800 feet.

It was a textbook IFR flight and the exact sort of mission I had in mind when I pursued the rating.

ForeFlight ground track from Lansing Municipal (KIGQ) to Battle Creek (KBTL)

The Cereal City

On landing, the line crew at Duncan Aviation parked us, took our fuel order, and set us loose to find lunch.


Clearly, Battle Creek is Duncan's flagship facility in southwest Michigan. It was significantly larger and fancier than the Kalamazoo facility we just visited, the very one where Kent and I attended ground school in 2000.



Local aviation luminaries and the founders of Kal-Aero (the predecessor to Duncan in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo) were immortalized in the lobby. Sue Parish was a World War II WASP, airshow pilot, and co-founder of my beloved Air Zoo along with Pete Parish. John Ellis was a Naval aviator, airshow pilot, and pilot for the Air Zoo.


We found ourselves at the local Mancino's for lunch. There was a Mancino's right on the edge of our neighborhood in Kalamazoo; I had not had a turkey grinder in years. The Bear seemed to be a fan.

When we returned to Duncan's opulent lobby, I passed the car keys to a new person working the desk. "Rochester, NY huh? I'm originally from Utica," she observed.

"We moved to Rochester from Kalamzoo," I answered in kind.

"Small world! Did the last person tell you that there is a $10 car fee?" the woman asked.

"Um...no." I replied, caught off-guard.

"Well, OK, then let's not worry about that," she decided with a smile. After all, we had both made similar climatologically lateral moves in our lives.


I still associate the Duncan Aviation logo with my early flight training and it is difficult not to feel nostalgic when I see it.


I simply do not know how to pose for pictures and should probably avoid doing so in the future.

Running with the Wind

Battle Creek gave us an intersection departure on runway 23R directly off the Duncan ramp. Even though we started our take-off roll with only half of the runway remaining, we still had 5,000 feet available.

Eventually on top of the clouds and back in the intense glare, we enjoyed a smooth ride with a tailwind. The return home was the exact opposite of the journey westward.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 Jun 2019 N21481 BTL (Battle Creek, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 3.3 1969.1


An unbroken ceiling blanketed southwest Michigan, but as we neared the east side of the state, the clouds provided flirtatious peeks of the ground before completely revealing the underlying landscape.


This was not only the best flying of the trip, but some of the best flying of the year to date.



The Bear missed it completely, of course. She was worn out from all of that gratuitous furniture misuse.




Given the proliferation of small lakes below, I did not need a chart to know that we were overflying my home county. Oakland County International (KPTK) was just a few miles north of our route through the Detroit Bravo airspace.


Edge of Lake St Clair (Michigan side)

Canadian Cloudscape


While crossing over Canada, we encountered a new system of layered clouds and passed in and out of IMC through a breathtaking aerial world.




As for The Bear, she remained completely unaware of the glorious display of nature beyond our airplane's windows.




Thinning clouds coincided with our crossing of the Niagara River back into the United States.


Not to sound jaded, but...Niagara Falls...again... Yawn.


We encountered this odd-looking roll cloud between Buffalo and Rochester. The air around it remained smooth as glass and I am puzzled about the forces that created it. Shouldn't this be the product of some kind of atmospheric churn or wind shear?

ForeFlight ground track from Battle Creek (KBTL) to Sodus (KSDC)

It took us the same amount of time on Monday to fly from southwest Michigan (Battle Creek) to Sodus as it did to reach eastern Michigan (Detroit) from Sodus on Friday. When non-pilots ask how fast my airplane is, I often respond that it depends on the wind (because no one really cares about airspeed, they really want to know how fast I can go somewhere). This response almost always earns me a puzzled look, but this trip was a dramatic example of exactly how our speed and travel time are affected by the atmospheric current.


Home again!


The Bear sounds her barbaric yawp over the wings of the world.


My crack ground crew took care of the bugs accumulated on Warrior 481's wings and snout.

That's a Wrap!

Another family flying trip is in the book. 11.0 hours (1.7 IMC), three new airports (KDET, KBTL, KIGQ), an IFR departure (KIGQ), an instrument approach in actual conditions (KBTL RNAV 5L), and what has to be the highest direct crosswind I've ever launched in (17G29 at KAZO). We got to see Kent and family, Pam and Stephen, a new city for The Bear, Hamilton for the second time, and some of the great museums in Chicago. Lansing, IL is the farthest west that The Bear has ever been in our airplane. Overall, I'd call that a successful trip.