Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fog Delay

Those seeking an early Saturday morning breakfast flight were delayed by a fog that persisted even as the rising sun inflamed the eastern sky. Unlike my recent trip to Maine, I did not have time to wait for the air to clear. Though there was no flying for me that morning, the view was spectacular.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Lobstah in Bah Hahbah

Being Flip

A colleague casually observed that I was out of the office on Monday, October 21 and asked if I did anything interesting that day.

"Not really," I shrugged. "I was craving lobster so I went to Maine for lunch." I received quite a reaction from my offhanded remark, which was obviously my intent. The reaction comes from the fact that my destination in Maine is ten hours away from Rochester by car.

I do not make a habit of shoving my pilot certificate in people's faces, so my coworkers often forget that I have an airplane at my disposal. While my response was intentionally flip for comic effect, a lot more thinking and planning went into the adventure than I revealed to my colleague.

Every fall, preferably during the time of peak color, I try to take a solo flying trip. It clears my head and a friend once referred to this as my "zen time". I have flown to the mountains for a quiet picnic, explored the lighthouses of Block Island, and visited a rare WWII airplane under restoration on various fall excursions over the years. In 2019, my work schedule delayed this annual flight, so I waited, hoping for good weather to return before fall degraded into winter. When good weather was forecast, I set to planning the evening prior.

My first thought was to fly to Rockcliffe in Ottawa (CYRO) to visit the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, but as I delved into the planning, I quickly decided that the flight would be more complicated than I wanted to attempt just a day later. That was disappointing because I did not get a chance to fly to Canada this year despite having all of the resources at my disposal to do so.

Next, I turned my sights toward Cleveland with hopes of taking a third crack at the Steamship William G Mather. Nope. It was closed on Monday.

I contemplated first time visits to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, but the weather forecast south of Boston was daunting.

Taking a lesson from that, I consulted Monday's prog chart with the thought of simply following the good weather to wherever it led. High pressure was forecast to span the territory from Lake Ontario all the way to coastal Maine. That was how I settled on Maine. I chose Bar Harbor because I had never been there. As for the lobster roll, rather than being a frivolous driver for the trip, it was just an added bonus.

Through the Veil

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Oct 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - BHB (Bar Harbor, ME) - SDC 7.5 2057.1

As I fueled Warrior Four Eight One, Ray pulled up alongside my wingtip in his van. "You must really want to get wherever you're going," he said gesturing at the fog. I was waiting for conditions at Sodus to lift at least to instrument approach minimums and told him so. Ray nodded in agreement and asked where I was going.

"Maine," I said. "If the fog lifts soon enough.” While the idea of a day trip to Maine was surprising to my coworkers, Ray was completely nonplussed and drove off satisfied that I was not about to do anything profoundly stupid.

Though the fog lifted somewhat, a wall of vapor remained at the end of the runway. I picked up my IFR clearance by cell phone from the end of the runway and was cleared for an immediate departure with a ten minute void time.

I climbed through the ragged veil of fog hovering above the airport and was awestruck by the fantastical view.

In contrast to the amorphous blanket of fog hovering above, the buildings of downtown Williamson were crisply angular in the morning sunlight.

I turned on course over the partially veiled airport and contacted Rochester Approach.

I was filed for 9,000 feet to take best advantage of the wind aloft and soon found myself high above the foggy terrain.

The Lake Ontario shore with the nuclear plant in Oswego visible at frame right.

Clearly, the fog was not a localized phenomenon. South and east of Sodus, it only thickened. Regional airliners were going missed at Syracuse and diverting to other airports in the area.

Waves of Ranges

I was on course direct to GRUMP intersection near New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee, then direct to Bar Harbor. I chose this route to fly along the southern edge of the Adirondacks while avoiding the nearby Lowville / Tupper / Carthage / Cranberry military airspace complex, the Yankee MOAs near the White Mountains, as well as the low-option terrain of the White Mountains themselves.

Pools of vapor collected in the deep basins of the Adirondack Mountains.

The shore of Piseco Lake was just barely visible, but the airport extending northward from that shore was completely obscured by clouds.

About 20 miles east of Piseco Airport (K09), Boston Center called and cleared me direct to Bar Harbor. This meant that I was cleared to go through the Yankee 1 and 2 MOAs and would pass directly over the White Mountains.

Low fog covered Lake George and the wide valley surrounding Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border was completely socked-in.

It was as though the mountains came in waves. With the Adirondacks behind me, I entered Vermont and next encountered the Green Mountains.

They were not particularly green.

From Vermont to New Hampshire, the next wave of terrain appeared: the White Mountains.

Although I have landed at a grass strip in the White Mountains previously, I had not flown this deeply into the White Mountains ever before.

I flew over I-93 approximately halfway between Thornton and Woodstock, noting that the various highways vied for limited space in the valley with the Pemigewasset River, the asphalt and water thoroughfares braided together to best utilize the available land.

I passed south of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. Though the valleys dwelt in a balmy fall, Mount Washington was already entrenched in winter.

Well past peak color, the deciduous slopes of the White Mountains were rusty in late autumn.

As I left the third mountain range of the morning behind at the Maine border, I realized that I had already experienced a wonderful flight and seen some incredible sights. When flying by light aircraft from place to place, it is important to pause and remember that the journey may hold just as much allure as the destination.

The Trickster AWOS

At the Maine border, Boston Center passed me to Portland Approach and from there, I coordinated my arrival to Bar Harbor with Bangor Approach. I was still nearly sixty miles from Bar Harbor when Bangor asked me to advise when I had the destination weather. I tuned the Bar Harbor AWOS on 118.35 and received a surprisingly strong weather broadcast.

However, the broadcast was not from Bar Harbor. I was hearing the Augusta State Airport AWOS on 118.325, a transmission so powerful that it bled over to the adjacent frequency. I flew another 30 miles before receiving the Bar Harbor AWOS information and, even then, it was barely audible over interference from the Augusta State AWOS.

But I gleaned that the wind was calm, the sky scattered at 3,000 feet, and the visibility 10 miles or greater in Bar Harbor. All of these things jibed with what I saw out the window, so I reported back to Bangor that I planned a visual approach. Bangor began stepping me down from 9,000 feet as I neared the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The sea makes many incursions into the mainland along coastal Maine.

Still several miles out and just below the scattered cloud layer, I saw something change out of the corner of my eye and glanced at my iPad . The most recent ADS-B weather update changed the status of Bar Harbor from green VFR to magenta for low IFR. What?!

I tuned the AWOS again, my proximity to the airport finally allowing me to hear it distinctly. "Wind, zero seven zero at nine. Visibility one quarter mile, mist. Sky condition overcast, 100 feet." Was there fog rolling in off the ocean? I saw no evidence of it, but I did not have the airport in sight yet. In the next few moments, I quickly briefed an approach plate.

"Bangor Approach, Cherokee Four Eight One would like to fly the RNAV runway 4 approach into Bar Harbor."

"Cherokee Four Eight One, direct FOMLU, cross FOMLU at or above two thousand niner hundred." I loaded the approach and turned on course for the initial approach fix.

Wryly, I noted that the feeder leg from FOMLU was labelled "No PT". At least there would be no debate about the necessity of flying the procedure turn this time.

By the time I reached the next fix along the approach, I had a visual on the airport and there was no evidence of any IFR condition whatsoever. I listened to the AWOS again and, this time, it advertised perfect VFR conditions. What the heck? Did someone throw a pillowcase over the sensor for a couple of minutes? Foul, tricksy AWOS, cried my inner Gollum.

I cancelled IFR over Blue Hill Bay and flew over the northern end of Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Hancock County - Bar Harbor Airport

Though the airport (#201) carries the Bar Harbor name, it is actually on the mainland in Trenton near the bridge to Mt Desert Island and roughly twelve miles from Bar Harbor proper. With wind now out of the southwest, I joined the downwind for runway 22.

ForeFlight ground track from KSDC to KBHB 

Bah Hahbah

From the edge of the ramp, it was evident that parking was tiered by aeronautical social status, the aviator's caste system. Private jets had the most desirable parking and shortest walk to the FBO, Columbia Air Services. Piston aircraft were relegated to a less convenient ramp actually set at a lower elevation. It was literally below private jet parking. I followed a lineman in a pick-up truck to the lower piston ramp.

The night before, I rented a car through Enterprise: $42 for the day (thanks to my company for requiring everyone to join National's Emerald Club back in 2006). "We're giving you an upgrade!" proclaimed the agent, pointing out the window to a VW Tiguan SUV. Given the nonexistent inventory I saw out in the parking lot (above), I suspect that my upgrade was less about giving me a perk and more about renting the only car available. It was, after all, the off season.

What's an aviator to do when he has just dropped into an unfamiliar place and craves a decent lobster roll for lunch? Well, if he's me, he'll key something lame into his phone like "best lobster rolls Bar Harbor". After eliminating the places already closed for the season, that aviator may find himself at the West St Cafe.

The lobster roll really hit the spot.

I explored a bit of town, but aside from some kitschy seaside establishments (see above), I did not find much that truly caught my eye. I saw a Bar Harbor T-shirt in a shop window depicting a lobster and I contemplated getting it for The Bear, but decided that I did not want to feed her Dr. Zoidberg affectation any more than I already had.

Bar Harbor


Because of that morning's fog -- an experience that now seemed like a world away -- I had less time in Bar Harbor than planned. I considered a tour of Acadia National Park, but single car entry is $30 and I did not have enough time to really savor exploration of the park. Rather, it sounded like a great future destination for the family. Instead, I set my sights on the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, the only lighthouse on Mt Desert Island.

Southwest Harbor

Along the way, I stopped to look out over Southwest Harbor and the many ships moored there.

I saw a sign for Wonderland, an actual municipality on the island. I also passed a sign that read:


An arrow pointed to a nearby establishment. "Compassionate" and "bake" struck me as antithetical concepts. How do you bake something compassionately? Is calming music played? Enya: the official soundtrack for your compassionate lobster execution. No, it turns out that some people give their lobsters cannabis (weed) before cooking them. Evidently, the object is to get your lobster baked before baking it.

I had heard of rock lobster before, but stoned lobster was a new one on me.

The Bass Harbor Head Light Station was established in 1858. It is perched directly on a precipice overlooking the ocean and good sight lines for photographs were limited. I wish that I understood why I find these ancient beacons so compelling. There is no doubt in my mind that a trip to Maine that did not include visiting a lighthouse would have been less than satisfactory.

A set of paths and well-maintained wooden stairs led to the base of the cliff.

The Bear would have loved climbing around on these rocks. Clearly, though I was on my own, my family was very much on my mind as I explored.

I sat among the rocks for a time and basked in the warm sunshine and crisp sea air.

Ship Harbor Trail

After leaving the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, I hiked the Ship Harbor Trail through an evergreen forest littered with large rock outcroppings.

Ship Harbor

Read Back Correct

I found my way back to the airport around 3:30, briefly sharing the FBO with a Cessna Citation pilot and his wife who made a day trip to Bar Harbor just like I did, but on a budget probably inconceivable to me.

I have landed at 201 different airports over the years and it is always comforting to find Warrior 481 waiting for me when it is time to go home at the end of each adventure.

The Republic Sea Bee is one of those airplanes that falls into the "so ugly it's cool" category. This one was a nice example.

Aloft, I called Bangor Approach for clearance. I had filed the reverse of my outbound route via GRUMP intersection. "Cherokee Four Eight One, I have a full route clearance for you, advise ready to copy."

I scribbled furiously as the controller read out my clearance. "Cherokee Four Eight One is cleared to Sierra Delta Charlie via Kennebunk, echo november echo; Keene, echo echo november; Cambridge, charlie alpha mike; Utica, uniform charlie alpha; direct. Climb and maintain six thousand."

My read back was crisp and rapid and every bit as on the ball as the read back from my friend in the Citation. I was pleased with myself.

The bridge from the mainland to Mt Desert Island viewed on departure from the airport.

Mt Desert Island

The flight from Bar Harbor to Kennebunk put me on a west southwest heading along the Atlantic seaboard for nearly an hour. While the setting sun blazed high in the sky directly ahead, its mirror image also reflected brilliantly from the surface of the ocean. Imagine flying someplace with two spotlights pointed directly at your face, one high and one low. I was grateful to be on an instrument flight plan because I could see nothing directly ahead for much of the flight home. I was also grateful for my ball cap and my sunglasses.

A cruise ship in Portland's harbor reminded me of the one that bore us through the inside passage of Alaska last summer.


Wonderland may be a placename in Maine, but it is also an apt description of the world I traversed near dusk. Filtered evening sunshine brought out residual crimson hues of autumn while low angle lighting accentuated haze that lightly cloaked the mountains like smoke, as though each leafy pixel of red below was a tiny flame.

Even when artificially sapped of all color, the evening haze softened the angular terrain.

With the sun sinking ever lower in the sky, the forested mountains below assumed a rose hue and, if it were not for the texture being completely wrong, the terrain could have been mistaken for dunes in an exotic desert.

Before reaching the Keene VOR, Boston Center sent me directly to Cambridge, cutting off a bit of the route. Interestingly, the turn to Cambridge aligned me with the precise heading necessary for the next leg of the flight from Cambridge to Utica. Boston Center obviously put some thought into the timing of that turn. Once established on the new course, I left Vermont behind and crossed back into New York near Albany.

Sunset occurred somewhere between Albany and Utica and I logged an hour of night flight before returning to Sodus. The darkness came like a balm for my eyes after nearly 2.5 hours of flying toward the sun.

ForeFlight ground track from Bar Harbor back to Sodus.

In Closing

As much as I love sharing the sky with others, either with passengers aboard Warrior 481 or with other airplanes carrying friends to a common destination that we can enjoy together, I always look forward to my annual fall solo trip and the therapeutic zen time that it provides.

Though I have been flying since 2001, I am still enthralled by the wondrous things I get to see and experience as an aviator, things well exemplified by the day's events. Rising up through the fog, floating above pools of mist collected in mountainous basins, journeying past three separate mountain ranges in three different states, exploration of an entirely new place, observing a landscape completely transformed by evening sun, and continuing to learn and hone my skills in the technical art of aviation. This life in the sky is truly rewarding. Best of all, even after absorbing so much grandeur in a single day, I can still audaciously claim that the whole thing was driven by a frivolous hunger for lobster.

Finally, were it not for aviation, I probably would have never learned that there are people who believe that getting their lobsters stoned helps make the world a better place. I do not know if this knowledge truly enhances my existence on this Earth, but at least the jokes more or less write themselves.