Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Best Kind of Screaming...

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
30 July 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - DSV (Dansville, NY) - DSV 1.3 2124.9 for ice cream. Right? What were you thinking?

Planning activities for the Williamson Flying Club in the midst of a pandemic has been challenging. Many destinations are either closed or running at significantly diminished capacity. In 2019, we often swarmed into places like locusts. In the current environment, we simply cannot do that.

But a quick evening flight to Dansville for dessert from Ice Cream Island? That's easy. Dansville is close enough to be manageable for the slower aircraft, but far enough away for everyone to feel like they've left the local area. Ice Cream Island is an unassuming little shack deposited in the Big Lots parking lot with the ability to dispense a surprising flavor variety of Perry's and Gifford's hand-dipped ice creams. Because all seating is outside, capacity is flexible. Being outside is safer anyway. The evening adventure was an easy win on many fronts.

It was a beautiful evening to visit the sky.

Jamie brought his new (to him) Searey to Dansville! He also let the Ice Cream Island folks sucker him into getting a large for 25 cents more. This may have had a financial appeal, but likely required a reassessment of weight and balance.

We filled the ramp at Dansville with eleven aircraft and their crews!

Fortunately, I do not think that the return to Dansville triggered any PTSD for Warrior 481.

A nice photo of several of our airplanes taken by Dan P.

Melodie, Alicia, Brad, me, Tom, Steve, and Paula loitering on the ramp. Photo by Dan P.

We launched into calm air lit by a glorious sunset on the return.

By the next day, everyone in Rochester was talking about the incredible sunset. We were the fortunate few to see it from an entirely different perspective.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Misty Tiny-Pennsylvania-Mountain Hop

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
25 July 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - SDC 2.6 2123.5

"New York Center, One Delta Tango is descending to four thousand feet to clear weather."

The broadcast came from a tiny dot off my left wingtip in Tom's voice. I was already mulling over my reaction to the lowering ceiling ahead and came to the same conclusion. I keyed the mic and added my request to his. It seemed odd to descend to a westbound IFR altitude while flying southeast under VFR, but the Hemispheric Rule does not go into effect until 3,000 feet above the ground and terrain passing beneath our wings was at least 2,000 feet above sea level.

The answer to both of us was a neutral, "VFR altitude your discretion." How many times in a day does a busy Center controller utter that phrase? It can be dicey to find oneself in a situation with rising terrain and lowering ceiling, but the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania are less lofty than others and there was plenty of vertical space to avoid being pinched.

The idea for a breakfast run to Cherry Ridge, one of the only "nearby" airport diners actively managing through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, was Tom's. Our two aircraft departed from the Williamson-Sodus Airport at 7:30 that morning. At the time, we were among the few stirring at the airport. When Lee arrived, we debated inviting him along, but our favorite Colt pilot rarely strayed so far away from home as Cherry Ridge.

Periodically, I checked for Tom and Alicia off my port wing, reassured whenever I saw the small airplane two miles away.


Without any warning, massive raindrops suddenly pelted Warrior 481's windshield just north of Binghamton, NY. The rain was falling from a particularly dark lump of vapor sagging earthward from the otherwise uniform ceiling. While I appreciated the free aircraft wash, I did not want to enter the low-hanging cloud and smoothly turned farther east to maintain VFR. Tom and Alicia, already flying slightly east of my track, never experienced the rain. Uplinked weather showed a small cell forming several miles to the southwest.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, are you still on course to your destination?" 

This was air traffic controller code for, Hey, you're off course. Is that intentional?

"Just diverting around some low clouds," I responded. New York Center was keeping good tabs on the two Cherokees bound for Pennsylvania that morning and I always appreciate the concern.

Even in the gloom, there is still beauty.

Consistent with weather reports near our destination (which does not have its own weather reporting), we emerged from beneath the ceiling north of Wilkes-Barre. Tom climbed higher for the last few minutes of the flight. I stayed where I was at 4,000 and enjoyed the scenery rolling past.

The line of windmills just east of Carbondale, Pennsylvania serves as a ten mile / five minute warning that Cherry Ridge is close. I surveyed the pockets of ground fog ahead and hoped that the airport was not hidden beneath one of them. Sullivan County Airport was about 20 miles to the northeast and reporting a high ceiling and I decided that I would divert there if Cherry Ridge was inaccessible.

Alicia and Tom with One Delta Tango

I made my worst landing since I started flying again at Cherry Ridge that morning. I would need to make an absolute 10/10 at Sodus on the return flight to balance that Karma.

Breakfast was fabulous. We sat at an outside table, no waiting. I had the Spruce Goose omelet. It is the biggest omelet that they make and thus aptly named. Quite unlike the real Spruce Goose, this one got to fly at a lofty 6500 feet on the way home (granted, in my belly).

We fired up both airplanes after breakfast and, as soon as I flipped the avionics master switch, I heard Lee's voice on the radio. "Cherry Ridge, Colt Seven Zero Zulu..."

When his transmission was done, I keyed the mic. "Lee!" If I am going to broadcast non-essential stuff on UNICOM, I like to keep it brief.

Audibly confused Lee responded with, "Who's this?"


From the other airplane, "And Tom!"

I suppose that taught us a lesson about assuming how far our friend was willing to fly in his slower aircraft. Granted, by the time he arrived, we had already eaten and were preparing to depart, but with some proper coordination, we could make it work in the future.

We detoured around a small cell near Binghamton on the return flight. While Tom stayed low, I decided to climb above the lower altitude scud pooling around bases of the build-ups. At 6500 feet, the air was marvelously drier and cooler.

At the southern end of Cayuga Lake, I noticed the campus of Ithaca College where The Bear did a double reed camp last summer with one of her friends. The camp was cancelled in 2020 for obvious reasons, making last year's Ithaca experience seem even further in the past than it actually was. When quizzed about the subject of this picture, The Bear recognized it immediately.

Once back in home territory, I was astounded by the amount of traffic being managed by Rochester Approach. On my traffic display, I spotted Six Mike Juliet at my altitude and cruising due west. It did not take much imagination to realize that we were on a collision course. Even before I had the aircraft in sight, I provided my own separation by descending. Five hundred feet into a descent, Rochester Approach finally called the traffic to me. Had that been my first warning, it would have been too late. This underscored the primary caveat to Flight Following, that it is provided as workload allows and Rochester was too busy to notice the pair of converging VFR aircraft on the edge of their airspace that morning. Separated vertically, I watched the Cirrus fly overhead as our targets merged on the iPad screen. Thank goodness for early warnings. 

And the landing at Sodus? It was a 10/10, thus salvaging my fragile pilot ego after the bounce at Cherry Ridge. Of course, the landing at Cherry Ridge had multiple witness. At home, there were none. Typical.

It was just a simple breakfast flight, but still had some lessons to reinforce:
  1. During a pandemic, it is still possible to fly with friends. Especially if you're two miles apart for most of the trip.
  2. Even in the gloom, there is still beauty.
  3. Lousy landings almost always happen with an audience. Great landings are rarely witnessed.
  4. Never assume that your friend is unwilling to fly as far as you are just because his airplane is a little slower.
  5. Flight following is provided on a workload-permitting basis. When Rochester Approach is task saturated, they will not be paying attention to that Cirrus bearing down on you at 150 knots.
As for the title of this post, I offer my apologies to Led Zeppelin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Unusual Departure

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Jul 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - DSV (Dansville, NY) - SDC 1.4 2121.0

I flew the Warrior to Dansville one evening with the Williamson Flying Club to grab ice cream.

On the way home, I chose to fly Dansville's Fleetwood Mac departure procedure. (You can go your own way.)

Monday, July 20, 2020

At Rotation's End

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 July 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - local flight 1.9 2119.5

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Hot Day To Visit SATAN

Breaking Good

To appropriate the title of Mike Busch's presentations on aircraft engine break-in, I planned to put a significant amount of time on Warrior 481's new powerplant over the weekend in hopes of finally completing break-in. Forecasts warned that it would be a hot one on Saturday, but not quite so hot as Sunday.

High pressure was forecast to dominate from western New York to Maine, so that established a plan to fly east. In short order, I fixated on Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport (KSFM) in a portion of Maine so far south that it is practically Massachusetts. The airport is positioned just east of SATAN intersection, its WWII military roots identifiable by remnants of a triangular runway configuration (it was formerly the Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Sanford). The Pilot's Cove Cafe is right on the ramp with outdoor seating, is well-reviewed, and has lobster rolls on the menu. Sold.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
18 Jul 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - SFM (Sanford, ME) - DDH (Bennington, VT) - SDC 5.9 2117.6

Follow the Leader

The Williamson-Sodus Airport was active as I fueled Warrior 481 for the trip. A couple of members were readying N1185X for a flight; Brad, Melodie, Tom, and Alicia were setting off for Alexandria Bay; Mike was training a student in N9855W; and a transient Skyhawk from Rochester was practicing take-offs and landings.

I was amused to see the pilot of 85X wearing his ball cap backwards as he brought the Archer's engine to life. If only that hat had some useful function, like shading the pilot's eyes from the sun. Ah, well. 85X and Brad's Cirrus both took to the sky before I finished fueling.

The southern Adirondacks in the haze

In the heat and humidity, the world was masked by ample haze. As I contacted Syracuse Approach for flight following to Sanford, I noted that 85X was directly ahead of me and flying what appeared to be the same course line. Wouldn't it be a funny coincidence if our destination was the same?

Because I was still pushing the Warrior hard to aid engine break-in, I had a 12 knot overtake on 85X and began to noticeably close the gap as we passed Griffiss. By then, it was clear that the other airplane was on a slightly divergent course from mine. I extrapolated their heading on the chart and guessed that they were bound for Glens Falls.

"November Four Eight One," called Boston Center. "You have another Cherokee, one o' clock and three miles, same altitude. He should start descending soon for Glens Falls."

Nailed it

After hunting the sky, I finally found the minuscule dark spec against the blue carrying the other WFC members to their destination.

Rush Hour Traffic

Mount Ascutney

After many years of flying between Laconia, NH and home, I immediately recognized the solitary profile of Mount Ascutney rising in isolation from the rolling Vermont terrain. With smooth air at 5,500 feet and little traffic, much of the flight was a trivial exercise in keeping the Warrior's nose pointed in the correct direction.

Southwest of Laconia, I was switched to Boston Approach. The frequency was busy and the controller's transmissions somewhat muddy. I tried unsuccessfully to check in for ten minutes. Despite the apparent lack of two-way communication, the Boston Approach controller called traffic to me as though we had been talking all along.

Screenshot from ForeFlight as I diverted south around Skydive Lebanon

The next sector was easier to hear and suggested that I divert around Skydive Lebanon because of active jumping. I diverted south, noting the swarm of traffic clustered around SATAN intersection and Sanford. "Cherokee Four Eight One, I've got eight targets around Sanford," Boston Approach warned. In addition to Sanford arrivals, I maneuvered to avoid the Skydive Lebanon jump plane that was rapidly clawing its way up to altitude with a load of meat missiles on board. There were also two departures out of Sanford that were actively climbing directly at me. I have gone months without seeing other airplanes in the sky near mine and, suddenly, the airspace around me seemed to explode with them.

I maneuvered southeast of the field to allow the pattern to clear while setting up for a 45° pattern entry for runway 25. While I was on downwind, an aircraft inexplicably stopped on the runway, forcing a landing Skylane to go around. There is nothing like a little aeronautical chaos to get a pilot's blood flowing again.

ForeFlight ground track from Sodus, NY to Sanford, ME


The ramp at Sanford (airport # 203) was inexplicably full except for the main portion of the ramp that was cordoned off with orange cones. My calls for parking advice to Southern Maine Aviation went unanswered. I found space -- the last space, as far as I could tell -- at the end of a line of tie downs.

After parking, I queried a lineman about my choice of parking. "Pretty busy, huh?!" he exclaimed over the whine of a jet engine. "It's nuts today. We've got so many jets coming in that we've got the whole ramp reserved. You're just fine where you are."

View from my lunch table. Maybe I should have stood up to take the picture? Yeah. Definitely.

"Just here for lunch? No worries, no fees, you're all set!" commented the woman at the counter in Southern Maine Aviation.

Fortunately, Pilot's Cove Cafe had plenty of outdoor seating available and I chose a shaded table next to the fence separating diners from parked aircraft. The shriek of twin turbines from a jet taxiing off the ramp (above) lent more aeronautical ambiance than I would have preferred, but it goes with the territory. A cool breeze grappled with the umbrella shading my table, but offset the 91°F temperature of the day. Like a complete tourist, I ordered the overpriced lobster roll.

While I waited for lunch, a pair of sky divers landed under canopy in the grass beyond the ramp. So there was free entertainment at Sanford, too (in addition to the go-around).

I eyed the activity around the self-serve fuel pump. While I ate, multiple aircraft were blocking it and I found the $4.75/gal price to be unappetizing. (Isn't everything compared to lobster?) In that moment, I decided to stop elsewhere for fuel. I searched ForeFlight along the route home and found Morse State Airport in Bennington, VT. It was 1.3 hours west of Sanford, positioned in the southern portion of the Green Mountains where New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont join together. At $3.63/gal, it boasted one of the best aviation fuel prices in the northeast. Additionally, the airport was positively reviewed in ForeFlight and new to me.

Feet Wet

Back at Warrior 481, I verified that I had enough fuel to reach Morse State. I had about 2.3 hours on board, which would allow me to land with exactly my self-imposed one hour reserve. But first, I wanted to fly out over the Atlantic Ocean and explore a portion of the shoreline.

I was surprised by how turbulent the air was near and over the ocean. Usually, nearby bodies of water shut down thermal activity. Not so along this portion of the Atlantic seaboard. Nonetheless, I explored along the ocean as rising columns of air jostled the Warrior uncomfortably. Each jolt was preternaturally well-timed with each attempted press of my camera's shutter button.

Southern Maine never struck me as much of a beach hot spot, but Ogunquit Beach was absolutely packed with people.

Unlike the rocky coast so characteristic of northern Maine, sandy barrier islands were present reminiscent of those found much farther south.

After tiring of being shaken and rattled at 3,000 feet, I turned west, made an intentionally shallow climb to 8,500 feet to clear clouds over the mountains, and contacted Boston Approach for flight following to Morse State.

ForeFlight ground track from Sanford, ME to Bennington, VT

At 8,500 feet, I operated at wide-open throttle with the mixture leaned to keep the propeller RPM from reaching red line. At this setting, the engine ran smoothly with remarkably low CHTs while my true airspeed surpassed 130 knots.

I changed course a few times to avoid cloud build ups and to manage my descent into mountainous terrain surrounding Morse State. As I turned final from a right pattern to runway 31, I was captivated by a pristine runway set on a plateau among the modest green mountains of southwest Vermont. It was a positively idyllic setting for an airport. I wish I had a photograph of the approach; the image in my mind's eye will have to suffice.

Fuel Stop

Aside from exceptionally aggressive vegetation growing through the ramp, the facility in Bennington was well appointed (airport # 204) in addition to offering inexpensive fuel. I took advantage of the FBO air conditioning to catch up on my email before returning to the sky.

As I waited to depart, a Cessna 150 made a very respectable short field landing and I keyed the mic to offer my opinion.

"My student thanks you!" the instructor transmitted back and I could hear the smile in his voice.

21 Hours SMOH

The flight home was a by the numbers direct flight in the late afternoon thermal chop of summer. I helped Albany Approach relay some information to a wayward pilot in another Cherokee, but otherwise the time passed unremarkably.

Bumping along, I monitored the cylinder head temperatures. A full day of flying had depressed them further since the last flight. Northwest of Syracuse, I descended to 3,000 feet and set power for the aggressive 120 knots indicated airspeed that I have been using for most of my break-in flights. The front cylinders were running in the low 370°F range and the rear were 15-20°F hotter, representing a 20-35°F drop from the original head temperatures I observed while orbiting Dansville on the first flight.

Closer to home, I pulled the power back to a normal 75% power cruise setting and watched the temperatures fall right back into the ranges I expected for my old engine on such a hot day, about 355-360°F on the front cylinders, 380°F on #3, and 370°F on #4. I still need to check my oil consumption rate, which needs to be done cold, but I think I may be nearly done with break-in.

And when that is done and I have flown my Penn Yan warranty-mandated 30 hours of constant power flying, it will be time to get my instrument currency back.