Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Sea King

(Not to be confused with "The Sinking" because that would be unfortunate.)

June 24, 2020: Jamie and Don with their new-to-them Searey minutes after Don brought it home to KSDC

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, my friends Jamie and Don partnered up to purchase a Searey, an amateur-built experimental category amphibious aircraft. Professional pilot Don flew the Searey home to the Williamson-Sodus Airport from Florida in June at an average ground speed of 80 mph over the course of two days. The Searey is not a cross country machine by any means. But for relatively affordable fun splashing around on local inland lakes and bays, it is 100% fit for purpose.

I think that Jamie's road to Searey ownership is inspiring and worth a mention. His childhood memories of watching seaplanes land and depart from the surface of Keuka Lake led Jamie to dream for decades of flying a seaplane. He dipped a toe into the aviation waters with paragliding, first unpowered then powered. From there, he earned his Single Engine Land (SEL) private pilot certificate in 2016 with the Williamson Flying Club (WFC). His ultimate goal was ownership of a Searey, arguably the most affordable amphibian available. In preparation for owning a tailwheel Searey, Jamie earned a tailwheel endorsement in 2018 and a Single Engine Sea (SES) rating in 2019, both with the Rochester Air Center.

Despite a decades-long obsession with seaplanes, Jamie did not experience his first water landing until 2019 while riding right seat in a 1946 Grumman Widgeon owned by WFC member Barry. I was privileged to be along for the ride that day. Jamie aptly describes purchasing the Searey as the culmination of a fifty-five year old dream. Talk about patient tenacity!

Note the landing gear switch: green for grass, blue for water

During the latter half of 2020, Jamie delighted in sharing the Searey experience with his family and our mutual friends at the WFC. After a few failures to connect, my schedule finally matched up with an offer for a ride from Jamie and we met at the airport on the morning of October 31. It was the last day before the Searey "turned into a pumpkin" (came due for annual inspection).

Launching from Runway 28 at the Williamson-Sodus Airport

Jamie's greatest concerns about taking me flying were my height and weight, two parameters that the diminutive two-seater was not designed to accommodate in any excess. He was also concerned that climbing into the airplane would be challenging for me, but I found it easier than clambering into the back seat of a J-3 Cub. I think Jamie was mildly impressed by how easily I accomplished it.

Mask? Yep. Still pandemic times.

I found that I needed to scrunch down a bit and tip my head toward the aircraft's centerline to keep from contacting the canopy. The low instrument panel barely accommodated my knees. I fit well enough to splash around on some local waterways, but was grateful that we were not setting off on a multi-hour cross country flight. Wearing a fleece jacket, a light coat, and a life preserver, by the time I buckled myself into place, I was bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story and truly felt like "a tick getting ready to pop".

The Searey has a thick airfoil and climbed enthusiastically on the chilly October morning, casting a unique shadow across the grounds of the Williamson-Sodus Airport.

The instrument panel is simple, but what more is needed for low and slow VFR flight? The Searey is truly a hybrid of boat and airplane. I was amused to see the keyring attached to a float of the sort that everyone back home used for their boat keys. 

We flew low and slow just offshore along Lake Ontario.

Reaching the town where Jamie and I both live, we checked out this completely unremarkable hovel perched along the lake shore. In all seriousness, while I wished that I also had a observatory attached to my house, I do not envy this owner his tax bill.

Our goal was Irondequoit Bay, a large body of water off of Lake Ontario that separates Rochester from its northeast suburbs. Along the way, we passed the fishing pier located a couple of miles northeast of my house from which The Bear and I have watched many sunsets over the great lake.

As we arrived at Irondequoit Bay with the Rochester city skyline low on the horizon, Jamie studied the waves below to assess wind direction. We would be landing to the southwest.

We circled to lose altitude and turned southward to land.

Considering that Jamie captured such an excellent video of my last landing on the Alton Bay Ice Runway, it was only fitting that I return the favor from the right seat of the Searey. We made two landings on Irondequoit Bay that morning. The way that the Searey's hull skipped along the bay's surface while on the step reminded me of rides in my uncle's speedboat as a kid.

I drive across the Bay Bridge on my daily commute. We passed beneath it as a boat on an orthogonal heading to what I could usually achieve with my car. This offered a unique perspective on the familiar structure.

The Searey sits relatively low in the water. My rear end was at an altitude roughly -1 foot relative to the waves.

Powering up for departure, the visibility was not great due to a combination of sun and spray.

We circled the bay, taking in the glorious foliage at peak fall color.

We landed a second time in the northernmost portion of the bay.

The main problem with photography from an amphibian? Water spotting. I wonder if they make Jet-Dry for seaplanes? It is an experimental...we could just rig something up, right?

We departed Irondequoit Bay westbound toward Charlotte and the Port of Rochester where we observed a small flotilla of sailboats loitering near the outflow of the Genesee River.

From Charlotte, we reversed course back toward Sodus and flew past the embarrassingly rudimentary shacks populating the Lake Ontario shore.

Sodus Bay

We passed Chimney Bluffs at an unusual altitude, one that was well above the boats, but lower than I ever fly my airplane through the region. 

Sodus Bay from Searey height.

The wind was picking up at the Williamson-Sodus Airport and Jamie had to work a bit more than usual to land the lightweight taildragger. 

It was a wonderful morning to see the fall color and enjoy splashing around in an amphibian. Thanks, Jamie! This was so much fun, though I wish I fit in the airplane better. Does anyone know if they come in a large?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Will Fly for Food

Windows Closing

October always marks a time of transition for aviators in the north. It is the beginning of increased weather uncertainty, a time when icing becomes a greater threat to instrument rated pilots, and when engine preheaters begin standing ready for the next flight. Days well suited to flying in October represent opportunities that may be limited from November to February.

A unique 2020 twist on autumn aviating came courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic as infection rates began to spike, even in areas with previously favorable statistics like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

When I was presented with opportunities to fly to both Pennsylvania and New Jersey with good weather on the same weekend, I took them. I have been fortunate in that, because of where I live, I have been able to fly to destinations in Maine (Sanford, Bar Harbor, Wiscasset), Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard), New Jersey (Greenwood Lake), and Pennsylvania (Cherry Ridge - multiple times) without running afoul of anyone's quarantine rules. But that window was closing, too. Sure enough, on October 20 and right after the flights described in this post, New York state revised their guidelines to discourage non-essential travel to both PA and NJ.

Northeast Flyers
Northeast Flyers is a Facebook group started by my friend Bob. Bob and I first met at the now-defunct Cloud 9 restaurant at the Williamsport Regional Airport in 2014 when he arrived with fellow blogger Gary (Gary's Flight Journal). Bob arranges monthly fly-ins at different destinations for members of the group. Because I am located significantly north of the group's geographic center of gravity, many of the destinations are practically out of my reach. But on October 17, the group was scheduled to descend on Cherry Ridge, one of my regular destinations. I was looking forward to seeing Bob and Gary again.
Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 Oct 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - N30 (Honesdale, PA) - SDC 2.8 2172.1

Arriving at Sodus about 8:30 that morning with a planned 9:30 launch, I realized that I had driven all the way from home without a mask. There was a chance that I left one in the pocket of a jacket in the back seat of the Warrior. Nope. 

It was decision time. Did I really want to meet these guys? Because, if so, I needed to make the round trip back home to get a mask. And the car would need gas before I could return to Sodus. And the Warrior still required a fuel top-off. I groaned, but got it done and was in the air by 10:00 am.

Before departing to the southeast from the downwind leg of the pattern, I realized that I had not taken an aerial photo of the Williamson-Sodus Airport since the new hangar building was completed. 

The new hangar incorporates into the airport aesthetic so well that it's almost as if it was there all along.

Departing the pattern, I requested flight following from Rochester and climbed to 7,500 feet where a tailwind moved me along at groundspeeds exceeding 130 knots (150 mph). With that kind of groundspeed, I would arrive only two minutes late to meet the rest of the Northeast Flyers.

It was a beautiful, smooth ride over a landscape accented with autumn color and mist.

Still 25 minutes out, I panned the ForeFlight display south to Cherry Ridge to see if inbound traffic was using the anticipated runway 36. Not only did I confirm the runway in use by watching traffic, I also spotted Gary in Three Tango Charlie already descending for the field. 

On short final, the first detail that I noticed at Cherry Ridge that morning was a familiar red and white Citabria parked on the ramp. Despite my late start, I was the second pilot to arrive. I greeted Gary and Vince on the ramp and, after introductions were over, pointed at Mark's airplane. 

"I had my first airplane ride in that plane in Dowagiac, Michigan twenty years ago."

"What are the odds?" Gary exclaimed. Actually, better than you'd think. It was a nice day to fly and I half-expected to encounter Mark at Cherry Ridge. It would not be the first time this year

I found Mark, Joel, and their other friends from South Jersey Regional sitting outside the restaurant finishing their breakfast. Mark chided me for being uncharacteristically late to breakfast and I explained that I was actually early for lunch.

I was excited to check out Three Tango Charlie. For many years, Gary flew the red and white Beech Sundowner that brought him to Williamsport the last time we met in 2014. In 2018, Gary and his wife Mary stepped up to a Beechcraft Debonair for faster, more comfortable travel. But the airplane let them down later that year when an engine failure on take-off led to a forced landing and serious injuries for both of them. After their recovery, the couple debated their return to aviation. I can only imagine the psychological machinations involved in making such a decision. To me, Three Tango Charlie symbolizes a triumphant return to form.

I asked Gary to pose with his 1976 Commander 112A and, unlike our last meeting, had time to climb aboard and check out the cockpit. Comfortable and well-appointed, I think Gary has a winner. And she has ramp appeal, too.

Having come from the south, Gary was impressed by the fall color surrounding Cherry Ridge, but commented that it was cold. I chuckled and mentioned that it was 36°F at my hangar that morning when I cranked the Warrior. I normally preheat below 40°C, but the Warrior is still missing her oil sump heater from the overhaul. Fortunately, the hotter spark output from the SureFly meant that she fired up quickly in spite of the cold.

Over the next half hour, the other participants filtered in. Rob arrived by motorcycle, Bob and CFI Bret landed in Bob's Cessna 172 (the flight to Cherry Ridge also included a Flight Review for Bob), and retired airline pilot Dale and his wife Lori flew in at the controls of a backcountry-ready Cessna 180.

As always, the folks at Cherry Ridge served up a terrific meal and the lunchtime conversation flowed well. It was nice to meet Rob and Vince, both regular characters from Gary's blog over the years that I had not met previously.

With a throaty roar, Dale fired up the 180 for departure. "He and his wife fly to a lot of grass strips for camping," explained one of the other pilots as the 180 taxied past. That's definitely the airplane for it, I thought, listening to the deep bass rumble of the 180's powerplant. The sound was vaguely reminiscent of something built in Detroit in the late 1960s with a big block V8.

"The new paint looks fantastic," I complimented Bob on Zero Niner Lima's paintjob. Bob pointed out that the Skyhawk was repainted five years ago. 'Doh. Time really does "fly".

We went our separate ways from there, Bob heading west, Gary to the south, and me to the northwest. Reviewing Gary's blog post about our encounter, I was amused to hear my transmissions to Wilke-Barre approach in his video recap. Do I really sound like that? Weird.

Elk Mountain Ski Resort

I paid the wind penalty on the return flight, only averaging 104 knots over the ground on the return. But that was fine. I had the beautiful scenery, music, and ATC to keep me entertained.

The Clyde River between Lyons and Clyde, NY

Second Date with Connie
This Time, I Brought Friends

At the end of August, I made a solo flight to West Milford, NJ and the Greenwood Lake Airport to check out the 1946 Lockheed Constellation on the field. At the time, I swore that I would return with friends to check out the on-field restaurant: Smoke Shack BBQ and Burgers. With a forecast for reasonably calm winds in New Jersey (famous last words), I returned with some of the usual suspects from the WFC.

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
18 Oct 2020N21481SDC (Sodus, NY) - 4N1 (West Milford, NJ) - SDC3.62175.7

A high overcast shadowed much of the Finger Lakes region as our five aircraft set off from Sodus.

When he checked on with Syracuse for flight following as the third ship in our flight, Ed offered that there were five airplanes all flying together to Greenwood Lake. "Yep. I see all of you," came the deadpan response from the controller. 

Tom and Alicia launched first in Eight Five X-Ray, followed by me solo in Warrior 481, then Ed solo in Four Four Papa, Dan and his neighbor Ted in Five Five Whiskey, and finally Brad and Melodie in The Cirrus. In a group like that, Five Five Whiskey always ends up last.

Ed overtook me, passing close enough that the dot off my right wingtip was actually airplane-shaped.

At maximum zoom on the camera, Four Four Papa was even more airplane-shaped.

Much like Cherry Ridge the day before, the northern New Jersey foliage was brilliantly colored. The pattern at Greenwood Lake was momentarily quite busy as the five aircraft arrived from Sodus, plus a local student in the pattern, and a helicopter content to zip beneath all the fixed wing traffic. Though the wind was much calmer than my previous visit, the local terrain still served up a handful of bumps in the pattern.

Final approach, runway 24, Greenwood Lake Airport

The first thing our hungry group noticed at Greenwood Lake, aside from the huge freaking Lockheed Constellation incongruously docked to the terminal building, was a wonderful aroma wafting across the ramp from the Smoke Shack.

At the entrance to the restaurant, we were greeted with a BBQ-appropriate metric for social distancing. The tantalizing menu challenged everyone to decide which of the many mouth-watering offerings he or she wanted to order. Personally, I went with the "Cattle Hog", a sandwich piled high with BBQ pork, BBQ brisket, coleslaw, and pickled onions. One of more intriguing options was the "Angry Clucker", a chicken sandwich with jalapeƱos and hot apple salsa (that Alicia confirmed to be hot). Unanimous verdict: the food was outstanding and plentiful. 

As we finished, Dan piped up with, "Obligatory comment about weight and balance for the trip home." Everyone nodded wearily. It was so good, but there was so much food that I really did not need dinner that night. The Smoke Shack at Greenwood Lake is highly recommended.

I took a couple of obligatory photos of the Connie, but my previous set of photos is much better.

We were not the only group visiting that day. A local Corvette club also arrived en masse for BBQ.

Ed and I watched a Cessna 172 wobble significantly on final approach, then go around. It was our first clue that the wind was increasing at Greenwood Lake.

WFC fleet on the ramp. Photo by Dan P.

Group photo courtesy Dan P. Ted, Chris, Alicia, Tom, Dan, Brad, Melodie, and Ed.

A strong southerly wind lofted Warrior 481 skyward on take-off, resulting in a bumpy but sustained 1500 foot per minute climb (two to three times faster than usual). I tuned the nearby Sussex Airport ASOS to hear that the wind there was out of the south at ten knots gusting to seventeen.

While chasing Brad in The Cirrus was a futile excercise, I felt like I was on the run from three other aircraft as we departed to the northwest. Pedal faster! I thought.

The real challenge for the day was the southerly crosswind at Sodus. While on a left base for runway 10, the disparity between air and ground speeds ranged from 25 to 30 knots. That's a lot of wind so close to the surface. Mine was not the prettiest landing, but everyone made it back home safely.


It is difficult to predict what the rest of 2020 will hold for flying. Despite a four month hiatus, I crossed the 100 hour mark this weekend. From here on out, I have no additional flying activities planned. Hopefully, some ad hoc opportunities will present themselves when the weather allows. At the very least, I am glad for the fellowship that I enjoyed this weekend.