Sunday, November 29, 2020

Creole Adaptations on Lawn Guyland

Challenges of Astronomical Proportions

A dawn flight to the southeast carries one significant consequence for any early-rising pilot; the appearance of a giant fusion reactor beaming 100,000 lux directly through the airplane’s windscreen. Despite being some 93 million miles away, it is perfectly poised for eyeball crisping. 

I stared down good old Sol throughout the morning's flight, sunglasses donned and ball cap clad with my head lowered in an attempt to shadow my own retinas. It mostly worked. And I like to think that Roger Waters would approve of my navigational choices.

But so what? As Bill used to say, "The best way to deal with the sun while flying is to not look at it." The sun was a mere inconvenience. It was the end of November and I was suspended in an ocean of clear, smooth air forecast to reach 50°F by late morning. For post-Thanksgiving New York state, that's practically tropical and a good opportunity for northerners aspiring to outdoor dining without parkas. In summary, it was a perfect autumn day.

As for the destination, I non-specifically sought a very particular place; somewhere that was new to me, interesting, still in New York, and not in the middle of one of the state's COVID hotspots. (Well, that ruled out Rochester on most counts). Poring over VFR sectional charts, I realized that Long Island is festooned with airports like spike proteins on a coronavirus. In this search, the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach came to my attention (KFOK, previously the Suffolk County Airport). It is a towered former military airfield with a classy-looking on-field diner called Café Volo ("volo" is Italian for "flight”).

Check, check, check, and check. 

"That's Impossible, They're on Instruments!"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
29 Nov 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - FOK (Westhampton Beach, NY) - N45 (Wallkill, NY) - N89 (Ellenville, NY) - SDC 5.7 2191.5

My self-inflicted indirect IFR route to Gabreski that morning looked something like this: SYR V273 HNK V167 IGN V483 CMK V374 DENNA V433 BDR V44 BELTT. I resisted developing too strong an attachment to the route I had crafted because no IFR routing survives contact with New York City area ATC for long. This one was no exception.

Ed and I arrived at the airport in absolute darkness. I wanted to get an early start and the Warrior needed fuel. Though engine start took place before sunrise, by the time I dialed the entire flight plan into the Garmin navigator digit by digit, the sun had already reached eyeball searing altitude. There is an art to dialing alphanumeric navigational fixes into the GNS-430 and, when done well, alphabetical anticipation smoothly lands the operator on just the right character every time. (It really pays to have the song down cold.) On off days, there is a lot of overshooting and backtracking while scrolling. Saturday was definitely an off day.

Ed launched first in Four Four Papa and settled onto a direct course for Gabreski. I launched a few minutes later, flew a few knots slower, and proceeded to hop from VOR to VOR for the next two hours. It was (k)not much of a race, but racing was never the point.

My zig-zagging course careened with precision from navaid to navaid, alternating between flying east and south and clearly illustrated movement of the airmass in which I was enveloped. Eastbound groundspeeds approached 150 knots (173 mph) whereas southerly routes developed more modest groundspeeds around 130 knots (150 mph). Along the way, I gave my 40+ year old King KX-170B radio some love and backed up all GPS navigation with VOR, flying the various beams most of the way to the eastern seaboard.

A barely condensed phase river in the foothills of the Catskills

True to form, Boston Center offered a revised full route clearance just west of HELON intersection while I was on V167: Pawling (PWL) V44 DENNA V374 BETHA. My first readback was mostly successful, but I missed the "hotel" in BETHA. Within moments of receiving a "readback correct" acknowledgement from Center, the controller called again. "November Four Eight One proceed direct LOVES." 

OK, now where is LOVES located?

During moments like these, even minor reroutes present enough of a challenge that an autopilot would be a wonderful resource management tool. A revised clearance requires taking action while already hand-flying the airplane on a required heading and assigned altitude (I aim for +/- 1° and +/- 20 feet, the smallest increment marked on the altimeter). It is necessary to absorb the instructions, copy them down, successfully repeat them back on the radio with any errors corrected, then implement the changes in the ship's navigation system through Garmin's clunky flight plan interface by removing orphaned waypoints and adding new ones. Because the 430 does not speak the language of airways, all assigned airways need to be manually translated to their defining waypoints by reference to a low altitude en route chart. These are busy moments for any pilot, but particularly so for one flying by hand.

However, this was exactly the practice I was seeking that morning and I accomplished these tasks without wandering significantly from my heading or, worse, looking up from programming the 430 to discover that I had rolled myself upside down.

Naturally, within minutes of joining V44 at LOVES intersection, New York Approach scrapped the whole rest of the plan by clearing me direct to Gabreski. 

Via ADS-B, I observed Ed's Archer landing at Gabreski about ten minutes before I did.

I flew over New Haven, CT with Bridgeport and the Igor Sikorsky Memorial Airport in the distance. As I looked at it, I wondered if the airport was prone to flooding.

Crossing a sandy beach on the Connecticut shore, I went feet wet over Long Island Sound. Cue my Lycoming's "auto rough" feature the moment I passed beyond gliding distance of the continent. Some say that airplanes are just soulless machines, but I know better. Warrior 481 likes to keep me on my toes.

Identity Crisis

Gabreski Airport's taxiway diagram hints strongly at a military heritage. The layout is dominated by a 9,000 foot long runway that cuts diagonally across a squared-off set of perimeter taxiways (appropriately named November, Sierra, Echo, and Whiskey) that bristle with dead-end taxiway stubs. In this aspect, the unique layout of the field somewhat resembles a giant, spiky Apatosaurus from above. Satellite photos show the paved surfaces divided into squares, as though all surfaces are comprised of giant concrete paver bricks.

Built in 1943, the airport was known as the Suffolk County Air Force Base until 1969 when it reverted to civilian use (there is still an Air National Guard presence on the southwest ramp). The field was called Suffolk County Airport until it was renamed for WWII ace Francis "Gabby" Gabreski in 1991. Gabreski commanded the 52nd Fighter-Interceptor Air Wing based on the field during the mid 1960s.

The official FAA taxiway diagram is usually the best place to learn how to address a tower properly by name. For example, the towers at Oakland County International, Frederick Douglass -- Greater Rochester International, and Hudson Valley Regional still identify as Pontiac Tower, Rochester Tower, and Dutchess County Tower, respectively. My personal SOP is to always check the taxiway diagram for the tower's name before transmitting.

Gabreski's tower is labeled "Suffolk County Tower" on the taxiway diagram. When I called, the controller corrected me by sternly responding with "Gabreski Tower". OK, clearly there are exceptions to every rule. I don't care what you call yourself, but maybe we should let the FAA in on it.

A Glamorous Morning in the Hamptons

"Cherokee Four Eight One, cleared to land runway 24. Permission granted to land long for an exit on Charlie."

Funny he should mention it. I was going to ask permission to do exactly that. I like it when I'm simpatico with the tower controller, even if I called him by the wrong name.

Landing long on runway 24 at Gabreski Airport

While not the longest runway I have used this year (that was Plattsburgh), Gabreski's 9,000' main runway still represents a lot of pavement. For reference, those sets of touchdown zone markings in the above photo are 500 feet apart. I landed long and slowed to exit the runway just as I reached taxiway Charlie at the center of perimeter ring. Still, it always feels a bit peculiar to leave 3,000' of runway behind while landing. Such was the arrival at my 210th airport.

ForeFlight ground track showing the actual route flown. The change in course near KSWF shows where I was assigned the new route and turned direct to LOVES.

Ed was waiting for me on the ramp in front of the tower. Midmorning in the Hamptons was certainly warmer than a pre-dawn Sodus had been. With almost childish glee, we congratulated ourselves on selecting such a perfect morning to fly.

The outdoor dining area at Cafe Volo is quite close to the tower.

Café Volo is in the airport terminal building near the base of the control tower. Ed and I chose to dine outdoors while basking in the warm sun.

Not Your Typical Cracker Barrel Breakfast

Café Volo's take on the southern classic of biscuits and gravy involves a creole-style sausage gravy with more flavor and bite than the bland offerings of Cracker Barrel. Served with some deliciously seasoned potatoes and very welcome fresh fruit, I would like to say that my first dining experience in the Hamptons was a success. For the record, I did not eat the flower.

Warrior 481 has a new friend

No Sustenance for Man or Machine

Over breakfast, we discussed next steps. I had checked the direct route home for unfamiliar airports with reasonable fuel prices and found Kobelt (N45) situated between the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley. Ed and I launched VFR for Kobelt from the intersection of runway 24 and taxiway November, picking up flight following with New York Approach in short order. Gabreski Tower declined to take any flight following requests and indicated that we needed to negotiate that directly with New York Approach from the air.

Bridgeport, CT

We spoke with at least five different New York Approach sectors as we angled northwest past The City, hearing a great diversity of pilot voices from the pros to the generally clueless.

Approaching the Hudson River valley east of Newburgh and Stewart International Airport

When you have wings, artifacts like the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge seem utterly superfluous. 

Kobelt Airport is a 2864 x 50' runway in a rustic setting. The runway bears no markings and its lights are encircled by protective tires. Final approach to runway 21 is flown over a stand of tall trees, then through a notch in the forest. Blurred impressions of barren deciduous trees flowed past both wingtips in my peripheral vision on short final.

Warrior 481 at Kobelt with Ed's Archer landing in the distance.

Kobelt (airport # 211) is home to the popular Nu Cavu restaurant, but flight planning revealed that the diner was closed for the weekend. I spent some time puzzling over the fuel pump, a questionably cobbled-together hybrid of typical aviation fuel hose on a reel mated with what appeared to be a conventional two-sided automotive gas pump. As for cajoling the contraption into dispensing any fuel, I was at a complete loss.

One of the field residents wandered over to enlighten me. My failure to coax fuel out of the machine was due to a lightning strike that rendered the entire system inoperative. I was bemused that there was no NOTAM published about the lack of fuel nor even a handwritten sign posted on the pump, but that information about Nu Cavu being closed had been readily available in my flight planning.

Such was Kobelt. While I enjoyed landing among the trees, I departed unimpressed.


In search of fuel, we made the 12 nautical mile hop to Joseph Y. Resnick Airport (N89, airport #212). Even though the sectional depicted some terrain between the two airports, I was surprised that it was more like a small mountain than the hill I assumed from its chart depiction. It was more convenient to fly around than over. Resnick is a well-maintained airport tucked into a narrow valley with a pristine runway situated close enough to a ridgeline to warrant right traffic for runway 22. Final approach is flown past a prison boasting a grandiose, turreted main building that might exude "elegant castle" were it not for the surrounding arrays of razor wire.

Warrior 481 and Ed's Archer at Resnick

While I fueled the Warrior, Ed quietly read the large sign on the back wall of the fuel farm enclosure. 

"Did you see this?" he asked me, pausing to take a picture of the sign. I had peripherally noted that it was the local noise abatement policy, but had not actually studied it yet.

Ed fueling Four Four Papa

While Ed fueled his Archer, I turned my attention to the sign. When done, I was also inspired to capture a photo of it. I have never seen anything quite like it before. Strategic underlining emphasized key words, causing me to read the message in the voice of an old college Physics professor who used to loudly emphasize key words in lecture by bellowing them at us. "The standard deviation of the MEAN..." (Does anyone remember the scary old man with the snow shovel in "Home Alone"? Dead ringer.)

I was particularly struck by the statement:

"Trained observers at the school and prison are recording aircraft tail numbers of those aircraft that fly over unnecessarily. Repeated over flights could lead to action by the school, prison, airport owner, or the FAA."

Well. Alrighty then. Welcome to Wawarsing.

Robinson R22 waiting its turn at the fuel pump

I watched the tail boom shudder and flex side to side as the rotor of the R22 spun. It did not inspire confidence. As the pilot relocated his helicopter to the fuel farm, I found myself imagining the main rotor striking the roof of the enclosure and remained tense until the rotary wing finally spun down.

Dawn to Dusk

The remainder of the flight home was generally relaxing and non-descript. No funny or noteworthy exchanges with ATC, no Chewbacca howls or cat mewling on Guard, just smooth air and a brightly lit landscape rolling along beneath a crisp blue sky. I noticed Ed entertaining himself by tracking a VOR (Hancock, I think). Now on a direct course myself, we had reversed roles from the morning.

I landed fourth behind Ed, our club treasurer flying Eight Five X-Ray, and a turbine Enstrom helicopter now based at the end of my hangar building. Ray had flown that helicopter to Sodus from Texas for the new owner earlier in the year, deferring engine install for my Warrior in Dansville by a few days.

I stayed to change the Warrior's oil and enjoy working in the hangar on a balmy 50+°F late November afternoon.

As I finished, the developing sunset caught my eye, creating a blush on the white interior walls and floor of my hangar.

In the wake of briefly spectacular beauty, the sun slipped from view entirely, leaving the airport just as dark as when I arrived that morning. I entered the oil change into the engine log, now showing 90 hours since overhaul. When finished, I closed the hangar door and ambled back to my car satisfied by a day well-spent exploring new places and enjoying a truly rare break in the late November weather.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Whiskey Seven and the Belle of the Ball


With the high CHT issue apparently resolved, I craved a flight to someplace new. After reviewing the latest New York state rules around cross border pandemic travel, I decided to stay close to home. I pored over the chart looking for local(ish) airports where I had not landed previously in an effort to add a new one to my map. Places like Buffalo Airfield (9G0) or Cooperstown (K23) came to my attention, the latter reputedly a very nice grass runway. But there was nothing to do at either one of those places and there seemed to be little point in visiting them.

Then I considered Geneseo (D52), the grass-only airport home to the National Warplane Museum and the annual Greatest Show on Turf airshow. Despite being twenty miles south of Rochester and literally in my aeronautical backyard while based at Le Roy, I had never landed there. With a small museum on site, there was certain to be something interesting to do in Geneseo. That is how it became my 209th airport, correcting a years-long oversight.

Going to Grass

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Nov 2020 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - D52 (Geneseo, NY) - DSV (Dansville, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - SDC 2.1 2185.8

Geneseo Airport, D52

After a 27 minute flight southwest from Sodus, during which time I completed an airborne VOR check off the Geneseo VOR (because why not?), I arrived over the grass field. Unlike the grass strips in Michigan where I was "raised", there are no yellow cones defining the outline of Geneseo's runway. It and a portion of a parallel grass taxiway are nonetheless obvious from the air and I entered a right downwind for runway 23. On short final, there was a sketchy-looking blotch on the turf about one-third of the way down the runway. I added power to float over it before settling the wheels onto the grass. I think that it was my first turf landing since Benton in 2019.

A museum staffer emerged from the main hangar to marshal me to parking. I recognized him as Craig, whom I met in 2018 when I hosted him at the Williamson Flying Club for a seminar about returning the museum's WWII veteran C-47 (Whiskey 7) to Normandy, France in 2014. Once it was clear that I understood where he wanted me to park, Craig hurried off to oversee some ongoing maintenance work on Whiskey 7.

Flashback to 1918

I paid my $8 admission fee at the administration building, emerging just in time to see activity around the replica WWI Fokker D.VII parked outside the main hangar.

Jeff started building the D.VII in 2005 after extensive research into the different variants to ensure that his specific airplane had a consistent set of historically concomitant features.

I recognized Jeff from the Williamson-Sodus Airport where he is a helicopter instructor for Ray. I already knew that work was being done at Geneseo on a D.VII and I had heard that Jeff was working on a scratch-built WWI replica, but did not put all of the pieces together until I saw him with the airplane.

It was cold in Geneseo, just a bit over 40°F. Test pilot Reuben bundled up as best as he could. Having more time in helicopters than airplanes, Jeff was still training with Reuben and left the test flight to the more experienced fixed wing pilot.

Jeff explained that the test flight was intended to investigate some recently completed engine work (like Warrior 481, it was all about the carburetor). He also noted that the linkages to the throttle control did not allow the throttle to close completely. "It idles really high," Jeff concluded.

Aloft, Reuben flew some steep turns. We were thrilled to see the unique silhouette of the Fokker over Geneseo, though I think it would have looked better against a crisp blue sky.

True to Jeff's commentary, Reuben landed hot, bounced once, but got the D.VII down and stopped before the end of the runway.

Over 3,300 D.VII aircraft were produced during WWI. It was such a successful fighter that the Armistice of 11 November 1918 that ended the war specifically stipulated that Germany had to surrender all D.VIIs to the Allies.

After stopping the engine, Reuben hollered out to Jeff and the other museum staffers gathered to watch, "It idles a little high!" The next thing I heard him say was, "I can't feel my fingers."

Jeff and Reuben debrief after the test flight

Afterward, Jeff spent time with me talking about his inspiration for building the replica Fokker and sharing many details about its construction. I was impressed by his exacting passion to get both the historical details and the craftsmanship as correct as possible.


After the test flight, I wandered the museum grounds, visiting various aircraft displayed both inside and out. Many were in different stages of restoration.

Aerial photograph of the National Warplane Museum grounds

I believe that the C-130 is a relatively new acquisition.

I had never been inside a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar before.

The cargo space of the Flying Boxcar lives up to its name with an aft clamshell style cargo door oriented vertically.

I was impressed by the excellent visibility from the flight deck, though if it were me, I'd rather have a seatback for the pilot to prevent undesirable pitching up on take-off.

An outdoor C-47 (not Whiskey 7) demonstrates the combined ravages of sun and birds.

The Naked Texan

I was particularly taken with the museum's skinless North American T-6 Texan.

Every time I see a J-3 Cub, I have to smile. Now that I've earned my tailwheel endorsement in one, the smile is even bigger than it used to be.

A privately-owned Fairchild PT-19 WWII era trainer

Despite looking vaguely T-6 like, the Vultee Valiant (BT-13) is no T-6. Still, this privately owned example was in beautiful condition.




BT-13 cowling

C-45, the military version of the Beech 18


Whiskey 7

Over the years, I have discovered that a significant perk to arriving at aviation museums in my own airplane is that this often grants me more latitude to climb through some of the airplanes on display than I might have otherwise. Examples include the Air Zoo's Ford Trimotor (disclosing that I was a former museum docent did not hurt, either) and the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's Black Widow. When I was offered an opportunity to climb into some of the National Warplane Museum's aircraft, the already passable day I was having suddenly became great.

The first aircraft I ventured into has become an icon of the National Warplane Museum, Whiskey 7; our own local winged celebrity. Whiskey 7 is a C-47 that was one of the lead aircraft in the D-Day invasion on 06 June 1944 over Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy, France. In 2014, the National Warplane Museum flew her back across the Atlantic, returning her to the French countryside she once helped liberate.

In his seminar for the Williamson Flying Club, Craig described the emotional outpouring of affection for the airplane from the French, a gratitude still palpable after 70 years. It was an amazing tale of human connection across nations underpinned by the technical challenge of flying a 70+ year old aircraft from the United States to Europe. For the National Warplane Museum crew who flew Whiskey 7 back to Normandy, it must have a once in lifetime kind of adventure.

I entered through the rear cargo door and climbed the steeply inclined deck toward the flight deck as Whiskey 7's floorboards creaked and groaned beneath my weight. In the cockpit, I settled myself into the left seat where I captured evidence that my camera lens needed a cleaning.

While ascending the sloping deck, I had a sense that I had climbed to a significant elevation. Looking out the pilot's side window confirmed that sense.

Compared to the Flying Boxcar, the visibility out of the C-47 was much less expansive. But who cares? I was sitting in the left seat of Whiskey 7!

As I sat in the cockpit, I tried to imagine flying the old warbird across the Atlantic Ocean from Labrador to Greenland, the same route she followed in the 1940s on her way to war. I thought of the pilot who occupied the same seat and gripped the same wheel in 1944 as he guided the paratrooper-filled ship through flak-filled skies. The history embodied by Whiskey 7 is simply amazing.

I bet those twin GTN-650 navigators made life easier en route to Europe. They were clearly an aftermarket mod.

Sitting left seat in Whiskey 7 truly made my day. 

Ode to a C-47, Reo C. Trail

The Belle of the Ball

At the 2010 Greatest Show on Turf, I spent $5 to climb through the "The Movie" Memphis Belle. (As the name implies, this is the B-17 that portrayed the Memphis Belle in the 1990 movie starring Matthew Modine. The actual Memphis Belle is on display at the National Museum of the USAF.) It was a rushed tour because I had a line of people waiting behind me. This time, I was told to take all the time I wanted. 

The Memphis Belle is a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber of the type that is virtually synonymous with long range bombing missions over Germany from British airfields.

During my Air Zoo docent days, my friend Joe told stories of his tour of duty as a ball turret gunner in B-17s. Shuddering at the thought of climbing into such a confined space, I asked him, "How did you pull that duty?"

"I was the smallest on the crew," Joe answered. I miss Joe.

From inside, the ball turret hatch was visible. I am quite sure that I could not have climbed through that. As it was, I awkwardly skirted the ball turret to clamber into the next compartment.

While the center section of my airplane's instrument panel is known as the "radio stack", back in the day, they really know how to stack them.

Going from the radio room to the cockpit required walking the plank across the bomb bay. The center of the catwalk is supported by a metal superstructure that I heard one of the museum staffers aptly refer to as "the V". I was able to squeeze through "the V" sideways, but barely. Anyone larger than me would have gotten stuck.

The cockpit generally appeared to be period-appropriate, though an overhead console incongruously contained a modern transponder and a GNS-430 GPS navigator.

The view from the pilot's side window is dominated by two of the 17's four engines.

A large opening in the floor immediately aft of the flight deck leads below the pilot and copilot positions into the bombardier's domain. I ducked through it and crawled into the forward compartment.

The Norden bombsight was once considered one of the United States military's greatest secrets, though it was not nearly so precise in real world application as it was hyped to be.

"The Movie" Memphis Belle framed by the wings of the AN-2 Colt

For a Good Time, Call Natasha

There is something about the proportions of the Soviet-designed Antonov AN-2 Colt that unambiguously flag it as a foreign design. Considering that 18,000+ examples of the burly, single engine biplane were built between 1947 and 2001, it was clearly a successful design regardless of how ungainly it may appear in my eyes. (A 54 year production run? Wow.)

Of course, the airplane would look slightly more normal if it were not missing its nose.

View of the Memphis Belle from the AN-2 cockpit

Although the instruments and controls generally make sense, there is a unique aesthetic to their arrangement. I found it interesting that the primary flight instruments are about knee height.

To the right of the throttle quadrant was the largest ADF indicator I think I have ever seen.

Many of the instrument markings are written using the Cyrillic alphabet. In many cases, new placards in English covered the original Soviet markings.

While this looks like a legitimate placard, a museum volunteer told me that somewhere within the AN-2 is a Cyrillic placard that translates to, "For a good time, call Natasha." Maybe he was pulling my leg, but it was fitting given the name of the airplane...

"Natasha" photographed at the Greatest Show on Turf, 09 July 2016


I spent roughly three hours at Geneseo literally crawling through history and thoroughly enjoying myself. For me, the highlights were sitting in the left seat of Whiskey 7 and poring over every inch of the interior of "The Movie" Memphis Belle. Thanks to Jeff, Craig, and the other folks at the National Warplane Museum for showing me such a fantastic time. When I departed Sodus that morning, I had no idea that I was in for such a fantastic day.