Saturday, December 18, 2021

Reflection 2021: Flying with a Digital Brain


Two things characterized my flying adventures in 2021. 

The first is automation. By adding an autopilot ("HAL") to Warrior 481, I reduced fatigue, enabled better cockpit resource management, and improved my confidence when flying in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). 

The other distinguishing characteristic of 2021 was logging more flight time than any previous year. That means flights with many different people to many different places for more adventures and more fun than ever before. 

2021 was a slog on a number of fronts, but from a personal flying perspective, it was one of my most enjoyable and successful years since I earned my certificate. So much happened this year that I actually left much unwritten, including a jaunt to southeast Michigan with Eric where he bought a vintage MG; a windy journey with Kristy to visit Pam in Chicago that led to our subsequent adventure with Aziz the hapless Uber driver; and a gorgeous night flight over diaphanous December clouds to join several Williamson Flying Club members for an excellent dinner in Pennsylvania. 

Flying Postcards from 2021

In the captain's chair of the USS Enterprise in Ticonderoga, NY. Photo by The Bear.
("To Boldly Go")

Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Shaba under restoration at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI
("Ghost Ship: The Nighthawk")

Syracuse Hancock International Airport, Syracuse, NY
("Cloudy with a Chance of Sushi")

Statue of Liberty, New York, NY.
("Multitasking over Manhattan")

HAL-flown ILS-22 instrument approach to Frederick Douglass-Greater Rochester International Airport, Rochester, NY.
("HAL Is My Copilot")

Cruise flight through the haze over Rochester, NY
("Called Home")

Lower Manhattan, New York, NY
("Multitasking over Manhattan")

Somewhere over Massachusetts and flying IFR behind Warrior 481's upgraded instrument panel.
("Cloudy with a Chance of Sushi")

Landing on Jekyll Island, GA. Photo by Kristy.
("Carolina Sojourn | Part 3, The Road To Turtle Wellville")

Over the western boundary of the Shenandoah Valley.
("Carolina Sojourn | Part 5, Downdraft in Blue Ridge")

Between layers and on approach to Knoxville Downtown Island Airport in Knoxville, TN.
("Between a Low and the Deep Blue Sky")

Sunset over Sodus, NY.
("Blue Sunset")

Over the Gulf of Mexico while departing Cedar Key, FL.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 5, Cedar Key Convocation")

Holding short, runway 1, Middlebury State Airport in Vermont.
("Grass Strip Fine Dining")

Landing above the fog on runway 22 at Cattaraugus County Airport, Olean, NY.
("Adventure Is Where You Find It")

Warrior 481's updated instrument panel.
("HAL Is My Copilot")

Lined up for a low pass at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility, Titusville, FL.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 6, Mission STS-481")

Descending through the clouds over Lake Champlain for Basin Harbor in Vergennes, VT.
("Grass Strip Fine Dining")

Ford Trimotor at the Air Zoo, Kalamazoo, MI.
("Ghost Ship: The Nighthawk")

Clouds over Ontario, Canada.
("IMC Over the D")

Florida's Gulf coast near Cedar Key, FL.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 5, Cedar Key Convocation")

Ed C fuels his Archer II at the Williamson Sodus Airport before departing for Alton Bay, NH.
("Just Icing on the...Lake")

Overflying the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, Tarrytown, NY.
("Multitasking over Manhattan")

In cruise flight over central Florida.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 3, Reunion on the Ramp")

The shortest public use runway in Florida, George T Lewis Airport in Cedar Key.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 5, Cedar Key Convocation")

A beautiful example of a WACO biplane on the ramp at the WACO factory in Battle Creek, MI.
("For Love of Biplanes and Tacos")

Whiteface Mountain seen on departure from Lake Placid, NY.
("Adirondack Escape")

NASA space complex including the Vehicle Assembly Building, Titusville, FL.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 6, Mission STS-481")

Full size space shuttle mock-up Inspiration at the Shuttle Landing Facility, Titusville, FL.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 6, Mission STS-481")

Irondequoit Bay between Irondequoit and Webster, NY.
("HAL Is My Copilot")

Georgia's Atlantic coastline.
("Carolina Sojourn | Part 3, The Road To Turtle Wellville")

Ground fog in New York's Southern Tier region near Olean, NY.
("Adventure Is Where You Find It")

A laker transits the Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada that connects Lakes Erie and Ontario.
("Called Home")

A highway south of Pittsburgh, PA seen through the clouds.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 7, The High Road")

Sunset at the Williamson Sodus Airport, Sodus, NY.
("Maintenance Induced Failure")

The Adirondack Mountains in New York viewed from the Vermont side of Lake Champlain.
("Grass Strip Fine Dining")

Flying through the clouds on approach to Hilton Head Island, SC.
("Carolina Sojourn | Part 1, The Dread Elkin Shadow Beast")

Between layers over western New York. Does anyone else see the dragon shadow?
("Called Home")

Outlet of the St Clair River into Lake St Clair northeast of Detroit, MI.
("Ghost Ship: The Nighthawk")

Atlantic coastline of Florida near Titusville, FL.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 6, Mission STS-481")

A mountainous cauldron in southern Kentucky seen on departure from Knoxville, TN.
("Between a Low and the Deep Blue Sky")

We discovered a troll lurking under Warrior 481 in Mc Rae, GA.
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 3, Reunion on the Ramp")

Departing Bishop International Airport, Flint, MI with rain showers in the vicinity.
("Called Home")

The whole family back home after our Florida adventure!
("Tales from Braying Dock Manor | Part 7, The High Road")

The Numbers

193.8: Total number of hours flown in 2021, my highest number accumulated in a single year. I ended 2021 with a total of 2396.3 hours of flight time.

Google Earth depiction of 2021 destinations (actual flight paths not shown).

16: The number of states visited in 2021. Alabama (new state!), Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

22: The number of people who flew with me in Warrior 481 this year. Thanks to Dave P, Tom C (safety pilot), Dan P, Dan A (flight review), Eric M, Kristy, The Bear, Scott L, Kim L, Lesly J-L, Nate V, Ziad S, Eman S, Izzy G, Mark G, Dena L, Jamie O, Steve S, Janice, Gilead B, John R, and Alicia C for flying along!

63.2: The number of hours flown with The Bear in 2021. She finished the year with 628.6 total hours in her logbook.

34.9: The highest number of hours I have ever flown in a single month, achieved July 2021. Because Florida.

12.8: Hours of flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), the most I have logged in a single year and accounting for 20% of my total 63.9 IMC hours. It is still not a lot, but it increases a little each year (2020 notwithstanding).

52: Total number of airports visited in 2021.

21: New airports added to my map in 2021 for a total of 235. (22 new airports if the low pass over the Shuttle Landing Facility counts.)

ID Airport Name City and State ID Airport Name City and State
06AMoton Field Tuskegee, AL KHTS Tri-State / Milton J Ferguson Field Huntington, WV
4G2 HamburgHamburg, NY KHXD Hilton Head Hilton Head, SC
6B0 Middlebury StateMiddlebury, VT KMQW Telfair-Wheeler Mc Rae, GA
9G0 Buffalo Airfield Buffalo, NY KMTVBlue Ridge Martinsville, VA
KBAF Westfield-Barnes Regional Westfield, MA NY0Fulton County Johnstown, NY
KCDK George T Lewis Cedar Key, FL KOCFOcala International-Jim Taylor Field Ocala, FL
KDED Deland Municipal Deland, FL KPMHGreater Portsmouth Regional Portsmouth, OH
KFWQRostraver     Monongahela, PAKVLL Oakland/Troy Troy, MI
KGIFWinter Haven Regional Winter Haven, FL W22 Upshur County RegionalBuckhannon, WV
KGYYGary/Chicago International Gary, IN KZEF Elkin Municipal Elkin, NC
KHMZ Bedford County Bedford, PA KTTSNASA Shuttle Landing Facility Titusville, FL
Italicized facility denotes low approach only (no landings allowed). On-field diners were sampled at the boldfaced airports.

Will Fly for Food!

18: $100 hamburger destinations visited in 2021 (some more than once), many of them quite good. To qualify for this list, the restaurant needed to be either on-field or easily walkable from the airport.

Restaurant Airport (ID) State On Field? First Visit? Rating
Big Slide Brewery & Public House (3x)Lake Placid (KLKP) NY Y N HR
Como Niagara Falls International (KIAG)NY N Y OK
Duncan's on the Gulf George T Lewis / Cedar Key (KCDK)FL N Y R
Eagle's Landing II Rostraver (KFWQ) PA YY R
Eddie's Footlong Hotdogs Port Meadville (KGKJ) PA NY OK
Flightline Café Winter Haven (KGIF) FL YY R
Gin Mill Deland Municipal (KDED) FL YY R
Hangars Café (3x)Sky Acres (44N) NYY N R
Ice Cream Island (5x)Dansville Municipal NY N NR
Primo Barone'sVenango Regional (KFKL) PA Y N R
Red Mill Restaurant Basin Harbor (B06) VT YN HR
Runway Bar and Grill Bradford Regional (KBFD) PA YY HR
Simply Suzanne's Blue Ridge (KMTV) VA YY R
Skyline Family RestaurantGreater Portsmouth Regional (KPMH) OHY Y OK
Smoke Shack BBQ & BurgersGreenwood Lake (4N1) NJ Y NR
Tin Goose DinerErie-Ottawa International (KPCW) OH Y N R
Tobiko Sushi Westfield/Barnes (KBAF) MA YY HR
WACO Kitchen (2x) Battle Creek Executive at Kellogg Field (KBTL) MI YY HR
Rating scale: OK = "acceptable", but not someplace I would make a special trip to visit; R = "recommended", genuinely good and worth a return; HR = "highly recommended", great food and atmosphere, worth a special trip.

Aircraft Upgrades and Maintenance

Flying the ILS-22 approach at KROC by autopilot

Warrior 481 received a number of upgrades in 2021:
  • A second Garmin G5 display configured as an HSI (horizontal situation indicator)
  • Garmin GFC 500 two-axis autopilot
  • Garmin GAD 13 outside air temperature interface to allow automatic calculation of true airspeed and winds aloft (direction and velocity). 
  • Rosen sun visors
The avionics updates mean that Warrior 481 is officially a TAA (technically advanced aircraft) in the eyes of the FAA. She also received a new battery after 9 years and a new display for the JPI EDM-700 engine analyzer after the original from 2008 burned out just before we departed for Florida.


In no particular order:
  • Installing the Garmin GFC 500 autopilot, even though it tried to kill me and Tom on the test flight due to improper programming (thus earning it the name "HAL"). It's been a great addition ever since. It is capable, smooth, and remarkably intuitive to use.
  • I celebrated 20 years since my first solo by returning to Dowagiac, MI where it happened.
  • Hands-on time with a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter under restoration at the Air Zoo.
  • Flying the approach to NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility.
  • Landing at storied Cedar Key on the Gulf coast, the shortest public use runway in Florida.
  • Exploration of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, AL.
  • Boldly going to a recreated Enterprise at the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY.
  • A personalized tour of the art deco artistry on display at the 195 Factory in Johnstown, NY.
  • After multiple failed attempts, we finally explored the William G Mather. Victory is ours!
  • I had the opportunity to sample some excellent $100 hamburger destinations (18 of them!), but my favorites were:
    • WACO Kitchen: Great food, a seasonal farm to table menu, reasonably priced, and with views of the WACO biplane factory floor. Battle Creek, MI (KBTL). So good that we visited twice!
    • Tobiko Sushi: Quite possibly the best sushi I have ever had! Westfield/Springfield, MA (KBAF). I am looking forward to going again.
  • As a family, we took more longer trips (4+ hours) in our airplane in 2021 than in any other previous year:
    • A spring trip to Knoxville to visit Dad.
    • Our third adventure to Florida (second for The Bear).
    • A great week on Hilton Head Island with great friends and excellent side trips.
    • A journey to Chicago to visit Pam (not blogged).

Realistically...nothing worth mentioning. 

Aside from disappointing but not unexpected weather cancellations of some Williamson Flying Club trips, this has been a really great year. In fact, it was so great that flights to Alton Bay and the Manhattan skyline did not even make the highlights list!

In Gratitude

I am so thankful for all the people who made these adventures possible, from the support of my family to enthusiastic friends and co-conspirators to Ray C, Mike S, and Jake B for maintaining and upgrading Warrior 481 to all the wonderful people and organizations who give us so many worthwhile destinations including Air Traffic Control, Paul and his volunteers in Alton Bay, the National Park Service (Tuskegee), the Air Zoo, the WFC volunteers who maintain the Williamson Sodus Airport, and the many airport restaurant owners who struggled more than most over the last two years.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous 2022!

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