Sunday, May 1, 2022

Barely Massachusetts


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
30 Apr 2022N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - AQW (North Adams, MA) - SDC 3.7 2439.8

After The Bear and I spent two weekends in Germany and the Czech Republic, Warrior 481 and I were both due for some air time. (In my case, I sought air time that did not involve being shoehorned into an economy seat on a Lufthansa 747-400.) I also craved a landing someplace new. I have a problem in 2022 that did not exist when I relocated to New York in 2006; I have been to enough airports that I need to fly increasingly farther to discover new-to-me runways.

Shortly after 10:00 am, I was cruising eastbound at 5,500 feet toward the northwest corner of Massachusetts and the Harriman-and-West Airport (KAQW, airport #236). Described as a picturesque field among the Berkshire Mountains, visitors to the airport can walk a brief distance off-field to enjoy lunch at the farm to table Trail House Kitchen. It seemed like a perfect destination to meet the need.

Radio Free Syracuse

Somewhere over Syracuse, I discovered a squished four-leaf clover as I listened to Syracuse Approach banter with an inbound American airliner.

"It's my first time here," stated the captain in what sounded like the professional equivalent of a student pilot declaring himself to ATC on a cross country flight. I thought back on the number of towered airports to which I had preemptively made similar announcements: exactly zero. Is this a thing that experienced commercial pilots do? I have never felt the need unless issued instructions including an unfamiliar landmark.

"I'll take it easy on you," assured Syracuse Approach. When the airline captain commented on the dead landscape, Syracuse Approach came back with typical commentary about Upstate New York climate. "We'll have a couple of nice days, then go right back to winter. That lake you're flying over only thawed a couple of weeks ago." The American captain was suitably aghast over this climatological travesty of the north.

Eye-catching geometry of the Abundant Life Christian Church east of Syracuse, NY.

Also in the mix with Syracuse Approach were a pair of student pilots making solo cross country flights. The first declared himself confidently and queried about whether a nearby MOA (military operation area) was hot or cold. I was impressed with his professionalism and radio acumen. The second student was verbally scattered and essentially a complete mess. Compared to the first student, the second sounded much more like me on my solo long cross country flight as a student. Fortunately, the Syracuse controller had more patience for him than that Muskegon controller had for me 20 years ago. I found myself mentally thanking the controller on the student's behalf for not being an ass.

The usual pattern of boorish activity was taking place on Guard with puerile behavior answered by anonymous declarations of "idiot". At one point, a ridiculous broadcast on the emergency channel was reprimanded with a rudely creative, "Shut yer Guard hole." In spite of myself, this made me laugh.

Unexpected Churn

On with Albany Approach, I overflew the Schenectady County Airport (KSCH), home to the Empire State Aerosciences Museum and the National Guard 109th Airlift Wing. This Wing is unique in that it is the only unit that operates ski-equipped C-130 cargo planes for polar terrain operation. 

An unusual-looking dam on the Mohawk River east of Schenectady, NY.

The weather forecast for North Adams, MA and the Harriman-and-West Airport was for a manageable wind out of the northwest at 8 knots. However, as I overflew the Albany Class Charlie airspace, reports from Harriman-and-West indicated variably gusting winds out of 320 degrees at 8 knots gusting to 22. A gust factor like that combined with the modest terrain of the surrounding Berkshires suggested that I was in for a miserable arrival. I stayed high while crossing a ridge between Albany and North Adams and decided on a Plan B that worked within my fuel capacity if landing at Harriman-and-West was not tenable. 

As it was, I was already being knocked around a bit in mild mountain waves downwind of the Adirondacks. Hand flying, I felt my precision tightening up as I progressed closer to mountainous topography.

Traffic for runway 29 at Harriman-and-West requires flying a non-standard right pattern on the north side of the field, presumably to better manage the terrain. This still puts aircraft over rising terrain (ForeFlight annunciated a 500 foot AGL warning while I was on downwind, despite flying 1,000 feet above the runway elevation), but not so steeply rising as the slopes of Mount Greylock on the south side of the field where a conventional pattern would be flown.

I was beat up during the approach to landing and was only able to grab a blurry image of the final approach course. I added seven knots to my approach speed as a safety hedge against the gusting (halving the 14 knot gust factor), but this was too much and the Warrior floated some distance before bleeding off the additional airspeed and settling to the runway in a manner far less violent than I anticipated given the conditions.

I was in Massachusetts! Though, as shown by FlightAware, just barely. North Adams sits southeast of the junction between Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.

Airport Impressions

My first impressions of Harriman-and-West were of immaculate paved surfaces and a lot of aircraft tied down outside, including a group of gliders parked on the grass between the approach end of runway 29 and the parallel taxiway.

The first order of business was fuel. At $5.43/gallon, it was cheaper than what was available at home. A Pilatus parked at the Jet-A pump next to me hinted that Harriman-and-West might serve higher-end clientele than Williamson Sodus.

Harriman-and-West's fuel farm is equipped with an idiot-proof fuel hose reel that is the exact width of the hose itself. I have only seen this setup in one other place, the Rider Jet Center in Hagerstown, MD. Despite being idiot-proof, I still managed to foul up the alignment of the hose. I spent several minutes pushing, pulling, and squeezing the heavy black hose between the reel and the metal pipe connecting it to the pump to properly realign the hose. Clearly, I am the product of a long evolutionary process to successfully produce a better idiot.

I asked Sal, who was refueling the Pilatus, about the beautifully restored Stearman visible within a nearby hanger. The vintage biplane was bedecked in a modern take on the WWII-era "Yellow Peril" paint scheme. Sal commented that it was the product of a twelve year restoration effort.

As Sal pushed the Pilatus back into the hangar, I stood near the Stearman to assure wingtip clearance. Sal did not ask for help, but this is the sort of thing that pilots just do.

Harriman-and-West is in-between administration buildings at the moment, despite two candidates being apparent from the ramp. The first, with a distinctive sawtooth roofline, was the former FBO/administration building and is currently owned by a private enterprise. The second, a newer red building was left unfinished due to the disruption of Covid-19.

I parked in a long line of aircraft tied-down outside.

The next conundrum was how to exit the airport grounds. Specifically, the issue was how to exit in such a way that I could return to my airplane. 

There are multiple person gates set along the fence, but unlike most airports, there are no placards providing a re-entry code to exiting pilots. I walked the length of the fence until I met a group of local pilots standing outside a short row of T-hangars on the west end of the ramp. They explained that the code is the AWOS frequency (134.775 MHz), but that different gates would accept a different number of digits depending on the type of lock used. Thus, even knowing the code, some trial and error would be required. For example, the gate I returned through after lunch opened on my third attempt when I entered 1347#. I had a nice chat with the locals, who shared a synopsis of the political infighting paralyzing ongoing airport improvement projects like the new terminal building. Really, there is nothing new under the sun.

In my conversation with the locals, they mentioned plans for an ice cream window on the side of the new terminal building. Indeed, I saw it on the west face of the structure as I walked to lunch. Every airport should have an ice cream window. Unfortunately, Harriman-and-West’s ice cream window was neither stocked nor staffed.

Looking down Airport Road toward the Harriman-and-West Airport with Mount Greylock to the south.

Farm To Table

I walked north along Airport Road until it dead-ended at Mohawk Trail (Massachusetts Route 2). I turned left (west) and walked through a Stop & Shop plaza parking lot to reach the Trail House Kitchen established in a renovated farm house. The restaurant has extensive outdoor seating options and is elegantly decorated inside.

I went with a basic mushroom swiss burger and fries. Everything was delicious. Service from Nate was friendly and attentive. Trail House Kitchen was outstanding.

Itch Scratched

Departure from Harriman-and-West Airport was every bit as turbulent as expected given the wind. In the climb, I followed lower terrain to the northwest, staying toward the downwind side of the valley to leverage updrafts that pushed the Warrior to 1,500+ foot per minute climb rates. 

1.2 miles above Schenectady County Airport, I could see some of the National Guard's C-130s parked on the ramp. From that distance, I was unable to discern the presence or lack of skis, but I noticed that some of the tail surfaces were painted red like the ski-equipped C-130 I once saw at the Geneseo Airshow.

I also got a great look at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum with a Concorde and the former General Electric Air Research Laboratory (the large concrete Quonset-style hangar) prominently visible. The outdoor air park is one of the better maintained that I have seen in many years of visiting aviation museums.

Syracuse-Hancock International Airport

Isn't it odd that commercial airports are built to accommodate more cars than airplanes?

Once west of Rome, the turbulence and mountain wave activity downwind of the Adirondacks finally relented and I let HAL fly the rest of the way home. While my European adventure was wonderful, it was good to be back at the controls of Warrior 481. Harriman-and-West is a nice facility in a beautiful setting and, with the promise of future visits to the Trail House Kitchen, it definitely warrants a return.

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