Sunday, June 26, 2011

NY Trip, Day 2 - Avoiding clouds on the way to Syracuse

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: BFD-B16
Weather - BFD: Partly cloudy, 61 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 4 knots
Weather - B16: Partly cloudy, 68 degrees, wind 300 degrees at 6 knots

A good night's rest was most certainly in order after yesterday's adventurous and stressful flying. Our driver last night was nice and stopped at a corner store where we picked up some delicious subs that seriously hit the spot. Then we watched a little TV and I checked the weather a few more times before kicking back for eight hours of much-needed sleep in the very comfy bed.

Turns out there was one more negative thing about pushing on to Bradford instead of simply staying in Franklin last night - the terrain around Bradford is quite conducive to the formation of morning fog. And it's the kind that hangs around... for a while. So we took our time eating breakfast and getting ready while I watched the clouds slowly lift up the hills surrounding town. It was close to noon before we got a ride back to the airport from the kind folks at Heritage Suites.

Watching the low clouds burn off from the B&B

I checked all the METARs and TAFs and everything between Bradford and Syracuse looked acceptable, so I made the "go" decision. We loaded all our supplies into the 172 and I did a very thorough preflight before starting the engine and taxiing down to the end of Runway 32. We took off about 5-10 minutes after a Continental Express Beech 1900 - one of a couple daily commercial flights into BFD.

Although sunny skies were still nowhere to be found, both the ceilings and visibility were much better than last night. I climbed out and leveled off below the lowest cloud layer - we probably flew somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 feet AGL for the first half of the flight. Perfectly legal as we were mostly in Class G airspace and remained clear of clouds and sufficiently high above any populated areas on the ground. Horizontal visibility was very good, probably in excess of 20 miles except for where rain was falling, so I was quite comfortable flying at the relatively low altitude above the surface. It was easy to turn and avoid any areas with lower ceilings or heavy rain as we made our way towards Syracuse.

Even though there were clouds, visibility was much better than last night!

The worst part of the trip weather-wise was between Hornell and Dansville. It's not an area to mess around in down low, as there are some VERY large wind turbines on top of the hilly terrain. Needless to say, I paid very close attention to the minimum safe altitudes printed on my Sectional chart!

A new cloud layer developed in front of us and I had to make a quick decision whether to continue or land. I decided to climb and take a look because I couldn't tell how far that scattered layer extended in our direction of flight. The way the weather had been working was that we'd fly a bit north, then east, then north, then east again to stay in good conditions. After a circling climb of about 1,000 feet I could see that the layer was widely scattered and we would be able to very safely fly over the top and continue northeast. Had it looked any different, I would have circled back and landed at Dansville.

Alfred State College in - you guessed it - Alfred, NY

Once we passed over those tall hills capped by wind turbines, the visibility continued to improve. The terrain also grew increasingly lower so that left me with more altitude options for cloud avoidance. Flying over the Finger Lakes was very interesting - you could actually sense the moisture being pulled into the air. The clouds were visibly lower over the water, almost like they dropped down to fill an invisible bowl. It was pretty easy to stay clear of the clouds by descending or turning by this point of the flight.

The clouds dropped down a bit over Canandaigua Lake

At this point, we were quite close to our destination... but the weather gods still weren't going to give us a break. We were over Cayuga Lake, only 20 miles from our planned destination of Skaneateles, when I saw a major obstacle - a solid wall of dark clouds and rain to the east. The clouds actually dropped over the lake (as mentioned earlier) and I went under to take a look. We were only a couple miles from Finger Lakes Regional Airport and I planned to land there if things didn't look good ahead.

Luckily the sky cleared quickly and significantly after ducking under those clouds over the lake. Within a minute the ceiling was a couple thousand feet higher and I could see many, many miles to the north. I knew we wouldn't have to land at Finger Lakes but the dark sky out the right window also meant that we wouldn't be landing in Skaneateles. However, it worked out that Whitfords Airport (B16) in Weedsport was almost the exact same distance from Gina's aunt and uncle's house as Skaneateles Aero Drome.

One airport was well in the clear and the other was socked in by rain so it was a pretty easy decision at this point. I flew straight towards Whitfords, passing by the airport and then descending to enter the pattern from the north. There was a decent crosswind from the right and I was slightly high on short final, so I dumped in all 40 degrees of flaps and made a pretty smooth landing. I taxied over to the small ramp area, found an open tiedown, and shut her down.

Parked on the ramp at Whitfords Airport in Weedsport, NY

Of course it looked like this a few hours after landing!

Gina's cousins met us at the airport about 15-20 minutes after we landed. The timing worked out perfectly since it took a little while to unload everything, secure the tiedown ropes, and button the plane back up. We hopped in the car and arrived at the graduation party just about an hour after it had started.

Today was a whole lot better than last night even if it did require some quick decision-making and continued cloud avoidance. I definitely attribute part of that improvement to a lack of fatigue thanks to a good night of rest in PA. I'd also like to think that I applied something I learned yesterday, even if only subconsciously, to today's flight. So there you have it - we made it to NY!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 195.5 hours


  1. Sounds like excellent decision making on the wx! XC trips really teach us so much and we add to the experience bucket in so many ways.

    I hope the graduation party was a blast! At least you could now kick back and relax, even though we tend to replay the flight in our head. :)

    You have to love the utility of flying despite some wx setbacks.

  2. Yup, I definitely added plenty to my experience bucket on the two days of flying to NY. Now let's hope I don't ever come so close to emptying out said bucket again!