Monday, June 27, 2011

NY Trip, Day 3 - A significantly less stressful trip home

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: B16-SDC-38D-OSU-40I
Weather - SDC: Partly cloudy, 74 degrees, wind 160 degrees at 6 knots
Weather - 38D: Few clouds, 80 degrees, wind 170 degrees at 10 knots
Weather - OSU: Overcast, 76 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 5 knots
Weather - 40I: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 4 knots

Gina and I both had a great time at the graduation party last night. It's always nice to see the family, especially since we don't make it to Upstate NY very often due to the 10-11 hour drive. Of course, it's much shorter by airplane - when the weather cooperates...

After a nice breakfast with her parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins, we gathered our things and headed to the airport. The local skydiving operation took off in their 182 filled with jumpers a few minutes before we departed. We said our goodbyes and I back-taxied down Runway 10 at Whitfords and took off shortly past 11:30 am.

The weather was great for the vast majority of today's flying

Compared to Saturday and Sunday the weather was downright spectacular. I leveled off at 2,500 feet for the very short flight south of Lake Ontario's shoreline to Williamson-Sodus Airport. We were heading there to meet pilot blogger friend Chris since he lives in the Rochester area. Originally I intended to land there on our flight up Saturday but the weather threw a wrench into those plans.

There was another airplane inbound to land from the opposite direction and I spotted him a few miles away. I made a 270 to the left to help with spacing, then followed him around the pattern and landed on Runway 10. Chris was waiting in the nice terminal building and we surprised him with two six-packs of Oberon, which any former Kalamazoo resident would most certainly appreciate. He was quite happy about the delivery and kindly bought us lunch at Bad to the Bone, a tasty little BBQ joint just down the road. I've actually visited both SDC and Bad to the Bone before while on business trips to Rochester but it was nice to finally fly myself in for a visit.

Looking north shortly after takeoff from Whitfords

Harvesting the crops down below

Sodus Bay and Lake Ontario

Parked at Williamson-Sodus to visit Chris

We all had a great time chatting before, during, and after lunch. In the end, we spent nearly two hours on the ground. Chris had to head back to work and we needed to continue the trek home since there were some storms moving from Indiana into Ohio. We were certain to make it to our fuel stop midway in Salem, OH and I figured we'd re-evaluate the weather situation there. I topped off both fuel tanks at SDC and we were back in the air just before 2:00 pm.

The view under the scattered clouds was great. You could see downtown Rochester, the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario... just about anything that was within 50 miles. I initially attempted to climb over the clouds for a smoother ride then realized they got higher as we went further inland. So I descended back down to 4,500 feet and remained there for this entire leg of the trip home.

Looking west along Lake Ontario towards Rochester

The views of the Finger Lakes region were great today

Conesus Lake - quite a few boaters were out

Genesee River near Mount Morris Dam

Letchworth State Park - the "Grand Canyon of the East"

It wouldn't be Upstate NY without a bunch of wind turbines

The town of Ellicottville, NY

As we neared the NY/PA border the clouds disappeared and we were treated to our first clear sky of the entire journey. The haze started to increase once the scattered layer disappeared but visibility was still very good. It was much nicer to be crossing the hilly terrain from this altitude with unlimited visibility than lower under an overcast as we had done the two days prior. I spotted Venango Regional Airport (where we stopped for food/fuel on Saturday) about 10 miles off the left wing as we flew towards Ohio.

Salamanca, NY and the Allegany Casino along I-86

You can see Venango Regional Airport (FKL) off in the distance

Crossing over downtown Youngstown I was able to see the town of Boardman out my window. My grandparents lived there the first 20 years of my life and I spotted their old neighborhood and some local shopping centers. I took plenty of photos that I'll have to send to my grandma - I'm sure she'll enjoy the view as much as I did. Much of my love for aviation comes from my grandpa and it was neat to finally fly over the area where I always visited them growing up.

Boardman - the Southern Park Mall and US-224

Another shot of Boardman and Mill Creek Park's golf course

It helped to have overflown Salem Airpark on our outbound leg to NY on Saturday. I spotted the airport a ways out, cut off flight following with Youngstown Approach, and continued in while descending since we were already aimed for a perfect 45-degree entry into the pattern. There was an almost-direct crosswind at about 10 knots and the treeline there made the winds a little swirly just prior to touchdown. My landing was still pretty good and we taxied down to the fuel pumps at the east end of the runway.

Salem is well-known for their restaurant... but the restaurant's only open until 2:00 pm on weekdays. I forgot to check that and our stop at SDC eliminated any chance of arriving at Salem in time to grab a bite. We landed just past 4:15 pm and were taxiing for takeoff around 4:40 pm after I had completely filled both tanks again. I checked the weather while we were on the ground and the storms I had seen on radar earlier had almost completely dissipated. While I had a feeling we still wouldn't make it all the way home in one shot, I realized we'd be getting much closer than Salem. With that knowledge in mind, we took back off and leveled off at 2,500 feet flying direct to Stewart.

Departing from Salem Airpark

A landfill that's only a few miles from Salem

Something interesting happened about 15 minutes into the flight while on flight following with Akron-Canton Approach. I was monitoring 121.5 on Com 2 and heard the distinct sound of an ELT going off. I immediately reported it to the controller who asked a few questions about the signal strength and where I started/stopped receiving it. We were just about directly over top of Beach City Airport (2D7) so I assume it was coming from an airplane hangared there, and mentioned that to him. Hopefully it was a false alarm (as ELTs usually seem to be) but calling in the report was definitely a first-time experience for me.

We continued on towards Dayton and the haze suddenly grew real thick near Millersburg, OH. Visibility probably dropped below 10 miles but it was still VFR. I was thinking that the cold front moving in from the west may have been stirring up the air ahead, reducing the visibility. If you're a meteorologist and that makes no sense, please let me know! :)

I called into Columbus Approach (we weren't handed off and weren't receiving VFR advisories at this point) to inquire about the darkening skies up ahead. They told me there was a line of moderate precip about 30 miles out. I knew that meant we'd be landing somewhere and I was hoping to make it to the Columbus area. At that point, even if we were stranded overnight, we'd be near family and friends and could easily get picked up and drive back to Dayton if necessary. The sky grew darker but visibility actually improved and I flew just north of CMH's Class C airspace while deciding what to do.

Within a couple minutes rain started to fall and was hitting the windshield at a decent rate. Our current position meant Ohio State University Airport was our best option and I had already checked their ATIS in preparation. I quickly called OSU Tower with information Tango and they cleared us to land on Runway 14. We were just over 5 miles out and I could still see the airport clearly through the rain so the conditions remained VFR. The winds were shifting due to the incoming storm and Tower quickly amended our landing clearance to Runway 23. That worked out perfectly and put us on a straight-in final from our current position. I touched down rather softly around 6:00 pm and we taxied to the ramp to wait out the storm.

We sat down inside the terminal and I pulled up the weather. The sky opened up a few minutes after we got inside and I was glad to be on the ground - it was pouring, which would've seriously reduced visibility in the air even though the clouds were plenty high. I had them top the plane off (it was that or pay a $10 ramp fee for less than an hour on the ground - ugh) while I continued to formulate a plan. There was another rather nasty (lots of dark red on the radar) storm cell that was moving in from Dayton and tracking almost directly east over top of I-70. After a little while it was clear we could get out, fly south for a while, then turn west and head direct to Stewart. That would let us squeeze between the storms and keep us in the clear.

OSU Tower cleared us for takeoff on 27L just past 7:00 pm. I turned on course and contacted Columbus Approach for flight following and told them we'd be tracking south towards Washington Court House before turning towards Stewart in order to avoid the weather. You could see that nasty cell moving closer from the west and I was glad my plan worked. We easily kept a wide berth (10+ miles away) around the storm and remained in the clear. I flew almost directly over top of I-71 for a little while before turning due west towards Waynesville.

The storm we were avoiding - still off to the northwest

Passing south of the storm while paralleling I-71

The outlet mall in Jeffersonville

Around 15 miles out I spotted Caesar Creek Lake and was excited to see the familiar landmark - we were almost home! There was a lower cloud deck out there between Columbus and Cincinnati and we skirted along underneath while approaching the lake. It was almost as if the weather gods finally decided to smile upon us because the clouds suddenly lifted and the sun came out just as I was entering the pattern at Stewart.

I crossed midfield from the north and entered a left downwind for Runway 26. We landed around 7:45 pm and taxied over to the tiedown in the grass. Gina drove the car over to the airplane and helped unload everything while I disconnected all the electronic gadgetry and sealed the plane up. After a long three days of flying, we were home!

Tied down back on Stewart's soft grass

Obviously we got stuck on the way out and had to spend a night in PA before flying the rest of the way to NY the next morning. That right there eliminated any time savings of flying vs. driving. Yet we still proved the efficiency and time savings of GA today. Consider that we took off from Weedsport, NY around 11:30 this morning and were back at our house about 9:00 this evening - including a half hour chatting in the office at Stewart before heading home. Had we driven, including the almost two-hour visit with Chris near Rochester, it would've taken at least 12-14 hours with the necessary food and gas stops.

In the end, the whole journey was a great learning experience and it even still somehow managed to save us a bit of time. Yeah it cost an extra few hours (without the weather diversions, it would've been closer to 8.0 hours on the Hobbs instead of the 11.0 that I logged) but $300 is certainly a small price to pay for being alive and safe. Oh, and thanks to those delays and diversions I managed to hit another big milestone - I crossed 200 hours total time on that final leg from OSU back to Stewart!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 5.2 hours
Total Time: 200.7 hours


  1. It's always a good feeling to have the home airport come into view. It looks like you had some wx but overall a good trip home. Great pictures!

    Very cool to watch the storms pass by and not be in it, the aviation version of raining on one side of the street and not the other!

    Even with the overnight stop on the outbound you still arrive fresh vs driving all those hours. It's all part of the journey!

    Congrats on breaking 200!!

  2. Thanks - it is indeed always nice to return to familiar territory after a long trip. Like you said, we still had a better experience than driving even with the delays. Certainly a more memorable way to break the 200 hour mark than just buzzing around the pattern, too!

  3. Congrats on hitting the 200 hour mark! It was great to see you and Gina.

    I would venture to guess that you completed this trip a wiser and more experienced cross country aviator than you were when you started. Relatively safe learning experiences like those are priceless.