Monday, September 5, 2016

Meeting Emry: Day 4

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: ALB-TSO-40I
Weather - ALB: Clear, 72 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 6 knots
Weather - TSO: Clear, 86 degrees, wind variable at 3 knots
Weather - 40I: Clear, 84 degrees, wind calm

Waking up this morning, the first thing I did was open up ForeFlight and check the weather. No matter how much bugging out early yesterday was clearly the logical, safe, and correct decision... curiosity's hard to quell. I swiped east to the Boston area and saw that the storm system appeared to have moved a bit more offshore than forecast.

In short, we probably could've stayed overnight and made it out without issue this morning. It was a little windy but not that different than when we departed last night. Of course, I'm also decidedly not much of a morning person and leaving early (that weather's still moving inland) would have necessitated an earlier wake-up than was required in Albany.

The weather was still mostly offshore this morning

We were able to take our time getting ready and grabbed breakfast at the hotel. It was around 10:30 when we pulled out of the parking lot; we pulled into Million Air about 15 minutes later. They called National to come pick up the rental car and we headed out onto the tarmac to load the plane. After a preflight and pit stop, I settled the fuel bill and we climbed into the plane for our long leg home.

Writing on taxi diagrams on screen can be handy

Following a brief mental hiccup (calling Ground for clearance at a Class C airport - oops) I contacted Clearance, who gave us a squawk code, departure heading, departure frequency. Readback correct, I went back over to Ground, who quickly cleared us to taxi to Runway 1. We were sitting behind a Piedmont Dash 8 for a few minutes before they departed. Tower cleared us for takeoff another minuted later after another plane cleared the crossing runway.

It was a great flight home overall, though we did have trouble with one ATC handoff 

The weather was great - incredible visibility with just a few puffy clouds here and there. Tower handed us off to Departure, who cleared us on course about 10 miles north of the field just past Schenectady. We slowly climbed to 8,500 feet. I leveled there for a little while but the reported winds aloft were more favorable at 10,500... so I tried climbing up to check them out.

It took quite a while.

Turns out this old 172 seems to prefer the lower altitudes. We eventually got to 10,500 and our ground speed was basically the same as before, despite slightly reduced headwinds. I decided to wait for a bit to see how things went. Then I noticed I hadn't heard much from Albany in a while.

A bird's-eye view of the longest day I've ever spent in the left seat

There was occasional radio chatter but I couldn't really hear the controller. Seeing as we were nearly to Binghamton, I tried calling Binghamton Approach. No answer. Checking the charts, we were in New York Center's airspace, so I tried them. Again, no answer. Perplexed, I tried Binghamton again and finally got an answer.

I explained the predicament and lack of a handoff, but the controller just acknowleged our presence without any further discussion. Until about 2 minutes later when he came back, said we were hard to hear, and handed me back over to New York Center. Back over to them; this time they responded right back and we continued on our merry way. Same squawk code I dialed in before departing Albany and no further mention of any communication issues.

Elmira, NY from 10,500 feet

Continuing east, we were handed off from controller to controller until eventually reaching Pittsburgh, where I got cleared into the Class B airspace. We just skirted the north edge. The controller said he could just cut us loose at the edge of his sector if I was ok with that. I said that was fine, as we'd only be about 15 miles from our planned fuel stop by then. As we started our descent it got much warmer and bumpier as we dropped below about 6,000 feet.

Typical wooded hills over central Pennsylvania 

Farms near the Pennsylvania / Ohio border east of Pittsburgh

Clear of Pittsburgh, I squawked VFR and got on the CTAF for Carrol County-Tolson Airport. Nobody was in the pattern as we entered from the northeast on a 45 for left downwind to Runway 7. I landed reasonably softly on the very nice, very new blacktop and taxied to the fuel pump. Another Cessna was there just finishing up replenishing their own stores of 100LL. He taxied away as I turned around and pulled up next to the pump.

The plane again took about as much fuel as expected. It's worth noting that ForeFlight was always within one gallon on its fuel usage numbers throughout the whole trip, which was nice to see. We were back in the air, this time departing straight out on Runway 25, about 20 minutes after arriving.

Atwood Lake, between New Philadelphia and Carrollton, OH

I contacted Akron-Canton Approach and they put us back in the system for flight following the remainder of the trip home. For this shorter leg I leveled at 6,500 feet. The bumps were nonstop during the initial climb but thankfully it was nice and smooth up there.

Approaching Columbus, we got another handoff and more scattered clouds began to appear. Most had bases at 7,000 feet or higher but I did have to make a couple small turns to remain clear where a few big puffy ones dropped down towards our altitude. We passed just south of CMH and downtown as we continued west towards Stewart.

CMH - recently renamed John Glenn Columbus Int'l Airport

Downtown Columbus from 6,500 feet

We got one final handoff to another Columbus Approach sector and controller partway home. I spotted Caesar Creek Lake maybe 25 miles out in the haze. About 15 miles out I began our final descent into the warm air; the AWOS at Wright Brothers was reporting very light winds so I anticipated the traffic at 40I would be landing to the west per usual during calm winds. I descended down to pattern altitude flying about a mile north and parallel to the runway to visually check for the usual allotment of NORDO traffic.

Almost home - somewhere between Columbus and Dayton

A plane I didn't recognize was departing the airport (easy to identify thanks to the N Number displayed on my iPad's screen) to the west. He made a departure call on the CTAF and I replied saying we had him in sight and would make a crosswind entry to the left downwind for Runway 26 behind him as he climbed westward. Turning final, I was at least 100 feet high, but I added in all the flaps to drop in over the trees. We touched down long but softly on the familiar turf.

Safely back on the parking pad at Stewart

By the time we were on the ground at Stewart the Hobbs meter had officially christened this the longest flight I've ever made in a single day. A little more research shows that the previous record-holder (5.2 hours on the way home from Upstate NY five years ago) is in fact still the longest by distance at roughly 580 nm compared to about 525 nm today. Nonetheless this was quite a haul; I was more than ready to relax after 14.4 hours in less then three days!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 5.6 hours
Total Time: 372.0 hours

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Meeting Emry: Day 3

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: OWD-ALB
Weather - OWD: Clear, 70 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 18
Weather - ALB: Few clouds, 79 degrees, wind 350 degrees at 5 knots

Since arriving at Norwood yesterday afternoon, we've spent nearly every moment (besides sleeping at the hotel overnight) with Gina's brother, his wife, and our new nephew Emry. It's been a great visit with the new family - I cooked dinner and breakfast and we helped them with some projects around the house. They've been a little busy the past couple weeks, after all.

Gina was quite excited to meet her first nephew

I spent some time with the little dude myself

I've also been closely monitoring the weather. By mid-afternoon the forecast was still sufficiently uncertain that I felt the smart decision was to depart this evening. The hurricane's progress has slowed and appears it will remain farther offshore but the TAFs, GFS model, and NWS Forecast Discussions all still indicated a possibility of MVFR conditions by morning.

After looking at the charts and forecasts, I decided Albany was the right destination for tonight's impromptu overnight stop. Any weather moving up the east coast will remain well clear of the area and from there we'll have a clear, straight shot home tomorrow. The unusual easterly winds aloft were an added bonus; the roughly 125 nm flight would only take about an hour so we didn't have to leave for the airport until after dinner.

Our short flight from Boston - Albany Approach was surprisingly busy tonight

After a meal of delicious takeout from The Elephant Walk we said our goodbyes around 4:45 pm and climbed into the car; we'll have to make a return visit soon! It took about 25 minutes to drive back to the airport where I unloaded the rental car, which I was conveniently able to leave with FlightLevel Aviation, and paid the fuel bill. Gina helped load the plane while I did a thorough preflight. We were belted in and I had the propeller turning at 5:35 pm.

The winds were gusty in advance of the incoming weather; I'd noticed the leaves rustling outside all day and kept checking METARs. They were well within the crosswind limits of the airplane but I figured it might be sporty. This would be a good place to note I was happy to have chosen a destination airport with multiple runways! Just before takeoff I reminded Gina things might be bumpy and told her to tighten her seatbelt.

We took off on Runway 10 and, all things considered, the winds weren't even a factor. I did find myself weathervaning with the wind once we cleared the trees but the air was actually very smooth. Turning north as Tower handed us off to Boston Departure, I glanced down and noted our groundspeed in the climb already exceeded anything we saw in cruise on the way here! There may not have been any turbulence but there winds aloft were indeed quite strong.

Downtown Boston was off our right wing shortly after takeoff

We had a great view of the skyline before turning on course

By the time we leveled at 6,500 feet (I wanted to be well clear of the ridges we'd be crossing ahead) our groundspeed was stable at nearly 130 knots. Pretty good for an old 172! Boston handed us off to another Boston controller, who then handed us off to Albany Approach about halfway there. He must have been working multiple sectors because, after the frequency switch, the radio chatter was about as constant and rapid-fire as I've heard in a while.

Level with a rather respectable groundpeed

The controller called out opposite direction traffic ahead of us. ForeFlight and ADS-B helped me spot the one 1,000 feet below and I soon spotted the twin 1,000 feet above with the old Mark II eyeballs. In order to avoid a nearly direct overflight of the highest point in the area, Mt. Greylock, I planned and flew direct North Adams, MA before turning direct Albany; it added less than a mile to the total flight distance. Once clear of the tallest ridge, I was cleared to descend pilot's discretion and began a gradual descent as we crossed into New York.

Passing over Mt. Greylock before beginning our descent

The traffic had significantly calmed during our descent and Albany Approach handed us off to Tower, who told us to enter a right base for Runway 1 and cleared us to land about 8 miles from the field. It was a bit hard to spot while flying directly into the setting sun but I was able to make out the clearing amongst the trees, if not all the details. Descending towards the airport, we were treated to a beautiful golden view of the city and river with the Catskills off towards the horizon.

The golden hour over downtown Albany and the Hudson River

I landed very softly at 6:50 pm and we quickly taxied over to Million Air; everyone was very friendly and helpful in spite of our plane being the least-classiest thing on the ramp by a long shot. For context, as we taxied in, we passed by a custom 727 that serves as luxury horse transport, "Air Horse One." Who knew that was a thing? Thanks, Google! Anyway, a line guy very kindly drove us over to the airline terminal where I picked up our rental car from National.

We checked into the Holiday Inn Express downtown (free on points - one perk of all the travel I do these days!) and headed over to Druthers Brewing Company for tasty brews and an equally tasty evening snack. Then it was back to the hotel to rest in preparation for the long trip home.

It was unfortunate to have to bug out early but we need to get home tomorrow. You can always second-guess decisions with the benefit of hindsight but I'm glad I was proactive in essentially eliminating the get-there-itis risk. Whatever the weather does in Boston in the morning, it won't be a factor in us getting home safelty.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 366.4 hours

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Meeting Emry: Day 2

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: IPT-OWD
Weather - IPT: Clear, 70 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 4 knots
Weather - OWD: Clear, 72 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 7 knots

Following a good night's sleep, we awoke this morning, got cleaned up, and headed down to the hotel lobby to catch their free shuttle to the airport. Unfortunately, their shuttle driver was out sick, but they kindly offered to call a cab and pay for it. Turns out Williamsport is indeed a very small town and it ended up taking at least 30 minutes for the taxi to arrive and another 15 minutes for him to sort out the payment with the hotel.

When we walked into the FBO the line guy just laughed when he saw that we'd arrived via taxi. Apparently their promptness is well-known; he said he hates even suggesting them to arriving passengers. By now, we were nearly an hour behind our original plan.

Our goal of course was to get to Boston and our arrival would be approaching dinnertime if we hung around much longer. So instead of grabbing breakfast at the highly-recommended Cloud 9 restaurant as planned, we quickly scarfed down some snacks we'd brought along on the trip. I completed my preflight, paid the fuel bill, and added a little oil to the engine. The propeller was turning and we were cleared to taxi to Runway 27 around 10:30 am.

If you don't often fly into busy airspace, I bet you'll enjoy our rapid-fire arrival into Norwood!

As we climbed to 5,500 feet eastward on course the air was incredibly smooth. There were a few small puffy clouds here and there but for the most part everything was CAVU. Once level and clear of Williamsport's Class D airspace, I called New York Center and received a squawk code for VFR Advisories all the way to Norwood.

Passing by a wind farm just east of Williamsport

I panned over to NYC after we had ADS-B coverage;
there was just a little bit of traffic in the area...

An abandoned airport near Clarks Summit, PA

Radio chatter was light and we only spotted a few planes for the first half of the trip. Most of the ground below varied between heavily forested hills and farms in the valleys. Looking left we could see the Catskill Mountains that we were roughly paralleling to the north of our route.  If I recall correctly, New York Center handed us off to Wilkes-Barre Approach, then to New York Approach as we got closer to the Hudson River.

The racetrack at the Monticello Motor Club 

The new Montreign Casino Resort under construction in Monticello, NY

Lake Mohonk with the Catskills visible in the distance

Crossing over the Hudson River just north of Poughkeepsie, NY

High cirrus and overcast was visible the further east we flew - visible traces of the moisture moving in from the ocean in advance of the hurricane. A few more scattered clouds also began to appear down near our altitude. Overall visibility, however, was still superb. I couldn't exactly make out New York City but I could spot the faint glimmer of Atlantic Ocean some 70 or so miles away. We continued onward and were handed off again, this time to Bradley Approach.

Barkhamsted Reservoir, which supplies Hartford, CT

Bradley Int'l Airport in Windsor Locks, CT

Looking up the Connecticut River towards Springfield, MA

We were now well clear of any terrain; the highest point for the remainder of the trip was only about 1,500 MSL. Seeing more clouds starting to develop, along with reported lower headwinds down below, I asked Bradley when would be a good time to descend to 3,500 feet. They said it would be best after we overflew the airport and that's what I did. Not long after leaving 5,500 feet it became much bumpier as I felt the humidity and temperature begin to rise.

Bradley, which was reasonably busy itself, handed us off to Boston Approach and the pace of the controllers' speech noticeably picked up. Yep, we were definitely entering some seriously busy airspace. Quite a few targets were now visible on ForeFlight care of ADS-B and the controller called out one that it helped me quickly spot and call in sight. I also grabbed the ATIS; the winds favored and Norwood was using Runway 35 so we were already in a convenient position to sequence into the pattern.

Once we were handed off to the tower, the pace managed to pick up a bit more. Someone in a Bonanza was troubleshooting a radio; the controller eventually told him to switch to ground and call back when he figured out the problem. At least four planes were in the pattern, along with a medical helicopter transiting the airspace. Eventually I was able to get a word in and we were told to enter a long left base for Runway 35. When I called the traffic on final in sight the controller cleared us to land, number two.

Turning final at OWD with the Boston skyline off our right wing

I managed a decent landing in the light right crosswind. Not flying into towered airports often I don't have quite the same precision (in airspeed and flap settings) throughout the approach as I do when flying a standard pattern; that's certainly something this trip is helping me practice. Point being I probably came in a few knots faster than I'd like and floated for a couple seconds. But I still slowed well in time to make the midfield turnoff and quickly taxied over to the ramp.

Tied down, we headed inside to sort things out with the FBO and I called Enterprise to come pick us up around 1:45 pm. All told, we're safe in Boston after 7.5 hours in the left seat... definitely better than a 14+ hour drive. Now it's time to meet the nephew!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 3.2 hours
Total Time: 365.1 hours

Friday, September 2, 2016

Meeting Emry: Day 1

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-UNV-IPT
Weather - 40I: Scattered clouds, 76 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 10 knots
Weather - UNV: Scattered clouds, 70 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 5 knots
Weather - IPT: Clear, 68 degrees, wind calm

Gina's brother and his wife had their first baby (and our first nephew!) earlier this week. We planned on visiting as soon as he was born but we also knew it would obviously be quite last-minute when the word came. When it did, commercial tickets were honestly just as expensive as flying ourselves and the 172 was miraculously available all of Labor Day weekend - plus, a long cross-country trip is clearly more fun for me! So we reserved our trusty aerial traveling companion, I got busy flight planning, and we both looked forward to meeting Emry.

Highlights (lots of ATC chatter) from today's leg of the trip - 4.3 hours condensed into 0.2!

I do have to note here that, as a VFR pilot, this weekend's long-term weather forecast was truly about as good as you can ever hope for, with high pressure basically blanketing the eastern half of the country for five straight days. Hurricane Hermine is slowly making her way up the east coast and is a concern I've been closely monitoring. However, it's clear the worst impact it will have on our trip is forcing a return home starting Sunday instead of Monday.

All fueled up and ready to go

I left work about 2:30 and headed straight to the airport to get everything untied, loaded, set up, preflighted, and fueled. Gina would meet me there as soon as possible when she left school, ideally in time for us to be in the air by 4:00. Thanks to unusual easterly headwinds (from the aforementioned hurricane) along the entire route, we'd have to stay on schedule to make our planned overnight stop of Williamsport, PA before dark. 

One nice thing about long trips is being able to leave (most) everything in the plane. In order to record videos, hold my iPad, and utilize the remote antennas for my new ADS-B box, it does require a not-entirely-insignificant amount of time to set all that up prior to starting the engine. On a multi-day trip, most of that is spared on the middle days... which I know Gina appreciates.

We needed every ounce possible so I filled both tanks to the very top, squeezing as much 100LL as they would hold. I had the plane ready and waiting on the fuel pad when Gina pulled into the parking lot. She ran into some traffic on her way to Stewart but we left nearly on time. After a quick stop in the office, she hopped in and I started the engine at 4:00; we took off on Runway 8 just a few minutes later at 4:05.

Cruising eastward at 5,500 feet

I leveled at 5,500 feet, which worked out quite well. Not only was it the altitude with the smallest headwind (though it was still 10+  knots) but the scattered cloud bases were hovering around 6,000 - so I was able to remain there and fly legally below them all the way to Pennsylvania. North of Wilmington, I called Columbus Approach for flight following and they got us a squawk code for the entire journey.

The former Longaberger Basket headquarters building in Newark, OH

Ohio River looking north at the OH/WV border towards Toronto, OH

Looking south at Steubenville, OH nestled alongside the Ohio River

Columbus Approach handed us off to Cleveland Center, who then sent us over to Pittsburgh Approach. I'm always a little saddened to see formerly busy airports reduced to shells of their former selves - we see that locally with CVG. However, one perk as a GA pilot is that the relative lack of traffic often begets better service and less detours around arrival and departure corridors.

Today was no exception as Pittsburgh Approach cleared us into the Class Bravo airspace and we directly overflew PIT. While west of the field, an American Eagle ERJ flew 500-1,000 feet underneath us while being vectored onto final. We also saw a few Southwest 737s depart and quickly climb above us.

AA ERJ flying under us on approach into PIT

Approaching Pittsburgh International Airport from the west

Overflying PIT - downtown Pittsburgh is visible in the distance

The Ohio River leads towards downtown Pittsburgh 

The views were great as you can see above - I think we both spent quite a bit of time sightseeing in all directions. As we continued east Pittsburgh Approach eventually handed me off to Johnstown Approach. I had obviously been monitoring our fuel consumption and flight time closely and it was around here that I decided a fuel stop was in order.

During my trip planning earlier in the week, I'd settled on University Park Airport (UNV) in State College, PA as the best choice for such a stop. Their Avgas was cheap, they were staffed and open 24/7, and it was a towered airport. That may seem like an odd choice to some GA pilots but to me it was logical. I figured, traffic permitting, a typical straight-in approach would shave a few minutes off the arrival - and it did.

I told the Johnstown controller we'd be making at stop at UNV and, when he asked why, I told him the diversion was for fuel. Prior to arriving in State College he handed us off to New York Center; they cut me loose ("squawk VFR, contact tower, good day") about 15 miles out when I told them I had the airport in sight. Tower told me to report a straight-in but spotted us before the reporting point and cleared us to land on Runway 6.

Rolling hills of western PA in the golden evening light

I really appreciate the terrain features in hillier-than-Ohio spots!

We touched town very softly at 7:25 and I taxied to the FBO. Engine off, I asked the line guys to top the plane off while we ran inside for a quick bathroom break. We chatted with the very friendly staff inside for a couple minutes while they finished fueling the Skyhawk, then I paid the bill and headed back out to the airplane. I contacted ground and we were cleared to taxi back to Runway 6; we were moving again at 7:41.

Another note - I've obviously flown 2814L quite a bit and on many trips over the years. In doing so I've learned how she burns fuel and have entered those numbers in whatever flight planning software I happen to be using at the moment. In today's case, the plane took 29.2 gal and ForeFlight estimated we'd used 30.1; personally I'm very happy with that kind of accuracy!

Taxiing for departure at UNV just past sunset

Tower cleared us for takeoff and we were in the air again at 7:45 for the short flight to Williamsport. This is where I have to point out that I was quite thankful (and a little bit lucky) for how the FAA classifies nighttime flying and night currency. Officially, for passenger-carrying purposes, it begins one hour after sunset. We were estimated to arrive at IPT at 8:20 and sunset there was at 7:40 tonight. In other words, we'd be there with 20 minutes to spare before I legally couldn't have Gina on board with me.

Level again at 5,500 feet (not something I'd usually do for a 30 minute flight but the headwinds and terrain made it the best choice in my mind) the clock now became my main point of focus. Everything looked to be fine but I'd obviously have to land elsewhere (likely Lock Haven, PA) if winds were stronger than expected and I didn't think we'd make Williamsport in time. I'll happily admit that I cut it a little close - but I had a diversion plan and, despite the terrain in the area, was landing at a towered airport with visual glideslope references. Ultimately, while not officially night current, I was quite comfortable making a legal visual approach in the dwindling twilight.

Turns out everything worked as planned. We touched down right on schedule at 8:20 and were parked at the FBO by 8:25. As I commented to Gina after shutting down, it's obvious why the FAA mandates the one hour post-sunset rule for all takeoffs and landings that count towards night currency - they want it to be really, truly dark out, which of course makes sense when we're talking about night flying!

Straight-in final for Runway 9 at IPT

Despite the rather annoying (but expected and planned) headwinds and a fuel stop, we still made it to our intended destination this evening. The extremely nice guy at the FBO called the Holiday Inn, who sent their van to pick us up. Gina and I then walked the few blocks over to Bullfrog Brewery and indulged in some seriously tasty food and brews before crashing back at the hotel for some much-needed rest before tomorrow's leg to Boston.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 4.3 hours
Total Time: 361.9 hours

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lunch with the in-laws, assisted by ADS-B

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-S24-MGY-40I
Weather - 40I: Few clouds, 88 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 3 knots
Weather - S24: Few clouds, 88 degrees, wind light and variable
Weather - MGY: Scattered clouds and thunderstorms, 78 degrees, wind 150 degrees at 8 knots

My travel schedule hasn't calmed down one bit (I just spent most of the week in South Dakota) but we actually were home this entire weekend - something of a rarity these days. Accordingly, I couldn't just stay in Dayton; we decided to fly north to meet the in-laws for lunch! The weather forecast wasn't perfect and called for some afternoon pop-up thunderstorms in the humid summer air but it looked totally flyable. It would also be the perfect opportunity to test out my new FlightBox ADS-B before embarking on longer cross-country trips.

It was a straight shot there with a few deviations on the way home

I researched restaurants and airports that were a reasonable distance for both us via 172 and the in-laws driving down from the Detroit area. We narrowed it down to a few spots near Port Clinton (PCW) until I got a briefing and discovered there was a TFR for their annual airshow. Preflight planning, folks - it's important! :) So I did a little more searching and found a little spot in Clyde, OH. It's a small town along US-20 that we used to always drive through on our way to my grandparents' when I was a kid, so I thought it would be neat to return by air.

This dude was chilling on the right wing throughout my preflight

We took off from Stewart around 1:45 for the roughly 1:15 flight north. As I leveled off at 5,500 feet it was rather neat to see all the traffic around us in ForeFlight. I also pulled up the NEXRAD radar and used it to keep close tabs on a line of storms moving slowly towards our destination. It appeared we'd arrive in plenty of time but I planned to divert to an airport along the way (likely Seneca County / 16G in Tiffin) if the window started closing.

Sidenote - I spent the better part of the past month playing around with every EFB application that supports Stratux devices. At this point I've tried FlyQ, WingX, Aerovie, FltPlan Go, iFly GPS, and Garmin Pilot. I intentionally avoided ForeFlight at the beginning since I'm not fond of their lack of official open-source support, nor their pricing model, even though it's clearly favored by many pilots. Aerovie has some of the best weather and planning tools I've come across but it's just not quite as polished as ForeFlight - for now, at least. So, in the end, I'll openly admit that I've found ForeFlight to be the most polished, easiest to use EFB in the cockpit - and they've earned my dollars and support.

Traffic in the area after departing from Stewart

Ok, back to today's trip... we descended towards the airport and I called in on the CTAF between 5 and 10 miles out. Another plane was departing and I spotted him both out the window and on the iPad's screen thanks to the ADS-B traffic display. I entered the pattern and landed quite smoothly on Runway 24. The in-laws were waiting by the door to the FBO; we waved, tied down the plane (the aforementioned storms were approaching), and headed in to say hello.

Lunch was at a TripAdvisor / Yelp recommendation - the Blue Collar Bistro. Unfortunately, their air conditioning wasn't working and it was nearly 90 degrees outside so we got the food to go. We took it back to the airport and all enjoyed catching up and stuffing our faces in their convenient kitchen area while the winds picked up and it briefly rained outside. Everything was delicious - salad, wings, sandwiches, brisket, pizza, and their take on a parfait that's a mishmash of mashed potatoes, chicken, cheese, and homemade BBQ sauce. 

I had been keeping a close eye on the weather and decided it was probably best we get going before more cells flared up along the route home. The cell that passed over Clyde was long gone, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees, and we had CAVU blue skies when I began my preflight sometime after 5:00. We departed on Runway 6 and I waved the wings goodbye as we climbed straight out before turning right on course.

I was quite glad to have in-cockpit radar for the return!

Elliot's Landing (O74) - still need to stop in for some grub at the Plaza Inn

Gina has a habit of taking a nap at cruise altitudes :)

While the radar I posted above may look ominous, visibility was great and the cells were easily visible from at least 20-40 miles away. They weren't moving particularly fast and we were able to fly direct Stewart until well inside Dayton's (well, technically, Columbus Approach's) airspace. I was receiving flight following and the controller and I were talking about the severe cell over Stewart for quite a while. Both he and I thought it would be well east by the time we arrived.

Skirting east of a buildup forming north of Dayton

Another favorite local $100 hamburger destination - Urbana Grimes (I74)

Wright Patterson Air Force Base

US Air Force Museum with WPAFB in the background

However, it just sat there... and sat there... and sat there. From the ForeFlight screenshots alone you can see it was essentially in place for at least 45 minutes based on the timestamps and the fact that it was still there when we landed at Wright Brothers. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The controller turned me slightly SW to avoid Dayton's departures and keep me away from the storm. Then he suggested I fly east (even though the cell was moving very slowly east) to come around from the south where it was clear. I didn't like that plan and instead told him I'd continue west where it was already clear; we'd head towards Wright Brothers and land there if necessary.

There was still quite a storm SW of Dayton

We flew west of the storm - there was visible lightning coming out of this cloud

The cell refused to move, so we diverted to MGY

Turning to enter the pattern at Dayton - Wright Brothers (MGY)

The same controller came back a few minutes later and noted (not that this wasn't obvious outside our windows!) that the cell was still over Stewart and asked what I would like to do. I told him that Wright Brothers was in the clear and in sight, so he told us to squawk VFR, I thanked him for the help, and we continued our descent towards MGY.

As we descended I spotted some large lightning bolts on the west edge of the cell - and quickly turned right to put a little more space between us and the electricity. We hit a few bumps as we continued down, quite mild really, but that got me mentally formulating Plan C. I decided to fly further west and level at 2,000 feet (pattern altitude) before turning back east to enter the pattern. The AWOS was indicating 9-11 knot winds and the storm was clearly past the airport, but I decided that I would immediately abort landing and fly to Middletown (MWO) if we encountered any strange gusts, bumps, or shear as I came in to land.

Turns out the AWOS wasn't lying; as I entered on the 45 for Runway 2, turned downwind, and descended on short final, I didn't run into any unanticipated winds - not even the anticipated usual burbles over the trees. We taxied over to ASI and the friendly line staff came out to see if we needed anything. I said we were just waiting out the storm and they said no problem. We went inside to relax in their lounge for a few as I continued to watch the weather.

At least it was a scenic wait on the ground

Conveniently, pilot friends Tommy and Sarah were at Stewart this evening and they texted me weather updates. Shortly after they told me it finally cleared up we climbed back into 14L and I taxied out, this time to Runway 20. In those 30 minutes on the ground, the wind had completely shifted - as it often does when a storm passes by.

Back on the ground at Stewart after the storm finally pushed east

In under 10 minutes, we were on the ground again, landing on Runway 8. I didn't fly a normal pattern but instead entered on a long left base, staying well clear of the weather that still wasn't all that far east of the airport. I should note here that those figures in your POH about landing on wet grass are no joke - it was extremely noticeable how much longer it took the 172 to slow down after we touched down immediately after a heavy rainfall.

This was a great day of knocking much mental rust off. I've finally flown enough this year, with enough recently, that I feel pretty much back to normal in the mechanics of flight department. But having to make weather decisions, diversions, and being able to utilize in-cockpit traffic and weather definitely upped my cranial competency.

Flying to meet the in-laws for a nice lunch is always cool, too!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 3.1 hours
Total Time: 357.6 hours