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


  1. What a gorgeous day to fly, great pics! Looking forward to the next leg and return post.

    1. Yep, WX was perfect! Trying my best to get caught up on the blog (and reading of blogs). When you fly more in four days than you have all year - yes, really - it takes a little while!

  2. I forgot to say Congrats Aunt Gina and Uncle Steve!

  3. Congrats on your newly earned (?) "Uncledom" and on what looks like a great flight. If you had a headwind, at least it does not sound like you were being knocked around by the atmosphere the whole time.

    "...and it was a towered airport. That may seem like an odd choice to some GA pilots..."

    My perspective on this has changed a lot over the years. When I was newly certificated, I used to avoid towered airports in favor of the non-towered sorts of fields where I trained. Over time, I came to realize that the towered fields are usually (1) staffed, (2) have ground transportation available, (3) possess amenities valuable to a travelling family, or (4) better located (if you're going to the city, it helps to land in the city and not way out in the middle of nowhere). For instance, stopping at a Three Rivers-esque field in the middle of a cornfield is rarely a good setup for getting to lodging or dinner. My wife's take on this is that our flying destinations have become "more upscale" than they used to be (she STILL brings up the dead frog in the women's restroom at Perry-Foley in 2005). Of course, some of those towered fields are ridiculously expensive and I still try to avoid those (sometimes they make sense anyway). Since I've been instrument rated and regularly choosing to file for cross country trips, our destinations have skewed even more toward towered fields because towers simplify receipt of IFR clearances and cancellations. In fact, one of the best quick-turn fuel stops I've ever had was at Hagerstown, MD: friendly tower, not too busy, easy in and easy out.

    1. Thanks!

      And I'd have to agree with you. While our own traveling-by-plane quota is rather threadbare compared to yours, all those points are very much valid. I still enjoy small airports (and our fuel stop on the way home fit that bill) but there's something to be said for a quick turn at a staffed facility when your primary goal is to get somewhere quick.

      Beyond that, places like MDW and TEB aside, I've come to realize the FBOs at many "bigish city" airports really aren't all that pricey in the grand scheme of things. I still occasionally feel weird rolling up in a clearly-a-trainer rental 172 but the service is rarely anything but great.