I had a couple of fun flights this long Thanksgiving weekend while poor Michiko is in the midst of her holiday card-making crunch time. This time of year, she works furiously to wrap up these amazing artistic creations of hers—I will post pictures after the holidays—don’t want to ruin the surprise for folks.
On a chilly but sunny Saturday morning, one of my friends from work, Abby, drove up to Bridgeport from the city. I had gotten a little bit of a head start after my early Pilates class and already had the plane pre-heated before she arrived so that we could minimize time in the cold. As it was her first time flying in a small plane though, we did an abbreviated pre-flight walk-around so that I could show her different parts of the airplane and what they did and she asked good questions.
After a quick safety briefing, she read off the checklist items for me for the engine start. While we were waiting for the engine and oil to warm up a bit, I pointed out the different instruments and what they did, and also programmed the GPS for our short hop over to East Hampton, NY (KHTO) to pick up our other passenger for the day, Sam, who had been visiting with his parents on Long Island for the holiday.
After checking the ATIS, which showed the wind at 220 and 10kts, but the active runway as Runway 29 (70-degree crosswind), I called up Ground for taxi instructions and that we were VFR to the southeast. The controller cheerfully volunteered Runway 24 for takeoff, which was perfect. With all of the recent construction work on Runway 24, I hadn’t expected to be able to use it!
Out at the runway, Abby ran through the run-up/pre-takeoff checklist and I talked through some of what I was doing on each of the checks. Within a couple of minutes, we were ready to go and the tower cleared us for takeoff. With the little bit of headwind, we quickly had a gentle liftoff and climbed quickly out of the airport area and on our heading towards eastern Long Island.
Even though it was going to be a short hop, we were going over Long Island Sound the longish way, so I wanted to get some altitude under us, and we climbed up to 5,500 feet before levelling off. Additionally, there were some clouds at 4,000 feet over the middle of the sound, so 3,500 feet wouldn’t have worked anyway. Once leveled off, I ran through the cruise checklist and then was able to point out some reference landmarks to Abby.
After we passed over the group of clouds, it was already time to start descending. Picking out the East Hampton airport was tough at first—there was a large group of farm fields straddling Montauk Highway that looked like a possible airport—but then I picked out the main runway (28/10) and we made our position reports as we flew south of the airport to join the downwind for Runway 28. Touching down, we followed another Cessna Skylane in from the runway to the ramp where Sam was already waiting for us.
In a few minutes, we were taxiing back out to the runway and back into the air, headed north over Long Island Sound towards Minute Man (6B6) in MA. Once we got up to 5,500 feet again and mostly trimmed out, I asked Abby if she was ready and gave her the controls. I had her do a very gentle little climb and then descent and then had her make little rolls to the left and right, just to let her get a feel for the controls a bit. From then on, she did a great job holding straight and level. I think she even skipped right over the white knuckle/Vulcan death grip most people do—within just a few minutes, I caught her flying just using her fingertips like a pro. You can see from our pretty flight track how well she flew.
I pointed out General Dynamics’ Electric Boat yard where US Navy submarines are built, and we were able to easily spot the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casino complexes. Visibility was pretty good and we were able to clearly see Providence’s skyline as well as make out Boston’s skyline fairly early on. And we were able to watch as we went from no snow on the ground in Long Island/southern CT/southern RI to increasing amounts of snow pack as we flew north.
As we approached Worcester, I pulled out a little power and Abby got us into a gentle descent. Making my first position call to Minute Man from 10 miles to the south, I should have picked up something wasn’t quite right when Don didn’t immediately give a warm greeting on the radio. As we neared pattern altitude, I took the controls back from Abby and entered the downwind for Runway 21, making our position reports and turns. The landing was a smooth one and still there was no cheery greeting from Don.
As we taxied in, my fears were confirmed. The restaurant looked empty and the parking lot was definitely empty. We taxied up to the gas pumps and shut down and a guy came out with the fueling clipboard. He confirmed it—Don and Nancy were off on vacation for a week. Sigh. We topped off the fuel tanks anyway (not going to waste the opportunity for cheap gas $1 less than I pay in Bridgeport!), with Abby calling out the gallons and Sam helping with the hose while I was on the ladder. Then we figured out our next steps.
While the linesman suggested Fitchburg, a short hop west, Sam raised the idea of Nashua, where he and I had gone the first time I took him up a year ago. Looking at the charts, it was only an 8 min flight to NH, so while I went through the startup checklist, Sam called the restaurant to be safe. A smooth takeoff and then a short flight at 1,500 feet and we were soon in contact with Nashua tower and given a left base to Runway 32. We ended up a little high on final, but full flaps and reduced power took care of that quickly and we made a pretty smooth landing on the long runway and were quickly parked next to a recently arrived Bonanza and a couple other Cessnas.
At the Midfield Café, Abby and Sam had lunch while I did breakfast—all good stuff—salads, chili, sandwiches and my enormous two very berry pancakes that even I could only finish half of! As usual, the normal mix of pilots and local folks were enjoying meals. Overhearing some of the conversations (seriously, we couldn’t have NOT heard some of them) was hysterical.
After lunch, it was back to Bridgeport with Sam as autopilot this time. We taxied out and pulled off to the side to do our runup. Another Cessna decided not to pull over and instead cut us off for being next in line for takeoff—even pilots can be inconsiderate sometimes. Sure enough, the tower let him take off first and warned us that he was heading south as we were as they cleared us to follow.
We quickly climbed faster than he was and then passed over an inbound Robinson helicopter that the tower warned us about. Sam climbed us up to 4,500 feet and we leveled off. There was some overcast creeping in from the south and west, but it was up at least 10,000 feet. It did make for some pretty sunbeam rays shooting down in various spots.
While we didn’t get flight-following, we did tune in to monitor Bradley Approach. As we neared Ellington Airport in northern central CT, we heard the call that parachute jumpers were active around the airport, and I had Sam jog us a bit east of the airport so that we’d stay out of the area and not ruin some skydiver’s day (or our own).
Nearing Meriden, I picked up the ATIS for Bridgeport and figured we would head out over Long Island Sound and get a long straight-in approach to Runway 29. Sam kept the controls and descended until we were almost at pattern altitude on a long final approach. I took over and did a couple repetitions of the GUMPS check. We still had a bit of a crosswind, so I didn’t use full flaps and we did a little skip on the landing. Sigh—so much for impressing my colleagues!
But everyone had grins after a fun time flying and putting the cover wrap on the airplane was a breeze with three people! I always get a kick out of taking people up, especially when it’s a new experience for them!
On Sunday, I got to fly in the morning again, with a quick trip to Block Island with Philippe, his first visit there. The winds were a bit stiffer, and still a crosswind, both at Bridgeport and (as normal) out at Block. The nice thing was that since we got such an early start, and with the good breeze, we had the sky mostly to ourselves, at least on the way out to Block.
As we climbed out of Bridgeport, I gave Philippe the controls and had him continue the climb to 3,500. Visibility definitely wasn’t the crystal clear we enjoyed on Saturday, so Philippe had a much harder time with defining his visual horizon and landmarks—certainly no fault of his! We followed the coastline with a great tailwind behind us, hitting a groundspeed of 170 knots at one point. The whole flight out to Block was only about 30 minutes. With the crosswind, I again only used 20-degrees of flaps on final and plunked the airplane down a bit. Philippe said after the landing that he was surprised at how much the airplane was crabbing into the wind, while I maintained a straight track to the runway, so we talked about crosswind technique over breakfast at Bethany’s.
Taking off from Block was smoother, but the airplane still yawed into the wind a bit as soon as the wheels were off the ground. I brought us up to 3,500 feet to get some altitude over the water before handing the controls back to Philippe for the last 1,000 foot climb to 4,500 feet. Of course, now we had a rough headwind as we flew west back to Bridgeport, making only about 115-120 kts groundspeed. Eventually, I gave up and around Clinton, I had Philippe bring us down to 2700 feet where we picked up almost 10 extra knots and were cruising at about 128 kts.
Making the radio calls in to Bridgeport, we were given a straight in approach to Runway 29 and asked to report 5 mile final. There was more traffic up with us now and a few folks in the pattern or arriving at Bridgeport, so we kept our eyes peeled. A couple of folks asked to land on Runway 24 (less crosswind) but the tower deferred as there were too many folks already in the pattern or on IFR approaches to 29.
On the Stratus and the Garmin’s traffic displays, I could spot another plane paralleling us, having come from Long Island. Eventually I could see the Warrior about a mile off our left wingtip and about half a mile behind. I made my radio call at 5 miles and then Tower called the Warrior off my wingtip and asked his distance—he had the gall to say he was 3.5 mile final! Without radar, the Tower had to take his word for it and told me I was #2 behind the Warrior. I told Tower I was going to have to do a right 360 then over Charles Island.
As I came around the turn, I set up for final while the Tower worked other traffic. On short final, I confirmed with Tower that I was cleared to land, since I didn’t recall him giving me the magic clearance. They confirmed I was cleared and touchdown wasn’t too bad, although not too pretty either. Good excuse to go up and practice some more crosswind landings next time!