Not a lot of “exciting” flying lately (which is actually a good thing), just nice opportunities for some solo flights to bask in the sheer enjoyment of being up flying, including a little bit of night flying. Additionally, I’ve been able to fly with a couple of friends during March and work on some practice instrument approaches, including learning a “new-to-me” trick with the autopilot and flying GPS approaches.
On a few of our winter (but more nearly-spring-like) weekend afternoons, I’ve been able to get out for an hour or so and just wander around CT, either up to the northwest hills or along the shoreline, just savoring the fun of being able to fly and enjoying the view. I didn’t have much in the way of tasks to accomplish (though we’re still fine-tuning the fuel flow on the new engine monitor), so it was just some nice goof-off time for fresh air and smooth rides.
A couple of weeks ago, I flew with Len in his Cessna 177 Cardinal RG (retractable gear), which I hadn’t flown in over a year. It was good practice to get in a different plane than Gwaihir and do some flying. We headed out from Bridgeport to our regular instrument approach practice area at Chester Airport and I shot the GPS 17 approach first, heading south and then, over the airport, went into the missed approach and then procedure turn to get turned northbound onto the GPS 35 approach. Both came off pretty smoothly, proving to myself that my hand-flying skills were still decent (enough). IMAGE
On the missed approach from the GPS 35, now north of Chester, we continued north towards Minuteman (6B6) in Stow, MA, with a pretty good headwind and significant amount of bouncing around all the way up to Worcester. I had my belt tightened pretty well to avoid cracking my head on the ceiling. Len shot the GPS 21 approach at Minuteman and then handed the controls over to me as we joined the downwind leg to land on Runway 3 and taxi in for very cheap fuel and breakfast. (Side note: Philippe was supposed to have done his long solo cross country this morning, including stops in Worcester—luckily, due to the winds, his instructor had postponed the flight—it would not have been a fun one for a solo student pilot!)
Nancy’s Airfield Café didn’t disappoint as usual and then we were on our way back to Bridgeport, now with a little bit of smoother air and a very respectable tailwind. (Len joked that the tailwind was making the Cardinal show groundspeed numbers more akin to Gwaihir’s speed!) As we got handed off by Bradley Approach back to NY Approach, we requested to do one more practice approach, the GPS 29 at Bridgeport, but the controller came back to tell us that Bridgeport tower had said no, since they had just switched to Runway 11 (opposite direction of 29). He apologized profusely, which was nice—NY controllers sometimes get a bad (and mostly undeserved) rap for being brusque and unhelpful because of how busy they typically are. We found Bridgeport to be fairly quiet, so I’m certain the tower could have made a practice approach work, but them’s the breaks.
The following weekend, I planned to go up with Milton. He was going to borrow a friend’s Piper Archer and hop over to Bridgeport from Farmingdale—then we would do a couple of approaches in his airplane and then switch to Gwaihir for a couple more approaches in my plane. (That way each of us would get to practice in the plane they would most likely fly in actual instrument conditions.) Our plan for the approaches in my plane was to try a “new-to-me” trick to fly a coupled approach (GPS and autopilot working together) WITH glideslope/altitude assistance from the autopilot.
However, as I finished up Pilates, I got a text from Milton that his friend’s plane had a pretty serious fuel leak so he was grounded. Instead, I hopped over to Farmingdale to pick him up. Farmingdale is a very busy Class D (towered) airport nestled between all the Class B airspace of LaGuardia and JFK on the west and the Class C (towered and wider control area) of Islip on the east. Coming southwest from Bridgeport is pretty easy though, as I called in from the Northport smoke stacks (a very visible landmark) and was immediately instructed to report entering a right downwind for Runway 1.
Taxiing over to Atlantic Aviation, Milton was waiting with one of the line crew and hopped in. He said the line crewman had commented on my wing-wag lights they were able to see all through the landing pattern. Back out at the hold short line, we were soon cleared for takeoff and headed out towards Chester, planning to do some approach work there and then head to Block Island for breakfast.
With me on instruments on the flight out to Chester, we caught up with each other a bit and I got the GPS set up for the GPS 35 approach. I also turned on the autopilot and selected the GPSS roll steering mode. Since we were approaching from the southwest, essentially along Victor 16, we did not have to do the full procedure turn at FLIBB, and instead could turn directly left to 348 degrees towards the final approach fix AKIJE (where we would make a slight right turn to 354 degrees for the final approach course).
As we passed over FLIBB, I turned the GPSS back to heading mode and selected the Approach mode on the autopilot. This armed the glideslope capture feature on the autopilot. A mile south of AKIJE, I powered back the throttle and lowered the landing gear to get the plane set for landing. As the glideslope indicator moved closer to the center of the HSI and we crossed AKIJE at 2,000 feet, the autopilot captured the glideslope and the airplane started to descend automatically. We flew right down the glideslope to decision height of 820 feet and then broke it off to make a low approach over the airport and then headed north to MOMDE intersection to do the full procedure turn to get back onto the GPS 17 approach.
We shot this one the same way, fully coupled between the GPS and the autopilot, including with the glideslope and got another flawless approach. However, this time, as we came south, a twin Cessna, not listening to our radio calls, took off on Runway 35, so we broke off our approach almost at the decision height and moved to the right to head south along the downwind side of Runway 35. Further proving the Cessna was not bothering to listen, he turned left towards us and crossed only a few hundred feet directly below us.
I gave the controls over to Milton and he shot both the GPS 35 and the GPS 17 coupled approaches, both with full procedure turns and both came off smoothly. Then we were off to Block Island for breakfast. Unfortunately we were a little late and just missed the cutoff from breakfast to lunch.
As we were eating, a US Marine Corps AH-1 SuperCobra attack helicopter made a very loud, low and slow taxiing pass along the runway and parked on the western ramp area. Shortly after, the USMC Cobra pilot and gunner came into the dinner for lunch.
After lunch, I did a quick pre-flight walkaround and then we were taxiing out to Runway 28 for a straight out departure towards the south shore of Long Island. Milton flew us along the shoreline, with the waters of the Atlantic Ocean on our left, grey looking under high overcast and nearly turquoise blue waters of Long Island Sound, still bathed in sunshine, over to our right. Milton commented that the water was so beautiful it almost looked like the Caribbean!
As we approached Republic/Farmingdale, we could hear they were busy and a lot of other traffic was along the shoreline ahead of us, circling in all different directions. Milton called in from the Captree Bridge near Fire Island but we couldn’t get a response, so had to stay outside the airports Class D airspace. For nearly 26 minutes, we meandered around along the shoreline, dodging other airplanes who are all also waiting to get in contact with Republic Tower for permission to land. The frustration was very evident in the tower controller’s voice as he told people to stay outside the airspace and to wait until they were called back. Finally, after more than a couple nudges, we were told to ident (showing as a big target on their radar momentarily) and then cleared straight in to land on Runway 32.
Milton did a nice job on the landing and I quickly dropped him off at the FBO, before rejoining the slow conga line waiting to depart. After about 20 minutes, my turn came at the front of the line and I was cleared for a “standard departure” on Runway 32. (Since that’s not standard controller instructions, I don’t know what he meant, though I’m assuming it has to do with noise abatement procedures for the airport.)
On Saturday, I got to catch up with Dan finally after a few months. He needed to move his airplane from Linden NJ (KLDJ) back to Old Bridge (3N6) and needed a ride back to his car (parked at Linden). With low hanging clouds at Bridgeport, I filed for an IFR clearance over to Long Island, across the top of JFK and then in to 3N6 in northern NJ. Without too much delay on the ground, I took off on Runway 29 and was switched over to NY Approach. They had me make a turn to the south and instructed me to climb to 4,000 feet. At 3,000 feet I entered the clouds and at 4,000 feet I leveled off, right near the tops of the clouds. I could ALMOST make out the sunny skies waiting above. Soon, NY Approach instructed me to climb to 6,000 feet and I was out of the clouds and on top of the overcast. As I was routed towards JFK, the clouds just melted away and ended, leaving JFK fully clear with great visibility. I snapped some pictures of the NYC skyline and JFK as I passed by.
Over the top of JFK, various jets passed by as they climbed to their assigned altitudes, including a couple underneath me and out in front of me. Once I was clear of JFK’s airspace, the controller started me down to 3,000 feet. Then I think she sort of forgot about me. When I called that I had Old Bridge Airport in sight, she sounded startled and immediately handed me off to McGuire Approach. McGuire cleared me to 2,000 feet and then I was able to cancel IFR with him. I overflew the airport and joined the downwind for Runway 6, making a decent landing and then taxiing in to pick up Dan.
We then taxied out behind a student pilot doing his solo landings, his watchful instructor on the edge of the taxiway with a handheld radio. Once the student lifted off, Dan had me do a soft field takeoff, which I definitely showed some rust on. The concept is easy—you keep the nose light by pulling back on the yoke, and you keep moving (as you would on a grass strip) so as not to get bogged down. As soon as you get flying speed, you pull up and then immediately level off until you build up some additional speed and then you climb out. Climbing out we followed the student around the pattern to depart to the south, headed for Flying W Airport (N14) in Lumberton, NJ about 20 miles east of Philadelphia (and not to be confused with South Jersey Regional Airport (KVAY), only 2 miles northwest!
The Flying W is an interesting place—I’ll definitely have to go back to explore a bit more. Originally built in the 1960s, the history of it is in the Pilot Getaways article linked via AOPA here: https://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2015/July/06/Pilot-Getaways-Flying-W-New-Jersey
They’ve got a 28-room motel on the premises, as well was the Patti Wagon Café overlooking the runway and an adjacent golf course. Dan said they’ve got a great little playground as well and that he’s brought Aidan down a few times. They’ve also got a unique airplane shaped pool!
Since it was technically a “second breakfast” for me, I was good and had oatmeal with berries and brown sugar and whole wheat toast as my brunch/lunch (sigh). Dan had delicious looking pancakes—I’ll have to try those next time! Dan and I got to catch up a bit over a leisurely breakfast, which was great!
Then we were off again—heading north back to Linden this time to drop Dan off. We shot the GPS-A instrument approach at Linden. A GPS-A or VOR-A approach, unlike most instrument approaches that line you up with the runway straight ahead, sets you up for a circling approach only as the final approach course is not aligned with the runway. For the Linden GPS-A, the approach starts at WARRD intersection and goes straight with a descent down to 620 feet at BAUTZ (the missed approach point). At BAUTZ, you’re situated such that Runway 9 is at your 2 o’clock, 2 miles miles away. (The approach requires visibility of at least 2.5 miles). So at BAUTZ, seeing the runway, I just made a slight turn and continued a descent to the runway with a nice enough landing.
After dropping Dan off, I quickly plugged in GPS points to get me across Staten Island and around JFK, then north up the gap between Republic/Farmingdale and Islip Airports and back to Bridgeport. Taking off on Runway 9 again, I scooted low (below 800’) while still in Newark’s airspace across to Staten Island where I could climb to to 1200’ for a while before turning east towards Rockaway Beach south of JFK. By Rockaway Beach, I had to descend to 450’, skimming the water just off the beach. I contacted JFK tower and was given a squawk code. They called out a Piper Warrior going in the opposite direction but he was in closer to the beach.
Once past JFK and at Jones Beach, I was able to climb back up to 2,500’ which made me feel much better. Then it was just a quick trip north across Long Island and the Sound and a descent into Bridgeport. Bridgeport tower did a nice job of threading me into the mix with an Archer on a right downwind and me, faster, on a left base and another plane on short final. The tower had me slow up, had the first guy land and then I came in behind him and was off the runway in time for the Archer to touch down. Of course, my landing at Bridgeport was a greaser, but with no one to witness it.