And then there are the other days… Just like cars, airplanes break down. On the great days, it happens on the ground; on the horrible days, it happens in the air. Luckily I had a great day, albeit a frustrating one.
I arranged my flight review (a biennial requirement with an instructor, comprising approximately 1 hour of ground instruction and approximately 1 hour of flight review) with Dan, picking him up in Linden, NJ. The weather over the area was fairly crappy on that Saturday morning with lots of showers and low clouds and overcast throughout the region. Luckily, I had planned to file an instrument flight plan to get through the busy NYC Class B airspace anyway.
I picked up my IFR clearance from Bridgeport tower, with a routing that took a 20 minute flight and turned it into 55 minutes. Instead of going anything like direct (over the top of NYC), the route took me northeast, then west, then curving around the NJ side of NYC and finally to Linden. After plugging the new route into the GPS and my ipad, I taxied out to Runway 6, back-taxied a little bit to the end of the runway and was soon cleared for takeoff.
While still flying the runway heading, I went into the clouds at about 1,100 feet. After a brief leveling off at 2,000 feet, ATC cleared me up to 3,000 feet and then turned me 30 degrees left to 030 degrees (still heading northeast, away from where I wanted to go). Then they cleared me up to 6,000 feet and had me turn left to fly almost due west. I was between cloud layers and popping in and out of rain showers as I worked my way westwards.
Approaching Westchester Airport (somewhere on my left below the clouds), the controller had me step down to 4,000 feet. Once across the Hudson River and into New Jersey, the controller turned me more southwest and stepped me down to 3,000 feet. Eventually he had me come down to 2,000 feet. The controller kept asking me whether I thought I would be able to make a visual approach into Linden, but I kept explaining to him I was in the middle of clouds, so he said they’d work it out (I assume either planning on an instrument approach into Linden or somehow changing the weather for me?!) Happily, I came out of the clouds about 10 miles from Linden and was able to pick out the oil tanks surrounding the airport.
I cancelled my IFR flight plan in the air with the controller but then had to dive below 1500’ to get below his Class B airspace. From then, it was almost a straight in approach and landing to runway 9 at Linden, with one helicopter waiting to depart, with a smooth touchdown and rollout.
Meeting up with Dan, we went through the ground portion of the flight review, going over some regulation changes and other hot topics the FAA is emphasizing. Additionally, we reviewed some of the other normal items like cloud clearance in various airspaces, flight planning, what types of flying I can and can’t do as a private pilot (without a commercial rating) and notices to airman. Then we went out to the airplane and I did a quick preflight. With everything looking good, we got out of the rain and into the airplane.
Running through the checklist, I briefed the flight, checked the fuel selector, circuit breakers and turned on the master switch (controls battery) and the fuel pump. Having flown an hour, I didn’t need to prime the engine, so I called out “Clear prop!” and turned the key. The starter motor just spun and whined, whereas it’s supposed to move gear teeth into position against the gear teeth of the propeller ring, spinning the prop until the engine fires. However, the spinning/whining sound indicated that the gear mechanism wasn’t connecting with the prop. After getting my mechanic on the phone, we spent about an hour trying a bunch of fixes, including taking the top engine cowl (cover) panel off to get at the starter, but couldn’t get anything to work.
Instead, we grabbed lunch nearby and planned our options. I know a few friends have had some issues with a mechanic at Linden, so we ruled out getting a local mechanic to fix the airplane. Dan’s mechanic drives past Linden on his way to Old Bridge and could stop in to make the repairs. In speaking with my mechanic, we had the option of them flying down to do the repair. Either way, I was not flying home that day and, while Dan graciously offered me his car, I did the NJ Transit train to Penn Station, packed subways to Grand Central and then the Metro North train to Bridgeport to get a cab back to the airport for my car. It was a humbling experience—I sent Dan a quick text that with all the packed people, I very much prefer being able to look down on all these people! ;)
Unbeknownst to me, my CloudAhoy app tracked my "flight"--eg train, subway, train rides--since I still had the Stratus device activated in my bag. I noticed somewhere passed Stamford!
In the middle of an already frenetic work week which included a 22-hour trip to Washington DC and back, I arranged for the Three Wing folks to get the new starter and fly (ultimately they drove) down to Linden to make the repair. (Much thanks to Andy and Tony for yeoman’s patience of hazarding NYC traffic on an IFR Thursday to make the repair.)
Still needing to finish my BFR, and get Gwaihir home, I had had to do a little planning ahead. On Thursday, I drove out to Bridgeport airport to drop my car there and, for the first time ever, did an Uber ride to the Bridgeport train station for the ride in to work and the trip to DC (DC wasn’t all that bad—along with traveling with a long-time mentor, it was a great gala dinner for a great cause, Freedom House, and Richard Gere, one of the honorees, sat right behind me for dinner).
On Friday afternoon, after returning to NYC and a client luncheon, I walked over to Penn Station for a NJ Transit train (again delayed) down to Linden. With no cabs available, I quickly got an Uber to the Linden Airport and, after a very thorough preflight, fired up Gwaihir with no problem at all!
I made the 15 minute hop from Linden to Old Bridge where Dan was waiting for me with Ivan who had spent the day washing and detailing Dan’s plane (it really sparkled beautifully!). Ivan joined us in the back seat for a ride while we did the first part of the flight review, including a simulated engine out scenario, and then, as we came back to Old Bridge to drop Ivan off, Dan pulled the circuit breaker on my landing gear, so when I went to drop the gear, I got only silence and no green gear light. I worked the problem and called out the popped breaker (instead of having to hand pump the gear down), so Dan let me reset the breaker and land. We shut down to drop off Ivan and then restarted and took off again to do some maneuvering flight. We did a power off stall (so very gentle in Gwaihir—I think we lost less than 50 feet), some slow speed turns on the edge of a stall, steep turns, emergency procedures and a couple of landings.
Dan signed off my logbook and I dropped him off. Following his suggestion, I headed towards the Colts Neck VOR while climbing to 7,500 feet and then turned direct for Bridgeport, straight over the top of JFK, outside their airspace. It was a spectacular late afternoon view of the city, the airport, traffic landing and taking off underneath me. As soon as I cleared the Class B airspace, I had to throttle back and start dropping like a stone to lose all the altitude before getting to Bridgeport. I actually had to do a couple of S-turns to allow myself extra time to reach pattern altitude. Within a couple of minutes, I was landing back home!