Wednesday, April 8
Our original plan, of visiting Boston for a few nights and having Nell and Rudy leave from there, was de-railed since visiting Nell’s dad was one of the main reasons to head north and we got to see him in New York. We looked at the schedule for the remainder of Rudy’s spring break and decided that it would be most fun if we all flew back together. (This meant giving up the adventure of Dexter and me flying back with Alex, which was a little disappointing.)
Alex drove us out to the plane after a nice breakfast at City Bakery. (Our own City Bakery closed before we could make it home. That was sad.) There were a lot of clouds in the sky still and we even drove through some flurries on the way out to Morristown. I had my iPhone out and kept checking the weather radar and the METARs to make sure that we weren’t launching into a blizzard. The iPhone (Foreflight) swore that we weren’t. The weather was bad enough that my mom called as we were rolling along and said that there was freezing rain in the city and was I sure it was okay to fly.
[Part of our Spring Break 2009 Trip.]
The plane was topped off with fuel and nicely parked out of the wind. I did a thorough pre-flight inspection, since we had been away for a few days, packed up very carefully to make sure I had the charts I needed at hand, and Alex took a picture of us by the plane. It didn’t come out. He took one of just me by the plane and apparently that fared a little better. After hugs goodbye all around, we climbed in and sealed ourselves against the cold air of New Jersey. I had selected Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County as our first stop. There were all sorts of interesting alternatives, including stopping at the airport closest to Falling Water and going to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous house. In the end we decided that we wanted to make some time going west.
The climb out of Morristown was a little bumpy. There were snow showers approaching from the west so we headed southwest at first. I was concerned as I looked ahead that the terrain was climbing and the ceiling was dropping. That’s a good start for the recipe for CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain). We fly with enough electronics to make that sort of mistake very difficult to do, but I believe in eliminating any risk I can identify. So I asked the controller for a climb and said that I might need to circle to get up through a hole I had found in the clouds overhead. I love the New York air traffic controllers because they are incredibly (famously) gruff, but because they work some of the busiest airspace in the world they are incredibly skilled. I am a little tiny plane popping up on his radar, out of a tiny airport next to Newark’s busy approach and departure corridors.
N971RD: New York Departures, N971RD would like flight following to Alpha-Golf-Charlie. We’re level at two thousand five hundred.
ATC: I’d like a lot of things. … Standby.
ATC: One Romeo Delta, squawk 4721 and ident.
They don’t have to provide a VFR flight with traffic advisories. It’s totally up to them if they have the time. In the New York area, especially if there is any weather to speak of at all, I am surprised a small plane ever gets that sort of service.
We climbed up through our hole, which required a few circuits to get to a decent altitude, and then turned on course at eight thousand five hundred feet. Soon we had to climb another two thousand feet to stay clear of the clouds. We were watching the weather radar carefully, and I could see that there was precipitation below us (or a lot of moisture in the clouds below us). I knew that I would feel a lot better when we were past the remainder of the heavy returns on the radar, but that wouldn’t happen until we departed Pittsburgh, or just before we arrived there.
About an hour of PIttsburgh we started our descent. We slipped through some spaces between the clouds into the magical space beneath the cloud cover. The terrain was rumpled like a blanket on an unmade bed, with the shallow valleys all running north to south, the marks of receding glaciers from, oh, a little while back. The landscape was washed with shafts of sunlight sneaking between the clouds. Winds at KAGC were sustained above twenty knots but they were right down the runway. We landed smoothly and taxied in. The FBO was very friendly and gave us a crew car with a recommendation for lunch. As soon as they boys had gotten enough of their energy out to allow them to go from sitting in the airplane to sitting in a car, we headed out.
Lunch was unremarkable, but since this was the stop where I had McDonalds on my solo flight home it seemed like a huge step up to get a hot meatball sandwich. The boys played a little pool and shared a root beer float. In an hour and a half we were back in the plane headed for Indianapolis. So we flew right over Ohio, but maybe we’ll stop there on the way back this summer.
KIND is a huge airport. Another Class Charlie airport for me, although it sure felt big enough to be a Class Bravo. Signature, the FBO, was brisk and efficient, if not exactly warm and welcoming. We were on the ground for our minimum forty-five minute fuel-and-stretch and then we were back in the sky headed for Missouri. Nell left a message for her cousin who lives in St. Louis, hoping that we might be able to have dinner with him, but he was out of town for spring break himself.
We approached St. Louis paralleling the Mississippi and probably flying abeam of the arch. It was dusk, so we couldn’t see it. By the time we were lined up to land it was full-on dark and I was glad to have the ILS approach tuned in the navigation radios. That gave me a glide slope to follow so that I didn’t descend too early for the landing in the dark. (More CFIT accidents happen on approach with the runway in sight than you might think was possible.) It was a gorgeous landing, just the hiss of the tires turning on the runway and then we were off at the first possible exit and taxiing to the FBO.
Nell dealt with getting a hotel and I helped the line crew tie down the plane and bring in the bags. We had flown over seven hundred nautical miles. I was ready to sleep a little. For the first time on our entire trip we had room service deliver the dinner.