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  • October 30, 2018 8:44 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I've finally made it back, and it's nice to be home after more than three weeks away.

    When I got up this morning, the weather was VFR in Dayton and MVFR in Ithaca (forecast to clear to VFR by the time I got there). There were large patches of IFR and LIFR reported in eastern Ohio along my route, but the forecast was for them to clear up by 11AM.

    As forecast, the overcast at Dayton broke up to the east, and within ten minutes of takeoff I was flying along at 5,500 feet under cloudless skies and smooth air.

    Someone was burning something in Chesterville, Ohio/

    Two Rorschach Ponds for the last day of my trip...

    All roads meet in Hartville, Ohio.

    Lake Milton, Ohio.

    The bridge and dam on the Mahoning River in Girard, Ohio.

    There was a broken undercast at around 200 feet above ground level for a stretch of about 75 miles from Franklin, Ohio, to Bradford, Pennsylvania. The undercast was never complete, but as I approached the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, it broke up into these parallel waves of clouds. It was like looking down on the earth through a picket fence.

    The undercast ended shortly before I reached Bradford, Pennsylvania.

    The Canisteo River near Cameron, NY.

    After three and a half hours in the air, my destination is finally in sight - that's KITH, Ithaca Airport, just past the lake.

    The view up Cayuga Lake was spectacular, and a great "welcome home" for 493 and me.

    Home at last.

  • October 29, 2018 8:35 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Greetings from Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers!

    The weather was good enough this morning to leave Oshkosh and head south, but worse weather began just east of Dayton. The 24- and 36-hour projections looked better back home in Ithaca, so I decided to break up the trip home and stay here in Dayton for the night.

    Leaving Oshkosh, there was a thin scattered cloud deck at around 2,000 feet. I climbed above it and flew most of the day's three-hour flight at about 3,300 feet under sunny skies above the layer. As I neared Dayton, though, the layer rose to about 4,000 feet, so I got under it and finished the trip under cloudy skies.

    Today's Rorschach Pond - I see a dragon.

    The huge particle accelerators at Fermi Lab.

    The twisty roads here were puzzling. I looked up the location in Google Earth tonight, and it turns out to be the Burlington WI home of MGA Research. Apparently, this was originally the proving grounds for American Motors (remember them?). MGA was founded by people from Cornell Research Laboratories (later Calspan), and does testing work for auto manufacturers.

    A housing development that never was, in Frankfort, IL.

    Fountain in Aurora, Illinois.

    The Wabash River near Peru, Indiana.

    A flooded quarry near Converse, Indiana.

    I was cleared to enter a right downwind and land on Runway 24 Right at KDAY from twenty miles out. Here, turning base to final on 24R.

    N46493 parked at Wright Brothers FBO. The brothers themselves were not at work today, sadly, but Enterprise had a rental car waiting for me. The Air Force Museum had added another exhibit hall since my last visit, bringing them up to over a million square feet under cover, which definitely merited a visit.

    I started out in the WWII hangar. This is the original "Memphis Belle" B-17F bomber, which went on display at the museum in May. This bomber was one of the first to survive 25 combat missions, after which it was rotated back to the States for a bond-drive tour. The producer William Wyler flew with the crew for two missions, including the 25th, and his footage taken on the missions became the documentary "Memphis Belle".

    A poignant collection - the Doolittle Raiders cups in the Air Force Museum. These cups were presented to the surviving Doolittle Raiders in the 1970's. Each one is engraved with a name of one of the 80 men who flew with Doolittle in the 1942 raid on Tokyo. The cups were engraved on both sides in opposite orientations, so that the names could be read right-side-up or upside-down. Each year the remaining Raiders would get together and toast the lost, and as the Raiders passed away, their cups were inverted. Today, only one remains - Dick Cole, Doolittle's copilot, who made the case in which the cups are stored. I was privileged to meet him and hear him speak about the raid at Sun'n Fun earlier this year. At more than a century old, he's still sharp and funny.

    The huge B-36 Peacemaker bomber seems almost lost in the even huger Cold War hangar at the Air Force Museum. It really stands out in the brighter lighting they've installed since I was last there. On my first visit in about 1975, there was only one hangar at the Museum, and the B-36 barely fit inside.

    The newly restored XB-70 Valkyrie supersonic bomber, one of only two made (the other crashed in a midair collision with one of the chase planes during a test).

    It looks like the weather should be good enough to make it home (finally) tomorrow. If everything goes well, I should be back by mid-afternoon.

  • October 27, 2018 6:44 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    The Chapter Leaders Academy ended yesterday, but I decided there was no point in leaving. At most, I'd have been able to get a couple of hours southward before the weather turned IFR. Today wasn't any better, and tomorrow's supposed to be poor weather here and in Ithaca. Discretion being the better part of valor, I've moved into the Hilton Garden Inn at Oskhosh AIrport until Monday morning (and 493 is remaining in one of the EAA's hangars).

    Since I'm in Oshkosh on a Saturday, I took the opportunity to check off a bucket list item - I helped out in the restoration of a warbird. The EAA is restoring its B-25 "Berlin Express" at the Kermit Weeks Hangar, and on Saturdays any EAA member can volunteer. What better way was there to spend my Saturday in Oshkosh?

    I helped replace the o-rings in the Auxiliary Landing Gear Door Up Latch Timing Valve. As I fitted the o-rings and reassembled the valve, Gracie Field's WWII song kept running through my head - "I'm the girl that makes the thing that holds the oil that oils the ring that takes the shank that moves the crank that moves the thing-ummy-bob"...

    My valve, assembled and soon to be tested under 1,500 psi of hydraulic pressure. It didn't leak at all... "it's a ticklish sort of job, making a thing for a thing-ummy-bob, especially when you don't know what it's for..."

    My valve, back in place amongst the maze of wires, cables and hydraulic lines in the nose wheel compartment of Berlin Express.

    The cockpit of Berlin Express. My next job was to remove the screws holding the hydraulic pressure gauge in place. That gave me a chance to sit in the cockpit for half an hour while the fitting on the gauge was replaced, then I put the screws back in place. Not a big job, but mine own..

    With the gauge reinstalled, I worked the emergency pump handle to build up 1,000 psi hydraulic pressure to test the system for leaks.

    That is MY thousand pounds of hydraulic pressure... and the gauge didn't leak, even a little.

    In between all of that, I had a chance to explore the Ford Tri-Motor and the B-25 and talk to the restoration folks as we worked.

    Pure heaven for an airplane nut...

    Tomorrow I've been invited to a hangar breakfast. Fingers crossed, I'll be out of here and home on Monday. We'll see...

  • October 24, 2018 10:47 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    So, I've made it to what started this whole trip in the first place. I'm in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at the EAA Air Academy Lodge, for a three-day EAA Chapter Leaders' Academy.

    My flight today went well, once the frost cleared from my airplane - 220 miles in 2.2 hours. It was 22 degrees in Mason City when I got up this morning, and when I got to the airport the Cessna was covered in frost. You don't want to fly with even a little frost on the wings or tail surfaces, but the sun was out and it was getting warmer. I turned the airplane so the sun could hit all the surfaces, and within half an hour or so all of the frost had turned to liquid and I could take off safely.

    The Cedar River in Iowa.

    This Iowa farmer clearly believes in wind breaks - and living on the Great Plains, he probably needs them.

    Field patterns near Ridgeway, Iowa.

    A church at the crossroads in Decorah, Iowa.

    I made my westward crossing of the Mighty Mississippi this morning. At this point, it's pretty broad and filled with islands - Iowa is on the left, Wisconsin on the right.

    The Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

    Today's Rorschach Test Pond:

    Skies were clear until just before Oshkosh, when a cloud layer appeared at about 2,800 feet.

    Not long afterward, about ten miles out, I was cleared to land on Runway 9 at KOSH, Wittman Field, in Oshkosh.

    I landed at around noon, and was met by an EAA staffer and two other folks who had just flown in. Cessna 493 was pushed into a hangar, where it will stay until I fly out on Friday (I hope - weather's not looking great).

    The next hangar over is the Kermit Weeks Hangar where the EAA does maintenance on its aircraft. This is the Ford Trimotor I flew in when it visited Elmira about five years ago. Next to it on the left is an AirCam that EAA volunteers and staff are building.

    This is the EAA Air Academy Lodge, where I'll be staying. There are about 40 other EAA folks here, from chapters all over the USA (and a few from a new chapter in Canada). As might be expected from that many aviators, we've been spending the evening sharing flying tales and comparing notes about our chapters.

    We finished off the evening with a tour of the Sonex factory, led by John Monnet, the founder of the company and designer of the aircraft.


  • October 23, 2018 7:16 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Greetings from Mason City, Iowa, home of Meredith Willson and The Music Man! Today was a perfect day for my 360 nautical mile three-and-a-half hour trip from North Platte, Nebraska, to Mason City. The skies were clear, the ride was smooth and I even had a tailwind for much of the time.

    The day dawned cold and clear in North Platte, with no wind at all. I loaded and untied the airplane, did my walk-around preflight, and took off.

    This is a floating dredge in a gravel pit next to the airport.

    Flying over southern Nebraska, you cover miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.

    Go Z's! Erm... "N's". The playing field in Norfolk, Nebraska.

    Two Rorschach Test Ponds today:

    Approaching a left downwind for Runway 30, KMCW Mason City Airport, you fly along Clear Lake.

    I spent the afternoon at Music Man Square and touring Meredith Willson's boyhood home. The weather forecast for tomorrow's flight to Oshkosh looks good, so I expect that by tomorrow afternoon I'll be at the EAA Chapter Leaders Academy.

  • October 22, 2018 9:50 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Today's flying was only a short two hundred miles, from Cheyenne, Wyoming, along the Nebraska-Colorado border to North Platte, Nebraska.

    The weather was perfect - clear and sunny with light winds.

    The scenery... well, let's just say it's flat. Very flat.

    A target for the world's largest lawn darts...

    The town of Pine Bluffs, Wyoming - Nebraska is just ahead.

    More right angles...

    A feed lot outside Sidney, Nebraska.

    I like the road pattern - a new housing development, perhaps?

    The former headquarters of Cabelas, in Sidney, Nebraska.

    Pac Man, eating a farm.

    Today's Rorschach Pond is next to KSNY Sidney Airport - a Giant Sloth, I think.

    It's a face...

    Irrigation canal outside Paxton, Nebraska.

    The North Platte River has a braided appearance as it flows across the plain near the city of North Platte, Nebraska, my goal for the day.

    North Platte Airport KLBF has two non-intersecting runways, 12/30 and 17/35. The wind was 100 at 11, so I landed on 12.

    Airplanes aren't the only winged things landing at KLBF...

    The fuel truck met me as I parked Cessna 493 in front of "The FBO of the Plains", as the sign called it. The FBO folks were nice enough to give me a list to my motel.

    After I checked into my motel, I spent all afternoon at the Golden Spike Tower overlooking the Union Pacific's huge Bailey Yard watching the trains.

    The East Hump - cars are pushed up to the top of the 30-foot-high hill by an engine or set of engines at the rear, which are remotely controlled by a switchman standing at the top of the hill. He uncouples the cars in one-, two- or three-car sets, and the cars roll down the hill to be switched by a computer onto one of the 64 parallel tracks. The car just coming off the hill in this picture is being slowed down by trackside retarders, which are controlled by the computer such that the car rolls to a stop at just the right spot without slamming into the other cars on the siding.

    Tomorrow's weather looks good for the four-hour flight to Mason City, Iowa.

  • October 21, 2018 8:47 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I'm in Cheyenne, Wyoming, this evening.

    I'd originally planned to leave Fruita on Tuesday morning and fly to Oshkosh on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The weather, as always, had other ideas. On Friday it looked like Tuesday wouldn't be good, but Monday's weather should be OK. As Monday approached, however, the weather picture got worse rather than better. As of this morning, it was supposed to get cloudy and rainy in Fruita tomorrow - but the various models and websites differed as to just when that might happen. This is the 24-hour depiction as of this morning:

    As you can see, the green "precipitation possible" area covers all of Utah and most of western Colorado. The depiction for Tuesday morning, when I'd originally planned to leave, was even worse:

    More to the point, the only ways from Fruita to Oshkosh involve flying over, or around, the Rocky Mountains, so even if rain holds off, unless you want to fly all the way south to New Mexico or west a long way and then north a long way, you need the clouds to be well above the 10,500 foot elevation of the passes. The non-aviation weather sources varied about when Fruita would change from "partly cloudy" to "cloudy", and when the rain might arrive - and had no forecasts for cloud bases. Windy.com had cloud predictions which were marginal. In the end, I could probably have made it out tomorrow morning, but "probably" isn't a concept I'm comfortable with when the subject is flying over mountains.

    So, I decided to leave this afternoon. By two o'clock I'd put fifteen gallons more fuel in the Cessna (you don't want to have full tanks getting out of a 2600 foot strip at 4,724 foot elevation), and I was climbing out on a left downwind from Runway 25 at Mack Mesa Airport 10CO.

    Image may contain: sky and outdoor

    From Fruita you have to climb up out of the Colorado River Valley and over the Book Cliffs. I was at 7,500 when I crossed the cliffs.

    Not long afterward I was at 8,500 - the Cessna was maintaining a comfortable 500 foot per minute climb - and could see over most of the peaks, which meant we were higher and could safely pass. 

    It's rugged country, with dramatic cliffs.

    I suppose we have to have a Rorschach Test Pond for the day - I'm guessing prehistoric fish?

    After passing Meeker (KEEO), we'd climbed to our final altitude of 11,500 feet and were well above the terrain, heading directly for Robert VOR (BQZ) near Steamboat Springs. Steamboat Springs is in a valley, with the steep northeast end of the valley sloping up to a pass at around 10,500 feet.

    There's snow on the ground at the upper end of the ski lifts at Steamboat, but not on the lower slopes - snow is in the forecast, so skiers can hope...

    We crossed the pass above the ski area at 11,500, about 1,000 feet above ground level.

    The other side of the pass drops steeply down to a broad, flat and dry valley called "North Park", which makes up most of Jackson County, Colorado, Colorado's third-least inhabited county.

    The Canadian River snakes through North Park.

    The eastern border of North Park is another ridge, but the pass near Walden, CO, is much lower than the one at Steamboat. I descended down to about 10,000 feet as we crossed the ridge.

    Once through that pass, it's all flat - and downhill - to Cheyenne, about 70 miles eastward.

    Right angles... always right angles...

    A train on the line between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Laramie, Wyoming.

    By a little after four o'clock, I was on a right downwind for runway 27 at Cheyenne KCYS. The winds were light, by Cheyenne standards - 280 at 11 gusting 15. The last time I was in Cheyenne they were gusting 34, so that seemed quite comfortable.

    We landed, and soon afterward the FBO was giving me a lift to my motel.

    The weather from here eastward is supposed to be nice over the next few days, so unless something changes I'll be in North Platte, Nebraska, tomorrow afternoon, Mason City, Iowa, Tuesday, and Oshkosh by mid-day Wednesday. Watch this spot for developments!

  • October 16, 2018 6:26 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I'm in Colorado, so I suppose future posts will have to be titled "By Skyhawk from Colorado" - but that's not for a week. For now, I'm in Fruita, Colorado, home of Mike the Headless Chicken (no, really) and where, Jerry Friedman assures me, it never rains (except when I'm here). My flight from Marble Canyon followed the Colorado River into the Glen Canyon Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park, over Moab, UT, and up into Colorado.

    The weather this morning at Marble Canyon was cloudy, with low clouds obscuring the peaks to the south toward Grand Canyon. To the northeast, however, the ceiling was much higher than I needed to clear the ridge at Lees Ferry. The winds were light, so I took off from Runway 21 to save back-taxiing the length of the airstrip.

    Glen Canyon Dam impounds the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. 

    Antelope Point Marina in Lake Powell

    Flying up Lake Powell, I was able to stay at 7,500 feet - although there was much higher terrain to either side. This is Navajo Mountain, which peaks at more than 10,000 feet.

    Bullfrog Bay on Lake Powell, with the town of Bullfrog, Utah, and Bullfrog Airport U07.

    A houseboat meets up with some RV'ers on Lake Powell.

    Smith Fork River flows into Lake Powell.

    Ticaboo, Utah, and Mount Ellsworth.

    Upstream from Glen Canyon and Lake Powell, we fly into Canyonlands National Park, where the Green River meets the Colorado. There's a lot of air tour operations out of Canyonlands Airport. I was glad of the ADS-B system here, as well as in Grand Canyon, to get a picture of at least some of the traffic - it seems that many of the tour operators have installed ADS-B Out transmitters.

    The White Rim is a layer of harder stone which runs through Canyonlands. Softer rock above and below have eroded away, leaving the White Rim. The White Rim Trail follows the rim - Jerry Friedman and I drove the entire trail in an International Harvester Scout in 1978.

    The world's largest blue butterfly awaits the aviator in Canyonlands... actually, it's evaporating ponds at a potash mine. Pretty, though...

    Rattlesnake Ranch Airstrip, along the Colorado River.

    The town of Moab, Utah, is the gateway to both Canyonlands and Arches National Monument.

    Castle Valley.

    My destination for the day - Mack Mesa Airport 10CO, which sits on top of a mesa, about eight miles from Fruita.

    I landed at Mack Mesa Airport 10CO around 11:20AM in light winds and clear, sunny skies. Jerry was waiting for me at his hangar, and we pushed N46493 inside for a week's rest and annual inspection. We drained the oil, checked compressions (perfect) and removed the inspection plates all around. Tomorrow we'll empty out the interior and start cleaning.

    Here's Jerry and his Sonex:

  • October 15, 2018 9:28 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I've seen the Grand Canyon from the ground, but today's flight was the first time I've flown myself over the Canyon - and it was awe-inspiring.

    The airspace over the Grand Canyon National Park is covered in a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), which is designed to keep General Aviation flights like mine away from the huge number of flight tours (400+ a day), and also to keep everybody away from noise-sensitive areas. So, there are no-fly zones with corridors between them. The tour operators fly set routes and stay between 7,500 and 9,500 feet, and GA pilots are at 10,500 or 12,500 southbound and 11,500 or 13,500 northbound.

    The winds at KGCN Grand Canyon Airport when I was ready to leave were rather high - 050 at 19 gusting 32 - but at least they were only a twenty-degree crosswind for Runway 3, and by 9:00 I was in the air.

    I was at 10,500 by the time I reached the edge of the SFRA south of the Zuni Corridor, and at 11,500 when I entered the corridor. KGCN is at 6,600 feet, and the plateau rises to about 7,500 where I crossed over into the SFRA. It's like flying over a flat forest and then...

    The Colorado River stretches off to the horizon as you enter Zuni Corridor.

    Side canyons split off from the main canyon, and flat-topped buttes are everywhere. Some of them are reporting points - all pilots in the corridors monitor the sector frequency (120.05, in this case) and announce their ID and altitude (and color/number route, for tour operators) when they hit a reporting point.

    After passing through the Zuni Corridor, I followed the Colorado eastward to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers.

    This is the confluence of the muddy Little Colorado and the clearer Colorado - the muddy water remains separate for quite a way downriver.

    From the confluence, I followed the Colorado northward into the Marble Canyon Sector. This sector has an 8,000 foot ceiling for tour operators, so I was able to descend down to 8,500 to stay above the sector boundary.

    The canyon is much narrower in the Marble Canyon Sector than in the main part of the National Park to the south.

    Marble Canyon Airport L41 is a 3,700 foot runway, 35 feet wide, at 3,600 feet elevation. It's located at the northern end of the Marble Canyon Sector, which poses a bit of complication, since you are only allowed to descend to the airport when you're within three miles - which means losing 5,000 feet in altitude in three miles. I flew a sort of really high upwind, descending through crosswind (picture below) down to pattern altitude by midfield downwind. The winds at L41 weren't as bad as they were at KGCN, only about 10 knots straight down runway 3.

    Everything went smoothly, and less than an hour after leaving KGCN I landed at L41 Marble Canyon Airport, across the street from the Marble Canyon Lodge.

    Once I'd tied down and checked in at the Lodge, I walked over to Navajo Bridge and into Marble Canyon. I'll finish this post with a few pictures from the hike.

    My last picture is another HDR-processed image, combined from five pictures taken at one-stop exposure intervals.

  • October 13, 2018 11:49 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I'm in Grand Canyon National Park (or just outside it, actually, in Tusayan).

    When I checked the weather this morning, KABQ was reporting 2,200 broken, and conditions were good VFR along my entire route. The only potential problem was that Grand Canyon Airport KGCN forecast showed MVFR - 1,500 foot ceilings and fairly high gusty winds - from about noon on. I decided to leave as early as possible for the three-hour flight, so as to avoid any potential problems. 

    When I got to KABQ, there was a 1,900 foot overcast, which meant that the mountain tops to the east were obscured - but to the north and west, the deck was higher and I could see blue skies in the distance.

    The country between Albuquerque and Grand Canyon is desert, and until you get quite close to Grand Canyon, very dry and eroded desert indeed. Here are a few shots from along the route:

    Rio Puerco, NM

    Where there's water, like along this rambling stream, the desert is green. Elsewhere, not so much...

    Mount Taylor, near McCartys, NM, rises over 11,000 feet - well above my 8,500 foot cruising altitude. However, by following the valley (with road and railroad) running through Gallup, NM, I had plenty of clearance from the ground all the way.

    The ground is wrinkled near Gallup, NM - evidence of a fault line, perhaps?

    Got to have a Rorschach Test pond...

    Fern-like erosion patterns in the desert in Arizona.

    As we neared the Grand Canyon, the high plateau shelved off to a lower level. I think these are wind erosion patterns leading back from the cliff edge.

    On the other side of the valley, the land rises up again, with Grand Canyon Airport on the far edge of the plateau.

    By leaving Albuquerque early, I made it to Grand Canyon Airport well before the time the MVFR conditions were predicted, and in fact, while there were some scattered clouds at Grand Canyon, they didn't get in the way at all, and the winds were only five knots. Here is my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, coming in over the pines to enter a left base for Runway 21. There's a continuous stream of helicopters flying in and out of the airport giving air tours of the Canyon, so you have to stay above 7,200 feet above sea level until you're on final.

    I landed at KGCN, which is actually in Tusayan - they moved the airport since I was last here forty years ago - and the FBO gave me a lift to my hotel. The National Park runs a shuttle bus from Tusayan to the park visitor center, which turned out to be free if you have a Senior Pass, and other buses shuttle around the park on a frequent schedule.

    After lunch I walked the Rim Trail for three or four miles, then rode the buses back to Tusayan as the sun set.

    You're supposed to stay at least 100 feet from elk in the park, but what do you do when they walk up the trail behind you? I just stepped aside and let four elk walk by no more than two feet from me. They weren't bothered, and seemed perfectly happy to pose for a picture as they went by.

    You can see the rain falling on the North Rim, but we didn't get any on the South Rim - at least, not where I was.

    The dramatic lighting in the canyon and the clouds gathering over the North Rim seemed to call for HDR treatment - this is a combination of five pictures taken at differing exposures, and combined to exaggerate tonal differences. It's not photorealistic, but I like it.

    All in all, a Good Day...

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