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  • October 28, 2017 11:34 AM | Lucja Kot (Administrator)

    On October 27th, 2017, I flew the club's Mooney (N747CF) to JFK and back. Accompanying me was club instructor Pete Daiuto. The trip was designed to satisfy the dual day/night cross-country requirements for my commercial pilot training, but also as a "bucket list" achievement.

    The customary way to meet the commercial dual cross-country requirements is to do them both in one day. You fly to a desirable destination, have a meal while you wait for the terminator to pass overhead, and then return. That is exactly what we did, with two twists. The airport was extremely desirable, and the meal we had was breakfast. Yes, we did the night cross-country first, then waited for sunrise and flew back.

    This post tells the story of how we planned the trip and how it all worked out.

    TL;DR - the trip was a huge success. You can see our photos here and a video shot during our taxi before departure here. I would recommend for any pilot to attempt this trip with no fear, assuming certain minimum experience and qualifications. Specifically, this should not be your first trip into the NYC Bravo, you should be able and willing to file IFR in and out, fly something faster than a Cessna 172, and - preferably - bring along a second pilot.

    The Planning

    This summer, I decided to begin training for my commercial pilot certificate. I fly only recreationally and have no practical need for this qualification, but I thought it would make a good project and a way to improve my piloting skills. Upon reviewing the experience requirements I realized I met a lot of them already. However, I did not have the dual day and night 2-hour 100-nautical mile cross country flights. Since I have substantial cross-country experience, I wondered how to make the most of the requirement/opportunity to do relatively long cross-country flights with an instructor. Rather than artificially introduce difficulties into a trip that I would be very comfortable doing single-pilot, it seemed better to pick an extra-challenging destination.

    Living in the northeast, any pilot knows where to find challenging airspace and destinations. New York City airspace is second to none in the world for traffic volume and complexity. I had prior experience flying the Skyline Route in the NYC Bravo airspace (single-pilot) and an IFR cross-country into Teterboro (dual, while in IFR training). I had also flown single-pilot into Philadelphia International (KPHL) , so knew that flying into an actual Bravo airport presents unique challenges and thrills. In summary, the obvious destination was a NYC Bravo airport - either JFK, LaGuardia or Newark.

    After some research, I settled on JFK as the most likely. Of the three, it seemed the most general-aviation-friendly, both in terms of people posting their experiences on Airnav, ForeFlight and Youtube and in terms of landing fees.

    I want to highlight some of the resources that I used during trip planning in case they are helpful to anyone else. First, the Port Authority website with information about landing fees. Click on "Rules, Regulations and Charges" and look under "Schedule of Charges". This lists landing fees for each airport as well as periods where those fees are higher - e.g. JFK has a $100 surcharge if you land or take off between 3pm and 10pm. This information is useful not just for saving money, but also as an indication of the busiest times at each airport. Also, for anyone considering LaGuardia, be aware that IFR slots are required and must be reserved online before you fly. I also tried calling the Towers at all three airports, but had some trouble getting through and/or getting useful information. This was probably just bad luck, though, and I still recommend anyone considering a trip to a Bravo airport to try calling Tower on the phone beforehand.

    Pete and I planned and replanned the trip several times. We considered a variant where we would arrive into the city late at night and ask for touch-and-goes at all three airports - anecdotal evidence suggests some people have been able to do this. However, we discovered that LaGuardia is closed between midnight and 6am due to construction, so decided to limit our destination to JFK.

    Another concern was making sure we meet the commercial requirements. The distance from KITH to KJFK is 164nm, which satisfies the 100nm requirement. However, each flight had to last at least two hours. As the Mooney is a fast plane, we could not guarantee a two-hour-plus duration even with some delays due to IFR routing. To be safe, we built in a detour via Syracuse. On the way back to Ithaca, we would monitor time en route and could divert directly to Ithaca if the two-hour requirement could be met without stopping at KSYR.

    We initially planned the two cross countries in the customary order - day first, then night. However, JFK is busy in the afternoon and evening, as evidenced by the steep landing surcharge between 3pm and 10pm. This would suggest arriving in the morning, spending a whole day in the city, and returning late at night. This could have been fun, but it was not the best option for a variety of scheduling reasons.

    Since Pete and I are both morning people, he proposed that we order the flights the other way - night in, day out. This seemed like the best idea despite the discomfort of a back-side-of-the-clock night leg. We would not need to spend extra time on the ground at JFK, and the second flight - when we would both be tired - would be during the day, in easier conditions.

    The only issue we had to be careful about is timing our arrival with respect to sunrise, so we could legally log the entire inbound flight as night time. Fortunately, in late October Daylight Saving Time is still in effect, so sunrise at JFK on the 27th was very late - at 7:20 am. We needed wheels-down one hour before, so by 6:20am. With some calculations allowing in extra time due to uncertainty about IFR routing, we figured three hours ought to be enough for the flight. So, we decided on a 3:20am departure out of Ithaca, and a 2:30 am arrival time at the Ithaca airport.

    The Preparation

    A few days before the planned flight, I made final preparations. We would be filing IFR, of course - I would not attempt to get into a Bravo airport VFR except in the very small hours of the morning, and we would be arriving around 6am, which is not so early. Therefore, I carefully reviewed all JFK IFR procedures - arrivals, approaches and departures. I also identified suitable alternates in case a last-minute divert was needed for any reason; Islip (KISP) seemed a good alternate as did Republic (KFRG).

    I called the JFK FBO and confirmed landing fees. $25 landing unless you land between 3pm and 10pm, when the aforementioned $100 surcharge applies. $45 for each eight-hour increment of parking, and a $33.60 facility fee waived with 10 or more gallons of fuel purchased. All in all, very reasonable for any Bravo airport, let alone one in New York City.

    Two days before the trip, I started getting up at 5am and starting my day with a cardio workout, to shift my sleep schedule earlier and ensure I would be wide awake by the time of our 6am JFK landing.

    The evening before the trip, I double-checked the weather - everything looked great, with perfect VFR except a layer of clouds forecast over Syracuse. We would be IFR of course, but it was cold so icing could be a concern. However, the layer was forecast to be thin and limited to Syracuse and points north. I also filed my IFR plan from Syracuse to JFK, for a 4:15am departure. I had never filed a flight plan so far in advance of a trip, but it certainly can be done the night before. Then I focused on getting as much sleep as I could before the 1:30 am alarm went off.

    The Night Flight

    As planned, we met at the Ithaca airport around 2:30 am. After a quick but thorough preflight and an updated briefing, we were soon en route. That time of night, Ithaca Tower and Elmira Approach are both closed, so we self-announced on 119.6 (Ithaca Tower/CTAF) for taxi and departure. We took off from Ithaca around 3:30 am and flew to Syracuse VFR.

    The Syracuse detour provided two additional benefits apart from guaranteeing we would fly for at least 2 hours. First, it took us to an airport which has ATC service 24 hours a day, and provided a way for us to pick up our clearance to JFK on the ground. That way we could study our route and enter it into the GPS without having to fly the plane at the same time. Second, the leg from Ithaca to Syracuse provided me a "warm-up", which was much appreciated as my flying was initially somewhat lacking in precision due to fatigue (flying at 4am is somehow much harder than at 4pm!). However, by the time we landed in Syracuse, I had my act together and was ready to proceed.

    In Syracuse, we picked up our clearance without shutting down the engine. We received a full route - SYR V483 RKA V433 PETER V270 ATHOS V44 DPK KJFK. The routing did not surprise us as it basically corresponds to the Pawling Two arrival into JFK. We took off just before 4:30am, at 4:26am according to FlightAware.

    We climbed out of Syracuse and brushed past the expected layer of clouds. The clouds were very thin, and we picked up minimal if any ice. Then we were in the clear. As we flew, Boston Center spontaneously cleared us direct to points that "cut a corner" and made our route shorter. We flew over the Catskills and it was very dark, but we had a strong tailwind and soon we saw a bright glow to the south - the lights of New York City!

    We picked up the JFK ATIS. They have three ATIS frequencies, and we went with what appeared to be the "main" one. The other two are labeled as "ARR-NE" and "ARR-SW". Since we were arriving from the northWEST, I was not sure which one would apply. But the main ATIS worked fine.

    On the radio, the New York approach sectors were not busy except the very last controller who set us up into JFK. The controllers were relaxed and greeted aircraft with a "good morning". It seemed that the airspace and the airport was just transitioning from slow/sleepy night mode into morning mode and things were starting to kick into high gear. A number of "heavies" were on the frequency with us, also landing at JFK.

    Our route and vectoring took us south over Long Island. Pete spotted JFK airport to our right, and I was glad of his help. You might think an airport the size of JFK would be easy to see, but at night finding an airport in a huge city is actually a very hard task. You fly above an endless sea of lights, and the airport could really be anywhere unless you look hard.

    At that point we were at 2000 feet and receiving frequent vectoring to set us up for the visual approach to runway 31L. Both runways 31L and 31R were in use. We were coming in from the east, and the vectoring would take us further south over the water, then UNDER the ILS arrivals on 31R, and on to final for 31L. I was focusing on flying the plane precisely to the vectoring instructions, and was glad of Pete's presence and help to keep general situational awareness of traffic and airport position. I'm not saying this can't be done solo, but having a second pilot on board reduces stress and workload greatly.

    As I mentioned, the vectoring briefly took us south over the water, which at this point is the open Atlantic Ocean. The sea of lights suddenly turned into utter blackness, and I suddenly understood all the articles and warnings about the "black hole." Night aircraft arrivals/departures over water have resulted in numerous accidents due to pilot disorientation. I remained in control and flew the plane safely, but I experienced a very sudden and strong feeling of vertigo.

    I now understand why "black hole" accidents happen. The key is that this was a visual operation - we were IFR, but VMC and on a visual approach - and I was not primed to be in the "instrument mindset". IFR pilots know that "flying on instruments" and "flying visually" are two very different mindsets that require a deliberate transition. During this night visual operation, I was not in the instrument mindset, so the disorientation was startling. I have much experience with spatial disorientation while in clouds or under the hood, but when I am in the instrument mindset I am expecting the disorientation, and my training allows me to ignore and dismiss it. Anyway, again, I remained in control and safety was never compromised, but I gained a new respect for "black holes".

    We were now turning back towards the airport. A 767 flying the ILS for 31R passed 1000 ft above (and a little behind) us. I could see its landing gear and it seemed incredibly close. Then we were on final, with a request to "keep our speed up as long as possible". We were prepared for that, having even practiced accelerated approaches before the trip. And then we were down - I had landed at JFK! It was almost exactly 6am.

    Of course, we were not done yet. We now had something fast and heavy behind us, and needed to get off the runway. The tower controller was patient and she did not rush us, but requested an expeditious exit to a taxiway. We did as requested and were soon taxiing on a sea of concrete the scale of which I had never seen before. Fortunately from 31L the taxi to the FBO was easy, with no runways to cross. There was also not a lot of conflicting traffic on the taxiways - indeed, it was so non-busy that the Tower controller did not hand us off to Ground but gave us taxi directions as well.

    After we landed, we heard the Tower controller politely but firmly admonish the aircraft that landed behind us for taking too much time/space on the runway before getting off, or more precisely for not letting them know in advance he would need this extra time/space. We looked at each other and had a "whew, at least it's not us" moment. However, the contrast with how we were handled clearly shows that JFK controllers are GA-friendly and understand we do not have the same capacities as the "typical" JFK traffic.

    Finally, we made it to the FBO. There is just one FBO at JFK, Sheltair, and we were soon parked and requested a fuel top-off. For this night cross-country, we had logged 2.8 hours of total time. We now filed an IFR flight plan for our departure, grabbed a crew car and went to the Cross Bay Diner for a well-deserved breakfast.

    The Day Flight

    After breakfast, we were ready for the trip back. The first order of business was to obtain our IFR clearance. We had filed to Ithaca rather than Syracuse, since with the headwind we were anticipating we thought it would be easy to meet the 2-hour requirement. It would also be easy to extend that trip if needed.

    I was concerned about picking up the clearance based on past experiences at Teterboro. I was worried clearance frequency might be very congested and we might have to wait a long time with the engine running. However, there was almost no-one on the frequency but us and the controller. Pete suggested that the airlines probably do clearance delivery electronically now, bypassing the need for voice communication. This made perfect sense. We got our clearance - another full route, the "Idlewild Climb" from the Kennedy Three departure, then radar vectors to SAX V188 LVZ V29 CFB V423 KITH. With great VFR en route, our plan was to get airborne and out of the NYC airspace, then cancel IFR and continue direct VFR.

    We did our runup on the ramp and requested a taxi clearance. This time we would have to go to 31R - a more substantial expedition over the sea of concrete. The Foreflight airport diagram with a display of our GPS position was very helpful, as was Pete's help. It's actually a lot harder to divide attention between the outside and a diagram while taxiing than it is while flying. So I focused on physically taxiing the aircraft and on acknowledging and writing down the progressive taxi instructions, while Pete kept a lookout inside and outside as to which taxiway we were currently on.

    We taxied alongside 31L which was in use, as Pete's video shows. With what residual attention we had, we admired the airport operations and infrastructure around us, as they were much easier to see in daylight. It was clear that this was an airport geared towards commercial airline operations. General aviation, even the big and fast kind like corporate jets, was not in evidence, and it definitely felt like we were guests in someone else's world. It was clear we were welcome, but it just felt like a different kind of airport, different even from a busy Class C like Providence or a busy corporate GA place like Teterboro or White Plains.

    We taxied past a Delta jet that was instructed to hold short and give way to us; I wonder what the pilots thought of us in our little Mooney. I waved at them but they probably couldn't see me doing that.

    As we reached our assigned runway 31R, the ground controller instructed us to "monitor Tower". Pete had experience with such instructions at other airports and explained this meant we should NOT call up Tower, but stay quiet and wait for their instructions. Sure enough, after a few other planes were out of the way, Tower instructed us to "line up and wait" behind something departing. Then it was our turn and we were cleared for takeoff.

    As you can see from our FlightAware track, we were directed by vectors well east of the airport. We were rapidly instructed to climb to 8000 feet. The ADS-B traffic display was showing an incredible amount of traffic, and we could hear some of it and see some of it as well. It was a clear and gorgeous morning; the vectored route allowed us great views of the airport and all of New York City. The Manhattan skyscrapers were easy to spot, and it was a wonderful comparison with the night-time view of the city we had seen just a few hours before.

    Once we were out of the lateral limits of the Bravo airspace, I canceled IFR and we descended to 6500 ft. The rest was an uneventful direct VFR flight to Ithaca, over the meandering Delaware river and the last of the fall foliage. When we were handed off to Wilkes-Barre approach, we heard a Piper on the frequency talking about doing touch-and-goes at Cherry Ridge. This felt really unusual after the environment we had just come from; we were back in familiar small-plane GA territory. A good headwind ensured we didn't need to add detours to meet the two-hour requirement, and we landed in Ithaca with a 2.3 hour day cross-country accomplished.

  • August 03, 2017 10:15 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I'm home, and as much as I enjoyed my trip, it's great to be back. I left Bloomington, Illinois (KBMI) at 7:30AM, and was on the ground in Ithaca around 2:30PM.

    Today's flight was smooth and pleasant. The weather at Bloomington when I took off at 7:30 was clear but hazy. I climbed up to 7,500 feet to get over the haze and into to cooler air.

    The Illinois countryside, with an oval development to match the round one from yesterday's pictures.

    I stopped for fuel at Akron-Canton Airport (KCAK) in Ohio. It turned out to be a big day for the Football Hall of Fame, and the airport was very busy - lucky I didn't need a rental car, as there were none to be had. Half an hour or so to top off the tanks, and back in the air.

    As I left KCAK, the clouds became more defined, if widely scattered. Bases were around 4,500 feet, and the tops were generally around 9,000, with some towering peaks well over that. I climbed up to 9,500 (the new ignition system really seems to help with climbs) and steered through the valleys, avoiding the higher peaks. You seldom get much of a feel for your speed when you're flying, so having clouds to watch is kind of fun.

    While the predicted afternoon thunderstorms had made their appearance by the time I reached Bradford, PA. I descended to 4,200 feet to stay under the clouds, so I could see any precipitation and avoid any I couldn't see through. As it turned out, there was a clear corridor between the storms right along my route, and the ADS-B display once again came in handy in confirming the clear route.

    I landed at Ithaca around 2:30. The only scary moment of the day was trying to remember where I'd put the keys to the hangar and my car once I'd landed at Ithaca (they were in the glovebox of the Cessna, I discovered after I'd emptied out my bags).

    My house rabbit, Natasha Rabbitova, seems to have forgiven me for my absence, and all's well with the world. Now, where to fly next...

  • August 02, 2017 11:15 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    I'm more than halfway home from Colorado.

    I got a late start this morning, and didn't leave Estes Park until 8:30, so I didn't get into the air until nearly 10:00. However, with a small tailwind and an efficient fuel stop in Hastings, Nebraska (KHSI), I was able to make up some of the time and landed in Bloomington, Illinois (KBMI) by 6:30 Central Time, Total flying time for the day was 7.3 hours.

    East of the Rockies, Colorado flattens right out, although it remains green for quite a while.

    Eventually, though, the land becomes dryer and the green circles of the circular irrigators appear.

    The weather was warm and hazy, so I few higher than usual (7,500-9,500 feet) to get above the haze and into cooler, dryer air - the tailwind at that altitude, and the better economy were factors, too.

    Above the haze layer, with some small clouds below, navigation across the plains is easy - just follow the roads as they run straight east-west for mile after mile.

    A circular housing development adjoins a circular irrigator in Nebraska.

    As I went further east, the clouds began to build up. They were very scattered, though, so I could avoid the patches of rain by flying in the clear open air between the clusters of clouds.

    Finally, the Mississippi River came into sight, and I was in Illinois.

    The clouds became thicker and more active in Illinois, so I had to descend to get under the bases. There was more rain, and stronger, so I had to divert around strong showers - if I can't see through the rain I won't fly through it. The ADS-B radar display and help from ATC allowed me to skirt along the northwest side of the storm, then turn southeast through a gap to get east of the system. By the time I reached the Illinois River near Peoria, the skies were clear again.

    About 30 miles further on, I landed at Central Illinois Regional Airport (KBMI) in Bloomington, Illinois. There are two FBO's, but one of them - Image Air -  sent a "follow me" truck to meet me as I left the taxiway, so that's the one I went with. They were nice enough to give me a crew car to take to the motel for the evening, and "thanks" for that!

    I'm only about 600 miles from Ithaca, so with any luck, and some favorable weather, I should be home tomorrow afternoon.

  • July 29, 2017 10:54 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Day 9 of my trip, and I'm still in Colorado, but on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.

    7:00AM - we've loaded and fueled 46493 and were ready for takeoff.

    I'd planned three different routes from Mack Mesa (10CO) to Longmont (KLMO), depending on what the weather would turn out to be. When I got up this morning, it was overcast in Fruita, but pretty much everywhere was reporting the cloud bases to be at least 14,000 feet above sea level, which meant that we could go over most of the mountains and make it through Rollins Pass at 12,078 feet. So, that was our route when we took off.

    With its new exhaust the Cessna was noticeably quieter than it had been, and I think the electronic ignition helped the climb from Mack's 4,750 feet to our cruising altitude of 13,500. Here, we're leaving 7,500 and still climbing at 500fpm on our way to 13,000-plus.

    All went well until we were about 15 miles from Rollins Pass, and it turned out that although we were still well below the clouds and over the pass, there was an area of rain around the pass which made it impossible to see the mountains. That made Rollins a Bad Idea, but it was clearer to the north, so we headed that way - at the worst, we knew conditions on the Wyoming border were good, and we could get through that pass at 10,000 feet or less. As it turned out, once we got into the southern end of the wide valley which led to the northerly pass, we'd passed the rain and we could see over the Milner Pass to the east.

    We flew through Milner Pass at 13,800 feet (a record for me).

    As we approached Milner Pass we could see the land beyond it - a good rule of thumb is that if you can see lower terrain through a pass, you're above the pass and can safely fly through it.

    Very quickly we were through the passes and descending over Estes Park, where I'll be spending the next few days.

    Within fifteen minutes after that we were descending into Longmont Airport (KLMO). I don't think I've ever been at a pilot controlled (a/k/a untowered) airport which was so busy. We entered a downwind after three other aircraft, with another three or four behind us in the pattern.

    We were on the ground by 9:30, picked up our rental car (an Audi SUV, if you can believe it) and set off for the family reunion.

    My route for the day - the straight lines from waypoint-to-waypoint is the planned route, the red line shows the GPS log for the actual flight.

    I'll be here until Wednesday, and then will be on my way back East.

  • July 23, 2017 11:38 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Day 8 of my trip, and I'm headed eastward.

    I took off from KCCR (Concord, California) before 8:00AM in order to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the winds picked up.

    Concord is a sea level, but within 100 miles we had to be at 11,500 feet altitude to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. It took a while, and I had to pause a few times to let the engine cool from the hard climb, but we made it in plenty of time to enter the mountain passes.

    The land is still rough and hilly on the eastern side of the Sierras, and I had a very nice tailwind at 11,500, so we stayed high above the lower hills.

    As we approached our fuel stop at Tonopah, Nevada, there was an incredibly bright glare to the north. It's a solar plant, with hundreds of mirrors focusing the sun onto a central pillar.

    Just under three hours later, I landed at KTPH - Tonopah, Nevada - for fuel. The light area is KTPH - or, rather, the huge concrete ramp where World War Two heavy bombers once parked.

    493 at Tonopah

    Clouds started to build up while I was at Tonopah, and I was dodging rain showers for the next 250 miles or so.

    Typically for desert rains, the showers were widely scattered, if heavy, so I was able to see and fly around the worst of the rain, but the storms made the last four hours of flying into a roller-coaster ride of updrafts and downdrafts.

    Once we reached eastern Utah, the skies cleared and the land became eroded desert. This area is just north of Canyonlands National Park, and the canyons are very much the same as in the park.

    Interstate 70 crosses a canyon just west of Green River, Utah

    Further east, you start to see green patches where the Colorado River irrigates the land - Fruita, Colorado, straight ahead!

    I gave Jerry a call on my ham radio when I was twenty eight miles out from Mack Mesa, and he was already at the airport waiting.

    Seven hours of flying, and we've reached our destination! Final approach to runway 7, 10CO (Mack Mesa). The runway starts at the top of a steep cliff, which makes the approach interesting - don't land short, whatever you do. Of course, taking off on Runway 25, as soon as you reach the departure end of the runway you're 500 feet up.

    N46493 is in a hangar at 10CO, where it will spend the next week or so being upgraded with electronic ignition and a PowerFlow exhaust. When we fly over the Rockies to Longmont in a week, we'll see how much of an improvement the changes made. Watch this space after July 30th...

  • July 20, 2017 7:40 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Today's flight followed the Pacific Coast from KONP Newport, Oregon, down to KCCR Concord, California.

    Day 7 of my trip started out grey and dreary, with low clouds in Newport, OR. While the skies were clear in inland Oregon, there was no way to get over the Coastal Range to where the weather was better. By 9:30 the ceilings were up to 3,400 feet at Newport, and over 1,500 feet all the way down the Oregon coast, so I set out.

    I stayed under the clouds and just off shore for about 45 minutes.

    As I flew further south, the ceiling dropped a bit and it started to drizzle. Then there was a break which let me get on top of the cloud layer at 5,500 feet. I followed the (unseen) coast until, finally, the clouds broke at the California Coastal Range.

    The weather was clear all the  rest of the way. I crossed the Coastal Range at 0Q5 - Shelter Cove, California - and turned eastward.

    A few miles further down coast, I angled inland toward Ukiah, then down the valley.

    Eventually, my destination of KCCR - Concord, California - came into sight across Suisun Bay, a tidal estuary which is connected to San Francisco Bay.  KCCR is just visible at the upper right-hand corner of the picture.

    Concord is a very busy airport. They had trainers doing touch-and-go's on the parallel 19 Right and 19 Left, and as I crossed the bay I was told to report a five-mile final for 19R. The frequency was so busy that my first few calls got stepped on, but at three miles out I got a word in edgewise and was cleared to land, number three. A short taxi afterward, 493 was tied down on the ramp at Sterling, one of the three FBOs at KCCR.

    I'll be here for a couple of days with cousins, and then I'll be off again on Sunday morning to start the leg to Colorado.

  • July 19, 2017 12:15 AM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Today - Day 6 of my trip - was a perfect flying day, and it ended at the Pacific.

    When I took off from Olympia, it was cool and clear, with a light haze layer I quickly climbed above. I could see a number of snow-covered volcanic peaks as I climbed.

    At the recommendation of a corporate jet pilot at Olympia, instead of heading straight to my destination, I aimed for Mount St. Helens.

    The diversion was well worth it, and the view was spectacular of the mountain with part of the crater wall missing - signs of the devastation from the 1980 eruption are still evident, nearly 40 years later.

    From the slopes of Mount St. Helens, I descended down over lower hills into the Salmon River valley.

    Forty-five minutes later, I landed at McMinnville, Oregon (KMMV). The Evergreen Air Museum, home of the Spruce Goose, is across the street from the airport, and they sent a van to pick me up. The museum is great, with dozens of aircraft under the wings of the huge flying boat - the collection is well worth a trip to see.

    I didn't have time to tour the Space building with jets and spacecraft, but the older aircraft are more interesting to me, anyway. I did pay extra to get a chance to sit in the pilot's seat of the Goose - how could I pass that up? 

    The tour guide took my picture - note the pipe behind the pilot's seat. Howard Hughes, a notorious germophobic, had a separate filtered air system installed to provide germ-free air to him at the pilot's position.

    This is the starting crank for the Spruce Goose. No, really - it is. The crank starts the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), which in turn provides the power to start the eight 3,000 horsepower engines.

    After that, I took off for the remaining 55 miles to Newport, Oregon (KONP). As I approached the low hills of the Coastal Range, the Pacific Ocean appeared - my flight to the Pacific had reached the Pacific.

    Those were the only clouds I saw all day - a single row about 1,200 above the beach. Once over the last of the hills, I turned southward and flew down the beach to enter a downwind for runway 34 at KONP, Newport Airport.

    Enterprise had a rental car waiting for me at the FBO, and after checking in at the motel on Agate Beach, I went down to the Bayfront for dinner. There was a beautiful sunset today over the beach in back of my motel - a perfect end to a great flying day. 

    I'll be here in Newport all day tomorrow, and on Thursday morning I'll head south to Berkeley.

  • July 17, 2017 11:58 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Day five of my trip (OK, it's really day seven, but I'm only counting flying days...), and we're in Olympia, Washington.

    We were off the ground early on a cold (44 degrees) and clear mountain day. The airplane was happy to climb in the cool, dense air, and we were up at 8,500 feet in very little time. While KGPI is in a valley, it's surrounded by mountains which go up well over 6,000 feet, so climbing is essential.

    The first part was over the mountains of western Montana and eastern Idaho.

    About two hours from Glacier, we passed Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington, and we were back over flat and dry plains.

    The plains are table-top flat and dry. This is Harrington, Washington, where the railroad and highway split, only to rejoin some miles further on.

    A spiral pond?

    Circular irrigators are common in eastern Washington. This is a particularly interesting cluster, with some of the fields subdivided like a math teacher demonstrating pie charts.

    Before long the snow-covered cone of Mt. Ranier appeared on the horizon, and stayed there for more than an hour as we crossed the Cascades.

    Even at 8,500 feet, the mountains to the north of our course towered above us.

    Finally, we flew close by the huge mountain, passing just north of the national park which encompasses it.

    With a little rerouting to avoid Seattle's Class B, we descended to land at KOLM, Olympia Airport.

    We've spent the day in Olympia, touring the state capitol and walking along the waterfront. John will be leaving tomorrow morning to catch a flight back home, while I continue on to Newport, Oregon.

  • July 16, 2017 10:30 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Day 4 was a short one - just 190 miles from KHVR - Havre, Montana - to KGPI - Glacier Park International.

    We left Havre around 8AM, and flew in clear blue skies all the way.

    The flight was a bit slow - we had to climb to about 10,800 feet to clear the mountains in the pass from East Glacier Park to the airport, and at that altitude we had such a strong headwind that our ground speed was only 60-70 knots.

    After a couple of hours, the Rocky Mountains appeared in front of us.

    Our flight path was from Havre to East Glacier Park, the eastern gateway to the park. From there, we flew IFR - I Follow Roads -following Route 2 through Maria's Pass, the lowest pass in the Rockies.

    The road leads down a steep valley to West Glacier. Along the way are spectacular views of the mountains.

    Past West Glacier, the valley opened up into the wide plain where Kalispell is located. We contacted Glacier Park tower, and were cleared to land on Runway 2, after an Allegiant Airbus and a Beech twin.

    The FBO was very accommodating, and we said goodbye to N46493 for a few days.

    Once we'd parked the airplane and picked up our rental car, we headed into Glacier Park, and we've spent the last two full days there. Here are some of my pictures from the park.

    We rented a motorboat and spent an hour on MacDonald Lake.

    The Going to the Sun Road crosses the park from west to east. We drove halfway on Friday, before we checked into our motel, and covered the entire length on Saturday.

    From Logan Pass, halfway along the Going to the Sun Road, you can hike up a steep path to Hidden Lake - quite a slog, with much of the path still under snow, but well worth it when you get to the lake.

    Columbia Ground Squirrels are all around.

    When we got back down to Logan Pass Visitor Center, we found this Mountain Goat in the Mens Room - who says you can't get close to wildlife? You just have to look in their natural habitats - like restrooms.

    St. Mary's Lake is at the eastern end of the Going to the Sun Road.

    This bear was just off the trail we were hiking on in the Many Glaciers region of the park.

    Hidden Meadow, in the western part of the park.

    The weather looks perfect for our flight tomorrow, so we'll be off for Olympia, Washington, bright and early. Watch this blog for pictures of our flight.

  • July 16, 2017 10:04 PM | Michael Brown (Administrator)

    Sorry about not posting here for a few days. I'll catch up today, and will try to post as each leg is completed from here on.

    Day 3 of the trip was a long one - ten hours flying time, with two fuel stops, for a total of 922 miles.

    We left Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with nice weather predicted for most of the day - but for a low deck of clouds extending from Wisconsin to the North Dakota border.

    As we went along, we could still see the ground through the deck, and it wasn't very thick - 1,500-2,000 feet.

    We decided to get on top of the clouds, where it was clear and sunny. The tops climbed to about 4,800 feet, so we had to climb, as well, up to 6,500.

    When it came time to descend, after about 400 miles, the deck was solid, so John got an IFR clearance to get back under. It only took a few minutes, and we broke out at 1,800 AGL. A few minutes later, we were on the ground for lunch and fuel at KBWF - Wahpeton, ND.

    Wahpeton is just over the border, with Breckenridge, WI, next door. It's just a short walk into town, and the Wahpeton Deli has great burgers. You can tell Wahpeton's a Midwestern town, because it has the requisite railway line and grain silos downtown.

    After we (and 493) were refueled, we took off again. From there we flew under the clouds, over the North Dakota countryside, which is flat, with huge farms surrounding the towns.

    Within ten minutes or so the sun broke through.

    Winding rivers and streams are everywhere in the Plains

    Minnesota claims to have ten thousand lakes - and it sure looked like it from the air. It's always interesting to play a sort of Rorschach Test with the ponds - what do they look like to you?

    We crossed the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers as we flew through Minnesota and into Montana.

    Circular irrigators began to appear as we flew west, and, once again, I found Pac Man eating a farm.

    We stopped again for fuel at PO1 - Poplar, MT.

    Poplar has self-service fuel carried to an extreme. When we landed, there wasn't anyone anywhere around. But, the fuel pump was unlocked and so was the FBO, manned only by two friendly dogs. We pumped our fuel, then went inside the FBO and called the number we found on an invoice on the counter. The person who answered talked John through running his credit card on the terminal, and we were done. Pet the dogs, and back in the air.

    Two hours later we'd arrived at KHVR - Havre, MT.

    So, by flying forever, or so it seemed, we were back on schedule.  "Thanks" to Tony, the airport manager at Havre, who gave us a car to use for the evening.

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