Flying to the Storm (King Arts Center)

Day Trip to Storm King Arts Center

The Short Version

I took a day trip in the Mooney to the Newburgh/Stewart airport a week ago.  Flew out around noon with two friends.  Skimmed the tops of a scattered/broken layer on the trip out.  Spent the day at Storm King Arts Center looking at all sorts of art.  Had dinner in Newburgh and then flew back at night under clear skies and smooth air so the plane was ready to go for breakfast flights 8 hours later.  A very nice day trip, and a nice destination.

The Long Version

A few months back, I saw a documentary at Cornell about Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish artist who uses natural materials in his work.  There are two of his works locally, one at The Plantations and one at Sapsucker Woods.  The movie covered him creating a work at Storm King Arts Center, which is near Newburgh, NY, by the Hudson River.  It’s a 3 hour drive from Ithaca, or better yet, about an hour by air.  After seeing the movie, I invited two friends to join me on a photo-adventure.  This covers the flight there and back; pictures from Storm King are here.


The Stewart/Newburgh airport (KSWF) is about 7 miles from Storm King.  The airport was a former Air Force base, and has an enormous runway (over 12,000 feet long), and the Richmor Aviation FBO has a good reputation.  It was likely to be a VFR flight, since truly low IFR weather would likely mean that the weather was bad everywhere, and we probably wouldn’t want to spend the day outside.  However, I wanted to be current and proficient, which meant I needed to get some approaches in with a CFI.  I could have flown the approaches with a safety pilot, but I wanted feedback from an instructor.  Also, even though the days are long, if we had dinner and wanted a leisurely flight home (or had to wait for some weather to pass), it might be dark, which means I needed to be night current.  It took a number of attempts to get the weather, plane, and CFI and my schedules to all align, but I made these plans a few months in advance.  The only downside was a night checkout winds up being late-ish.  With that all taken care of, it was on to planning the actual flight.

It looked like the weather was going to be favorable.  I figured I’d fly IFR anyway, just for practice if nothing else.  I checked out previous routes used to Stewart  on  It was helpful, but of course it was not the route ATC provided in their clearance, nor was it the route I wound up flying.  But that’s normal for IFR.  When I plan a VFR route, I’m much more careful about waypoints and timing, since that’s the route I will actually fly (baring diversions, weather, TFRs, etc.).  With IFR, that is practically never the case, there are always minor changes.  I plan the route, do the fuel planning, and for the Mooney I’ll plan when I need to switch the fuel tank (right and left don’t feed at the same time), but I don’t get too hung up on all the minute details.

I had discussed my plans with my friends.  Plan A and its variations (might have to leave early, later, etc.).  Plan B was if the weather was bad only in Ithaca or the plane was unavailable, we might drive instead.  Plan C was if the weather was bad  everywhere, we’d get dinner in Ithaca and watch a movie.  There was the extra complication that the following day was the flying club’s breakfast, and I really wanted to make sure the plane was back.  I also wanted to be aware that I really wanted to get home.  About all I can do is know that there is that pressure.

I apologized to one of my friends about trying to plan for every detail.  Her reply:

“You needn’t worry–remember, you’re talking to a stereotypical German.  Shall I check my German dictionary for the word ‘overplanning’?  Nope, it’s not in there, it doesn’t exist.”

It’s nice to know where one stands with one’s passengers.

The Flight Out

Saturday morning, I arrived at the club.  Got a weather briefing.  Good weather now, better later, worse the next day.  I took the club’s iPad and Stratus.  Also the paper enroute IFR chart and approach plates (after blowing through half of an iPad’s battery in 1 hour on a prior trip involving weather, I’m much more aware of the need for backups).  I loaded my camera gear and flight bag, and did the preflight inspection.  So far, so good.  (To avoid unnecessary reader stress, Douglas Adams style: nothing goes wrong with either flight.)

My friends arrive.  We get in, start up, taxi to the north ramp and I pick up the clearance.
002-1-IMG_9032A slightly different route, but not too different than what I had filed, just a dog-leg at the end.  I enter the route into Foreflight in the iPad and the Garmin 430 GPS and we taxi to 32.  We’re cleared for takeoff and we’re off.  After a minute, Ithaca hands us off to Elmira, and once they radar-identify us, we get a right turn on course (the first minute was spent going the wrong direction, but again, standard IFR).

006-1-IMG_9038We get cleared to 7000 feet and climb to that.  There’s a scattered layer of clouds at around 5500 feet.  I was hoping we’d top the clouds but that wasn’t going to happen at 7000, and looking at some of them, even 9000 would not have kept us clear.  So we stayed at 7000, in and out of the tops and I got to log some time in “actual” (clouds).  There were a few bumps, but no way to avoid them.

Elmira switched us to Binghamton.  About 10 miles out from the Hancock (HNK) VOR, I asked ATC if we could go HNK direct to KSWF.  The controller said she’d check, and a minute later we were cleared direct.  No dog-leg, and with a few knob turns on the 430, a press of the “direct” button, and some “enter”s, we were heading direct to Stewart (there were also a few touches and taps and slides on the iPad as well).

Binghamton handed us off to Boston Center, who kept us for less than one minute before handing us off to New York Center.  At 7000 feet, I was able to pick up Stewart’s ATIS from around 50 miles out.  ATC had us start our descent a comfortable distance out from SWF.  I spotted the Orange County airport, which is 7 miles west of Stewart, and then saw Stewart.  It’s pretty hard to miss Runway 9/27.

010-1-IMG_9067We entered a right base for 27 and landed.  The runway has a displaced threshold.  It actually used to be a bigger runway.  I’ve landed there once before, and both times it feels weird flying over what feels like perfectly good runway before reaching the threshold.  Of course, there’s still two miles of runway ahead.  We landed and were able to exit at the first taxiway after the threshold (A4).

011-1-IMG_9070The Air National Guard is still active, and my friends found it amusing to see the tail of a plane sticking out of a maintenance hangar.  I speculated that it was a teleportation experiment that went south.

We arrived at Richmor and the car I had rented was there waiting for us.  We then headed off to Storm King.

Go here for our Storm King adventures and many photos.

The Return

Late in the day, I did a quick check of weather, borrowing a friend’s smart phone.  The forecasts showed generally clear skies and smooth air.  We left Storm King around 7:30 pm, drove to Newburgh, had a very nice sushi dinner on the Hudson, and then headed back to the airport.  My plan was to get to the airport around 9:30 pm or so, departing around 10pm.  Earlier in the day, the FBO attendant said that they staff the FBO till 10pm or so, but that the tower is open all night.

Everything went smoothly at the FBO.  I called Flight Service, filed my flight plan, got a standard weather briefing, and then was ready to go.  This time, I decided to get my clearance using my handheld radio before packing everyone into the plane.

119-1-IMG_9560The clearance was a little “weird.”  I needed to figure out where they were sending us and it was nice that I could spread out the IFR en-route chart and look at the route all at once.  (The iPads are wonderfully convenient, but paper has its place at times too, especially when you can spread out the whole chart.)

I had heard of the intersection, and knew it was not spelled in a normal way.  Turns out it was “WEARD” and it wasn’t really out of the way.  They had also given us the “Stewart 5 Departure Procedure” which I looked up.  It basically amounted to “climb to 3000 feet, heading 272, expect radar vectors to the cleared route and altitude” and also specified the departure frequency.  It was pretty minimal, but I guess if it’s a busy time, it saves a few words the controllers would need to say on the radio.  10pm is definitely not a busy time.

We started up and taxied out.  It is really helpful having Foreflight show the plane in relation to a taxi diagram using GPS information, especially at night at an unfamiliar airport, since there were places at SWF to avoid, such as the one on the taxi diagram labeled: “ANG Restricted Area”.  It wasn’t too hard to navigate on the taxiways, but having something confirm my position was nice.

120-1-IMG_9571We were cleared to cross Runway 16/34 (marked by the yellow flashy lights in the picture), and then ground called and said they had amended departure instructions and to let them know when I was ready to copy the new instructions.  Since I was close to the first taxiway, I requested a Runway 27, intersection A5 departure, which was approved.  Stopping in front of the Runway 27 hold short line on taxiway A5 (another set of flashy lights), I received the amended departure instructions, which were “climb runway heading, climb and maintain 5000 feet, expect 6000 10-minutes after.”  Pretty simple and it replaced all the departure procedure instructions.  The only point of it now was that they didn’t have to tell me the departure frequency.

We were then cleared for takeoff.  Even though I was not at the end of the runway, I was still behind the displaced threshold.  It’s that long of a displaced threshold.  It’s weird starting a takeoff roll before the start of the runway and then still having almost two miles of runway left by the time we rotated.

The normal Mooney climb-out procedure is to retract the landing gear once there is no more usable runway and the plane has established a positive rate of climb.  At Ithaca, this is typically 10 seconds or less after breaking ground.  It didn’t take long to start the climb-out at Stewart.  I put my hand on the gear control, verified a positive rate of climb on the vertical speed indicator (VSI), took a quick look to verify there was no more runway under us and … noticed about a mile of runway ahead of us.  I kept my hand on the gear control and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Once we were at pattern altitude, I decided there’d be sufficient time to lower the gear if needed and raised the gear.

The tower then told us to “contact New York Departure on 132.75.”  It was nice for them to be explicit, though now everything in the departure procedure was either redundant or invalid.  On the other hand, it was good practice to get one.  I called departure, told them my altitude and that I was climbing to 5000.  Shortly after that, they told us to climb and maintain 6000.  Before switching us to New York Center, they advised us to expect our final altitude to be 8000 (instead of 6000).  Center then had us climb to 7000, followed by 8000.  This was all one constant climb, with each new altitude provided before we leveled off and all I needed to do was bump up the target altitude setting (“bug”) on the Aspen with the twirl of a knob.

In cruise, the air was completely smooth with no clouds below 12,000.  One of my passengers, who has a sensitive stomach, was happily reviewing photos from the day, completely comfortable in the back, pleased with the decision not to skip dinner, while the other was enjoying the view from the front.  There’s not a lot to see between the Hudson and Binghamton, but we could see city lights to the north and south (Wilkes-Barre and Syracuse).

Just before Binghamton, ATC started us on a descent down from 8000 feet.  At 6000, almost abeam the Binghamton airport, I keyed the mic on the Ithaca common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) and out of the darkness the approach lights sprang to life.  (Note: That is one of my favorite parts of flying.  It’s just so cool seeing the lights appear out of the darkness.)  We continued our descent and were handed off to Elmira.  At 10-15 miles out, I cancelled IFR and switched the radio to the CTAF.  I realized I could see the approach lights, the RAILs, and the threshold markers, but I didn’t see any runway edge lights.  I cycled the lights down from high to medium intensity.  The approach lights changed, but still no edge lights.  I had the VASI in sight and as we got close I saw the runway markings light by our landing light.  Rather than get distracted trying to diagnose something on final approach, I decided flying and landing was the top priority.  It was uneventful.  I saw the lead-in line on the runway and the unlit taxiway marker.  I didn’t try to play with the lights anymore and just taxied in.

We fueled the plane, tied it down, checked it in and headed home.  It was a nice day trip.  I like when things work.

(Photos courtesy of Antonia Ruppel.)

Both Sides Now: IFR and VFR to Providence and Cape Cod

I recently took a cross-country trip to Providence and Cape Cod with my husband. The idea was to go someplace fun and also test out my brand new instrument rating. The original plan was to fly to Providence (KPVD) and be based out of there for a couple of days, doing day trips to destinations like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and/or Cape Cod. Of course, things didn’t quite go as planned (when do they ever in aviation?) but it still turned out to be a great trip and my instrument rating came in very handy. The trip involved both VFR and IFR segments, and served as a good illustration of the advantages of both styles of flying – hence, of course, the title of this post.

By the way, if you would like to see more photos from the trip, you can find them here.

IFR flying

Before I start on the story, I would like to highlight some of the differences between VFR and IFR flying, since I know some of this blog’s readers are not IFR pilots. Indeed, I have often thought that private pilot training should include some basic explanations of IFR procedures because we all share airspace and frequencies with IFR traffic. I remember being mystified by a lot of the IFR terminology on the frequency when I was still a VFR-only pilot and wishing I understood where all that traffic might be.

Anyway, the basics of IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) are as follows. Under IFR, you can fly in the clouds, but you lose the flexibility to go anywhere you want. You need an ATC clearance (permission) to fly in controlled airspace, and you do not get to choose the route you follow. Sometimes they will not allow you to go directly to your destination, but will route you through out-of-the-way waypoints for traffic separation. This is particularly likely in congested airspace, e.g. around NYC. Sometimes they will even change your route mid-flight. You cannot deviate from your assigned route without permission, you can’t even change altitude without asking first. Even if you are not currently in the clouds, you must usually stay on your assigned route and altitude at all times. (Note for the knowledgeable and picky: yes, there are various exceptions and corner cases such as cruise clearances which give you more freedom, I’m just trying to convey the general idea here.)

The trickiest part of IFR flight is often descent and landing; to do this safely in the clouds without hitting any terrain or other traffic, you may have to follow a particular approach procedure (“shoot an approach”). An approach is just an official step-by-step descent procedure, specifically tailored to a given airport and a given runway. To shoot an approach, you might fly to one waypoint at a particular altitude, then descend to a lower altitude and turn towards a next waypoint, etc. The approach typically positions you on a long straight-in final to the runway, which explains why the commercial flights are always on “a seven-mile final” or so when they come in to Ithaca and the rest of us are in the pattern.

However, if the weather conditions are pretty good and you are out of the clouds early enough, you may not have to shoot a formal approach; instead you do something called a “visual approach” where you make it to the runway on your own. ATC may sequence you a bit, or tell you to enter the pattern, or just tell you “cleared for the visual” and leave you free to choose how you approach the runway.

Sunday: Fun IFR and VFR

So, back to my trip. As the date approached, I realized that it would be difficult to stick to the original plan due to weather. The forecast was calling for reasonable weather on Sunday and Wednesday, when we were planning to travel between Ithaca and Providence, but questionable weather for Monday and Tuesday, which did not bode well for the VFR day trips. Unfortunately I had limited flexibility in scheduling the trip, and couldn’t move it; so, I decided we would go and make the best of whatever weather we encountered. In the worst case, we would rent a car instead and explore the area by road.

Sunday was a great day with wonderful weather. We took off for Providence in the morning and were there by lunchtime. I filed IFR for the practice, but the weather was beautiful VFR throughout, with just a brief overcast layer below us over the Catskills. I filed and received a direct clearance to Providence; however, somewhere in the middle, I got rerouted by Boston Center to put me on the WIPOR2 arrival. This was a good exercise in entering new waypoints into the GPS and maintaining situational awareness. However, once I was handed off to Bradley approach, they routed me direct Providence again. Arriving at Providence, they had me fly the ILS 34 approach — I assume for spacing, since the weather was completely clear. It was a gorgeous approach, with vectors for a very extended downwind over Narragansett Bay and then a turn inbound.

N66230 on the ramp in Providence

I found Providence to be a great airport, very friendly to small planes despite being quite busy with commercial traffic. I never felt like the controllers were annoyed at me for breaking their flow — if you’ve ever visited a busy NYC airport, you know what I mean. There was a good number of other small planes on the airport as well, all sharing the runways, the airspace and the ramp with the big guys (see photo!). The FBO was very nice and the staff was extremely helpful throughout our stay. All the Providence controllers were also very helpful and willing to provide clarifications whenever I asked. The staff at the FBO was extremely helpful as well and really did not seem to treat us any differently because we had arrived in an older Cessna 172 and not in a fancy business jet.

Flying over Cape Cod

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant and discussed what to do next. Because the weather was gorgeous and forecast to worsen, we decided to move one of our planned day trips to that afternoon. We decided we would fly to Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod, and then back. This we proceeded to do – VFR this time. Flying VFR felt great and very liberating after months of mostly IFR during my instrument training. It was great to have the flexibility to change altitude at will and to pick the most scenic route. We were under flight following with Cape Approach, but there was very little traffic in the area anyway. This surprised me a bit, but I found later that early June is not yet considered summer/high season in the area, so there are fewer tourists than there will be in a month or so.

At Provincetown Airport

We made it to Provincetown and landed there. It’s a very nice little airport – though watch out, Runway 25 is “right pattern”! Once you land, you have to go into the passenger terminal and pay a $10 landing fee at the Cape Air desk. Once you pay they give you the code to get back on the ramp to your plane. We took a taxi into Provincetown proper and walked around for a while. The town is quite unique with its own style and atmosphere, which I really liked. We then took a bus back to the airport and flew to Providence. The total time I flew that day was 4.7 hours, which was a new record for me.

Monday and Tuesday: Road trip time

The following day, the plan was to try for Nantucket. The weather was great VFR in the morning, but forecast to worsen in the afternoon. The forecasts for the afternoon were for ceilings to remain very high (9000ft+) and some rain. However, there were significant thunderstorms moving over NYC and heading our way, which seemed to conflict with the forecasts a bit. My assessment of the situation was that while we could make it VFR to Nantucket no problem, I had to be prepared to fly back to Providence IFR and shoot an approach in the clouds. I was really exhausted after all the flying on Sunday, though, so I didn’t feel ready to do that. I’m sure I could have managed it, but it wouldn’t have been enjoyable. So we decided to postpone that trip; instead, we rented a car and drove to Newport, where we had a great time seeing the town and the Breakers mansion. It turned out in the end that the weather did hold and we could have made it back from Nantucket VFR, but given how tired I was I still think canceling was the right call.

On Tuesday, the weather was very bad with low IFR in the morning and then a warm front passing through in the afternoon. This was expected and we were not planning to fly anywhere anyway. We drove to Mystic, CT, where we enjoyed visiting Mystic Seaport and had a good time.

Wednesday: Heading back

Finally, on Wednesday, the weather improved. Our new plan was to fly to Nantucket in the morning and then head back home after lunch, potentially spending the night at an intermediate point like Albany to give us more time on Nantucket.

The weather looked good in the forecasts and even in the phone briefing – it was meant to be good VFR, if rather windy and gusty. However, as we were getting ready to depart, I checked the weather again and Nantucket had dropped to MVFR. All the local airports – Martha’s Vineyard, Hyannis, etc – were rapidly varying between VFR and MVFR, and I decided I didn’t like the look of this for a VFR trip. We could have tried filing and flying IFR, but I didn’t think this would be as much fun and I also realized I was starting to come down with a cold. All around, it seemed like the most prudent option to head back home, particularly since the weather on Thursday was forecast to worsen again.

So, we headed back to Ithaca, stopping in Albany for lunch. Incidentally, if you look at a chart it would appear that going through Albany should add considerable distance to this trip, but in reality the increase is only 11 miles. I guess these distances are long enough that great circles and map projections do come into play.

I filed IFR out of Providence, as there were considerable clouds around — a cold front had just passed and had left a lot of “stuff” behind. We had a very bad headwind on the way out so the trip to Albany took almost 2 hours. I was in and out of the clouds a little on the climb, but at my cruising altitude of 8000 feet we were actually mostly in the clear, above a solid overcast. I did get rerouted on the way out of Providence as well, but this time I was not so surprised by it – in fact, I decided to just ask the controller for a vector to the first new waypoint while I sorted out the rest of the route. He provided the vector and all was well.

Walker (my husband) acting as chauffeur in the Million Air crew car in Albany

In Albany, there was nothing much interesting going on at the airport. We landed with a visual approach and taxied to the FBO. They lent us a great crew car (see photo) so that we could grab some lunch, and then we were off to Ithaca. Again, I filed IFR for simplicity and peace of mind; there were still significant clouds around and I did not want to have to do the “VFR cloud slalom”, particularly since I was getting tired and somewhat uncomfortable from sinus congestion with my incipient cold. The flight was uneventful, although we did encounter a bit more IMC (i.e. flying in the clouds) than on the previous leg. Generally, I was very happy to discover how simple IFR flying can be — particularly on a day when VFR would be a little unpleasant. I was checking the Ithaca weather while having lunch in Albany, and Ithaca was showing ceilings in the 2000’s; it was great to know I was IFR and so didn’t have to worry about a divert in case they dropped a little further. Anyway, we arrived into Ithaca and did a visual approach to 32, bringing us home. The total time heading back from Providence was 3.7 hours, with about 0.6 IMC.


All in all, I’m happy with how things went. It is a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to visit as many destinations as I would have liked, but that’s the luck of the draw. Personally, I like to think of recreational flying as similar to mountain hiking/backpacking — there will be times where you cannot make the summit or your ideal destination for various reasons, and you have to be prepared to deal with that. There is always a next time.

Still, there were many positives to this trip. The sightseeing flight up Cape Cod to Provincetown was wonderful, and I also got some very valuable practice in IFR cross-country flying. Although I didn’t encounter any really bad weather enroute and all my approaches were visual or in VMC, it was good to gain experience working “in the system” by myself with clearances, routes, re-routes and approaches at new airports. I am looking forward to expanding my horizons further with more trips this summer, including the big North Carolina trip which is hopefully taking place next month. Watch this space!

End of the trip – Day 10 – Dayton to Ithaca

OK, I have to admit it up front – I didn’t do any of the flying this leg. When I woke up this morning it was MVFR at best in Dayton, and by the time we had breakfast they were reporting a 600′ ceiling, with a front with rain and low ceilings all the way from Ohio through western Pennsylvania and points south. Worse, the forecasts were for deteriorating weather through the day, with no real clearing until Sunday. If it was just me, I’d have found something to do and waited it out, but given there were two of us, and Jerry is IFR rated, well… we filed IFR. The trip back was basically boring. We flew through clouds and rain, and all I had to do was function as a heading bug. That is, when Jerry wandered off heading, I bugged him about it.

This is what it looked like:

So, 493 and I are back in Ithaca at the end of our trip. It was well worth it, and I’m looking forward to my next long journey with N46493.

Day 9 – Hannibal to Dayton, Ohio

Today’s flying was probably the best of the trip. The weather was forecast to be fine for the 330 mile trip, and it was. For once, I could fly just the route I’d decided on the night before.

We got out of Hannibal around 9:00AM. No pictures of the Mississippi, sorry. We crossed the river while I was too busy climbing out of the airport – it’s only a few miles east. We crossed the border into Illinois at the middle of the river.

The weather was calm and the sky clear, but there was a haze layer going up to about 4,500 feet. I decided to climb above it, and by 5,500 feet we were on top.

Above the haze it was clear, cool and beautiful, and the air couldn’t have been smoother.  Southern Illinois is farming country, but unlike the dry farms of Texas and Oklahoma I’d passed through a week or so ago, here the rivers are high and the fields are flooded.

We flew south of Springfield, and I grabbed a shot of the dome of the State Capitol building as we passed.

Frankly, most of Illinois and Indiana, when we got there, are basically boring to fly over. Just flat land and farm fields as far as the eye can see, split into neat one-mile squares, stretching to the horizon.

Sometimes there were some interesting patterns, though.

The haze layer we’d been on top of at 5,500 feet started to thicken and turn into clouds, so I descended to 3,500 to get under them. Of course, as soon as I did that the clouds dissipated, the haze cleared, and it became a really clear day (by Eastern standards – Jerry was noting how poor the visibility was by Colorado standards – you couldn’t see more than about 20 miles…).

Our course to Dayton was essentially due east, so as we got into Ohio the navigation wasn’t difficult – just follow the roads, which follow the east-west section lines…

I had been a bit undecided about flying into Dayton International (KDAY), as opposed to one of the outlying airports, just because of the size of it. It’s got parallel runways 6/24 Left and Right, and huge ramps… it seemed a bit intimidating.  Still, it was just a class C, like Syracuse or Islip, and I’ve flown into them many times, and it was by far the most convenient to the Air Force Museum. So, I decided to give it a try. As it turned out, it was easy.

The controllers were easy to deal with – we picked up Columbus Approach about sixty miles out, and were with them until they turned us over to Dayton Tower at about 15 miles from the field. We were cleared to land on runway 6 Left while we were still ten miles out, and in the end it’s just a runway – all right, about twice the length of 14/32 at Ithaca, but the same width.

The biggest difference is how far you have to taxi after you land. As it turned out, Dayton International is physically huge but not very busy, after the airlines which used it as a hub folded. After a few miles taxiing, we arrived at the Wright Brothers Aero FBO – nice to see they found something to do with themselves after inventing the airplane. I don’t know if it was Orville or Wilbur who met us and waved us into a parking spot outside their hangar, but in any case we were soon set.

They were really nice about arranging a rental car when I called before we left Hannibal, and it was waiting for us as we taxied in. Less than half an hour later, we were at the Air Force Museum, and that’s how we spent the rest of the day.

We’re 383 miles from Ithaca as the crow (and, hopefully, Cessna 172) flies, so tomorrow should get us home if the weather cooperates. We’ll see.

We’re on our way back! – Day 8 – Mack, Colorado to Hannibal, Missouri

Jerry Friedman, ‘493 and I are in Hannibal, MO tonight – and true to the trend of this trip, when I went to bed last night I had no plans whatsoever to be in Hannibal (or Missouri at all, for that matter). The Weather Gods strike again.

We left Mack Mesa (C07) at 7:00AM this morning (MDT), in clear skies and light wind. We’d dipped the tanks on 493, and we had 30 gallons of fuel – more than enough for the 200 miles or so to Cheyenne, Wyoming, our first stop, and we felt that it would be better to go with that than to load the full 52 gallons in the wings for the first leg. It’s as well that we didn’t, as we used nearly all of the 2, 500 foot runway (at 4,500 feet altitude) to get airborne, with the two of us and our bags and assorted stuff we were bringing back east (including a box of rocks – I did some fossil hunting while I was in Fruita).

Anyway, while our climb rate was a bit unimpressive, climb we did, until we had gained about 5,000 feet in altitude and had enough to get over the ridges north of the Grand Junction valley.

As soon as we could get over the first ridges, we aimed northeast toward the Meeker (EKR) and Steamboat Springs (BQR) VORs, still climbing until we reached our peak altitude of just under 12,000 feet. We aimed for low spots in the ridges where we could see the horizon over the mountains.

Finally, as we passed the Steamboat Springs ski area, we crossed the highest point in the trip, and it was downhill from there.

After two hours and 221 miles, we reached our planned first stop, Cheyenne (KCYS). We got a straight-in approach to runway 9, and a great breakfast at the terminal restaurant.

As we waited for our pancakes, eggs, sausage, watermelon, strawberries and hash browns (we just asked for pancakes, but they threw in all the rest), we checked the weather. Our original plan had been to head to Mason City, IA (KMCW) for an overnight, and then go on to Oshkosh tomorrow, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. There was a cold front stretching down across Nebraska, Mason City was already having heavy rain at that time, and was predicted to remain bad all day. Worse, it’s predicted to be bad further north, so it looks like Oshkosh will be for another trip.Time for plan B.

From the map, it looked like conditions would be better further south, roughly along the Kansas-Nebraska border, so I replanned our destination for the day to be Kansas City, with a rest and refuel stop in mid-Kansas. We took off refueled in person and airplane, and with the 6,500 foot elevation of Cheyenne, used a whole lot of their 9,500 foot runway getting off. The weather held along our course back into the plains of Colorado, then into Nebraska and finally Kansas. At least we didn’t have to worry about clearing the mountains…

At one point, I swear we saw Pac Man devouring a farm…

After another three hours flying, 562 miles from Mack Mesa, we landed at Concordia, Kansas (KCNK) to fuel and check the weather for the next leg. Concordia had a self-service fuel pump, and an unlocked FBO with a sign “back soon”. We had some 100LL and a few Diet Cokes while we waited for the man with the wireless password.

Once again the weather seemed better further south and further on – to the north of the  Kansas City Class B they were reporting marginal VFR conditions, but to the south of the Class B the ceilings were over 10,000 feet, and it looked OK to get even further. Hannibal, MO (KHAE) was reporting clear below 12,000 feet, and forecast to remain so. Therefore, our overnight stop became Hannibal, and off we went.

I suppose I can’t do a post without the river of the day, so here’s the Kansas River:

We continued on to the Johnson County VOR (OJC), which is just south of the Kansas City Class B, and turned northeast. As forecast, the weather north of us was much worse, with lower ceilings and rain. We flew through a few light rain showers ourselves – nothing bad, no turbulence to speak of, and the visibility through the showers was fine. It was just enough to wash some of the bugs off the windshield. I kept the worst of the showers off to our left, and bent our course gradually until we were headed direct to Hannibal. At one point the sun broke out and we were treated to a beautiful rainbow directly ahead.

We passed over the Missouri River, which is 10 feet over flood stage according to a report Jerry just read. The flooding was obvious (if unrecorded, because of the uninspiring lighting conditions). The ceilings rose and the clouds broke, and finally, around 6:20 CDT, we arrived at Hannibal (KHAE).

Weather permitting, we plan to go to Dayton, OH, tomorrow to visit the Air Force Museum and spend the night. On the other hand, the way this trip has gone… how’s the weather in Atlanta? Watch this space…