Aerostar to the Dominican Republic – Update

Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes!  Our trip to the Dominican Republic ended on Saturday April 18, we flew successfully flew back to Florida and then back north on Monday April 20th.  However, on that weekend I managed to contract “Dominican Revenge”, so this past week wasn’t all that much fun, but now that I’m feeling much better. This is a catch-up post and summary of the end of our trip.

The last  we posted, we were near Santiago, DR in the center of the country.  We then flew to Monte Christi (MDMC) in the northwest corner of the DR near the Haitian border. Monte Christi is a general aviation airport with a 3500′ runway along with a modest ramp, no fuel and very quiet.  Until we all showed up. Twelve planes and nearly 30 people created a LOT of activity for this little community.

Monte Christi is a semi arid beach community with “El Moro”, a mountain rising right out of the ocean just at the coast.  We flew in from the eastern side of this photo.  The airport is in the mid-right with the town behind it.  The smoke at the top is from fires burning to clear the sugar cane fields.

For our twelve airplanes,  the Dominicans set up a temporary tower, brought in customs and immigration for our departure (more on that later) and met us warmly.

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Our Aerostar along with three single engine turboprops — very nice company!

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15-LFB_4428As we all know, pilots are from all walks of life and create a small world.  And Ithaca is unique because of all our connections throughout the world. One of our group owns this beautiful TBM 700 turboprop.  The owner is from Ithaca — David Hill is the son of Carm Hill, a long-time Ithacan.  He didn’t learn to fly here, but he did learn how to put a plane right where he wants it.  Right On the numbers!

Another fascinating story within our little band is who this airport is named for.  2-LFB_4708The older gentlemen at the left is Osvaldo Virgil. He is the first Dominican baseball player to play in the major leagues.  Beside him is his son, Ozzie.  He also played in the major leagues, lives in Arizona and flies a C210 although he flew out with his agent who has an Aztec.  Ozzie, the elder, grew up in Monte Christi and lives there now.  And to honor him, the field is call “Aeropuerto Osvaldo Virgil”  So we all got “very” first class treatment!

14-LFB_4474More about the airport.  Depending on where you look it’s listed from 2600′ long up to 3500′.  It’s actually closer to 3500′, but has the unusual feature of having a good size hup about 2/3rds of the way down runway 5.  I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the hump till we were on a mangrove tour on the water.  From the water, the hump takes on a whole new meaning!  Fortunately, the wind blows quite hard there most days favoring runway 5.  All of us stopped well before we got to the top of the hill.

After a couple of wonderful days relaxing, visiting a banana plantation and local salt works, it was time to head back to the US.  We got back to the airport expecting to do a quick immigration and customs exit and depart.  But our new friends had a surprise for us. Every official from that part of the Dominican Republic showed up to wish us well and thank us for coming!  What was supposed to be a 9am departure turned out to be nearly 10:30am.

So finally aftFlightaware Poster saying our goodbyes to all, we headed back out over the Caribbean.  For us, we were headed to Tamiami FL, (KTMB) to clear customs and then over to Naples.  We had learned that although the Dominicans required a hard copy international flight plan and they filed them, they  probably wouldn’t get  the departure times correct.  So none of them were active.  A number of us anticipated this (thanks Jim), and had filed electronic flight plans from teh Bahamas with an airborne pickup. So that’s why Flightaware doesn’t show our departure airport as Monte Christi.  And it slightly confused our friends at Customs.

We spent the weekend with Jim and Connie Wells in Naples, FL and flew non-stop from there back to KITH on Monday in 4:11 averaging 271 knots.  Makes up (a bit) for the slow slog down there the previous week.

This trip is very doable in just about any airplane.  Yes, for slower aircraft, it takes longer and there will likely be more fuel stops.  But with planning and making the time available can make it all work out very well.  LFB_4273Doing escorted trips with Jim Parkertakes a lot of the logistical hassles out of the planning and makes for an opportunity to meet other pilots from all around the country.

 

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Aerostar Trip to the Dominican Republic – KFXE – MDST

130 to 310!!  That’s the true airspeeds of the slowest and fastest planes in our group of 12 flying out to the Dominican Republic today.

C172ROur leader Jim Parker has been flying the islands for decades and has been to over 110 airports throughout the Caribbean.  He flies an really interesting airplane, a Cessna 172RG.  Yep – it’s basically a 180hp Skyhawk –  called a Cutlass,  a lot like the club’s Skyhawks except the gear retracts and with that added complexity comes about 20 knots.  This one flies at 130knots.

With a strong bladder and/or a fuel stop, the 670nm from Ft. Lauderdale is well within the reach of a Skyhawk.  One of our group flew down from Montana in their 1963 Bonanza. Bonanzas of that vintage are 130knot machines.  On the other end if the spectrum was a Cheyenne II twin turboprop and three single-engine turboprops, the fastest being an Epic homebuilt cruising at 310knots at FL270!  Rounding out this eclectic fleet were a couple Piper Saratogas, an Aztec, a Navajo Chieftain, a B55 Beach Baron and us.

After an early morning briefing — mostly learning each other’s names, where the fuel pit is at Santiago and how to deal with air traffic control in the islands, off we went.  Well, not really.  The turboprops and we kind of hung around since the goal was to meet in Santiago between 2 and 3pm.  Some of our group left from different Florida airports, but everyone was in the air by 10:45 am or so.

Our ride down was actually quite easy.  We filed for 19,000 ft where we had the best winds – actually, not much wind at all.  Down low, there was a 10-20 headwind, at FL 190 and above, the tailwind was in the 5-10knot range.  The route took us over most of the Bahama Island chain.  It was a beautiful day with puffy clouds over many of the islands.

The world does look different from FL190 than down low.

Over the edge of Long Island, there’s a large salt flat.Salt Flats

 

 

 

And farther down in the Bahamas we crossed the Acklin Islands.  We were actually never very far from land.  In the distance to the southwest, Cuba dominated the horizon.  That’s the east end of Cuba on the moving map.Acklins

GNS530

 

Flying in the Dominican Republic itself is a bit different.  First, about 40 miles northwest of the ALBBE intersection, Miami Center announces – “Radar service terminated – contact Port-o-Prince Center on 124.50.”  Yes, we were in Haiti’s airspace and Haiti doesn’t have civilian radar.  So, it’s back to non-radar reporting points.  Something all instrument students learn, but rarely get to use in most of the lower 48.  And unlike when I learned instruments, you always know where you are and with a push of a button, you can estimate with great accuracy the time to the next mandatory reporting point.  Pretty straight forward – except for the accents.  All the communication is supposed to take place in English and most of it is.  But with a mix of Haitian, American, Bahamian, and Latin American pilots all in the same airspace, communication became “interesting”.

We were IFR trying to get down in a non-radar environment.  Making myself understood took about 10 miles and the Haiti controller had to coordinate with the Santiago approach controller — that’s a different country.  In all, it took about 50 miles to get us a decent clearance.

By this time, we were with Santiago Approach Control which I think is near the coast in Puerto Plata.  They have radar, but it’s very spotty.  So even though they can “see” you occasionally,  you are never in “radar contact”, so everything is done in reference to DME from the Santiago VOR-DME.  In the world of GPS, we don’t hear DME (distance measuring equipment) all that often anymore.  It happens that the VOR-DME is located right at the field, so the GPS distance is fine.  Our Aerostar happens to have a DME and it was really nice to have it.

And there were a bunch of cumulus clouds over the 4,000 ft ridge that we had to fly through, so canceling IFR wasn’t a good idea; especially with four of our group all arriving at about the same time.

In addition to the basic language differences, the syntax is difference.  The controller would say:  “N60LM, Fly to Station Romeo-India-Golf-Alpha-Romeo and say DME from Cibao.” The first time I heard him,  it took a minute to figure out what he was saying. Cibao is the name of the airport – like Hartsfield is the name of Atlanta’s airport.  Station can be a fix, like an intersection or it can mean a specific airplane; “Station 60LM” and “Romeo-India et al” is the RIGAR intersection.  So, US controllers would say: “N60LM, fly direct RIGAR (and maybe pronounce it phonetically) and say distance from the Santiago VOR” (since that was in our actual clearance).   After a couple of tries, we figured out the cadence and got a clearance to the final approach fix on the ILS.  Santiago is in a broad valley, so once past the ridge, the clouds pretty much disappeared and we received a visual approach.

Finally we were turned over to the tower controller, a female voice speaking flawless English with a slight Latin accent.  With that, we were on the ground.  Only Jet A was available via truck at all of $2.47/gallon.  We had to taxi to a fueling pit and paid $6.83/gallon cash!  Here’s Trudy stretching her legs while Juan fills the main.

MDST Refuel

We had a wonderful reception right at the FBO with various officials making speeches about how great it was to have visitors to one of the busiest airports in Latin America.  And here I thought we were still in the Caribbean!  It’s the first time I can recall being greeted by Customs and Immigration eager to stamp our passports, basically ignoring our Inbound General Declaration forms, and handing us Presidente cerveza (beer) all at the same time.

More tomorrow about where we are staying.  It’s late!

Aerostar Trip to the Dominican Republic – KITH – KFXE

Successful flying is all about adapting to changes. And on Friday, there were plenty of changes. When we got up in the morning, the occluded front in the Virginia area wasn’t going to be much of an issue other than an area where if we had to land, there were low ceiling and visibilities.  However, the cold front with a line of thunderstorms were going to be a problem unless we left relatively early or wait it out.  When I looked at the winds aloft forecast, it appeared that we’d have around a 30 knot headwind.  Not too bad.  So after changing our initial fuel stop from St. Augustine FL to Walterboro, SC off we went.

I found that 14,000ft was clear of ice and turbulence which were both being reported.  The ride was fine, just slow.  Instead of a 30 knot headwind, it was more like 50knots.  And it didn’t make a lot of difference what altitude we picked. So…3:48 later we landed.

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After refueling (fuel is a LOT less expensive than it is in the Northeast), we headed for Florida.  As we got farther away from the front, the winds dropped off.  1:56 later and dodging a few rain showers in FL, we landed at Ft. Lauderdale Executive.  Made for a long tiring day.  For us, that was one of the “longest” flights we’ve made down the coast in the Aerostar.  On the other hand, the first trip I ever made by small-plane to Florida in 1975 took over 13 hours in N3775A, our Piper Tri-Pacer!

We head to the DR bright and early on Monday.  I hear there are some “turbine” planes coming along and that the Jet A fuel price in Santiago is quoted at $2.47!!  We’ll see!

Trip to Dominican Republic via Aerostar

In mid 2011, we did a “long” cross country to Alaska and back via our Aerostar.  This time, the trip is shorter, but with significant over water flying. My wife Trudy and I are headed to the Dominican Republic starting on April 10 and returning to Ithaca 10 days later.

This time, we are doing an escorted trip with Caribbean Flying Adventures.  http://www.caribbeanflyingadventures.com/. Jim Parker has run this website andCFA company for many years.  It’s a great source of flying information, fuel prices, and how best to deal with various bureaucracies throughout the Caribbean.  He also puts together escorted tours.  So, we’re giving it a try.

The trip from Ft Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE) to Santiago, DR (MDST) is aboutFXE-MDST670nm, a little under five hours in a Mooney, but only 3 hours in our Aerostar.  The direct route skirts the southern Bahamas.  For us, we can easily do this trip non-stop.  Jim helps with the paperwork, makes the hotel reservations, and is our guide.  Unlike our Alaska trip, each plane flies on its own — no group flying.  In the airplane, we pack a couple of life preservers (required) and a four-man raft — thank you Mike Hall.  For us, bathing suits, shorts, casual clothes, and suntan lotion!  As for the others going on the trip, we’ll meet them on Monday at KFXE.

First we need to get to Floriday. We head out Friday morning fromITH-FXE Route KITH to KFXE.  Right now, it looks like we’llh ave IFRFriAMFRconditions in the morning  from here down through southern Virginia.  Depending on the weather and position of the fronts in the morning, we might go a bit west of the planned route to get out of the weather sooner.  Also, there will likely be a headwind, so we’ll need to make a fuel stop, probably in KSGJ (St Augustine, Fl). That’s the plan for now.  I’m sure it will change. Watch this space for more updates on the trip.

Surviving Surprises; Fly the Airplane and then Work the Problem

by Larry F. Baum

Aerostar N60LMA lot of EHFC members know that I had what turned out to be an in-flight emergency in our Aerostar while headed to Brunswick, Maine to pick up Marian Cutting, David St. George, and two others who were delivering Marian’s Bonanza to its new owner on Thursday Aug 22. In reviewing what happened and why, some of the extra explanation for those not familiar with twin engine and complex aircraft will be highlighted in italics. [Also, see our multi-engine page for articles on “zero-thrust” and “blueline”]

N60LM is a 1979 Aerostar, a six place pressurized twin engine airplane that Mike Newman and I have owned for about 17 years. We can cruise at over 220knots and can fly pressurized to 25,000ft. I was solo IFR at 19,000ft about 70nm east of our home base, KITH. The plane recently finished its annual inspection and I was thinking that the plane was running really well — very smooth, temps where they should be. Life was good — finally!

With no warning, the left propeller goes to flat pitch and the RPM takes off and goes through redline. The Aerostar has controllable pitch propellers similar to what’s on the club’s Mooney. There is a prop governor on each engine where that is used to set the engine RPM. As power is increased or decreased, the pitch of the propeller automatically changes to maintain the rpm setting. The prop governor has a maximum setting of 2,575 rpm. Going overspeed by as little as 10% for less than a minute can easily destroy the engine.

I pulled the left throttle back immediately, pulled the prop control to feather and pulled the mixture control as well. I grabbed the yoke, jammed in right rudder and increased power on the right engine. All this is taught to multi-engine pilots as rote. At altitude, you have some time to make decisions and normally wouldn’t immediately shut down the engine, but I was concerned about blowing it up, so I worked quickly to get things under control.

I radioed Boston Center and told them I was making a 180 and heading back to KITH with an engine failure and requested an immediate descent clearance to 16,000 ft. I was already in a descending turn when they gave me the clearance. The single engine service ceiling on the Aerostar is 16,000ft. So I knew it wouldn’t stay at 19K and a single operating engine couldn’t keep the cabin pressurized.

However, there was a problem. The left prop was windmilling. It didn’t go into feather. The RPM was still up there, just under redline. I started slowing down to reduce the descent rate and reduce the speed of the windmilling prop. I also increased the power on the right side, 2400rpm and 36″MP (nearly climb power), and full rich mixture. Got down to about blueline (best single engine rate of climb – 117knots in the Aerostar) and the groundspeed dropped off very quickly. I asked for and got a clearance down the 14,000 ft. This all happened in under 3 minutes.

At that moment, it dawned on me that with a windmilling prop, I might not be able to find a power setting and airspeed where the plane would fly level. I tried various airspeeds and power settings (nearly to full power -350hp) – figuring that the least drag from the windmilling engine would be somewhere in the vicinity of blueline. But, try as I might, I couldn’t find a combination at that altitude where the plane would fly level. At that point, the plane was controllable about 115-120knots but the descent rate continued at about 350-400fpm. Think of a windmilling prop as a large piece of plywood in front of the engine creating an enormous amount of drag. You can’t get too slow or the plane will literally roll over and out of control. And with a windmilling propeller, the higher the airspeed, the more drag is created.

By this point, I was heading back generally in the direction of KITH, kind of following the reverse line on the GNS 530. I also knew there were four possible airports to land at between my location and KITH. (Oneonta, Norwich, Hamilton, and Cortland) But, because of the way the plane was handling and the windmilling engine, I wasn’t going to give up any more altitude until I had to. I punched in direct KITH into the GPS. I wanted to see if I could it back to KITH. One setting we keep in the GNS 430 is the vertical speed required for a descent that will end up 1000ft above and 3nm from the field. It showed about 550fpm required. We normally use this feature to plan VFR descents. So I knew that if nothing changed, I could make KITH and be at or above pattern altitude. I also knew there were very few hills between me and KITH, nothing more than 1000AGL.

A few of other points in my decision making at that point: – I had four other airports available to land at along the way. They were all OK in length 3,500–5,000’+, but kind of narrow – 75’. (I wasn’t entirely sure how the plane would handle laterally at that point.)

– The closest four airports would me require giving up a lot of altitude right now, something that I really didn’t want to do. I knew Cortland is only 12 miles east of KITH. If the altitude calculations somehow didn’t work, that would be my final alternate.

– I also figured that the plane should fly better as I descended into thicker air.

– The weather was VFR along the route with haze, some cumulus clouds and no significant surface winds.

– I totally know the terrain and obstacles around Ithaca. Under the circumstances, it would present the fewest surprises.

As I came through 14,000’, I asked for 11,000 and told the controller that I didn’t know if I’d be able to maintain that altitude when I got there. The controller seemed not to understand the situation and said he could only clear me to 11 (the top of Boston Center airspace in that area). So, I declared an emergency…told the controller what my plan was and to give me bearing and distance to each of the four airports along the way with my goal of landing in KITH (having the longest and widest runway available). After the fuel on board, and souls report, ATC was very helpful.

There’s a lot of trepidation and discussion about declaring an emergency. There really needn’t be. By doing so, I could tell ATC what I needed, what my plan was, what the plane could do and not do. They could keep traffic out of the way and if needed provide me with immediate vectors to any of the four airports along the way. Also, if something “bad” happened, they knew where I was and could call out emergency crews.

After what seemed like forever (20 minutes), I found myself passing Cortland, only 12 miles east of KITH. By that time, the plane would fly level at about 37-38”MP (climb power in the Aerostar, about 85%) on the right engine at about 120Kts indicated. CHTs were in the 400 degree range at full rich. Rolled onto final at KITH at about ¾ miles out right on the GS. (I did have time to load the ILS 32 approach into the GPS and activated it.) Dropped the gear, no flaps, and used right engine power to control the descent. Touched down doing about 105Kts. Power was probably at about 27” at touchdown. Used about 5,000’ to get stopped, but could have used less. Of course, the airport safety equipment was there right behind me and followed me right to the ramp. I even remembered to thank tower controller and asked him to convey thanks to the approach controllers and the folks up the line.

It didn’t take too long to figure out that the left prop controller had failed by swapping the right controller over to the left side. I looked at our logbooks and noted that both prop controllers had over 1,400 hours on them and were 10+ years old. We had our local shop order two replacements which were installed. And since the overspeed wasn’t more than 10% and was for less than 3 seconds, we didn’t have to comply with the Lycoming Overspeed Service Bulletin, although we decided to change the oil, check for metal in the filter, clean all the filters, do a compression check, clean the plugs, borescope the cylinders, and do an oil analysis just to make sure that no damage was done. None was. The plane was returned to operation and everything is working. So, this was a pretty successful outcome under the circumstances.

Now the rest of the story!

About two hours after landing, Roger Dennis, owner of Taughannock Aviation and a long-time friend comes into the shop. We’re talking about what happen and he asked: “Did you consider restarting the left engine?” Honestly, NO I hadn’t. I had worked out the plan given the windmilling engine, speeds, etc. and made it work. Then, it hit me — did I do it the best way?

Over the next several days, I spoke to several other long-time charter pilots, put a posting onto the Aerostar forum, dug through the Aerostar flight manual, and other Aerostar materials looking for a better way. I also looked at various other reports of windmilling propellers on the Internet, finding a few articles and NTSB reports where those flights had ended badly.

What I found was eye-opening:

– Two other Aerostar pilots reported that SimCom (one of the national simulator training facilities) has a procedure where the windmilling engine is not shut down, but essentially a combination of airspeed and power on the good engine is found where the bad engine is maintained a zero thrust. Zero thrust is the same a feathered propeller. Twins are designed to be able to fly in this configuration and multi-engine pilots are taught how to operate in a single engine environment.

– Buried in the new preliminary Aerostar Training Manual being written by the Aerostar Owners Association is a reference of what to do in case of a failed propeller governor. There is a caution note NOT to shut down the engine in the event that a propeller can’t be feathered. Here’s why keeping the left engine running would have been a better solution:

  • Even at idle power or a bit above idle, the left engine thrust would be at or near zero. Little or no drag. Same as a feathered propeller.
  • With a bit more power on the left engine, I could have found an airspeed/power combination where the left engine wouldn’t overspeed.
  • The plane would have easily maintained altitude and would have been much easier to fly (once I got below the single engine service ceiling).
  • Choosing an airport would have been much more straight-forward.
  • Declaring an emergency would likely have not been necessary.

So with the help of some 20/20 hindsight and although things worked out well, there were a lot of fortunate happenstances that helped:

  • The weather was good.
  • I was quite high.
  • The plane was light – a good 700 pounds under gross weight.
  • I happened to be just far enough away to make Ithaca.
  • I knew the terrain and the area very well.
  • I had enough experience to know that there was a speed that would minimize drag, minimize the descent rate and keep the plane under control.
  • Even with the windmilling propeller, down low, the plane would fly reasonably level.

On the other hand:

  • Although I’ve done extensive training in the Aerostar over the 17 years we’ve owned the plane, this scenario wasn’t part of any training curriculum I had been through. It wasn’t in any of the multi-engine training I had done either.
  • I had my plan and I was sticking to it. I never considered that there might be other options. Sometimes, you don’t have time to consider other options. This time, I did.
  • I hadn’t read everything written about the airplane. When I received the preliminary Aerostar Training Manual, I did read through it – just not carefully enough.

The bottom line is that there is always much to learn and I found that I need to be more open to studying the experiences of others, so when the next strange occurrence happens, I’ll be better prepared.

[Anyone interested in multi-engine training (initial or currency) see our twin training page and contact David.]

Preflight action – Know all that you can know

By:  Larry F. Baum with expert sleuthing by H. Michael Newman!

Every time I think about FAR 91.103, it reminds me of “Star Trek the Movie” where the crew discovers an altered Voyager probe who’s prime directive is: “To learn all that can be learned”.  The actual definition of 91.103 includes: “…to become familiar with all available information concerning the flight.”

So what’s that really mean? You can spend hours reviewing all sorts of information and still not be familiar with “all” available information. Most of us who have been flying for a while have developed a manageable system that involves understanding the weather, the route, the airspace, the airports along the way with particular attention paid to the departure and arrival airports, possible alternates, any TFRs or special use airspace and NOTAMS.

NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) contain all sorts of information, from airport or runway closures to laser light show presentations and everything in-between. Once in a while, there’s information contained in a NOTAM that defies easy translation. Just recently, my partner in our Aerostar, H. Michael Newman found this NOTAM while briefing for a flight from KBDR to KITH:

OBST TOWER 1673 (189 AGL) 4.44 ENE LGTS U/S (ASR 1281346). WIE UNTIL 02 APR 19:50 2012.

What the heck does ASR 1281346 mean?? Definitely non-obvious. To a pilot, ASR means Airport Surveillance Radar, but the numbers, no idea. Mike asked me. I asked David St. George and some others. No one had a clue. However, being a true sleuth as well as a flight instructor (retired), Mike took on the mission to find out the meaning.

So Mike Googled ASR. As you might expect there are lots of responses from our friends at Google – about 70,300,000 responses came back!!! On the first page, there’s all sorts of interesting definitions for ASR:

  • The first response has something to do with surfboards.
  • There’s an outfit called ASR Health Benefits
  • Wikipedia translates ASR from the Arabic as the “afternoon prayer”.
  • There appears to be a problem with ASR brand of hip replacements.
  • And so on.

The seventh entry on Google mentions the FCC’s Antenna Registration System (ASR). You will note the acronym does NOT match what it stands for. However, “FCC” and “Antenna” piqued Michael’s interest. Go back to the NOTAM – “OBST TOWER” refers to an antenna. So with a bit more sleuthing, Mike discovers that the FCC maintains a database of all registered towers. Checking into the dataset and entering “1281346” provides you with this result.

There’s a new antenna (actually constructed in October 2011) in Horseheads New York that has a problem with its lights according to the NOTAM. Problem solved! We now know that ASR followed by a series of numbers refers to the “antenna structure registration” inside of a NOTAM. I won’t speculate why this is useful information for a pilot to know.

But wait…the overall height above ground according to the FCC is 57.6 (AGL)!  The NOTAM says 189 AGL. Why the difference? More thinking and sleuthing. Divide 189/57.6 and you get 3.28125. Ah…Feet vs meters!  Yes, the FCC works in meters while the FAA works in feet!!!  Our government at work. Remember the crash of the Mars probe about ten years ago!  Similar problem.  Regardless, make sure when flying over Horseheads, that you’re more than 189ft AGL or greater than 1,673 MSL!

There’s a bit more to this story. While writing this, I happened to Google: “NOTAM ASR”. What I found were several NOTAM entries similar to the one Mike began with and one entry from a Google Group explaining how to translate a particular NOTAM, that said: ASR is the “antenna registration number – unimportant”. So now we know!