Flying to Buffalo – pt 4

Continued from part 3.

I contacted my Plane Rental company and they offered to send over an IFR rated pilot in a powerful plane (Piper Aztec) to pick us up. This left our little Warrior at Knoxville airport to be picked up the following weekend.

I had never flown before in IMC in a GA airplane. The altitude assigned to us by Atlanta radio had us right at the tops of the clouds, so we would occasionally be above a valley of cloud and sometimes we were plowing through mountains of white fluff lit by moonlight. The effect was surreal and wonderful.

Overall this was a tremendous learning experience, our plane did not have any autopilot so I was able to hone my basic handling skills. Flying into more complex airspace than normal (C class, TRSA) and pushing myself to take advantage of the services offered have made me MUCH more comfortable with taking advantage of such facilities so that I will do so without hesitation in the future. The in-cockpit weather is a great tool and I think I will keep that subscription, however I will definitely be availing myself of the weather information services both on the ground and in the air on a much more frequent basis than before.

Mich is a great flying companion, she will voice her opinion when she doesn’t understand something or feels there may be an issue but she is cool about the realities of GA flying – i.e. sometimes you just can’t get where you’re going. Of course, bribing her with a nice hotel room never hurts 🙂.

* WPG2 Plugin Not Validated *This trip also underscored the need to attain my IFR certificate if I am to use the plane in any practical sense for getting places, that and getting checked out in more powerful aircraft will make this hobby a lot more practical for our vacation aspirations.



Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on December 29, 2006 at 6:57 pm

Flying to Buffalo – pt 3

Continued from part 2.

The return trip, if anything, was more enlightening. After a thorough weather briefing we ended up lifting off at about 4:30 in the afternoon from Erie. Our home airport was supposed to have high ceilings and be otherwise fine for landing at our proposed arrival time.

We elected to stop in West Virginia again as we liked the FBO and fuel prices were reasonable. This time I got a full weather briefing and found that Gwinnett was positively socked in. Low ceilings and poor visibility meant that it was unlikely that we would be able to land when we arrived. That and flying over the North Georgia mountains in the dark in uncertain weather led me to decide to stay overnight in West Virginia.

The next morning, the forecast for Gwinnett showed modest ceilings that were to improve to about 6,000 feet before we intended to arrive there.

By now most of those creaky old skills that I had learned in my flying lessons were coming back to me and I was taking advantage of all the facilities available to me. I had filed a VFR flight plan, was taking full advantage of flight following and was talking with flightwatch to receive updated forecasts to augment my in-cockpit information.

These are valuable tools that tend not to be used so much when you just fly locally and I needed to prod myself to take advantage of them and have now added them to my personal checklist as *must have* items for any cross country flight (i.e. more than 50 miles).

We arrived at Knoxville airport without incident. The ceilings had NOT risen above 7,000 as I was expecting and I could see that the North Georgia Mountains were impassible for VFR flight. So I decided to skirt around them by amending my flight plan to jog over to Chattanooga and then head South to home.

A few minutes later, what I had assumed from the distance to be just lower visibility mist turned out to be a wall of fog (picture the sandstorm scene from the movie “Sahara”) that extended from the ground right up to the cloud ceiling above. *sigh* there was nothing for it but to turn back to Knoxville and land.

Continued in part 4…

Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on December 28, 2006 at 12:57 am

Flying to Buffalo – pt 2

Continued from part 1.

In my original planning I had figured on just under 3 hours for us to get to our gas stop. After 3 hours at ground speed of around 75 knots we still has a ways to go to our gas stop. Frankly, by now nature was calling rather urgently. So we put down at a small airport in Northern Kentucky and took care of business. I then decided to call ahead to our gas stop to ensure they would still be open when we got there. Hmmm.. no answer. It turns out that a LOT of FBOs were closed on Thanksgiving day. This is something that I still can’t get used to, the complete shut down of America on Thanksgiving.

So I diverted instead to my alternate airport, class C Tyson airport in West Virginia and refueled there instead. The FBO (Tac Air) was great and got me on my way in short order. It was dark by the time we landed. At that point I *should* have gotten an updated weather briefing to get the forecast for our destination airport, but I was still relying on my original briefing forecast plus my current in-cockpit weather which was telling me all was (and was going to be) well.

Lesson learned, while we were airborne on the first part of our flight, a dense fog advisory had been issued for the entire area South-East of  Lake Erie. New personal rule, never pass up the chance to get an updated weather briefing while on the ground.

Our flight toward KIAG was relatively uneventful, the in-cockpit weather was a great boon to night flying as I could “see” cloud piecemeal cover that I’d otherwise have begun to fly into and then would have had to guess at the best diversions to make (go under, over or around).  Approaching the Southern end of Lake Erie I could see the updated METAR for KIAG was showing marginal conditions for cloud cover but visibility was still OK. Not knowing about the fog advisory I figured this is something that would probably blow over soon and I’d just keep an eye on it. Shortly after that I saw the updated METARs for KIAG and the surrounding airports degrade into IFR and then low IFR conditions. Translation: we couldn’t land at any of them.  I could see the trend moving from the Eastern shore westward.

So we resigned ourselves to the fact that, whatever system was causing the poor visibility, it was not going away anytime soon. The best thing we could do was hunker down for the night and finish the trip in the morning. Looking inland we found an airport with fuel and an AOPA listing for decent hotel facilities and started heading that way. Calling ahead to let them know we were en-route, we got the bad news from them that they had neglected to update their METAR and that they too were socked in.

So I turned around and ended up heading to Tom Ridge airport in Erie, Pennsylvania. They turned up the landing lights to make their runway more visible to us and we landed there without incident. It was about 10:15 pm by this point. The guy at the GA FBO (North Coast Air) had heard us receiving clearance to land and had hung around to wait for us (Thank You!) as he was originally going to close an hour early due to Thanksgiving.

He got us a room at a local hotel and they sent a shuttle to come pick us up.

The next morning, the fog was as thick as pea soup. It had been forecast to lift by about  11 am so we made our way to the airport for then. Later the forecast was changed such that the fog was supposed to lift by 1:30 in the afternoon but when 1:00 rolled around and it was still 1/16 mile visibility and not improving at all we elected to rent a car and just leave the plane in Erie until our return trip.

Of course, while I was kicking the tires of our rental car after signing all the papers, the fog and clouds all dissipated leaving behind gorgeous blue skies. *sigh* c’est la vie.

The drive to Toronto from Erie was about 5 hours. Overall, had we driven from Atlanta we would have arrived at almost exactly the same time as we did on this trip.

Continued in part 3…


Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on December 26, 2006 at 11:53 pm

Flying to Buffalo – pt 1

* WPG2 Plugin Not Validated * The plan was simple, we’d fly ourselves from Atlanta, Georgia to Buffalo, New York, rent a car and drive to Toronto during our American Thanksgiving holiday.    

Part of our incentive was to avoid the traffic issues that go along with the busiest travel time of the year, another part was to not patronize the airlines while they continue to allow the TSA to bully them into bizarre, idiotic and ineffective measures that supposedly would provide for our safety.

We had deemed the trip an “optional” one. If the weather was bad or if we decided for whatever reason to stop there were no commitments that would tempt us to continue onward. This helped greatly in preventing get-there-itis.

I had also picked up “Anywhere Map”’s in cockpit Weather (Nexrad, Metar, lightening strikes) package. This would complement my usual weather briefing by allowing me to see weather conditions as they develop in near real-time.

There had been a storm that had largely affected the North-East. It had caused that terrible weather for New York’s Thanksgiving day parade and had pretty much cleared all the clouds away from the North-South corridor that we wanted to fly to the west of the Appalachian mountains. Unfortunately, this same system was responsible for Southerly winds that would ultimately result in strong headwinds for our Northbound journey.

The plan had been to take off from our home airport in Gwinnett at about 10 am do a gas stop at KGAS and then land in Buffalo (actually Niagara Regional Airport – KIAG) sometime between 4 and 6 pm. I knew the headwinds were going to be a factor but I really hadn’t counted on how much of an impact they would ultimately have. In typical Bourassa fashion, we actually did not lift off until closer to 12:30 pm.

Typically I like to spend no more than about 2-3 hours in the air more for passenger comfort than for safety. This plane, a Piper Warrior II has about 4 ½ hours of flying endurance even allowing for the minimum 1 hour fuel buffer that I always land with.

Continued in part 2…

Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on December 25, 2006 at 4:02 pm

Night Currency in the Warrior II

Last night was absolutely perfect to be out flying. I am planning to head to Alabama soon with some friends so I decided to ensure that I was current in the Warrior II which I will be using for that trip.

Cool temperatures (for here in the Southeast), calm winds and clear skies all work together to create some truly wonderful flying weather.

In filling out my log book I note that nearly 10% of my total flying time, and over 20% of my pilot in command time is now night flying. At about 220 total hours I find my proficiency is such that I now want to seriously work on achieving my IFR rating.

Night flying is smoother, performance is better and there is much less traffic out there. And what traffic *is* out there is easier to see. Of course, sightseeing while night flying is a wholly different experience. So I like to fly *to* my travel destinations during the day, and then return in the late evening. This lets me suss out the destination from the air and enjoy that unique perspective while also letting me have the relaxing and practical efficiency of the night experience on most of my longer trips.

Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on September 30, 2006 at 11:36 pm

July 4th from the Air

Mich, Robbie, one of our friend’s kids, and I spent part of this past July 4th enjoying the view of the dozens of fireworks displays from the vantage point of a rental airplane.

The weather up North (Pennsylvania and the Northeastern states) was stormy and there were some storm systems to our West but none of these were going to affect us in the time frame I wanted to be in the air. However there was a ceiling at 11,000 feet and scattered clouds in the area at about 4,000 and 6,000 feet. There were also thunderstorms and light rain showers in the area, but according to the weather reports, none that seemed near us.

We took off from Briscoe field shortly after some of the displays began and travelled North toward lake Lanier. The cloud cover kept us pretty low (at about 3,000 feet) but that was ample to keep us safe.

To our left as we departed runway 25 was a grand display that was probably Lawrenceville’s official fireworks show.

There were dozens and dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of little residential fireworks displays to be seen scattered across the myriad neighborhoods that we flew over.

I did not see the grand display of fireworks over Lake Lanier but I did notice that the cloud cover seemed to be increasing more rapidly than expected over the lake so I decided to head South toward Atlanta’s displays instead. We could see several other major displays taking place as we headed downtown. While en route I started to notice some buffeting, which is unusual for night flying, and then we saw Mother Nature’s own fireworks display. Off in the distance there were some spectacular lightning strikes going on. So we knew that one of the warned-about thunderstorms was not only nearby, but approaching our area.

180 degrees and a landing later we got the first drops of rain while I was tying down the airplane.

I found out, after the fact, that the Phipp’s Plaza and Centennial park displays did not happen that night. I haven’t researched whether they did the shows early or cancelled them altogether.

But in the brief time we were up we *did* get to see far more than I ever get to see on the ground watching a single show. And I cannot tell you how amazing it is to see all the little shows going on as far as you can see in every direction. Picture the landscape of the movie “Blade Runner” (one of my all time favorite movies).

Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on July 6, 2006 at 7:28 am

Air to Air communications frequencies

I recall trying to find this information about a year ago and having a lot of trouble finding it. Then I saw it published in my AOPA newsletter so I’m posting it here as a reminder to myself:

Question: What frequency, if any, can be used for air-to-air communications between two aircraft?

Answer: The Federal Communications Commission designates specific frequencies for aircraft and airports to use for specific purposes. For air-to-air communications, the designated frequencies are 122.75 MHz and 122.85 MHz. These frequencies also can be used for private airports that are not open to the public. For a list of designated frequencies for unicom and multicom frequencies, view Table 4-1-2 in the Aeronautical Information Manual. Learn more about what frequency you should use at AOPA Online (requires membership to AOPA).

Posted under Aviation

This post was written by Marc
on June 20, 2006 at 8:05 am