Flying to Buffalo – pt 1

1807 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…

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.

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).

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).

GREAT Blue Angels Flight movie

One of the podcasts that I really enjoy is The PilotCast. If you enjoy hangar talk but can’t get to your local airport to hang out and chat with the locals, this is a great resource.

This movie looks to me like the most realistic portrayal of what you’ll experience riding along with the Blue Angels that I’ve ever seen. No fancy music, some editing to cut out the long spaces where nothing is really happening and the flight in all of its glory!

There is a lot of romance associated with fighter jet flying. And if you’re young and fit it’s probably all smooth sailing. This video confirms the numerous written accounts that I’ve read that you *really* don’t want to eat a hearty breakfast before you head out.

Even with the brief periods of unconsciousness and the possibility of needing to use an emesis bag. That would still be a small price to pay for that thrill of a lifetime.

Hilton Head Golfing Weekend

Got back last night from a pleasant weekend in Hilton Head.

Mark Russom is down here for a little over a week. It only seemed natural that we would all fly out to Hilton Head to get in some golf. So on Saturday morning we took a Piper Warrior and headed out. We had great tail winds with the GPS showing our ground speed at up to 156 knots on the leg between the Dublin VOR and Hilton Head. The trip only took about one hour and a half.

This is the second time I’ve visited the Carolina Air Center FBO and the second time I’ve come away incredibly impressed with their friendliness and extraordinary customer service. Special thanks to Jennifer who patiently answered all my questions and arranged for our rental car, and to Mike who gave us a great “lay of the land” and highlighted a bunch of options that we could pursue on the island.

Hilton Head can be a hard place to navigate around, between all the private “plantations” (I’m not at all convinced that gated communities are even legal) to the obscure access to the beaches (all the beaches are “public” by the way – it’s just finding a way to get to them). But armed with the information above plus some golf reservations we knew where we were going and had no problem doing what we wanted.

Mark and I golfed at the Sea Pines – Ocean Course . This was a very nice course. We had absolutely nobody in front of us or pressuring us from behind. I suppose the 9o degree plus temperatures and 2:30 tee time may have had something to do with that :).
I had not used a GPS-equipped golf cart before either, it was really nice knowing exactly where I was in relation to the tee as well as exactly how well (or poorly) I was hitting. I can’t believe how pervasive this technology is becoming, and I mean that in the very best way!

Michelle went for a walk through the plantation and out into the “Public” area of the island. Shopping and fingering her VISA card every time something caught her eye. But restraint ruled the day (that and our luggage limit in the airplane) and I’m not sure if she ended up buying anything at all.

Timing worked out perfectly and Michelle strolled over to meet us at the 18th hole green. We then hit the hotel and headed out for dinner.

The next day we rented some bikes from “Pedals”. At $10/24 hours they were half the price of the bicycle rental place at the golf course. We took the bikes down to the beach and rode along the hard packed sand as far as we could go to the North (there is an inlet there that we didn’t feel like fording).

We grabbed a bite at the waterfront restaurant of the Marriott and then headed out onto the streets to try to make our way back to drop off the bikes. The tide had come in and we didn’t have that great sand to ride on any more.

Got to the airport by about 5 pm Sunday, used their Wi-Fi to check weather and other flight details and then headed back for Atlanta. The great tailwind that had sped us on our way to Hilton Head was now slightly diminished and was now a headwind that greatly slowed us down heading home. But about two hours and forty five minutes later we touched down at Briscoe field and then headed out for a late supper at Applebees.

Night Flying

Just spent a couple of hours last night regaining my night currency as well as trying to hone my “soft field landing” skills. I *really* enjoy flying at night. The air is calmer, there is almost no traffic and I, personally, find it easier to find the airports I’m looking for since their beacons are easily discernable and the haze layer is not as much of a factor at night.
I flew out of Gwinnett (KLZU) and did several full stop landings to meet and exceed the night currency requirements. I alternated between normal landings and soft field. Then I headed over to Winder (KWDR) to practice my night flying skills. I had my GPS with me and turned on, but I ignored it to brush up my night map-to-terrain skills. I did a few touch-and-gos there with a soft-field thrown in for good measure and then headed up to Gainsville (KGVL). There was a modest crosswind there, between 8-9 knots with no real gusting that allowed me to practice a crosswind landing while doing a touch-and-go.
Flying at about 3500 feet late at night (it was about 10 pm by then), it was dark and quiet. Perfect.

Currency regained

This past Sunday I finally made it back up into the air to get my flight currency back up to par. The weather was fantastic – light winds, light clouds and a beautiful sunset, the likes of which you can only see from the air.

There is something about doing touch and goes against the backdrop of a blood-red sun silhouetting the Atlanta skyline. I only did 6 touch and goes, one of which was a short field takeoff and landing and I loved doing every one. Each is different as things are always changing. In my case the sun was getting lower and lower on the horizon with each subsequent exercise. Plus there was the occasional jet or traffic element to offer some challenge.

One thing I got to see while waiting for takeoff clearence that I’ve never witnessed before was watching one of those banner-towing planes make its approach and drop its banner on one of the unused taxiways at KLZU. I’d read about how they do this in the AOPA magazine but it was a thrill to watch the pilot skillfully drop off his trailing banner right in front of me.

SpitFire Deli

Located at Winder airport, the Spitfire Deli sports good food and pretty reasonable hours.

Mich and I had a chance to chat with the owners for a while today and found them engaging and hospitable. The establishment is clean and bright and, most importantly, serves excellent french fries!

The menu, posted on their website, is more of a general guideline than a hard and fast listing of all available foods.

A hop, skip and a jump away from my home base of Gwinnett airport (KLZU) I know I’ll be adding the SpitFire deli as a cool stop on the way home.

Weather Resources

With Hurricane Dennis about to make landfall I thought it would be appropriate to post a number of weather links that I like to use when planning my flights. Some of them have excellent facilities for tracking and projecting tropical storms and hurricanes.


More Advanced
If you like weather charts and want to see satellite imagery and projection charts, the National Weather Service (NWS) is brilliant.

  • This link to the NWS’ Aviation Weather center has much of the basic information you need for flight planning. Take a look at the satellite links to see big weather systems such as hurricanes, etc.
  • There is really no rhyme or reason to the site and associated URLs, if you poke around long enough you can eventually find what you’re looking for. But for hurricanes and the like, go here (I clicked on “News” from the link above and then “National Weather Service” from the “Top Story” on that page). Anyway along the top you’ll find links to current major storms. Clicking on “Hurricane Dennis Graphics” (as of today) will give you some very useful images showing actual and projected paths for the hurricane.
  • Finally here is a legend to help decipher all those symbols you see on the charts above.

Aviation Specific
All the links below have a bent toward aviation in particular:

  • The AirNav site (here is KLZU – My Home Airport) is specific to each airport and you can get relatively recent ATIS (Automated Tower Information Service) or AWOS (Automated Weather Observation System) which is basically just airport local weather. The ATIS will offer some extra info such as runway in use, etc. but for this post, the weather’s the thing.

These links require either that you have a pilot’s license or that you are a member of AOPA.

  • AOPA’s weather information is provided by Meteorlogix – so this is a nice perk of being a member
  • I make use of DUATS for my overall flight planning