Log 13- NY, OH, MI

08/22/08

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July 10, 2005
RUT - 5B2- FZY- 6B4
Rutland, Vermont to Saratoga, NY to Fulton NY to Utica, NY
 

After our 5 days of bad weather today dawns with crystal blue skies.  There is still some ground fog west of us so I'm forced to delay my departure until about 9 am and unfortunately the forecast is for winds gusting to 22 knots before noon so I don't have much of a window.  However the morning is so spectacular that I can't wait to get airborne.  It is perfectly calm when I leave Rutland and the scenery here in the southwest corner of Vermont is wonderful.  Finally after weeks of Maine woods I am over green farm fields with deep red barns and small towns with sparkling white church steeples. 

I should be hurrying along to get westwards before the headwinds hit me but I'm intoxicated by the wonderful scenery and don't want it to end so I slow the gyro down and trim it to fly hands off.  I can't get the gyro to fly steady by itself at its full out cruise speed of 62 knots but if I slow down a bit to about 48 knots it becomes perfectly behaved and I can take my hands off the stick for minutes at a time simply making minor corrections by shifting my weight a bit or with a light touch on the rudder. 

I fly along taking pictures and enjoying myself immensely.  After a few minor twists and turns around the bigger hills I drop into the airport at Saratoga and as usual am immediately surrounded by people asking questions about the gyro.  I fuel up and while chatting with one of the local pilots I learn that nearby Fulton County airport has a nice diner right next to the runway so I jump in and take-off to find some lunch.  By now the wind has reached its predicted 20 knots so my take-off and subsequent landing at Fulton are almost vertical like a helicopter. 

The crowd at Fulton numbers half a dozen before I can exit the gyro and I happily answer the same questions before heading inside for a vegeburger and fries.  By the time I finish lunch the winds are up to full strength and my take-off is like an act of levitation.  I climb up a few hundred feet then put on some speed and bank over the crowd waving as I depart.  With the headwinds my speed at times drops to 38 knots over the ground just about the lowest speed I've seen.  A few days ago I had a tailwind and saw my highest speed at 83 knots. 

Luckily I don't have far to go and even though it feels like I am crawling over the ground before long I drop into the long slender runway at Frankfurt just outside of Utica, NY where Dee is already waiting.   

The airport sits on top of a hill overlooking the area near Utica, NY and it is a spectacular view in all directions.  In the center of the field is a perfectly manicured lawn which the radio controlled pilots use for their small planes.  Dee and I spend the afternoon lounging around outside the motorhome drinking in the blue sky, admiring the views and chatting with one of the friendliest pilots we've met anywhere.   We are so comfortable enjoying the peaceful scene we both turn down our host, Jim's offer of a sunset flight in his Aeronca Champ.  No sooner do I see him take-off into the still evening air than I regret not going flying with him. 

July 11, 2005
6B4 - 6B9- 0G7
Utica NY, Seneca Falls, NY

Morning dawns with clear skies and no morning fog so I'm off earlier than usual flying west with the early morning sunlight slanting in behind me to light up the landscape.  The bright green of the fields is offset by the deep red of the barns and a yellow school bus looks almost neon by contrast with the greenery all around.  When I see a farmer down below plowing I crank into a spiral dive and fly alongside his tractor waving and get a friendly wave in return.  I stay close to the ground and enjoy the intimacy with the landscape made possible by my gyroplane.  As the ground rises and falls I do the same maintaining a few hundred feet clearance as the fields unroll beneath me. 

Ahead I see the first of the Finger Lakes,  a series of long skinny lakes carved out by the last of the glaciers thousands of years ago.  I usually don't like to fly over water but these lakes are so skinny that from a 1,000 feet up I could easily glide to either shore.  I have plenty of fuel to reach my destination but I decide to check out the airport at Skaneateles just because I like the name.   I drop down for a quick landing but when a less than friendly woman on the ramp tells me not to taxi near her aircraft I decide the hell with it and I quickly take-off again for the Finger Lakes airport at Seneca Falls. 

After landing Dee and I enjoy exploring the town and driving around past the many wineries.  Even though the temperature is 95 degrees we walk out into the fields to load up at a pick your own cherry farm.  By 7 pm the temperatures have finally dropped below 90 degrees so we jump into the gyro for some aerial sightseeing.  It is the first time Dee has been up flying with me since the emergency landing in Florida and she is understandably a bit nervous but handles it fine and enjoys the ride.

                              

 

July 13, 2005
0G7- 01G- DKK
Seneca Falls to Perry to Dunkirk, NY

This morning the haze is thick reducing visibility to only a few miles.   The bright green from yesterday is muted even from just a few hundred feet up so I dispense with the camera and just fly along ticking off the miles. 

Since starting this trip I have become totally dependent on my GPS to keep me from getting lost but I remember my experience in Texas when the batteries died in the GPS so I decide this is a good time to check out my backup navigation method.  The backup is a special feature on my communication radio that allows me to tune in VOR radio beacons that all pilots used exclusively before GPS and which are still  used extensively as part of the air traffic control system.  My radio allows either voice or navigation but not both at the same time so I switch to nav mode and sure enough I get a usable signal from 20 miles away.  The signal is weak and varies by 10 degrees so I climb up a few hundred feet and get better reception. 

For the next 18 miles I ignore my GPS and navigate by compass and the signal from the radio and sure enough before long I steer directly to the tower whose beacon I have been following. 

I also test out my second radio which is a handheld radio with a tiny 6" antenna.  As I suspected it receives no usable navigation signal but it should still work in an emergency to allow me to talk to a tower for landing if the primary radio fails.

Along my course I see a small airport at Perry so I land and put in 5 gallons of gas while trading stories with one of the locals who is a fan of antique aircraft and also has a good knowledge of gyroplanes.  After refueling several men come outside into the intense heat and watch me take-off. 

Later as I'm flying along I glance over my shoulder to check out a repair I had previously made to my skylight window.  To my surprise the repair has not held and the window has come completely loose along its bottom edge.  I see a 1" gap along the bottom and the wind blowing in the sides of the gyro is pushing against the window threatening to rip the entire panel off and send it flying into the propeller and rotor blades. 

I reach back over my shoulder and feel that the top half is secure and the rivets are holding well.  I rationalize that if it was going to tear off it would have already done so but nevertheless I will be relieved when I land. 

The airport at Dunkirk is the largest I have seen recently with a cross wind runway and large FBO and flight school.  I'm in luck as they have a first class repair facility and are able to get my gyro in immediately to fix the window.  I work with the mechanic as we cut a strip of aluminum to beef up where the rivets have torn free from the fiberglass and when we are finished everything is secure and looks great.  As soon as the repair is completed Dee and I are off to tour a winery and see nearby lake Erie. 

July 14, 2005
DKK- HZY- 7G8
Dunkirk, NY to Ashtabula, Ohio to Middlefield, Ohio

The haze this morning is even thicker than yesterday with visibility reported as "3 miles in haze".  As a pilot who learned to fly in Colorado's 60 mile visibility I feel severely restricted.  Afternoon thunderstorms are predicted so I get a move on and taxi out behind a Piper Cub.  After take-off I do a runway flyby waving to the mechanics who have come out to see the gyro then I bank westwards and fly along the shore of Lake Erie. 

I'm looking down on the shore side mansions and the lake to my right with occasional scans around the horizon, when I suddenly notice the bright yellow Cub about 200 feet above me and off to my left.  I have no idea how long he has been there but I wave and he dips his wings to me.  Before I can grab my camera though he has banked away and headed back towards Dunkirk. 

Looking out into Lake Erie I realize that if I were to stray only a mile or two out that way it would be the same as being in the clouds and without the proper instruments I would have no way of knowing if I was flying level or not with a crash being the usual result.  With a chill running up my spine I reflect on the last time I was flying near Lake Erie. 

It was a day just like this and I canceled my flight because of the haze.  I had not wanted to disappoint my nephew who I was going to fly to the NFL Hall of Fame but at the time I was not instrument rated and I deemed it too dangerous.  In low spirits I drove back from the airport and turned on the TV.  The image that greeted me was the the breaking news story about JFK Jr. who had disappeared in his plane in conditions just like the ones they were reporting at Lake Erie. 

It is deceptive as the reports do not call it instrument conditions- it usually reads visibility 3-5 miles in haze, which over land is safe if not enjoyable.  However if one wanders over water such as Lake Erie or JFK's trip to Martha's Vineyard you immediately loose the horizon as the water and sky blend into one mass of undefined white.  Unless you are an instrument rated pilot as neither JFK Jr. nor I were that day the result is quite fatal. 

Before long I call the tower at Erie, Pennsylvania and they clear me through their airspace and on to Ashtabula, Ohio where I land behind a King Air being flown by the FAA who are on hand to service the radio beacon at the airport here.   The guy who runs the FBO is very enthusiastic about the gyro and about life in general I gather.  He asks lots of intelligent questions and I can see he is considering if one of these aircraft are for him. 

I demonstrate the take-off abilities of my machine and continue on to Geauga County airport just outside of Cleveland where my wife's sister lives.  My landing here is a bit of a bounce and the one earlier today was an alarming side to side wobble.  After weeks of smooth landings I wonder if I have some how lost my touch.  The airport is very small and quiet with only two or three planes tied down outside.    I see a few ultralights in one open hangar and find out they are made near here and are being prepared for the big airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in two weeks. 

 

July 14, 2005

I'm out at the airport by 7 am to do some maintenance work in coolness of the morning.  It has been 25 hours since I installed the new engine in NY so I change the oil and filter, flush the radiator and attend to a dozen other tasks on the maintenance checklists.  After everything is complete I take-off and practice 10 touch n goes with all my landings smooth and precise.  Even the simulated emergency landings are well done and I am proud of myself and my machine. 

The airport is totally deserted so I practice a few maximum performance take-offs and then park the gyro and walk out onto the runway with a tape measure to measure the distance I had used to get off the ground.

July 15-17

I had hoped to give rides to all Dee's relatives who want them but the weather here has been terrible.  We arrived to hear about the drought they have been in but it rains all 6 of the days we are here and in fact delays our departure by one day.

July 18, 2005
7G8- SKY- DUH- USE
Geauga County, OH to Sandusky, OH to Toledo, MI to Wauseon, OH

Last night just before sunset we saw blue sky for the first time in a week but it was a false promise as today dawns with leaden skies and visibility of only 1 mile.  Flight service tells me the weather along my route varies from 200 foot ceilings to 1,200 foot ceilings and visibilities of 1/2 mile to 4 miles at best.  They expect it to get better by mid-day but also predict scattered showers throughout the day and thunderstorms by late afternoon.  In addition there is a cold front headed this way which may make tomorrow doubtful for flight at all.  At this rate I'll get to Mentone 2-3 days later than planned.

I tell Dee to drive on ahead and I wait at the airport hoping I will get a short weather window.  If the day heats up a bit the clouds will at least lift to maybe 1,000-1,500 feet and I can take-off but I will have to time it carefully to get to my destination before either the afternoon thunderstorms or the cold front reach me.   

By 11 am I figure its now or not at all so I take-off into the haze.  I can only see about a mile into the whiteness and I have not traveled even 5 miles when rain starts to lightly splatter the windshield.  The problem with this limited visibility is that I can not see these showers and steer around them so I fly on through the rain.  In a few minutes I'm in the clear but staring into this whiteness is hard on the eyes. 

The sun is behind me and to my left making the haze seem less in that direction.  Consequently I find myself continually off course as my brain sub-consciously makes me steer left where the visibility appears to be a smidgen better.  Normally I hold my course within a few degrees without even thinking about it but today each time I glance at the compass or GPS I find I've strayed15-25 degrees to the left of my planned route. 

The gusty winds are not helping either my steering or my ground speed which is down to 49 knots.  I skirt south of Cleveland then angle northwards towards Lake Erie where I have a bouncy landing at Sandusky, Ohio.

 After fueling up I go inside to pay and see a wonderful lunch counter in the tiny terminal building.  At one table 4 of the local farmers are solving the worlds problems and I just know if I sit down at the lunch counter the waitress will call me "sweetie".  I would love to have lunch and soak up the atmosphere of the place but the weather does not allow me to tarry.  I take a quick look at the weather computer and see the rain headed my way so off I go missing both lunch and a good story.

The terrain has just turned from mostly trees to mostly open farm fields.  All through the Louisiana swamps, the Carolina low country and the heavy woods of Maine and NY state I had dreamed of flying over open green farm fields so now I should be enjoying myself tremendously, but the wind is very gusty and coupled with the poor visibility, and the worry about the impending weather the flying is just not much fun at the moment.  I press on.

At one point I go several miles out of my way to avoid a dense concentration of very tall towers.  Normally I would see them from miles away and there would be no problem but in this haze I do not want to take the chance of not seeing one until it's too late. 

Eventually I tire of straining my eyes looking ahead into the whiteness and it's then I notice the magic directly beneath me.  A giant creature is moving through the fields below my gyro.  As I pass one field and come to the next there he is again coming from the southwest and traveling northwards.  Like an invisible giant hand raking the cornfields the strong wind is rippling magically through the fields.  The ever changing patterns are mesmerizing and now I fly on mile after magic mile with my eyes on the fields below. 

Just after I make my announcement to land at my Michigan stop a Cessna 182 enters the pattern from above me and I tell him to go first as the headwinds have left me crawling so slowly across the landscape.  He lands and tells me of the severe windshear he encountered when he dropped below the tree level.  I come in behind him and touchdown directly across from the taxiway.  Despite the 15 knot cross-wind my landing here is better than the last one.  I taxi off towards a hangar I've seen but then realize the main airport area is on the other side of the runway up a very long taxi ramp.   I decide to skip the long taxi up and back so I pull off the taixway and shut down for a quick walk around and relief stop, then resume my flight. 

It is only 20 more miles to our destination at Fulton County, Wauseon airport.  Now my route is into the winds and I'm continually bounced around the skies.  At one point I end up flying under a building black cloud and I experience the sharpest jolts I've ever felt in my gyroplane.  The wind gusts must be very severe indeed to make my stable gyro bounce so badly. 

I can see I am racing more dark clouds towards the airport so I push on.  The strongest gusts are usually at the front of the storm and I do not want to arrive at the airport and try landing just as the gusts hit.  I consider flying elsewhere or just circling for 15 minutes to let the clouds pass but that could lead to worse conditions so I race on.  At 3 miles from the airport I make my announcement of entering the pattern and flying over the field to see the windsock, then just as I finish on the radio I see a wonderful maze carved out of the cornfield beneath me.  I know I don't have much time but the maze is fascinating so I quickly circle to see it better then realize I need to climb to understand the picture they have carved out of the corn stalks.  I pour on the power to climb and turn and then it becomes clear that I am looking at two race cars.  I would love to take pictures and study it longer but the weather won't wait so I drop down and check out the airport.  The wind is now gusting well over 20 knots and is right between the two runways.  I see a single stand of trees along the side of the asphalt runway and consider landing adjacent to them where they should block some wind but then as I take in the entire airport I see the grass runway bordered by an open field.  This is tailor made for gyroplanes so I swoop in at an angle and land diagonally across the grass runway facing right into the wind. 

The week of rough weather has soured me on Ohio but a reversal of my feelings is at hand when soon after I land, Shawn who is running the airport offers me free hangar space for the gyro overnight and an electrical hook-up for the motorhome.   Not long after we get settled in the thunderstorms arrive rocking the motorhome and drenching the ramp but thanks to Shawn my gyro is inside warm and dry.

Tomorrow it is on to the gyro fly-in at Mentone- the largest gathering of gyroplanes anywhere in the world. 

 

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Copyright Rob Dubin 2005