May 27, 2005
7N7- N85- N82
Pedricktown, NJ, to Pittstown, NY to
A new engine
I'm really excited today because I intend to fly to
New York City and fly right past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson
River alongside Manhattan. On three previous occasions I have tried to
do this flight in rented airplanes and been thwarted. Each time I
scheduled an extra day before or after a business trip to NY and reserved a
Cessna 172 from nearby Teeterboro airport, and each time the weather turned
sour forcing cancellation of the flying.
The route for sightseeing is in a tiny strip along
the river sandwiched between JFK and Newark airports, and all aircraft have
to be between 500 feet and 1,100 feet. I am very prepared having purchased
the special charts showing the flying route, studied the route in detail and
input waypoints into my GPS. I've talked to several local pilots who
have done this before and received good advice. The weather
today is good with only a possibility of late day thundershowers so I should
finally be able to make this flight. I call flight service to find out
if there are any special notices out and to file a flight plan. Then
my bubble bursts. Flight service informs me that Navy "Fleet Week" is
this week and there are airshows all along Manhattan and over to Long Island
as well. I am allowed to fly the corridor at my own risk but they
inform me that in addition to the usual very heavy amount of sightseeing
traffic there will be military jet aircraft up and down the Hudson River
corridor and the jets have been given special permission for this week only
to fly along the river below 1,000' at speeds in excess of 250 knots.
Much as I want to make this trip it sounds suicidal
to mix my gyroplane at 60 knots with jets, helicopters and everyone else all
crammed into this tiny parcel of airspace. Discretion being the better
part of valor I cancel yet again.
Most days I have a detailed plan of what airports I
will stop at and approximate times in route. I study all the charts
the evening before and I program the stops into my GPS but today since my
carefully made plans are canceled I climb in and take-off deciding to just
wing it. I fly around Philadelphia's airspace without talking to
anyone and head north towards where I will meet Dee.
As I pass several small airports I call on the
radio giving my position so other aircraft in or outbound will know where I
am. At one point I skirt around a small towered airport and since I am
not in their airspace I do not need to call them, but it is prudent to
listen in on frequency to see if any traffic is near me. This time I hear
the tower tell a plane to continue circling until the Blue Angels are
through- that gets my attention and no sooner do I turn my head in that
direction than I see 4 jets screaming through the sky in perfect formation.
I slow down and begin circling to watch the show going on 5 miles away.
The Blue Angels make several more passes before heading out of sight to be
replaced by skydivers before I continue on my way.
A few miles farther on I decide it's time for a
break and the Alexandria airport is not far off so I check their frequencies
and runway configuration on the database in my GPS and drop out of the sky.
As I land and taxi up to the fuel pumps I see a beautiful yellow Stearman
Bi-plane. It turns out the pilot of the Stearman is also a gyro pilot
and he proceeds to show me his two gyros, his Stearman, his military trainer
and his hot air balloon. His name is Joe Borin and he is typical of
the fascinating people I meet at nearly EVERY airport where I stop. He
has flown his gyros and military planes at numerous airshows and all are
equipped with smoke dispensers so the crowds below can follow his antics in
From Alexandria I head into the Catskill mountains
to meet Dee at Wurtsboro. I can see from the chart that Wurtsboro sits
in a small valley between two higher ridges and the entire area is heavily
forested. The mountain ridges run north and south while the
strong and gusty wind is coming from the west. I would prefer to fly over
the larger valley to the east of the ridge but I know from my mountain
flying experience in Colorado that the air will be smoother on the upwind
side of the ridge.
The air over the mountains reacts just as water
does in a river. As the water gets to a rock it smoothly swells up and
over the rock, but on the downriver side of the rock we see white water and
lots of turbulence. As the wind blows from the west it hits the
western side of the mountain and smoothly rises up the mountain but then it
gets to the top of the ridge and as it drops to the eastern downwind side it
tumbles over itself and creates turbulence and downdrafts.
I hit a few minor downdrafts as I climb up through
the turbulent air on the eastern downwind side of the ridge and immediately
after I hop over the ridge to the west the air smoothes out.
To practice good mountain flying technique as I
approach the ridge I fly towards it at a 45 degree angle so that if I
encounter a strong downdraft I can turn away by only turning 90
degrees. Once I am over the ridge I head away from it at a 90 degree
angle to get into the lifting air as soon as possible.
These techniques work again for me just as they
have in the higher mountains of the Rockies so many times before.
We had planned to spend the memorial day weekend here then fly to White
Plains, New York from where I would have another chance for my flight around
New York City. Once again it was not meant to be. Upon departing
Wurtsboro I noted odd readings from my oil pressure gauge. The engine
was developing normal power but concerned with the abnormal oil pressures I
landed for further investigation. A quick check of the engine
convinced me I was in for a major repair so I called Dee who had already
started down the road towards NY and suggested she return to the airport.
When I told the local mechanic about how the engine had overreved so
terribly when the drive belt sheared its teeth in Jacksonville, FL
(see emergency landing) he diagnosed the
problem as a piece of metal lodged in the oil pressure relief valve.
When we cut open the oil filter it was full of metal chips confirming our
worst suspicions. Further tearing down the engine showed that we had
done damage to pistons, valves and cylinder walls. I would have to
rebuild my engine or find a replacement.
I located a replacement engine in Utah so while waiting for it to arrive
in New York Dee and I drove off in the motorhome to keep commitments of
visits with family in New York, Martha's Vineyard, and Boston.
After a whirlwind week of catching up with family we returned to
Wurtsboro to begin pulling out the old engine and installing the new one.
Wurtsboro is a small family owned airport with a wonderful history. It
mostly caters to gliders and is a bit off the beaten path. There were
no FBO's with a shop full of licensed aircraft mechanics like I had found in
Instead there was Charlie Clausen. Charlie turned out to be one of
most capable mechanic/machinists and genial companions I have ever met.
His one man shop was over 10,000 sq. feet and contained no less than 8
milling machines including a couple of lathes that could handle pieces of
steel over 12 feet long. I'm sure Charlie could repair anything
from a Swiss watch to the Space Shuttle.
In the short time I was there he replaced my gyro engine, rebuilt the 10'
long hydraulic cylinders on 2 backhoes, vulcanized damaged race car
tires, opened a gun safe, painted his aerobatic plane, fixed a 12' swath
commercial lawnmower, rebuilt the engine on a powerboat, fixed the bucket on
a cherry picker truck then used it to recover the glider plane tow
cable from a tree, trimmed a few limbs of the tree that overhung an airport
building and dredged out a beaver dam that was causing a minor flood north
of the runway. I also know he has rebuilt and calibrated machines that
grind optical lenses and are so precise they use only air pressure for
perfect accuracy. When I asked one of the locals for a reference
before I had met Charlie he said, "Charlie could build you a new engine out
of aluminum foil."-- After working with him for a week I'm sure it's
Four days after the arrival of my new engine the old one was out and the
new one was in. After a few days of flight tests we were ready to
depart for points north.
Renaissance Mechanic - Charlie Clausen
June 18, 2005
Wurtsboro, NY to Kingston,
After several days of flight tests and waiting for weather we're off
today. I have considered detouring to get in my much delayed flight
around New York City and past the Statue of Liberty however as I have a new
unproven engine that may not be the wisest choice. When the news
reports that not one but two helicopters have crashed into the river this
week in New York I take that as a sign I should fly somewhere else so we
head instead north towards Lenox, Massachusetts. I had once made a film here
when my brother lived nearby and our plan was for a short flight and then
visit to the historic areas around Stockton made famous by Norman Rockwell.
I first took off and circled the runway for a few minutes while Dee took
pictures and I assured myself that all was well with the new engine then I
climbed over the ridge separating Wurtsboro from the Hudson River Valley.
I'm on the edge of the Catskill Mountains and I alternate from flying along
the edges of the cliffs where the scenery is spectacular and farther out
over the valley where they are gentle fields below me. The wind
pushing up the cliffs creates lots of lift and I share the airspace with
dozens of soaring hawks each one solitarily patrolling his domain below.
I have planned two short flight legs today as I want to stop frequently
and check the engine over by eye. As I near my first stop at Kingston
I see rain up ahead and it looks like it is parked just about over the
airport. When I am within two miles of the airfield the light rain
mists my windshield and I consider abandoning my planned stop and flying
around the clouds. I turn away from the rain cloud and in a minute am
in clear air so this plan would work. Flying through heavy rain is not
particularly good for my rotor blades and landing in a gusty storm front
would not be smart but it is a gentle rain and there seems to be virtually
no wind so I stick to my original plan and drop down for a landing on the
smooth runway that sits right next to the Hudson River and the
Everything looks fine on the engine but I can see more rain clouds to the
north so I consider waiting here for awhile. One of the locals tells
me the historic Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is just 4 miles away across the
there had been in our original plans but with the delay caused by the engine
problem I had dropped the visit to Rhinebeck- maybe
now I could revive that part of the plan. Rhinebeck discourages
general aviation pilots from landing at their private field but when I
explained my gyro and my mission I was approved for a
visit. I quickly saddled up and taxied to the runway with 6 locals coming outside
to watch the gyro take-off. It was a bit anti-climatic as when I
pulled the throttle back for take-off the engine roared to full power for a
mere 3 seconds then
dropped to a quiet purr at idle. It turned out when we re-assembled
the engine the throttle cable had been slightly misrouted and had chaffed
through. Luckily I had found out here on the ground.
Once again I called Dee and she turned off the freeway and came back to
rescue me. By late afternoon the cable was fixed though the weather
never really improved. Since we were now camped 4 miles from Rhinebeck
and 20 miles from where Dee had been to school at Vassar we decided an extra
day was in order here.
Sunday June 19th was spent with Dee first showing me her college campus
then visiting the wonderful aerodrome. We were both glad not to have
missed Rhinebeck. Of the nearly one hundred of air museums in
America this is certainly the most unique. It is not just another
collection of decommissioned World War Two planes but instead it features
rare planes from World War One and much of the collection is flown every
weekend for the summer airshows. They actually have one of the oldest
flying airplanes in America and in a few more years that aircraft will
be 100 years old and still flying. Unlike so many tourist
attractions that seem to be patterned after the perfectly manufactured
experience of Disneyland the Rhinebeck aerodrome is funky and low key which
adds to its 1920's charm. The airshow of old bi-planes and even the
Piper Cub are not to be missed.