VFR to NYC and Back

Friday, October 23, 1998

An amazing dome of high pressure had moved over the continental United States, with warm, mostly sunny weather stretching from California to Maine. About the only place it was raining in the entire country was in a couple of valleys in the Rockies and, as the twisted irony of the universe would have it, southern Florida. The weather was forecast to remain nice for at least another five days in Chicago, with the outlook nearly as good for most of the other places I checked. With a plane sitting on the ramp at Midway (MDW) the question was facing me: where to go for the weekend?

The weather was unbelievable. I could plan a VFR trip to almost any place in the country and be fairly confident I’d make it back to Chicago in time to be to work the following week. This task was made easier when I asked for and got Monday off. I fired an email off to a friend of mine in New York City. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and a trip to visit him was long overdue anyway. As luck would have it, he responded by email within twenty minutes saying “come on out!” and a plan began to take form.

Of course, deciding at the last possible minute to make a long, cross country flight to New York meant I had a number of errands to run after work, not the least of which was to fly out to the Pilot Shop at DuPage (DPA) and buy the requisite sectionals and AF/D’s. Immediately after work I headed out to Midway, where my friend Val was working. I mentioned my plan to fly to New York, to which his response was “I’m there, to hell with rock climbing!” (his original plan for the weekend). He got on the phone and called some friends in New York to let them know he was coming while I hopped in the plane, flew out to DPA and picked up the sectionals, along with an extra flash light in case the return trip turned out to be at night.

It was dark by the time I left DuPage and headed down to Joliet (JOT) for fuel. A quick call on the unicom confirmed that I would still be able to get fuel, and with no one in the pattern I made a quick strait-in approach on runway 12.

With full tanks, new sectionals, and an AF/D for the north-eastern United States I headed back to MDW where Val and I spent the next forty-five minutes or so planning our flight into Teterboro (TEB). We decided it would be easiest if he were to go home after work, pack, and then come back downtown and crash at my place. We worked out the logistics of getting him access to my condo, at which point I hopped back in the plane and headed toward Meigs Field (CGX) to park for the night.

A quick bike ride from Meigs and I was home. I immediately resisted the urge to crawl into bed and fall asleep, instead packing some clothes and toiletries for the stay in New York, checking DUATS on the web, and using www.airnav.com to find some inexpensive fuel stops along the way. Finally, at the end of a long and very busy day, everything was ready and I went, blissfully, to sleep.

Saturday, October 24, 1998

We headed over to a cafe in my neighbourhood for a quick breakfast before catching a cab to Meigs (CGX). Over coffee I mentioned that I’d found some possible inexpensive refuelling stops along the way, and one of the more promising appeared to be Butler, Pennsylvania. “No way! It suggested Butler? I was going to suggest we stop there and meet my parents for lunch!” CLICK for a more detailed map of our route of flight He called his parents and let them know we’d be stopping by around mid afternoon, and agreed to call back right before we took off for a more exact ETA.

The weather was beautiful, sunny and cool with unlimited visibility. Val gave his parents a call from the ramp as I started the motor. We taxied to runway 18, did our run-up, and were then cleared for departure! We immediately climbed to 2000 feet and headed south, transitioning Gary’s airspace (GYY) at 2000 before continuing our climb to our planned altitude of 11,500 feet. We wanted as much of that tail wind as we could get!

We picked up flight following with Fort Wayne shortly after leaving Gary’s airspace and continued our climb. Performance was pretty good … the cool weather was lending us a hand in our efforts to climb high into the sky. Somewhere north of Fort Wayne, Indiana, while we were passing through 10,800 feet or so, a feeling of euphoria began to set in. Val mentioned that his face felt weird and he was feeling a little giddy. I agreed, noting that the euphoria of going to New York on such short notice couldn’t account for the entire sense of the well-being I was experiencing. Oddly enough, once back at 10,500 both of us felt fine, though I continued to descend to 9,500 in keeping with the VFR hemispherical rules. If we’d been going west I probably would have gone down to 8,500, since 10,500 was just a little too close to our limits. That was my first brush ever with hypoxia, and a good lesson on what to watch for when I’m flying at altitude next time.

We were handed off to Cleveland Center and could easily make out the airport and Lake Eire, about forty miles north of our position. A while The world began to turn hilly over Pennsylvania later we were handed off to Pittsburgh approach. About twenty five minutes out from Butler (3G9) we were cleared for our descent. We flew over the top of the field and made a standard pattern entry into left traffic for runway 18. The winds were gusty, with a strong quartering cross-wind out of the west. My landing left a lot to be desired, and of course Val’s parents were there to see the whole thing! Oh well. Fuel was only $1.71 / gallon (self-serve). After refuelling we enjoyed some delicious brownies that Val’s mom had baked for us, hung out and visited with his folks for a little while, then hopped back in the plane. Taking off was interesting … an opportunity to use those short field take off skills. Those trees at the end of 18 seemed awfully close, despite the fact that many had been cut away. A climbing turn to the east and we were off!

Soon we could see the Appalachians to the south, the ridges cutting across the land in a north-easterly direction. N6708R resting beside the pines in western New JerseyThe hills beneath us framed countless lakes and winding rivers, and were in turn covered with the golds, reds, and oranges of trees succumbing to the inevitability of autumn. We didn’t climb all the way back up to 9,500, but rather opted for a cruising altitude of 5,500 instead. A while later those Cokes we’d had with lunch began making themselves felt, so we stopped off in a little place called Blairstown, New Jersey (1N7) to empty our bladders.

It was an incredibly scenic little airport with a beautiful FBO nestled among pine trees, resembling a hunting lodge more than an airport facility. There were all kinds of neat gliders and small aircraft parked around the field, and scattered amidst the trees were picnic tables, some of them occupied. Of course, I had to take a couple of pictures of the plane, sitting so beautifully there under the trees. :-)

Once the summons of mother nature had been answered we continued on toward New York. We wanted to pick up some VFR flight following from New York approach, but after monitoring the frequency for a few minutes it became painfully obvious that they would be too busy to deal with the likes of us. We got Teterboro’s ATIS before calling up Essex County (CDW) and requesting a transition of their airspace. This turned out to be a good idea, as there was precious little time once clear of their airspace to call up Teterboro Tower (TEB) and let them know we were inbound to land.

Our first glimps of New York CityDescending towards CDW's airspaceOn our descent, approaching TEB

We walked from the FBO down the block to the bus stop and caught the 161 bus to the Port Authority Bus Station on 42nd, where we changed to the subway “C” line which let us off right in the middle of Greenwich Village. From there it was just a matter of finding my friend Ryan’s apartment.

Val managed to get in touch with some of his friends and work out a rendezvous, after which Ryan, Val, and I headed over to a pizza joint around the corner and had some of the best sliced pizza I’ve ever had. After that it was an evening of bar hopping — first in this dark, very cool bar with great micro-brewed beer, then another place where we met Val’s friends, then another bar, and another, until we ended up somewhere on C street, finally out of energy. Val and I agreed to call one another at 11:00 the next morning to figure out how we’d meet for the return trip, after which Ryan and I caught a cab back to his place and crashed. So ended a long, exhausting, and very fun day.

Sunday, October 25, 1998

I awoke to the ringing of Ryan’s phone, still tired but not completely wiped out like the day before. It was Val calling, and apparently it was 11:00 AM. The time zone shift (EST vs. Chicago’s CST) and switch to daylight savings both conspired to rob us of time. We decided to meet at an Indian restaurant on 6th Avenue at noon for a leisurely brunch before heading back.

Ryan and I were starving, so by twelve thirty we’d already placed our orders, and were finishing up our food when the others arrived at 1:00. We stayed for a while longer while they ate, and I mentioned that I wanted to take Ryan up for a quick flight along the Hudson VFR corridor before heading back to Chicago. Apparently Vals’ friend wanted to go flying as well, so I did a quick weight and balance on my Palm Pilot while they finished lunch. With luggage we were 20 lbs under weight and within the CG limits, but just barely. I was glad we had a nice long runway to take off from.

The bus ride to the airport was significantly slower and less direct than the one into the city, although it was the same bus line we had taken before (the 161). Still, we got there in a reasonable amount of time, got the paperwork done with the FBO, preflighted the plane, and were off. Teterboro tower cleared us for an easterly flight to the river at or below one thousand feet. We reached the river near the George Washington bridge at 800 feet AGL, then turned southbound and announced our existence on the CTAF frequency set aside for just that purpose.

The view was spectacular! I didn’t dare go into slow flight, but I did trim the plane up for 80 knots. We headed out past the Statue of Liberty, turned around over the bay, and returned along the east side of the river. I went down to 500 feet AGL (the legal minimum as long as I remained over the water, and with Bravo airspace hugging the shoreline on both sides I wasn’t going anywhere else). The view of Manhattan was amazing, so much so that we decided to go back and do it again. I climbed to 800 feet again, announced my intentions, looked very carefully for traffic (there wasn’t any at that particular moment), and executed a 60 degree banked turn back to the south just to the south of the George Washington Bridge. Another pass southward past the Statue of Liberty, another 180, and back up north over the river. At this point I announced our intentions for a left turn at the George Washington Bridge towards Teterboro, monitored their ATIS in parallel with the Hudson River CTAF, switched to TEB Tower and let them know we were inbound to land.

Ryan looking down on his apartment
That apartment has to be somewhere in all these buildings!

We were cleared direct to the numbers for 24, but alas, I recognized the wrong field as being the airport, so our clearance was amended as we did a long downwind for runway 24, with the tower calling out our base once the other landing traffic had been taken care of. Once down we said goodbye to our friends, topped of the fuel tanks, and headed out toward Chicago.

At least, that was our intention. We taxied to 24, but then got caught in the Sunday evening crunch and spent the next forty minutes or so watching planes land, one after another, on both runways 24 and 19. A bizjet was cleared around us and took off, and about ten minutes later we were cleared for take off with a right turn to 320. The airspace around New York was extremely crowded. TEB had at least three aircraft holding outside of their class delta airspace, and CDW wasn’t much better off. Once clear of TEB’s space I had to circle a couple of times before I was able to get a word in edgewise to request a transition through CDW’s airspace. They cleared us through at 1500 feet or above, so I circled and climbed to 1600 and headed westward again.

The night was beautiful for flying. We got a weather update from Flightwatch (I was particularly concerned that we not bumble into some clouds at night over the middle of Pennsylvania, and there were some clouds in the sky. I was assured that they were no lower than 9,500 feet, which was well above our cruising altitude of 4,500). We then got a frequency from Flightwatch to try and get flight following on (they gave us New York Center). Apparently the big crunch was over, as they were happy to give us flight following until deep into Pennsylvania.

We played with airport lights along the way, turning them on and then reducing their brightness to dim (it was fun but, more importantly, confirmed where we could put down if there were an emergency). Occasionally a spotlight would flash, ruining my night vision for a few seconds. This happened a lot — I learned later they were hunters in trucks out spotting deer.

Our first attempt to get fuel was at Wayne County Airport in Ohio (BJJ). Alas, although the AOPA guide said the FBO was open until 10:00 PM, clearly there was no one around. So we took off and headed for Mansfield Lahm Municipal Airport (MFD) instead, where the AOPA guide reported an FBO which was open 24 hours. Alas, the key words missing from the AOPA guide were “with prior notice.” However, the tower was extremely helpful and gave them a call, and a very kind gentleman came out and sold us fuel. From now on I’ll be calling any airports I plan to refuel at night at before heading there, as we only had 1:15 of fuel remaining and would have had to either spend the night in Mansfield, or fly back to Akron (adding another hour to our travel time). Fortunately, everything worked out well and we were off again, departing from a 9000 foot runway with a quartering tailwind! The GPS and LORAN were set for GYY (to keep from pointing us over the lake) and Val tuned in various VOR radii to confirm our track on the sectional as we headed west-north-west on the final leg of our journey.

At 2:00 AM we landed at Midway (MDW) with a pretty good crosswind (which turned out to be my nicest landing of the day), chocked the plane up on the south ramp, and took a taxi back into the city. Val hopped the El home, while I staggered up to my place and promptly fell asleep. So ended a fantastic weekend.

FLYING TIME (N6708R, October 24 - October 25, 1998)

CGX - TEB:  5.8 hours
TEB - TEB:  1.0 hours (sight seeing over the Hudson River)
TEB - MDW:  8.3 hours