Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Flight to New Hampshire's Ice Runway

A couple years back Phil and I attempted a flight to the ice runway in Alton Bay, NH. Approaching the airport we found the early arrival of spring like temperatures had created open water along the shoreline. A low pass was all we dared and then headed over to Laconia for lunch.

Monday, thanks to a warming Arctic, slowing of the polar jet and everyones' favorite "Polar Vortex" keeping us in the cold this season, we were assured of a solidly frozen lake Winnipesaukee.

On this morning the low was -8 in Syracuse and -12 in Hamilton. Even a couple hours later as we were pulling Phil's plane out, the temperature was around zero. While cold weather is great for ice runways, it isn't for airplane engines. Phil's propane pre-heat wasn't enough to overcome the cold. A couple electric heaters placed right in the engine compartment gave just enough warmth to allow a start.

(click on images for full resolution)

Started and taxiing over to the fuel pumps.

Settling into cruise at 5,500 we cross the Mohawk River and Thruway at St. Johnsville.

Lake George in the distance as we approach the Hudson Valley in smooth air. 

It is cold in the plane. We can see our breath. At one point Phil's breath landed on his GPS and the screen iced over! I'm glad I decided to wear a sweatshirt under my coat. Four layers on my upper half, long-johns under my pants below, double socks and yet my legs were starting to shake by the end of the flight. 

Checking the OAT, Phil said it was -10. Being a wise guy I responded, "and it's probably even colder outside..."

Mountains in VT

Originally, we had planned on making this flight on Sunday to coincide with the Ice Festival in Alton Bay but a storm system moving up the coast would have made crossing the mountains difficult or impossible with mountain tops obscured in clouds. Also, strong winds would have made for an uncomfortable ride as well as gusty difficult conditions on the surface.

Even a day later with this weather system moved off to the northeast there was still significant NNW winds aloft. Forecasts called for 40 kts @ 6,000'. These winds required a significant correction and made our 2.5 hour flight take 3 hours.

Looking out my side window I could see that we were moving towards a point to the right of the nose. It wasn't until we got over the mountains where the terrain gave some real depth to the view that I realized just how much the winds were pushing us. I've seen this before, but looking out the front and seeing the hills moving sideways across the nose was amazing.

Approaching downwind at Laconia, NH

We decided to stop for fuel at Laconia before heading on to Alton Bay. I was looking forward to a rest stop and warming up in inside rather than on a giant ice cube of a lake.

Phil's 140 in a heated hangar

It was a good decision to stop at Laconia first. The engine wouldn't even turn over so we could taxi to the fuel pumps. Fortunately the FBO Emerson Aviation was there to help. Their mechanic guided Phil's plane into a heated hangar, pulled the battery to charge and tested the electrical system while with the use of the airport courtesy car we went for lunch in town.

Phil and mechanic discussing electrical system

The mechanic said we should have turned off the master when we realized there was a problem with charging. This would have reset the alternator charging circuit. With a tester connected the system showed it was charging at near 14V when started.

Turning onto a wind blown runway 28

It was late afternoon as we taxied out. With gusty winds that would be a crosswind at Alton Bay and the sun already low in the sky, we agreed that we would try another time.

Looking north with Mt Washington in the distance

Departing Laconia and watching Mt Washington in the distance my camera can't capture the feeling of how imposing this 6,288' mountain looks, even 50 miles away. After completing my 46er here in New York I will have to climb this. Before then, maybe an airplane ride to explore and photograph.

Okemo Mountain Resort Ludlow, VT
(I used Google Earth to identify this ski area)

Hudson Falls, Glens Falls and Lake George

The sun is approaching the horizon for us, but for those on the ground it has already set. Colors from The Belt of Venus, the line separating sunlight and sunset, is visible sloping upwards to the east.

Phil in the setting sun

By evening the winds aloft over New York have subsided. We are now making good speed with our ground speed nearing our airspeed of 107 mph.

Looking west over Herkimer, Mohawk, Illion, Frankfort with Utica and Oneida Lake beyond.

Phil's panel as we descend into Hamilton

Final for runway 17 at Hamilton

Back at the hangar

I have a camera flash version of this image, but I prefer the much closer to real look of natural light.

Thanks again Phil for a great flight. Try again,
maybe the "third times' the charm..."

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