Sunday, June 28, 2015

Flight from Marcellus, NY to Lincolnton, NC

In an earlier post I stated, flying is always fun, but having a destination makes it even better.

Also, if a little is good, then more is better.

More in this case came to me last winter when I thought it would be fun for both of us if I flew my father down to visit my sister Diane and her family at their small farm in Iron Station, NC.

Dad is a pilot too, learning to fly at Camillus Airport back in the 60's and flying from there until it closed down sometime in the late 70's. Other than the X-C required as a student I don't think he ever ventured far from Central NY. I've made a few long flights ferrying airplanes for other owners. As a co-pilot, a coast to coast California-New York and several trips to Florida. This flight would be the longest in an aircraft I owned.

We make the drive to Iron Station about once a year. Taking RT 81 and RT 77 it is about 740 miles and 11 hr 40 min. Flying cuts the mileage to 583 and the time to 6 hours at a cruise speed of about 100 mph.

Originally we planned on leaving on Tuesday but a cold front was forecast to pass that morning. Monday was good as far as sky conditions, but south winds ahead of the front would have slowed our progress significantly. Behind the front, which would be leaving North Carolina as we took off, the winds veered to the northwest adding both a crosswind and a slight tailwind to our southwesterly flight.

With full fuel, two adults and about 25 pounds of luggage we would be heavy departing our little grass strip. This worried me. Leading up to the trip I considered leaving the tanks low and stopping to top off in Ithaca, but I was confident that with our early departure we would be off the ground before the northwest winds reached the surface. At 6 am the winds were calm and allowed us to take off to the southeast on runway 15 which is about 12 feel lower at the departure end and most importantly, with no trees. Loaded on a warm day we spend way too much time waiting to clear the treetops when going the other way.

In the cool morning air we were off in a reasonable distance and climbing steadily though not gaining altitude particularly fast. We probably could have gone the other way.

There was still quite a bit of moisture in Central New York and for the first 15 minutes until just before Cayuga Lake we were held to about 2,500 feet under a layer of stratus. After passing Taughannock Falls we climbed to 4,500 then 6,500 for the first leg to Mifflin, PA a little under 2 hours away.

Cayuga Lake and Ithaca beyond

With the smooth morning air and aircraft trimmed for level flight little input was needed for much of the flight. We could just relax and watch the world move slowly below us.

Everywhere clearings, drilling, waste water ponds for fracking. Thank God New York learned from the environmental disaster Pennsylvania experienced as a result of the unregulated fracking process.

Approaching Mifflin. The ridges which run all the way to Tennessee make this area a popular starting point for sailplanes on long distance flights.

The game: Calculate when to begin the descent to arrive at pattern altitude just as you arrive at the airport. A gentle on the ears, 250 foot per minute descent from 6,500' to a pattern altitude of 1,600' should be started about 20 minutes out. I wanted some extra altitude over these ridges and waited another 5 minutes or so to begin. Five minutes, plus the additional speed from a power on descent cut into 15 minutes thus and I ended up with a little extra altitude.

Fuel 10.1 gallons / 1.77 hrs = 5.7 gallons per hour @ ~2,450 rpm
Up until this point, dumping 5 gallon cans of auto fuel into the wings, I had never gotten an accurate measure on fuel consumption. My best guess was something a little over 6 gph in cruise. We landed with more than half our usable fuel. It was reassuring to know we hold about 4 hours at normal cruise, longer if we reduce power.

After refueling and a phone call to Charlotte ATC for the final OK to enter their Mode C airspace with an inoperative Mode C transponder we were off to our next stop at Shenandoah Regional in VA.

Entering the downwind leg for RWY 05 and Shenandoah Regional.

Another stop for fuel, again still more than half tanks but definitely time to stretch our legs and a snack of coffee cake Mom sent with us. Delicious! We also ran into a friend of mine Michael Godfrey fueling his Maule for a flight to the Delmar peninsula on a birding project. A brief visit and we were on our way.

Fuel 9.4 gal / 1.78 hours = 5.28 gph 
(What did I do differently? Maybe tanks not filled to 100%? Maybe better power from 100LL? Warmer, thinner air as we head south?)

Continuing south we cruised along in the smooth air on top of scattered cumulus clouds and increasing haze. 

Smith Mountain Reservoir

Shortly after passing Winston-Salem we began our descent towards Statesville, NC. Leaving our cool cruising altitude we arrived at the edge of the Mode C veil at 2,000 feet for the final 20 miles in a hot hazy and bumpy atmosphere to Lincolnton County Airport.  I contacted Charlotte Approach about 2 miles south of the Statesville airport but it wasn't until almost 11 miles later that they picked me up as a primary contact on their radar. 2,000 Feet above sea level is less than 1,000 above ground with some hills between us and the radar at Charlotte. As Lincolnton airport came into sight radar service was terminated, frequency change approved and we announced our approach to the pattern.

Lincolnton County

Nate, me, dad, Diane, Evelyn, Grace

Taxiing up to the ramp we could see my sister Diane and family waving from the terminal. 


(Next the return flight. Weather always makes things much more interesting!)

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