Chapter 3 Route: Fort Smith, AR to Nashua, NH
Day 6 – Monday January 1, 2001
The new day, the new week, the New Year, the new millennium, or whatever you choose to call it, dawned with low ceilings, cold temperatures, and marginal visibility. In a perfect world, we would have stayed on the ground. Nothing against the residents of Fort Smith, but we had to go. One off day was more than enough.
We had an early continental breakfast at the hotel and headed for the airport. I had left word with the folks at Tac Air that I wanted 4JN ready to roll for 0630. Apparently the fellow on duty didn’t believe we’d actually leave before dawn on New Year’s morning. Luckily, the delay wasn’t costly. 4JN was pulled out and gassed up. We settled our account and loaded our gear and ourselves aboard.
Even with the fixed up primer, 4JN wasn’t going anywhere. It was too darned cold. For some reason, I thought the storage hanger was heated. Nope. Luckily, Tac Air had a Preheater. Actually, it was a kerosene space heater modified for this task. Once we got it going, I was ready to leave it to do its work and warm up inside. (Tom was already doing this.)
“Not a good idea”, I was told, “it can melt paint.”
Yes. It was VERY hot. In a couple of minutes, our starting chances were greatly improved.
The battery in the engine compartment of a Cessna 150 is really little. It’s about the size of a lawn tractor battery. Even on a good day, I have no idea about how it starts the engine. I had already wasted most of its energy on my previous attempts. I didn’t know how many electrons might be left, but hoped they were enough to get the job done. 4JN started right up. I sent Tom out to ask how much the preheat cost.
“Nothing,” came the report. “He told us to have a good flight.” Nice.
It was still before dawn when I contacted the ground controller. The wind was calm, so I asked to depart off of Runway 7, which happened to be the closest. That request was approved and we started off. The line between “knowing where you are” and “being completely lost” at a strange airport at night is extremely fine. All of the blue taxiway lights and the white runway lights can blend together.
I stopped and felt like an idiot. The consequences of being lost on the ground at an airport can be severe. You can be run down by another aircraft! In these situations, it’s best to win while admitting your sins, rather than lose with a halo.
“Fort Smith Ground. Four Juliet November. I’ve lost my bearings.”
See. There. That wasn’t so bad.
We made our way to Runway 7 and departed without further incident at 0712. For the first time on this trip, the sun wasn’t in our eyes as we headed east. Low overcast clouds are sometimes called “scud”. Flying under them is called “scud running”.
Flying under visual flight rules (VFR) generally requires the visibility to be at least 3 miles. It was 5 or 6. You need to be under the clouds by at least 500’. Normally you need to flying at least 1000’ above the ground. Our ceiling was 1800-2000’ above the ground. You get the picture. The clouds squeeze you from above and the ground gets you from below. Playing this game can create flaming holes in the ground.
A disease called “gethomeitis” is usually a factor in creating flaming holes. In other words, you want to get home so badly that your judgment is impaired. You end up taking risks that you normally wouldn’t otherwise get involved in.
Yep. That was me.
In my defense, I felt the terrain was favorable (i.e., flat), we had excellent navigation on board, and my basic instrument skills were sharp.
Flying in a reduced visibility situation is interesting. Your world turns into a circle. The radius of the circle is the visibility. For the first time, I was flying the GPS very precisely. Getting to the target wasn’t good enough. I needed to be on the exact right path the whole entire way. That was done by utilizing the “left/right of course” function. It maximized our chance of seeing recognizable landmarks, and minimized our chances of bumping into something.
The Russellville (RUE) airport arrived on time at 0750 and disappeared into the mist shortly thereafter. We decided on stopping at Searcy (SRC) and started the approach. I called the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) while on a long final. The airport manager responded and advised that they weren’t plowed. I asked how deep the snow was.
“A few inches,” came the reply.
“Hard or soft”, I asked.
“Soft”, was the response.
By now, Tom was sitting up straight in his chair. “What’s this gonna be like?” he wondered.
“Not exactly sure,” I answered, “We’ll know in a moment.”
For the record, it was like landing on grass—smooth as silk. We touched down at 0830.
This airport didn’t own a plow. That explained the runway condition. The manager and his young son were on-duty. Perhaps the fact that it was still pretty early on New Year’s morning had something to do with it. The service was pleasant, but no speed records were set. We departed at 0857 and continued east.
Soon enough, we encountered the Memphis Class B airspace. Think “B equals big”. Every large (commercial) airport has this type of airspace.
Two things made this transition memorable. The first was when the controller said,
“Say your type Cessna.”
I responded, “Cessna Type One Five Zero”.
This was followed by a short silence. Probably nothing happened really, but it was easy to imagine the controller laughing hysterically or perhaps nudging a co-worker, “Can you believe this??!?!”
The key to Class B airspace is that you must have explicit permission to enter. Permission was granted and we sailed along over the Mississippi River, out of Arkansas, and into Tennessee at 2000’. Quite unexpectedly, I was handed off to Memphis Tower.
“Cessna Seven One Four Juliet November. Say your intentions.”
I was caught completely off guard and fumbled with the my notes and the chart. “Four Juliet November is heading east to ah…. Savannah Harden. Identifier Sierra November Hotel.”
“Oh,” came the reply from a likewise stunned voice, “continue on course”.
There’s an old flying expression, “Hours of boredom followed by moments of terror.”
Friendly folks in Savannah, TN – but no plows.
We arrived at Savannah-Harden airport (SNH, just south of Savannah, Tennessee) about an hour of boredom later. Like the folks in Searcy, Arkansas, the folks here had snow, yet didn’t own a plow. A quick glance down the runway on short final revealed positively no other wheel tracks. At 1047, our wheels touched down and kicked up a wave of white powder.
Tom’s reaction: “That was AWESOME!”
We taxied over to the gas pump and were greeted by a nice lady. She was the very definition of “Southern Hospitality.” We were invited in for coffee and hot chocolate. She simply could not believe that 1) we were flying on such a cold day, 2) we landed in the snow, 3) we were flying across the country in the Cessna 150.
It was all true. What could I say? She could have talked for hours, I’m sure, but we needed to hit the sky. We departed at 1118 and quickly flew onto our 9th sectional chart of the trip. We headed a bit further south to avoid the Class C airspace owned by Huntsville, Alabama (HSV).
Speaking of hard to believe, it was hard to believe that we were catching up to the storm that had passed Fort Smith yesterday. The air was a bit bumpy and Tom started to moan about his tummy. About 10 miles southeast of HSV, we flew into a snow shower and a moment later, Tom threw up.
Oh boy. All at once, relatively easy scud-running was replaced with instrument flying and a smell that was rapidly making me nauseous. I flew straight-ahead for a minute and hoped for the best.
No. No. No. This is really stupid. This is how perfectly good planes get flown straight-and-level into unyielding terrain. I turned the cabin heat off, turned the cabin air on, and started a gradual 180 degree turn. The coordinates for Huntsville were already in the GPS. We headed straight for it. I dialed in their approach frequency and spoke.
“Huntsville Approach. Cessna Seven One Four Juliet November is approximately 8 miles south east of the field in EXTREMELY marginal VFR conditions. Request clearance for landing.”
The air traffic control people sometimes call it “parting the waters” (like for Moses and the Israelites). If someone yells “Help” action is forthcoming. Everything and everyone is moved out of the way. Saying “Emergency” or “Immediate” starts the process. I don’t recall saying either one of those words, but the controlled panic in my voice must have been evident.
In less time than it’ll take you to read this, I was given a squawk code (for the transponder) and a clearance to land on Runway 36 right.
Tom wasn’t well, but he wasn’t throwing up either.
“Look up Huntsville. Tell me about 36 right,” I barked.
“I can’t,” he moaned, clutching his bag.
“Get with it,” I ordered, “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in a lot of trouble here.”
Tom fumbled some, but he found it, “36R. 10000 by 150 feet”.
By now, the visibility was better and the field was in sight. Wow. It was really big. The landing was uneventful at 1225. We then taxied almost 2 miles to an FBO called Signature.
So let’s summarize our situation. The weather stinks. We’ve just arrived at an INTERNATIONAL airport. We’ll probably have to spend the night here. The only planes around us were made by Boeing and Airbus Industries. A Sheraton Hotel tower is across the street. We’re parked in front of a place with 2-story-high plate glass windows, plush red carpets, overstuffed furniture, and a security system.
Tom pipes up, “I’m hungry. Let’s get something to eat.”
What am I thinking? What else? “This place is going to cost me a fortune!”
A line guy came running up. Was he wearing a tuxedo? I blinked my eyes. No. That was my imagination.
“How can I help you?” he asked while placing chocks around the nose wheel.
“I’m not sure”, I started, “we never expected to be here. We ran into a snow squall….”
He seemed to understand. “OK. If you need us, we’re right inside.”
I collected my wits for a moment, and concluded that we might as well start by eating.
We were directed to the terminal building, a short walk away. Talk about a contrast! Barely more than an hour ago, we were welcomed with open arms at the Savannah-Harden airport. Here, we needed to go through metal detectors just to have lunch.
The Huntsville terminal didn’t present us with a load of options. There was a “bar and grill” kind of place. That’s where the folks who are afraid of flying load up on courage before departure. That wasn’t right for Tom. The only other choice was a sub shop, and Tom turned his nose up at their offerings. I ended up getting a soda and a turkey sandwich. Tom had most of my bread and all of my chips.
With the lunch problem contained—sort of, we headed back to Signature to have a look at their computerized weather. We’d already flown 379 NM, but our goal for the day, Fayetteville, North Carolina, was still 389 NM miles away. That seemed pretty unlikely at this point.
The weather for tomorrow was forecast to be decent. We just needed to get out of here today. I checked all of the surrounding airports that were more-or-less on the way home. That wasn’t going to work. I started working on a plan that would take us further south. It may have ultimately gotten us near Atlanta, but that seemed futile as well. Tom had located their big screen TV and had settled in. I opted for pacing and waited for the latest weather updates.
We caught a break as the weather improved to our east. The Signature folks refueled us and we split. Thankfully, there were no fees except for the gas which cost $3.13 per gallon. Taxing back the 10000’ of Runway 36R seemed like a total waste. After rolling along for far too long, I requested a departure from the closest intersection (Echo 5) . That was approved. It put roughly 4000 feet of runway in front of us—more than enough.
We lifted off at roughly 1540 and climbed up awfully close to the overcast. We turned east and Huntsville faded away behind us.
Huntsville Departure called, “Cessna Four Juliet November. Do you see a ridge above you at your 12 o’clock covered with antennas?”
“Yes we do.”, I responded, “We’re climbing now and will avoid them.”
“Good. Once you get beyond the ridge, I’ll lose radar contact. Squawk VFR. Frequency change approved. Have a safe flight,” the voice said.
I wondered what he was thinking. I assume it was along the lines of “These guys are nuts.”
By 1614, we crossed over the Isbell Airport (4A9) near Fort Payne, Alabama. At 1632, we flew into sunshine and puffy fair weather clouds over the Russell Airport (RMG) near Rome, Georgia. Things were looking up. I started to wonder if perhaps Fayetteville was within reach. We’d need to refuel. I started Tom on “the books of knowledge” in search of 24 hour fuel places.
The search didn’t last long. Almost immediately, we flew into another snow shower. By now it was getting dark and we were already tired. The terrain below us which had been misty, was now almost invisible. This decision was easy, and it was made in timely fashion. We turned back for the sunshine at Rome and landed at 1705.
“I wonder where they keep the Coliseum?” Tom stated flatly.
“Well,” I started, “we already flew over Paris, (Arkansas). With a little effort we can find Athens, (Georgia). We’re not getting home, but we’re seeing all of Europe.”
We tied 4JN down and went inside. On the upside, we were safe and sound. On the downside, it was supposed to be really cold tomorrow morning (around 15° F), and these folks didn’t have a Preheater. Leaving was going to be a problem.
An older fellow piped up, “You don’t need no Preheater. Don’t use the primer either—that’s the worst thing you can do. Three quick strokes of the throttle while it’s cranking is all you need. Yes sir. Three quick strokes….”
A lot of airports seem to have guys like these. Most of them haven’t flown in years. They flew in the war, or knew someone who flew in the war, or some such foolishness. I expressed my doubts. “That’s not what the book says.”
Predictably, that got him going. He didn’t call me a “know-nothing college boy,” but I could see that it wouldn’t take much longer. It ended up where he bet me it’d work. If it didn’t, he agreed to recharge my battery.
“OK. You have a deal,” I said while urging Tom towards the door.
As was now our custom, we had a car and a set of hazy directions. We got some food and located the hotel.
What about things on the home front? Before the trip even started, my wife Barbara had declared matter-of-factly, “I hope you know I won’t be sleeping while you two are gone.”
I had to admit, it wasn’t much of a plan, but it was a plan. As our departure grew closer, the plan was modified. “I was thinking,” she started, “if you are on the ground, safe in a hotel, that’s not much different than being home. You have to call me at least once a day from your hotel.”
Once we left Manchester, Barbara established a command post in our kitchen. A large United States Map was setup to mark our progress. The Weather Channel became mandatory viewing. Incoming calls from friends and family didn’t last long. They were given quick status reports and the line was cleared. Some folks (including Bob McFarlane) wisely checked in via email. They were given more details.
We evolved a system where we’d check in after almost every landing. In the evening, I’d call from the hotel via our cell phone and give Barbara the number. She’d call back. That saved us a pile of money.
As you can see so far, this trip had an overall outline. We were following a line on the chart. However, where we might stop for fuel, or where we might stop for the night was generally decided enroute based on the best available intelligence at the time. As a result, every call home resulted in a response like, “Where is that?!? What state are you in now? What’s it near?”
Today was no different. Tom dialed up home, “Hi Mom. It’s me Tom. I can see the Coliseum from our hotel.”
By the way, we never did find out what these Romans do here in Rome. We soon fell asleep.
Day 7 – Tuesday, January 2, 2001
This day dawned clear and beautiful with only one problem. As promised, it was very cold. A thick layer of frost blanketed the car.
We were told that fuel wasn’t available until 0800, so I planned our arrival at the airport accordingly. No one else was around. I loaded our gear into 4JN and started the preflight inspection to kill a bit of time. The whole plane was covered in frost. I went back to the car to warm up. Tom was standing outside it.
“Let me in,” he shivered.
“I left the key in the ignition. Did you lock us out?” I responded.
“Yeah. You always tell me to lock the doors,” he reasoned. “Don’t you have a spare key?”
“A spare key for a car that isn’t mine!?!” I fumed.
There was nothing left to do but try the old-timer’s starting advice. No joy. 4JN didn’t even puff once. I tried the book’s approach. That was slightly better, but still fruitless. We were off to a slow start. We were cold, the plane wouldn’t start, and we were locked out of our car.
The airport manager soon arrived. He let us in to the building so at least we weren’t freezing anymore. He confirmed that they didn’t own a Preheater. There were no heated hangers either. He didn’t say it, but about the only advice he had to offer was, “Wait for Spring.”
Predictably, the old guy with the ‘sure-fire’ starting system was nowhere to be found.
We needed heat—pure and simple. I circled the outside of the building and returned delighted. “Do you have a hair-dryer here?”, I asked.
“No, ‘course not,”came the bewildered reply.
“OK. What about an extension cord?” I countered.
“No. I don’t think so…. Wait. Let’s check the supply closet,” said the airport manager.
Voila! We had half of the solution. We talked our way into a different rental car (one that didn’t have its keys locked inside) and set off for the local CVS, arriving at 0845. We had to wait 15 minutes for them to open. When the lady unlocked the door, it was like something out of the Blues Brothers movie. We were on a mission from God.
“Do you folks sell hair dryers?” I asked.
The location was pointed out. I picked the most powerful unit, paid for it, and we were gone in a flash.
“Are you men police?”
“No ma’am, we’re pilots.”
We zoomed back to the airport as fast as the local traffic would allow. 4JN was moved near the electrical outlet I found earlier. The hair blower was plugged in, turned on, and stuffed into the engine compartment. Under these artic conditions, even a 1250 watt hair dryer provides only a lukewarm breeze. We waited.
It allowed us plenty of time to tour the beautiful airport building at Rome. Not only was it beautiful, but it was in beautiful condition. After a short wait, the reason for this became obvious. A pair of convicts from a local prison are assigned here to keep things tidy. They seemed friendly enough. I almost asked, “What are you in for?” but thought better of it. I was afraid they might tell me.
After about 15 minutes of blowing, I decided to give 4JN a try. It didn’t start, but we were on the right track. More waiting was followed by another try. Still nothing. But it was an encouraging kind of nothing. The final wait resulted in success. 4JN came to life. I ran the engine for a couple of minutes, then shut down to remove the hair blower and coil up the extension cord. I thanked the manager and we departed at 0953.
That was frustrating. Two gorgeous, not to mention precious hours of daylight were wasted. Yesterday’s goal of Fayetteville, NC was just that, “yesterday’s goal”. We had hoped to visit Barbara’s sister. By the time we lifted off, they were all back at work or in school. There was no point in visiting an empty house.
We continued east until Habersham County airport (AJR). We passed there at 1052 and turned northeast to parallel the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our course now angled straight for home. Toccoa (TOC) passed behind us at 1102. We entered South Carolina and passed Pickens (LQK) at 1125. Next up was North Carolina. We landed at Rutherford County (FQD) at 1203.
A tiny little white building called the 57 Alpha Café caught our attention. That was the real reason for stopping here in the first place. A man greeted us and took our order, “Two burgers, two chips, and two Cokes”.
Before long, our food arrived and with it came the owner, the chief cook, the dishwasher, and the you-name-it. Oh sure, it was one guy. By trade, he was an aerial photographer. The café walls were covered with his great looking photos. Between assignments, our host made a living here. He wanted to know all about our trip. Tom didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the exact kind of “local color” I wanted him to experience.
After some interesting conversation, we fueled up 4JN and departed FQD at 1251. At 1327, we crossed over Statesville (SVH) about 30 miles north of Charlotte and just outside of the Charlotte Class B airspace.
Our course then took us right between Winston-Salem on the left and Greensboro on the right. This path seemed perfectly reasonable the night before. With careful navigation, we’d pass east of the Class D airspace associated with Smith Reynolds (INT) and west and under the Class C airspace of Piedmont Triad International (GSO).
In fact, that actually happened. However, with the very good visibility it seemed like we could reach out and touch both of them at one point. The view was most disturbing. While perfectly legal, it wasn’t very smart. In retrospect, we should have called GSO, arranged a clearance, and played it safer.
From here, it was on to Person County (TDF), about 20 miles north of Raleigh Durham. We passed overhead at 1436. Soon afterwards, we left the Cincinnati Sectional (our 11th) in favor of the Washington Sectional. At 1503, we crossed over the John H. Kerr reservoir that straddles the North Carolina/Virginia state line. Minutes later, at 1524, we landed at Emporia, Virginia (EMV).
The airport manager came out to meet us. He worked from 0900 to 1700, so I opted to refuel now. Whenever possible, I like to refuel just before departure. Doing so earlier just about insures a lot of fuel will drip out of the vent and onto the pavement. In this case, we didn’t have much choice. Our fuel level was critically low, and I didn’t want to wait until 0900 to leave tomorrow.
The next morning was supposed to be cold. Did these folks have a Preheater? No. Was I worried? No. We had our combination hair dryer / official Cessna 150 engine heater. I asked about an extension cord and an outlet. Both were not a problem.
The big surprise came when I asked about a car. We could use the “courtesy car”. I’d heard of such a thing, but this was the first time I’d ever seen one for real. Dissect the phrase. It’s a car they let you borrow—as a courtesy for using the airport. Wow. We loaded up and headed for town.
The car had a great license plate; “FLY EMV”. It was an older, faded blue Pontiac 6000 with about 178,000 miles on it, as I recall. It started right up just as the manager predicted. Actually, he said, “It runs like a sewing machine.” It did run great, although the brakes were a bit tenuous. The doors required a good hard hip check on the way out. But no matter, one couldn’t argue with the service or the price.
It runs like a sewing machine.
For a change, we had about an hour of daylight to play with. We drove around Emporia a bit and saw the place. From the business perspective, their claim to fame was the fact that Route 95 bisected the town. “Easy off. Easy on.” dominated the signage.
We drove by a restaurant that had a dead fish as its logo. For some reason, a septic truck was parked out back. The logo and the smell matched up—quite unforgettable.
We picked a decent looking hotel and checked in. Our previous drive had allowed us to size up the available food choices. Since this was to be our last night on the road, I opted for a steakhouse. Tom was suspicious from the start, but then his track record for trying new things wasn’t exactly stellar. I ignored his moaning. In this case, Tom was right. This place, although loaded with “local color”, was perfectly horrible.
It was another short day—only 400 NM and 5.1 hours in the air. That’s OK. Good weather was forecast to continue for tomorrow and home was finally within striking range. The beginning of the end was finally in sight.
Day 8 – Wednesday, January 3, 2001
It was time for this trip to be over. I was missing my first day of work. Thomas was missing his second day of school. Neither was a real problem as Barbara (at command central) had made all the proper notifications.
We started at the hotel’s continental breakfast. Tom turned his nose up at everything except for a glass of orange juice. I had a few things, but freely admit this had to be just about the most pathetic spread I’d ever encountered.
We packed up and checked out. I stopped at a local combination gas station/convenience store and secured a pair of donuts for Tom. I also put ten bucks worth of gas in what we were now calling “The Blue Bomb”. From here, it was on to the airport. As promised, it was cold and deserted. We moved 4JN to near the airport building and connected our hair blower setup.
As noted yesterday, this was a solution, but just barely. It took almost an hour to get the engine warm enough to start and stay running. We had the warm car to wait in, fortunately. We had the radio too. But just sitting there was worse than watching paint dry. Every song on the radio (which you know are rarely longer than 3 minutes) seemed to play forever.
Combination hair dryer / official Cessna 150 Preheater at work.
We got off the ground at 0809 and headed toward Middle Peninsula Regional (W97) near West Point, Virginia. We passed overhead at 0851 and turned east to cross a section of Chesapeake Bay that was almost 18 miles wide.
Water crossings don’t usually bother me, but this one did. As the land slipped further and further behind us, we came to a point where if the engine failed, we’d get wet. The air temperature was well below freezing. The water was covered by white-caps. The odds of a successful water landing are lousy to begin with. “Maximum hypothermia” was all around us. Luckily, 4JN’s 100 horsepower Teledyne Continental O-200 engine purred smoothly.
We arrived over Accomack County (MFV) at 0923 and continued up the Chesapeake Bay side of the land until clear of NASA’s Wallops (WAL) airport. From here, we crossed into Maryland and landed at Ocean City (OXB) at 1002. During our final approach, we definitively flew out over the Atlantic, completing our goal of flying “coast to coast”.
A quick bathroom break and a self-service fuel pump allowed a timely departure at 1021. Flying over the state of Maryland didn’t last long. Did I blink? Delaware was also behind us. We flew over the roughly 10 mile wide Delaware Bay and into New Jersey. Cape May County (WWD) passed below us at 1053.
I contacted Atlantic City Approach and requested transit through their Class C airspace. These guys assumed I was a Skyhawk (a Cessna 172). That was wrong, but from a distance, any traffic looking for us wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, so I kept quiet. And there was traffic. I recall hearing an Airbus A320 captain say, “We’re looking” when he was told to look out for “a Skyhawk at your 9 O’clock.” When the A320 was pointed out to us, Tom found him in a flash.
It took over 3000 miles, but were finally mixing it up with the big boys.
Soon enough, the relative quiet of Atlantic City (ACY) was behind us. We passed Lakehurst, New Jersey (N12), site of the Hindenburg disaster. Oh the humanity! At 1150, Allaire airport (BLM) slipped beneath our wings, we switched to the New York Sectional (number 13!) and it was time to get serious.
“New York Approach. Cessna Seven One Four Juliet November,” I started.
“Cessna Seven One Four Juliet November. New York Approach. Go ahead,” said an efficient sounding voice.
“New York Approach. Cessna Four Juliet November is VFR at 3500’ over Allaire airport. Request transit through your Class Bravo direct Danbury, Connecticut”, I responded.
I was given a squawk code and dialed it right in.
“Four Juliet November. Radar contact. Say your type Cessna.”
Oh geez. Here we go again. I told him.
“Cessna Four Juliet November. No…,” he started, “3500 isn’t gonna work. Too many airports. How about following the coast until I get you get past the city? Then I could turn you on course.”
“I really don’t want to be out over the water that much.”, I answered, “How about climbing to 5500’? Would that work for you?”
“OK. That’s approved. Cessna Seven One Four Juliet November climb and maintain 5500. You have permission to enter the New York Class Bravo.”
“That’ll take me quite a while,” I admitted.
“That’s OK. Take your time”, I was reassured. After about a minute, he continued, “Cessna Four Juliet November, I’ve been thinking about this. How about if I vector you? You’ll get a great view of the city.”
I was stunned. This guy obviously understood that we weren’t just another airliner. This guy knew that the view one sees from a Cessna 150 is special. I keyed the mike, “Cessna Four Juliet November. That sounds great.”
We were cleared back down to 3500’ and told to proceed visually to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Once there, we were given a heading to fly. I simply couldn’t believe it. The Statute of Liberty, the World Trade towers, the Empire State Building, and all of Manhattan came into view.
“How about if I vector you? You’ll get a great view of the city.”
The New York airspace is very segmented and very congested. Every few minutes, we were handed off to a different controller. Our traffic was called out; “an Airbus A320 at 6 O’clock”, a “Boeing 757 at 9 O’clock”, “an Airbus A340 passing beneath you”. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! What next? Before long, JFK International Airport was off the right wing, and LaGuardia was off to the left. My mouth just hung open.
In amongst the unbridled wonder of seeing New York City was an intense desire to fly precisely. That happened. By now, I’d accumulated almost 40 hours in this airplane. I’d flown though just about every kind of airspace known to man. My radio procedure was razor sharp and so were my flight skills.
Once clear of the big excitement, we were told to descend to 2500’. The vectors kept coming and they took us across Long Island Sound. As we crossed into Connecticut and New England, the excitement was replaced with electricity.
We could just about smell home from here!
The last New York controller finally released us and we called the tower at Danbury (DXR). This place is in a valley surrounded by hills. I’m sure folks who fly here frequently have got it all figured out. For me and Tom, it seemed like the hills were reaching up to grab us. I turned onto final way too high going way too fast.
At this point into the trip, Tom was handling the flaps.
I pulled the power and called out, “Flaps 10”.
4JN ballooned up, but slowed. I pushed the nose down, “Everything. Flaps 40,” and dove to the runway. It was 4400’ long and a lot of it was already behind us. The landing (at 1248) stunk, but we didn’t roll off the end.
“Tom,” I started, “By the book; that was impossible. But that’s what I like about the 150. It can’t read.” [I’ve since rediscovered that an aggressive forward slip (essentially flying the airplane sideways) would have worked better in this situation. But hey, we made it.]
I decided to stop at Danbury because I figured that it was someplace that New York Approach would know. It was also “on the way.” But frankly, after a crummy breakfast and almost 5 hours of flying, we were starving. The AOPA guidebook said, “Restaurant on field”. That’s about the same as a 1,000’ high neon sign that says, “STOP HERE!”
We taxied to Reliant Aircraft Service for parking. The Classic Rock Brew Pub was upstairs. Before departing for food, I spoke to a line guy who said that he’d refuel us while we were eating.
Everything brewing at the Brew Pub smelled great. Unfortunately, the FAA has this rule called “8 hours between the bottle and the throttle” I was stuck with a Pepsi. After some burgers, fries, and the better part of an hour, we split. 4JN wasn’t refueled. It seemed as if an air force of twin engine airplanes pulled into town moments after we did. They were getting fuel.
We left in disgust at 1344 and headed for Waterbury, CT (OXC). We touched down at 1359. These folks seemed a lot more concerned with a light jet out front and took their sweet time refueling us.
If we ever left, our next stop would be home. At 1423, 4JN was brought up to full power for the last time on this trip and we departed OXC.
We approached the Windsor Locks (BDL) Class C airspace. I called in on the correct frequency and was given an alternate. I was also told in no uncertain terms “to remain clear of the Class Charlie airspace until radar identified”.
We had a clear trend at this point. Three Connecticut contacts, three brush-offs. Maybe it was all of that Southern Hospitality we’d experienced earlier. Wait a minute! The whole rest of the country had been exceptionally nice to us. These Connecticut folks were rude.
Soon enough we crossed into Massachusetts. At 1501, Palmer (PMX) passed behind us. Fitchburg (FIT) followed along at 1522.
With precisely zero fanfare, N714JN and her two weary occupants landed Nashua, NH (ASH) at 1534. Home. I didn’t expect a brass band or anything, but “Four Juliet November. Taxi to the grass tie-downs,” was a let-down.
Over the past 8 days, 4JN had held us aloft for 42.4 hours. 3245 nautical miles slipped beneath her wings. For those A320 and 757 drivers we saw in New York, it was just another day at the office. For Thomas and me, this was the end of an experience we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.
We did it! The ultimate cross-country was ours!