Thursday, March 24, 2005

 

The Social Airplane

What's more fun than a Cessna Cardinal? How about 4.5 Cessna Cardinals?

Saturday provided a rare opportunity to coordinate the schedules of no less than twelve people with a forecast of pleasant weather in order to overwhelm the air traffic controller at a small but busy airport and relieve the stockroom of a pseudo Irish pub of several pounds of hamburger ingredients. It all started when a member of the message board at StudenPilot.com suggested a weekend flyin for those in the New England region. Two weeks of discussion provided us with a date and destination, and the weather looked promising, so plans were made and Yellowbird was spruced up for the trip. We were eagerly looking forward to this outing, since two other Cardinals were expected to be attending.

The day's plan called for an noontime meeting at the small restaurant in the Reliant Air hangar at Danbury Municipal. Informal flyins of this sort are great opportunities to meet other pilots and engage in traditional hangar talk and airplane comparison. They also provide for one of aviation's long-standing traditions, the $100 hamburger. Many airports, large and small, have restaurants either on the field or nearby where hungry pilots can grab a bite between arrival and departure. Prices are usually reasonable, defying the normal pattern for aviation-related expenses, and the food can be worth the cost of getting there. Danbury's eatery currently serves a menu inspired by the traditional Irish pub, and the quality of the offerings has yet to disappoint.

We were fortunate in that the response to the invitation was substantial. Yellowbird and I were also fortunate in that two of the planned attendees were former fledglings of Faithful Instructor George, having successfully left the nest last year. Jamie would be flying his recently purchased Skylane, with Pat riding along as copilot. We made plans to depart at close the same time in hope of meeting up enroute for some air-to-air photography, but that proved to be harder than expected.

Departing KBAFAfter meeting at the terminal to compare navigation planFs, we prepared for departure. I was off first, departing runway 02 and turned left to a southwesterly heading. Jamie departed a few minutes later from 33. After clearing the class D airspace, I tuned the radio to 122.75, one of the standard air-to-air communication frequencies, and made radio contact with Jamie. He was several miles behind me, so I did a 360 degree turn to give him a chance to catch up. As I rolled out of my turn, Jamie told me that he had me on his TCAS (Traffic Alert & Collision Avoidance System) at a range of three miles. I continued on course and waited for him to close the distance.

74 Hotel over ConnecticutSeveral minutes later, we still had not made visual contact, but Jamie informed me that he was now a mile or so east of my position. I did another 360, expecting to see him as I returned to my original heading, but he was still nowhere to be seen. Presently he let me know that he was now ahead of me, by a good mile at least. I scanned the area between 10:00 and 11:00 and finally made visual contact. Now it was his turn to mark time while Yellowbird gave her best to catch up with the faster Skylane. Eventually, we met up in a very loose formation, keeping a healthy distance since neither of us had received any training in formation flying. The camera came out, and I managed a couple of good shots of Jamie's big Cessna.

Yellowbird at cruiseBy now, we were close to the point where we would start our descent and make preparations for arrival at Danbury, so we took a westerly detour to give more time for photography. Jamie and I tried our best to keep on a common heading while maintain a comfortable distance, but it wasn't as easy as the military fliers make it look. Fortunately, we tended to diverge rather than converge, and the zoom feature of Pat's camera allowed for a few decent views of the airborne Yellowbird. With the photo op completed, we separated and made for Danbury.

A topographical view of DanburyDanbury is a fairly small but very busy airport on the southwest side of the city. Surrounded on three sides by hills and ridges, it has a reputation for interesting approaches. Typically for a pleasant Saturday, the pattern was very busy, and the tower controller had his hands full juggling arrivals and departures. Both Jamie and I had to call a couple of times to establish two-way radio contact with the tower. Even then keeping the controller's attention was a competitive effort, with several planes in the pattern vying for his ear. To make matters more interesting, Jamie's Skylane and Yellowbird have very similar registration numbers, with the common digits "774", and there was yet another Cessna in the pattern with "77" in it's registration. How the controller kept us separate is anyone's guess, but we benefited from keeping our eyes out of the cockpit and diligently practicing "see and avoid" procedures.

The Death Star ApproachThis was particularly important on the base and final legs of the approach to 35, the active runway. Runway 35 is aligned with a narrow valley between two prominent hills immediately south of the field. The terrain effectively blocks the control tower's view of traffic on the base leg and part of the final approach, so extra vigilance is required of pilots to keep safe separation distances. From the pilot's perspective, it's an interesting approach, as you descend between the two hills, and below the level of the hilltops. This was the first time I had flown this approach and my full attention was devoted to flying, but Pat, riding along in Jamie's Skylane, snapped a few good pictures of the final approach.

The Gang assembles for lunchOnce safely on the ground, we taxied over to park at the Reliant Air ramp. Most of the gang had already assembled upstairs in the restaurant, and we pulled up a second table to join them. There were a few familiar faces from past flyins, as well as some new faces to connect with the online personalities that we had come to know from the StudenPilot.com message board. Introductions were made, stories were swapped, and many cumulative hours of hangar flying were logged. After eating our fill (and probably throwing a few weight and balance calculations into disarray), we headed outside to see the airplanes.

Mr. and Mrs. Sal and their CardinalBoth of the other Cardinals were there, so Yellowbird enjoyed a little family reunion. Sal brought his 1975 RG. I was looking forward to meeting both Sal and his Cardinal since we had missed each other at a previous flyin. The three-bladed propeller gives Two Niner Victor a sporty look.

John and his CardinalJohn arrived from Westfield in his 1976 RG. He had departed only a few minutes before Jamie and I did, but with 20 extra horsepower and wheels tucked neatly out of the breeze, he made better time than we did.

The Dynamic DuoJamie (right) and Pat (left) pose with Jamie's big Skylane. Jamie recently purchased Seven Four Hotel, and he's fitted her out with the latest avionics. That big 0-470 has the power to carry it all, but we know who has the prettier airplane, don't we?

Dave's shiny old ArcherDave brought his newly repainted Archer from Northampton. Sure, the wing is on upside down, but that fresh paint job really glows.

Sal taxis out for departureAfter walking off our lunches on the ramp, we said our goodbyes and prepared to put the tower controller to the test again. Sal was the first of the Cardinal Crew to leave the Reliant ramp, with Yellowbird following close behind, and John bringing up the rear.

Wings clippedThe only downside of the day was the sad sight of this rather inert 1972 FG, tied to the ground with its wings clipped. No airplane, particularly a Cardinal, should suffer like this.

Another Cardinal joins up But, to make up for it, as we were approaching the runup area, another Cardinal RG, unrelated to our little get-together, joined the departure lineup behind Sal.

Yellowbird runs up prior to takeoffAt this point we had Sal, Mystery Cardinal, Yellowbird, and John all in line for the same runway. A non-Cardinal Cessna separated Yellowbird from Sal and the stranger, and Jamie was between us and John behind. Otherwise, we could have treated the tower controller to the consecutive departures of four Cardinals!

Comments:

Posted by Anonymous Pat Droney at 12:06 AM, April 03, 2005  

Scott,

Great job. This is an interesting blog you have here. I enjoy reading your stories.

Pat...aka Irishflyer

Posted by Blogger Sal at 10:33 PM, May 15, 2005  

Great site Scott - Don't forget to join us for the great Cardinal Fly-in at Lancaster (LNS) on August 20th.


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