Thursday, January 02, 2014

Hudson Helo Highway

Someday Dawn and I hope to own an airplane of our own, but in the meantime owning a share of the Cub works well for us, and even better is having a few friends who own airplanes and let us borrow them. One of these friends is my ex-student Johnny, who owns a beautiful 1984 Piper Warrior that I've flown a number of times, including a 4 day, 25 hour repositioning/instructional flight last year from California to Connecticut. He's left me on his insurance and has urged me to use his plane whenever I like, an offer we decided to take him up on over Dawn's Christmas break. We wanted to visit Johnny and his family as well as some friends in Sea Girt, NJ that we hadn't seen in some time, and flying seemed a much more enjoyable way to do it than spending hours on the various turnpikes.

December 27 turned out to be a perfect day for flying in the northeast: clear, sunny, just a little breezy, and unseasonably warm. We departed from Chester Airport (KSNC) at 10:30am and turned westward along the Connecticut shoreline, talking to the tower controllers at New Haven and Bridgeport. We passed just south of White Plains, where a long line of bizjets were waiting to take off, before dropping down to 1000 feet to stay below the Class B. Joining the Hudson River south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, we turned downstream, hugging the western bank, and listening to nearly nonstop banter on 123.05 MHz. We would be running the infamous Hudson River VFR corridor, a very thin strip of uncontrolled airspace that runs through the LGA/JFK/EWR Class B at 1300' and below. As such, it is very heavily trafficked, and its use requires having the NYC TAC chart on board, turning on all your lights, and making CTAF position reports at six mandatory checkpoints.

"Cherokee 408, Alpine Tower southbound at 1000." I could barely get a word in edgewise on the CTAF. Many of the position reports were for checkpoints other than the six I was familiar with, so I surmised they were helicopters over Manhattan or the East River. A mile from the George Washington Bridge, a helicopter called "GWB southbound at 800," and I soon picked him out ahead and below us. We passed him close enough to wave, and then we started to catch another helicopter. Meanwhile a steady stream of southbound traffic passed on our left, again mostly helicopters with the occasional fixed wing thrown in. It reminded me of the Fisk arrival to Oshkosh, except this traffic was more closely spaced! I was kept so busy looking for traffic, calling the checkpoints, and making sure I stayed clear of airspace that I scarcely had any time at all to look at Manhattan's spectacular skyline just off our left wingtip. Dawn busily snapped photos as we cruised over New York Harbor. In what seemed like no time at all, we cleared the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge ("VZ" on the CTAF) and struck out across lower New York Bay towards Sandy Spit. From here it was a very quick jaunt to Monmouth Executive Airport (KBLM), where we landed on Runway 32 just before noon.

We were met at Monmouth by our friends and their three rambunctious boys, ages 2, 6 & 8. Their dad is a corporate pilot who I flight instructed with back in the ADP days; he hasn't flown GA in years so I took the kids on a half-hour flight over their hometown and along the Jersey shore. We found their house and school, and circled some fishing boats headed to sea through the Manasquan inlet. Elijah, age 6, was sitting up front, so I let him fly the airplane for a few minutes. All three seemed to enjoy the flight immensely.

Our stay in Sea Girt was cut short by a fairly strong low moving up the eastern seaboard, and so we left Monmouth at first light on Sunday December 29. We beat the rain out but the sky was already soggy and leaden. The New York skyline was much more bleak on our second transit of the Hudson corridor, but this time I could at least take some time to sightsee, for the CTAF was completely quiet and we didn't spy a single helicopter. Aided by a strong southwesterly wind, it took barely an hour to cover the 130nm route back to Chester, where I landed on the rolling 2700'x50' Runway 17 in a light crosswind.

As we thanked Johnny profusely for the use of his airplane, he urged us to come back and fly it any time. Dawn's never been to Rhode Island and Newport is only a short hop from Chester, so perhaps a Newport flying-sailing trip is in order this summer. I'm looking forward to it; I have found it thoroughly enjoyable to explore the less familiar corners of the country by small airplane. Perhaps someday we'll even do it in an airplane of our own!


PeterC said...

Thanks for the memories.Flew with Jersey Aero Club for many years in the mid 70's out of BLM. That Hudson River trip was always a sight to behold and not as busy as you found it on your trip south. Flying by the World Trade Center at 1100 and it being 1700+ always brought comments from my passengers.

IFR Pilot said...

Next time you are in the RI area, you should be sure to check out Block Island (KBID). It has much of the ambiance of Nantucket and Martha's Vinyard, at far more reasonable prices. Rent a scooter and check out the lighthouse and the cliffs.