It's been another windy and wet Upstate, New York day today. Ceilings hovering around 3-5,000ft, winds between 15-20mph with the occasional 25+mph gust, and a constant mist with scattered showers mixed in. But as it does many times, the weather is beginning to clear in time to witness a beautiful sunset. Today's flight will take us from the home airport to Elmira Regional Airport (KELM). I am somewhat familiar with the route, this was one of the legs on my extended cross countries as a student pilot (KSYR - KBGM - KELM - KSYR).
Luckily, the sky is beginning to rapidly clear, winds are beginning to calm, and rain has tapered off with a few showers remaining well East of our route. TAF is looking good, time to take the somewhat long walk from the FBO to the T-Hanger which holds the airplane.
I will have the honor of showing three other passengers the beauty of flight this evening. It's not our first flight all together, we've taken two flights before this. And I have to say, I enjoy it quite a bit. Although one of the passengers was previously deathly afraid to fly, thanks to one of my former flight instructors and private pilot checkride examiner, she has begun to not only enjoy flying, but put more trust into me as a pilot and as her daughter's boyfriend. Honestly, I believe the source of fear is ignorance. Ignorance is not a bad thing by nature, it's just the lack of knowledge, and most people don't understand how safe flying really is. Everything you do is inherently dangerous, and I'm not going to try to talk about how going up in an airplane is guaranteed safety. It's not. But statistically, your drive to the airport is the most dangerous part of your trip on an airplane. Airplanes have been, and always will be the safest mode of transportation.
Back to topic, with the weather fully cooperating I am ready to begin the preflight inspection. As I do so, I drain the fuel from the gascolator under the cowling, and as I pull the testing cup away, the fuel continues pouring. I try and release it but with no luck. The cup is filling fast so I have one of my passengers hold the cup as I run around the other side of the airplane to turn the fuel selector to OFF to stop the fuel from pouring out. Afterwords, I run back over and finally get good enough leverage to release the jammed fuel port from the cowling. Nothing serious, it just got stuck on something. I verified the the spring was working fine and that there was no further fuel loss. Not too bad, the cup only overflowed for about a half a second! Pouring fuel on the ramp like that is like tossing money into a fire. With that fiasco over with, I successfully complete the remaining checklist items and we load up the airplane with four souls.
Taxi via November, Hotel to runway 1-0
I really love it when runway 10 is in use. Whenever it is, I always use full length and there is absolutely no temptation whatsoever for using an intersection departure. Other pilots based at this particular airport know: the only "landing area" beyond the runway is a short grass overrun and then busy highway overpasses and a residential neighborhood, or in other words, say your prayers. Again, this is why I love runway 10. In addition to using full length, there are many more landing options beyond the end of the runway. This is why henceforth I have always been using full length with runway 28, as PIC, I do not want to have to explain to the FAA why I used only 3,000 feet of a 9,000 foot runway.
Cleared for takeoff caution wake turbulence
"Caution wake turbulence." I always wait five minutes to depart behind a departing aircraft of any significant size. The reason why? Spinning vortices coming at your airplane while you're at a high angle of attack with a low airspeed means two words: you're screwed. Absolutely no time to recover if you get caught in one of the spinning vortices. Let's say this, you decide that you can get your aircraft above the wake turbulence generated by the departing aircraft in front of you. Well guess what PIC, have fun explaining why your airplane nosedived into the ground if and when your engine fails and you have nowhere to go except down into the spinning whirlpool of air. Also something I've noticed, air traffic controllers don't always remember to enforce the required waiting time for wake turbulence. If you're PIC, you're responsible. No if, ands, or buts.
Anyway, with most of the before checklist complete, only three things to do now. Mixture rich, transponder alt, and fuel pump ON. Full power and in what seems like 10 seconds this beautiful bird is stretching its wings into the night sky. It's as smooth as it could possibly get tonight. Not to mention, as we finally begin to lose the lights of the city at our 6 o'clock, the stars are really beginning to show. There's not too many lights over this area between Syracuse, NY and Ithica, NY, but the glow of Ithica's city lights are rapidly approaching at our 12 o'clock.
Contact Elmira approach
One of the reasons I decided to go to Elmira tonight is because I would have air traffic control and radar services all the way there and back. And at least to me, this makes a nighttime flight just that much safer. Besides, somebody needs to keep these guys awake for the night shift!
As the city of Ithica passes under our belly, I see KITH approaching. This is another one of my night tactics, is to fly as close to airports as possible. One day my careful flight planning may actually pay off. Not far in front of Ithica is Elmira's airport beacon. I can already see it about 16 miles ahead of us! Pretty good visibility tonight.
"98V, confirm you have ATIS info Charlie?" "Negative, standby." I couldn't get reception for Elmira's ATIS when I tried to check it earlier. A pretty common occurrence in this area. Anyway, I am glad I wrote down all of Elmira's NOTAMS on my kneeboard. The ATIS ran for about 5 minutes with runway closures, taxiway closures, and runway shortenings. Not to mention, the ATIS reception is on and off bad and staticy, very hard to understand. Wow, if it weren't for the three or so commercial aircraft that visit this airport everyday, it would probably be closed with all the construction they are trying to do!
Cleared to land Runway 24 SHORTENED
I always have trouble identifying runways at night. I hope it's not just me. Anyway, I finally pick runway 24 out of the city lights and begin a descent towards it. I can see how shortened the runway really is, but it still has over 3,000 feet of usable length if I can recall. As I tweak the airplane for a final time before landing, she is right on the glideslope at 65 knots. This is looking good.
10 feet over the runway I pull power to idle. I begin to slightly, ever so slightly, pull back on the stick, more and more incrementally, keeping that nose gear up, and finally, I accomplish one of my most smoothest landings. And I let everyone and their brother know about it, too. To put the cherry on top, I even got marshaled into our parking spot on the ramp at Elmira for the first time. That felt pretty good.
Being marshaled into parking at KELM
After a short bathroom break, the flight home was so smooth and relaxing two out of the four passengers fell asleep! Not to worry though, I was not one of the two! A smooth landing and taxi back later, I am performing the shutdown checklist and retreating to bed. What an awesome night!
Performing the before start checklist in ELM with red LEDs