Flight to Sanford, ME (SFM)

This was not the original plan. Since Abby is still out of town and the morning was forecast to be nice I figured I would fly to a breakfast destination. I was planning on making this Glens Falls (upstate NY) which has a very nice diner on the field. However, some weather is moving in from the west today so going to the east looked like a nicer flight. I decided to go to Sanford, ME. I hadn’t been there before and there is a restaurant called the Cockpit Cafe where I could grab my intended breakfast.

Before this flight I took the time to clean the windshield off with Plexus plexiglass cleaner. This combined with a microfiber wipe did a really great job of cleaning and polishing the windscreen. During my last flight it was pretty dirty, seemingly mostly from dirt kicked up in rain and dried on.

I also brought my SLR camera with me for this flight. It is a bit trickier to deal with than the cell cam but the results are better. Unfortunately especially on the return journey the flight was pretty bumpy so I didn’t take too many photos. As always you can click on them to get the high resolution version.

Manchester airport. If you look close you can see at least one Southwest 737 at the gate.

After departure the route to Sanford goes just south of Manchester airport through Manchester’s Class C airspace. Fortunately Nashua tower is able to coordinate getting a transponder code for you while you taxi and you simply contact the Class C controller after takeoff. This saves you time and also reduces all of the things you need to tell Approach on initial contact because they already know your tail number, type, location, destination, and intended cruising altitude. Not all towered airports can/will do this for you but you can always ask the ground controller as you taxi.

The view over the nose headed for Sanford. Almost completely clear.

The weather was almost completely clear at this point. A few fair weather cumulus clouds were just a bit above my altitude but quite far laterally, with blue sky and good visibility. The ride wasn’t too bad although I’m sure it would have been smoother if I’d climbed a few thousand feet.

Because of the very short distance of this flight (51 nautical miles) I did not do my usual descent planning of starting 250 fpm descent at 10 times the thousands of feet to descent nautical miles out (start descent at 60 miles out if 6000 feet must be lost). So my descent was closer to 500-700 feet per minute and leveling at pattern altitude as I entered a downwind for runway 25. During the whole descent things were pretty bumpy and I throttled back more than I would have in smooth air to lessen the bump impact.

My flight following was cut loose with “numerous aircraft in the vicinity of Sanford” so my head was on a swivel looking for traffic as I came in. There was traffic ahead of me and behind me but the traffic I was following was on a short final as I entered my downwind so it wasn’t too crazy. As could be expected from the turbulence on the approach the wind was gusty and a right crosswind. The landing was firm but that is what it should be in conditions like this since you want to get firmly planted in gusts.

The Cockpit Cafe is quite good although they close at noon on weekends so plan accordingly (also, they only take cash). There were quite a few people at the restaurant who had obviously flown in like a guy in a Piper shirt, along with locals. The food is basic diner food at great prices.

Winds had already shifted enough after eating that runway 14 was now in use. The airport was again busy, I was waiting in line to take off behind another Cessna who was waiting for a landing aircraft. Unlike Nashua Sanford is a pilot controlled or non-towered airport. There is no ATC controlling the airport. Each pilot makes position announcements on the radio and everyone keeps their eyes open. So instead of waiting for a controller to tell us when to take the runway for departure each pilot uses their judgement. A landing aircraft on final approach always has right of way over others. Once the landing aircraft had cleared the runway the Cessna in front of me took the runway and announced a straight out departure. Once they were on their takeoff roll I confirmed the final approach to my right was clear then took the runway behind them. I was comfortable beginning my takeoff roll shortly after they actually took off. In this case there are no wake turbulence concerns and I could easily maintain visual contact with them as I departed, plus, I would be turning right after climbing to a safe altitude and they would be continuing straight.

Sure enough, after pulling up the gear and flaps I began to gain on them in both climb rate and speed. I was able to begin my turn to the right before they were ever a factor but it was a neat view as our flight paths converged then diverged. Once I was well above pattern altitude I made a final call on Sanford’s advisory frequency then contacted Boston Approach for advisories and to transit the Manchester Class C on the way back to Nashua. This time my altitude was 4500 feet.

Portsmouth, Great Bay, and the New Hampshire Seacoast. The airport visible to the right is Pease.

To the left were some pretty nice views of the Gulf of Maine, Portsmouth, Great Bay, and Pease airport. I have landed at Pease before, but only at night. It was a lot cloudier at the point and the air was quite turbulent. I took these photos and then set the camera on the back seat because it was pretty wild. I suspect the lower altitude was one factor but the clouds and the atmospheric conditions meant that turbulence was more likely now. I was probably 1000-1500 feet below the bases of the clouds and at times a powerful updraft could be felt.

Great Bay and Pease airport. The view is almost directly down the over two mile long runway 16.

As I passed south of Manchester the controller instructed me to turn 20 degrees left, a vector around the Manchester departure corridor. They had also switched from runway 35 to 17 as winds were shifting. Nashua’s ATIS indicated variable winds and landing runway 14 (I took off in the opposite direction, runway 32). Sure enough the winds were somewhat shifty although not too strong and just after I landed at least one of the windsocks seemed to indicate a tailwind.

Just after tying down at Nashua I took a step back and this photo. Note the almost complete overcast (6000 feet) by now!

The total flight time was 1.5. While it wasn’t my intended destination it worked out perfectly well. One thing I saw and didn’t manage to get a photo of was Mt. Washington which was visible just under the cloud deck to the north west as I approached Sanford. I was already well into my descent and couldn’t grab the camera, but I also suspect the haze meant that the photo would be tricky to see. For my eye the visibility was definitely good enough. You could see the snowy peak quite clearly. Very cool!