New Hampshire Poker Run

On Saturday the flight school where I did my primary training – Air Direct Airways – held a Poker Run to benefit Homes for our Troops, a charity that builds specially adapted homes for disabled veterans. A Poker Run is an event where for a particular buy-in ($25 in this case, all of which went to charity) you get a sheet where your “hand” will be marked. There are five remote airports throughout New Hampshire each with a deck of cards. You fly to each of these airports in no predetermined order and pick a card at each (the decks are at the FBO which is the business that provides passenger services and fuel at airports). An employee at each location marks your sheet with the cards you draw. At the end everyone returned back to Nashua and each “hand” was compared against the others to determine the winners of several donated prizes.

I did the Poker Run with Abby and we each got a hand. Unfortunately we got a bit of a late start. This was my fault – I failed to estimate exactly how long it would take on the ground at each airport. Our initial destination would be Keene. It was pretty bumpy! Winds aloft were pretty stiff and blowing over the mountains and ridges of Vermont not to mention Mt. Monadnock near Keene. Fighting the bumps and the headwinds I maneuevered around Mt. Monadnock then overflew Keene to enter a left downwind for runway 02 – the designated light wind runway. There was some other traffic in the area and I followed them in. I was nicely positioned on approach to drop the power out and trim nose up and the landing was pretty good.

Finding the proper FBO building was not so easy. Foreflight’s mini airport diagram depicted it in the wrong place and unfortunately I had already shut down by the time we realized this. It ended up being the first good fuel injection hot start practice of the day and soon we were taxied across the runway to the proper terminal building. Our cards weren’t too big but Keene is a lovely little spot and we were welcomed to the airport by a man and his son playing catch out front. Nashua to Keene: 0.6 hours.

Next was Lebanon. This meant even more bumps! It was pretty wild. I had been intending to suggest that Abby try some of the cruise flying but I quickly changed my mind. I needed to be concentrating on flying to take my mind off the bumps. Getting close to Lebanon the ATIS reported that they were landing runway 36 and taking off runway 7. Before departing Ron at Air Direct had warned me that Lebanon might be very busy because it was Dartmouth’s graduation week. If they were unable to take us at the FBO or the airport we could just move on and draw the final card back at Nashua.

My course was already well aligned for runway 36 and on initial call up the tower asked me to make straight in and report several distances in and to keep my speed up to slip in before a following business jet (they go a lot faster and can’t slow down!). I figured I’d give it a try – worst thing it would mean a go-around and I had a passenger so there were two brains thinking about getting the gear down before landing. In fact I had no trouble remembering the gear since I intended to use it as a speed brake.

I held around 135 knots until passing through a mile and a half then pulled the power to idle and leveled off to get me down into the speed range for the first notch of flaps. With the plane still pitched for level flight and power out 10 degrees of flaps gets you into the gear speed range in several seconds. Gear down, the nose gear door flops out and acts like a huge speed brake. Setting the propeller RPM high is yet another speed brake as that big prop flattens out and causes more drag. I went to full flaps and set up the power off glide at around 68 knots. Approach speed was stable and I put it down just past the bars on the nice long runway. I was clear long before the business jet and barely beat them to parking. It is always good to know I can do this sort of “busy field approach” when requested by ATC. Keene to Lebanon: 0.6 hours.

Next up was Laconia. I went here during my night flight as a student and during my long student XC. Laconia was reporting a gusty crosswind with peak gusts of 18 knots! Fortunately there is a nice, wide, long, runway at Laconia. As I approached the airport a Citation business jet approached and made a clear example of atrocious radio work at a pilot controlled field like Laconia. The proper approach is to make a position report on a common traffic advisory report and state your intentions. other relevant traffic will respond with their position. Instead this hot shot jet pilot gave poor position reports and ended every call with the lengthy and useless “any traffic in the area please advise” on a crowded frequency. Of course, they also stated their intentions to land on runway 8 instead of 26 which the winds favored and others in the area had used. Sigh.

When I turned final for runway 26 (like everybody else) I could tell it was going to be an interesting landing because I had a *lot* of crab angle in for crosswind correction. Fortunately the winds did seem to die down marginally closer to the ground and as I transitioned into the sideslip for landing it didn’t look so extreme. The wind was gusty and it was a perfectly safe landing but no greaser. The nice part is I held it there on one wheel in the crosswind gust with the proper crosswind correctly to track straight ahead. Lebanon to Laconia: 0.5 hours.

Departing Laconia on 26 I turned left and climbed over the terrain with some pretty intense bumps. I slowed a bit until getting well past the terrain where it smoothed out marginally. By that time it was time to descend towards Skyhaven/Rochester, NH which was visible from quite far away. My course heading left me almost perfectly lined up with runway 15 but winds favored 33. The standard traffic pattern for 33 is right turns (versus the usual left turns) so I side stepped to the left and flew downwind then a nice approach. We didn’t spend too much time on the ground, getting our cards and letting the local FBO take a picture of us. Laconia to Rochester: 0.4 hours.

Since it was already getting late and we were hungry we elected to skip the stop at Concord and head directly back to Nashua. This time I called up Boston Approach for advisories and to pass through the Manchester Class C airspace. Before handing me over to Nashua Tower the controller advised me of “numerous aircraft in the vicinity of Nashua”. He wasn’t kidding, great weather on a Saturday brings folks out at Nashua. We were number four in line to land and on a very extended downwind. Things were stacked up pretty tight too and the traffic in front of me elected to go around. This left the runway clear for me to make one of the nicest landings of the day and taxi back to parking. Right in the flare a gust hit and we ballooned up. I gave just the right shot of power to keep the total energy reasonable and nailed the approach pitch attitude, doing a second flare. The touchdown was smooth and slow, a bit long but that was perfect since I park towards the end The final leg was 0.6 which brought the total to 2.7 hours logged and five landings.

Unfortunately we didn’t win anything and our hands kinda sucked! Good thing it is for a good cause. And there was food and drink generously donated by the Midfield Cafe at Nashua. The winners were announced with much fan fare.

Landing at 5 different airports in 2.7 hours is experience expanding. Every airport is different. Different runway lengths at widths present a different sight picture during landing and you need to adjust. Picking airports out of the surrounding terrain is a very valuable skill as well. Finally thanks to clear skies and beautiful June weather the sun hitting the ground made it quite bumpy and gusty. Every airport I went to had a different wind angle and speed. Every landing is different and every bit of practice helps me get more consistent.