One of my wife’s hobbies is knitting and this means the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY is worth the trek. In the past she has gone by bus but of course traveling by airplane is much nicer. And late October is the perfect time to travel to the Hudson river valley. Some time ago Abby’s friend and ultimate frisbee team mate was at a party and I found out she was a knitter and planning to go to Rhinebeck too. Once I suggested flying to Rhinebeck a plan was hatched!
With myself and three knitters – Abby, her mother, and Genevieve LG – we headed to Kingston-Ulster airport in Kingston, NY on Sunday to attend the festival. As usual for a big trip I checked the weather obsessively starting several days out and the biggest issue appeared to be the possibility for some high winds. Winds aloft were in the 30-40 knot range. We were going to get a nice early start on Sunday anyway and this would help as the winds would be strongest on the surface in the middle of the day. High winds are simply a fact of life in fall and winter flying!
Abby and I got to the airport a bit early so I could preflight and then she headed out to the gate to meet Gen and Jonie. This was my first time flying with four people in the Cardinal. I carefully calculated the Weight and Balance ahead of time and determined I could carry up to 40 gallons of fuel on the first leg. I ended up getting a bit of fuel from the FBO at Nashua during my preflight but less than my full capacity. Even with strong headwinds aloft our journey to Kingston-Ulster would be around an hour and a half which is substantially shorter than a full fuel load. It is typical to find a tradeoff between fuel carrying capacity and cabin loading in most “long legged” airplanes but this trade off gives the pilot good flexibility rather than restriction.
I started our cruising at 4,500 and soon moved to 6,500 to clear the tops of a scattered cloud deck. After passing west of the Connecticut river valley the cloud deck was closing in to broken and while it was clear to the south I decided to take this opportunity to duck down through a suitable hole in the cloud layer. I think in retrospect it would have been better to continue above the layer since it ended up being just scattered again at Kingston but the reality of VFR flying is it is always hard to tell.
The ride above the clouds was very smooth but it got quite bumpy below the cloud deck. There was plenty of clearance with the bases around 4000-4500 feet. Our groundspeed was a bit worse under the deck too but there wasn’t much distance more to cover. After finally crossing a ridge line near Sheffield, MA the bumps dissipated a bit and we could spot the Hudson and the bridge near Kingston airport (The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge).
The Kingston airport has a nonstandard surface observation system where three clicks on the radio brings up the wind conditions. But the limitations of the system were clear on the busy CTAF channel as other aircraft transmissions frequently blocked the AWOS transmission. It was clear other traffic was using runway 15. Winds aloft were out of the northwest so this seems a bit odd to me but when I finally got the AWOS it did confirm that winds somewhat favored runway 15 on the surface. I entered the pattern following another aircraft and set up for the approach.
I did feel like the final approach was giving me a tailwind even below pattern altitudes but maybe I’m just making excuses. On short final I decided I was way too high and fast and pushed the throttle forward for a go-around. Unfortunate with headwinds already lengthening our flight but the go-around was nicely executed and gave us a nice view of the bridge as I made left traffic and came back around to runway 15. This time my approach was slower and on altitude although I did bring in full flaps and used a fairly steep approach angle. The touchdown was smooth and I rolled out to the end of the runway before turning off.
I wasn’t sure exactly where to park and initially the person answering queries on Unicom was busy with an aircraft that landed before us. I found a spot next to a Cirrus and verified this was OK then parked there and tied down. The woman working at the airport came over in a golf cart and asked if we wanted a taxi. We asked for a taxi to the Duchess County fairgrounds and walked over to the FBO building.
Also waiting for a taxi outside the FBO was another group who had just arrived in a Cherokee Six from Philadelphia (Brandywine). It turns out they were going to the Sheep and Wool festival too! I had a nice conversation with the pilot and I believe there was some knitting discussion between our passengers. The pilot said that he had considered buying a Cardinal RG many years ago and always admired them.
Unfortunately due to a mix-up with the taxi company they only called one taxi for us and the other group which left us waiting a while longer. Finally we made it to the fairgrounds. There was much joking about Weight and Balance and the impact of fair food, purchased yarn (it doesn’t weigh that much), sheep (those weigh a bit more), and spinning wheels. Fortunately we managed to escape with just purchased yarn. As for the fair food I’m pretty sure the artichoke french, bratwurst, apple crisp, and lamb ravioli did not add too much to my conservatively calculated weight!
We’d prenegotiated a taxi to meet us at the fairgrounds gate at 4:30 and the taxi was just a few minutes late this time. I dipsticked the fuel tanks and noted 2.3 hours of fuel remaining. With tailwinds the return trip was predicted to run just one hour. This left more than an hour reserve which I was happy with. Based on retrieved weather information I could make the whole trip at 5,500 under the clouds. We departed and head back towards Nashua.
On the way back the sun formed beautiful angled beams ending in circles on the ground as it shone through the broken cloud layer. Pictures cannot do the extend of this sight justice! The ride was bumpy but smoothed out a bit as we climbed up and passed the ridgeline near Sheffield, MA.
The trip back passed quickly with the quartering tailwind. I still had a significant wind correction in to the left and I was getting ground speeds around 160 knots (184 mph) over the ground! The cloud layer above me seemed to be created some updrafts as well and while the choppiness had smoothed out there were some periods where I was clearly experiencing an updraft and airspeed and ground speed climbed as I maintained altitude.
It felt like almost no time at all before I began to descend towards Nashua. After getting the ATIS and advising approach I contacted tower right as the biggest bump of the day hit us. My head nearly hit the ceiling and there may have been a dropped stitch in the back but nobody seemed too concerned. It is nice to have awesome passengers :)
Winds at Nashua were reported as 300 at 9 knots. I entered the empty pattern in a left downwind and flew a very nice pattern. The nice approach ended in a great landing. This one was perfectly on the centerline and very smooth. I’m sure the wind helped a bit but it was nice to get it so right after having to go around at Kingston!
The whole day was a load of fun and going by air was a great experience. Fall is a fantastic time to fly. The weather can get a bit exciting but the view from the sky is amazing. Between an hour and a half out and an hour back I ended up flying 2.5. This brings my total time above 175 hours! I am eagerly awaiting the 200 hour milestone and I hope to pass it around the new year. With 87.6 hours in N52667 there is no doubt that I will pass the hundred hours of Cardinal flying mark before the end of 2012.