Balticon is a medium sized science fiction convention run by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Abby and I are involved with a broad group of volunteers around the US known as “techno-fandom” which does technical theatre (stage, lighting, sound) work for these conventions. A bit over a week ago a friend of ours was looking for a way to get to Balticon. We were on the fence about making it to Balticon but this was a great excuse and I quickly researched where the nearest airport was and offered a ride. Plans were made and a ride arranged from Martin State airport to the hotel in Hunt Valley.
Soon another friend was looking for a possible ride to Balticon. I don’t often travel with all four seats filled. The Cardinal (specifically, N52667) has a useful load of just a hair over 1000 pounds. From this useful load budget you must account for all baggage including the pilot(s) and human cargo, plus the fuel in the tanks. A full fuel load is 360 pounds which is a fairly large amount of weight! When trying to answer the question “can you fill four seats” what you need to know is that fuel in cruise is 60 pounds an hour. In this case the required fuel would be roughly 2.5 hours, plus required IFR reserves of 45 minutes, and perhaps an alternate. For planning purposes I will run the calculations with 4 hours total on board which gives me just enough to carry all four passengers and a generous baggage weight in the back plus about half an hour of extra fuel capacity. Like all long legged airplanes the Cardinal can be flown at a compromise of capacity and range.
So, we ended up as four and all converged on Nashua airport around 6PM on Friday. The weather turned out to be quite clear which was nice especially since the flight would involve a sunset although there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet and a headwind predicted. No IFR alternate was required (although BWI was just 6 minutes away at cruising speed). Even with the predicted headwind and some allowance for a potential ATC reroute we were predicted to have a flying time under 3 hours. After arriving at the airport I checked what I had in the tanks and then called up a very specific fuel order to end up with 45 gallons (or 270 pounds) of fuel on board. This would allow an hour and a half of reserve fuel which is more than twice the legally required amount and more than sufficient for this flight.
I had filed my flight plan earlier in the afternoon with the routing of GDM (Gardner, MA) NELIE BRISS V419 MXE (Modena, PA) V378 BELAY. This looked like a reasonable routing but was not a previously cleared route. While quite direct it goes just east of NYC and some very busy airspace. Once we called clearance delivery there was in fact a revised routing: EEN (Keene, NH) T295 LRP (Lancaster, PA) V499 TRISH. This route would take us a good bit west of New York and cost us about 15 minutes. Oh well – still plenty of fuel and no need for a “tech stop”.
We took off from runway 32 at Nashua and were soon on our way. After checking in with Bradley approach the controller asked if I had time for a question. He asked if I flew this route often, and suggested filing to join T295 at WHATE which will be accepted by ATC’s computer and is a bit of a shortcut. T295 seems to be one of the common ways I am routed going west of NYC airspace towards points southwest, so this was definitely helpful advice.
Soon we did get a few direct route shortcuts although our route was destined to swing way west of NYC. It was mostly smooth enroute and very clear and cold – below freezing at 6000 feet – with just two or three instances of a sudden bout of moderate turbulence followed by more smooth air. We watched a gorgeous sunset over southern NY and passed south into Pennsylvania talking to Wilkes-Barre approach then Allentown and Harrisburg before the final handoff to Potomac Approach. Conditions were clear and we spotted the airport beacon dead ahead about 10 miles out and were cleared for a visual approach into runway 33.
It was definitely fully night by the time we landed and I flew a pattern being mindful of the large restricted area northeast of Martin State airport (the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds). Night landings are definitely quite different from day landings and in this case I also got to experience something new in the form of a “Pulsating VASI”. This is a different version of the typical colored lights that indicate your vertical position relative to a safe and ideal approach angle. It’s a huge help especially on a night approach into an airport where the final approach course is over water with few lights. This can cause a “black hole approach” visual illusion where the temptation is to descend too low early on. I had done my homework and knew how to properly read the PVASI and made a fine approach followed by a firm touchdown. After taxiing to the FBO we were met by a friend who gave us a ride to the convention.
The convention itself was fantastic. We got a ride back to the airport on Monday afternoon and I put in another carefully calculated fuel order after checking what remained in the tanks. This time nature was nice and gave us a bit of wind power for the ride home. I filed BELAY V378 MXE (Modena, PA) V419 CMK (Carmel, NY) HFD (Hartford, CT) V229 GDM (Gardner, MA) at 5000 feet which is an airway routing that is fairly close to the direct routing. Foreflight indicated that at least one aircraft was previously cleared on this route between MTN and Nashua so it seems reasonable. I was still pleased to hear “cleared as filed”.
Of course, all good things must end and not that long after getting “cleared direct Modena” Philly approach came back with a reroute for us to copy. It was back to the western route again with a rerouting of FJC (Allentown, PA) V149 LAAYK T216 IGN (Kingston, NY) GDM. This once again took me quite far west to the LAAYK intersection just north of Scranton, PA. I suspect this is also a rerouting due to heavy traffic in the NYC area. While it seems like a long way out of the way it doesn’t really add that much to the route when you are at cruising speed with a tailwind.
Over eastern Pennsylvania it was pretty bumpy and I asked for 7000 which was granted in steps. It was marginally smoother at 7000 feet, cooler, and still below the bases of the few cumulus clouds that were about. The other nice thing is that at the higher altitude we were soon in Boston Center’s territory and they gave us “cleared direct Nashua”. OK! Now I just had to fly the last hour straight to Nashua with my sleep deprived passengers dropping like flies.
During the initial descent in visual conditions I usually nose over and leave the power in while letting the airspeed go to an appropriate point for the level of turbulence expected. With the tailwind, higher true airspeeds at 7000 feet, and plenty of potential energy we quickly reached 191 knot ground speeds in the descent. That’s about 220 mph over the ground. Abby and I both spotted Nashua and we were cleared for a visual approach to runway 14. With the extra speed due to the tailwind I was a bit high and fast when reaching the final approach but pulled power and stuck with flaps 20 anticipating some wind shear.
Winds aloft were strong but Nashua’s ATIS reported just “variable at 2″. But it didn’t feel like variable at 2, and the wind shifted and dissipated dramatically while I descended. I made a nice landing but the approach was definitely the sort you work all the way down with a few power adjustments. After pulling off the runway the tower controller announced the updated ATIS which indicated the wind was gusting to 19 knots.
One of the nice things about filling all four seats in the plane is that the marginal cost per person can be surprisingly low. In this case the cost of fuel for our trip was roughly $240 round trip which comes out to just $60 round trip per person. That’s less than a bus ticket!