It was my birthday, and I was determined to have some fun, so I rented a plane at Hanscom (KBED) to fly myself an adventure while the club plane was in the shop at Lawrence (KLWM). The weekend before, my six-year-old son and I had made a chocolate cake for my birthday, and I had purchased candles in the shapes of “5” and “2” to put on the top. My son asked me, “Dad, are 25 or 52?” I told him I was 52. “Wow. How long will it be until you are dead?”
Well, forget about that. I was completely alive this morning. It was nearly sixty degrees by the end of the day, a moment of warmth in an arctic New England winter, and the sun was blazing. The plan was to fly from Bedford (KBED), Massachusetts, straight south to Newport (KUUU), Rhode Island, then around the south side of the Providence airspace and over to Windham (KIJD), Connecticut, then up to Gardner (KGDM), Massachusetts, and back to Bedford.
I launched into clear blue sky with fantastic visibility. Or at least that was the way it looked on the ground. Up at 2500 feet, it was murky. Looking east from Route 128, the Boston skyline was completely obscured by a wall of muck, and even Route 128 was not easy to find in the murk.
I am always surprised by how interesting the water and bridges and towns are between Providence and Fall River (and remember when there was an airport at Fall River?). I did a couple touch-and-goes at Newport (forgetting all about flying along the Newport mansions! what a wasted opportunity!), bent around the south of Providence, and intercepted a radial from the Providence VOR to Windham. Landing at Windham was my first indication that things were about to get interesting. It felt impossible to go down. Power off, full flaps, and I just couldn’t descend. Slipping down through this rising air, I didn’t touch down until the middle of the runway.
I got out for lunch, thinking I’d walk to a Wendy’s advertised as an eighth of a mile from the airport, but an eighth of a mile starting from where? After walking blocks and blocks, I saw the Wendy’s in the distance, but right next to me was this amazing stainless steel diner right out of the 1950s. The Aero Diner. I walked in and had a half-pound hamburger with cheese and bacon. Now that’s a birthday meal! Every friend I have is going to fly with me down to Windham to eat at this diner. Go check it out yourself!
I launched after lunch, and twenty feet into the air, wham, the right wing was down thirty degrees. Climbing through 2000 feet, and heading north to Gardner, I’m being tossed around like a ping pong ball in some “game of skill and chance” run by a crooked carny at a state fair. Oh. This must be what that airmet for turbulence was warning me about.
I always love practicing landings at Gardner. The landing is almost always to the north, and the wind is almost always from the west, and the ridge close along the west side of the runway almost always send curls of turbulence down onto the runway. Today the wind was so strong it blew me over the runway before I could get established on downwind, and I had to depart the pattern and start again. The second time worked better, but the turn from downwind to base brought me down on top of the ridge, and the wind started to get exciting. I thought better of a touch-and-go, and simply landed and taxied back to the start of the runway. I launched again, thinking I would do another touch-and-go before leaving the area, but climb performance was so bad in that downward-rushing air coming over the ridge that I decided not to try again, and just went home.
I was reminded of one nice thing about our little club plane: a 180-horsepower engine isn’t big in the scheme of things, but those extra ten knots of airspeed make a difference flying against a headwind. The little 160-horsepower engine in the plane I rented from Hanscom just doesn’t go very fast in wind!