Today I flew to an airport in the southern Adirondacks to pick up a friend. The airport's name is Piseco, NY (or `kilo zero nine' when you talk with someone at the Flight Service Station). The airport is 60 miles (100 km) from the next closest public airport. (I've flown to a closer private airport when it was not waterlogged.)
This would have been a nice, one hour flight from my home base. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was wrong. It was more cloudy than forecast, although not so bad I could not fly in.
(My airplane is a Cessna 172, a single engine, four seat, high wing aircraft.)
I took off into haze but with reasonable visibility. (The minimum visibility for the kind of flight I was making is 3 miles (5 km); with this visibility, you, as a pilot, should be able to see and avoid other airplanes. In my experience, this is a good distance.) But it was hazy. People often forget that sight-lines from aircraft are long. Anything less than 60 miles (100 km) looks bad to me. I have read, but cannot remember where, that before the growth of pollution most of the east of the United States enjoyed sight-lines of at least 150 miles (240 km).
With the rise of pollution, regular sight-lines have dropped to 60 miles (100 km) or less. Sadly, new `Automatic Weather Observation Stations' at airports say that visibility is `10 miles' even when it is 100 miles. The recorded voice and printed record, if you are a historian could have said `10 miles or more', as some of the older automated stations did. But the modern ones say that any visibility of 10 miles or over 10 miles is 10 miles.
Most professional historians, such as weathermen trying to determine a range, will, of course, understand that `10 miles' means `10 miles or more', which might mean 120 miles 200 km or more. But I wonder whether people who are not professional will understand that `ten miles' could well mean `one hundred miles'.
That aside, as I said, I took off into haze with reasonable visibility. The ceiling over the airport was low, but not too low. (The ceiling is how high you can fly and still see and avoid other aircraft. When your metric, the smallest unit you measure, is 100 feet (about 30 meters), the ceiling is usually specific; it is the bottom of fairly thick clouds. Sometimes it is more than 100 feet, in which case the ceiling is `variable'.)
So I flew off towards Piseco under the clouds. I had to cross a minor mountain range to the west of Pittsfield. I found that there were big holes in the clouds there, so I climbed up in one of them and came out `on top' above the lower level of clouds. The cloud layer was only about 500 feet (150 m) thick. (I cannot remember the exact thickness even though I reported it to the relevant people.)
Then I flew across the Hudson valley, north of Albany. The weather remained hazy, but the clouds went away. I reported the height of the base and the top of clouds near Pittsfield, and I reported that where I was, there were no low level clouds at all. (There were high level clouds, which were not relevant to me at all.)
As I flew on, scattered clouds appears below me, then got thicker and higher. I raised my altitude. The clouds continued to get thicker and thicker. Eventually, they formed a more or less a solid layer below me. And I climbed to 6500 feet (2 km) above sea level.
I began to worry that I would not be able to land at Piseco Airport. It has no Instrument Landing System. At this airport, you cannot land through clouds; you have to see around you to be able to land. I looked for and noted a big hole in the clouds through which I could see the ground about 15 miles (25 km) south east of the airport. I wondered whether I could go down through the hole and then fly to the airport. (In retrospect, I probably could have, but I did not know at the time.)
So I remembered that spot as a place that I might have to go back to. But I flew on, above the clouds. Then, close to Piseco close in a flying measure, not for someone who walks on the ground I saw another big hole. `Big' is important, because it means you can circle and descend and not only see and avoid other airplanes, but also see the ground, so you do not crash into it. So I descended in the big hole in the clouds, always able to see both the ground and always able to see other airplanes. I came down over ground right beside Piseco Lake and flew to the airport in hazy air. The hole was probably generated by the lake. At least, the people at the airport did not seem surprised by the existance of the hole.
Right after me, another airplane landed: this second airplane had floats so it could `land' on water as well as on the ground. It came from the north under the clouds for fuel. The pilot did not know the `ceiling'; as he said, he said "I just stayed low."
On the ground, by looking at the visible tops of mountains, I could see that the bases of the clouds were 1500 feet (500 m) above the airport.
I did not like the flight, but it was not bad. I arrived within a minute or two of my intended time. I flew out with concentration but below the clouds without trouble.
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