My sister and her husband unexpectedly invited me to visit them yesterday, so I flew out. Fred has been working odd hours, and an earlier plan had been canceled.
(My airplane is a Cessna 172, a single engine, four seat, high wing aircraft.)
Fred and Karen live near Oswego, N. Y., about 150 nautical miles (280 kilometers) from my place in western Massachusetts. Pilots measure distances in nautical miles, as if they were seamen, not statute miles or kilometers.
The flight started out hazy. Ideally, when I come up over the Taconic mountain range (or range of hills, as most people would define it), I should be able to look across the Hudson River valley and see the edge of an escarpment just south of Albany to which I fly. By doing this, and by staying at an altitude below 2000 ft (600 m), I avoid the Class C airspace around the Albany airport.
In many countries, larger airports are surrounded by special airspace. Pilots entering the airspace need to be in radio contact with the controllers. The more busy the airport, the larger the special airspace. The Class C (and the even larger Class B) airspaces look like `upside down wedding cakes. `Typical' Class C airspace extends from 4000 ft (1200m) above the airport down to the surface within a circle 5 nautical miles (9 km) in diameter that is centered on the airport. In addition, it extends another 5 nm out in a wider circle, that is 2000 ft thick, starting 2000 ft above the ground. Few airspaces are `typical'. Looking at my chart, the Albany Class C airspace is not exactly centered on the airport, and the lower limits of the outer ring are different in different sectors. But the principle is close enough.
Over all, the different types of airspace make sense, as they enable local air traffic controllers to talk with and track airplanes which might otherwise collide.
For this flight, my course took me below the outer ring of the Albany Class C airspace on the southern side of the airport.
As I said, ideally, I should be able to fly this route by looking for the edge of an escarpment and flying towards it. But with the haze, I could not. I could see only 8 - 10 miles (15 - 18 km) and had to pay attention to what was below me. This part of the flight took a half hour or so.
Then I flew beyond Albany, south of Schenectady and the Mohawk River. The Catskill mountains are further south; my flight took me over partially wooded farmland.
The haze diminished a bit, and a few clouds appeared. The air was smooth.
I flew on for another half hour or so to Utica. Again, I passed south of the city and its airport. In planning the flight, I had calculated for head winds. However, they were lighter than forecast. So I thought that maybe I would reach Oswego earlier than planned.
Unfortunately, after passing Utica, I saw thicker clouds ahead. I listened to the `Automatic Terminal Information Service' for Syracuse airport on the radio. It said a thunderstorm was passing by. Thunderstorms are dangerous. They sometimes contain hail and always contain strong winds. They can tear an airplane apart.
So I called the Buffalo `Flight Service Station' and asked whether I should fly north or south of Syracuse to avoid the storm. The person who responded was discouraging: he spoke of a line of storms between me and my destination. But I knew that storm lines often have holes in them.
So I called Syracuse Approach Control, which provides `clearances' through the clouds. A `clearance' is a promise of `clear air', which means there are no other airplanes in the way. (Clouds hinder visibility, but the concern for pilots is whether they bump into another airplane, or the ground, or a bad patch of air. Hence the term `clearance'.)
I told the woman who responded to my call to Syracuse Approach that I was flying to Oswego, that I wanted to stay in clear air so I could see any thunderstorms and not fly into any accidentally. I asked if she could give me `vectors' to Oswego. Yes, she could. So I `air filed' an `instrument flight plan', and then north of Syracuse through smooth air and some occasional rain. My route took me a bit further north than I had planned, but I could see around me with no trouble. Then I flew direct to Oswego.
Fred met me at the Oswego airport. The detour meant that I arrived at my destination at the planned time, rather than a few minutes early. Fred was clearly very tired, but happy that he now had some time off.
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