Monday, February 07, 2005

Gail and Dave Take Manhattan (Again) (From the Air)

We slept in after our late arrival from Philadelphia, but the warm clear weather was persisting, so we couldn't pass up another great flying day. I had told Gail about flying around Manhattan, and we figured that today would be the perfect day. Breakfast (brunch!) consumed and cameras freshly recharged, we lit out for the airport.

First order of business; chip away at the snow and ice that had the hangar door stuck fast. We both had half-destroyed our feet and shoes kicking at the ice when I saw Rick, the airport owner nearby; he quickly came by with his tractor and auger and helped clear the snow. Soon the Tri-Pacer stood brightly in the sun, and we folded ourselves in and took off. The trip across Pennsylvania and New Jersey took about 50 minutes; as the landscape below us changed from frozen lakes and trees to dense suburbs, I was carefully preparing myself for the navigational challenge.

The airspace we were flying into is the busiest in the world, bar none. To fly over New York City takes you into the triangle between Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports - plus the helicopter traffic over Manhattan and the exec jet traffic into Teterboro. But there is a mousehole in all of this; the "VFR corridor", a narrow strip of airspace from the water up to 1100 feet over the Hudson River, which is reserved for small aircraft to safely transit this congested area. If it were not for this imaginary tunnel, small planes would have to fly miles out of their way to travel up and down the coast; and too, it affords one of the most spectacular views possible of Manhattan.

I planned on flying to a point south of Newark airspace and requesting a transit from south to north; this way, the city would be on our right, and Gail would get the best photos and views on her side, with the afternoon sun behind us. I boggled at the air traffic; jumbo jets lumbered back and forth above us, helicopters swarmed below. I was "handed" quickly and efficiently from one air traffic controller to the next, and I have to say that I got sterling service from all of them. We were given vectors to steer us safely through Newark's airspace, and our little 50-year-old plane carried us along through the 21st century traffic, at a stately 100 m.p.h.

We joined the banks of the Hudson River just north of the Verrazano bridge, and passed Liberty Island on the right; oops, Gail was on the wrong side for that one, but she reached over my shoulder and managed to snap a few frames of the Statue of Liberty. Crossing the harbor to the southern tip of Manhattan, I lined up on the east bank of the river. We were cruising only a few hundred feet above the highest towers, right over the docks; and we immediately noticed the gaping hole in the forest of skyscrapers that is Ground Zero. Gail was shooting every moment, and got a lot of amazing pictures. We passed a quarter-mile from the spire of the Empire State Building, where we had stood and photographed the city just nine days ago. (We were flying at 1500 feet; the spire of the ESB is at 1515'!)

We passed over the USS Intrepid, the aircraft carrier that is now moored on the Hudson as a floating museum; I resisted the urge to cut the power and circle in for a deck landing. As we continued north, we looked over Central Park and midtown as we headed towards the George Washington Bridge. Gail and I have crossed the GW many times on our trips to and from JFK; now we crossed it perpendicularly, a thousand feet up. Time for a few more photos, Columbia University and Harlem, and finally we were north of Teterboro, with open airspace to our west. I climbed and banked left, and poked at the GPS (ah, thank you GPS!) to set a course for Greenwood Lake airport in New Jersey.

Gail's morning coffee was making itself felt - too urgently for the long trip home, so I picked that airport as the first easy washroom-stop stop west of Teterboro. It turned out to be a neat place to visit, though - as I turned final, and Gail was recording my landing on video, I saw an unusual sight; a 1950s-vintage Lockheed Constellation parked on the ramp, towering over the gaggle of small planes parked around it. We parked and Gail dashed off as I took some snaps of the old airliner; its flying days over, it is permanently grounded now, but being restored as a static display and as office space for the airport and the flight school. We stepped inside to see the big cabin of the Connie, now with the seats removed and newly carpeted and furnished. What a neat place to have your ground lessons, in a classic old prop-liner! Not to mention the hundred or so bird families that were happily nesting in the undersides and engines of the plane.

Nature's call answered, we took off again and flew back the 45 miles to Cherry Ridge. We refueled and stowed 02P in her hangar and went back to town, famished, for a ten-thousand-calorie seafood dinner at Cooper's with my mother. Gail and I are looking at Cooper's as possible caterers for the wedding; but it was also her first look at the restaurant, which is huge and rambling and stuffed to the gunwales (literally - it's shaped like a ship!) with nautical tchotzkes and historic artifacts.