Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Trip East: Part one -- closed airports and open questions

For as long as I was building the RV-7A, I've thought about making the trip back to New England -- the triumphant return of building prowess to the land where my family referred to me growing up as "The Scotch Tape Kid."

I've been working -- hard -- over the last two weeks to prepare, spending countless hours planning just the right route -- the old-fashioned way: with charts and books and rulers and calculators (above) -- buying an oxygen system for high-altitude travel, arranging refueling accommodations and hangar accommodations at KFIT (Fitchburg, Ma.), the eventual destination.

The plan was to stop tomorrow afternoon (at sunset) at KAQW (North Adams, Ma.) to visit with Carolie's mother and drop her off for a few days of mother-daughter fun, then fly the next day to KFIT.

I was nervous a few days ago when I saw a NOTAM that KAQW intended to close the only runway it has today, but figured they were probably filling cracks in the pavement, just as my home base of KSGS (South St. Paul, MN) was doing a few weeks ago. Although I've kept a ridiculous amount of attention glued to weather for the last week, I didn't add 2 + 2 until last evening. It was supposed to rain/snow there today and, yep, when I checked the NOTAM, the closure was moved to Wednesday until 5 p.m., a half hour after sunset and about a half hour after our planned time of arrival. Rats.

I'm hoping the airport manager there is as flexible as the one in South St. Paul. For people who needed to come in, he'd move the equipment off the runway and let them land. But, alas, when I called this morning, I got only a voicemail. If he doesn't call back, I think the trip is off.

There are options. I could land at Bennington, VT, 11 miles northeast and get a car. But the Bennington airport looks even more tucked into the mountains than North Adams is. I could land at Pittsfield, 20 miles south, but one runway there is closed, too, and I don't have a locking mechanism on the airplane and I'm not sure I want to leave it out in the open there. Plus, driving to Pittsfield is a major pain in the neck.

The rest of the trip is skillfully planned. It involves flying (relatively) direct to Joliet, IL., turning east to pass south of South Bend with a fuel stop at Napoleon, Ohio, just south of Toledo. The person who runs the FBO there will provide transportation to get into town for a bite to eat.

The plan was to pull the plane out of the hangar at KSGS around 7, and be in the air by 7:30, which puts us in Napoleon around 11 a.m. (local time). That gives us at least an hour and a half to exhale (I've never flown around Chicago airspace) and launch by 1 p.m., or so, which puts us over the GRAVES waypoint on approach to North Adams by 4:20.

Except, the airport is closed.

I don't have much choice today but to continue packing and inspecting the plane as if we are flying tomorrow. We'll see.

Update - I've decided to scrap plans for the trip. When I was doing some last-minute flight planning, I noticed we're not going to get the tailwinds necessary to allow a long-enough fuel/lunch stop in Ohio and still get in the air in time to avoid darkness over the mountains. I don't want to be rushing across the country. We'll try this in the late winter or spring.

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