Lehigh Valley Flying Club to AOPA Fly-In: Groton, Ct. (KGON)
Our journey began on Friday afternoon October 6 with 2 aircraft and 5 club members heading off on a beautiful day with broken clouds near Allentown and opening up as we headed east. After a thorough flight plan and pre-flight, fellow club members Steve Marshalleck, Greg Mussich, and Fernando Pacheco climbed into the C182 (N5089N) with Floris Fooij and Bryan Drennan boarding the Archer III (N52326). Unfortunately, due to more fuel on 89N than anticipated, I ended up leaving a last minute participant behind due to weight and balance. Sorry again John.
Both aircraft filed flight plans and 89N departed VFR and filed an IFR flight plan from New Haven (KHVN) to Groton (KGON), to eventually pick up the clearance over New Haven. We did this in order to expedite our arrival rather than performing the full VFR arrival procedure and potential traffic congestion. During the leg, until reaching New Haven to prepare for the IFR clearance, I hand flew 89N under the hood as part of training for the Instrument rating with Steve as CFI / Safety pilot and Greg monitoring the information from his Stratus and iPad as well as looking out for traffic visually. Steve and Greg’s vigilance and my steady hand flying :o) came in handy as ATC vectored a business jet to cross within 500 feet beneath our flight on their descent to Teterboro (KTEB).
With the beautiful weather Steve and Greg were able to take in the sites over northern NJ, the Hudson River, and Long Island Sound as I focused on maintaining and improving my instrument scan, as well as maintaining a heading and altitude.
When 89N was within 10 miles of the Groton airport, we were cleared for the visual approach for a right downwind arrival, were assigned as #2 to the runway, and followed Cherokee traffic which was on a right base several miles ahead (not 326). With calm winds, the landing was smooth and uneventful. We were quickly marshalled to our parking area in the grass. Soon, Greg checked out the reserved rental car and we took a stroll through the exhibit area looking over many of the dream aircraft on the ramp. What stood out most to me was that the Cirrus Jet was roomier than I anticipated and that Steve knows everybody and everybody knows Steve.
326 departed Allentown (KABE) VFR also and followed Victor airways and VOR’s (V39 > SAX > CMK > KMMK). The route was chosen to avoid any Class B re-routes. Also, in order to take advantage of favorable winds and as an added margin of safety the flight flew at 7,500 MSL. Further, “Flight Following” services were utilized. The flight began above a scattered layer and later through clear skies until the decent near Meriden, Ct (KMMK).
Meriden was the beginning fix for the fly-in’s VFR arrival procedure and Bradley Approach was fully prepared for the influx of GA traffic. Floris remarked, “we were very focused on potential threats of other aircraft in our path as we followed the procedure into the anticipated busy event. While in the initial stages of the arrival procedure, we had a few other airplanes on a similar path and we made the decision to execute a 360 turn for spacing”. Floris and Bryan noted the procedure was straight-forward and they were cleared to land rather quickly. On the humorous side Floris related that while they were vigilant in their visual scanning for traffic that it would have been nice to have a Stratus for situational awareness upon which Bryan noted “my Stratus was in the flight bag”. We all had a good laugh.
Due to the favorable tailwind the flight required roughly 1.5 hours of flight time with cruise ground speeds of approximately 135kts.
Just prior to departure the 326 flight team had a few tense filled moments. During the run up one of the magneto checks failed. The engine ran extremely rough and almost shut down completely. The team tried to lean, not too excessively to protect the engine, with no improvement. At that point they made the decision to discontinue the run-up and taxi back to the hangar for further checkout and troubleshooting. Naturally, they were concerned that this long planned for trip would be over before it began.
However, Bryan was quick to point out “this is why we do these checks”. Back at the hangar the team contacted the plane captain, Dan Loikits, who advised to lean a little more aggressively for 3x 10 seconds and see if we could burn the spark plugs clean. We did. And it worked. The immediate run-up after this procedure passed and also the run-up just prior to takeoff passed and no further issues were noted during this leg of the flight.
Friday evening, after we all checked in to our hotels and cleaned up we returned to the airfield to eat dinner and have a couple of beers at the AOPA “Barnstormer Party” which we enjoyed together as club members. The AOPA provided a very good performing artist to go along with the good food and beers.
Saturday Event Activities and Departure
On the morning of Saturday October 7 the two flight teams ate breakfast at the event and spent the morning taking advantage of the various free seminars the AOPA hosted. Seminars included using Foreflight, IFR Decision making, Water Ditching Skills, and Unusual Attitude Recovery amongst many others. All-in-all this was a very full morning.
After lunch, with ceilings hovering around 600 feet all morning, both aircraft filed and departed KGON IFR with the anticipation of clearer weather to the west. Somehow the Ground/Clearance Controller must have known this was my very first copying of a full IFR clearance. To quote clearance delivery: “I will read to you your clearance veerryyy slooowly” LOL. I’m glad he did! For 89N, we completed our run-up and departed just as the field conditions improved to VFR. Soon after our initial contact with Providence Departure we were able to cancel IFR and from there continued through the NY Bravo on to ABE. I was now back under the hood and performed a practice ILS Rwy 24 approach with winds 150 @ 9 gusting to 18. Total time on 89N was 3.4 hours with no issues. It was a great time and experience to remember.
326 took advantage of the full preferred routing (HFD > POU > HUO > FJC >KABE) and filed for 6,000 MSL. However, ATC had them descend to 4000 enroute which the team felt was ok but reduced their safety margin. While they did not experience any roughness on the run-up in Groton as they had in Allentown, it was still in the back of their minds. Sometime into the flight it moved to center stage as they experienced some roughness. They quickly troubleshot and leaned the engine which took care of the roughness. Floris commented “we also started looking a little bit more than usual at alternatives as we flew by noting airport over here, grass land over there etc. and Note to self: what was the gliding distance again per 1000ft altitude, no wind, @ 75kts…?”
Another interesting safety side note, as mentioned above, departure from KGON was IFR with ceilings at 600. Yet, there were several VFR pilots requesting Special VFR clearance. ATC denied those requests. This makes sense considering the volume of departures and the poor statistics of VFR only pilots in poor to marginal weather.
The event itself was a first for some of us. We found it fun and well organized. ATC Approach/Departure, Center, and the local controllers were all very professional, accommodating where they could, and provided outstanding services.
Everything at the event was well done and orchestrated, beginning with the volunteer marshallers, to aircraft parking, mutliple fuel trucks for overnight re-fueling, buses and carts to take you to event, catered food, and more. There were all kinds of free seminars and an abundance of planes to explore and dream about.
The cost of all this was minimal and worthwhile to do again! We highly recommend to everyone to take advantage of the opportunity in the future.
We were very grateful to the club leadership for promoting this club fly-out and hope to have all our aircraft and more club members participate at a future event. This was a great opportunity and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. We look forward to other fly-out opportunities.
If you have an idea for an event or fly-out step up and get the ball rolling by forwarding them to the Board and let’s get flying!
The flight crews (L-R): sitting - Floris, Fernando, Greg // standing - Bryan and Steve
In the background "Placid Lassie" (C47) and "American Clipper" (Flying Boat)