Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hudson River Adventure

Expanding your comfort zone

We all know pilots who limit their flights to a hop to a nearby airport for lunch or an occasional pancake breakfast. As a relatively new pilot with fewer than 200 hours, I was guilty of this and rarely strayed far from my home airport in Hastings, Mich.,(9D9). I never realized what I was missing until I took the flight of a lifetime with good friend Randy Van Liere, who's also a pilot at 9D9. Randy made it his mission to pry me loose from the restrictive boundaries that I had unwittingly set for myself.

It started with an invitation to accompany him this past May in his vintage 1946 Navion on a flight to Morristown, N.J., to visit his daughter and her family. Randy purchased the Navion in pieces and, over the course of nearly five years, had it painstakingly transformed into the beautiful flying machine that it is today. The restoration included a Continental IO-550B, a 300 hp engine, customized interior and panel, and a paint job replicating the red, white and blue scheme of Dr. Brent Hisey's P-51 unlimited Reno air racer, Miss America. Having long admired the airplane, Randy obtained permission from Dr. Hisey to borrow the design. Soon after, Miss America Too was unveiled.

The Morristown Airport (MMU), just outside of New York City, is nestled between busy class B airports Newark, Kennedy and LaGuardia. Although admittedly apprehensive, I accepted Randy's invitation, as it sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime. On our departure day, the weather briefing confirmed the previous day's outlook. The New York area was IFR due to low ceilings, so Randy filed an IFR flight plan.

It was sunny in Michigan with VFR conditions when we launched. Our route took us over the southern edge of Lake Erie, over Cleveland and across central Pennsylvania over the rolling green Alleghenies. Scattered cotton-ball cumulus clouds gradually gathered into a broken layer that thickened into solid overcast by the time we crossed the N.Y. border.
The ILS approach was inoperable at MMU, so Randy flew the GPS/RNAV approach to runway 23 in near-minimum conditions. He executed it perfectly. I found myself wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans after we landed, but it was an invaluable learning experience.

We spent three enjoyable days visiting with Randy's family and exploring the Big Apple, and the grand finale was yet to come. On the day of our departure, Randy had planned a sightseeing detour up the Hudson River. Unfortunately, the weather that morning was marginal, and it wasn't looking promising.

We lingered in the FBO, sipped on coffee and enjoyed some warm-from-the-oven, chocolate-chip cookies. After some time, we checked the weather again. To our delight, a hole had opened up in the sky directly over our intended Hudson River route. We took that window of opportunity and departed for the short jaunt toward the Hudson.

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