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.
There are specific procedures for flying the Hudson VFR corridor. Current N.Y. sectional and terminal area charts are required and should be reviewed thoroughly. You must take great care to remain at or below designated altitudes in order to remain under class B airspace. The maximum altitude along the portion of the route we flew was 1,300 feet MSL. The maximum allowable airspeed is 140 knots IAS.
A dedicated CTAF is used solely for traffic flying the Hudson corridor. You fly the river much as you would drive on a road—along the right bank. There are mandatory waypoints along the route in which you must announce your position.
As we neared the Verrazano Bridge, our entry point, I was spellbound by the spectacle that unfolded before us. There was New York in all her glory. I stared in awe as we circled around and made a pass directly in front of Lady Liberty. It was surreal to see her so up close and personal from our vantage point.
We passed over Governor’s Island and saw the entire island of Manhattan looming ahead. As we continued northbound along the east bank, goose bumps rose on my arms as the new Freedom Tower came into view. The construction phase had just reached a milestone that week, and the Freedom Tower was deemed the tallest structure in the New York skyline. What a thrill to be there to witness it—and especially fitting to do so from Miss America.
My camera worked overtime as we passed over the mighty Intrepid and flew past the iconic Empire State Building. It was sensory overload with so much to take in. All too soon, we crossed over the lofty towers of the George Washington Bridge, turned left and made our way back toward home.
I was amazed by how low stress the flight was. We encountered only a few other aircraft, mainly sightseeing helicopters. It wasn’t the mayhem I had envisioned it would be. This adventure is viable for anyone who takes the time and effort to prepare and become familiar with the charts and procedures, which are found on the N.Y. VFR Terminal Area Chart. Always be sure to check the NOTAMs, as there are frequent TFRs issued in the area.
I brought a lesson home with me. As pilots, we’re given the opportunity to see and experience things in a way that most people only dream of. If we allow ourselves to expand our horizons, the world is ours to explore.