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Helping to fill the bucket list

As a pilot, we are often asked to take people flying, sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t but when it does, it can turn into a rewarding experience for both the pilot and the passenger, especially when that passenger has never flown in a small aircraft.

It started just over a year ago when my co-worker Tony asked me to take him flying. He sounded like he was nervous about the idea so I wasn’t going to push the issue. Instead, I kept telling him about my day to day flights slowly building him up to the point that he realized that this flying thing was actually safer than his daily commute from PA to Newark NJ.

That being said, I am always a bit apprehensive about flying with nervous passengers since I know some things are out of my control (weather etc.). In general, the idea is to fly in the early or late part of the day when the atmosphere is calm.

I decided to pitch the idea of taking him on one of my NYC skyline flights at night. This flight normally consists of a departure out of Morristown followed by request for overhead Newark Airport at 1500 feet, we fly north on the Hudson River, cross Central Park (with LaGuardia) down the East River and back up north to Lincoln Park for dinner. He sounded a bit more excided about the idea so I decided to book an airplane. The first few times things didn’t work out (weather, work etc.). It even got to the point that Tony told me to “forget about it”. Then I met David.

David had just started with our company a few months earlier and had found out that I was a pilot. He stopped by my office to ask about my flying adventures. I talked his ear off, and when he came back for more, I directed him to He spent the night checking out my videos and the other great sites that I have listed in my blog roll. He told me that he had taken a few lessons about three years ago and would love to fly soon. The only problem was, I had to get Tony up first. Time to bite the bullet and get Tony his wings!

We worked out our schedules and booked the flight for a weeknight after work. During the day of the flight Tony was so nervous that I was starting to get a bit anxious! As I left for the airport I could feel that old student pilot preflight nervousness running thru my body.

We met at the airport and I briefed him on what we were going to do. I walked him around the plane as I did my preflight, explaining some of the safety features of the Cessna like the duel ignition systems that are independent of the electrical systems. I knew this would make him feel better about flying in a small airplane. After we got seated I did a thorough passenger briefing (another thing that always made me feel better about flying).

Time to fly!
As we taxied onto runway 23 at Morristown I felt my nerves calm. I was in my “zone” and I knew I was about to give Tony a taste of what General Aviation can offer! I turn onto the runway. Line up on the center line. Add power smoothly, a little right rudder, check engine instruments, RPMs are where they should be, airspeed is alive, start to rotate at 55 knots, as I let the nose wheel lift off of the runway I add a bit more right rudder, we lift off at the 1000 foot markers, nose set to climb attitude add more right rudder, the wings are level, I am not compensating for the left turning tenancy by dropping my right wing (so common that most pilots don’t realize that they do it (myself included). It is going well. Climb rate is near 1000 feet per minute and all is good in the world.

As we climbed Tony said “that’s it?” “wow this is awesome”! After that, I knew he was going to love NYC.

Plan B. We work in Newark just north of the Airport so I can see what runways they are using from the building. At about mid day they started using the circle to land 29 which normally means that the tower will not allow over flights due to the traffic conflict so I figured that it would be a good idea to have a solid plan B.

My normal plan B is to divert north to TEB, ask for the class D transition with a handoff to LGA but the Yankees were playing at home, so I knew that the stadium NOTAM would be active (3mile radius restricted zone around the stadium blocks off the northern section of the Hudson).

Sure enough, after departure we climbed to 1500, informed the tower that we would be going over to Newark, put on my best professional pilot voice and made the call:

“Newark Tower, Skyhawk 150 tango hotel just departed Morristown would like overhead the field at 1500 for the Hudson River.

Newark: Cessna calling, unable, runway 29 in use.

Me: Okay, can we get a class bravo clearance to the Hudson (north or south of the airport)?

Newark: Unable.

Me: Okay, will it work if I call you from over the Verrazano Bridge?

Newark: Yea that’ll work.

Yes it’s kind of informal. You are communicating with a dedicated low altitude controller (at least that’s what I have been told) thou I am sure he was doing double duty this evening.

Ok… Plan B. Navigate around the Bravo to the south and call for the class bravo clearance at the VZ.

We called Newark from the Verrazano and climbed to 1500 for the tour. I tried to get a handoff to LGA since it worked last time but the controller wanted no part of it. Instead, he instructed me to make my 180 at the Lincoln Tunnel (ever try to find an underground tunnel from the air at night?) well actually; you look for the ventilation towers on the shoreline.

As we approached Battery Park I put 150TH in slow flight and enjoyed the view of the new World Trade Center! She is looking good! It was nice to see how far along they have gotten with the new Freedom Tower. Now standing at 1776 feet it was nice to pass below the top in our Cessna at 1500 feet. With cameras clicking away I requested the turn at the Lincoln Tunnel followed by a turn south, around the “Lady” and back north with a hand-off to Teterboro KTEB for direct Lincoln Park N07.

Newark granted my request and handed me off to TEB after our second trip up the river.

Once handed off to TEB I preceded direct to N07. They were very accommodating and even gave me a handoff to New York for the short trip. As we approached Lincoln Park I noticed that the visibility was starting to drop. Not by much but I knew that a front was coming thru later that night, sure enough, as I was thinking about my options I saw the lightning from the approaching storms. I knew from my limited experience flying around convective activity at night that these storms were probably over a hundred miles away but it was getting late and I knew that the restaurant can get busy on warm nights like this one.

I asked Tony, “Hay, do you want to just go back to Morristown, put the plane to bed and get dinner somewhere else?” He agreed. I asked New York for direct Morristown and even shot an abbreviated ILS 23. I brought her in for a greaser of a landing and opened the window to make room for my enlarged head! J

After putting the airplane to bed Tony treated me to dinner at Houlihan’s.

The following day at work Tony said, “hay Mike, thanks so much for the flight, I think I might go up for a lesson”. You never know… That is after all exactly how I got started.

Coming soon.. My write-up of the flight with David

Until next time; happy safe flying everyone!
Thanks for taking the time to read about our latest adventure.

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Amanda Michelle (Younkin) Franklin 3/14/1986 – 5/27/2011 Click for information on Amanda