I must have misunderstood when I heard that Cleveland had their HarborFest scheduled for this weekend; I could swear I heard Harbor Freight Fest. Alas, rather than booth after booth of deeply discounted tools, all they had at the HarborFest was a collection of really tall sailing ships. Having been a big fan of the Horatio Hornblower novels when I was a teen, I've always been intrigued by the tall ships but I've never really seen one up close. This was a great opportunity to do so, and was well worth the effort of leaving the nicely air conditioned house to experience the joys of a 90-90 (90 degrees, 90% perceived humidity) July day.
Cleveland's Burke-Lakefront airport is one of the gems of Ohio general aviation. It's location right on the edge of Lake Erie, and within easy walking distance of numerous touristy attractions like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a science museum (and if it seems like I give it scant attention, understand that the point where I knew I had failed in my quest to imbue a passion for aviation in Co-pilot Egg was the day I asked her if she wanted to fly to that museum, and she asked if it wouldn't be easier to just drive to COSI. Ouch!), Browns Stadium, and my favorite, the USS Cod WWII submarine. It's also very close to downtown, and one of these days I'm going to see if I can make my way downtown to the art museum. On the downside, that prime location means that it is located within the most complex airspace I ever deal with: the dreaded Class B.
It's not actually that bad, but it does have the problem that you can be refused entrance. That's not always doom because the typical Class B airspace is shaped like an upside-down wedding cake, with the Bride & Groom figurines positioned right on the center of the big airport that requires the Class B protection, which in this case is Cleveland-Hopkins. Because of these "shelves" under the Class B airspace you can usually duck down under and get where you're trying to go, albeit at a lower altitude than you may have preferred. So had I been willing to trade some of the security and visibility gained from a higher altitude for the ease of not having to deal with the Cleveland Approach controllers, I could have done so. I decided I could use the practice, though. Working with ATC is a skill that erodes without practice, as we will soon see. I contacted Approach as I passed over Mansfield VOR. They responded with the not-the-best-possible-answer of "Stay OUT of Class B, stand by for further advisory." Well...... crap. As the outer rim of the Class B appeared on the Garmin moving map GPS, I started to wonder if I was going to have to orbit around waiting to get the clearance to enter. It seems that they were having an inordinately difficult time working with a Mooney pilot that missed more calls than he responded to on the first contact from ATC. That kind of thing is frustrating for all involved, and I think the sighs of relief were mutual when the Mooney finally left their airspace.
Just as I thought for sure that I was going to have to refresh my memory as to the max altitude under the outermost shelf, the controller came back on with a transponder code and a vector. The direct approach to Burke would take me right over the top of Hopkins, so I was offered the choice of going around it to the north or south. After a mental coin flip, I decided on north, thinking that would give a nice view of the harbor on the way in. What I didn't think of was that I was going to get sent pretty far a-sea over Lake Erie before I got turned back towards Burke. I'm not particularly uncomfortable with flying over water, but what little discomfort I do feel is typically mitigated by staying at a relatively high altitude. Under Approach Control, though, I didn't have that kind of autonomy in the decision. They had me down at 2,500' which was a bit lower than I would have preferred, but it did, in fact, provide a pretty good view of the harbor and the downtown area.
The wind was the calmest I've ever had at Burke, and was a complete non-factor on the landing. I still haven't come up with anything else to blame it on, though. It's always neat to land there and look at the rubber tracks on the runways left over from the Champ Car race they have annually.
I parked in front of the main terminal which incurs a $5 parking fee, but on the walk over to the harbor I saw that they were getting $10 to park a car. The economic advantages of owning an airplane never cease to amaze me! (Heh!) It was getting pretty hot by that time,and with the forecast calling for highs in the mid-90s, I knew it was just a matter of time before it got worse. That said, the ostensible purpose of this trip was to field test my new camera equipment before going to Oshkosh and since high temps and a lot of sun are par for the Oshkosh course, another opportunity for practice arose. As it turns out, a number of my pictures came out with a deep blue hue that I simply cannot explain. I'm sure glad that didn't happen up in Oshkosh!! At some point, whatever was causing such sadness to the camera (it was very blue - get it?) cleared itself up and I got some nice shots of the ships/boats. (I never can tell the difference between a ship and a boat, and have noticed that those that can are pretty snooty about it, so I cover all my bases with the "ships/boats" cop-out!)
It was too hot to even consider standing in line for on-board tours of the boats, so I satisfied myself with a couple of hours of walk-about, and decided to head home. My passenger (Rick, who really should have been home working on his plane) agreed, so we hiked back to the airport. At this point I need to share a piloting tip that took me a couple of hundred hours to learn. If you, like me, simply cannot remember to remove your chocks before trying to taxi, just do what I do: tell your passenger that it is his/her job to remind you. Then, after you have both forgotten and only remembered when the throttle got pushed forward but the scenery steadfastly refused to begin moving, you can blame the entire embarrassing incident of having to de-plane and remove the chocks (in the shadow of the critical observer in the control tower) on him/her. Actually, depending on the distance from home, you might actually be able to get him/her to do the actual de-planing! Oh, please don't ask me how I learned this, or what reminded me of it.
The departure out of Burke was to the west, right past all of the festivities at the harbor. A B-17 had just flown a couple of low passes (participating in my Oshkosh field-test, seemingly), so I chuckled as I wondered how many of the folks down there thought they were seeing a WWII fighter fly by as we went over. There was another plane coming in from the west and as he saw us pass by his left wing, I heard "pretty airplane" come over the radio. Ah, all the perks of reflected celebrity with none of the burdens of notoriety: what more can one ask from a simple airplane!
I thought it would be a simple deal to stay low over the lake below the Class B shelf and get a quick approval to climb from Cleveland Approach. Well, it wasn't. While I was trying to make initial contact, some guy in a small Beech twin was apparently doing instrument training, and chose an airport dead-nut in the center of Class B airspace to use as practice. Hopkins is a big airport and the controllers there deal day-in and day-out with professionals whose goal is to get the plane on the ground as efficiently as possible. Well, this fella wanted the "full approach," which is a time-consuming operation best practiced at less busy airports. The controller was peeved, and put on the drippy "screw you" pedantic tone as he explained to the guy why this wasn't the best environment for his demands, and having listened (impatiently) to the entire exchange, they were demands. Really, this guy had ensured he wasn't going to get what he wanted basically from the get-go with his attitude and tone, but the back-and-forths took up a lot of air time. I finally got through, but was rewarded with another "stay out." I wonder if this is why a lot of pilots avoid flying into Class B airspace. It's not at all bad once you get used to it, but at first you're convinced you're going to screw up and get your license yanked and it takes a bit of time to get over that. It also requires a lot more faith in the airplane since you relinquish your right to decide at what altitude at which to fly your approaches and departures, and that level of faith may not exist in a lot of pilots flying flight school rentals. Had I known this morning what I know now, I probably would have just planned on skirting in under the Class B rather than try to get worked through it, but it was good practice - I don't want to be the guy fumbling around missing calls and such.
After 10 or 15 minutes of stooging around down in the heat and climbing bit by bit as the shelves got higher, the end of the Class B was in sight. The controller chose that moment to get buddy-buddy and ask if I was heading "up to the northwest" next week, which is apparently the code word for Oshkosh. He shared that he was going to be a controller up there. This got me to thinking: this guy is apparently familiar with homebuilts, but left me down there at 1,000' over a very pilot-unfriendly Lake Erie for 20 or more miles, rather than let me climb through what, judging by how much time he had to chat, must not have been very busy airspace. Ah, well, I'm sure there was a reason - you can't tell how busy approach is by talking to just one controller. Next time, though, I'll depart east so I'll at least be over terra firma if I get stuck below the shelf.
The tach reported just over 2.0 hours for the round trip, and although neither landing was all that wonderful, it seemed a well-flown trip. Well, other than those damned chocks that is.