Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Google Map FAIL!

Look, I'll just say it right up front: it was more than likely the fault of the Margaritas. Yes, true, it was my own choice to drink them, but did they have to be so very delicious? Well, in any event I found myself at the computer this morning planning a flight to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. Not so much planning the flight, although that was part of it, but planning the ground-based activities as well. I had a dim recollection of visiting a really neat galleria in downtown Cleveland some 25 years ago, and I thought that maybe I could find it again.

As we all know, the first place one would look for such a thing is Google, and as is nearly always the case, Google found the place as easily as I can find the item on a restaurant menu that they're out of. Whoops, not so fast there, Bub. The first place in the Google results was much newer and more modern than I remembered. I was all set to go there anyway, but my friend Lynda chimed in on Twitter with a link to the place that I was actually looking for. The problem, as is also often the case with Google, was in the search string that I was using. What I was actually looking for was the Cleveland Arcade.

So, now that I knew what I was looking for, I needed only to find out where it was. Google, again. Maps this time. So here's what I found:

For some reason, (cough Margaritas cough) I saw the item at E as the place I wanted to go. FAIL! It turns out to have been item B that I wanted. You would think the fact that E was surrounded by exactly nothing resembling a building of any sort would have served as a clue, but you would be wrong, wrong, wrong. I diligently memorized the walking route from the Burke Lakefront aiport to... nowhere. That all came later, though; first we had to get to Cleveland.

Recognizing at the very time of their ingestion that those margaritas had the potential to make an early departure unpalatable to both myself and Co-pilot Rick, I suggested an 0930 meeting at the aerodrome. That would give me time to assuage my morning headache with coffee, and to get over to the hangar early enough to put the wheel pants back on. They're worth 10 knots extra speed when they're on the plane, and the trip to Cleveland and back is long enough to make that difference noticeable.

The morning forecast promised a calm-ish, clear morning with afternoon conditions trending towards 12G20 winds and 5,000' ceilings. Winds at 12G20 are within the limits of my capabilities, but foretell possible issues with personal comfort enroute. In fact, the forecast was a virtual guarantee of a bumpy ride home. That's flying, though. We deal with it.

As promised, it was a glorious morning and I was able to get myself fully caffeinated and the airplane fully dressed before the Co-pilot made another on-time arrival at the gate. As I walked around doing the preflight inspection, I couldn't help but notice that the wind was starting to pick up. By the time we got to the end of the runway for takeoff, we had a pretty steady crosswind from the left. That's the bad side on takeoff, of course, since the wind beating against the side of the rudder exacerbates the left-turning tendency caused by the torque of the engine and propeller.

As we were accelerating down the runway, I was finding that it was taking a pretty hefty pressure on the right rudder pedal to keep us tracking more or less straight. I knew that once the wheels came off of the pavement I was going to have to be ready for the transition from ground vehicle to airborne vehicle, but failed to carry the left aileron that would have eased the rapid entry into the left crab that we would carry to keep us moving down the centerline of the runway. Well, good practice and better luck next time.

We climbed to 7,500' to get over the tops of the puffy white clouds that we could see stretching in front of us in the clear morning air and found smooth sky for our ride to Cleveland. Unfortunately, Cleveland is surrounded by Class B airspace, and with the clouds being right at the altitudes we would need to fly at in that airspace, we wouldn't be able to go that way. Besides which, I've tried working with the controllers that manage the Class B airspace surrounding Cleveland before and found it to be a frustrating experience. I decided it would be easier (and in some ways, safer) to just stay under it at 3,000'.

The problem with that strategy is that we would have to descend from our comfortable perch up in the smooth air down into the far bumpier air underneath the clouds. The GPS was still indicating 35 miles or so to go when I saw a big hole in the clouds below us to drop down through. If there's one thing Papa likes to do, it's go down fast. With the throttle pulled back to a high idle, we were able to drop through the opening at 3,000 feet per minute. All too soon, we were bumping along beneath the clouds and navigating around the controlled airspace. When we were 15 or 20 miles out, we had to drop even lower to stay under some rather mean looking clouds:

It looked like it would be clear ahead once we got under the darkest cloud, and it was:

I dialed up the KBKL ATIS frequency to get the weather conditions at the airport, but rather than the ATIS I expected I found an automated report. That's fine by me - the weather is the weather - but I was a little surprised at it. I was ready to quickly make note of the current ATIS advisory (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) so I'd be able to tell the tower on my initial contact that I had heard the report ("Lakefront Tower, experimental 466PG with information Bravo, 10 miles south...") so it took me a couple of moments to figure out why the identifier wasn't provided.

I went ahead and contacted the tower and was directed to fly over the top of the airport and enter a left downwind for runway 6 Right. Oh, and to watch out for a banner tow a couple of miles from the airport. Apparently the Indians were playing. The nice thing about banner towing planes as traffic is just how easy they are to see. That is the entire point of a banner ad, right? To be seen? Sure it is! With the banner tow in sight and the only other plane in the pattern already on short final, it was an easy arrival. There was some wind, but nothing really noticeable. With the airport being right on the banks of Lake Erie, low winds are somewhat abnormal, but certainly welcome. It was a pretty good landing.

My studiously laid out route to nowhere took us right past the USS Cod, and as Rick hadn't visited it in decades, we decided to take the tour. It's one of those things that's best done when it's not crowded, and since it appeared that we'd be the only ones there, in we went.

Probably the most defining trait of a machine of war as utilitarian and designed for functionality as a submarine is the predominance of machinery. You are literally surrounded by knobs, valves, levers, handles, gauges, lights, and switches. There are no soft edges to anything; the entire boat is made out of steel, brass, iron, or some combination thereof. And it is cramped. Narrow, steep ladders and small hatchways are the means of moving from one part of the boat to another. In other words, it's an intriguing place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there!

Plus, there are big guns!

Then it was time to continue our hike to nowhere. Naturally I took the opportunity to brag about how clever I was in researching our route to know that I couldn't use the landmark that I had seen in the Google street view: a guy rolling by in a wheel chair. Nope, too clever to fall into that trap, but not clever enough to recognize the complete lack of well, anything located at the spot I took us to. After ambling around looking for the Galleria/Cleveland Arcade, I posted a note on Twitter advertising to the world that I had failed to write down the actual address of the destination, what with my being convinced that I had no need for such esoteric information.

As we were heading back to the airport in shame (well, I was ashamed. Rick was just hungry. Downtown Cleveland is a ghost town on Sundays and everything was closed), two things happened nearly simultaneously. First, we stumbled across the entrance to The Arcade:

Second, just as we were going in, I received a text message from Eric forwarding the address that Lynda has posted on Twitter in reply to my failure Tweet. What an amazing world we live in! So, was it worth the trip? Sure! Isn't this beautiful?

I'd like to spend a night there sometime when Cleveland is, well, open. There are a lot of nice restaurants around there, and plenty of really good touristy things to do. The wind was starting to pick up, though, so it was time to head home.

Back at Burke, we untied the airplane and loaded up for our trip back. With Papa's engine started and warming up, I called Lakefront Ground and told them we were ready to taxi for departure, VFR south, He cleared us to taxi out to runway 24L. Once we were out there, I changed over to the tower frequency and told him that we were ready to go. Now in my defense, back at Bolton the ground controller and the tower controller are the same guy, and in that world he would have already known that we were planning a VFR departure to the south. Not so at Burke: "Say direction of flight." D'oh! How embarrassing! But then he said, "Information Alpha is current." Which could mean only one thing: the ATIS was active, and I hadn't checked it. What a Rube! Well, I didn't need to check it, really, because it was already evident what it would say: it's windy. And it was. It was mostly down the runway, though, so the takeoff went well enough.

A left turn from runway 24L to point us to the south would have put us right over downtown Cleveland, so we were instructed to make a right turn out and proceed back to the east until further notice. As we were tooling along the coast, I got to wondering just how far east we were going to have to go. Eventually the tower instructed some other tail number to resume on course heading, but I didn't remember there being another airplane out in front of us.

"Was that for 466PG?"

"Why, yes. Yes it was."

Glad I asked! We'd be in Buffalo by now!

So, how was the trip back? Bumpy. Guess who flew that leg.

I let the Co-pilot take over once we were clear of the Class B (he can't see the GPS from where he sits, so he couldn't see the green rings) and let him endure the rough, choppy ride back to Bolton. We climbed to 4,500', but that wasn't high enough to get over the disturbed air. Any higher would have brought the clouds into play, so... we just dealt with it. It was the kind of ride where you reach for a knob on the GPS or radio and the best that you can hope for is that you actually grab the particular piece of equipment you were aiming for, then try to work your way over to the correct knob. More common is the case where a bump moves your hand to a completely different box and you have to try again.

I've been letting Rick fly deeper and deeper into the pattern at the destination airport, but I took over a little earlier this time. While the tower was reporting the winds as 3 gusting 16 (which is a very odd report indeed!), we were feeling a steady 15 knots or more from the west. That was having the effect of pushing us from right to left and really messing up the nice squareness of the approach. We were also having trouble getting down to the pattern altitude - I finally realized that Papa wasn't slowing down like I expected him to because I had put the wheel pants back on. He's a little less draggy that way, and I hadn't factored that into my plans.

Other than one sharp bump from a gust of wind on short final that lifted the right wing into a 20 degree bank, the winds were fairly steady. It was a direct crosswind from the right, so I had to carry quite a bit of rudder to offset the drift. Even with all of that, I managed a fairly decent landing. Sure, there was a fairly good bounce, but I'll take it.


  1. I was in Cleveland about two years ago for training. We drove downtown and tried to look at the Cod. It was closed. It was either the last week in Jan. or the first in Feb. I was a little nervous about being there b/c I live in a rural area. Some guys on the street started yelling at us while we were walking by about the superbow;l or something. Made me really nervous. Not a big city type I guess. :) I would like to go back to KBKL and tour the USS Cod someday though.
    P.S. Dave, when we first got into the downtown area, I was like "I've seen this before" It was from your trip writeup with Egg. Small world.

  2. Great flight and photos! I can't wait to go back into BKL soon. I'll definitely be walking into town to try out a restaurant, which isn't something easily done on a Sunday.

  3. I realized heading for the base leg, that I was fixating on the end of the runway instead of watching altitude and speed. Probably why you had to take over controls earlier.