Monday, March 9, 2015

Flying the Frozen Niagara

I'm sure you've seen the pictures around the net of the partially frozen Niagara Falls. I told Bob that we absolutely had to fly up to see those before they started to melt any more. A quick call to our friends Kyle and Tara, and we had a couple to split the a falls-view hotel and all the fun with!

After shoveling snow, chiseling away ice away from the hangars and getting a cup of bowling water to soak our frozen hangar lock in, an RV4 and Glasair departed out of FDK around 9am Saturday morning. We adjusted our route to Niagara Falls International (IAG), NY using an airport 7N1 in New Jersey as a waypoint to avoid some snow in western Pennsylvania. We were flying VFR and cloud conditions caused us to continuously increase our altitude. Bob and I soon found ourselves filing IFR at 10,000 feet. Kyle and Tara went below the clouds so they would not get stuck above, but ended up having to land in Danville, NY and wait out snow that came through.

Bob and I continued on at 10,000 feet, in and out of IMC. We kept a close watch on the wings and tail for ice, but did not see a thing. We soon landed at IAG and parked at the super-friendly Calspan FBO. When we disembarked the plane, we noticed we had indeed taken on ice. 1/8th of an inch was on the leading edges of both the tail, wings, and a small amount on the prop. The ice was so clear and smooth across the curvature of the plane that we did not see it in the air. Luckily, it was not enough to make a noticeable difference in flight.

Once inside, we checked on the weather where Kyle and Tara had landed in New York. While they waited for a band of snow to pass and warmed up from their cold flight, Bob and I went across the street from the FBO to Como, an American-Italian restaurant and great $100 hamburger spot. You can read more about Como on my Yelp review. We felt extremely gluttonous, stuffing our faces with food while Kyle and Tara had to walk to a McDonalds and get snowed on. Luckily, not soon after we returned to Calspan from our lunch, Kyle and Tara made it to
IAG safely.

Once reunited we called our shuttle, AeroTaxi, for pick up. They charge a flat rate of $18 from IAG to the food bridge going into Canada. The taxi dropped us at the parking lot of the bridge, then we took a quick walk arriving at the bridge just minutes later. It was cold and windy and each got a little giddy trying to stay warm, walking with our backpacks and cameras and enjoying a view of the falls. Immigration was easy into Canada on the other side and we were soon walking along the falls. We stayed at the Fallsview Hilton which was an easy walk from the footbridge. We stopped for photo opportunities along the way, of course!

There was a lot to do within walking distance from our hotel. Once we were done with the cold and caught all the views of the falls, we enjoyed drinks at Margaritaville and then got changed and headed over to the Fallsview Casino which was connected to the hotel by an indoor walkway. The next morning before heading back to the airport, we looked at the falls again, surprised to see how much ice had shifted and melted since the night before.

We ended up taking another taxi to the airport Sunday morning as AeroTaxi was running late. This one did run the clock and did not have a flat fee. However, with a stop at CVS I believe the fare was only $21. After packing the planes and refueling, it was time to go! But not without a flight around the falls first!

To flyover the Niagara Falls, you need to follow the procedures listed under CYR518. The tower at
IAG was super friendly and vectored us towards the entry before we went over to the pilot to pilot frequency. The route is basically a clockwise race track shape and you must stay at 3,500 feet or above and make calls to other traffic. At first it was a bit confusing for me to get our bearings but once we identified the falls it was easy to keep track of where we were. Kyle was ahead of us for most of the flight and at one point we did increase altitude because we could not see a helicopter that was flying at 3,500 feet as well (they are allowed to fly lower). After three rotations around the falls we headed direct back to FDK at 9,500 feet to take advantage of some howling tailwinds.

We were hitting ground speeds of 190 knots on the flight home and Bob got a kick out of leaving Kyle in our "dust" for the remainder of the trip. After a smooth landing we packed up the plane (without having to de-ice our hangar lock!) and drove home to pick up the dog and grab some grub! It was such a fun weekend shared with friends and fellow aviation lovers. I can't wait to do a double-date flight again. Just maybe someplace warmer :)

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