Looking at Manhattan

An impossible flight to forget.

I never thought I would live to see the day that all civil aviation in this country was grounded. But it happened on September 11. It was spooky as my wife, Stancie, and I walked our dogs in the early evening in the Connecticut suburbs just northeast of New York City. Normally the air is filled with airplanes of all types, at all altitudes, coming and going in the world’s most complex airspace. The airplanes are not an annoyance to us or our neighbors. They are just there, like the trees and the babble of the Five Mile River at the end of our street.

But the silence of the missing airplanes screamed a call to arms for all pilots. Just as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring ignited the modern environmental movement in the early 1960s, the aviation silence brought on by the terror attacks on New York and Washington has propelled pilots into action to help protect our country, and the greatest aviation system in the world.

I am writing this after our November issue has already gone to press. We are a monthly magazine, so we complete an issue four to five weeks before you read it. Because of that lead time, only these words in my Left Seat column could be changed after the magazine had gone to the printer. The rest of the issue contains the normal articles and columns you expect from Flying and I know that some of those topics may seem unimportant in view of the tragedy that struck the country. But that can’t be changed, and, in fact, I hope the change that must follow the events of September 11 will be short-lived and that we can win victory over the terrorists by reclaiming our freedom to move about in the air as soon as possible.

It was very clear that all civilian airplanes needed to land after the hijackings were confirmed so that the FAA could positively identify who was in control of every airplane. All IFR pilots flying on that Tuesday were directed to land at a suitable airport. Many pilots flying VFR were slow to get the word that they were required to land, but within a few hours everybody was on the ground.

The next problem was to return the aviation transportation system to normal as quickly as possible. The FAA and Department of Transportation were torn between a quick return to flying status and the concern that not all terrorists in the country had been identified. Those conflicting concerns led to several stops and starts on the way back to flying status.

On Wednesday, September 12, there was talk of reopening the national airspace system in the afternoon, but no official announcement came. On Thursday, the FAA and DOT posted notices that airline and general aviation domestic flying would return to normal at 1600 Zulu time. I filed an IFR flight plan, it was accepted, and I went to the airport to see how things worked. They didn’t. I called ground control from inside my hangar and got the expected news that no matter what Washington said, no general aviation airplanes were flying that day, and probably not many airliners.

Friday came and went with more misinformation from the top, but FAR Part 135 charter airplanes started to fly. A more or less steady stream of business jets flying 135 came and went at my home base of Westchester County Airport just north of New York City. Then, on Friday afternoon, a detailed plan was announced. All general aviation airplanes would be released to fly IFR with restrictions such as no “pop-up” clearances or canceling IFR before landing. I filed a flight plan from Westchester to Hagerstown, Maryland, for Saturday to meet with Richard Collins.

On Saturday morning Stancie and I went to the airport and everything looked normal. The weather was perfectly clear, our clearance came as quick as it ever does and we taxied out. The view of Manhattan as we climbed out about 25 miles to the northeast was devastating. The smoke still poured from the Trade Center rubble, but what was most shocking was the gaping wound left in the skyline that was so familiar to us. We had seen the destruction on television from most every angle, but not from the air because flying had been banned even for TV helicopters.

We both looked over our shoulder for a long time as we flew west in perfectly blue and smooth air. Stancie summed it up better than any description I have heard yet: “Manhattan looks like a huge sailboat that has lost its mast.” She is right. That’s what it looks like. But the country is still afloat, and may have lost its mast, but thank God it still has a rudder and will begin to use it to steer a new course.

The following Hachette Filipacchi Magazines had already gone to press and were unable to include recognition of the tragic events on September 11th in their Editor’s Letter: Car and Driver, Car Stereo Review’s Mobile Entertainment, Cycle World, Elle Décor, Metropolitan Home, Popular Photography, Road & Track, and Showboats International. Those editors join us in our expression of grief and sympathy and ask readers to understand that they were unable to make any editorial changes in light of the terrorist attacks on America.

Whelen Goes Quartz Halogen lights have replaced incandescent filament bulbs in virtually every bright light application, except on airplanes. But that has all changed with Whelen Engineering’s introduction of quartz halogen bulbs to replace the sealed beam incandescent lamps used for landing and taxi lights on virtually all general aviation airplanes.

In the laboratory the Whelen quartz bulbs deliver 10 times the life of the standard landing and taxi lights they replace. I don’t know how many hours I have been getting from the landing lights in my Baron, but it’s not many. I replace at least one of the two landing lights each year after using them for a few night landings and as recognition lights around the airport. If I had to guess, I would put the bulb life at no more than 10 to 20 hours. That means I can expect 100 to 200 hours of life from the Whelen halogen bulbs.

A halogen light has so much greater life because a sturdy element heats a trapped gas until it glows brightly. An incandescent light uses a fragile filament that glows white hot to generate the light. The vibration and G-loading of normal aircraft flying play hob with the brittle filament in a standard bulb, but the halogen light is much more robust. Even if you didn’t vibrate or bounce an incandescent bulb it wouldn’t come close to the life of a halogen lamp, so there are multiple benefits. Think about what halogen lamps have done to headlight replacement in your car. When was the last time you replaced one?

The Whelen halogen landing and taxi lights are rated for the same electrical power consumption as the standard lamps they replace, but the halogens are brighter. Whelen doesn’t claim an actual candlepower increase for the halogens, but they look brighter to me. Even without extra light power, the new bulbs are more effective because the reflector is more efficient. The halogen light source is centered in the reflector, so the conical reflector focuses the light tightly compared to the long filament of a conventional lamp that cannot be focused to the same extent. And the filament in an incandescent degrades over its life while the halogen lamp puts out a constant level of light until failure.

The best part of the new Whelen halogens is that they are direct replacements for the standard bulbs. No modifications of any kind or FAA paperwork are required to convert. I installed the halogen landing and taxi lights in my Baron, which, by the way, is one of the specific “preventative maintenance” tasks pilots can perform on an airplane they own or operate. I’m glad to get the greatly extended life from the halogens for many reasons, not the least of which is to avoid taking all of those screws out to get the lens off to get to the landing lights.

Whelen’s suggested list price for the most common type of halogen landing light is $114, a little more than double the list price for a standard incandescent lamp. Street price will, of course, be lower, as it is for the standard bulbs. It’s impossible to say how much more bulb life you will enjoy with the halogen light because lamp life is affected by vibration if it is mounted in a cowling or heat if it is located deep behind a tight fitting lens. But whatever your lamp life with the incandescent is, the halogen should be about 10 times longer. I’ll let you know how it goes in my Baron.

Back to School For many years my daughters complained about flying in whatever airplane I had at the time. They had never made a long trip by car and had no way to compare the travel modes. On their occasional airline trips the ability to walk around and visit the bathroom was a feature that outweighed any convenience a Bonanza or Mooney could offer. But finally, our oldest daughter, Karen, has come to fully understand how spoiled she has been when it comes to travel.

It was time to return Karen to North Carolina for her third year at Chapel Hill. Her packing efficiency has improved remarkably, and we were able to fit everything into the Baron without even beginning to squeeze, and with four hours of fuel onboard for the two plus 15 trip we were hundreds of pounds under max takeoff weight, a first for this flight.

It had rained overnight and the dew point was up in the 70s when we loaded up to depart Westchester County Airport in New York. The weather had stayed above minimums, but everybody had to fly the ILS to get in. When instrument approaches are required in saturated airspace, such as exists over the New York City area, departures are delayed as well as arrivals. The IFR clearance was slow in coming; by then we were number seven in line to take off, and the whole engine start to wheels up was about 35 minutes. We both complained to each other but knew it could be worse.

Once in the air I understood the reason for the slow pace of takeoff clearances. New York controllers were talking even faster than usual, but that still wasn’t fast enough to keep up with all of the traffic climbing out of the closely spaced busy airports here. It took four different controllers to fly from Westchester to over Kennedy, a straight-line distance of only about 25 miles.

Once we turned southwest over Kennedy VOR and headed down the one and only route that leads out of New York in that direction, things quieted down and we had a pleasant and smooth flight to the pine-shrouded airport at Chapel Hill. Karen’s friend Slater drove up on the ramp right beside the Baron, the stuff moved from Beech to Volvo with no schlepping, and she was off to the Delta Delta Delta house. I wish I could be 20 again with no Vietnam War or riots in the streets and had a dad with a Baron.

Two weeks later she was thrown back into the real world of travel for the Labor Day weekend. American Airlines would make short work of the flight from Raleigh-Durham to La Guardia and we had Andrew to drive the airport shuttle. Actually, without Andrew there probably wouldn’t have been a Labor Day visit, but that’s a different story.

On the appointed day, a few thunderstorms moved through the New York area about noon. Karen’s flight was scheduled to leave RDU at about 5 p.m. But the midday thunderstorms destroyed the traffic flow into La Guardia. More thunderstorms built up to the west and finished off the ATC system for the entire northeast. Her five o’clock departure actually happened sometime after 11, and the kids tried to wake us up sometime after two when they got home.

The exact same conditions would have been a piece of cake in a general aviation airplane. The thunderstorms left a broad window between midday and late evening that any light airplane could have flown through. But there wasn’t enough room for all of the traffic, plus thunderstorms, at any time of the day, at La Guardia. An airline jet may fly 250 knots faster than a Baron, but Karen has figured out that it’s time on the ground, not in the air, that is the bane of air travel. I think she finally appreciates me, at least as a flying chauffeur.


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