The moment I felt like a pilot: the Hudson River exclusion

Glider
You can’t beat Vermont’s scenery!

Opening my acceptance letter to a Civil Air Patrol glider academy in Springfield, Vermont, I was thrilled! While powered flight is more common than gliding activity, I believe that every pilot should experience powerless glider flight at some point in their lifetime. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity at age 15, and had an incredible time.

Fast forward two years, and now a close friend of mine and fellow CAP cadet was filling my shoes, by also attending the same academy as I had two years prior. His father also shared our love of aviation as a Royal Air Cadet and Reservist in the Royal Air Force, and more recently a Private Pilot in the US.

The morning of the flight could not have had better weather. It was a typical high-pressure summer day — a cloudless sky with low-level haze, which had risen off the ground with the temperature. The day’s route in a Piper Warrior would take us from Atlantic City International, over the Pine Barrens and Lakehurst to Sandy Hook, NJ, where we would then set up for our first flight through the New York SFRA via the Hudson River Exclusion, and then onto Poughkeepsie to fuel the plane and ourselves. Later, we’d exit New York, cross Massachusetts, and enter southern Vermont heading to Springfield near the Connecticut River.

Hudson River flight
New York on one side, New Jersey on the other.

With no delays in Atlantic City, we quickly came upon New York Class B airspace above us, and descended below it to 1,200 feet, which we’d maintain through the SFRA. TAC and kneeboard guide in hand, the skyscrapers and bridges of New York City appeared through the haze. Although we’d have loved to behold the beauty of the awakening city, it was time to lock down and focus on navigating one of the most densely-packed air routes in the US.

We initiated flight over New York Harbor with our call on Hudson CTAF at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, utilizing the prescribed announcement, “Piper, VZ, 1,200 feet, northbound,” to keep radio traffic to a minimum. The Statue of Liberty was the reporting point of our next call. Due to its status of an iconic American symbol and highlight of most air tours, this is an extremely important area to keep your eyes peeled for traffic! Even so, this is not for the faint of heart. Pilots must remain vigilant and follow procedure knowing that traffic will be in very close proximity throughout the passage.

Clock was our next reporting point (which we found slightly difficult to locate), along the New Jersey side of the river. On our right, we had a premier view of One World Trade Center (the Freedom Tower) undergoing its final stages of construction inside. Being from an area with no skyscrapers, I was astounded that the building stood over us. Even flying at 1,200 feet, One World Trade Center still towered nearly 600 feet over us – truly a sight that etches itself into your mind.

New York from Hudson River
Flying up the Hudson River corridor offers a spectacular view for pilots – if you remember to look.

Flowing on with helicopters below us, GA beside us, and airliners jetting past overhead, we then reported at Intrepid. A retired aircraft carrier serving as home to planes like the SR-71 predecessor (Lockheed A-12), the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and a Concorde is also a majestic sight to see from above. We then came upon the George Washington Bridge and finally the Alpine Tower, and traffic drastically thinned out; we could finally breathe! As quickly as the city sprung up, it was gone again, and the Palisades dominated the view. The rolling hills line the river and surrounding land too. Minding its southern restricted airspace, West Point is also a sight to see along the route.

Breakfast was swift and we soon departed Poughkeepsie with full tanks and full stomachs, and leisurely cruised under broken clouds to Vermont. The rest of the flight was uneventful, and navigating inside the Green Mountain State’s terrain around the pattern was no problem.

Departing in the late afternoon, we took the same route back into New Jersey and followed the shore back home. We had flown nearly six hours of cross-country, and through one of the most bustling corridors in the country. A long cross-country like that was an outstanding learning experience for me, and was certainly a challenge, but most importantly, it was a blast. In the months before the flight, I was in the doldrums of continuous pattern work, working towards my first solo flights. Flying an incredible trip as such acts as a fresh breath to flight and reminder of why many pilots began flying in the first place. While the trip up to glider academy made me feel like a pilot, it drove me to glide right into bed.

4 Comments

  • Also recently flew the Hudson River corridor, but under ATC direction.

    We planned to do the VFR exclusion, but got into the system when we passed Allentown and recieved flight following. They handed us off to NY Center and then got passed to Newark, Lauguardia, back to NY Center, then finally to Westchester County as our final destination.

    A very stressful and interesting time for a VFR pilot. Saw the Statue of Liberty pass under my wing and next thing I knew we were at the north end heading to Westchester. Very busy looking for traffic, staying on my side of the river at my assigned altitude and changing frequencies, so did not get to enjoy the sights.

    However, my confidence in using ATC has gone through the roof. I will now more likely contact ATC for flight following rather than skirt their airspace.

    • We also used flight following outside of the exclusion, and the controllers were outstanding. They didn’t miss a single beat and treated us the same as the airliners occupying the slice of airspace. This also boosted my confidence with utilizing ATC in busy areas!

  • This article reminds me that I haven’t complained about my income taxes since I first began flying back in 1955. Now with 22,000 hours as PIC in my many log books, I remain grateful and most appreciative of the many free services I’ve received over the years by the FAA and its dedicated employees.

    Thanks for both a great article and its reminder of those services.

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