A Big Apple adventure

A couple of stories that have been posted on Air Facts recently have encouraged me to write about an “adventure” my wife and I had this past summer. The story by Lawrence Zingesser, which starts at Westchester County (KHPN), reminded me of my recent visit there. The post by John Zimmerman made me think that, no, there are still aviation adventures to be had. And finally, I disagree with the comment by Charles Dill that “There’s no romance in flying today! It’s kinda pedestrian.” There are still non-pedestrian adventures to be had.

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

I am a VFR pilot who, a few years ago, started flying again after a 20-year hiatus. I am a part-owner of a ’65 Cherokee 180 (thanks Frank) that is hangared at Kent State (K1G3). Most of our flights are to take friends for rides or the $100 hamburger (actually around $70, but that is another story). Our longest trips have been to Ashland, KY (KDWU) to visit my brother-in-law and his house boat. My wife, Brenda, is a great co-pilot and loves to fly.

Our adventure started when Brenda wanted to see a particular show on Broadway. On past trips to New York City, we have flown commercially and stayed downtown, but for this one we decided to drive and stay outside of the city. The hotel savings would more than pay for the train and subway tickets. After looking at the train lines, we decided to stay in White Plains.

Once that was decided, I started to look at what airports were near White Plains and began to think about cutting the seven-hour drive down to a three-hour flight. Westchester County (KHPN) was close and would be an almost straight shot across Pennsylvania. I then began to wonder how difficult and how neat it would be to fly the Hudson River VFR corridor. I got the charts, watched the FAA training, studied the reporting points and altitudes and began to plan our trip.

The plan was to fly to Lock Haven (KLHV) to stretch our legs, top the tanks and have a picnic lunch. We would then proceed past Allentown and enter the Hudson River corridor south of Newark. We would fly up the river VFR at 1200 ft. and then after exiting the north end we would head over to Westchester.

The day of the trip arrived and, with the weather cooperating, we launched on what we knew would be an interesting day. The flight to Lock Haven was uneventful and very smooth. After a nice lunch we left for NYC. As we neared Allentown, I contacted approach to get flight following as we were entering the north side of their airspace. Once we got passed Allentown, I expected them to tell me to change my code back to 1200.

This is where the real adventure started for a VFR pilot who rarely talks with ATC.

The Allentown controller told me to contact NY Center. I said that I was doing the VFR Hudson Corridor. She replied, “Yes, contact NY Center.” OK, what was the frequency again?

NY Center asked what my intentions were. VFR Hudson Corridor. What altitude would I like? I replied 1200. Roger, 1200. She also pointed out some traffic and we continue on our way.

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is part of the tour – just don’t lose sight of the tour helicopters.

Eventually, we got turned over to Newark Approach. Again, “What are your intentions and destination?” Hudson River VFR corridor, land at Westchester, Hotel Papa November. He pointed out some traffic , had me make some heading changes and told us to climb to 2,000 ft. This is when I decided to stay with ATC and drop our original plans.

The Newark controller instructed us to turn north at the Verrazano Bridge and started to point out the sight-seeing helicopter traffic.

I saw the Statue of Liberty go under our wing, but the rest of the flight past Manhattan was a blur. Making sure to stay on my side of the river, looking for traffic, changing frequencies and checking our altitude did not allow much time to sight-see. Brenda was also busy looking for traffic, but at least got to take some pictures.

Somewhere north of the Statue we got handed off to LaGuardia approach. She continued to point out the helicopter traffic and at one point said, “There are three, no four, make that six ‘copters southbound lining up for the Statue.”

LaGuardia handed us back to NY Center. And as we reached the north end of the corridor, I was breathing again and no longer had a death grip on the controls. But the fun was not quite over.

As we approached Westchester we were handed off to their tower. Westchester tower told us to report downwind for runway 34. Our “Cherokee 65W downwind 34” was met with “Cherokee 65W cleared to land 34. Keep the pattern tight, there is a Citation on long final.” Keep the pattern tight? Citation on my tail? OK, after what we just went through, this was the easy part. Pulled the power, added full flaps and made the first turn-off.

After parking at the FBO and shutting the engine down, we looked at each other and laughed like a couple of kids that just got off their first roller coaster ride. Scary, exciting and fun all at the same time.

We knew it would be an interesting trip in busy airspace, but had no idea that by the end of the flight we would talk to every ATC center in the greater NYC area and take our Cherokee to where the Citations and twins hang out.

Not only was it a fun adventure, it also boosted my confidence in talking with ATC. Working with all those great controllers and being able to ask for clarification or repeat a frequency and get it without any verbal eye-rolling raised my radio confidence and made me realize how much I am missing by not using the system. I am definitely going to use ATC more often.

I know this may not seem like much of an adventure to many of you, but for my wife and me, it was something we will be talking about for a very long time. At least until we fly Chicago’s lake front route on our way to AirVenture.

15 Comments

  • Great story! Sounds like fun. I flew over the Class B on the way out to Long Island and was surprised they cleared me to descend through Class b with asking. Told me to stay at or above an altitude and when I looked down an Alitalia heavy was cruising under me by about 700’…..!

    • Nice story. Having a supportive wife is a big help. Hope you continue to have many more flying adventures. The NYC area does have many good
      ATC folks. And at KHPN’s Landmark West (formerly Panorama), and at Millionaire you will be treated well.

  • Very neat story! I respectfully disagree with your assumption that this is not much of an adventure. I bet lots of readers (this one included) would love to do what you just did.

  • Wayne:
    This is what flying is all about–new adventures. Well done. I can only hope you will see from this jaunt the value of an IFR rating.
    Years ago I had the wonderful experience of coming from North Dakota, IFR to land at Toronto Downtown Island Airport. When handed off to Toronto we had an American controller, one of those President Reagan fired. He proceeded to give us a vectored tour of Toronto, pointing out all the significant landmarks !
    We had a great time until I began flying final—those winds coming off downtown are BRUTAL. Our customer service rep. who was with me said he didn’t think anyone could cuss so fast (not transmitted).
    After that, I found it wasn’t all that hard to get into Lester Pierson.
    PS–I still remember getting 255 knots groundspeed coming across from Jamestown, N.D. That was in an A-36. The next trip I got 250 Kts!

    • I keep thinking of getting the IFR rating. However, given that I would only use it on a limited basis I fear that I would not keep the proficiency up and be more of a danger than not having it.

  • I love this story! It reminds me of the first time that I used the system. I have done some research of the Hudson River corridor but I haven’t had an opportunity to fly it. One day I’d like to. Your story is more informatve then any of the training literature.

  • Excellent story! Flying the Hudson River VFR corridor definitely qualifies as a great adventure, and your story makes me want to do it again. Thanks for sharing!

  • Excellent story. I enjoyed reading it and thanks for sharing. I do not understand this fear that some pilots have to talk to ATC. Mind you, I learned to fly in the Dallas Fort Worth Class B airspace which is quite busy anytime day or night but I have always found the controllers to polite and helpful. The key is to learn proper phraseology and use concise calls that are to the point. If you do this the controllers will hear the professionalism in your voice and give you just about anything you want or need within reason.

  • Nice story, but please get an instrument rating. You’ve got what it takes, and you’ll be more confident. Fly safe. Fly well.

  • I agree with the previous comments, great story! I also agree that there are still plenty of adventures out there. I just flew my first VFR trip to Winter Haven, Florida from Mansfield, Ohio in a Cessna 172 (no autopilot). I have an IFR rating but I’m not current so I’m comfortable using Flight Following and I talked to Centers and Approaches all the way. For my next adventure, I’ve never flown out of the country before and plan to fly to Nova Scotia later this year. And now that I’ve read about your experience, I’d like to try flying the Hudson Corridor.

  • Great story! As a new private pilot, this past July, I flew the corridor via the “Skyline” route with flight following on my way to the AOPA Fly-in at PYM. After departing from LDJ, and obtaining flight following from EWR tower, it was as you encountered, a smooth and professional transition from EWR to LGA, to NY Center. It was a great adventure! Not something everyone gets an opportunity to accomplish and enjoy even if they are certificated.

    The only intimidation is in our own psyche. So, get out there. Plan, prepare, and have a ball.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *