Long Weekend to Niagara Falls

Added 6/20/2007 - Approx. 245 flight hours
With a 4 day weekend available, we decided to find another destination to travel to.  The weather was going to be hot and stormy around home, so there was no sense staying in our area.  Weather in much of the US was to be hot and windy, with highs over 90 and 95, so careful planning was needed to get us to a location that was scenic, fun, and comfortable.  After throwing around a few ideas for a couple days, at 9:30am on Friday we finally made our choice of Niagara Falls, somewhere none of us had ever been, and by 11:00 we were on our way!  That's one of the beauties of RV-10 family travel...you don't need to know your destination until the day of departure, and you can still make it from the Midwest to most any area of the country within 7-12 hours.

This trip was also a cool follow-on to last weekend's trip to Mackinack Island in that we would be seeing all 5 of the Great Lakes within a 2 weekend period!  Additionally, we would be doing our first longer distance over open water...something you approach with a little bit of dread, coupled with a lot of excitement.

Drive Time 13:30 Flight Time 4:30

Looking at the driving and flying maps above, you can see that similar routes can take extremely different amounts of time.  On the return trip, we opted for a route that was much closer to the driving route, taking the South shore of Lake Michigan right past the city of Chicago.  This only added maybe 10 minutes to our trip, if that.

During the over-water portion of our trip, we opted to get on O2 and climb to 15,500' (a standard Eastbound VFR crusing altitude) just to accomplish 2 things.  1) our highest altitude in the RV-10 so far, and 2) keeping us within gliding distance of shore for as long as possible.  We timed the period of time that our glide range circle (the jagged blue line around the compass rose on the MFD) was not touching either shore, and it ended up to be 8.5 minutes of time.

These screenshots are from the period of time that we're crossing Lake Michigan.  Notice that we're 23nm from the Muskegon, MI VOR, cruising level at 15.5K.  We throttled back on this trip and paid a speed penalty, but got rewarded on fuel.  152-3kts approx (given my known static error), but burning 8.1gph at altitude.  Our CHT's were a very comfy 329-359 deg. F, and EGT's were lower than my normal LOP flying too, as we were a bit leaner from peak than normal.  Looking at the range remaining, and remembering that we're nearly 250nm into the flight already, we're showing 740nm more range remaining, so at the rate we're going, we're looking at nearly 1000nm of total range.  When we landed, we had flown exactly 4:30 on about 44 gallons of 100LL.  The plane can do some pretty great things.  I should probably try some different prop RPM's at those high altitudes and see what I can do to optimize my speed in that thin air....haven't played much with RPM at high altitudes yet.

Level at 15,500' Cruising 152-3kts 8.1gph and good CHT's
Nav Log Page (7.9gph) Smooth Skies Ahead

We did have an "event" just as we were about to cross the lake.  Suddenly, while in a quiet and comfortable cruise at 15.5K, we heard a very loud "BANG!".  It rattled the plane inside, and it sounded like it came from the baggage bulkhead or just aft of it.  I felt the flight controls, and all was good, but we immediately began asking over the intercom if the kids did anything, or saw anything.  Nope, nothing there.  When we landed, my wife started getting after the kids, because they're not supposed to open messy things like potato chips in the plane anymore, yet a bag was opened in the baggage area.  Immediately the lightbulb lit and I knew what had happened.  Feeling a stupid, but relieved feeling. ;)

After crossing the lake, we decided to conserve O2 and drop back down to 13,500' for a while.  This of course adds a little speed back in, but also adds fuel flow.  Now we're running 158-59kts TAS, with still over 700nm range remaining, and we're running in that 8.6 to 8.7gph range, well LOP again.  At this point in the trip the oil temps are still great at 184 with an OAT of 31F, but later on we were at 26F, and my oil temps were down to 171F, so I had to add some power and do what I could to bring those oil temps up a bit.

13,500' 158-9 kts 8.6-7 gph Plenty of fuel remaining

One last set of screenshots on the way over.  Powering back a little bit, and seeing the effects.  One thing I did learn about flying along the great lakes on a day like this....the air over the lake was clear and no clouds.  If you went a couple miles inland though, there were scattered clouds that form over land.  So you can get great cruising down the shoreline.


After the 4:30 trip we ended up at KBQR, Buffalo-Lancaster airport where they had fuel for $3.99.  I had thought this would be a place to park and get a car and start the weekend, but I was sadly mistaken....as it turns out, they ONLY have fuel...but at least it's cheap.  So on the phone to a pal of mine and he punched up the local airports and gave me the FBO phone numbers for a couple bigger ones.  Figuring I should just bite the bullet and go to KIAG (Niagara Falls International), I decided to do that.  I called ahead and that worked great.  I found out the landing fee is only $3.00, and the parking is $7.00 per day.  No big deal there.  They called and ordered me a car that arrived only a couple minutes after I showed up.  The FBO on field is called TechAviation, and the people were very nice.  Fuel there is very pricey, but fuel wasn't a requirement for me, having just filled up.

Once in our car, we quickly determined that the advice we received was correct...the Canadian side is much nicer than the U.S. side, so we decided to get over the border and spend our time there.  We luckily got passports last fall, well in advance of these new laws requiring passports, so it makes it much nicer getting back and forth across the borders.  That is, until you meet a cranky border patrol agent.  We got interrogated on the Canadian side by a young lady just determined to expose us as criminals of some sort.  It was almost humorous how persistent the questions were.  It's like it would be totally unusual for a family to come across the border to see the falls or something.  But, after making it through, we were ready for a good time.

We drove along the shoreline drive past the falls and were in awe over how cool it all was.  We decided quickly that we would not take the cheap hotel route for the first night, because Friday and Sunday nights in the summer they have fireworks over the falls, and saying in a hotel at about twice the price allowed us to be within walking distance of all the attractions.  The 2nd photo below is the Comfort Inn we stayed at.  It was an OK place, but their internet access stunk, which is a big turnoff to a geek like me.  We did enjoy dinner with live mexican music outdoors though.

One of the coolest parts of the weekend was started after talking to Anh Vu, another RV-10 builder. He has a flying RV-10 that exhibits exceptionally good workmanship on it, and he even sewed his own seat covers.  A true craftsman. He was looking for a good place to go for the weekend too, and I invited them to join us in Canada.  Everyone there was game for it so he flew up with his wonderfully nice wife and daughter, which gave a great mix of people to have a fun time with.  The kids really love it when they have someone other than their parents to hang with...yep, they're getting to that age already.

We did the usual stuff...a very cool lunch in the Skylon tower, which gives a very impressive view and great photos...highly recommended.  You'll notice in the photos of the falls that there are boats full of people that take you right up next to the base of the falls.  It's called the "Maid of the Mist" boat trip, and it's one of the best bargains up there.  $14 for adults, and $8.50 for kids and you can ride the boat.  What an awesome experience!  We saw the Niagara Falls Imax movie, did a few other fun things, and then went out to our favorite restaurant to take in on vacation...Rainforest Cafe'.  The kids love that place, and so do I, actually.  We always enjoy eating a "Volcano".  There are just so many things you can see and do there, we didn't even begin to cover a large percentage of them.

That night we grabbed a room at the Best Western Fireside, which was a pretty good hotel with good rates, and awesome fast internet service.  Less than $75 US and we were well set for the evening.


The next day we looked ahead at the weather and didn't want to chance missing work Tuesday, and Monday was not to be a good weather day, so we decided to start planning our day for departure.  One thing you don't want to miss is the chance to fly over the falls, it's another great experience.  The only downside is that you're limited to 3,500' MSL for your flight.  There are specific restrictions for flying over the falls, and here is an associated map.  You can pick this up at the FBO, and you'll want to read it very carefully.  It's hard to pick out the landmarks on the map.  If I were doing it again, I'd program waypoints into the GPS and do it that way.

With a pre-arranged plan for 2 formation circuits around the falls for a combination photo/sightseeing flight, we set out to get some good photos.  Unfortunately, I didn't succeed in getting any great photos of his plane, as I found it very hard to watch for the proper landmarks, fly in close proximity, monitor altitude, and still line everything up for good photographs.  There's a lot going on with that kind of flight, and if you're going to let anything suffer, it should be the photos, of course.

Here's a few photos from Anh.


And here are a bunch of photos from the flight.


After fueling up at KBQR again for a topoff, we set out for our trip home, knowing there were areas of weather we needed to monitor.  On the Nexrad at one point, we saw cells with hail and 51,900' tops...very impressive.  We had planned a fuel stop at one of my favorite cheap gas spots....KOXI, but as we neared it, we saw there was a nasty tall storm cell planted right next to the airport, so we pushed on.  We had flown much of the trip at 8500', and had a good ride, although it was so hazy at times that you couldn't really see the ground, or at least much of it.  It was more like VFR on top with poor viz at times....still within the legal limits by far, but that doesn't mean nice or comfortable.  We stayed VFR for this trip, to make it easy to change directions and destinations at will.  As we got into Indiana, we dropped down in altitude to get under the scattered clouds and stay visual.  We had another great flight down low along the Chicago shoreline, up into Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, to KUGN, Waukegan, IL.  DB Aviation there is a 1st class, more bus-jet centered FBO, but they treat you great even with the small planes.  With their courtesy car we filled up on food and continued on for the rest of the flight.  The remainder was uneventful...which is perfect for me.


Everyone was very comfortable on the return trip.  I'm constantly impressed with how smoothly ATC works...at least until congress and the whitehouse screw it all up with their proposed changes.  A small experimental plane is treated just as well if flown in a professional style, as any large airliner.  In going past Cleveland airport's class B, we were VFR with Flight Following, and you could see how well they were moving planes around.  We were being told of traffic, such as "Traffic is an MD-80, 2 o'clock, 4 miles" or "Traffic is a 737, 1 o'clock 5 miles Eastbound".  It was very cool to see the MD-80 given a descent below us, and watch it on the TIS display, seeing them go down and pass directly below us and then after passing, begin an on-course turn.  Then a similar encounter with a 737, and lots more traffic as well. The system works very very well, and it's impressive to see.  Having TIS really adds to the safety, traffic identification, and even pilot entertainment on a flight in airspace like this.


So with this trip done, we're going to have to start looking for where to go next.  It may not happen until after OSH, but we're always looking for a great place to go.  You don't need reservations, you don't need lots of pre-planning...you just need an RV-10, an open-minded family, and an hour to gather a flight plan together, and with that, there are dozens of great destinations to which to head.  The RV-10 is a great X/C traveling machine!

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