The Maryland flight follower, Washington Center, I think it was, knew that we were just talking to him to stay away from anything related to the supersized restricted airspace. He released us to our own devices when we were clear of the great white blob, and we turned off the radio and returned to squawking VFR.
Lite Flyer spots an approaching aircraft not far above our altitude. I suspect it's descending into an airport on the other side of the river. On that flight path it should cross well in front of us, but I verify that our strobe lights are on and watch it to see if we will have to take evasive maneuvers. This one turns out to be a helicopter, which makes me watch it more closely, because it's now less predictable where it might be going. It crosses in front of us, a big black helicopter with markings I can't read, and it looks like it's going straight for the restricted airspace. Maybe it's a government helicopter on its way back from a 7-11 run to get marshmallows and beer for Camp David.
Lite Flyer is very conscientious about wake turbulence and we never pass near a larger (i.e. any) aircraft without her asking if we should be concerned about its wake turbulence. This one is no exception. Should we be concerned? Not right now. While a helicopter of any size can leave dangerous wake turbulence, the vortices drop below the aircraft and this one is close enough to our altitude that these will have dropped below us by the time we cross its flight path. Heck, at the speed we're going the helicopter will have landed and refuelled by the time we cross its flight path. But I shouldn't disrespect the little airplane. It's getting us there, and I've had an airplane with three times its speed and twice its fuel endurance take longer for a similar trip because of a mechanical delay.
We're over Pennsylvania now, one of the oldest states in the US. It has many historic buildings and bridges but still a surprising abundance of open green space. We're following a river that was probably used to transport goods in this area before there were any roads. It's wide and deep enough to be navigable, but not too fast-flowing or meandering. I can't find the name of the river on the chart, but I see a reporting point with a familiar name. "Look!" I joke, "It's Halifax. We're almost there."
We pass over what looks like a divided highway on the ground that ends abruptly without arriving anywhere. The two ends join up so you could turn around, and there are no construction vehicles or materials around the unfinished end. Curious. I could make up all kinds of stories about that. When I was a child I saw a highway interchange under construction and always hoped we wouldn't ever get onto one of those highway ramps that end in mid-air. Yes, I loved the movie Speed, which features exactly that.
Many old families here made fortunes in shipping and other 18th and 19th century industries. Perhaps some of this undeveloped land is included in their holdings or estates. We don't fly over any really conspicuously wealthy homes, but this isn't LA where the rich have a need to do that.
Pennsylvania gives way to New York. We are still over green rolling hills and fields, but the presence of the East Coast megacity makes itself known through a decrease in visibility. While I'm sure urban New Yorkers escape to this area to breathe easily, they haven't completely escaped the city pollution here. Yes, to those who were asking, we stayed inland to avoid the ridiculous mess of NOTAM-ridden airspace in the Washington. DC area, but avoiding the poor visibility that goes with dense urban areas is a nice bonus. There is a lot of light manufacturing around here, too. I know this not from seeing factories but from recognizing the names on the map from packages. Schenectady and Albany and places I've never been and am not sure where I read the names.
There are a few places in New York that are on our list of Mogas merchants but the only one that was near our route had a telephone number out of service, so we'll fly the most efficient route rather than see if they're still there anyway. I picked an airport about three and a half hours out of Maryland and only realize the problem with my choice as I'm descending for the circuit. I have no idea how to pronounce the airport name. I start with "On-On-Tah Traffic" and give my position, altitude and estimated time of arrival. Turns out there's a helicopter on the way there too, but I didn't listen carefully enough to that pilot's calls to catch the proper pronunciation. I was more interested in his position, altitude and ETA. I think we tried "Wun-On-Tah" and "On-E-On-Ta" and "O-Nah-Tah" and "On-On-Nah-Tah" and possibly "O-Nee-On-Ta." The helicopter was coming from another direction and obviously would be there before us, so we joined a normal circuit and came around to land. Lite Flyer is pretty good at judging the turns to base and final now and set up a nice approach for me to take the landing with a few knots of crosswind. We roll out and turn off at a little apron with the helicopter in front of the pumps at one end and a random jumble of Cessnas and Pipers in front of an FBO at the other. Two different people are giving indistinct marshaling signals in opposite directions, so we shut down haphazardly to go and see what they want. "Do you want fuel?" they ask.
"Yes," we respond, "But we're special needs."
They finish fuelling the helicopter, a black one with a crest on it that I never took the time to read, but the helicopter apparently is registered to the New York state police. The pilots, who were not uniformed police officers, were extremely polite and friendly, and are thoughtful enough to point out to us that the Huey has unusually strong rotor downwash, and to warn us of their impending departure. We pull our airplane back amidst the jumble of parked aircraft and hang on the struts like human tie-downs while someone else holds the rudder for us. The helicopter rotor blades spin up slowly, taking a long time to turn fast enough that I can no longer follow them with my eyes. Then the helicopter lifts and the pilots carefully slide it over to the runway before climbing away. It actually wasn't too bad, but much better than not being warned and having someone blow our tiny airplane into the next state. It was very considerate of them.
The crew at Oneonta are able to accommodate our need to drive for avgas, taking Lite Flyer down to the gas station and then lending her the truck to make the subsequent trip. I'm busy trying to flight plan but I've hit a snag. Lite Flyer has bought a line of connecting charts for the trip, but the connection between the New York chart (which includes part of Maine) and the Moncton chart (which includes Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) occurs offshore, and there is no way to plan a route that passes over land between one and the other. The Montreal chart, which the diagram of the way charts fit together clearly shows, is missing. I target Lite Flyer with passive aggressive criticism for this lapse, when really it's my own fault for not checking that more thoroughly, perhaps when we were at a larger centre last night. We can fake it on the GPS, but I don't want to trust the GPS for every dot of restricted airspace in the vicinity of an international border. I ask around to see if we can mooch a chart. Someone comes up with an expired IFR chart, for which I thank him gratefully. It's actually great for flight planning, because the scale is smaller, so I can see everything we have left to fly at once. It makes the continent look smaller, too.
I clear the ten-year old magazines off the coffee table and lay out my charts to see what is left. The rest of New York looks pretty good, then Vermont has some mountains with ski hills on them, New Hampshire has some lakes and Maine has more. It looks like we can get into Maine tonight, if all continues well. I choose a pass to take through the ski-hill mountains, and an alternate way if that route doesn't offer good forced landing opportunities. I'm hoping to land in KLEW, Lewiston/Auburn, Maine, and choose a couple of fallback airports in case winds or weather start to close in. They have a phone I can use to call Flight Services, and I note that when I choose New York as my state the automated voice asks me Eastern New York or Western New York? Every other large state I have flown in has been split north/south. The cold front I've been watching has slowed down a little bit. It's made it past Lake Michigan and is still heading for us. Amazingly that damned hurricane hasn't given up yet either. It has chased us all the way from Florida. It's supposed to hit Maine tomorrow night. Hasn't it read the textbook about hurricanes and southern latitudes? But who cares. We're not going to be in Maine tomorrow night according to my plans. There are a bunch of NOTAMs for unlit towers, some of them very tall, in the area of tonight's destination. I point them out to Lite Flyer when she's done fuelling, because I know she isn't keen on my "high altitude" flying, the way I keep insisting she climb to heady altitudes like 3500' or even 5500', and that she will probably favour the low and slow approach in her recreational flying. That's fine, but I just want to cement in her head the hazards of towers and wires, along with the fact that they often aren't lit, or even on the chart or aviation databases.
We thank everyone at the field for their various assistances and they ask where we're going. "We're hoping to make Maine tonight," we reply.
They laugh. "You're not going to be in Maine tonight in that thing! You're going to be in New York tonight."
We'll show them.