Last week we completed another round trip flight from Jacksonville to New Jersey in our Cessna 172, covering nearly 1,500 miles in a little over 16 hours of flying. That’s an average ground speed of about 100 miles per hour. We often refer to the Skyhawk as “the family truckster” because it faithfully and comfortably carries the two of us, our young daughter, our dog and our baggage anywhere we need to go. It’s much faster than driving, less expensive than the airlines — and a lot more fun than either of those two options!
We file IFR on most cross-country flights because it allows us to safely penetrate any clouds or lower visibility conditions that we might encounter. We are conservative IFR pilots and like have at least a 1,000 foot ceiling when we fly, and are always willing to divert to better conditions. We left Jacksonville on Thursday morning with the intention of landing in Norfolk, VA to visit Dana’s mother, who lives in nearby Virginia Beach. But after departing our first fuel stop in Florence, SC, we realized that the morning IFR conditions in Norfolk were not improving as fast as originally forecast.
Using ForeFlight and ADS-B weather input from our Garmin GDL 39 3D, we were able to see that if we continued to Norfolk, we’d have to fly for nearly an hour in the clouds with bases as low as 500 feet above the ground, and then fly an ILS approach into Norfolk. While the flight was certainly possible and within our ability, we chose to instead turn north to where the clouds were much higher. We stopped for fuel just outside Richmond (W96) and then continued on to Lincoln Park, NJ (N07) on an IFR flight plan but in mostly VFR conditions. Our daughter enjoyed popping through some puffy cumulus clouds on the way, and was able to have dinner with her grandparents at the airport cafe.
It was rainy and cloudy in New York most of the weekend, but we snuck in a quick hike along the Hudson River. By the time we were ready to leave on Monday, the clouds had lifted and we were able to depart Lincoln Park under VFR, which is actually our preference there. Why? Lincoln Park is a small, non-towered airport wedged underneath the western edge of the New York Class Bravo airspace, and if you want to get an IFR clearance to depart Lincoln Park, you have to call New York Approach on the telephone and wait your turn in line — much like you’d wait your turn at a busy Manhattan deli. It’s just more efficient to depart Lincoln Park under VFR, and call New York Approach in the air for flight following to the next fuel stop. We could have landed at a towered airport like Westchester County (KHPN) and easily received an IFR clearance on the ground, but considering that we don’t like to depart in low IFR conditions anyway, and it costs a lot more for parking and fuel there, we’re willing to wait for good VFR conditions at Lincoln Park.
That’s exactly what we did Monday morning. By noon, most airports in the New York metro area were reporting ceilings of at least 3,000 feet with good visibility. I’d hoped to fly over Newark Airport to the Statue of Liberty — something I’ve done before and enjoyed very much — but the controller was unable to grant my wish due to a traffic conflict. I was a little disappointed but our priority was to get to Norfolk, so we headed south toward Georgetown, DE, our first fuel stop. We ate a late lunch at the airport cafe and then departed VFR for Norfolk.
The next morning we said good-bye to Dana’s mom and began making our way back home to Jacksonville. We had a 30-knot headwind departing Norfolk, but climbed above the clouds for a smooth ride at 6,000 feet. Our first fuel stop, Florence, was within reach but at the edge of our personal limit of 3 hours due to the strong headwind. There were also storms developing near Florence, so we decided to amend our IFR clearance and land a little sooner, in Lumberton, NC. We rested there for about an hour while the storms passed, and then departed VFR toward Savannah. Once again our ADS-B weather proved its worth and we navigated southeast of Savannah toward the coast to avoid storms. We landed in Brunswick, GA (KSSI) and grabbed a quick dinner at one of our favorite barbecue pits, Southern Soul. From there it was a quick flight home to Craig.
Our Cessna 172 may not be the fastest or fanciest single engine airplane out there, but it’s a great traveling machine for our family. If you’re a student pilot or thinking about learning how to fly, take a few minutes and imagine where you might travel in an airplane. With enough time and fuel, you can go anywhere!