I want to thank you!

Day 20 – Home (kinda) sweet home

Friday, May 29 2020

Day 20

There she is. Barely seen over the misty horizon, growing bigger and bigger with each mile traveled. It is the view that is so familiar, yet  always making my heart beat faster. The tightly packed skyscrapers – the sign of might and progress of this country, but also a symbol of the tremendous work of millions that shaped the city. The familiar view I have always loved, always admired, always missed when away.

Lady Liberty – standing proud welcoming us, the travelers, as it did for generations.

There is something something powerfully reassuring in this view. The view I know so well for over 20 years. The place that has witnesses many of my successes and failures, the place that made me and shaped me. The place that gave me the opportunity to grow and expand, to realize make my dreams come true.

From this perspective, everything appears normal, business as usual… But we know, that we are returning to a changed Home. How will the City receive us?  So much unknown remains. What will be this City’s future? How can I fit in this changing world? Where will we fit in those insecure times?

Will the road be our new home?

We wanted to thank all those who contributed to our amazing experience. For the help, advice, attention, words of encouragement, friendship and love. In the times of social distancing, once again we have learned how important the human connection is.

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

Empty parking lot near Sandusky, OH (May 28, 2020)

Day 19 – Way home

Thursday, May 28 2020

Day 19

We awoke in Angola, Indiana at Tri-State Steuben County Airport, a land-locked field surrounded by lakes. And upon those lakes—seaplane bases! I talked via email with an awesome pilot from the area who had worked with Indiana lawmakers to change laws surrounding seaplanes, which had made the water of the state much more accessible to them. As a result, this beautiful cluster of bases exists. They host an annual fly in every September which we would love to attend this year.

We grabbed the crew car and had a hearty Indiana breakfast at Timbers down the road. The restaurant was recommended to us by airport manager Terry, and I loved that it was shaped like an a-frame cabin.

The weather for the day was IFR until mid-afternoon, so we took a drive out to Lake James to see if we could spot any seaplane activity, or at least, some remnants of it. No such luck, but the beauty of the area was lovely and we enjoyed a joy cruising lake drive.

After a while, we returned to the airport to sit it out, I did some studying for work and Filip worked on some photo edits and read about engines from an FBO book. It was a great spot to get things done, and we were happy we’d chosen it.

Afternoon approached and the weather improved, marginally, so we prepped the plane and got ready to depart. Initially our plan was to fly East as far as possible, and stop at an airport directly before a front of weather that looked, from the ground at KANQ, impossible to traverse.

As we flew East, monitoring the TAFs, METARs, and radar, the conditions improved, and the front at our 12 dissipated enough to make it through. We checked ETA and fuel burn and realized, incredibly, we could make it to our home airport in Central Jersey tonight! It was bittersweet, because getting home early was exciting, but neither of us wanted the journey to end, maybe ever. However, we decided to press on and make it home to 47N that night.

We flew and navigated through the front—it was moving North, and we diverted slightly South and missed any convection or precipitation. However, East of the front deteriorated in ceilings and visibility. We’d expected this and were prepared for it, but forecasts were better than actual. Night was falling and our VFR aircraft wasn’t equipped for dropping ceilings and vis. We were so close to home but eventually called it and diverted to Penn Valley, KSEG, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania to spend the night and wait for conditions to improve.

The airfield was deserted, the FBO locked. However, the front of the FBO was open with bathrooms which was appreciated. The town itself was sleepy, and we ventured out on foot for sustenance, traversing a highway. We secured adequate food and drink and returned to the airport. Empowered, we pitched our tent directly beneath the airplane wing on the ramp and celebrated. Tonight was our last night out, and we were going to make sure it was a full send.

After music and drinks and photos and laughs, we went to sleep late, under an IFR sky, happy the weather had colluded with our secret desires to give us one last perfect Flamp.

We awoke in the morning light and stretched. The airport manager Sam came and greeted us. Not only was he absolutely fine with our underwing camping, he even had a suggestion for a better place to do it next time. Absolutely wonderful. We took the crew car and on his suggestion found a group of Amish farmers grilling chicken and pork steak on the corner by the airport. I’m serious in saying with complete honesty I don’t think I can recall a better meal. Satiated beyond imagination, and with beautifully improving weather, we fueled and fired up. One more leg. Our hearts were pretty heavy on this one.

There it was! 47N, Central Jersey, our point of departure 20 days prior. We’d done it—Coast to Coast and back again. Touching down on that accomplishment felt sacred and immense. And then in a flash of smiles, we saw our friend Andy—on his motorcycle—racing down the taxiway filming us, laughing his head off. We burst into laughter at the joyful reception and taxied to the tie down space following him, where he greeted us with champagne and mirthful congratulations. Such a wonderful way to return.

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

Circular rainbow - wish I had the ways to capture the 360!

Day 18 – It's All about the Weather

Wednesday, May 27 2020

Day 18

Denison, Iowa was a restful stop under dense grey skies that absolutely refused to clear up despite promising forecasts the night before. The entire day was spent in a frustrating state of “hurry up and wait,” we kept almost heading to the plane to fire up and then conditions would worsen and we’d sit back down, defeated. A surprisingly exhausting state to remain in, we took several drives around town in the airport truck with an eye to the sky and it’s low, unfriendly ceilings.

Finally at 5 pm, after a long day of ground things—the longest we’ve remained on the ground since the trip began—we were rewarded with a window of opportunity and dashed to the plane, taking off into a beautiful window of blue.

Off we flew! Circumnavigating around storm clouds and IMC, our patient waiting gifted us beautiful views of rainbows and sunbeams the entire leg. After a couple hours, we landed and fueled in Moline, IL. Incredibly, I’d been to KMLI, Quad City Airport, twice in the past year to drop off and pick up our company seaplane for a new paint job. Never thought I would return so soon, but there is was, right on our route with the best fuel prices in the state.

We took off again and as night descended around us, we passed by Chicago and some menacing storm clouds, the air smooth, dark, and peaceful. We determined our stop for the night would be KANQ, chosen for good fuel prices, good accommodations, and most importantly, because it was surrounded by at least 10 seaplane bases, which is always a great thing. We touched down around 11:30 EST (we’d lost an hour crossing over from central time), had dinner, and fell into a restful Indiana slumber.

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

Day 17 – Onto the Farmlands of Nebraska and Iowa

Tuesday, May 26 2020

Day 17

I awoke on the airport to the sound of a turbine engine, that familiar roaring whine joyfully clawing it’s way into my unconscious brain and shaking me awake—I opened my eyes and sat up quickly, fueled by sleepy curiosity. Outside the massive window to the ramp in the pilot lounge we crashed in was a glorious biplane Ag Cat taxiing by. What a gorgeous airplane to awaken to! While they were first manufactured with a radial engine, this bad boy had a PT-6A-34AG with 750 hp. So beautiful, it looked like it would be the most fun thing in the world to fly, all low altitude operations with all that power.

I must have been inspired by that beautiful machine and it’s low over the Earth operations, because later, as we pressed on East from Wyoming to Nebraska, I descended low and slow, side by side with an Eastbound train, as Filip filmed it chugging along over the ground. Fantastic to fly in unison with another Eastbound engine.

The lands we flew over this morning weren’t as notable as the explosive wonders we had grown used to flying over for the past week in the West, but the sky was massive and we were flying—life was good.

Our first fuel stop was KTIF, in Thedford, Nebraska, a sweet empty field untouched by time with a big old Ford camper van sitting next to the fuel pump with the keys on the dash for pilot use. We took it to town and grabbed breakfast at a local joint, the Arrow Cafe, that was running an all day Taco Tuesday special. The locals were hilarious and warm, especially the owner, who was busy making, running, and bussing all the food himself, cracking jokes the whole time. We flew overhead when we departed and rocked our wings adios.

Onwards we went, and landed to fuel at Norfolk, Nebraska and check out the massive weather front blocking our smooth VFR passage back to the East. We took a cruise in their crew car and explored the town—apparently it’s Johnny Carson’s hometown, who knew!

The forecast for the next week is questionable and is absolutely going to have an effect on our homeward mission. However, in Norfolk, we determined conditions were acceptable enough to make it to a field two hours East, putting us closer to Chicago, where we have aspirations of shooting the busiest airport in the country, O’Hare. So we fired up and took off into weather that was reporting perfect visibility and decent to perfect ceilings. However, as we flew, the ceiling began to drop without warning and conditions deteriorated rapidly. We were forced to land at KDNS, Denison, in Iowa. It was a happy accident however—the FBO there was gorgeous, empty, with a crew car awaiting us and a great place to sleep. We couldn’t be luckier to spend a night in such a perfect place. And hot damn, were we happy to be on the ground.

To the East!

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

Day 16 – Departing the West

Monday, May 25 2020

Day 16

We knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye to the West, so waking up in the wild desert of Utah as the sun rose over the red sands of Moab was bittersweet. We stretched and packed our gear and looked at the white airport crew car with some amusement—the desert winds and dusty sands had done a number on the interior and exterior of it. We made sure we gave it a good wipe down when we got it back to the airport.

We’d gone back and forth about the route we were planning to take back East and had settled on crossing the final Western mountain ranges by flying North through some passes that would take us into Wyoming and back through the Midwest, rather than descending to the South again or attempting to cross peaks that reached over 10,000 ft MSL by flying directly East.

We made it back to Canyonlands and leisurely repacked the plane and took off into the morning sky. Today we’d be crossing the Rockies over northern Colorado and into Wyoming. Our route didn’t take us over any peaks that worried us, but if the winds picked up, we could be dealing with some serious up and down drafts, and with the predicted warm weather, there was the possibility of some unstable conditions. Our early departure was in service of avoiding this, and our planning and sleepiness paid off—the conditions we calm and stable and the plane’s performance was solid, even at our maxed out density altitude of 14k.

It was lovely flying over the snow capped peaks of Colorado. We marveled at how the terrain changed rapidly after departing Utah, and the temperatures at altitude over those snowy expanses, even with the heat going, chilled us to the bone. Some hot black coffee helped—doesn’t it always? We crossed the final expanse of mountains as we entered Wyoming, and the land grew flatter and green.

We touched down in Torrington, Wyoming, a sleepy field with a couple beautiful Grumman turbine Ag Cats and an Air Tractor 7 miles from the border of Nebraska. Jim, the FBO overseer, came outside to unlock the 100LL dispenser and we fueled up, tied the plane down and took the old airplane car out for a drive around town. I suggested we take it for a joy cruise out into some Wyoming wilderness, and about 10 miles out the engine overheated and we pulled over, laughing. Of course! The classic airport jalopy was resistant to my forced road trip. It really didn’t want to start so we added some water to the coolant after a spell on the side of the road (complete with people stopping to ask if we needed help almost immediately), and carefully drove it to the nearest automotive store where we added an entire jug of coolant to the thirsty engine and bought a replacement lightbulb for the plane.

Back on the airport, we took the plane up for an hour at sunset to shoot, then landed and had a typical flamping camp chair picnic under the wing complete with avocados, brie, and seltzer.Two guys landed around this time in a great little yellow tailwheel aircraft, a 220 hp fat tire Scout. We got to talking and it just so happened that they were flying cross country as well, to Connecticut! Tiny beautiful aviation world, it is.Night fell and the day was done. Good to be in Wyoming. We slept well, and prepared for our journey East.

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

Oil Wells in Snyder, TX

Day 5 - Technical stop at Abilene, and ahead to Lamesa, TX

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Day 5

Still under the positive influence of Stamford Locals we woke up happy and well rested. Even the newly discovered fuel leak did not discourage us and with smiling faces we headed out to Abilene Aero, a short 15 minutes hop to a highly recommended service station at an nearby large airport.

What a fantastic reception have we received there. Abilene Aero did really overextend themselves to make sure we are OK and ready to continue our adventure. Bunch of specialists immediately swarmed tRusty (I wish I took that photo!) and few hours later we were good to go. It seemed like the day got away from us, and with the tremendous heat and rising altitude, we have decided to make it a shorter one than usual.

Tonight – it’s really late as I am writing this, I let the photos speak for themselves.

Tomorrow, early AM: Roswell

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

Day 4 - Texas Hospitality

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Day 4

We had a great night of needed rest in Lancaster TX after the first 3 days of little sleep and lots of good, hard flying. The weather was too low to depart early so we spent the morning looking at routes over the Rockies.

There was a dry line of building thunderstorms to the West that looked pretty dicey, so as soon as the weather lifted at Lancaster, we departed. Our plan for today’s leg was to land and stay over at a small airport as far West as we could make it before the storms made it impossible to fly any longer.

We first overflew Possum Kingdom, F35, an awesome looking little field on the PK lake. It was pretty populated and the storms weren’t too close yet, so we decided to press onwards to Haskell, 15F—but that didn’t feel right either. So we headed to our third choice, Arledge, F56 in Stamford TX. They say third times a charm, and I can confirm.

When we landed, there were about 8 airplanes and pilots on the ramp in a row, about to do a fly by for the senior citizens in town that had been isolated in quarantine. Before departing they assured us we could stay in their pilot hangar lounge for the night and hangar our plane to ride out the storms. We couldn’t be more grateful for their extreme kindness and hospitality.

We watched happily as they roared off the runway in order. After some fun low passes on their return, they landed, shut down, we all introduced ourselves, and talked a bit about our cross country adventure. We got some incredible route advice for crossing the mountains and getting through to California, and they took us on an awesome tour of Stamford TX where the Texas Cowboy Reunion rodeo takes place. The night was complete with hilarious stories, abandoned places, tales of bobcats, rattlesnakes, cowboys, pranks, wild river pigs, tailgate burritos, and just great Texas things. Super stoked to have met this awesome group of people out here, especially with how serendipitous it was. They just all happened to be at the airport at the same time we were landing to do the flyover—what are the odds? At night on the airport, we watched the thunderstorms roll in and light up the giant sky, before turning in and getting a great nights sleep in the pilot lounge.

All in all, a perfect Texas day.

Photo Gallery

Click on the image for full-screen viewing experience. All photographs © Filip Wolak.

Flight Path

 Lined up with pretty fields

Day 1 - NYC to Noble County, OH

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Day 1

And off we go!

Expecting some hard-core headwind that slowed us down almost 20 knots (that’s 20% of our speed), we finally departed the North Eastern homefield on route to the South West. packing took a while, we are luckily well below the max takeoff weight but the weight needed to be placed correctly in order to stay in the limits of weight and balance.

As our farewell committee (Robert and Andrew) bid us farewell, i was already thirsty for the celebratory beer they held in hand. Well, that will have to wait.

Flying though the beautiful Amish country, full of small farms that are being interestingly worked into curved shapes.  First stop Allegheny County (KAGC), reloaded on cheap fuel and free coffee and headed out West, onto the industrial part of PA.

Bayley Mine was a place I always wanted to photograph, and I was not disappointed. We have seen some serious destruction of the land especially as the mine is surrounded by the vast areas of green. The mine was actually closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the time of the photography.

However, the weather was coming. The fast-moving cold front that has been driven by a heavy low pressure system over the Lakes brought some heavy winds, extreme drop in temperature and a lot of rain. Luckily, we have landed before the hell started, and it was at some point so bad that we had difficulties holding the airplane in place as it was weathervaning onto the ever-changing wind. We decided this night will be spent in the airplane instead.

Tired, wet, but happy we fell asleep quite fast.

Flight Path

3 days before: Dormant JFK/LGA and JetBlue Salute


Day 1

Putting tRusty to final test before our departure, I have decided to take it up over NYC Class Bravo. The initial idea was to photograph the Jet Blue essential workers salute that was scheduled for 7pm.
It was also an opportunity to photograph the major NYC airports, as they are offering a unique view due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While at 8,000 feet – flying solo required extra buffer of error – heavens granted me a moment of beautiful sunlight over JFK. As usual in those situations – it lasted maybe 2-3 minutes, while the strong upper wind and cold air (-6 degrees C / 20 degrees F) complicated the task. On the below track, you can see me circling several times over JFK, with altitude varying between 7,500 and 8,500 feet.
After that, I have also visited La Guardia. Even quieter than JFK.
Unfortunately I was already geared for the JetBlue feature and therefore I haven’t had my sharpest lenses on.
The effect is, however, satisfactory.

Dormant JFK

JFK airport during COVID-19 crisis (May 7, 2010)

And even more empty (yet less exciting) LGA

LGA airport at a standstill during 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. Taken on May 7, 2019

And, since I already have your attention — here's the JetBlue stunt (yawn!)

Flight Path

An Idea is Born

An Idea is Born

“I’m thinking of going across every day,” Filip texted me, out of the blue, a month and a half into the Covid pandemic and resulting isolation. It was early spring, and the world was achingly beautiful, beckoning humanity outdoors and into the sweet air of late April.

“Across where? America?!” My quarantined mind was shocked into full attention.

“Yes. There’s no work. And the fuel will never be cheaper.”

“I’m in,” I said it immediately, without the due diligence of any sort of plan.

Crossing America in a small plane. We’d talked about it…for years. The adventure and the challenge called to us ferociously. Years earlier, we laughed when we realized we were reading the same book at the same time, Flight of Passage, about two brothers who flew a cub across the country. The idea grew in our minds like a wildfire, much kinder than the one consuming the globe, aided in its growth by various camping flying excursions in the Northeast. Flamping, we named it. Fly camping. The greatest combination of flight and camping in the glorious natural world.

Could we do it, across the whole country? Could we really take Old Rusty, our beloved Skyhawk, a 1973 beauty with a recent engine overhaul, all the way, East coast to West coast and back again? Could we do it now? At this massive crossroads in the history of mankind? If we were to undertake this journey, we knew it would need to be special. We had to approach such a trip with deep respect for the full spectrum of human emotion and experience that resulted from the virus.

If we were going to do it NOW, we needed to endeavor to photographically capture the country in its current state, discovering ways that the pandemic had altered the patterns of human movement across the entire nation. And in thinking these thoughts, we realized we had no choice. There would never be a moment like this again. And the opportunity to document it from above could be powerful and potentially helpful to humanity as a whole.

It was decided. We were going. We were flying across America.