Flying the Hudson

Statue of Liberty on the Hudson River
Liberty from N4932L

The response from George Scheer to a question I asked resulted in a mock-irate rant that can be summarized by just saying, “Why are we talking about this? Fly up the Hudson!”, and he had a point. The Hudson is one of those “bucket list” flights and I had a perfect opportunity to check that item off my list. So it was time to study and get prepared.

I was planning a flight to Rhode Island to visit a friend, and had asked George about possible VFR route choices. I thought of going west around the New York area, or staying east and flying up Long Island, or just braving the Hudson Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), and wanted an opinion. I got one, in no uncertain terms.

Many of us pilots who have “grown up” in the low-density environment of North Carolina look at the New York airspace and wonder if we can possibly navigate it successfully without getting a call from the FAA once done. I had spent a lot of time looking at routes and nervously eyeing the New York Sectional and wondering what made sense. Ultimately the lure of flying up the Hudson won out.

There is a good bit of material out there on flying the Hudson, and so it is possible to get all the information you need to be prepared. As you look through the descriptions, read the SFRA rules, note the constrained altitudes and the mandatory reporting points and other restrictions it might seem daunting. However if you do your homework, are prepared … and take along a handy little cheat sheet provided by the FAA … it is a perfectly reasonable flight. The cheat sheet can be found at:

https://www.faasafety.gov/files/gslac/courses/content/79/775/kneeboard.pdf

Since I’d be flying past New York in both directions I had the opportunity to do the Hudson northbound and southbound. I took that opportunity and went for it so got two transits through the SFRA in one trip. Each time the experience was amazing.

On the Friday I flew up, winds out of the northeast slowed my progress up the coast. I flew over the Norfolk area, over Accomack County Airport, then straight up the coast. I bypassed Wallops Island’s restricted airspace by a narrow but adequate margin, overflew Cape May, Atlantic City, dodged R-5002 since it was in use, then landed at Monmouth Executive (KBLM) for fuel.

I’ll admit, I also landed there to get myself organized and to make sure I had everything needed to head into New York. If you look at the chart you will see that you have a number of constraints if you want to stay out of the Class Bravo space. Heading straight from KBLM to the entrance of the SFRA you first encounter the Bravo lateral limits with a floor of 3000 feet, but just east over Sandy Hook it drops to 1500 feet. Furthermore, well before you get to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (the start of the SFRA) the floor drops to 1500 feet as well. Be sure to get low enough soon enough. Since the RV is “sporty” in handling, I decided that the best way to insure I didn’t have an altitude excursion was to use my autopilot in heading mode with altitude hold engaged. A moment of inattention in the RV can mean a hundred foot altitude excursion, and I expected to have some distractions!

With the autopilot engaged and my altitude set, I pointed the nose at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and headed out, feeling a tad nervous. The view was impressive! The city was looming ahead of me and the bridge framed the entrance to the Hudson beautifully. For transient aircraft in the SFRA you must maintain an altitude at least 1000 feet, but less than 1300 feet. I picked 1100 feet just to be near the middle of the range. You must fly at or below 140 knots, so I picked 130. You must (basically) turn on all your lights, and have an appropriate chart on hand. Northbound, you must hug the east side of the river, and southbound the west. And you must self-announce on a published CTAF (123.05) at various mandatory reporting points. Simple enough?

Flying along at 1100 feet as you approach the Verrazano Narrows Bridge makes you wonder if you’ll actually clear the towers. You are CLOSE, or at least it looks that way. In reality the towers top out at 693 feet so you have at least 300 feet to spare. But it underscores one reason altitude excursions might be a really bad thing!

Upon entering the SFRA at the bridge (which is also the first mandatory self-announce reporting point) it became a battle between flying the plane and looking at the huge array of sights in view. I had enough time to get over my initial sensory overload before I was in sight of the Statue of Liberty (the next reporting point). Going northbound it is some distance away (and there are procedures for dropping down and circling, but I didn’t feel ready to mix it up with the choppers flying tour flights, so I didn’t go there), but still a lovely sight to see.

As I continued northbound the new One World Trade Center building started to loom large. It is near the river, is taller than the altitude at which I was flying, and grew to dominate the view out my canopy. My EFIS and my GPS both have terrain warning capabilities, and I thought they were both going to have an anxiety attack. The EFIS drew the Trade Center building large, and in red, with a huge red X plastered over it. As I flew by, the strong winds from the northeast flowing around the tower made the autopilot work overtime to hold heading. It was an awe- inspiring experience. From there I flew past too many sights to enumerate here but the sight I think I most enjoyed was seeing the Empire State Building. It is so iconic and was beautiful to see standing there in the middle of the city. I won’t forget that.

The flight continued up the river and eventually over the George Washington Bridge, then exiting the SFRA at the “Alpine Tower”, a large red/white communications tower that is much easier to spot than I feared it might be. I continued on up the river from there to around Sing Sing, turned east (electing to just stay out and/or over all the Class D spaces along the way) and eventually landed at KUUU near Newport, RI. The winds were worrisome, 020@15G23, but the landing was fine. Tying down and getting the canopy cover on, however, was a challenge.

After a fabulous weekend I turned around and did it all over again on Sunday, but in the opposite direction. Having done the Hudson once I was somewhat less nervous on Sunday, and the flight went off without a hitch. This time I got closer to the Statue of Liberty, though. What a sight! Exiting the SFRA at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge again, I really felt like I had experienced something special.

The flight home from there was a non-event except for the presence of a 20+ knot tailwind the whole way! I got home from RI in 3.3 hours, non-stop, with more than my personally mandated hour fuel reserve on board. It doesn’t get much better than this, and it is available to all us lucky folks who own a pilot’s license. George was right. Why are we having this conversation? Go fly the Hudson!

Dwight Frye

I am a software engineer who has been playing that game for way too many years. So many that when the posts show up on Facebook showing pictures of old tech, trying to stump the youngsters, my reaction invariably is “I remember that!”. Often they are things I used in the process of making a living, even. When I play the “well, I remember” game with co-workers I win. Always.

I am a member of the Wings of Carolina flying club at KTTA, where I earned my Instrument and Commercial tickets. I also built, own, and fly a Van’s RV-7. I have dabbled in aerobatics and flirt with the idea of getting my CFI and making my fortune as an instructor. One of the reasons I so love to fly is that no matter how much you learn, or how proficient you become, there is always something new and exciting to explore just over the horizon.

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2 thoughts on “Flying the Hudson

  • May 9, 2016 at 11:15 pm
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    Were you just getting back when I saw you at the Club?

    Reply
    • May 10, 2016 at 7:11 am
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      No, the Hudson River flight was a few weeks ago. When you saw me at the club I was just out at the airport hanging around and visiting with some folks.

      Reply

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