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Day 7 - Thursday, 2 August 2007 - Niagara Falls and The World's Shortest City to City Speed Record Flights

Today was meant to be a repositioning flight from Lewiston, ME to Hillsboro, OH where Steve spent a month in September / October 2006 replacing his engine after the catastrophic in-flight failure of his new Eggenfellner Subaru engine on the way back from AirVenture 2006. The Eggenfellner engine was brand new having just been installed ready for a round the world flight and the failure happended over the forests of southern Ohio, near to Hillsboro, resulting in an emergency off-airport landing which fortunately did not damage 'Goofy'. But the situation would have been very different if Steve had not managed to clear the forests and make an almost perfect off-field landing on the only area of flat land araound. An Aerosport Power Lycoming IO-320 engine was then fitted and this is what was used to set the world speed records.

Shortly before he left Florida Steve was told that the FAI had refused to accept the waypoints used for his earlier attempt at the shortest city to city world speed records from Detroit to Windsor and Windsor to Detroit. This was despite agreeing these waypoints in advance. It turned out that there is a little used rule in the FAI Sporting Code which requires that the error of measurement of speed must not exceed 0.25%. So the FAI suggested waypoints further apart be used to give the required accuracy. Perhaps the FAI thought the speeds recorded originally might be too high for Class C1b, but as it happened Goofy's speeds the second time around were even higher than the first attempt, but more of this later. As only a relatively short diversion was needed to fly these records again, today was the ideal day to do this.

Heading west Steve expected to have a headwind and sure enough this was the case. Having filed an IFR flight plan Goofy was required to fly at even thousand feet altitudes. The Seattle Avionics Voyager in-flight GPS Steve was using showed the winds at 1000 ft altitudes and it was clear that there was much less of a headwind at 12000 ft compared to the minimum cruise altitude of 6000 ft over the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont. Not that Steve saw much of these mountains as the visibility, whilst technically VFR, was very poor and Steve was glad he had filed IFR to start with. For the first half of the flight 'Goofy' had a ground speed of just 108 kts but for the last half the speed had increased to 126 kts, so the climb was worthwhile and saved fuel too. Steve was not pushing the speed at this stage as he knew he had to refuel before entering Canadian airspace as he needed to stop for fuel somewhere during the 900+ mile flight.

niagara falls

Buffalo-Lancaster airport was where Steve would stop for fuel, just east of the border with Canada and a few miles south of Niagara Falls. It was a good place to stop for a break, and the fuel price was low too. Reading up about the place on Airnav Steve had found out that if you ‘ask nicely’ you may be able to get ATC permission for a 'Niagara tour' and fly directly over the restricted airspace above the falls. Thinking that you never know the answer until you ask the question, this is just what Steve did and yes, 'Goofy' could fly the Niagara tour at 3800 ft and still stay on the IFR flight plan.

Niagara falls were spectacular from the air, even from 3800 ft, although in reality ’Goofy’ was only flying 3200 ft above the water as the Falls are around 600 ft above sea level. The huge plume of spray was visible for many miles and Steve was clearly able to see a tour helicopter flying perhaps 1000 ft below and also two Maid of the Mist tour boats edging into the spray of the Horseshoe Falls. The American Falls, just 40 % the width of the Horseshoe Falls, and the much smaller Bridal Veils Falls stood out on the American side of the gorge, whilst on the Canadian side the main tourist hotels faced the Horseshoe Falls. Steve was able to fly 'Goofy' right around the falls and the view through the 'bubble' door window was truly awesome as he banked the airplane is a turn overhead.

Having reduced speed for this aerial excursion Steve reluctantly had to head off westwards across the northern side of Lake Erie towards motor city, Detroit, and its twin city Windsor just across the Detroit River. Steve had worked out that these two city centers were perhaps the closest international city centers in the world at just 0.26 miles apart. The rules for the FAI speed over recognised course records were strict with a minimum distance of 400 km (250 miles) for records within the same country but NO minimum distance for international records. Nobody had attempted such a record before and back in May Steve flew the between agreed waypoints setting what he thought were two records - Detroit to Windsor and Windsor to Detroit at 238.7 km/h and 233.84 km/h respectively. This time different waypoints were used which according to the FAI would comply with their requirement for 0.25% accuracy. Thanks to being able to use a high speed descent to advantage against a strong wind, and the wind advantage for the opposite direction flight, the speeds for the second attempt were 253.27 km/h for Detroit to Windsor and 237.25 km/h for Windsor to Detroit, a 6.1% and 1.5% improvement respectively.

Steve had to fly these records at 2500 ft so he could pass overhead Detroit City airport, one of the waypoints, and be within their airspace which stopped at 3100 ft. Still being on an IFR flight plan was causing problems with Detroit Approach Control, but they turned out to be most accommodating once they knew the purpose of the flight. The next problem was radio communication with approach control at this relatively low altitude. In the end Windsor tower saved the day by relaying messages and position reports as Steve was flying through their airspace for part of the record route. Their radios seemed to have a better reception than their American counterparts! One disadvantage of the strong wind was the low level turbulence which tossed 'Goofy' around like a rag doll, or perhaps it was due to the rapidly developing storms all around this area which earlier had caused Steve to divert towards the center of Lake Erie on the flight from Niagara Falls.

Having the throttle firewalled for the whole of the round trip distance needed for these records took a toll on the fuel burn, so it was a good job that Steve had fueled 'Goofy' when he did as there was still over 200 miles to fly to reach Highland County airport at Hillsboro, the final destination of the day. At least Steve only had the 40 miles of Lake Erie to cross before being back over dry land and the USA where he could land a refuel without getting involved with Customs. The problem now was deteriorating weather with the storms rapidly developing. Airliners heading for nearby Cleveland were being held in holding patterns away from Cleveland or diverting altogether if they were low on fuel. Fortunately Steve was able to weave his way through the storm clouds although he had to do this at a lower altitude than he would have liked. He tried going up to 10000 ft but the build-ups were increasing in height so rapidly he knew it was pointless to go higher as he would then be in the clouds all the time. In the end, having tried different levels below 10000 ft, 'Goofy' ended up below the clouds at 6000 ft right in the turbulent air, but at least there was some forward visibility!

It turned out that the storms in Ohio were limited to the northern half of the State and northwards, so once 'Goofy' was abeam Columbus the bouncing about stopped and Steve was able to enjoy the remainder of the flight to Hillsboro. Originally Steve had thought he would arrive at Hillsboro late in the day but the winds had been more favourable than anticipated and shortly after 16.00 local time Steve was cancelling his IFR flight plan and preparing to land at Highland County airport where his friends from the previous year were awaiting his arrival. The haze was getting worse as the sun got lower so finding the airport was a little difficult but soon it was in sight. Flying a midfield overhead approach Steve used Goofy's smoke system to good effect to signal his arrival. All that was left was a turn downwind for runway 05 and the interesting downhill landing which was fortunately into a headwind.

The next day was to be a rest day at Hillsboro with a well earned oil change for 'Goofy', and an unscheduled 'Young Eagles' flight for a young girl from the town.

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