The purpose of today’s flight, was to enjoy beautiful views of the beautiful Niagara Falls region.
Niagara Falls is located 17 miles northwest of the city of Buffalo NY and 80 miles from Toronto Canada. Niagara Falls is the largest waterfalls on the continent of North America. The Falls constitute three specific waterfalls. The Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the smaller Bridal Veil Falls. The two main waterfalls, the Horseshoe and American, are separated by Goat Island. These waterfalls were created at the end of the last ice age. This was due to the creation of the Great Lakes upon the recession of the glaciers. Water has eroded through the Niagara escarpment as it flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario on its way to the ocean.
The flight was conducted in the A2A J3 Piper Cub from Buffalo International Airport (KBUF) to Saint Catharines (CYSN) using visual flying rules (VFR). The Cub is perfect for such an adventure given its slow cruise speed of around 75 kts. The Cub also affords great visibility out of it’s large windows. The conditions today were perfect for a VFR flight given that there were no clouds below 10000 ft and 10SM visibility.
This was a great relief from the previous weather that saw constant snow flurries and brisk winds.
VFR Flight Plan
Here is where it gets interesting. The main objective of the flight was to obtain views of Niagara Falls coupled with views of the Niagara Gorge. The Niagara Gorge and the Niagara River constitute the border between the US and Canada. Unfortunately the airspace on the US side is quite crowded. There is heavy airline traffic landing and departing from KBUF. Northward there is traffic in and out of Niagara International Airport. So in short, two specific airspaces to fly through. My solution was to jump the border upon departure and travel on the Canadian side! As anyone from the North East will tell you, the view of Niagara Falls is better from Canadian side anyway.
The VFR flight plan that I devised was to hold a steady 230 SW heading upon departure from KBUF and climb to 2500ft. Upon reaching Lake Erie, I would keep the city of Buffalo on my right wing while flying a wide half circle around it (#1). The half circle would see me reaching land again on the Canadian side heading north. Using Port Erie Airport (PVT) as a visual marker, I planned to quickly located Queen Elizabeth Way (a Canadian highway)(#2). The highway would lead me to visual contact with the route 166 (#3). Route 166 would then lead me directly to Niagara Falls (#4).
Upon reaching the Falls, I would then fly in close for a few pictures travelling over the city of Niagara.
Upon completion I would head north up the Niagara Gorge to the hydroelectric powerstations. After passing the stations, (#5) I would turn NW to locate and land at Saint Catharines Airport (Class E airspace).
Preparing to take off from RW 23 at KBUF
Departure and climb out:
Departing KBUF was a snap due to the less then favorable cross wind that gave me an interesting take off from runway 23. But once in the air, I was able to admire the view of the larger than life Buffalo International Airport. Truly admire as the Cub required so little runway to take off that I was soon maybe 200-500 ft over the airport. A heading of 230 soon brought me directly over Lake Erie with the city of Buffalo off my right wing. By then I had reached 2500 ft and was making about 75 kts.
At 2500 ft over Lake Erie with Buffalo NY off my right wing
Using the entrance of the Niagara river and Buffalo city a visual reference, I few a large half circle.
Coming back over land on the Canadian side near the mouth of the river, Fort Erie Airport (PVT) was quickly spotted.
PVT and Queen Elizabeth Way
This small airport was perfect for locating Queen Elizabeth Way. Soon I was orientated parallel with this highway and heading northwest.
Intersection of Queen Elizabeth Way and RT 116. Mist from Niagara Falls in the distance.
Following Queen Elizabeth Way led me to highway 116. I now turned North to follow 116 to the Falls. By that time, mist from the Falls and the city of Niagara Falls could be seen in the distance.
Approaching the area of Niagara Falls called for caution due to the heavy tourist helicopter flights. For around $150 you can get a nice 20 minute flight around the Falls in a local copter. Luckily none of those pesky blade spinners were spotted.
Entering the Niagara Falls area and slowing to 65 kts.
Finally upon reaching the Falls, I slowed the cub down to 65 kts and trimmed again for level flight. The view at 2500ft was perfect. The Horseshoe Falls and American Falls were in full force as mist spewed in the air. The tiny Bridal Veil Falls could be spotted past the American Falls. Listening carefully I could hear the noise of water crashing down.
The Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, the tiny Bridal Veil Falls, the Skylon Tower, and the Rainbow bridge.
On the Canadian side, the Skylon Tower was quite prominent. The Rainbow bridge could be seen proudly bridging the Canadian and American borders. Looking carefully, a balloon could be spotted on the American side.
After soaking up the view of Niagara Falls, I headed north along the Niagara River and the Niagara Gorge. The Gorge is quite deep. Originally the falls began life at Lake Ontario. Through thousands and thousands of years of erosion it has worked worked its way south to its present location leaving the deep Niagara Gorge behind.
Leaving Niagara Falls behind.
The Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station:
Soon the Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station came into view on the American side. . In the distance, Lake Ontario could be spotted. A quick look to the left revealed Saint Catharines Airport (CYSN) off in the distance.
The Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station on the American side of the gorge.
Saint Catharines (CYSN)
Landing at Saint Catharines was quite interesting. The Cub is an interesting airplane. For such a small plane, you would expect it to be more maneuverable at times. Unfortunately that is not always the case. As you lower the airspeed, the flight controls of the Cub become less effective decreasing your ability to turn. To make a long story short, I over ran Runway 23 and had to do a go around. The controller advised me to land on Runway 11.
Approaching Saint Catherines Airport (CYZR)
This time I was more prepared and kept my airspeed up while on approach. Coordinated turns are very important in the Cub and you have to look at the gyro to determine how much rudder to use. After circling over the city of Saint Catharines, I was able to make a good approach in Runway 11. The other interesting aspect of the Cub is that it is heavily affected by crosswinds. Luckily I was able to correct for the slight breeze on my starboard side and landed without incident. The Cub was then taxied to the GA parking and shut down for the day. Total flight time was about 1 hour.
Landing on RW 11 and correcting for cross wind.
Restricted Area CYR518!
Ah, if I had only stayed above 3500 ft !!! I later found out after landing, that you need special permission to fly in the near vicinity of Niagara Falls below 3500 ft (I was at 2500ft). This area is designated CYR518. The following link gives a detailed map of the restricted area. The good thing is that next time, I can use the map below to fly on the outskirts of the restricted area or simply obtain permission.
Click here for Map of CYR518
I truly enjoyed this VFR flight. It is amazing that you can obtain so much enjoyment from flying around at 75 kts with no retracted landing gear, no GPS, and no autopilot (who knew?). The A2A J3 Cub is quite an amazing plane, but that has been well established. The use of VFR sectionals was quite informative for looking at the different airspace regulations and planning a VFR route.
The two main scenery packs that were used for this flight were the Aerosoft Niagara X and the Flytampa KBUF. Both quite spectacular and highly recommended! I purchased the Niagara X for only 13$ and have to say, I really got my moneys worth. The waterfalls are quite amazing with this package. You can actually see water coming over the falls. The detail in the buildings around the falls is extremely well done along with the city of Buffalo. Many of the airports in the area are also improved with Niagara X and the Flytampa installation adjust for the Niagara X scenery. Thankfully my new computer has allowed me to take advantage of such add-ons. But more on the new computer later!