Tornado Husky and the Big Apple

I’ve long had a special reason to fly the Hudson River VFR corridor in New York, but for a variety of reasons – usually weather – it had never happened.

Then, last week offered what seemed the perfect chance.

Flying the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky from Frederick, Md., to AOPA Aviation Summit in Hartford, Conn., required going right by New York City. And the weather was gorgeous on the day AOPA colleague Alyssa Miller and I planned to make the trip.

A presidential TFR in New York was going to shut down the corridor and virtually all other VFR traffic late in the day, but we could still make our transit with an hour to spare.

I loaded my special cargo – a small engraved box — into the Tornado Husky with our other gear for the week and studied the New York Terminal Area Chart to review the Hudson River Corridor procedures and reporting points. Alyssa would fly the airplane from the front seat, and I’d look out the window and handle the communications from the back.

Also, the Husky has a sliding window on the left side that seemed perfect for my purpose, which involved dropping something from the airplane in flight. That’s where the contents of the engraved box come in. You see, the ashes of my late step-father, John Melville, a New York City native, former aerospace engineer, and the person who made so many of our family’s dreams of flight come true, have resided in that box since his death in 2003. I wanted to honor him by spreading his ashes near the Statue of Liberty, a place close to the heart of freedom-loving people worldwide.

I loaded the airplane and was making final weather and TFR checks when the Lockheed briefer gave me the bad news. A United Nations TFR extended into the Hudson River Corridor shutting down all north-bound flights.

Reluctantly, I scrubbed the corridor mission that day.

We flew a nearly direct course to Hartford, and when we crossed the Hudson River 40 miles northwest of the city, the weather was so crystal clear we could easily make out the imposing skyline in the distance.

I hoped to have another opportunity to spread the ashes on Sunday, Sept. 25, the day after AOPA Aviation Summit ended when we planned to make our return flight to Frederick.

But a stubbornly slow low-pressure system had settled over the East Coast during Summit and refused to leave. The weather forecast called for rain and patchy low clouds along most of the route. So once again, I abandoned the idea of a Hudson River run and packed the well-traveled ashes in my backpack. Then I made the mistake of loading the backpack into another AOPA aircraft bound for headquarters.

Alyssa flew the return trip to Maryland from the front seat of the Husky, and the ceiling was high and visibility excellent coming out of Hartford. The cloud bases stayed elevated as we continued southwest toward home, and the XM Satellite weather display on the Garmin 696 showed the way was clear.

The Hudson River came into view from a distance of more than 20 miles, and on this day there were no TFRs. Alyssa said she was game for a north-south run down the river, so when we got to the Hudson, we made a hard left turn, descended to 1,100 feet msl, and followed the waterway southward.

I was kicking myself for putting my step-dad’s ashes in another aircraft, so there was no way to deliver them on this day. But I thought of him throughout our 100-knot tour of the city where he was raised in an Irish immigrant neighborhood during the Great Depression and went to college (Columbia University) graduating in 1940.

A swarm of helicopters plied the area around “the lady,” as New York pilots refer to the iconic statue in the harbor.

The Tornado Husky, an airplane made for the wilderness, hardly seemed out of place overflying New York City landmarks including the George Washington Bridge, USS Intrepid, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Fortunately, the Tornado Husky is scheduled to pass through the Big Apple again in the fall. And when it does, I’ll deliver the last remains of a remarkable man to the place that defined him.

And when those ashes fall to the water, I’ll remember how my step-dad did one of the world’s most difficult and thankless jobs – being a step-parent to four troublesome, quarrelsome boys – with steadiness and humor that my brothers and I can only strive to emulate with our own children.

Before he died at age 82, in one of our last conversations, I spoke with him about his many accomplishments. He summed up his record of achievement with a shrug, a wry smile, and a characteristically dismissive one-liner:

“Not bad for some jerk from New York.”

  • Dave

    yeah, that was right before the really cool F-16 flyby….

  • Charlie

    I once flew an ash dropping mission over Biscayne Bay off Miami. We disconnected the window arm on the C152, so the window would open fully. My friend dropped the ashes of his brother by Fowry Rock Light, a place they used to fish for many years. It was a solemn moment as he said some words. Then I slowed the Cessna 152, opened the window and he began to scatter the ashes. Much to our surprise, quit a bit came swirling back into the airplane all over us. In hindsight, maybe slow flight with flaps retracted would have been better.

  • Mark

    the best way to drop ashes is to wrap them in a cloth, tied with a long end. When the package hits the end othe tie, the bag opens, the remains go where they are supposed to and mission accomplished. Make sure the long end is not so long that it could end up in the control surfaces.

  • russ kinne

    I think the best way to ‘spread ashes'; with a Cessna or similar; is to use a long piece of PVC pipe, or equivalent, about 3″ diameter. Get into slip, open the door and stick the tube thru the gap at the bottom. Have the ‘ashes” in a bag, with the mouth closed; put the mouth into the pipe end & untie the mouth. No muss, no fuss. If you’re finicky put some duct tape over the leading edge of the hor. stab. to avoid any possible nicks.

  • Wilma Melville

    It is a joy to me that you have hung on to this notion of dropping some of John’s ashes near the Statue of Liberty! How proud he would be of that. I know that the Statue of Liberty had significant meaning to John because he did a triathlon where the swim portion was near or around that very statue.