Alton Bay, NH January 31st, 2018
By: Juergen Nies
I had it on my “to do” list for many years to fly to Alton Bay (B18) in New Hampshire to land on Lake Winnipesaukee, the only FAA approved Ice Runway in the 48 lower States. After years of thinking and talking about it, Wednesday January 31st was the date.
I was looking for a day with good weather spanning the whole 807 nautical mile distance and low surface winds at Alton Bay. Looking at the long-range forecast for weeks to find a weekend to do the trip always showed one of the parameters not matching. Either there was snow or rain somewhere along the route or the winds were too strong at B18. I finally decided to look just three days ahead using the MOS forecast on ForeFlight and just leave on a short notice.
Tom Parry and I met at the airport at 7:00 AM (at 16-degree Fahrenheit) to preflight the Pacer and get our stuff loaded. We both dressed warm since the heater struggles to keep passengers warm when the temperatures approach the freezing point. After filling up all the tanks with 58 Gallon of fuel we departed Winchester at 8:00 AM. The air was smooth as silk (pretty much all day at cruising altitudes) and after leveling off at 5,500 feet I noticed the temperature was about four degrees Celsius warmer than is was on the ground.
After one bathroom stop along the route we entered the landing pattern at Alton Bay at 12:15 PM covering the first 407 NM of the trip. There were a couple of airplanes in the pattern and we noticed some in the parking area as well. It got quite bumpy in the pattern, but we could see other airplanes landing and rolling out fine, so we went for it.
Right when the wheels touched down it felt really weird. It almost felt like the airplane was still flying, just not descending anymore. Of course, I didn’t touch the brakes and with no friction on the tires it took almost the whole length of the runway to let the Pacer come to a stop. Taxiing was equally strange, I had steering, but any application of the brakes resulted in a short slide to a stop. We managed to move at a very slow speed to a parking spot, but since I couldn’t turn the airplane with engine power and brakes we had to push it into the parking spot. I was glad I had purchased cleats (Ice Creepers) for under my shoes to give me at least some traction.
During the week the restaurant at the marina is closed, and so are most of the businesses, but we found a store in short walking distance that was selling soup and sandwiches. After lunch we stopped at the gift shop to retrieve our certificates (for landing at B18) and purchase a sweatshirt and hat. Then it was time for departure.
I was surprised that, while holding the brakes, I was able to do a magneto check at 1,800 RPM without sliding (Tom kept his eyes outside to alert me if we are sliding while I did the runup). We noticed that since we had landed, a direct cross wind at about eight to ten knots had developed. During takeoff we got pushed a little towards the right side of the runway, but we got airborne well before getting too close to the cones.
The flight home presented us with smooth air, but with a direct headwind of anywhere between 30 to 45 knots. It was very slow with ground speeds dipping down to the high 70s at times (painful). Nevertheless, after a fuel stop and enjoying a nice sunset while passing by Lancaster, PA we made it back to Winchester at about 6:45 PM to hear the AWOS reporting the wind from 180@11G18. Great, nothing better than topping off this flight with a cross wind landing at night.
Another great trip covering 814 NM in a day in my Pacer. If any of you have this on your list, go ahead and do it. We noticed all kinds of airplanes on “the ramp” ranging from Piper Cherokees to Cessna 152s, 172s, and one 182 as well as other taildraggers and a RV-6 (or 7?) with wheel pants on. It is all doable. However, for the first timer (like me), I recommend low surface winds at Alton Bay.
Sunrise reflecting in the Pacer during preflight
The "Ramp" is easy to see, but the Runway is not
The Ramp with the entry to the Runway and Taxiway
The Flight Crew by the Pacer
The Ice looks wet, but it was not. Frozen solid with some rough areas.
Pacer sitting "on the ramp"
Gazebo overlooking the Bay
Airplanes parked at the Ramp