Labeling something a “bucket list” item means that it has to have certain qualities. It is aspirational of course, but it should also be unique, require more than a minimum effort, and be the type of thing that makes a lasting imprint on your being. For our own Julian Natale, flying the VFR Hudson Corridor ticked all those boxes.
Still in his early 20’s, Julian has already accomplished much. He is a thoughtful aircraft technician who demonstrates professionalism beyond his years, a Private Pilot and the owner of a 1950 Beechcraft Bonanza. An airplane of that vintage requires a level of care and attention above and beyond what something more modern and simpler may demand. Julian considers it a passion project though, and the hours spent working on the airplane make each hour that he gets to fly it that much sweeter.
A few weeks ago, he, along with Horizon’s Chief Instructor Vicky Kuo, climbed into the cockpit of his own airplane and blasted off towards the west and one of the world’s most fabled flight routes. The Hudson VFR Corridor is a special flight route that allows pilots to fly down the Hudson River along Manhattan without interfering with the legions of airliners traversing the area via the three conjoined Class B airports in the New York metro area. To do this safely and legally requires focused preflight planning which for Julian began a few weeks before the flight.
In addition to the normal considerations of a cross country flight plan (weather, fuel, etc.) a Hudson Corridor flight features a passage through a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA.) Fixed wing aircraft must remain between 1,000ft and 1,300ft MSL, use and monitor a CTAF frequency, broadcast their position at specific waypoints, and stay on the west side of the river when traveling southbound, and the east side when traveling northbound. This must be done while maintaining a heightened alertness for other air traffic including other aircraft flying the same path, or the multitude of helicopters passing below. It is a high work load environment for any pilot, especially one that hasn’t flown the Corridor before.
For Julian’s flight, he decided early on not to tackle it himself. He brought Vicky along for her expertise and experience, and to act as an extra set of eyes looking out for traffic. He took a safety course provided by the FAA that discusses flying the Corridor and made sure to have fresh copies of the special charts that detail the NYC SFRA. The round trip flight from Rhode Island to the Corridor would be right at the limit of the Bonanza’s fuel range so Julian paid close attention to the forecast in the days leading up to the planned flight.
When that day arrived it was all systems go. The plan was to intercept the Hudson River north of Manhattan and begin a decent to the required altitude before piercing the Class B veil. In contact with ATC the whole time, Julian was greeted with permission to maintain VFR through the bravo airspace while flying the river. He was cleared to fly southbound at 2,000 feet and then return northbound at 1,500 feet. This provided them with a layer of protection from traffic, while also adding extra time (in the form of increased altitude) to react to any emergency. Even so, Julian and Vicky were all business as they flew alongside one of the world’s most famous cities. They split responsibilities so each had a turn gawking at the sites; Julian flew the southbound leg while Vicky would take over once they turned around.
Despite being at 2,000 and 1,500 feet, Julian still felt like he was looking up at the skyline. He was unprepared for just how close all the structures would feel to them as the flew by. Once south of the city and under advisement with ATC, the pair began a 180° descending turn. Racing up the riverfront (no greater than 140kts!) brought the buildings and the city into greater focus in what is truly one of the world’s marvels.
And just like that, they were on their way home with the spectacle of NYC fading into the haze behind them. With the main event now over, Julian redoubled his attention to fuel management. They would have enough to arrive back home but only if everything went according to plan. He had preplanned fuel stops in case that situation changed. Thankfully, the flight went off without a hitch from start to finish.
The sensation of being over that river is not one that fits into words very well. The vastness of the water south of city appears endless and yet the river as thin as a two way road. The hugeness of the city is incredible and yet you somehow feel like a conqueror as you cruise by it on a perch at 140kts. The millions of people that have called it home, the volumes of history made and still being made in that giant metropolis all seems to slip past your wingtip before you even had time to look. Somehow, you have made New York City feel small, and your tiny airplane feel larger than the entire world.
Flying the Hudson is bucket list item for all the right reasons, and everyone should do it, if only so they can feel like the king or queen of the world for a brief moment in time.