Saturday, November 26, 2005

Making an Impression

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 Nov 2005 N21481 LWA (South Haven, MI) - 3G3 (Wadsworth, OH) -
5G0 (LeRoy, NY)
3.9 393.7

I try to make a good impression the first time I meet people.  Most of us do.  Take my first meeting with Ray, for example.  Ray is the owner and operator of the Le Roy Airport (5G0) in upstate New York.  As an airport owner and flight instructor, Ray devoted much of his life to aviation.  He was the kind of person upon whom I wanted to make a good impression the first time I landed at his airport.  Not that there was much to worry about at Le Roy.  At 2600' long, there was plenty of pavement there to land a Warrior, even if it was comparatively shorter than the mile of asphalt at airports like South Haven.

My concern about making a good showing at Le Roy was that it was to become Warrior 481's new home.  In planning a relocation to Rochester, NY in late October 2005, I had the good fortune to contact Ray while he still had openings in a row of brand new T-hangars.  The price was right, the hangar sounded nice, and Ray came with a strong personal recommendation from a mutual acquaintance.

Of course, Warrior 481 was still comfortably nested at South Haven, MI (LWA) during this time.  My intent was to move the Warrior to Le Roy as soon as possible so as to avoid paying hangar rent at both places.  I planned a route from South Haven, MI to the outskirts of Cleveland, OH, then northeast to Le Roy.  As I contemplated making such a VFR cross-country flight at the onset of winter, the phrase "lake effect snow" was very prominent in my thoughts because I would be departing from one lake effect snow area, flying through another, and arriving in a third.  Three Great Lakes, each with its own unpredictable agenda.

On top of this was a more mundane concern: how to get back home to Kalamazoo, MI after the ferry flight?  An economical solution to this latter problem arose when my friend Steve (also relocating from Kalamazoo to Rochester) told me that he would be in Rochester the weekend following Thanksgiving and that he would be happy to provide ground transportation back to Kalamazoo.  All I needed to do was provide sufficient blather on the way home to keep Steve awake on the eight hour drive.  Anyone who knows me well would realize that I would have no problem keeping up my end of the bargain. 

But would the weather allow for the trip to happen at all?

Moving Day

As the weekend approached, the weather forecasts were dicey.  Unfortunately, winter weather forecasts in the Great Lakes region tend to contain blanket warnings for icing conditions and snow that may or may not materialize.  This makes it difficult to plan very far ahead with any confidence.

I crawled out of bed at 6:00 am on Saturday morning, November 26.  It was snowing in Rochester, but west Michigan was merely under a 3000' overcast.  The snow in Rochester was forecast to dissipate by early afternoon.
 
The ride to South Haven was encouraging.  During the drive, the sun finally climbed into the frigid sky and banished the remnants of cloud ceiling over southwest Michigan.  We arrived at the airport to find a pristine layer of snow covering all surfaces.  The snow was only two inches deep, but I had never actually operated on an unplowed runway or taxiway before.  I worried that the snow might get packed into the wheel spats during takeoff, but the temperatures were low enough to render the snow as powdery as talc.

Last trip to the South Haven fuel pump for Warrior 481
At 9:30 am, the airplane was fully fueled for its four hour cross-country flight.  I inspected the wheel pants after taxiing over snow from the other side of the airport.  There was no sign of snow inside them.

Another call to Flight Service confirmed my initial survey of the weather from home: it was still snowing in Rochester, but "expected" to stop after noon.  Ray had told me that he would ensure that the runway at Le Roy was plowed, so I called him to say that I expected to be there at 2:00 pm.  I said my goodbyes at the airport, started Warrior 481, and took runway 22 about 10:00 am.  I had never launched on snow before, but the ride was smooth and the runway over a mile long.  Warrior 481 broke ground and climbed vigorously into the chilly winter sky.

I chose a route from South Haven, over Toledo, to Wadsworth, OH.  Wadsworth is in a small corridor between Cleveland's Class B and Canton-Akron's Class C airspaces.  From Wadsworth, it is a straight shot northeast to Le Roy.  I could have flown a more direct route across Canada, but the potential for bad weather made a Stateside route more appealing.  I wanted to have plenty of flexibility to divert as needed.

I established a cruise at 5500' under clear sunny skies.  A 25 knot tailwind helped scoot Warrior 481 along as I passed over several landmarks that had meant so much me to me during my relatively brief time in aviation.
  • Snowplows were working on the main runway at Kalamazoo (AZO), where I had finally gained a comfortable familiarity in talking to air traffic control.
  • The Three Rivers airport (HAI) passed off my right wingtip, my home base while training for my private pilot certificate.
  • I passed directly over Coldwater (OEB), where I had performed my first landing in a Piper, 70 Romeo.
Once beyond these landmarks, I crossed into Ohio and unknown territory.

Toledo Express Airport
Listening to weather broadcasts (ATIS, ASOS, AWOS) from airports further ahead on my route, it became evident that the ceiling over the next portion of the trip through Ohio was around 3500'.  I descended to 3000' and contacted ATC at Toledo Express (TOL) for VFR flight following to Wadsworth.  As I passed under the cloud ceiling, the world turned monochrome with land and sky becoming a similar shade of dirty beige.  The brilliant blue of my wingtip was a Technicolor aberration in a black and white world.  I crossed directly over the top of the Toledo-Express airport.
 
Thirty miles southwest of Toledo, I terminated radar services so that I might listen to more weather broadcasts along my route.  The various reporting stations within range painted a reassuringly uniform picture: 3500' ceilings, light winds, unrestricted visibility, and no precipitation.

Just shy of two hours into the flight, I stopped at Wadsworth, OH to stretch my legs and fuel up.  All was quiet on 122.80 MHz as I approached, with only one other airplane doing pattern work when I arrived.  However, by the time I had shut down on the ramp, there were five other airplanes in the pattern.  Wadsworth was bustling given that it was an uninspiring flying day.
Once inside the FBO, I checked the weather again and found that light snow was still falling in Rochester.  I bought fuel at Wadsworth, though I did not really need it.  Having extra fuel on board was a good idea in case I needed to divert from my intended destination.

Upon learning that I was from Kalamazoo, the owner of the FBO commented that he was a big fan of the Air Zoo.  I explained that I gave tours there and we chatted about the many changes that had occurred at the museum in the three years since his last visit.

Back in the air, I pointed the nose toward Le Roy and established a cruise at 3000'.  Crossing over a corner of Pennsylvania and into southwest New York, the area became significantly less populated.  The topography changed from flat to rolling.  It was not much to look at that day, but it was obvious that the view would have been gorgeous on a summer day with blue skies.

Throughout the flight, I continued to wonder if the snow would indeed stop by the time I reached my destination.  Not that snow was the real issue; visibility was.  About 20 miles from my destination, I was finally able to pick up weather information for airports in the vicinity of Le Roy.  All of them were calling ten mile visibility.  At this point, the proverbial weight was lifted from my shoulders and I knew that I would reach Warrior 481's new home.

Arrival at Le Roy

Fifteen miles out of Le Roy, I checked the weather at Genesee County (GVQ - 11 miles west of Le Roy) and Rochester (ROC - 14 miles northeast of Le Roy).  Both were calling for winds out of the southwest.  While still keeping my options open, I began to plan for landing on runway 28.  With a single strip running approximately east/west, options at Le Roy are limited.

At 2:00 pm, five miles out and right on time, I announced on Unicom that I was inbound for Le Roy.  A Cessna responded that it was departing on runway 28 and that Ray was still plowing.  I crossed over the field and checked the windsock, verifying that the winds favored runway 28.  The Cessna departed the area promptly and I circled back for a left crosswind entry to the pattern for 28.  After I called downwind, Phil's voice came over the radio.

"Chris, is that you?"

"Affirmative," I responded.

"Welcome to Le Roy!"  Down on the airport surface, I could see Ray's plow truck waiting on a taxiway for me to complete my landing.  He was pointed toward the final approach path where he would have a perfect vantage point to evaluate my approach and landing.  I could also see Steve waiting outside my hangar with his family.  Landings with an audience always seem to go a bit awry for me; it's the aviator's corollary to Murphy's Law.

The moment I turned final, I knew something was wrong.  I was way too high and not coming down fast enough.  I entered a slip in hopes of coaxing the Warrior down to the runway, but merely watched my aim point continue to move down the 2600' long strip of pavement.  About 100' off the ground, I exited the slip, added full throttle, retracted the flaps, and aborted the landing.

On the second time around, things still didn't look right, but I aggressively slipped the Warrior to the runway.  With about 50% of the runway already behind me, I rounded out.  Warrior 481 finally settled to the runway so softly that I cannot say exactly when she transitioned her weight from the wings to wheels.  Not knowing my braking effectiveness on the slick looking runway, I was content to brake lightly and use the remaining runway (there wasn't much) to lose speed gradually.  I turned off at the end of the runway, taxied Warrior 481 to her new hangar, and shut down.  It was the first time that I had ever used an entire runway for landing and rollout.
 
Ray drove over and shook my hand when I emerged from the Warrior.  "Nice landing," he enthused.  Looking over his shoulder, the windsock told me exactly what had gone wrong.  Despite having checked the sock on my overflight, I had just made a downwind landing ... in front of my new airport manager ... who was a CFI.  I cringed inside, smiled outwardly, and thanked him for the compliment.

New digs at the Le Roy airport.  January 11, 2006.

My embarrassment was momentarily forgotten once Warrior 481 was safely inside the hangar.  To say the least, it was a very nice hangar.  The concrete floor was clean enough to eat on.  Ray had customized the hangars with bright fluorescent lighting and electrical outlets on the walls near the tail and each wingtip.  The outside walls were well insulated.

During the ride home, I brooded about the downwind landing.  It was a fundamental thing and I was irritated with myself for not recognizing the signs of a downwind landing prior to the go-around.  Perhaps it was just fatigue.  I had worried about the trip days before it actually occurred, not slept well, then spent four hours in my Piper over unfamiliar territory.  Regardless of the cause, I was annoyed and certain that I had not left a very favorable first impression at Le Roy.

Epilogue

A few days after my return to Kalamazoo from Le Roy, I received an email note from Ray.  In my response, I observed that I generally did not try to impress other pilots by performing downwind landings on short runways right before their eyes.  Ray came to the rescue of my ego in his next email, where he pointed out that the winds had been changing direction all day at Le Roy and that mine was one of the better landings he saw that afternoon.  In the end, Warrior 481 was moved into her nice new home and I received an unexpected compliment from Ray.  Evidently, I made a better impression than I thought.

A tranquil dusk scene from the Le Roy airport, March 6, 2006
 

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Breakfast Boondoggle

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total 
(hrs)
29
Oct 2005
N21481 LWA (South Haven, MI) - OEB (Coldwater, MI) - LWA 2.1 386.2


We launched from South Haven at 9:00 am that morning, bound for Jackson, MI.  Dave and Kent were in the Decathlon and I had Kristy and Yit-Yian with me in the Warrior.  Jackson was my favorite breakfast destination in southern Michigan and I had not been yet in 2005.  With the Decathlon in sight 1-2 miles ahead, we each contacted the tower at Jackson and announced our intentions to land.


The tower was BUSY that morning, juggling an unusually high number of departures and arrivals.  Despite this, the controller had the situation well in-hand and I had no worries about getting in.  ATC suggested to the most recent arrival that the ramp was nearly full, but that there was plenty of parking on the grass.  This prompted one of the airborne pilots to ask, "is there an event of some kind today?"

"No, just people coming in for breakfast," came the reply.  Evidently, every private pilot in southern Michigan (and maybe northern Ohio and Indiana) had the same idea we did.  With that many airplanes on the ground, we knew that it would be a long wait for food.  Dave contacted the tower and cancelled his landing request.  I followed suit and soon we were both en route to Coldwater, MI -- our previously agreed-upon backup plan.

As we taxied onto the green field that served as airplane parking for the Coldwater restaurant, two things struck me as odd.  The first was that we were the only aircraft there on a nice weekend morning.  Almost immediately thereafter, I noted that the sign outside the restaurant proudly proclaimed "Los Mariachis".  That didn't sound like the kind of place that would be open for breakfast and, once out of the airplanes, we learned that it wasn't.

So, we returned to South Haven.  After 2.1 hours of flying over a significant portion of southern Michigan, we put the airplanes away and had a noontime "breakfast" at Cousin's restaurant a short drive from our home airport.

Even a failed breakfast run is still a good excuse to fly!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Final Stearman Flights

Before Dave sold his gorgeous Stearman, we spent some time flying it in the early part of September.


It's hard to believe that my boring ol' Spam Can once lived in this same hangar.


Continental-powered with wooden prop elegance.



Taildraggers spend every moment on the ground pointed skyward, perpetually longing for flight.


Shortly after take-off.  With that helmet on, the whole "wind in the hair" feeling really just isn't there.


The Lake Michigan shoreline from the Stearman.


We flew low over the corn maze at Carpenter's Dairy Farm in Bangor, MI.


The shadow of Dave's Stearman observed while on final approach to South Haven's runway 14.  I would like to cite my photographic prowess as cause for getting the shadow directly on that lighter-colored tree, but it was just dumb luck (especially with digital camera shutter lag).  Pretty nifty, though.


I literally hung off the side of the Stearman to take this photo of its shadow over South Haven's runway 14 (though I did not hang off so far as to create any undesired right yaw).

With the disappearance of the Stearman from South Haven, it was the end of an era.  But, oh, what a magnificent era it was!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Take Your Coworkers to the Airport Day, 2005

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total 
(hrs)
17
Sep 2005
N21481 LWA (South Haven, MI) - local flight 3.5 370.9

During the summers of 2004 and 2005, Dave and I hosted multiple "Take Your Coworkers to the Airport" days at the South Haven Area Regional Airport. Just as the name implies, we invited several of our coworkers out to the airport for an afternoon of cooking out, camaraderie and airplane rides. Some came with prior aviation experience. But for most, these cookouts served as a first exposure to general aviation and the joy of flight. And while I take great pleasure in flying for my own purposes, sharing the experience with others is one of my favorite parts of holding a pilot certificate.

This was our last cookout at South Haven and a bittersweet one at that. Most of the attendees, including me and Dave, were preparing to scatter from Kalamazoo to new homes and jobs all around the country. I flew rides for nine people that afternoon for a total of seven hops adding up to 3.5 hours on the Hobbs. Dave and I were usually busy flying rides during these parties, but many of our guests came with their own cameras and captured some of the sights from these cookouts. The photographs on this page were taken by Dan P. and Gary E. Thanks, guys!


Here I am getting my youngest passenger of the day settled into the back seat of Warrior 481...


...it looks like she's ready to go!


We always had a lot of food at these parties.


"Woof! Are all these people here just to see me?"


Stacey gets a ride in Warrior 481.


With Brent listening intently, Stacey tells a story. Hopefully, the story didn't involve the word "harrowing" in connection with her recent flight with me.



Dave takes a break from flying the Stearman to eat while Jack wonders why someone he just met is pointing a camera at him.


Well fed at last, Dave is ready to give more rides in the Stearman.


Kelvin is ready for his close-up and his first ride in a WWII vintage biplane.

 
Intercoms in open cockpit biplanes can be pretty noisy. It helps that passengers in the front cockpit can keep visual contact with their pilot in the rear cockpit via a mirror mounted under the top wing.


Stacey and Dave preparing to depart in the Stearman (yup, Stacey double-dipped on rides).


Stacey gets the last Stearman ride of the day, a spectacular ending to both a wonderful day of flying and an era in our lives.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

"Home"

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
21 Aug 2005 N21481 LWA (South Haven, MI) - 6G0 (Davison, MI) - LWA 3.4 363.2

Today's goal was to fly back to Oakland County, Michigan and do some aerial sightseeing over my home town(s).

Before departing the area around the South Haven airport, I circled Carpenter's Dairy Farm in Bangor to photograph this year's corn maze.




This year's maze depicts a highly detailed image of a train, right down to the caboose with an apple on the side like the one on the outskirts of town.


Eastbound, I passed over the interchange of I-94 and US-131.  I have always admired the symmetry of this particular interchange.


Slightly further east, I crossed over the Kalamazoo - Battle Creek International Airport (AZO).  Kalamazoo was a great place to perfect - ok, improve - my radio work once I bought Warrior 481.  On weekends when I give tours at the Air Zoo, I fly in just for the practice.


Eventually, I was over my childhood stomping grounds.   This is Lake Orion (town and lake) looking northward from 7500' feet.  My uncle has lived on the eastern shore of Lake Orion (pronounced "or-yun") for as long as I can remember.  Every Fourth of July, the town puts on an incredible fireworks display over the lake.  Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting on the seawall at my uncle's house on fireworks night.


I lost some altitude to get a closer look.  Lake Orion (the lake) is in the center of the photo.  The smaller lake, bottom-middle of frame, is Elk Horn Lake, the lake where I grew up.  It was nice to see "home" from such a different perspective.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Lunch in Ludington and Lake Michigan Lighthouse Tour

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
10 July 2005 N21481 LWA (South Haven, MI) - LDM (Ludington, MI) -LWA 3.0 346.6

I flew Warrior 481 solo northward along the Lake Michigan shoreline for lunch in Ludington.  After lunch, I flew farther north to ogle the lighthouses along Lake Michigan.


A stark black and white lighthouse stands upon sandy Big Sable Point, looking out across the watercolor hues of Lake Michigan.


I descended and circled the distinctive lighthouse, substantial enough to be at home overlooking the sea.




Turning south along the shoreline, I passed the stout pierhead lighthouse at Ludington.




Just south of town is the Ludington Pumped Storage facility.  Essentially, a massive concrete swimming pool filled with Lake Michigan water.  At times of need, the water can be drained from the basin to produce additional electricity.  Today, I was struck by the color variation in the water.  I used some contrast enhancement on this photo, but not much.



Progressing further south, I reached the Little Sable Point lighthouse.


I circled lower around the brick lighthouse, mindful of the many beachgoers below.  It was not my desire for any of them to relive that scene from North by Northwest on my account!


Just inland from Little Sable Point, I observed this interesting labyrinth near Shelby, MI.  With some judicious Google searching, I came to the conclusion that it is located at Cherry Point Vineyards.

I followed the ribbon of sandy beach along Lake Michigan back to South Haven, ending a relaxing flight along the coast.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An Aerial Road Trip to Fort Myers

Or: How Kristy Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Airplane

Prologue: Terror and Trust

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
2 Oct 2002 N9327U HAI (Three Rivers, MI) - local flight 0.7 96.2

"I want you to realize that this is the most terrifying thing I have ever done."

These were Kristy's words at the onset of her first airplane ride with me in October 2002. We stood on the ramp of the Three Rivers Municipal Airport, my wife eyeing the battered 1976 Cessna 150 dubiously. It was not the airplane itself that she doubted. She struggled because, when we met over a decade earlier, the only thing that I knew about airplanes was that the cockpit of the B-29 inspired the Millennium Falcon. I think it is safe to say that my operational knowledge of flying was statistically indistinguishable from zero.

Yet there we stood beneath overcast skies on a still, calm day, and I was asking her to place her trust in me as a certificated private pilot. Kristy never came to my lessons, never saw me solo or even preflight the tired blue and white Cessna. The process occurred completely out of her sight and, suddenly, she was faced with a newly minted private pilot offering the sky to her. Her mind quailed at this apparently abrupt transformation. 

Two Seven Uniform gently lifted us from the ground. Kristy sat to my right wearing an old loaner headset belonging to the flight school. She was tense. I did not want anything to catch her by surprise and briefed her on each change in power and attitude before making it happen. We climbed to 3000 feet and, bit by bit, I lowered the nose and eased the throttle back. Gradually, I transitioned the airplane from climb to cruise. I realized she had relaxed enough to look out the window when she remarked, "I didn't realize how many junk yards there were around here."

I coaxed the airplane into a subtle bank and waited for the nose to track toward the school where my wife taught. As I pointed out landmarks known to her -- the Centreville covered bridge, the high school where she taught -- I could see her relaxing further, appreciating the incredible point of view that her perch in the Cessna afforded her.

With additional subtle turns, we wheeled carefully over St Joseph county until I announced, "there's the airport. It's time to go back." I think she was surprised by how gently the airplane settled to the runway, a leaf alighting rather than the purposeful thud of an airliner. As we turned off the runway, I could sense that she intellectually accepted my transformation.

As the engine gave a final shudder before the propeller stopped, I asked the key question with trepidation. "Would you like to do that again sometime?"

"Ok," she answered tentatively while removing the loaner headset, "but can I have my own headset? This one is kind of gross."

It was a minor victory, winning some tenuous faith from my wife in my new avocation. She would tolerate flying with me. But would she ever actually think it was fun? 

Our intrepid aviatrix ready to depart from South Haven on a journey across the United States.

The Idea

After that October day in 2002, I moved on to flying a larger and more powerful Cherokee 180 and, eventually, purchased Warrior N21481. Kristy continued to fly with me occasionally with mixed success. We had a memorable night flight between South Haven, MI and Three Rivers, MI on July 4 when we watched various fireworks displays from above. But there were also setbacks. For example, a turbulent departure from South Haven in Two Seven Uniform on Kristy's second flight with me. Tears were involved; it was a bad scene. Or that time the top latch of the Cherokee door popped open on take off, causing a one inch gap to open at the top of the door that blasted us with high velocity November morning air. To her credit, Kristy continued to fly. With the purchase of Warrior 481, flying became more frequent and more comfortable. By the summer of 2005, it was routine for us to fly across lower Michigan from South Haven to Flushing for lunch with family and friends. Kristy had blossomed into a frequent, if still somewhat anxious, flyer. When she began dozing off on these trips, I came to realize that her trust in the entire enterprise had developed significantly from that cloudy day in Three Rivers.

During the summer of 2005, Kristy's parents moved from Michigan to Fort Myers, Florida and needed help unpacking at their destination. Travel by car would require 24 hours and commercial airfare from Kalamazoo was expensive. The suggestion that we could fly there in Warrior 481 came from a surprising source: Kristy.

Calculations showed that the Warrior would require about ten hours to make the trip - a cross country journey an order of magnitude beyond our simple hops across Michigan's lower peninsula. Kristy assured me that she thought the journey would be a lot of fun provided that I gave her something to do. She had developed a healthy interest in matching ground features to their depictions on sectional charts and was already very adept at understanding ATC (air traffic control), working with the radios, and setting the transponder. Delighted to have Kristy as an active participant in the flight, I promised that she could carry out these duties. Nevertheless, I worried that she would be distressed by some aspects of such a long cross country flight.

"We will probably have unexpected delays in random places because of bad weather," I cautioned her. 

"I understand," she said boldly. "It will be an adventure."

 "And it will be hot, so there will probably be some rough air, particularly at lower altitudes."

"I'm much better about the bumps," she assured me.

We built extra time into the schedule and planned an itinerary that had us flying during the morning hours to avoid pop-up thunderstorms and choppy air. A key piece of this was an overnight stay with our friends Gary and Cheryl in Calhoun, Georgia. Other stops were planned for approximately every two hours and I compiled information on several airports along the route with available fuel. As the day of the trip approached, Kristy was genuinely excited about it.

June 22: When Everything Went According to Plan...

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Jun 2005 N21481 LWA (South Haven, MI) - BMG (Bloomington, IN) - SRB (Sparta, TN) - CZL (Calhoun, GA) 4.8 325.5

We departed South Haven at 8:00 am on June 22, 2005. It was a beautiful, high visibility morning. With the airplane loaded with fuel and luggage, we pulled the car into Warrior 481's usual spot in the hangar, closed the door, and taxied to runway 4. I lined-up with the runway centerline and applied full power. With full fuel, two passengers, and a week's worth of baggage, Warrior 481 was heavier than usual and reminded us of that fact by momentarily chirping the stall warning horn as the weight transferred from the wheels to the wings. With only that brief complaint from the airplane, we climbed smoothly into the clear azure sky. 

Notre Dame. Photo by Kristy.

At 5500 feet, we had a tailwind that endowed us with a ground speed of 144 knots (166 mph). We flew over distinctive landmarks in northern Indiana like Notre Dame and Grissom Air Force Base. Once beyond Indianapolis Class Charlie airspace, we were cut loose from the watchful eye of ATC and began a descent to our first stop in Bloomington, IN. The first leg of the flight was not quite two hours in duration. Our trip had only just begun, but Kristy had already traveled two-fold farther in our airplane than ever before.

Landing in Bloomington, IN. Photo by Kristy.

Bloomington was a logical stop for us. Not only was it on the way, it used to be home; we lived there five years as graduate students. Moreover, Bloomington has a nice, tower-controlled general aviation airport with two outstanding FBOs on the field whose competition had driven their fuel prices down to the lowest in the region ($2.41 a gallon when South Haven was up to $2.99). As we rolled-out on runway 35, the tower controller asked me where I wanted to park. The moment I uttered "BMG", the FBO's "follow-me" Jeep was moving on the ramp with its distinctive orange and white checkered flag flapping in the breeze. A lineman leaped from the Jeep and directed us to a parking spot. 

Warrior 481 on the ramp at Bloomington. It was not a busy day.
Check-out the flowers at BMG! Photo by Kristy.

BMG was a wonderful FBO: low fuel prices, internet access for checking weather, and even nice flowers along the sidewalk leading off the ramp. Comments on AirNav also revealed that there was a rental house available on the field at a reasonable rate on a first-come, first-served basis (foreshadowing). Kristy also noted that hand lotion was available in the women's bathroom, an amenity evidently missing from South Haven that morning. As the lineman topped-off Warrior 481's fuel tanks, I checked the weather. The haze was increasing, but visibility was more than adequate for a flight to Calhoun, GA. We took a brief snack break and were airborne again within 30 minutes of arrival.

Crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky, the haze became progressively denser, though reported visibility remained above eight miles. We watched the countryside transform from the ordered rectangular section lines of Indiana to haphazard boundaries meandering across the Kentucky and Tennessee terrain.

Two hours out of Bloomington, we landed at the Upper Cumberland Regional Airport in Sparta, TN (SRB) to stretch our legs. Once parked on the ramp, a lineman from Averitt Aviation escorted us to a gate between the ramp and the FBO, entered a code on a keypad, and the gate slowly opened before us. Sparta thus became known as "The Place with the Magic Gate".

Did I mention that our journey was rife with whimsy?

Ready for the next leg of the trip in Sparta, TN. Photo by Kristy.

Though cruising at altitude is usually very comfortable, descending into the heat and a slow taxi on the ground makes for a hot ride in the Warrior. Averitt's terminal building was comfortable and cool after being in the airplane. After a short break and snack, we chatted with the folks at Averitt for a time before returning to the sky bound for Calhoun, GA.

Calhoun's airport, Tom B. David Field, has a single, 5000' paved runway. We landed gently in still air, refueled the Warrior at the self serve fuel pump, and parked near the terminal building. The airport was quiet that afternoon and the only things that really caught my eye were four weathered jets sitting on the opposite side of the ramp. We had flown a total of 4.8 hours that morning.

Once parked, we unloaded the airplane and called Cheryl. Then we tethered our bird to the ground, fitted her with cowl plugs to deter any industrious nest-building birds, and covered her with a cabin cover to keep the water out in case of any rain.

We spent the remainder of the day visiting with Cheryl and Gary. It was our fist visit to their nice new house. They treated us to dinner at the local Japanese steak house, Sumo. Given the name of the restaurant, I was glad that we did not have to wrestle anyone for our food.

The mission was accomplished for Day One; on-schedule and without incident. Naturally, this left us with an inappropriate sense of hubris that meant nothing would go according to plan thereafter. 
 
June 23: Haze and Crop Duster Purgatory

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 Jun 2005 N21481 CZL (Calhoun, GA) - ACJ (Americus, GA) - CGC (Crystal River, FL) 4.1 329.6

Cheryl dropped us off at the airport early the next morning, but the haze was so thick that we spent a couple of hours on the ground waiting for it to burn off. Calhoun's well-appointed terminal building featured internet weather access and a very comfortable lobby decorated with large model aircraft. It was a terrific place to wait out the weather. While we waited, I chatted with the fellow manning the counter.

The morning of June 23, we returned to the Calhoun airport to find Warrior 481 still
bundled up for the night.
 And look at that haze...blech! Photo by Cheryl.

"What can you tell me about those jets out there," I asked him, pointing to the four weathered aircraft that had caught my eye the previous day. He explained that they were Paris jets, jet trainers built by the French during the 1950s. They were not terribly successful as military trainers, though some were still used by third world countries. A Calhoun-based company called Your Aircraft Source was refurbishing them and selling them to private owners. Paris jets carried four people, cruised near 400 mph with a range of 1000 miles, and were fully aerobatic.

"One just left for a test flight a moment ago. It should be back anytime. We had it down at Sun 'n' Fun earlier this year." As he finished this, I heard a distant, high-pitched whine. Moments later, something shiny and blue sped past the window on its landing roll-out. As it taxied back to the ramp, the whine from its engines was overwhelming, even though we were inside the terminal. "They make an awful lot of noise at low RPM," he commented unnecessarily. As it pulled onto the ramp, I realized that I had seen and heard that jet before. At Sun 'n' Fun 2005, Dave, Kent and I were standing near a taxiway when the very same jet had rolled past. It was memorable because of the deafening shriek of its engine; we had to plug our ears as it taxied past.

I continued to pass the time chatting with our host at the FBO. We had a great conversation about Sun 'n' Fun, Oshkosh, airplanes in general, my airplane in particular, and about our trip. Like many people we met along the way, the folks in Calhoun were interested to hear about our long VFR cross-country trip because, sadly, it's not the sort of journey many people undertake anymore.

That morning, I discovered something that held true almost everywhere we went. We knew going into it that this flight would be all about the journey, but we underestimated the fun of meeting new people and visiting new airports along the way.

Paris Jets on the ramp at Calhoun awaiting refurbishment.

I continued to check weather reports in the area. The visibility was better along our route to the south and had risen to a marginal VFR condition around Calhoun. I presented a plan to Kristy that we launch from Calhoun and try to climb above the haze. If the visibility did not improve, we would return to Calhoun.

We bid farewell to the FBO staff at Calhoun, readied Warrior 481 for flight, and launched around 10:00 am. At 7500', we were still in the haze with approximately five mile visibility. Automated weather observations ahead of us revealed steadily improving conditions so we decided to press forward. It was legal and safe, but the view was not inspiring. Fortunately, there were several airports along the way should the already marginal conditions deteriorate.

Flying in haze is fatiguing. As a VFR pilot, I prefer flying in reference to the actual horizon outside my window and do not look at my attitude indicator (artificial horizon) very often. Much like flying at night, however, it proved useful in the haze for keeping the wings level in lieu of a distinct horizon. For Kristy, this leg of the trip was boring because there was not much to look at. Ground features were fuzzy and gray. The only interesting thing that we saw as we skirted Atlanta's massive Class Bravo airspace was a C-130 cargo plane. It was well below us and descending into Columbus, Georgia. After about one and a half hours of hazy monotony, it was time for a break.
 
We made for nearby Souther Field in Americus Georgia. We left the cool air of our cruising altitude and let down into the haze, feeling the heat and humidity rise as we did so. By the time we turned off of runway 5 and onto the parallel taxiway, Warrior 481 had become a rolling greenhouse. We popped the door open while taxiing to the ramp for better ventilation.
Not far from our parking spot was a large field filled with about 40 airplanes. I noticed them during landing, but had not truly looked at them until now.

 
Americus is evidently where crop dusters go to die.
 
I saw a couple of Piper Pawnee and a Grumman AgCat. The rest of the aircraft were of the same type and bore the same paint scheme. They appeared to be PZL Kruks. Some had obviously been wrecked and still bore mangled propellers as evidence. Others simply appeared to have been left to decay under the open sky.


Souther Field was founded in 1918 as a military training base. Courtesy of an unassuming plaque positioned near the terminal building, we learned that Charles Lindbergh bought a military surplus Curtiss Jenny at Souther Field in May 1923. After minimal instruction, he flew his first solo and departed the field with his new airplane. It was a fascinating historical footnote. Otherwise, we found the former Army air base to be hot, humid, quiet, and littered with dead airplanes.

We stretched, snacked, drank water, and used the restrooms at Americus. But we did not linger long. When we entered the terminal building, several people were inside talking in the large, comfortable lobby. They grew quiet as we strolled inside and looked at us as though we had interrupted something secret and important. Usually, "airplane people" are quite friendly, but we did not feel welcome around this group. Americus came to be known as "The Place with the Mean People and Dead Airplanes".

Kristy - all grins as we readied to depart Americus.

With Americus at our tail, we climbed back to cooler altitudes and soared into Florida. We left the haze behind us in Georgia and visibility was unlimited by the time we crossed the state line. We looked for the big dotted line on the ground marking the boundary between Florida and Georgia, but were unable to spot it despite having a sectional chart and a GPS showing us exactly where it should have been.

Whimsy...remember?

June 23, 2005: Thunderstorms

As we flew over scattered clouds, we observed a number of interesting things on the ground. First and foremost was the Gulf of Mexico. Upon seeing it, Kristy composed the "Gulf of Mexico Song" right on the spot. I don't recall any of the words, but it was great fun for at least a couple of minutes and the lyrics were far less risqué than those for "The Tailwind Song" (a composition from an earlier flight).

Frankly, the Gulf did not look significantly different from Lake Michigan; it was just another body of water too wide to see across. The terrain along the shoreline was quite different, however. In many places, the coastline of west Michigan features a sharp drop-off to the lake courtesy of the same glacier that created the lake in the first place. Massive sand dunes along the waterfront are also quite common. Here, ocean and land tried to coexist at the same elevation, leading to a gradual transition from moist land to shallow ocean.

The Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Kristy.

Florida roads appeared as white lines through the green vista, bleached scratches across the land. The most striking sight from the air was the Cross Florida Barge Canal, a razor-sharp swath of blue water across the green landscape, courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers. About eight miles inland from the gulf, the precisely-cut canal terminated at the amorphous shape of Lake Rousseau. The strong geometric contrast between natural and fabricated waterways made for a striking sight.

The Cross-Florida Barge Canal ... at least, the portion of it that was actually built.

Though only 1.5 hours from Fort Myers, we were hungry and decided to land at Crystal River for lunch. The first thing that drew our attention upon entering the Crystal Aero Group's building was a weather radar depicting vicious thunderstorms perched directly over Tampa. The storm system formed a line completely across the Florida peninsula, completely blocking us from our destination in Fort Myers. On the bright side, this meant that there was plenty of time to get a decent meal.

A swamp in northwest Florida.


On the recommendation of the FBO staff, we walked a short distance to the Olive Tree, a Greek-American restaurant that reminded me of one of our favorites in Kalamazoo. We both ordered gyros. For dessert, Kristy ordered baklava to go. Expecting the usual small piece, she was surprised when the waitress returned with a couple of pounds worth in a small, Styrofoam container. It was enough to quell our dessert cravings for the next two days!

We returned to the airport around 2:00 to find the airplane fueled and ready to go, but the storm pummeling Tampa was still going strong. To pass the time, we read, walked through a nearby park (getting slightly sunburned in the process), and talked with the locals. From the FBO folks, we learned that a unique aspect of the Crystal River operation is that their flight school draws a large number of international students. The school offers an on-site bungalow available as lodging, making it perfect for student pilots who are far from home. Near the entrance to the FBO was a British flag and another I did not recognize (it's been a long time since that "Flags of the World" unit in elementary school). The flags represented countries of origin for students currently staying with the flight school.

Through it all, the storm raged south of Crystal River. It was a strange feeling, being stranded under clear, beautiful skies. But with flash flooding and 80 mph surface winds, the region around Tampa was best avoided. As the afternoon wore on, the Crystal Aero Group lobby began accumulating waylaid occupants of southbound aircraft.

One of the first was an elderly couple flying a Cessna 182 bound for St Petersburg. The wife was determined to fly home that evening and fiddled petulantly with the weather radar display as her husband looked on patiently. Occasionally, she would brag to passersby about the new glass instrument panel installed in their Skylane, then she would sourly note that she was having a difficult time using it.

A well-dressed couple was also eager to depart in a V-tailed Bonanza. The woman spent much of her time on the phone speaking loudly in a self-important tone, blaming the delay on their hired pilot. The other pilots in the lobby remained quiet during this tirade and merely looked at the woman with distaste for belittling her pilot's good decision-making.

Another pair emerged from a Cessna 150, looked at the radar, shrugged, and decided it was time for dinner. We liked their attitude and heartily seconded the FBO's recommendation for the Olive Tree. Overall, the varied reactions to the weather-imposed delay made for interesting people-watching.

By 5:00, the storm showed no sign of relenting. The man from the C-182 approached his wife with a local friend who offered to put them up for the night. His wife refused at first, adamant that they would return to St Petersburg that evening. "We'll cook steaks out on the grill," he cajoled with a smile. "It will be fun." Finally, she relented and they departed for the evening.

By now, the winds in Crystal River were increasing and the sky was darkening to the south. The only decision that made sense was to stay the night. On the advice of FBO personnel, we contacted the local Best Western. The room was about $90 for the night and the hotel manager personally drove to the airport and picked us up. Although I had bought 34 gallons of avgas from them, the Crystal Aero Group still charged us an $8 overnight tie-down fee. It was my first experience with an airport parking fee and seemed a bit steep, but with the weather conditions deteriorating rapidly, we were captive customers.
 
The Best Western Crystal River Resort was the nicest Best Western either of us had ever visited. The resort sat directly on the bay in Crystal River and was a destination for people wanting to snorkel with manatees. After freshening up with showers and clean clothes, we went to dinner at Charlie's Fish House and Seafood restaurant. We had excellent meals of fresh shellfish from the Gulf.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Crystal River Best Western, even if we were
far too worn-out to swim with the manatees. Photo by Kristy.

June 24: Arrival at Page Field, Fort Myers

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
24 Jun 2005 N21481 CGC (Crystal River, FL) - FMY (Fort Myers, FL) 1.7 331.3

The next morning, I awoke at 6:00 am to get an early start, but a call to the Gainesville Flight Service Station for a weather briefing quickly rendered my early rising moot. The briefer was quite helpful in giving a detailed picture of the weather in the area.Unfortunately, current conditions in Florida primarily featured a lot of low ceilings and fog, with storms moving along the eastern side of the state. The storms were forecast to arrive on the west side by early afternoon, making it clear that there would be a window of opportunity between the time the fog burned-off and the arrival of the storms. By 8:00 that morning, it appeared that our window had arrived. We checked out of the hotel and the manager promptly drove us back to the airport.

Clouds near Tampa, FL. Photo by Kristy.

Most of the flight to Fort Myers was under sunny skies. Our route avoided the busier airspace around Tampa by taking us over Lakeland. I enjoyed seeing the Lakeland airport from above as I had spent several days there during Sun 'N' Fun 2005. As we passed Lakeland, a menacing wall of clouds came into view miles to the east and though we were far from them, the clouds were nonetheless disquieting.

Wall o' clouds east of Tampa.

The area immediately north of Fort Myers featured a 1600 foot cloud ceiling. Afraid of getting caught above the clouds so close to our destination, we descended below the deck about 15 miles north of the airport. We entered the Fort Myers area about 1100 feet above the ground. I am not fond of flying this low and, on top of this general discomfort, I had additional cause for concern. The charts depict a number of 1500 foot tall towers north of Page Field and Flight Service had warned me that several of them were unlighted. I allowed us to drift west of our original course to give the towers a wide berth. As we approached Fort Myers, the wisdom of this course correction was readily apparent. When the towers came into sight well east of us, they completely spanned the gap between Earth and ceiling. Five miles out of Fort Myers, the cloud ceiling disintegrated and Warrior 481 emerged into bright sunlight.

Looking west over the Caloosahatchee River on our approach
into Fort Myers, Page Field. Photo by Kristy.

Page Field was busy that morning. Per tower instructions, we slipped into the traffic flow for runway 5. This was actually my second time to Page Field; the first was shortly after I earned my certificate and I rented a late model Cessna 172 from Beaver Aviation on the field there. That previous experience on the field was invaluable for getting my bearings around the airport. Regardless, it still felt strange to fly the traffic pattern about 75 feet below the field elevation of Kalamazoo.

We landed reasonably short on runway 5 and comfortably made the A2 taxiway turnoff. Crossing the hold-short line, I brought Warrior 481 to a stop and waited for instructions from the tower. However, no instructions came and the airspace around Page Field exploded with so much activity that the tower denied another aircraft's request to transition Page's airspace because it was just too congested. I took advantage of a momentary lull on the tower frequency to remind them I was there.

"Warrior 481 on alpha 2 requesting taxi to the ramp."

The call went unheeded as the controller continued to juggle traffic in his airspace. I had always been taught that it was inappropriate to switch to the ground control frequency without instructions from the tower, but after several minutes of idling on the taxiway, it seemed that we had been forgotten. Kristy and I exchanged "what now?" looks and I switched to the ground frequency. The same tower controller was working this frequency as well.

"Warrior 481 on alpha 2, requesting taxi to the ramp." My call remained unanswered.
After several more minutes (subjectively - who knows how long we actually sat there), I tried again. This time, a new voice answered. Reinforcements had arrived to assist the overwhelmed tower controller.

"Warrior 481, allow taxi traffic on alpha to pass, then taxi to the ramp." I happily advanced the throttle and we made our way to the ramp outside the Page Field Aviation Center. It was frustrating to have been stranded so long on the field, but it was also obvious that the tower controller had been completely saturated.

Before long, Warrior 481 was tied-down, covered, and her wings and cowling cleaned of bugs. A man on a golf cart greeted us and offered a ride to the Aviation Center. We declined, wanting to walk after an hour and a half spent in the airplane. Upon learning that we were from Kalamazoo, he told us that he used to work at Summit Polymer in Kalamazoo, a facility located about two miles from where I work. Now would probably be the ideal time to insert a "small world" comment were it not for the fact that so many Michiganders retire to Florida (insert "God's waiting room" remark here).

Lugging our baggage into the lobby of the Aviation Center, we were met by the rest of Kristy's family. Kristy's sister Lisa asked about the cabin covers on several of the airplanes on the ramp, hypothesizing that airplanes were like horses and needed to be blindfolded to keep them from running off at night (yup, the whole family is whimsical). The folks at the Aviation Center were quite friendly and saw to topping-off Warrior 481's fuel tanks. Tie down fees were waived with the fuel purchase.
 
June 27, 2005: On the "Road" Again

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
27 Jun 2005 N21481 FMY (Fort Myers, FL) - 40J (Perry-Poley, FL) - CZL (Calhoun, GA) 4.9 336.2

After three days in Fort Myers, it was time to head northward. Unfortunately, the moving truck arrived late. Although six of us had come to Fort Myers to help unpack, Kristy and I were the only ones remaining to help on Sunday, June 26 after the truck was finally unloaded.

Preparing to depart Page Field in Fort Myers for the return to Michigan.

Monday morning, current conditions in Fort Myers were ideal for VFR flight despite a high overcast ceiling. However, the weather briefer warned me that northern Florida and Georgia were under IFR conditions. Fortunately, visibility was expected to improve within the next two hours and it would take us at least that long to fly that far north.
 
Our return flight through Florida was a non-event. Familiar landmarks passed under our wings: Lakeland, Crystal River, the Barge Canal, etc. Our original plan was to stop at Cross City, Florida but we decided to press farther and eventually landed at Perry-Foley in northern Florida.

Lakeland Airport, home to Sun 'n' Fun. Photo by Kristy.

June 27, 2005: The Stinky Place with the Dead Frog

During our descent into Perry-Foley, we passed above an industrial complex and near the peripheral edges of what I assumed to be steam issuing from a stack. The "burning baby diaper" smell that assaulted us suggested otherwise. The ramifications of this did not become clear until our return to South Haven when Kristy and I spent an entire afternoon washing Warrior 481 with a paint-safe degreaser to remove the tenacious grime from Perry that coated the airplane. Lesson learned.

Florida is a WET state. Photo by Kristy.

Perry-Foley was a large airport, featuring three large runways arranged in a triangle. The largest structure on the field was a massive hangar of the type built prolifically during World War II. Though a Beechcraft landed ahead of us, the airport was otherwise deserted. We taxied to the self-service fuel pump and waited for the guys in the Beech to finish refueling. When it was our turn, we pulled Warrior 481 up to the pump only to discover that the guys ahead of us had forgotten their receipt. I ran it over to the pilot, who thanked me and explained that they had just flown down from Tennessee. When I asked about the visibility through Georgia, he assured me that it was excellent. Evidently, the fog and haze had dissipated as forecast.

Warrior 481 at Perry-Foley in front of the large WWII-era hangar.

Once refueled, we pushed the Warrior to a tie down spot and went in search of a bathroom. The entrance to the terminal building was padlocked and Kristy reminded me that the information I had collected on the airport noted that it was irregularly attended. A sign next to the padlock read, "For after hours entry, use IFF code for lost communications". We deciphered the trivial aeronautical riddle, opened the lock, and stepped into the terminal.

The terminal building was cool and smelled damp and unused. A dead, desiccated frog lay on the floor, belly up with its legs splayed. This earned Perry-Foley the nickname of "the stinky place with the dead frog". I peeked through a small window in the door that entered the large adjoining hangar and was surprised to see that the entire hangar was filled with Cobra attack helicopters! This was an intriguing mystery - why would a hangar at a desolate airport in northern Florida be full of attack helicopters?

This may have remained a mystery had the door not opened a moment later. A man stepped through and seated himself in a nearby chair to rest. He was wearing a green flight suit emblazoned with the "Florida Division of Forestry" seal.
 
"Hi folks, what brings you to Perry?"

We explained that we were flying home to Michigan from Fort Myers, Florida.

"And you stopped here?" There was no criticism in his tone, just surprise.

"We wanted to get fuel and use the bathroom," I explained.

"Well, we've got both of those here, but that's about it."

I asked about the airport and the Cobras. He explained that Perry-Foley had been a military base in World War II and that P-47 Thunderbolts had been based there. The large hangar did, indeed, date back to the war. Now, Perry-Foley was used by the Florida Division of Forestry as a base for Huey helicopters employed for mosquito abatement.

"Those Cobras hopefully have enough spare parts to keep the Hueys running another 20 years." From my docent role at the Air Zoo, I knew that Cobras were derived from Hueys; the tail, rotors, and engines were interchangeable.

Demilitarized Cobras in the big hangar at Perry-Foley used as spare parts for Forestry Division Hueys.

He invited me into the hangar to show-off the Cobras collection along with a recently-retired Huey painted white and bearing the green shield of the Division of Forestry. This discovery made the stop in Perry completely worthwhile and once again reinforced what we discovered in Calhoun - that interesting discoveries can be made in obscure places.

June 27, 2005: Back in Calhoun

The rest of the flight to Calhoun, Georgia was uneventful. As the Tennessee pilot at Perry-Foley had assured me, the visibility was good through Georgia. Unfortunately, the clouds began to build such that the last 45 minutes of the trip were spent bumping along underneath them at 3000 feet. The turbulence was relatively minor, but continuous. By the time we arrived in Calhoun, my shoulders were sore from the constant jostling. For her part, Kristy weathered the bumps well, though she clearly did not enjoy them.

At the fuel pump in Calhoun, we were met by the FBO staffer with whom I had passed the morning chatting a few days prior. He greeted us like we were old friends and, despite having injured his hand the day before, helped us with the self-serve fuel pump. He was very interested in how our trip went and we gave him some of the details of our travels since we left Calhoun four days earlier.

We tied Warrior 481 down at the same spot and, before long, Cheryl picked us up. Back at their home, we talked, laughed, and watched movies. Dinner that night was at an excellent restaurant called Appalachian Grill. The food was wonderful and the atmosphere was, well, Appalachian. As a result, the ambient banjo and fiddle music that suffused the place during dinner stayed lodged in my head with amazing tenacity.
 
June 28, 2005: Fog at Calhoun - Redux

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 Jun 2005 N21481 CZL (Calhoun, GA) - GLW (Glasgow, KY) - BMG (Bloomington, IN) 3.3 339.5

The next morning was gratingly familiar. Visibility was less than a mile at Calhoun and the surrounding areas. I monitored METAR reports throughout the morning. North of Chattanooga, the visibility improved steadily toward unrestricted, but improvements around Calhoun were proceeding at a far slower pace.

Rainfall the previous night was so severe that it beat its way through the cabin cover and gained entrance through the airplane door. Because the doors in all Cherokees latch directly above the passenger seat, this left Kristy's seat damp the next morning. Water had also leaked through other places, dampening carpet on the floor in the back seat. I was dismayed to find this, but the airplane survived several normal rain showers in Florida without any evidence of moisture in the cabin. Though I blamed the leaking on the severity of the previous night's storm, I am in no hurry to subject my bird to unnecessary future stays out in the rain.

Finally, late in the morning, the ceiling was high enough for my comfort and the visibility rose to five miles. Most of the locals opined that we should be able to fly north into better weather, but I was uncomfortable because of my lack of familiarity with the terrain. They assured me that, provided we flew north along I-75, there would be no conflicting terrain. The charts supported this.

As we departed Calhoun, a wonderful thing happened. A massive hole opened in the clouds directly over the airport. We climbed through it in a lazy spiral and leveled off at 8500 feet in the clear. To the east, the cloud deck was solid. To the west, multiple breaks allowed occasional peeks of the ground. Assured by weather broadcasts to the north that the skies were clear, we flew VFR above a beautiful, serene bed of clouds. As we expected from ATIS and AWOS reports from the north, the cloud cover disintegrated into a scattered layer within 20 minutes north of Calhoun. We overflew Tennessee without landing and put down into Glasgow, Kentucky for a break.

June 28, 2005: Hazy Hoosier State

The airport in Glasgow is a very nice, single strip facility in the hills of Kentucky. The FBO building had a comfortable lobby and an exceptional flight planning area with internet weather availability. We learned that a severe storm was developing in Illinois and was projected to reach central Indiana by later in the afternoon. We also learned that Bloomington was surrounded by haze, dropping visibility to an uninspiring, though VFR-legal, four miles.

After a snack, we departed Glasgow and took comfort in knowing that it would be a nice place to return should the weather exceed our comfort level. Upon reaching the Ohio River, we dove beneath a thickening cloud ceiling and into the haze. The ride under the clouds was relatively smooth at 3000 feet until we emerged under the occasional hole in the clouds through which the sun's energy was free to work on the ground. The bumpy thermal activity would cease once we crossed back under the murky ceiling.

As we proceeded northward, the clouds grew darker. We decided to divert a few miles to the west of our course to French Lick, Indiana (always have a backup plan!). On our way there, we flew through a scattered rain shower. At our speed, it was very brief, lasting less than a minute. Within five miles of French Lick, it was obvious that we had skirted the scattered showers and the way to Bloomington now lay in the (more-or-less) clear. We changed course again and proceeded to Bloomington.

Before long we were parked in front of BMG on the field in Bloomington. A check of the weather revealed that the nasty storms from Illinois were nearly to Indianapolis and lay directly in our path. It was time for a leisurely lunch.
 
Kristy's friend Kevin from the music department at Indiana University picked us up and we had a nice lunch while getting caught up on each other's lives. Back at the airport, it was decision time again. The forecast indicated storms throughout the evening while the next day's forecast showed no sign of thunderstorm activity. It was time for another unplanned overnight stay.

When I asked about the rental house on the field, we were immediately gratified: it was $60 a night, they would include the keys to a car, and it was available. We took it. The rental house was a modular home right at the base of the control tower. The moment we entered and looked around, Kristy commented, "we need to come back here sometime."

Is that a control tower behind your house or are you just happy to be home?
Our $60 rental house at the Bloomington airport The haze that we contended
with en route to Bloomington is clearly visible in the background.

Yes, it was a double-wide. But it was spectacular inside. It featured a huge living room with comfy leather sofas, a large screen TV, and a library stocked with movies on DVD and VHS. There was an office with a computer and broadband internet access. There were two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a laundry room stocked with detergent, and a full kitchen provisioned with non-perishable food. Of course, there were also some oddities. The cheap TV in one of the bedrooms received broadcasts from the control tower on all channels. Kristy was quite amused the next morning while watching the news to hear a booming voice interrupt CNN with, "the Bloomington control tower is now back in service. All traffic in the area please announce intentions." For both Kristy and I, the stay in Bloomington was another unexpected highlight of the trip.

That night we had a nice dinner with old friends and colleagues from the Indiana University Chemistry department. Afterward, we returned to "our house" for some much needed sleep, completely ignoring all the nifty amenities that the place had to offer.

June 29, 2005: Green, Green Grass of Home

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
29 Jun 2005 N21481 BMG (Bloomington, IN) - LWA (South Haven, MI) 2.2 341.7

Though there were no storms predicted for Wednesday, June 29, haze was once again the order of the day. We took our time leaving Bloomington, driving a courtesy car into town for a solid breakfast. The morning's excitement revolved around a pickup truck that tried to drive through us to get into another lane. It brought back many not-so-fond memories of driving in Bloomington during the five years we lived there. Learning to drive offensively was par for the course in metropolitan Detroit; it was not until I moved to Bloomington that I learned the importance of defensive driving as a way to manage inattentive drivers.

The main library or "Borg Cube", at Indiana University.

We departed around 10:00 am, profusely thanking Bob, the owner of BMG, for such a wonderful stay. Despite the haze, we hoped to get some aerial photographs of Indiana University. The tower granted permission to circle in their airspace, requesting us to stay at or below 2000 feet to accommodate air traffic coming into Bloomington.

More of the Indiana University campus.

We circled campus a few times, snapping photographs. The tower carefully kept tabs on us until we departed to the north. We climbed to 7500 feet, where the haze layer finally dissipated. Indianapolis approach provided VFR flight following until we reached Kokomo.

Indiana University. The Chemistry Building is immediately above the crane at frame center.
From 1994 until 1999, most of my life was spent within its walls.
 
Once above South Bend, we were in the home stretch. At the northern edge of South Bend's airspace, we began a cruise descent toward South Haven. As the nose pitched down, the attitude indicator began to tumble wildly. I was happy that it failed ten minutes from home rather than in the heavy Georgia haze during our trip south.

I lined up for final approach on runway 32 at South Haven, the grass runway almost always in line with the wind coming off of nearby Lake Michigan. Passing into ground effect, I misjudged the flare and Warrior 481 thumped down onto the turf like a brick. After having made excellent landings at multiple unfamiliar airports over the past week, I was more than a little chagrined to mark our arrival home with a crummy landing. Fortunately, there were no spectators except for the guys at Robertson's Crop Dusting. Considering the precision with which John and Danny handle their Piper Pawnee spray planes, I suspect that even my best landings are beneath their notice.

Home again...back on the ground at South Haven, MI. Photo by Kristy.


Overall, we logged 21 hours of flight time on the round trip. We saw the country from a perspective few ever attain and successfully faced a number of perils: thunderstorms, dead frogs, overworked air traffic controllers, crop duster purgatory, cobras, and overnight parking fees. We landed in multiple "new" states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida. We visited some interesting places and met some great people in true "road trip" fashion.

On the return flight, Kristy jokingly suggested that she should start a website to rate airports from the perspective of pilot spouses. "Hand lotion and lint rollers in the bathrooms are far better amenities than dead frogs," she observed, laughing. I would learn over time that the dead frog at Perry-Foley had made more of a deeply negative impression on her than I originally realized.

But most important was Kristy's answer to the question I posed to her at journey's end:

"Now that the trip is done, are you more or less likely to want to do it again?"

"More," was her immediately reply.
 
Who knew that flying could be so much fun?