Thursday, August 4, 2011

The "Zoo" Trip

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total
Aug 2011
5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - AZO (Kalamazoo, MI)
3.3 971.9
Aug 2011
N21481 AZO - PTK (Pontiac, MI) 1.1 973.0

It was time for our annual trip to southwest Michigan to visit our three favorite zoos: Air-, Binder Park-, and, of course, Kalama-.

As always, we flew over Niagara Falls on the way.  The winds aloft were light (5 knots-ish) and out of the north such that, for once, our westward ground speed matched our true airspeed.  Without struggling against the typical westerly headwind, our passage over Canada was swift.

A colorful Ontario quilt flowed beneath us as we soared over Canada.

As the late afternoon sun transitioned toward dusk, field boundaries were enhanced by lengthening shadows.

Although the New York and Canadian portions of the flight were under clear skies, southeast Michigan lay under a layer of clag with tops at 7000 feet.  However, we climbed above the clouds with assurances from automated reporting stations further along our route that the skies were clear in the middle of the state.

We flew directly over my home town, passing just north of Oakland County International Airport.   As we did, the clouds began to break up.  While flying over metropolitan Detroit, The Bear entertained herself spotting airliners en-route to Detroit Metro.  She is getting quite good at that.

At 8500 feet and above the haze layer, we flew over the Milford Proving Grounds.

Still east of I-69, the Kalamazoo ATIS underwent an hourly update and the skies over Kalamazoo seemed to transform instantly from broken at 4000 feet (per forecast) to clear (decidedly better than forecast).

On approach into Kalamazoo, lush green fields were a welcome change from the water-deprived landscape of Upstate New York.  A familiar controller's voice rang in my headset as we were sequenced into the flow of landing traffic at Kalamazoo.

We parked at Duncan Aviation.  As always, the line staff were extremely helpful.  They brought our rental car directly to the airplane, handing me the keys with the admonishment to "please not drive on the taxiway".  There are still no landing, parking, or handling fees for single engine aircraft at Duncan-Kalamazoo.  What a great place to visit!

Your tax dollars NOT at work: the unfinished tower at AZO.

Across the field, a new control tower was under construction.  Of course, with the government's utter failure to fund the FAA, all work was on hold.

It was a wonderful trip.  We spent a morning at the Air Zoo (thanks, Tamra!) and an afternoon in Marge's pool (a highlight for The Bear, who should probably be renamed The Fish).  The Bear and I visited John at the Three Rivers Airport, who revealed to us that rumors of N3470R's demise were premature.  The Bear was delighted to stand on the wing walk of the rental Cherokee 180 in which I had done some of my early flying.  We spent another morning at the Binder Park Zoo, visited with a bunch of friends, and hit every favorite restaurant that we could think of (indeed, this was something of a prolonged $100 hamburger flight for me).

While eating breakfast with friends Sunday morning, the skies darkened.  A quick check of the weather radar via iPod (thank goodness Full City Cafe has wireless!) showed a storm on the shoreline of Lake Michigan and moving rapidly eastward.  We scrambled for the airport, stopping briefly to top off the gas in the Mercury Grand Marquis Land Barge that Enterprise had dropped off at Duncan for us (come on folks, I asked for a midsize).

We blasted out of Kalamazoo ahead of the storm and landed in Pontiac forty minutes later.  By the time we landed, it was raining in Kalamazoo, but the way home was clear.  We had lunch with my mom and grandparents.  Family-wise, this was a good move and an overdue visit between The Bear and her great-grandparents.  Aviation-wise, this was a mistake.  When we returned to the airport, convective activity was popping up all around us, along our route, and over home.  Particularly over home.  "VFR flight not recommended," the briefer needlessly commented.

We waited a couple of hours for the existing thunderstorm warnings to subside, only to have them replaced by more severe forecasts and bigger red blotches on the weather radar.  The thunderstorms were not spooling down, they were growing in intensity.

At 3:30 in the afternoon, I made the decision to rent a car and drive home.  For the first time ever, I abandoned Warrior 481 far away from home.  Seeing my concern, Doug at the Pontiac Air Center promised to pull it inside in the event of any severe storms.

I always bring our passports when we fly over Canada, so it was a simple matter to drive directly through Ontario to get home, approximately paralleling the route we would have flown.  The weather we saw from the ground validated my decision to stay out of the sky that evening.

We stopped briefly in Le Roy to retrieve my car, returned the rental at the Rochester airport, and reached home at 2:00 am.  We were all very tired.

So tired, in fact, that scheming to rescue Warrior 481 from Pontiac did not really begin in earnest until five hours later.


  1. Oh,my! Bet that was a tough trip home (leaving 481 behind), but sounds like solid decision making.

  2. You said it, Ed! I've dodged isolated thunderstorms before, but when they start forming up into lines, it's time to stay away. My mom actually called today to say that she stopped at the airport on her way home from work to check on the airplane. She said it looked lonely.

  3. Sounds like a very good no-go decision. Nothing worse than getting beat up flying around wx systems that can gobble us up.


  4. Somehow I missed this post - so now that whole Facebook post (and other blog post) make a lot more sense!

    Good decision-making, as much as it must be hard to leave your own airplane behind.