Saturday, September 28, 2013

Stuck in Time

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 Sep 2013 N21481 AZO (Kalamazoo, MI) - LWA (South Haven, MI) 0.6 1219.5

Lighter Than Air

Dawn stole upon Kalamazoo behind a shroud of mist. After eating my fill of breakfast at the hotel, I shouldered my backpack and hiked back to the airport where my aircraft patiently waited.

Once the sun climbed sufficiently skyward to cast its brilliant eye on the Kalamazoo / Battle Creek International Airport, the stubborn mist wreathing the runways grudgingly dissolved back into the warming air.

As I moved around the Warrior verifying her readiness to fly, we were both illuminated in a golden morning sheen, the top of the fuselage shimmering with the iridescence of a million tiny, dewy prisms.

Warrior 481 and I were not the only ones stirring on the airport surface. With the banishment of morning fog, the first annual High on Kalamazoo Balloon Festival launched its first volley of lighter than air flying machines over the airport. I have loved balloons ever since getting my first flight in one at a young age.

At 8:00 am, air traffic control had not yet recorded an ATIS broadcast - the ATIS frequency was simply a repeater for the automated weather observation system on the field. I went through the motions of calling clearance delivery and ground control. Tower was selecting runways based, not on the wind, but rather on where the sky was relatively free of balloons.

"Warrior 481, you've probably noticed that there are some balloons over the airport..." This was tower's polite way of telling me to not hit anything on my way out. As I waited at the hold line for runway 5, I could clearly see the airborne objects as propwash gradually coaxed errant droplets of dew from my windscreen.

Aloft, I found myself sharing the hazy morning sky with multiple balloons. "How many are there?" queried the departure controller from his darkened bunker under the tower.  "The tower guy said there are at least a dozen over the field."

It was a novel thing to see so many balloons in the hazy air over the airport and the scene appealed to my sense of whimsy.

Back in Time

As I prepared to buy my airplane in 2004, I pursued getting a hangar at the Three Rivers - Dr. Haines Municipal Airport where I learned to fly. Some of the hangars there were full of junk and others were crypts for dusty, run-out airplanes interred on flat tires. But they were all full and I was turned away from the airport that I considered my home base (unless I wanted to tie down outside).

Thanks to Dave's influence, I had the very good fortune to secure a sublease (and, later, a full lease) on a t-hangar at the South Haven Regional Airport instead. It was a much more active airport, scenically located off the shore of Lake Michigan. South Haven was home to Warrior 481 and I during our first two years together.

Now, after more than five years since our last visit, Warrior 481 and I were rapidly approaching South Haven. A southeasterly wind favored a landing on the grass, runway 14.

Super Decathlon N2468W landing on runway 14 at South Haven, Sep 17, 2003

I did not take any photos of the airport, but as I lined up on runway 14, the scene matched one that I once photographed while flying with Dave almost exactly ten years before. In fact, the same open t-hangar visible in the above picture was the only one open that morning.

It was a good landing, nice and smooth as many turf landings are. Landing on the grass at South Haven was good for my soul in a deeply fundamental way. I stopped the airplane as we reached the intersecting paved taxiway and made for the ramp.

From the ramp, I felt as though I had gone back in time eight years. South Haven looked unchanged from my memories with everything in its place as though the entire airport was stuck in time. As far as I could tell, the only change to the airport was that the paved runway 4-22 was redesignated as 5-23.


I had arranged in advance to meet Ron that morning. Before long, I saw his Luscombe taxiing toward me. Ron had teased me before the trip, "do you even remember how to land on grass?" I was certain that I had redeemed myself with that nice landing, but Ron never actually saw it.

Ron in his Cherokee 140. September 17, 2003

Chasing Ron with the Decathlon. September 17, 2003

Back before I bought my airplane, I would fly out of South Haven with Dave in his Decathlon and we would entertain ourselves by chasing Ron's Cherokee 140 around the sky. Ron still has the old Cherokee, but the Luscombe is clearly his favorite ride now. Throughout the morning, he tried in vain to convince me to join the "two airplane club".

Ron and I were soon joined on the ramp by John in his Mooney. John was once hangared next to Dave's Decathlon. During one of our cookouts, I had borrowed an extra headset from him for flying rides.

"Remember this guy?" asked Ron, jerking his thumb at me. John did.

Before long, the meeting table in the terminal building was crowded with pilots. Some were familiar, some were not, but all were hangar flying. We were joined by Phil, who owns a distinctive orange Stinson that used to accompany us on our morning breakfast excursions. John was planning a flight east and I was able to provide suggestions on routes and stopping points. A large box of doughnuts at the center of the table was yet another facet of the Saturday morning South Haven Airport experience that had not changed in my eight year absence.

It was a wonderful way to start the morning and a fitting end of my brief vacation.


The time had come for me to attend to my responsibilities and the primary reason for flying to Michigan. As Ron and Phil departed the grass runway for breakfast in Plainwell, I fueled the Warrior. Ron's Luscombe diverted over the ramp and dipped a wing in farewell before turning on course.

As I climbed into the air over South Haven, I looked to the shore of Lake Michigan, the beach, and the little red lighthouse at the end of the pier.

Aw...what the heck...

I banked Warrior 481 over the shore and circled the pier once, just like old times, before setting course for Oakland County International Airport.


  1. Well I'll be... you were there along with my friend Rob - who photographed and wrote an awesome article about the balloons. Small world.

    Love the shoreline near South Haven. We've visited/camped there quite a few times. Glad you got to squeeze in a celebratory circle!

    1. He got some great photos! It looks like Friday evening was a much better time for that than Saturday morning with all that haze.