Monday, May 25, 2015

Return to the Kalamazoo Valley

Over The D

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 May 2015 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - AZO (Kalamazoo, MI) 3.9 1412.6

Saturday morning, late May, Rochester, New York.

Rays from a dawning sun fell across roof lines accented in frost from a pervasive overnight chill. Warrior 481 refused to start with her usual fervor, but was eventually coaxed into operation. Kristy, The Bear, and I climbed skyward on an instrument clearance that took us directly over Greater Rochester International before a Temporary Flight Restriction for the day's airshow barred the airspace to us.

We were en route to our former home in Kalamazoo to visit Kent and his family. On this voyage, I was relegated to aeronautical chauffeur and had the front seat of the Warrior to myself while the womenfolk sat together in back.

From Rochester, our airway route on Victor 2 bore us through Canadian airspace along the northern shore of Lake Erie. From an altitude of 6,000 feet, I spied the Point Abino Lighthouse for the first time and thought that it looked like a picturesque destination to visit on foot.

We were switched from Erie Approach to Cleveland Center near the not-so-glamorously named Turkey Point (above). Center's transmitter is weak at the eastern edge of this sector and I have learned by trial and error that the automatic squelch setting on my ancient King KX-170B will allow me to hear Cleveland whereas the much newer Garmin GNS-430W will not. On my first trip through this region using the Garmin, I had to shut off the squelch entirely to receive Cleveland, thus enduring that flight leg to the sound of continuous, fatiguing static. This time, I contacted Cleveland using the older radio and was able to receive the controller reliably. Controllers in the area are aware of the weak transmitter issue and worked out lost communication plans with with me on both the outbound and return flights.

On the east side of Lake St Clair, Detroit Approach diverted us from our clearance to prevent conflicts with traffic in their approach corridor. Instead, we were provided radar vectors to eventually bring us directly over the top of Detroit Metro Airport.

While on vectors, we flew over Windsor, Ontario for the first time. This took us closer to downtown Detroit than we had ever flown before. Paralleling our course at a lower altitude was a jet on final approach to runway 25 at the Windsor Airport. I was surprised to hear Detroit Approach providing radar services for Windsor. It did not occur to me that this level of cross-border ATC coordination existed, particularly after our experience a few years earlier when United States ATC could not find us while we were on flight following with Toronto Center (they should have just checked FlightAware).

We paralleled the Detroit River as the familiar skyline of Detroit came into view.

Ford's Dearborn Development Center marks the site of the original Ford Airport. Although it is no longer operated as an airport, it was one of the first modern airports in the world when it was dedicated 1924. It was the starting point for the National Air Tours of the late 1920s and early 1930s and, during its time in operation, garnered recognition for a number of firsts including: the first U.S. scheduled passenger service (to Grand Rapids, 1926), the first concrete runways (1928), and the first U.S. airport hotel (Dearborn Inn, 1931).

Detroit Approach turned us toward the southwest in ten degree increments until we crossed the Detroit River north of Grosse Ile.

Looking north along the Detroit River toward downtown Detroit and Lake St Clair.

We were vectored almost directly over Detroit Metro, the closest we have flown to a major airport in Bravo airspace since our overflight of Atlanta at 4,500 feet in 2011. The difference, in this case, is that this is my hometown hub airport and it is far more familiar than Hartsfield.

I have spent a lot of time in McNamara Terminal since it opened in 2002, roughly coinciding with the time I started travelling for work. Once Metro was at our tail, Approach cleared us direct to Kalamazoo.

As we crossed over the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport, I wondered if they still had that pillow wrapped around the microphone in the tower down there.

Beyond the Warrior's starboard windows passed the city of Ann Arbor, permanently entangled with the University of Michigan campus. Even from 6,000 feet, I was able to spot Hill Auditorium and the Chemistry Building, though it has been a couple of decades since I visited either.

Our course paralleled I-94 directly to Kalamazoo. Along the way, ForeFlight/Stratus displayed several aircraft targets. Clearly, some aircraft in the local area were broadcasting ADS-B "out" to activate the ground based traffic system. One aircraft, a Piper Arrow, tracked a consistent five miles behind us for much of the route between Jackson and Kalamazoo.

I greased the landing on runway 17. As we were marshaled to parking at Duncan Aviation, we saw that Kent's daughters were plastered against the FBO's glass door in anticipation of seeing The Bear again. They were evidently forbidden from ramp access until our propeller came to a stop (a good policy when three little girls seven and under are in the mix, I think).

FlightAware track from Sodus to Kalamazoo

With the flight complete, we entered the "$100 hamburger" phase of our visit as both families piled into Kent's minivan bound for Erbelli's (home of my favorite pizza). Yum!

Airborne Memory Lane

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 May 2015 N21481 AZO (Kalamazoo, MI) - HAI (Three Rivers, MI) - AZO 1.0 1413.6

After lunch, Kent and I returned to the airport for a quick flight. Kent has not flown in a light aircraft since he moved back to Kalamazoo from Rochester.

Aloft, we found the air to be profoundly bumpy under the hot sun as we transited farm fields colored in differing shades of brown. Though I offered to let him fly, he understandably declined (as our mutual instructor was fond of saying, "we could do it, but it wouldn't be any fun"). We entered the pattern for runway 23 at Three Rivers, the airport where we both learned to fly.

Upon reaching midfield, taking in the old visual cues, the words "carb heat on" came to mind for the first time in many years; conjured from thoroughly-imprinted memories of training in a Cessna 150 through that well-worn traffic pattern. It was another good landing. Not as short as I might have accomplished in the Cessna 150 with full flaps in the old days, but respectable for the Warrior.

We topped off the Warrior's tanks from a fuel pump that was once verboten to us as students and renters; we flew out of Three Rivers in the days before the fuel was self serve. After fueling, we explored the old terminal building after overcoming the challenge of gaining access (I finally found the code in the Michigan Airport Directly via my phone). Inside, we found an office formerly occupied by our instructor filled with chairs.

The field was deserted save for one aircraft that flew a right pattern to runway 23, landed, and dashed across the ramp to the T-hangars on the east end of the field. Despite the lack of activity, it was good to reminisce about our days learning to fly there. I was surprised to see that the old cinder block maintenance hangar still stood (above). As I recalled, the parallel walls on each end of the building were connected by a chain to prevent them from falling outward.

We back-taxied runway 23 for departure and pulled Warrior 481 onto the run-up pad at the approach end. According to my logbook, the last time Kent and I flew out of Three Rivers together was in January of 2005.

That night, Kent hosted a cook-out with many of our mutual friends who still live in the area. Afterward, The Bear had her first "sleep over" by sharing a tent with Kent's eldest that night. It was very exciting for them both, though I am dubious about the quality of sleep achieved by either one of them.

Water for Elephants
Lettuce for Giraffes

After a delicious breakfast for all at Food Dance in downtown Kalamazoo, we drove east to Battle Creek and the Binder Park Zoo, a favorite destination.

For the juvenile contingent, feeding lettuce to giraffes was clearly the highlight of the visit to Binder Park.

The Bear's expression here sums up the experience perfectly. A mixture of fascination at feeding exotic critters and revulsion at being licked by a sticky, foot long tongue. Still, a great time was had by all.

It was good to see that the twins were finally old enough to participate in the wackiness that ensued.

But no matter how much fun The Bear had that day, bad jokes from Daddy still earned annoyed glares.

To Fee or Not To Fee?

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
25 May 2015 N21481 AZO (Kalamazoo, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 3.1 1416.7

When we arrived in Kalamazoo, the folks at Duncan Aviation warned that the airport had implemented a $10 overnight parking fee for transient pilots that the FBO was obligated to collect. This was disappointing because fees of any kind have never been a part of my Kalamazoo airport experience. When we arrived at Duncan for the flight home, I asked the lineman about it.

"Naw, I'll waive that. It's only $10 anyway." Civil disobedience at its finest.

When we departed, a line of storms was approaching from the west. We launched in marginal VFR conditions: 5 miles in haze under a 2,700 foot overcast. The wind was gusting sufficiently that the Warrior often shuddered as we prepared her for flight. This was a prime example of weather that would have caused me to cancel a longish VFR cross country flight in the past, but was now trivial to manage with an instrument rating. On climb out, we discovered that the deck was roughly 2,000 feet thick. We emerged from it to cruise at 7,000 feet in the clear between layers.

The cloud cover came and went throughout our journey home.

I was surprised to hear Detroit Approach call a B-25, an F-16, a North American (T6?), and a Travel Air as traffic to other aircraft. It was an interesting diversity of aircraft in the Detroit Bravo that day.

Detroit Approach vectored us closer to Metro to minimize conflict with traffic, then cleared us direct to Sodus.

Haze obscured the Detroit skyline.

In the vicinity of the Welland Canal (eastern Ontario), we entered the clouds for approximately 30 minutes. They did not appear particularly convective and the ride inside was relatively smooth. Though rain streaked across the Warrior's skin, there was not enough of it to wash off the bird droppings we picked up in Kalamazoo.

As we flew across the international border, I caught a glimpse of the Niagara River through the ragged cloud bottoms.

In terms of actual flight time, we made the trip from Kalamazoo to Sodus in a mere two hours and fifty minutes, something of a record for us. This was all made possible by a ground speed that ranged from 143 to 152 knots throughout the flight. We were in one sprightly Cherokee that morning!

We emerged from the clouds east of Buffalo and entered clear, turbulent air near Rochester. The bumps had their usual effect on The Bear, who finally succumbed to the cumulative effects of inadequate sleep in Kalamazoo. Once we were down and stopped in front of our hangar, Kristy had to prod her awake.

I will interpret her exhaustion as evidence of a weekend well spent with wonderful friends.

FlightAware ground track from Kalamazoo to Sodus


  1. Chris, great post and pictures. It's always a memorable trip "going home". The Bear looks like she had a blast and I loved the face feeding the Giraffe.....ewww...yucky. At least you got some instrument time and had some sweet ground speeds. Always good catching up with friends.

    We headed back 'home' for the annual Wilkes-Barre trip. Oddly, I still refer to Wilkes-Barre as back home. I was born and raised in Wilmington Delaware but the family roots and every summer growing up was spent upstate. Driving to and from our destination a flood of memories growing up pour through my mind. Buildings, roads, favorite hang outs and so on. I like to drive by the old homesteads too, the thoughts of family time, great meals and time shared will always be with me.

    1. Thanks, Gary. I enjoyed your post about the Wilkes-Barre trip. It was obvious that it was good for you to get back there on many different levels.

      And, yes, it was good to get some instrument time. The Bear loved it, my wife not so much. When I did the flight planning, I thought we might be in the clouds for much of the route. Fortunately, conditions were better than forecast (for a change).

  2. Spectacular perspective on Metro - they vectored you in just the right spots for some great shots. I've been thru DTW's Bravo a few times but never directly over top, love it.

    Also, Erbelli's: mmmmmm.