Monday, June 17, 2019

The Chicago Bear: IFR To the Cereal City

Squeezing in More Silliness

On our final morning at the Airbnb on Chicago's south side, there was ample time for additional misuse of furniture.

On the one hand, what the heck? On the other hand, nice form!

Breakfast that morning was at the Red Line Cafe. Da Bear had a fancy quiche! Kristy got one of those highfalutin coffees with a pattern on top! I had scrambled eggs. They were kind of salty, but the presentation was outstanding.


Chicago waterfront, 03 April 2005

As we could see from our fourth story crash pad, the city of Chicago was overcome with fog. It was my hope to fly along the Chicago waterfront as I did in 2005, get some pictures, and maybe do a quick trip to the Schaumburg airport for lunch at Pilot Pete's. But it was not to be. Instead, we would be lucky to launch out of Lansing once the ceiling raised to something more respectable than the 100 feet reported during breakfast.

I planned a 10:00 am departure based on when the airport was expected to go from low IFR to merely IFR. I wanted to make a single fuel and lunch stop in Michigan, but because southern Michigan was also IFR, I was looking for suitable towered airports for convenience. I ruled out Kalamazoo because the runway closures eliminated several instrument approach options. I considered Jackson because of the on-field diner, but then fixated on Battle Creek (KBTL). In my years of flying over the impressive 10,000 foot long runway there, I never had a reason to land. Today seemed like a good opportunity and so a plan was born.

Stephen dropped us off at Lansing Municipal before getting on the highway and pointing his car toward Michigan.

"Yeah, I'm relatively new, but I've seen a lot of people confused by the fuel pumps over there," said the woman at the Midwest Business Center. With full service fuel only $4.55/gal, I decided to simplify my life and have the FBO fuel Warrior 481 while I did a final round of flight planning. Taking on fuel spared me the $20 ramp fee, but I was still charged the $10/night tie down fees. 

Cheaper than parking a car in Chicago overnight, I reasoned. I was a little surprised when the confessed newbie hopped into the fuel truck and proceeded to fuel the Warrior. She did a good job, though, and only filled the fuel to the bottom of the filler neck -- just the way I like it (it helps avoid fuel dribbling out of the fuel vents on hot days).


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 Jun 2019 N21481 IGQ (Lansing, IL) - BTL (Battle Creek, MI) 1.3 1965.8

ForeFlight ground track at Lansing Municipal

Lansing Municipal Airport resembles two adjacent airports of different orientations that someone decided to connect with a taxiway. With wind out of the north, we taxied across the convoluted field to the departure end of runway 36 before calling Chicago Approach on the phone for clearance. The person I talked to at Chicago Approach was terrific and, to my delight, we were cleared for immediate departure with a ten minute void time. At 500 feet, we were in the clouds over those big box houses east of the field and communicating with Chicago Approach.

We broke out somewhere around 4,000 feet with sunlight reflecting brilliantly from the apparently infinite layer of stratus clouds below; it was like suffering from snow blindness. I thought longingly about the Tibetan snow goggles I saw at the Field Museum the day before. As I squinted into the glare, I watched a Southwest 737 inbound to Midway pass 3,000' feet overhead. We saw them, but they did not see the small, mostly white airplane skimming through the cloud tops.

I was not the only one squinting that morning.

I am always struck by how the tenor of ATC communications changes on IFR days. Not surprisingly, the frequency was dominated by experienced voices verbalizing IFR-speak. It was enough that anyone listening to the approach controller for a few minutes could have divined the local weather conditions.

South Bend Approach and Great Lakes Approach were busily coordinating instrument approaches by general aviation aircraft to some of the outlying fields. Over Dowagiac (C91) where I soloed, Great Lakes Approach cleared us direct to WEVSO to execute the RNAV 5L approach at Battle Creek (airport #191). As we slid down the electronic banister of the approach procedure, our environment morphed from dazzlingly, blindingly white to gray, then shading continuously darker until motion in my peripheral vision gave the first hint of restored ground contact, and, finally, 10,000 feet of asphalt materialized out of the mist. We broke out at 800 feet.

It was a textbook IFR flight and the exact sort of mission I had in mind when I pursued the rating.

ForeFlight ground track from Lansing Municipal (KIGQ) to Battle Creek (KBTL)

The Cereal City

On landing, the line crew at Duncan Aviation parked us, took our fuel order, and set us loose to find lunch.

Clearly, Battle Creek is Duncan's flagship facility in southwest Michigan. It was significantly larger and fancier than the Kalamazoo facility we just visited, the very one where Kent and I attended ground school in 2000.

Local aviation luminaries and the founders of Kal-Aero (the predecessor to Duncan in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo) were immortalized in the lobby. Sue Parish was a World War II WASP, airshow pilot, and co-founder of my beloved Air Zoo along with Pete Parish. John Ellis was a Naval aviator, airshow pilot, and pilot for the Air Zoo.

We found ourselves at the local Mancino's for lunch. There was a Mancino's right on the edge of our neighborhood in Kalamazoo; I had not had a turkey grinder in years. The Bear seemed to be a fan.

When we returned to Duncan's opulent lobby, I passed the car keys to a new person working the desk. "Rochester, NY huh? I'm originally from Utica," she observed.

"We moved to Rochester from Kalamzoo," I answered in kind.

"Small world! Did the last person tell you that there is a $10 car fee?" the woman asked.

"" I replied, caught off-guard.

"Well, OK, then let's not worry about that," she decided with a smile. After all, we had both made similar climatologically lateral moves in our lives.

I still associate the Duncan Aviation logo with my early flight training and it is difficult not to feel nostalgic when I see it.

I simply do not know how to pose for pictures and should probably avoid doing so in the future.

Running with the Wind

Battle Creek gave us an intersection departure on runway 23R directly off the Duncan ramp. Even though we started our take-off roll with only half of the runway remaining, we still had 5,000 feet available.

Eventually on top of the clouds and back in the intense glare, we enjoyed a smooth ride with a tailwind. The return home was the exact opposite of the journey westward.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 Jun 2019 N21481 BTL (Battle Creek, MI) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 3.3 1969.1

An unbroken ceiling blanketed southwest Michigan, but as we neared the east side of the state, the clouds provided flirtatious peeks of the ground before completely revealing the underlying landscape.

This was not only the best flying of the trip, but some of the best flying of the year to date.

The Bear missed it completely, of course. She was worn out from all of that gratuitous furniture misuse.

Given the proliferation of small lakes below, I did not need a chart to know that we were overflying my home county. Oakland County International (KPTK) was just a few miles north of our route through the Detroit Bravo airspace.

Edge of Lake St Clair (Michigan side)

Canadian Cloudscape

While crossing over Canada, we encountered a new system of layered clouds and passed in and out of IMC through a breathtaking aerial world.

As for The Bear, she remained completely unaware of the glorious display of nature beyond our airplane's windows.

Thinning clouds coincided with our crossing of the Niagara River back into the United States.

Not to sound jaded, but...Niagara Falls...again... Yawn.

We encountered this odd-looking roll cloud between Buffalo and Rochester. The air around it remained smooth as glass and I am puzzled about the forces that created it. Shouldn't this be the product of some kind of atmospheric churn or wind shear?

ForeFlight ground track from Battle Creek (KBTL) to Sodus (KSDC)

It took us the same amount of time on Monday to fly from southwest Michigan (Battle Creek) to Sodus as it did to reach eastern Michigan (Detroit) from Sodus on Friday. When non-pilots ask how fast my airplane is, I often respond that it depends on the wind (because no one really cares about airspeed, they really want to know how fast I can go somewhere). This response almost always earns me a puzzled look, but this trip was a dramatic example of exactly how our speed and travel time are affected by the atmospheric current.

Home again!

The Bear sounds her barbaric yawp over the wings of the world.

My crack ground crew took care of the bugs accumulated on Warrior 481's wings and snout.

That's a Wrap!

Another family flying trip is in the book. 11.0 hours (1.7 IMC), three new airports (KDET, KBTL, KIGQ), an IFR departure (KIGQ), an instrument approach in actual conditions (KBTL RNAV 5L), and what has to be the highest direct crosswind I've ever launched in (17G29 at KAZO). We got to see Kent and family, Pam and Stephen, a new city for The Bear, Hamilton for the second time, and some of the great museums in Chicago. Lansing, IL is the farthest west that The Bear has ever been in our airplane. Overall, I'd call that a successful trip.

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