September 27, 2012
I am an aviation content devourer, someone who consumes magazines, blogs and podcasts greedily or voraciously. I am not embarrassed to admit that, as I know most pilots are the same way. With less than a half a percent of the population being pilots we don't get our aviation fill talking at the water cooler. We need to get out to the airport or seek out aviation content to keep us satisfied. So when I receive a notification that my most recent AOPA Pilot magazine is available for download, a smile hits my face as I fire up the iPad and download the magazine. Within a few hours and usually in one sitting I have devoured the magazine and my smile erodes as I realize it could be days or weeks before another enjoyable aviation magazine is delivered.
I recently stumbled upon Loop Magazine which is a European aviation magazine that is now exclusively available by iPad, and it is FREE. I would venture to say this is the best aviation magazine you are not reading today, but you should be.
I was thrilled to learn they offer not only well written and interesting aviation articles but deliver their content in a format that takes advantage of the power of the iPad. Each article offers additional photos and interactivity that would not be available in a print magazine. This is a magazine that was reborn as a digital magazine and instead of having a version adapted for the iPad the entire magazine is designed and developed to maximize the power of the tablet. They have seamlessly integrated animation and video throughout the magazine.. The only complaint I have is that the magazine is not long enough, but that is me just being greedy again.
If you have an iPad download the Loop App then begin downloading the current and past issues. The same company also publishes P1 Aviation Magazine, a business aviation magazine and Blades a magazine dedicated to rotor-craft, both of which are free. They also offer an annual magazine called FlightTest for $0.99 per issue. Flighttest features a collection of stunning aircraft highlighted through beautiful photos and video. In the 2011 edition there are more than 250 photos and 40 minutes of video. The magazine reads completely different in horizontal or vertical mode so there is a ton of content to discover.
Discovering Loop makes me wonder what other great aviation content is out there that I am missing out on. What is your favorite hidden gem for aviation content?
September 21, 2012
I have never been much of a fisherman and frankly I am not all that fond of eating fish. So why would I find myself at The #1 Trout Fishing Resort in the country this weekend? Because their 79 cabins are wedged between the picturesque White River and a well maintained turf runway.
A few weeks ago, I signed up to join some fellow pilots and Leading Edge Flying Club members on a fly-out adventure from Chicago to Lakeview, Arkansas. Six pilots in two airplanes made the journey. Al Waterloo and Travis Ammon, Flight Instructors at Leading Edge Flight Club and Founders of SimpleFlight.net, organized this fly-out trip to Gaston's White River Resort as an excuse to go have fun with airplanes. Travis and Al are preachers of a similar message I have believed in for some time: Aviation is supposed to be fun and not much is more fun than a long cross-country overnight fly-out.
They had devised an itinerary that attempted to offer a wide variety of flying experiences including flying under Class B shelves, into a Class B airport, over a Class C airport and into a back country grass strip. As luck would have it as the weekend approached, the only place rain was developing was in the southern Midwest right over Arkansas. Rather than scrub because of rain we selected an alternate airport we could use if the weather prevented landing at the resort. We figured those of us without Instrument Ratings could get a good learning experience from the flight and those with Instrument Ratings could log some actual IFR and show off their skills.
I drew the first leg which was from Chicago Executive (KPWK) to Lambert Field (KSTL), a Class B airport. After calling flight service for my weather briefing I learned the busy St. Louis arrival and departure traffic would be funneling through just one of their four runways due to some construction work planned for the day. Despite only having one runway available they were more than happy to work us into their flow that afternoon.
I learned to fly at a small uncontrolled airport, so there was a time I was concerned about going into busier controlled environments. However, my experiences in flying in and around Chicago have helped me hone my air traffic control communications and helped make flying into a Class B airport a non-event. And while it was not too challenging it was a lot of fun. It is neat to share airspace, runways, and taxiways with the commercial pilots and aircraft.
Not only was this my first flight into a Class B airspace it was my first flight in the club's Piper Dakota which I fell in love with during the flight. It comfortably fit four pilots and our bags as well as 50 gallons of fuel which was plenty to make the first leg of this flight.
Once at St. Louis we checked the weather and confirmed that it would prevent us from making it to the Gaston's airstrip. So we filed to the nearest airport with instrument approaches, Baxter County Airport (KBPK). I moved from the front to the back of the plane for the next leg and I enjoyed watching Steve and Al fly on instruments the majority of the 2.1 hours of the second leg. The leg was capped off with a perfect instrument approach to minimums at Mountain Home Airport (see video below). I have only flown along on a few IFR flights but continue to enjoy the experience and am further motivated to seek my instrument rating.
We enjoyed a great 24 hours in Gaston's. Most of our non-flying itinerary centered on great meals that included BBQ, catfish, and a delicious brunch at the Gaston's resort. I enjoyed spending some of our down time walking the trails within the Bull Shoals State Park. Some photos from the weekend can be found in the photo player below. The main dining room at Gaston's offers a scenic view of the White River out their massive windows and a look back at history within the restaurant with a collection of old motors, bikes and typewriters that would make the guys from American Pickers salivate.
We had hoped weather would improve so we could bring the plane over to Gaston's later in the weekend for some turf landings but the stationary front lived up to its name and cloud cover barely ever rose above a few hundred feet. I moved back to the front of the cockpit for the first leg home. Travis flew us on instruments out of Baxter County Airport and I had the best seat in the house as we climbed through the clouds up to the beautiful clear skies above the rain. He tossed me controls after a while and I enjoyed flying in and out of the clouds and even logged 0.8 hours of actual Instrument Flight enroute to Champaign, Illinois. Although the Dakota is a dream to fly, I am still figuring out how to land her right. Al has given me some good tips that I need to bring to my next flight in the Dakota.
I returned to the spacious back seat of the Dakota for the last leg as we cruised back to Chicago using pilotage and flying at 2,500 feet. We capped the flight off by flying over the top of Midway then taking the 290 corridor west to skirt around O'Hare before turning north to Palwaukee. We logged just over eight and a half hours on the Dakota which sure would have beaten the 20 hours it would have taken in the car. But, who are we kidding. We did not fly so we would not have to drive. Instead we made this trip as an excuse to fly.
What a great trip it was. We saw neat places, took in some great flying experiences, enjoyed some great conversations and, most importantly, I learned a lot from flying with and watching other pilots. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.
Here are some photos from the weekend.
September 13, 2012
NFlightcam has launched an interesting campaign called the Solo Hall of Fame. It is their goal to help students share the accomplishment of their solo flight by documenting the experience with an in-cokpit video of the achievement. The great thing about this program is they will send you a free Nflightcam+ and suction cup mount for you to use on the day of your solo.
Once you come down from the cloud none that is soloing, you simply send them the video camera back and a week later they send you a link to a professional edited video of your flight for you to share with the world. I absolutely love this program and applaud them for giving students this opportunity. With a shrinking pilot population we all have a bigger burden to inspire others to fly and here is a company that at no cost to pilots is giving students a great means to inspire others and to celebrate their own achievement.
That being said would you have wanted a camera in the airplane for your first flight? I seem to remember bouncing with excitement and maybe even talking words of encouragement & celebration to myself on downwind leg of my first solo. Maybe those are private moments that should live on in my own memory only. But, I think instead I would have enjoyed having that video for my own personal collection and to share with others.
Check out the video below of Emily Carter on her first solo flight. She is the wife of NFlightcam's founder Patrick Carter and author behind The Pilot's Wife blog. Any pilot who has soloed will see a bit of themselves in this video. At the beginning there is that slight apprehension about stepping of the ledge and agreeing to let your instructor out of the plane. We all have the confidence needed, but it takes a moment for it to manifest itself when we were asked if we wished to solo, or atleast that is how I recall it from my experience. My favorite part of this video is the smirk at the end of the video (see the 3:32 mark in the film) which captures in visual format the sheer joy of flying and the thrill of an amazing achievement.
I think we all have the photo of us standing next to the plane or holding a slice of t-shirt post solo, but I would trade any of those for video or a picture of my version of that smirk when I successfully completed my first solo flight.
Do you know of a student that is close to soloing? If so make them aware of the Solo Hall of Fame program. NFlightcam is a small camera that records HD video, plus audio from the intercom; it is unobtrusive and self-contained, weighing a mere 5 ounces and has limitless mounting options for both inside and outside the aircraft. The Solo Cam kit includes an easy-to-use suction cup mount that works on any smooth flat surface inside the cockpit.
September 11, 2012
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in one of those aviation communities where taxiways and runways took precedence over roads and all your neighbors thought about aviation as much as you did? Once a year I get to experience one of the largest aviation communities in the country, Chicago, IL. The arrival of the Chicago Air & Water Show magically transforms my city into a land where everyone has airplanes on the top of their mind (whether they like it or not). Whether at the water cooler at work or mingling with neighbors people are suddenly speaking my language: aviation.
It is for this reason that the Chicago Air & Water Show has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Like most pilots, I can't hide my love for aviation so friends, family, coworkers and neighbors know of my passion for aviation. When a friend of mine learned his brother, a pilot in the U.S. Navy, would be bringing his plane to town he thought to reach out to me to see if I would be interested in coming out to airport to greet him. Of course I was interested, however, the thought of sitting in rush hour traffic on a Friday night driving from the northside of Chicago, through the city to Gary and back was not too appealing. So I decided to make a flight experience out of it and instead take a beautiful flight along the Chicago lakefront to Gary. Al Waterloo, fellow club member and host of Simple Flight Radio (Check it out) joined me for the adventure.
Pilots love sharing their love of aviation with others and showing off their latest plane. The crowd a pilot draws to see their plane often varies based on the cool factor of the plane they are currently flying. As a result, John Keith, a member of the Virginia Beach based Raging Bulls (VFA-37), a squadron of F/A-18C Hornets, was greeted by a large family contingent when he arrived in Gary on Friday night and I was happy to be invited to be a part of the welcoming committee.
John took the time to point out some of the unique features of his plane and to talk about some of his experiences landing the F-18 on the USS Harry Truman Aircraft Carrier. After learning about his airplane the entire family, John, Al and I walked the tarmac at Gary International Airport which resembled a military base that night. Alongside his Hornet were a few of the larger F/A-18 Super Hornet, T-38 Talons, A-10 Warthogs a F-4 Phantom in addition to civilian planes like T-6 Texans and T-34 Mentors. As a pilot I loved looking at all these planes but also enjoyed the fact that everyone else seemed in awe of these machines as well.
It was great getting the VIP tour of the tarmac as I know on the Saturday and Sunday of the show people lineup along a fence-line to see these airplanes in action from a distance. As we were walking back to the FBO, John picked up his flight bag which was filled with all his maps and old school paperwork used to navigate a plane that was built before the age of glass panels. He pointed out that the Archer I was flying had more advanced navigational functionality than his F-18. True enough but I would trade rides in a heartbeat.
After thanking the Keith family for letting me be a part of their family for the night we climbed back in the Archer III for our return flight to Palwaukee. On the flight back the city was aglow, the moon was hidden below the horizon, making the effect of the city lights that much more impressive and a perfect end to a night of celebrating aviation.
It saddens me when the annual airshow ends and the light switch is flipped and my fantasy land of aviation enthusiasts evaporates. Though, I love that for a week aviation was brought to the forefront and surely some of those in the crowds at the Chicago Air and Water Show now have a new passion for aviation like this girl jumping up and down as the Blue Angels Fat Albert C-130 flew over during the show.
August 13, 2012
The 2012 Chicago Air & Water Show will roar back to life over the next few days leading up to the 54th Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend. The headline act, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, will arrive Wednesday night to begin preparing for the show. Most of the civilian and military acts will be based at Gary International Airport through the weekend and make the short flight up the lakefront for their Chicago Air & Water Show practice schedule and for the main event.
Expect record crowds this weekend as the forecast currently shows unseasonably cool but comfortable weather for the airshow weekend. The good news is the nearly two million people that attend the show annually will have two beautiful days to choose from as both days currently look rain free.
For many one of the best places to check out the show is the fenceline at Gary International. However, if you plan to view the show from the lakefront then check out Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide with a few recommendations for the best place to view the show. Expect to hear planes flying overhead on Thursday for media day and Friday for a full practice show. The show will start at 10am both Saturday and Sunday and run until 3pm.
If you are an airshow regular you will recognize many of the acts on this years lineup. The civilian acts include perennial favorites like Lima Lima Flight Team, Sean D. Tucker & Team Oracle, AeroShell Aerobatic Team & the Firebirds to name a few.
Red Bull has often sponsored an act or two including Chuck Aaron in his aerobatic helicopter. Joining him this year and making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut will be the Red Bull Air Force performance skydiving team. They will jump from high over the lakeshore and speed to North Avenue Beach in their Wingsuits and surely be a thrilling addition to this year's show.
U.S. Navy Blue Angels, U.S. Army Golden Knights and U.S. Navy Leap Frogs will headline the show and represent our armed forces. Expect demonstrations by pilots of F-16s, T-38s, an F-4 Phantom and KC-135 Stratotanker to name a few. I became huge fans of the U.S. Army Golden Knights last year when I got to spend a few days with them. During the show I road along in their Fokker C-31A Troopship as the jumped from 10,500 feet above the lakefront. Then a few weeks later I was able to join them for a tandem skydive. See what is it like to skydive with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
As the show approaches I will be meeting with many of the teams and flying with a few and look forward to sharing updates and news about the 2012 Chicago Air & Water Show. Feel free to e-mail me send me a tweet if you have a question about the show. You can stay up to date with my airshow updates on the MyFlightBlog Chicago Air & Water Show Ultimate Guide.
August 10, 2012
The sun was just starting to rise over the eastern horizon when we arrived at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX to continue our journey to Chino. After 7.0 hours of flying the previous day, we were nearly halfway there, and the weather continued to make us optimistic that we would make our final destination before sundown.
Normally a refinery does not make for the most picturesque sight but with the sun rising in the background and knowing it was producing the juice that would make our bird fly, it was a magical sight for me that morning. Before we strapped into our parachutes and climbed aboard the Texan I had to check out some airplane relics we saw while driving into the airport. Turns out there were nine Mig-23 carcases sitting on the tarmac. According to Ronnie, the Lineman at Hutchinson County Airport, they were bought more than seven years ago by a local who had a dream of refurbishing them. This morning it was obvious that dream had faded and these shells would remain stationary for years to come.
Our plan for Day Two was to fly mainly IFR, but not to be confused with Instrument Flight Rules, we were instead flying by the I Follow Roads (IFR) mantra. Borger is just north of Historic Route 66 (now Interstate 40 West of Oklahoma City) so shortly after departing we intercepted the highway and put it midway off our right wing where it would sit for much of the remainder of the day.
Fellow pilot, blogger and friend, Al Waterloo of SimpleFlight.net, says if he could teach students only one thing it would be to fly an airplane with two finger tips. He rightfully believes a plane should not be manhandled but instead gently guided which usually means becoming good friends with the trim wheel. On the first day I fought with the trim wheel and would put the plane through alternating parabolic curves as I tried to use the sensitive trim wheel to fly straight and level. It was somewhere over New Mexico that I finally think I figured out how to fly the T-6 Texan with two fingers.
As we approached Albuquerque we started to see our first mountains and true elevation growth. The Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque have peaks just under 10,000 feet high and provided for a great backdrop for some photos. When we arrived at Double Eagle II Airport, just west of Albuquerque, we landed at 5,808 feet, nearly 2,500 feet higher than the field elevation at Borger. As a result it was significantly cooler than it was in Texas which was a relief.
As we continued our journey westward we reached higher altitudes. On the first day 6,500 feet worked out real well for us. On our first leg of Day two, 8,500 worked fairly well but we then moved up to 10,500 feet as we progressed towards Flagstaff, AZ where the field elevation was 7,014 ft and with mountain tops were well above that. Flagstaff is home to Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet, just 10 miles north of Flagstaff. Again I found myself giving Mike the plane so I could open my canopy open and start firing off shots from my Canon.
When flying to general aviation airports it is not uncommon to run into someone famous at an FBO as they await to depart on a private plane. That was the case at Flagstaff where I noticed six unusually large men who had to be professional football players. Although the Cardinals have their training camp in Flagstaff I did not recognize them so I could not confirm they were football players until Cardinal star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald arrived. I must have been gawking because he walked right over and gave me a fist bump and then agreed to a photo (sadly it came out blurry). I thought they were going to board one of the jets on the tarmac but instead they squeezed these guys into a King Air which proved its performance capabilities when it effortlessly lifted these huge guys off the runway with ease.
Our second encounter with weather was a small cell of thunderstorms just a few miles west of Flagstaff along our route of flight. We monitored them and then decided we could deviate just south, then return to our intended course. As we skirted past the storms we saw a few strikes of lightning but were safely distant from the storm. At this higher elevation in the west the plane took its time climbing but Mike put his glider experience to work and found a thermal that helped us go from a 500 foot per minute climb to a 1,000 FPM climb with no additional strain on the 600HP Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine.
On the final leg from Flagstaff to Chino we overflew Kingman Airport which has an airplane boneyard on field mostly comprised of old DHL Aircraft. It was wild seeing the bright yellow planes lining the airport. I am not sure why but I am enamored by airplane boneyards and touring one is definitely on my bucket list.
As we continued southwesterly from Kingman we received the benefit of a strong tailwind, giving us nearly a 160kt ground speed. I realized I was secretly hoping the winds would die down as I was sad that the flight was coming to an end. As we approached Chino we again enjoyed majestic mountains with the Santa Ana mountains to our south and the Chino Hills mountain range to our north. We split them following highway 15 into Chino. What surprised me most was the odor when we opened the canopy over Chino. It was as if I was transported to Wisconsin as the smell of a farm was evident. When I looked down I learned that Chino is home to many cattle farms, not what I was anticipating.
Upon touchdown at Chino Airport, I looked out the window to see an L-39 Albatros roaring down the parallel runway. Seemed a good bookend to the trip since the first plane I saw in the Gauntlet Warbirds hangar the previous morning was an L-39.
We left the T-6 in the good hands of Encore Jet Service who would keep an eye on the plane for a few days until Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds arrived later in the week to transport the plane up to Edwards Air Force Base where he will spend a few weeks instructing U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School students in the plane.
I thought the adventure was over but then learned that Planes of Fame one of two museums on the airport were offering a special talk on Saturday about the use of long range escort aircraft in World War II. After spending two days flying cross country in a WWII trainer I had an even greater respect for the brave men who flew in WWII. On Saturday we were able to hear two WWII pilots give their first hand account about their experiences flying over the European battlefields and the role that escort fighters planned in winning air supremacy.
It took us two days and 14.7 hours on the tachometer and 380 gallons of avgas to cover 1,600 miles from Chicago to Chino. The return flight on a Southwest 737 was just under four hours but I would take the low and slow route in the T-6 Texan anytime!
August 8, 2012
Last Thursday I kicked off my longest cross country since earning my private pilot's license in 2004. I joined fellow pilot Mike Meister at Gauntlet Warbirds at Aurora Airport, just outside of Chicago, where we launched in a T-6 Texan (SNJ-5) for a flight to Chino, CA.
The Gauntlet Warbirds hangar was a beautiful sight when I arrived. An L-39 Albatros, P-51 Mustang, SBD-Dauntless and a few T-6 Texan's in this hangar made it a pilots paradise. I looked in awe at the beautiful P-51 and though of a quote from Wilson "Connie" Edwards, an EAA Warbirds of America Hall of Fame inductee, who said "Start out in a Bearcat, transition to the P-51, and then you're ready for the T-6." The Texan has often been referred to as the Pilot Maker for its role in training such a large percentage of pilots from the Greatest Generation. I was honored and excited to get a chance to finally log some time in this plane.
After loading our route into Foreflight (see route) and checking the weather we were optimistic we could make the flight in two days. We originally allotted four days in case weather became an issue. Mike gave me a brief tour of the plane and discussed the internal and external pre-flight. We then donned parachutes, which would serve as our padding on the hard metal seats of the T-6, climbed in, and fired up the engine for departure.
Shortly after takeoff Mike gave me control of the airplane and I started to figure her out. Not long into the trip we crossed over the Mississippi River, a first for me in a General Aviation capacity. Our first stop for fuel and to stretch our legs was Rolla National Airport in Rolla, Missouri. This former U.S. Army Airfield still has a few aviation relics located on the tarmac including a former Army DC-3. Our visit there was brief as there were some storms approaching from the west, in fact a light rain started during our departure. Mike had brought along a Sporty's Stratus that provided in-flight weather updates to our iPad Glass Panels by way of Foreflight. Although these storms were rather isolated and small it was comforting knowing we had visual weather updates at our fingertips.
The next leg was a quiet one in which we did not encounter any traffic. The view below our wings showed a countryside that has suffered a double whammy of drought and higher than normal temperatures. Our next stop was Claremore, Oklahoma which was equally quiet until a Cessna 172 arrived from Wyoming. It was so nice to see others taking advantage of general aviation to see the country. It was hot on the ground at Claremore so we took our break in the air conditioned FBO.
Each time we checked in with air traffic control for flight following we would announce that we were a North American T-6. Turns out they don't encounter T-6s in the system often as each time the aircraft type would confuse the controllers who would ask again what type of aircraft we were sometimes several times. However, not long after departing Claremore and climbing past Tulsa International Airport, we were surprised to hear another T-6 on the frequency. Turns out it was a T-6A Texan II, the newer version of primary trainer, based out of Vance Air Force Base. They called us up on the frequency and asked if we were one of theirs to which Mike responded, "No ours comes with a tailwheel," which they seemed to get a kick out of.
Our last stop of the day was at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX the home of a Conoco Phillips avgas refinery. It seemed appropriate that after burning nearly 200 gallons of fuel that we would land next to an avgas refinery. We had toyed with the idea of flying on to Albuquerque but since it was 106 degrees at Borger, and we would be flying into the sun on the next leg we decided to call it a night. Ronnie, the FBO Lineman, took great care of us with hotel recommendation and providing us with one of their crew cars for the night.
After my first seven hours of flying in the Texan I was thankful for the ability to crack the canopy. We would crack it below 3,000 feet during take-off and landing in case we needed to bail from the plane. But often even above that we would crack the canopy a little bit to keep the plane cool. Otherwise the glass cockpit would have served as an oven for much of the flight. I imagine our experience was not that different then the cross country flight this aircraft would have experienced when it was first delivered to the Navy in 1943, except maybe that we cheated a bit flying with the assistance of our Foreflight-enabled iPads and with the support of Sporty's Stratus, but who's keeping score?
I slept well after this long day but woke early in anticipation of our next leg of the flight. I will post updates from our second day of flying shortly. In the meantime enjoy the photos below from the first day of flight.
August 1, 2012
When I was learning to fly and would mentioned to friends and family that I was going to log cross country time they often were confused that I was flying just 50 nautical miles away. The FAA requires that a flight between two airports be 50 NM or more for it to count towards various certificates or ratings so the majority of my cross country time is in the 50NM to 100NM range.
However, tomorrow I am embarking on a flight that is more in line with the term Cross Country. I will be flying a T-6 Texan from Aurora Airport (KARR) just outside of Chicago to Chino, California.
Last year I had the opportunity to do aerobatics in a L-39 Albatros with Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds. When I learned he needed to ferry the Gauntlet Warbirds T-6 Texan to California to be used for instruction at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School I decided I needed to find a way into one of it's tandem seats for that flight.
Here I am on the eve of the flight. During the flight which we are estimating will be approximately 12 hours of flight time, I will log dual instruction in an aircraft that helped train pilots from the greatest generation. The airplane I will be flying is actually the Navy version of the plane referred to as the SNJ and this particular aircraft was delivered to the Navy in 1944.
I have limited experience in the T-6 Texan. I rode along for aerobatic demonstrations with Aeroshell Aerobatic Team a few times and also was able to fly Bill Leff's T-6 Texan briefly prior to the 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show. However, this will be the first time I log time in the airplane in my logbook and I might not sleep much tonight in anticipation of this flight. This is an aircraft I have been in awe with since I was a kid. Stay tuned for updates on the flight in the coming days or follow along on Twitter.
Special thanks to Flickr user wxjeremy for allowing me to use his beautiful photo of the actual T-6 Texan I will be flying tomorrow.
July 22, 2012
Every pilot has heard of the proverbial $100 Hamburger, typically a subpar meal used as an excuse to go flying. I have a suggestion to pilots in the midwest: replace your hamburger runs with corn runs. Which is exactly what my Dad and I did this weekend.
Several years ago my parents stumbled upon Twin Garden Farms' special Mirai corn, a hybrid sweet corn. Back then, they had to make a three hour round trip journey in the car from Chicago to Harvard, IL to find this corn. Believe it or not, the corn was worth it and I was always delighted when I heard they had made another run. Since then it has become so popular you can find it at many farmers markets in the Chicago area in late summer. However, this corn is so good that there should be more of an adventure to procure it then just walking down to your local farmers market.
Last year I learned that members of my flight club, Leading Edge Flying Club, had flown to Harvard to get the corn. I reached out to Gary Pack at Twin Garden Farms who confirmed he would be more than happy to deliver some corn to me at Dacy Airport, less than a mile from their farm. An adventure was definitely in the making after hearing that! What makes this flight experience even more special is that Dacy Airport is diamond in the rough, a nostalgic reminder of the barnstormer days.
Dacy is just 37 miles from my home base airport, Chicago Executive. In less than 30 minutes we were far from the hustle and bustle of the city and circling to land at. It felt like we had flown into the past and we were living the life of barnstormers. The runways were literally lined with fields of corn. The Stearman parked in the main hangar helped perfect this nostalgic scene in my mind. I have always loved the simplicity of landing an airplane on a grass field and was loved having the opportunity to share this experience with my Dad.
We shut down the plane and looked around before calling Gary to let him know we had arrived. About 15 minutes later he pulled up with his grandson and nearly 30 pounds of Twin Garden Farms Mirai sweet corn. We learned that Gary's grandson, Grant, had actually flown in Archer 3096B a few years earlier when members of the club had made a corn run and offered to take him up for a few laps around the pattern. I was delighted to learn that flight might have helped spark his interest in aviation and he is now taking flight lessons at Dacy Airport in a Cessna 172. It's great seeing a love of aviation sparked in the youth of America. Grant joined my Dad and me for a photo next to the 3096B before we loaded up our treasure for the return flight to Chicago.
Shortly after lifting off the grass strip and turning east for the return flight the Chicago Skyline came into view and our brief visit to the past was over. Not only did we have a fun aviation adventure we had a back seat full of the finest sweet corn you can find. While visiting with Gary we learned that like post-it notes and play dough, the Mirai corn that Twin Garden Farms is famous for was invented by accident, when three sweet corn genes were melted together. The result is what many regard the finest sweet corn in America.
Pilots, take a pass on the $100 hamburger and contact Twin Garden Farms and take a flight into the past and bring back some of the best corn in the world. You will be rewarded with a great aviation experience as I was.
July 20, 2012
Earlier this spring I learned that Cessna selected eight pilot interns to fly a fleet of SkyCatcher's around the country as part of the Discover Flying Challenge. My first thought was, what a great gig. After that I decided I needed to reach out to Cessna to find out when one would be in my area to check out this plane.
I learned that Zoe "Ozone" Cunningham had been given the Midwest territory and was busy logging a slew of hours flying SkyCatcher 2 throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Today she arrived back in the Chicago area enroute to Oshkosh and I was able to meet her at Chicago Executive for a few laps around the pattern in the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher.
The SkyCatcher is a Light Sport Aircraft certified aircraft which means it has some limitations on weight (1,320 lbs or less), speed (120 kts) and seating (two seats or less). The SkyCatcher was built to maximize its potential within the LSA guidelines. I learned that Zoe has been cruising at right around 115kts for much of her journey across the midwest. She has been doing this while burning just over 6 gallons and hour and she was quick to point out that is high since she is running a little hotter than normal since the engine is being broken in.
I was worried the SkyCatcher would be more tight then cozy but was pleased to learn it had plenty of room in the cockpit. I was told the cockpit is as wide if not wider than that of a Cessna 172. Inside, the cockpit is quite simple with only a few dials and switches in addition to the dual G300 glass panels. There are no back-up gauges but if one G300 panel falters it will flip data to the remaining screen.
We fired up the plane and took runway 6 for departure. The aircraft lept off the runway leaving three quarters of the runway as unnecessary as we climbed at 800 feet per minute up to pattern altitude. The aircraft has great sightlines with plenty of window space on the side and front of the plane. The SkyCatcher definitely had a sporty feel to it.
My only complaint about the SkyCatcher is the lack of a window that can be opened. One thing I always loved about Cessna aircraft was flying along with the windows open. The SkyCatcher's Gull Wing doors can be opened during taxi to keep the airplane cool but the doors are not allowed to be open during flight. So during a hot summer like we are experiencing, it could get hot in that cockpit. I guess I am getting spoiled by the air conditioner in the Piper Archer. Either way a small drawback on what otherwise is a fun plane.
Although not the right aircraft for carting a family around in I could see it being a fun plane for $100 Hamburgers and hops around the Midwest. It was fun to check it out up close and I look forward to getting in one again sometime soon.
You can learn more about the Discover SkyCatcher program on their website. Many of their aircraft are heading to Oshkosh for AirVenture as well.