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.