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.