August 22, 2013
Aviation Adventures: Planned and Unplanned
Aviation Adventures come in both the planned and unplanned variety, as illustrated by my most recent flight. Every August since 2005 I have covered the Chicago Air & Water Show for MyFlightBlog and a few other media outlets but in all those years I had never flown into the event at Gary International Airport. So a fellow club member and friend, Louis (from Sky Conditions Clear), decided we would make a day of it by flying down in the Leading Edge Archer, then enjoy talking and flying with some of the acts for the Chicago Air & Water Show then finish the day logging more time in the Archer.
On a perfect VFR Thursday morning we preflighted the airplane then launched Eastbound from Chicago Executive. Once over the lakeshore we turned south and enjoyed a beautiful view of Chicago as the sun shined on the windows of the skyscrapers. I elected to pick-up flight following for the trip down the lakefront but despite the great weather I believe they only notified us of one other aircraft that was taking advantage of this beautiful VFR day. The flight down was uneventful but enjoyable. We taxied down to Gary Jet Center where we parked the Piper Archer right next to Team Aeroshell's four T-6 Texans.
Louis and I spent the first hour or so of the media day walking the flightline checking out the various aircraft including Sean Tucker's Oracle Challenger Bi-Plane, Art Nalls' L-39 and Sea Harrier, an A-4, and a variety of T-6 Texans.
Shortly there after we met Harvey Meek the Team Lead of Team Aerostars, a locally based aerobatic team that team that despite being in existence for 12 years were making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut. I had spoken with a fellow member of the team leading up to the show and knowing that Louis and I were pilots he ensured us he would get us up in their aircraft to learn about their team and the performance of their Yak-52s. Having never flown in a Yak-52, I was eager to check it out.
We conducted a brief flight briefing where we discussed the mission objectives which was to fly along the lakefront to Chicago so a Reuters photographer could take some shots of a Team Aerostars airplane with the city skyline as a backdrop. After that we would return to the airspace West of Gary for a brief aerobatic demonstration.
Sitting backseat in Harvey's aircraft he informed me he would let me take the controls shortly after the flight and lead the flight up the lakefront. True to his word, as we exited the Gary airspace Harvey gave me airplane. It was an easy plane to fly, and felt quite responsive. After achieving a successful photo run, including this shot featuring Harvey and I and the Chicago skyline, we headed back South to get inverted.
Back near Gary where there is more airspace for aerobatics Harvey helped me experience the aerobatic performance of the Yak-52 through a series of maneuvers including loops, barrel rolls and a Cuban Eight. After my flight Louis got to take a backseat for his flight with Team Aerostars. As fun as the flying was we equally enjoyed getting to meet the Team Aerostars pilots and their support staff. We learned that the all fly commercially by day, aerobatics on the weekends and several of them even live in fly-in communities, pure aviators at heart. By all accounts it was a successful day full of aviation adventure, little did we know how much more adventure we had ahead.
After the airplanes were all tied down or put to rest in the hangers and it was clear there were no more rides to be had or aircraft to ogle at, we fired up the Archer III. Louis would be the Pilot in Command for the return flight. Our plan was to visit a small uncontrolled airport nearby for a few landings then go VFR over the top of Midway then fly south and east of O'hare then come up the from the south to the north on the west side of the O'Hare airsapce on our way back to Chicago Executive.
After four near perfect landings (video does not lie) at Bult Field by Captain Bowers we began a final taxi back to the end of the runway to prepare to for the return flight to Chicago Executive. Nearing the end of the runway Louis asked if I felt a shake, which I had not. He said he was feeling a vibration in the rudder pedals and then a pull and quickly made the correct assessment that we had blown a tire. In an excellent example of airmanship Louis immediately stopped the aircraft, and shut it down right on the taxiway. After the blades settled I got out and confirmed we had a left main tire flat. Louis was busy trying to determine what happened while I started to wonder what in the world we were going to do to get the aircraft back, or get ourselves back to Chicago as it appeared there would be little support at this sleepy airport.
We made a few calls and learned that there in fact was a mechanic based at the field that is typically there usually three to four days a week. So walked nearly a mile (5,000 feet) down the runway to the Hangar were we were told we might find him. As we approached two gentleman in the limited baggage space of a Cessna 152, they hoped out of their existing project to hear our plight and quickly offered to help. Randy, the owner of Aircraft Professionals, took his tug out to examine the wounded bird. Shortly after he returned with the great news that he believe he would be able to change out the tire, right there on the taxiway.
He and his partner loaded up a truck and a golf cart and we drove back to the plane to get to work. This was my first experience with a flat so it was entertaining to see how it was handled. Randy, propped up the plane and he and his technician removed the wheel pant and wheel. After initial inspection he believed the tire was in great shape and that it was a tear in the tube but promised a more detailed check back at the hangar. We raced a golf cart and an aircraft tug back to the hangar where he confirmed the tire was in great shape and that likely a pebble had been inside the tire rubbing up against the tire tube and it finally broke through causing the flat. Louis was relieved that this was further proof that his landings and taxing skills were not the cause, I never had any such doubts.
Thirty minutes later the new tube was installed, the wheel fairing was replaced and we did an extended taxi to confirm the tire seemed good and balanced. We gave a big thanks to the guys at Aviation Professionals and promised to come visit there field again after such great hospitality. A few hours behind schedule, and with the airplane due for another rental we scrubbed the VFR over Midway and headed back past Gary up along the lakefront where we took in a lovely sunset over the city and watched the lights come on at Soldier Field in advance of a pre-season game.
Returning to Chicago Executive we both agreed that it was a spectacular way to spend the day. We both logged PIC time in the Archer, dual time in the Yak-52, got to perform aerobatics and learned how to handle an unexpected adventure like a flat tire on the taxiway. Aviation adventures are fun no matter what form they come in.
Posted by Todd McClamroch at August 22, 2013 8:00 PM