August 22, 2013
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.
June 13, 2013
Last year a new member joined my flying club, Leading Edge Flying Club, and brought with him a 2004 Sky Arrow 650 TNS to expand our fleet. I was immediately intrigued by this aircraft the first time I saw it. It was unlike anything in our fleet or that I had seen as a rental at our airport. This tandem seat 98 horse power pusher aircraft looks like a light sport aircraft, but this particular model is not an LSA. Every member of the club that has flown this plane since it arrived has raved about the experience saying how much fun it is to fly.
I planned a dual purpose mission for my first experience in the Sky Arrow. When I used to be a Cessna driver one of my favorite things to do was to open the window and hang my camera out the window to shot some aerial photography. Lately, I have been logging most my time in a Piper Archer III and a Piper Dakota which give limited access to canopy-glare-free shooting. I learned that the Sky Arrow has rear windows that could be completely removed. So I asked an instructor to take me up and circle a few points of interest while I shot unobstructed from the back then we could land switch seats and work towards a check-out in the aircraft.
The minute we started taxing I realized I was in love with this aircraft. There was something fun and nostalgic about taxiing with the canopy open, wind blowing in our hair and the fresh smells of the airport wafting into the cockpit. On the takeoff roll as you are sitting so much lower to the ground you get a better sense of speed which is also thrilling. However, that is the last time in the flight you will have a sense of high speeds. The plane is perfect for low and slow flying which is ideal for photo adventures or city skyline tours.
Al showed off the aircraft performance circling over my target while I enjoyed leaning out the window taking photos. Then I flew him over The Ravinia Festival to check out the show from above. When we returned to Chicago Executive he suggested I make the landing. However, from the back seat you have no gauges and limited to no view of the gauges in the front. So I had to do the landing by feeling. What a refreshing feeling that was. I think I have grown to accustom to all the benefits of a glass cockpit that sometimes I don't just fly the airplane enough.
When I moved to the front seat I fully realized that this is a perfect airplane to reconnect a pilot with their stick and rudder skills. There is no auto-pilot and if you don't use your rudders the ride won't be smooth or comfortable. Flying the Archer or Dakota it is easy to let some of your core skills diminish. The plane is fun too because it is utterly simple. Although, it has a glass panel there is not much to flying it and has the quickest pre-flight run-up of any aircraft I have flown.
I logged 1.6 hours in the Sky Arrow and need to go back out to do some of the basic maneuvers before I check out but look forward to taking advantage of this fun aircraft this summer. The video below is my first take-off from the front seat of the Sky Arrow near sunset.
May 23, 2013
I am such a huge advocate of the General Aviation community. Since becoming a pilot in 2004 I have been amazed by how open and friendly the aviation community is. Whenever I visit new places I try to seek out local pilots to go flying with. It has opened up opportunities to fly in some unique places including flying over the Golden Gate Bridge (with Jason of Finer Points) and down the Hudson River (with Mike at 110knots) with a unique view of the New York City skyline.
This past week I found myself in Charlottesville, Virginia for a conference. I did some searching and found Mike of Monticello Flying Club, a club that is just being started in Charlottesville. With my recent work on the Flying Club Scholarship, with Ground Effect Advisors, I figured spending some time talking and flying with Mike would be a great way to cap off a trip to the area.
Mike is setting a good example for others interested in creating a flying club, he is hitting the pavement (or in reality the runway) and working hard to drum up support for his club. On the day we met we hoped into a Cessna 172 rented from the local flight school and made a short hop from Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (KCHO) to Culpeper Regional Airport (KCJR) to drop off a flyer promoting the club. While there Mike found an aircraft for sale that might be the perfect first aircraft for his club.
We had an enjoyable flight chatting about flying clubs and exploring the area. Mike had a nice surprise for the end of the flight, an aerial tour of Monticello. I guess it makes sense that a flight with the Monticello Flying Club would not be complete without an aerial tour of Thomas Jefferson's plantation. Sadly, I did not have my Canon T2i with me to capture a photo to share. I had toured the property many years ago but from the air you really get a special view of the massive size of this property.
Do you seek out pilots when you travel? Doing so might get easier if OpenAirplane takes flight!
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 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 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.