September 21, 2012

Gaston's Fly Out Adventure

troutfishing.jpgI 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.

thecrew.jpgWe 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.





June 24, 2012

Celebrating Blue Ash Airport

BlueAshAirport_aerial.jpgHow do you say goodbye to an airport? As I write that, it seems kind of a strange question. But, more and more frequently this is a question pilots are being forced to answer.

MeigsField_FS.jpgThe first airport I ever loved was Chicago's lakefront airport, Meigs Field, which helped foster my interest in aviation. The early Microsoft Simulators featured Meigs Field as the default airport and in the virtual skies over a pixely Chicago I self taught myself about lift, thrust, weight and drag. In fact I remember fondly flying home on a commercial flight with my family as a young kid and watching how the flaps were extended during our landing then going straight to the computer when I returned home to learn how to use flaps on the Cessna at Meigs Field. I like many aviation enthusiasts and pilots felt sick to my stomach when I learned on March 31, 2003 that it was demolished at the behest of Mayor Daily.

I wonder if this event helped motivate me to not take my love of aviation for granted any longer and move from the fence-line to the tarmac in pursuit of my license to fly. In Spring 2004 in Cincinnati, OH I began my flight training, the majority of that flight training took place at Cincinnati's Blue Ash Airport (KISZ). It was there that my formal knowledge of aeronautics was formed as were some of amazing aviation memories.

When I heard that Blue Ash Airport, the airport where I first soloed and also where I successfully completed my Private Pilot checkride, was losing its 30-year battle to keep the airport open, I knew that once again I would need to decide how to say goodbye to an airport. Before giving in though I reached out to see if there was anything I could do from Chicago to help save the airport. Although organizations like Preserve Blue Ash Airport are still fighting, I learned there was little short of donating millions of dollars that could be done to save the airport.

I determined the best way for me to say goodbye to this airport was to revitalize my memories and celebrate this unique and special airport. On a wonderful Saturday afternoon I took off from Chicago Executive and flew along the beautiful skyline of Chicago and over the remains of Meigs Field (which has still yet to be put to any better service then the airport it once was) enroute to Blue Ash, OH.

blue_ash_3096B.jpgAlthough a lovely day it was quiet as I approached the airport. As I entered the pattern I noticed the sparse tarmac that had once been filled with airplanes of varying sizes. Despite the sparse tarmac I smiled as I looked at the unique layout of this airport which has a taxiway that weaves through a little wooden pass, it was great to see this familiar airport once again.

As I crossed the runway threshold I could see that the runway was badly in need of repair and maintenance, sadly that aid will never come. Instead that disrepair will make the demolition job just that much easier. While the plane was being refueled I strolled along the tarmac with Al Waterloo who flew with me on this trip down memory lane. It was both comforting and disappointing that not much had changed at Blue Ash Airport or Co-Op Aviation since I had last visited. I learned that many of the planes had already vacated in search of a new home like Lebanon-Warren County Airport.

Some might find it strange to love an airport, but I love this airport. I am not the only one that is a bit sentimental about this airport. In a recent issue of Flying Magazine Martha Lunken shared her memories of Blue Ash Airport. Fellow aviation blogger Steve Dilullo who writes A Mile of Runway Will Take You Anywhere recently made his first visit to Blue Ash Airport to check it out before it is no more (be sure to check out his video of the unique taxi experience at Blue Ash). Al Waterloo who joined me for this flight was also touched by this special airport and published his thoughts on how this airport closing is an example of why General Aviation is Broken.

It will be sad when the news comes that the bulldozers have closed this general aviation airport like so many before it. Blue Ash Airport will no longer benefit from those that have been inspired to learn to fly because of its existence. However, I hope that the inspiration is strong enough that aviation enthusiasts will seek out the nearest General Aviation airport and still pursue their dreams and help drum up renewed support for General Aviation in Cincinnati.

May 25, 2011

San Francisco Bay Aerial Tour

GoldenGateBridge.jpgVirgin America is starting service between San Francisco (SFO) and Chicago O'Hare (ORD) this week and I have the opportunity to fly on the inaugural flight to Chicago. While in the Bay Area I decide it would be fun to take a Cessna 172 up and do a San Francisco Bay Aerial Tour.

Earlier this week I reached out to Jason Miller who is a local CFI and also host of the Finer Points Podcast. Jason suggested we fly out of San Carlos Airport (KSQL) and fly North past San Francisco International Airport over the city and then tour the bay before coming back south along the Pacific coastline.

After arriving commercially, I started the day with lunch at Sky Kitchen a restaurant just off the west side of the San Carlos airport. There I sat at a giant table in the middle of the restaurant surrounded by a group of pilots that meet for lunch nearly daily, some of them for more than 40 years. I enjoyed taking in the camaraderie and enjoying hearing some long tails. This is a new favorite $100 Hamburger destination.

toddandjason.jpgAfter lunch I met Jason at West Valley Flying Club. We pre-flighted the airport then launched to the North. Soon after take-off we received hand-off to the San Francisco Tower that allowed us to transition the San Francisco Class B Airspace. It was a thrill flying parallel to the commercial traffic landing on runway 28L and 28R. Just three hours before I had been in one of those tin cans. I much preferred being pilot in command over traveling like a sardine.

Next we flew directly over San Francisco I did a lap around both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Having visited both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz before I loved seeing them from this new vantage point. Then we flew over Point Reyes National Seashore before turning south to fly low along the Pacific coastline.

Heading south along the coast we paralleled scenic highway 1 as it winded its way down from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay. As we descended to 1,400 feet to stay below Class B Airspace NORCAL announced a traffic advisory at our 11 o'clock. The traffic was a 747 departing San Francisco International and quickly became no factor, but it was a thrill none the less to briefly share the airspace with a Boeing 747 about 500 feet above us and climb.

Another enjoyable flightseeing experience in the book and one I highly recommend to all pilots. There are few icons as thrilling to fly by then the Golden Gate Bridge.

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July 22, 2009

Island Hoping to Washington Island

washingtonislandhangar.jpgJulie Summers Walker, Managing Editor of AOPA Flight Training, wrote a great article about 10 "Island Hoping" destinations in the United States. She writes "'Island hopping' may bring to mind Caribbean blue water, but in the United States, there are a number of island escapes, each with its own personality and hue, best visited in a small airplane. Your newly minted private pilot certificate can get you access to places few people get to see."

She recommends ten great island destinations to fly to and even provides some tips for planning an trip to an island based airstrip. Here list of ten Island destinations included:

  1. Tangier Island Airport (TGI), Tangier, Virginia
  2. Mackinac Island Airport (MCD), Mackinac Island, Michigan
  3. Catalina Airport (AVX), Catalina Island, California
  4. Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK), Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
  5. Put in Bay Airport (3W2), South Bass Island, Ohio
  6. Ocracoke Island Airport (W95), Ocracoke, North Carolina
  7. George T. Lewis Airport (CDK), Cedar Key, Florida
  8. Friday Harbor Airport (FHR), Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
  9. Jekyll Island Airport (09J), Jekyll Island, Georgia
  10. Katama Airpark (1B2), Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

washingtonislandairportdeparture.jpgMissing from the authors list was one of my favorite island airports, Washington Island, situated six miles of the northern tip of Wisconsin's Door County Peninsula. If you are planning on visiting Washington Island you will need to arrive by boat, bring your bike or car by ferry or fly into Washington Island Airport. Flying to Washington Island from anywhere south of the Island provides a scenic flight along the Door County Peninsula. The Peninsula is 75 miles long and 10 miles wide and narrows as you travel northeast and culminates with the quaint Washington Island. You will enjoy viewing corn mazes and beautiful bays and lighthouses along the route. On Washington Island there are several great places to catch a bite to eat.

For the 56th year the Lion's Club of Washington Island hosted their Annual Fly-In Fish Boil this past weekend. Typically the event draws planes from all over the Midwest and Canada. The island airport features two runways, one of which was recently closed to be expanded from a 1,300 feet to a more manageable 2,250 feet. When completed the airport will feature two turf runways each with a length of 2,250 feet which will surely make this airport more accessible on those windy days.

Below are some of my photos from a visit to Washington Island Airport last year. If you are looking for a fun place to fly to this summer, I recommend you check out Washington Island.

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Posted at 10:09 PM | Post Category: Door County, Fly-in, Flying Destinations | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story