On Saturday July 21st I launched in my PA24 180 horsepower Piper Comanche from Jim Taylor field with the intent of flying to Oshkosh Wisconsin with a few stops in between. The first leg of the flight would take me from Ocala to Carrollton Georgia, west of Atlanta, for a quick rest and refuel.
A check of the weather showed a line of under developed storms spread out across the southeasterly moving cold front. The gaps between the storms was wide and the cells were not really generating much as of yet. As we continued to the northwest I kept an eye on the line of storms, so I could pick a gap to pass through them. However as the morning went on, the gaps closed and the few storms combined into a solid squall line.
A squall line is a line of thunderstorms that form at or about the front edge of a cold front. They tend to include very strong rain, hail, lots of lightning, and a phenomenon know as straight-line winds. A straight-line wind acts much like a plow blade and come down and out in front of the storms at tremendous speed and force. For a small airplane like mine this meant almost certain destruction if I was caught aloft in these winds.
Calculating the speed at which the storm was moving towards me, combined with my forward speed, I found the Crisp County Cordele airport (KCF) to be a good spot to set down. I pushed the throttle in a bit and accelerated the plane forward. It would certainly be better to be on the ground and under cover when this line of storms passed over.
We approached Cordele and I called the airport radio and requested a spot under cover. I could see the purple tops, which made me worry about hail damage. The airport FBO attendant was very accommodating and offered an open T-Hangar close to the main building. We landed just ahead of the storm by maybe five minutes. The sky to the north was full of black clouds rippled and engorged with moisture. We got the plane on the ground, installed the gust locks, pushed into a T-hangar next to the FBO, and strapped it down. Just about then the wall of water appeared at the far side of the airport. It was closing fast. I snapped this picture just before we ran inside.
As can be seen from the photo the sky went dark, as if the sun had gone down. It was about ten o’clock in the morning, yet it felt like late in the evening. We borrowed the crew car and went into town to get a few supplies and ride out the storm. We stopped at a local Wal-Mart for some camping essentials and did a quick video.
The storm blew with a mighty fury for about an hour and dumped lots of rain. Overall this was a good decision to stop and wait it out. The squall line is by far the most deadly and dangerous weather for our little planes. My best unsolicited advice is to never ever fly though a squall line. Instead get on the ground before the storm and wait it out. Let the storm pass, wait a bit longer until the skies clear up and then continue.
Travel day from Greybull, WY to Rapid City, SD (2 hours). It was a beautiful flight. We flew north over the Big Horn Lake and then followed the river through the canyon over the Yellowtail damn to Fort Smith where we then turned southeast towards Rapid City. We crossed the border of Wyoming into Montana, but we can’t call it an official visit and we did not land.
Departing KGEY heading north
Climbing out was slow, even with only 50 gallons of fuel. We averaged about 350 fpm. So I slid over closer to the mountains and used the updraft to increase our rate of climb. This route to the north and then swinging back around to the south east was for sure not the most direct, but by far the most scenic.
The flight following and radar services are very spotty out here. I was able to contact Denver Center once I got over Sheridan (SHR) as they must have a relay station at that airport. The services lasted all of about 15 minutes as I passed into a no radar zone then lost radio coverage. So squawking 1200 and VFR all the way to Rapid City.
The descent into Rapid City is a bit tricky. You have to stay high to clear the mountains just west, then descend at a pretty steep angle to be at pattern altitude once you get close to the field. Fortunately it was Sunday, air traffic was light and Ellsworth Air Force base, just north of Rapid City, was closed for the day. The wind was 180 at 17 gusting 35 as we descended and landed.
Piper Comanche Landing Rapid City
I did my homework on Rapid City. There is a Westjet FBO on the field. Seems they are a bit pricey and not all that GA friendly. Located on the south end of the field is Rapid Fuel self-service pumps and free public tie-down parking right behind their hangar. Make sure you bring your own ropes as the chains provided are very short.
So what do you do after a grueling 2.5 hour scenic flight around the mountains of Montana, and across the plans of Wyoming and South Dakota? You go to Sunday brunch at Ruby Tuesday of course!
We then checked into our hotel and relaxed the rest of the day.
Today we were tourist! We started our day at the Fort Hays Dances with Wolves Film Set where we had breakfast then the bus picked us up for our tour. Our bus driver for the tour was a hoot, and he took us to Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain Road through scenic tunnels and pigtail bridges, Custer State Park, State Game Lodge for lunch (this is the presidential summer White House for former president Calvin Coolidge), Needles Highway passing through scenic tunnels and by scenic overlooks, Sylvan Lake (a spectacular man-made lake located at the bottom of Harney Peak), and Crazy Horse Mountain. Then we returned to Fort Hays for a Chuckwagon (dinner and show). It was a great day!
Chuck Wagon Dinner Show
Travel day from Rapid City, SD to South St. Paul, MN. Because of thunderstorms which aren’t good for little airplanes like ours, we decided not to go to the North Dakota stop that we planned.
The Planned Route
Instead, we detoured to Sioux City, Iowa so that we could wait out the storms. Joe Foss Field has two FBOs. After reading up on them we chose Maverick. http://www.maverickaircenter.com/ They were kind enough to lend us the courtesy car. As it was a bit after lunch time we headed out for a bite of food. We discovered a wonderful diner named Marlin’s where we had lunch. Great food.
Once the storms passed, we were able to continue our flight. The remnants of the storm made it challenging during our flight from Sioux City to South St. Paul. There were multiple layers of clouds from 3500 feet to 6500 feet and above. I still managed to get some pictures (even though it was very hazy the entire flight) and videos (cloud surfing).
The Actual Route
The destination airport KSGS South St Paul Municipal Airport-Richard E Fleming Field is a gem. They have 100LL, Jet-A and 93 octane Mogas. They also offer a full service FBO with courtesy cars and rentals. We decided to use Uber this time and it worked out great. Took us 15 minutes to get from the airport to our Air BnB location.
Oh yeah we really like airbnb.com. We were able to rent a nice little house for $89 a night in the west 7th neighborhood in St. Paul. We have all the amenities of home, while away.
Our summer trip this year was overly ambitious and had to be scaled back to reasonable. Once we figured out what we could do versus what we wanted to do, we came up with a pretty good route.
We will first head to Forth Worth Texas and visit some friends and see the sights like tourists. Then it will be on to Grey Bull Wyoming to visit more friends at a dude ranch. Then over to Rapid City South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and the Devil’s Tower. Then of to St Paul Minnesota to do a brewery tour and walk the river walk. Then a short stop at OSH, of course, and then we turn south, past the Chicago skyline, down to Crossville TN to visit family. From there a short hop over to Pidgeon Forge to play tourist. Ambitious but not impossible. Distance: 3605 nm Time: 29 hours Fuel: 292 gallons
The first leg of the trip took us from Ocala, KOCF to 23M Clarke County for a fuel stop, and finally to KGPM Grand Prarie
We had to fly higher and a bit more north that planned as many thunderstorms popped up along the way.
The clouds looked like cypress knees. A bunch of cumulus towers two to three thousand feet tall and slowly climbing. My wife did a short time lapse of the flying as we cloud surfed.
I highly recommend 23M Clarke County airport as a fuel stop. Nice folks and very reasonably priced 100LL and 93 mogas. Here is a link to their facebook page
We climbed up to 10,500 for the leg from Clarke County to Grand Prairie to get above all the little towers of cumulus clouds. The Comanche really hums along happy at that altitude. I was able to lean it out well and burn about 8.5gph at about 130kts
We landed at Grand Prairie about 3pm local time and got our rental car and headed downtown. We decided to try something new and used airbnb.com and got a great little studio apartment right in the heart of downtown Fort Worth just off main street.
We walked around downtown for a while and then over to Risckys BBQ and had a great dinner and drinks. One of the local favorites is a local brewery just south of Forth Worth called Revolver Brewing. They have excellent brews. I highly recommend them.
End of day 1.
After a really nice stay in Grand Prairie we departed out and headed northwest to Casper Wyoming with a mid-point fuel stop in Kansas at Scott City Municipal.
Flying out of Grand Prairie was much easier than I imagined. I had visions of getting routed all over the place and then abandoned as soon as I left the bravo. Instead I was instructed by the tower to fly runway heading and then contact regional departure. Once handed off to regional departure they gave me one vector change for the climb and then handed me off to Fort Worth Departure with no problems.
We continued north west and made a fuel stop at Scott City in Kansas. This is the second time we have made a stop in Kansas for fuel. Both of the airports we used had cement runways made of large square blocks. The tires sang out a song as we landed and taxied. The fuel was reasonably priced and they pumped for us.
We made our final hop from Scott City all the way to Casper Wyoming. The terrain began to change color, just like on the sectional a little while after our fuel stop.
I used the Hipsher IIP VOR as a navigation point to keep me clear of the restricted areas around Camp Guernsey and to keep me clear of the mountains just west of me. It was a relief to turn that final corner and head west into the valley right at Casper.
We used Atlantic FBO on the field and got a ride to the hotel for the night. The folks at the FBO were really nice. Wife and I had a fantastic glass of lemonade, which really quenched our thirst after so many hours of flying. The hotel send a shuttle to pick us us and take us back. Fuel was reasonably priced, but I only took on the minimum as we are now in some really high Density altitude areas. Weight is really king out here.
This morning we departed Casper as early as we could and then flew north west again along the river up to Grey Bull Wyoming. As you can see in the video below the density altitude, even early in the morning, is very high. We rolled a very long time before gaining enough speed to lift off the runway. Fortunately the runway at Casper is 7000 feet long and afforded us plenty of time.
I used airnav.com to help me find airports close to the sites. When selecting airports I tried to go with local or municipal airports that had FBOs that could get a rental car or at least provide a courtesy ride to a local hotel. In nearly every case fuel and hotels were available within a short drive, if an overnight stay was needed. Mind you, not every place had a five star hotel with every amenity, but most had inexpensive motels within a short distance. I did not really focus on finding the least expensive fuel, just that the airport had fuel available or a close by airport had fuel. I am sure a thrifty pilot could use airnav.com to check local fuel prices and adjust the route to save a buck or two on fuel.
Could this route be optimized to be more direct? Yes it can. The goal here was to match the road trip as close as possible. That way even if you don’t land in every state you at least get to fly over and see them from the air. Another benefit is that you can fly over all those commuters on the highways below, open your window and shout at them “Where is your plane, peasants!”.
The Perfect Flying Trip
Rudy the Red-Nosed Cessna 172
As this is supposed to be a sight seeing trip I chose to plan for flying my 1964 Cessna 172E. This will be a low and slow flight focusing on maximum visual enjoyment. This plane consumes about 6-8 g.p.h and goes about 105 knots (or 120 mph) on a calm wind day. The trip would cover 9673 nm, take 91.5 hours of flying time and consume at least 778.3 gallons of fuel. Some of the legs would be right at the maximum range with safety, and to be honest I’m not sure my backside or bladder could make it that far without an interim stop. On some of the legs slight left or right deviation would be advisable to avoid those pesky tall mountains, but none of it is impossible.
Sunny Side Up the World’s greatest Piper Comanche 180
If I did this trip in my Piper Comanche, slightly different numbers. 80.5 flight hours and 804 gallons of fuel. For sure I would be more comfortable, I could fly further and get there quicker. However I think the point is to take it all in, so low and slow would be optimal so a simpler craft would be best.
The cost for this trip by aircraft will be a bit higher than driving. The biggest expense will be fuel. Based on the regional prices of Aviation Gas 100LL from the www.100ll.com website the average price for a gallon of fuel in the US right now is $5.09 per gallon. Therefore 778.3 gallons of fuel would run about $3692 in fuel. Most FBOs will waive overnight parking fees with a fuel purchase so that is a money saver. My 172 has a MoGas STC, which means I can burn unleaded car gas that does not contain ethanol, so I might even save a few more dollars.
Another expense will be an oil change. With just under 100 hours of flying time at least one oil change will need to be done. A shop might charge an hour of labor and the cost of the filter and oil. Probably best to budget $200 for that activity at about the half way point of the trip. Perhaps this oil and filter could be prepositioned for the half way point of the trip. If you are your own mechanic then lucky you! You can change the oil on your own.
On April 4th of 2017 I was flying south from Ocala to Sarasota on an IFR plan with a buddy of mine to pick up some supplies. Going south the ride was bumpy and overcast at about 4000 feet and we bounced along in and out of the clouds. To the north was a storm system several miles across covering all of Florida; It was enormous and powerful. One might even call it a squall line, which is a line of powerful high winds and storms traveling in the same direction at a rapid pace. The on-board weather in my plane showed not only light (green) to moderate (yellow), but severe (red) to extreme (purple) precipitation. That cloud was tall and would contain some strong wind shear based on these color depictions.
N155CL Flight Path
I heard the pilot of N155CL talking to the Jacksonville Approach about the weather conditions. The pilot was asking about the storms ahead. The controller said that all she had was returns and could not see all the details. The pilot reported that he saw a hole and it thought it was clear. I knew exactly what he was doing. The pilot was attempting to penetrate the storm and find a hole between the storm cells.
This is very dangerous. As a Florida pilot I know how strong and deadly these storms can be. The tops of these storms can reach upward of 45,000 feet and can unleash a furious wind and rain storm with rain, hail and tornadoes. I hovered my finger over the push to talk button on the radio and debated making a quick radio transmission urging this pilot to turn around. I thought to myself that the pilot would be smart enough to see the extreme conditions and do so on his own. I talked myself out of saying something.
A few minutes later Jax replied with an altitude alert for N155CL. Then a contact/transponder signal lost call from Jax came a few minutes later. I turned to my buddy and said “That is not good, he just crashed”. We stared at each other in disbelief. I took a moment to write down the tail number and follow up once I got home.
N155CL Airspeed Altitude
Looking at the flight data it seems that N155CL attempted to penetrate the storm in a flimsy little airplane. Looking at the altitude and airspeed plot his plane went from 8000 feet to almost 10,000 feet in less than a minute. That is 2000 feet per minute for the uninitiated. That is a really fast change of altitude, usually caused by sudden wind direction change. The pilot saw a clear hole because the wind was pushing upward at such a rate that the clouds were pushed out of the funnel. He entered an updraft of the building cumulonimbus storm and got thrown upward at an extreme rate of speed. This sudden updraft either damaged or completely ripped off the left wing of the plane.
N155CL was a Pipstrel Virus SW. A small two-seat light sport aircraft with high wings. This aircraft was not designed for the extreme conditions the pilot encountered in that storm cloud. The instrumentation inside the plane would have included glass panels with weather and traffic that showed the conditions present in the storm ahead of the plane.
Pipistrel Virus SW
The pilot of this plane was not an amateur. According FAA records, the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land, single engine sea and glider. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued October 28, 2013, at which time he reported 12,100 total hours of flight experience. A review of the pilot’s logbook revealed that he had accrued 92 total hours of flight experience in the accident airplane as of April 2, 2017. he knew better than to do what he did. I can only guess at what motivated such an experienced pilot to attempt such a risky flight.
This incident left me pondering why I did not say anything. I beat myself up mentally several times for keeping my mouth shut when a few second transmission on the radio could have changed the outcome. In the end I had to reconcile the facts. As the pilot in the left seat, I am responsible for knowing the weather conditions and the limitations of my aircraft. The pilot of N155CL was responsible for his own actions.
Many of you will be traveling soon to enjoy a week of plane fellowship at Lakeland Linder Regional airport for a popular event called Sun-N-Fun. I would like to offer some advice as a transplant who has tried to adapt to the unique experience that is flying in Florida.
First off use flight following. Get on with ATC as soon as you can and use it for your entire flight in. Expect that you might be dropped once you get 50 miles or so north of Lakeland as the traffic will be too tight for ATC to work you in.
There are some essential items to bring on the trip. Bring plenty of sun screen SPF 30 or better and apply it several times throughout the day, or we will know you are a tourist by your bright red color and the glow you give off at night. Wear a hat with a brim, and maybe something to cover the back of your neck. Bring a rain poncho or pick one up at the AOPA or Jeppesen booth so you can stay dry during the sudden showers. Drink lots of water all day long. Our temperature and humidity are very high and you will get dehydrated rapidly while outside.
If you don’t have an adsb receiver and a tablet of some kind with compatible software this might be the time to get one. You can build a Stratux for about $120 and link it to an iPad or a Android pad for cheap. It is worth it for weather and traffic.
The air traffic is going to be a bit more busy than normal so I would like to offer some suggestions for flying towards the event. Coming from the west I would suggest using a route such as MAI->CTY->OCF->KLAL. If you are coming from the north I would suggest using a route such as TAY->GNV->OCF->KLAL. Coming from the north east I might suggest SAV->SSI->GNV->OCF->KLAL I do not recommend flying the east coast of Florida as there tends to be enormous amount of traffic and training along the east coast and ATC will be very busy. Also there are several restricted areas around Jacksonville which make can make for some extra challenges.
Flying the inland route has a couple of advantages. First it keeps you out of the Tampa and Orlando class bravo airspace. They are both going to be really busy already and the added stress of passing through either bravo airspace might make the trip more difficult than it needs to be. Second there are some good places to stop along the way here and take a break, get fuel or spend the night.
According to airnav.com Williston Municipal Airport X60 has the historically lowest price on 100LL fuel in the north central Florida area. and they also have a diner. If you are looking for an overnight stay, Ocala KOCF, has several hotels in the area and overnight parking is inexpensive.
About the Weather
Clear Skies? So the weather forecast is going to say something like clear skies, sunny and warm. Usually that means a scattered layer of cumulus clouds somewhere between 3000 and 5000 feet. Even if it does not rain we have a lot of moisture in the air and these clouds show up pretty much every day. The ride will be bumpy below 5000 during the day and closer you are to this cloud layer the worse it will be.
Afternoon Storms This wonderful aviation event usually marks the transition in Florida weather to the time when we start getting thunderstorms. This unique weather phenomenon tends to happen in the in afternoon in Florida. Now don’t get too worried as they tend to be localized and intense for a short time and then die out almost as rapidly as they form. They are not usually a line of storms, more on that in a minute, and instead tend to be isolated rain heads that can easily be avoided by flying around them. When you fly around a Florida storm, give it a wide berth. Stay well away from the falling rain as there is also a really strong downdraft right outside that rain head. A good tip I learned: If you cannot see through the rain, go around it.
This afternoon thunderstorm weather happens for a couple of reasons. I am going to possibly oversimplify but here goes. The wind starts in the morning coming out of the west gently blowing eastward and slowly bringing moist, warm air off the Gulf of Mexico. Then as the day progresses, sometime around 2pm, the winds shifts and starts coming from the east. The very hot easterly wind brings even more moisture from the Atlantic and pushes rapidly across the state like a mini storm front, plowing it’s way across and creating many small and intense thunderstorms, which die out after the sun sets.
Bring Good Tie-Downs Bring really good tie-downs for your plane, not the cheap stake your dog out on the lawn kind. These intense, short-lived storms can pick up and throw your plane around. What a lousy way to lose your airplane to a thunderstorm at Sun-N-Fun. Many plane owners have lamented not securing their craft properly and having it flipped over onto another plane at this event. It happens so be prepared and don’t end up a statistic.
Fronts When flying into Florida, there are some locations that tend to form large lines of thunderstorms that can be very treacherous. The most common place is diagonally from Tallahassee , across the state of Georgia, to the edge of South Carolina. Sometimes it will be a bit south of that point, coming across Cross City to Jacksonville, but they very often form north and work their way south. Make sure you have a good eye on current weather when transitioning this space. Do not attempt to penetrate these storm lines unless you really know what you are doing. Conditions around these storms will easily rip off your wings.
Morning Fog Sometimes we get a low layer of clouds about two hundred feet above the ground that will cover whole sections of the state. The good news is that this layer will rise quickly or burn off. However, this does create low IFR conditions over large parts of the state so be prepared to wait it out somewhere a bit north until it is clear.
Read the NOTAM Flying into the event can be challenging for a first timer, but is relatively safe and rewarding. I cannot stress enough to read the NOTAM published for this event. You can find the NOTAM here. Early morning arrivals are better than later as the traffic tends to be less first thing in the morning. Best advice I can give is know the NOTAM, keep your eyes outside, relax and enjoy the ride.
Here is a great example of the approach and landing at Sun-n-Fun.
Let me start by saying that I am not an expert on Oshkosh nor travel to and from. I have done it and survived to write about it. I have made several long cross country trips in a small airplane. I would like to share with you what I did to get ready for the trip and staying at Oshkosh.
Part 1 PreFlight
I fly my Comanche 180 from Ocala Florida up to Oshkosh. According to SkyVector the flight is 938.1 nautical miles in length and would take approximately 7 hours and 52 minutes at 120 knots and burn 87.9 gallons of fuel at 10 gph, give or take a few. Realizing that my bladder nor the Comanche’s fuel capacity would carry me that far, I would need to make stops. I like to keep my flight legs under 4 hours, in fact if I can get 2.5 to 3 hour legs all the better. So I added some stops, based on fuel and comfort of my passengers. Thus the route became KOCF->KCTJ->2R2->KOSH Link to the Route on Skyvector. This way I am not over tired and sore from the flight.
You may recall from one of my older posts, that I always plan alternates. I selected these primary sites based on distance, fuel price and proximity to other landing options. Also I really want to fly the Chicago skyline along the coast of Lake Michigan. Therefore I planned the route to take us just along the western side of Lake Michigan as we fly to Oshkosh. Keep in mind there is much more to do before blasting off into the sky, the most important of those being to read the Oshkosh NOTAM.
Every year EAA publishes the Oshkosh NOTAM. About a month or so before the event, I request a copy be mailed to me and I download a copy so I can start reading immediately. I read this NOTAM through a couple of times and then make notes of the pertinent facts that most apply to me, and highlight the most important facts for quick reference in flight. As I will be flying VFR I try to focus on those parts of the NOTAM to understand how I get in and out of Airventure safely.
The most relevant then becomes the Fisk VFR Arrival to OSH section which outlines how to approach, communicate and get sequenced for landing. Some of the important parts I highlighted were as follows.
Ensure lights are on, and all non-ADS-B equipped aircraft set transponder to Standby within 30 miles of OSH.
Obtain Arrival ATIS (125.9) no later than 15 miles from Ripon and note arrival runways in use.
Have NOTAM arrival pages mentioned on ATIS available. Then monitor Fisk Approach (120.7)
Arrive at Ripon at 90 knots and 1,800’
One additional point, I programmed the RIPON and FISKE intersections into my GPS, but the NOTAM specifically mentions that you must visually navigate over the railroad tracks, which are not in the same place as the intersections. So I had to keep my eyes outside and look for the railroad tracks. Oh and these tracks are not really visible! I figured out that they were hidden by a line of trees and follow the tree line over the tracks from RIPON to FISKE.
Assigned a Runway
Once you arrive at FISKE the controller on the ground will call you out by aircraft type and color. I got “White low wing with lights at the ends of the wings” He then guessed I was a Cherokee. Now as a Comanche driver I do not take offense that he was unable to see that I was a Comanche. I did however correct him and thank him for his efforts that day.
At this point the arrival controller gave me instructions on which runway and frequency I was supposed to use. On the days I went last year there was a light westerly wind so I was sent to runway 27 and given that tower’s frequency. Now it is very important to listen close at this point. Lots of airplanes are coming into the pattern at the same time, some in front and behind, but also planes lining up for straight in approach. The pace of the controller’s cadence is fast and complicated as planes will be taking off, landing, exiting the runway and going around right underneath. My instructions changed a few times between the first call and the point when I exited the runway.
One last point on landing, is that the controllers want you off the runway and into the grass as soon as possible. My first day I touched down a bit hot and rolled quite a ways before I was able to exit the runway safely, The good news is that the grass is very smooth and the tires on a Comanche are plenty big so exiting was not too troublesome.
Video of Flight from FISKE to Runway 27 and parking.
Getting to parking is a bit of an adventure. After I got off the runway, I held up a sign for the parking area VAP so the ground marshals could guide me. My Comanche qualifies for vintage parking, so I was directed all the way back down 27 and around the airport to the west side of runway 36 where I was parked about half way down in the vintage section. Very good spot for watching the airshows.
Leaving the Show
As I had a hotel out at Portage, I commuted in and out. I like camping, but I only go two or three days so it seems a waste to carry all that gear when I can sleep in a comfy hotel bed. After the airshow is done for the day, the airport is once again open for a few hours and I was able to depart. Again the NOTAM came in really handy. I was directed to depart runway 18R. So I had to follow some important procedures:
Transponder still in standby until clear of class D.
Fly heading 180 at or below 1300 MSL until clear of class D airspace.
Be aware I would overtake and be overtaken by other planes
Then the flight becomes just like any other VFR flight I have done. Nothing else changes. I hope this article gives you some insight into the planning and important tasks to accomplish when flying into Airventure.
I put much effort into the planning of a summer trip. The steps start out with a discussion with my wife about where we should go, where we have not been and how long do we want to stay out there. Then I open up a browser and pull up my two favorite planning sites Skyvector and AirNav. Lately I also use TripAdvisor to find local attractions that make the stop more memorable as they often have “top ten things to do” lists for major cities.
One of our goals in all this travel is to visit all 50 states. We have a few states we missed last time so we want to add them to our route. The rule is we have to do something there besides land and buy fuel for it to count. Our theme this year is “BBQ & Beer” so we will try to have bbq & beer at each stop. I would like to sample local microbrews and find bbq places where the locals eat.
So the plan is:
1. Oshkosh / New Holstein
2. St. Paul Minnesota (brewery tour)
3. Fargo ND (See the wood chipper from the movie)
4. Rapid City SD (Mt. Rushmore)
5. Kansas City (Jack Stack BBQ)
6. Memphis (Beale Street)
7. Nashville (Hot Chicken)
8. Crossville (Visit Family)
The stop in Memphis was too short. I really hope we get to go back and see more of this city. I especially want to go back to Beale street and try some of the other venues. So with a full tummy we departed Memphis and turned north eastward to Nashville. The flight took a little over an hour and provided us with some relaxing views of ever-growing mountainous terrain.
Our timing with John Tune could not have been better. I called the airport a few weeks before our arrival to confirm fuel and tie down fees. The nice young lady at the FBO informed me that the airport was closed for construction until august 10th at noon. We landed at about 2 pm that day. Only some of the taxi ways were open and we had to back taxi to get off the runway and then follow signs through a maze to park at the FBO.
Landing at John Tune from the West
Once we got clear of the airport and met up with our friend Joe, we had a lovely evening of socializing, drinking and smoking cigars on the front porch of the rectory. Oh yeah, our friend Joe is on his way to becoming a priest. His summer assignment put him at a local church in Nashville and we stayed with him at the church rectory.
We all got a bit hungry and decided we needed dinner. Joe suggested a local place called Edley’s BBQ. It did not disappoint. The food is served cafeteria style and includes a bar with local micro-brews. I tried a few really good local brews and had some delicious brisket. I have to say the place was doing a brisk business and had quality eats. This made for a really great stay in Nashville as it added to the fun of the trip.
After our visit we once again packed into the plane and flew off to Crossville Tennessee KCSV to visit more family. Crossville is a golf mecca. If your thing is golf this town has everything for that. One of the more unique experiences is the local flea market every first weekend of the month. The whole main street of the town is taken over with flea market tents and vendors sell their wares up and down the street. It is a really unique experience and made for a pleasant visit.
Leaving Crossville and Flying to Spartanburg
My wife had a business conference in Greensboro. We made arrangements for her to meet her mother in Spartanburg TN as I had to get back to work the following day. We departed Crossville early in the morning and flew over the smoky mountains. I finally understand where they got that name. The valleys are full of low lying clouds, which gives the appearance of smoke in the valleys.
The flight over the mountains was about as picturesque as one could imagine. The peaks and valleys made for some terrific pictures. We flew over the mountains at about 9500 feet to make sure we had sufficient clearance over all the peaks. ATC wanted us to climb up even higher. The only part that surprised me was how close Spartanburg airport seemed to the southern side of the mountains. Just a soon as we cleared the range to the south I had to put the plane in a descent to get us down to the altitude of the airport. We saw some pretty high ground speeds as I descended into Spartanburg.
Crossville to Spartanburg
Nice airport there at Spartanburg. The ground crew was very helpful and the fuel was reasonably priced. Once I dropped off my wife and said goodbye, I climbed back in the plane for that last long leg all the way back to Ocala. This part of the flight proved to be a bit more tricky. Summer storms blew in over Tallahassee and then made a mess of the middle of the state all the way from southern Georgia to Ocala.
I used flight following on this leg and I am glad I did so. As I was crossing over the southern border of Georgia, I could see huge thunderstorms ahead pouring out their fury right in my flight path. Jacksonville Approach diverted me to the west coast and I flew home right behind the big storms. This made for some unusual cloud formations that I have rarely seen.
As they say all good things must come to an end. Oshkosh was much fun and I am glad I got the experience. I have high hopes that I will go again next year. There is so much more to see and I really need the whole week to see everything. The Airshow was exceptional each day. I got to see some rare and exotic military aircraft, ate some good food and chatted with lots of pilots from all over the nation.
I ended up staying an extra night in Portage due to bad weather. The storms were really big and strong just to the south so I opted to stay on the ground an extra day and go early the next morning. After another good meal and a solid night’s rest in Portage, I packed up the plane and flew back to St. Louis, where I landed at KCPS St. Louis Downtown. One fun moment was the approach to the airport. I was flying south, descending and was instructed to land on runway 12 by entering a left base. This approach put me right down the Mississippi river and gave me a great view of the arch. Just after I snapped this pic the plane was forced straight up about 200 feet from a thermal. Stuff went flying all over the cabin. Seems there is a giant turbine with big fans blowing straight up right there. Scared me a bit, but I landed just fine without incident.
I spent the night there in St. Louis with the wife and the next morning we flew out to Arkansas to go camping. We selected the Petit jean State Park camping site because they had an airport right next door. The park is right next to the Arkansas river sitting up on a bluff high above the rest of the valley.
We did not go straight to the camp as we needed to stock up for the outing. I called ahead to the airport in the next town called Russellville Regional KRUE to let them know we were coming, and to request the use of the crew car to go shopping at the local grocery store. We landed after a couple hours of very warm flight. The airport manager met us and gave us the keys to the crew car. Nice folks there at Russellville. I highly recommend the stop and patronage if you are in the area.
I picked Russellville, not only for the good name, but also because there was a Wal-Mart super center only a few miles away. This made getting the groceries and other supplies we needed for camping very easy. By planning ahead to pick up supplies here we did not have to cart a bunch of extra weight with us all the way from Florida.
We departed out of Russellville and flew to the Petit jean Airport. It was a hot day and we were pretty close to max weight between all our supplies and food. The climb out was slow, but steady and after a short climb I turned us on course and we flew to Petit jean. The landscape along the way was really lush and green. Lots of low hill, farmland and forest all mixed together and intertwined with rivers. Very pretty country.
Camping at Petit Jean
Petit jean State park is located on top of a hill. If you watch the video above you will see the Arkansas river borders this sudden change in elevation where the park resides on top. It looked like someone built a huge mound and then sliced off the top and made it flat. Very unique geography.
The camping experience was not quite what we hoped. Maybe it was just too hot and uncomfortable, or perhaps it was a bit too rustic. We opted to stay in a yurt down on the lake front. My logic was that we did not need to bring a tent, we would have electricity and gas cooking grill and bunk beds provided, so all we needed was food and clothes. Unfortunately we were really far from everything else in the camp. With the exceptional heat it was very hard to get about and sleeping at night was hot and sticky to say the least. Next time we will book a cabin with A/C, or come here in the fall when it is cooler. After four days of camping we departed Petit-Jean and headed for Memphis to visit some friends and have some BBQ.
We departed Petit jean on a hot day. As you will see from the video above the Comanche did not climb all that well and I had to turn out from the rising terrain to avoid skimming the trees. Really pretty flight all the way over to Memphis. The rapidly changing geography made for some delightful scenery as we headed east towards the Mississippi river. There was one small moment of excitement. As we approached Searcy Municipal KSRC at about 3500 feet I spotted a flight of two C130 military transports flying a southerly route that would intersect ours. I climbed up a bit and tuned to the local CTAF. We were within a mile or less of each other when I heard them calling and was able to let them know where we were so that we avoided each other easily. ATC must have warned them of our presence and they finally tuned in to talk to me.
The flight to Memphis took just about an hour. I planned Dewitt Spain airport as it was closest to downtown, which made for easy access. For some reason I still had it in my head that the Mississippi river was something romantic. In reality it is one dirty water river that often goes over the banks and threatens all the towns along it’s shores. It demands respect. While in the FBO at Dewitt Spain I saw a sign on the wall that showed how high the water had come in the last flood. It was above the front door. Basically the entire bottom floor of the building was underwater. Quite a sobering reminder of the power of nature.
We met up with our friend and I took him and his son out for a fly in the Comanche. I always enjoy introducing folks to the fine art of flying. We went out over the city and around his home. I let him take the controls after a few minutes of flight basics and he did pretty good maneuvering the plane around. I had to redirect them once as we were headed right into the Memphis Bravo. Overall I would call the flight A success as he came back asking all sorts of questions about how to get his own plane and get a pilot’s licence. Job complete, seed planted.
After that introduction to flight we ventured down to Beale street and went to the Blues City Cafe for some great BBQ. Beale street is a unique experience with restaurants galore and music coming out of every doorway. The swell of people, the mixture of food aromas and the sounds of blues playing made for one powerfully nostalgic trip that made us we want to stay for more. We will have to go back and try some of the other establishments when we have a chance.
The food at Blues City was spectacular, and not just because I was really hungry from all the smells. I had a half rack of ribs that were so good it made me want to slap my mamma. The wife tried the catfish and I traded her some ribs for a taste. I have to say it was well worth the trip to try this place out. The food was great.
After this fantastic meal with good friends we packed back into the plane and flew to Nashville to spend the night. More on this topic in Part 5 – Stay tuned!