Route: 40I-EDJ-I74-40I / 40I-I74-40I
Weather: Few clouds, 73 degrees, wind 050 degrees at 4 knots
These are the kind of days where you simply must fly. Fortunately, I'd already been planning on it since I've been looking forward to landing in Urbana for the annual Mid-East Regional Fly-In for a couple months now. Between the weather and all the great stuff going on, I see a bunch of other pilots felt the same, as the place was packed.
I elected to make two trips up to Grimes today, one in the morning and then a return in the afternoon. Gina had a meet (she coaches cross-country for the high school where she teaches) in the morning so I went up with my friend Mike to attend a seminar. Then, after flying back to drop him off since he had a lesson at 4:00 with Dave, I went back with Gina for dinner and a guest speaker. It worked out perfectly and I was able to log plenty of time in the clear blue skies.
Videos and a slideshow of photos from today
Mike and I took to the air around 9:15 after I was satisfied the morning fog was starting to burn off. While it was clear down our way, the AWOS up at Urbana was reporting 1/2 mile visibility when I was driving down to Stewart. By the time I called back before departing, it was already up to 5 miles so I knew things would be clear when we arrived. I first flew us to Bellefontaine (EDJ) since it's about 54 miles from Waynesville (and about 10 miles North of Urbana) and would allow me to log the entire trip as cross-country time.
Departing with the morning haze still covering the ground in spots
A few scattered clouds enroute
Holy crap that's a big house down below!
The flight was perfect... clear skies, the sun rising higher and higher, and incredibly smooth air. I've never landed up at Bellefontaine before but the visibility made it easy to spot a good 15 miles out. No traffic was in the pattern except some ultralights we spotted a couple miles away, so I made a midfield crosswind entry for Runway 7. The landing was smooth and I glanced around enough to notice it looked like a real nice airport as we taxied back and took off again with a right turn on course to the South.
I was at about 2,500 feet and didn't spot Grimes until we were about 5 miles away. Hard to say why I didn't see it sooner since I've been there plenty of times, but that's why I remained high. There was a boatload of traffic (I was listening to the CTAF since shortly after we departed Bellefontaine) and I remained about 500 above pattern altitude to be safe. Once I spotted the airport, I turned West to descend and enter on a 45 per the instructions posted on the MERFI website.
At this point, it started to feel like we were landing at JFK. Turning downwind, we suddenly spotted a T-6 off our right wing about 1/4 mile away with a Cessna about another 1/4 mile in trail. One aircraft was landing and another was on base. Although the MERFI website said no air boss would be present, it appeared the traffic had prompted them to re-think as some folks were on the radio 'clearing' aircraft to land and depart. I knew the T-6 would be moving at a respectable clip so I turned base as soon as possible and kept my speed up. I was turning final as the plane in front of me touched down and descending quickly, and dropped in the last 10 degrees of flaps about 10 feet off the ground to bring us down softly but quickly. Then I kept my speed up in the taxi so I could get off the runway at the first turnoff. By far the most traffic I've ever had to deal with but it was a ton of fun and definitely a great experience-builder! Folks on the ground then directed us to parking and once we'd shut down, a golf cart whisked us away to the pilot registration tent.
There's the T-6 off our right wing
Turning off the runway with all the parked planes in front of us
You don't see many Long EZs around - neat little airplane
Yankee Lady, from the Yankee Air Museum up in Michigan was parked and enjoyed the sight of the beautiful bird. Then we were able to listen to Corky Furnhof talk about all his experience flying. He flew to Urbana in the LoPresti Fury, which sure looks like an incredible plane. We spent a short time looking inside it since it was parked just outside the hangar where he spoke. For those who don't know him by name, he has flown for a ton of movies - including the well-known opening sequence in Jame Bond flick Octopussy, where he flew a BD-5J through a hangar. It was an incredibly interesting seminar to hear him talk about his experiences filming and flying throughout the world. And yes, he did fly through the hangar for that famous shot. Six times.
Corky's LoPresti Fury on the ground in Urbana
We grabbed a bite to eat and then spent some more time strolling around the grass to look at all the planes. Walking back to towards the grass 'ramp' I spotted John, another member of EAA 284 that I know from Stewart. He's got a very nice Luscombe and flew up with a friend. Turns out he needed a prop, so I was able to hand-prop him and set them on their way back to Waynesville. After they departed, while we were looking at the line of gorgeous RVs parked alongside the taxiway, we ran into Lenny - if you recall, that's who I met up with when Gina and I flew to Put-In-Bay last month. I spent a few minutes talking with him and his friends. That's one of the things I love about aviation... you meet so many great people and it's nice to see them from time to time at events like this.
John's Luscombe - affectionately named 'Buster'
Before we knew it, the clock was nearing 2:00 and it was time to head back. A quick preflight ensured all systems were go and I started up the engine. Once again, the folks on the ground directed us back to the taxiway where I was number three in line for takeoff. There was still a pseudo air boss directing traffic, and we launched as soon as he gave us the go. I made a climbing right turn once we had gained some altitude and pointed the nose back towards Stewart. I spotted a reflection way off in the distance and, knowing it was almost exactly the heading we needed to fly, followed it all the way home. Turns out it was the oil storage facility just West of the field. I was able to fly straight to it over 40 miles from takeoff to touchdown - talk about great visibility!
After about an hour on the ground, Gina and I launched back into the air so we could attend the lasagna dinner. They had David Scheff as guest speaker - he used to be in charge of maintenance for the VC-25s in the USAF, known to most of us as Air Force Once. The flight was again smooth and beautiful and we quickly made it up to Grimes and quickly taxied off the runway and shut down. Nearly all the planes were gone at this point and we were the only plane in the pattern - quite a difference from earlier in the day. Dinner was delicious and it was a privledge to hear David speak about his experience working with the Presidential Airlift Group along with some fun stories thrown in for good measure.
By the time we'd finished eating and David had finished speaking, it was already after 7:00. While I'd hoped to fly to Marysville on the way home to also be able to log this flight as cross-country time, sunset was fast approaching and I elected to head straight back to Stewart. We launched into the air after a quick preflight and were on our way home as the sun was getting lower on the horizon. The sky was now completely clear and as I leveled off at 4,500 feet the view was again spectacular. Gina wanted to get in some time at the controls so I let her try some gentle turns to get a feel for coordinated flying. I'm no instructor so I know my teaching technique can use much improvement, but she definitely got better as I had her try some Dutch Rolls and other turns.
Gina doing her best to hold us straight and level
With a slight tailwind and a short distance to cover, it wasn't long before I had Stewart in sight. I pushed the nose over and made a quick descent at cruise power so we were zooming right along with a groundspeed of around 130 mph. We flew over Waynesville at about 1,800 feet and that resulted in a nice sense of our speed as the buildings quickly zoomed past underneath the wings. As I entered the pattern, the sun was just reaching the horizon. Gina asked me to talk her through what I do when landing, so I did just that as we moved from downwind to base to final. On short final, I wanted to land long to shorten our taxi so if you watch the video above you'll notice me kind of hang in the air for a while. No worries, it was intentional - although I didn't set us down as smoothly as I would have liked.
Sun setting just as we're about to enter the pattern at Stewart
Hopefully you all enjoy some of the photos and video from my trip to MERFI this weekend. If you want to see even more photos, click here to see a slideshow from the local newspaper. All told, I logged 3.4 hours on the day and 2.0 of them go in the logbook as cross-country time. I'm quickly becoming addicted to fly-ins for a multitude of reasons. Meeting fellow pilots, listening to great speakers, and gaining experience flying in a busy environment, to name just a few of the things I love. Needless to say, I'm on track to start spending way too much money renting airplanes!
Flight Tracks: Morning Flight / Afternoon Flight
Today's Flights: 2.0 hours / 1.4 hours
Total Time: 129.1 hours