Weather: Scattered to high clouds, 48 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 5 knots
Sure it's expensive sometimes, but flying is nearly always better than driving (yes, I admit I may be biased...) and today was no exception. Gina and I had been planning to take a day trip up to Akron to visit my grandma and other relatives. Unfortunately, my grandma fell and broke her hip last week so it turned into a trip to visit her into the hospital. She's doing just fine, though, just waiting to start on physical therapy. Anyway, I've driven the route enough to know it would require at least 7-8 hours by car. Hop in a 172 and flight plan to take advantage of the winds, however, and we were able to make the trip (plus a stop to visit fellow blogging pilot Dave) in 3.9 total on the Hobbs. And we got a waaay better view of all the fall foliage down below!
I had originally scheduled 60338 for the whole day a couple weeks back but it was still in for annual. I got a phone call from Stewart on Thursday informing me of that fact and they helped out by getting the person that had 2814L reserved at noon move his slot so we could have the plane for most of the day. Of course, we still left a good two hours later than I would have liked but at least the extra speed of the 172 helped make up for some of the lost time. It's been quite cold here lately (in the 30s at night) so, once all the pre-takeoff checks were complete and we rolled onto the runway, we climbed out at a nice clip on our way to 7,500 feet to take advantage of 15-20 knot tailwinds.
Fall colors down below just after departing Stewart
Emerson was up in the Citabria with a student as we climbed away from Stewart
I tried to contact Dayton Approach to get flight following, but it was clear they were understaffed on this Sunday morning. There was way more traffic than usual on 118.85 so I assume they had combined sectors. Needless to say, I never got a reply to my three calls and ended up contacting Columbus Approach a couple minutes later in their airspace. They sounded just as busy but I did get a response and a squawk code. While it my altitude read correct on the transponder readout (it was indicating 7,400 feet) apparently my Mode C was off about 500 feet and they had me turn it off. The only traffic we saw was a Northwest CRJ that passed a couple miles behind us. I heard ATC vector him around us - nice to know I'm getting even with Delta (sorry but I hate the NW/DL merger) one small step at a time! :-P
Flying over top of the Columbus Zoo
Northwest jet (in Delta colors) that passed behind us North of CMH
Somewhere around this point I noticed I still had the fuel selector on Both even though I should have switched it to Left or Right once we climbed above 5,000 feet. It had only been 10-15 minutes since we had done so, but that was a stupid oversight on my part... especially since I had reminded myself about the switching tanks numerous times while planning and briefing for the flight. This is where the only real negative I feel about my training at Stewart pops up, which is the use of checklists in flight.
Don't get me wrong, I was trained on the use of checklists and religiously use them on the ground for all pre-flight and pre-takeoff checks. Yet - and maybe it's partially because they just don't really exist for some of the older planes like the Cub and Champ - we never used them much in flight itself. I purchased a Checkmate Checklist for the 150 last year (and intend to get one for the 172 now that I'm flying it more) but have trouble remembering to actually use it once airborne. It's a personal sticking point that I'm constantly striving to improve upon. As far as today's flight is concerned, I certainly would have caught the fuel selector oversight sooner had I been using a checklist.
Thankfully there were no adverse affects from not changing the selector. I believe the reason it's required above 5,000 feet is because there is a slight imbalance in fuel tank pressure that can cause vapor lock if left on Both for extended periods. When I caught my oversight I saw the right tank was slightly fuller so I noted the time (to be able to switch Left/Right every 30 minutes) and flipped the selector to Left. It was less than a half hour later that we went below 5,000 during our descent so I switched back to Both without ever having to switch to Right.
Scattered clouds and fall foliage around Williams Lake
Passing by some scattered clouds enroute
The Goodyear Blimp was flying near Akron - about 15 miles away
We passed over top of a scattered cloud layer between Columbus and Akron that appeared to be at about 6,000 feet. The prevailing winds were pushing it Eastward and the skies were mostly clear with high cirrus by the time I was ready to begin our descent. We went from Columbus to Mansfield to Akron/Canton Approach and I had to call fresh each time since they never provided a hand-off. Not a major hassle and certainly never a reason to avoid picking up flight following. I also recycled the Mode C and left it on after leaving Columbus' airspace, never hearing a peep from ATC about it again.
The ride had been incredibly smooth up to this point as we enjoyed the beautiful fall foliage down below. Yet as soon as I began descending, things started to get bumpier. Hard to tell if it was due to windshear or thermals, but we definitely had a couple solid jolts on the way down. The kind where you're reminded just why you wear a seatbelt... that's so you don't hit your head on the ceiling, in case you're wondering. I throttled back to slow down below maneuvering speed to try and reduce the bumpiness while descending but we pretty much got tossed around all the way down.
No traffic was in the pattern at Kent State (1G3) and when I dialed in the AWOS at Akron Fulton (the closest to Kent) the winds were reporting light and variable. I was pretty sure I remembered reading Runway 19 was the preferred runway (although I can't find that in the A/FD as I write this after the fact) so I made a crosswind entry into a left downwind for 19. Just as I did so, someone starting up on the ground called Unicom for an airport advisory and they said Runway 01 was in use.
D'oh - another thing I need to remember to take advantage of is Unicom. We don't have it at Stewart and I've honestly just never used it much so I didn't think to ask for an advisory. It would have been the logical thing to do considering they don't have an AWOS/ASOS on the field. Either way, I was still PIC and I had my choice of runway with no other planes in the pattern but I figured there was no reason to buck the trend and turned crosswind over the end of the runway to enter a left downwind for 01. Turns out my aunts and cousins on the ground who were waiting to pick us up thought I was circling for them. Sure, that's what we were doing... ;-)
As I went around the pattern there were thermals all over and we were still getting tossed around a bit. On to short final, everything looked pretty good but the winds were a little shifty and I ended up in a crab right as we touched down. I was trying to correct with rudder and straighten things out but the wheels hit the runway firmly with a slight side load when I thought we were still a foot or two above the surface. Not good and definitely far from my best, but we got down safely. Chalk it up to me still needing more landing practice in general in the 172 as well as not being proactive enough on the controls. In hindsight, a go-around would have been a wise choice once we were about 5 feet up and I hadn't really stabilized with the nose pointing down the centerline. There's nothing wrong with going around!
In the pattern at Kent State
This would be me just before shutting down at Kent State
After I taxied into a tiedown and shut down, I walked over to the fence to say hi to my two aunts and two cousins that came to pick us up. I stopped in the airport office to register as a transient aircraft and asked them to top off the tanks while we were on the ground. Very handy! My cousins wanted to see the airplane so I carefully walked everyone over to the plane and pointed things out for 5-10 minutes. They got in the seat and took a few photos, etc. I'll add a few of the photos to the blog once they email them to me.
My one aunt took Gina and me to the hospital where we got to spend a half hour or so with my grandma. For just having had screws put into her hip, she looked remarkably good for her 89 years. Her usual wit and stubbornness were in full display (she definitely wanted her Polydent and hated whatever the hell the hospital gave her) so we could tell she's going to be just fine after some physical therapy. I'm glad we got to stop in and say hi and it sounded like she was quite excited we flew in to see her.
After the hospital we had some delicious home-cooked Italian food (got to love the relatives - you certainly never leave hungry) and visited with everyone. Then we met up with two of Gina's family friends over coffee at Panera for about 45 minutes before going back to the airport. Some more cousins of mine met us back at Kent State and I showed them the airplane and they also took some photos.
We would have loved to spend more time with everyone but the clock was ticking and we needed to head over to Wadsworth to visit Dave and get on home before dark. I pre-flighted, checked the fuel tanks to be sure they were full, and we launched into the air off Runway 01. As soon as we were climbing you could see the Cleveland skyline against Lake Erie off in the distance. Having visited the Akron area who-knows-how-many times in my lifetime and seen many places from the ground, it was really cool to see some of them from the air as we departed.
Westbound departure from Kent State - downtown Cleveland's out on the horizon
Zoomed-in view of downtown Cleveland from about 25 miles away
Cuyahoga Falls and the never-completed Humbard Tower
Weltzien Skypark (15G) is about 20 miles from Kent State so I only climbed up to 2,500 feet for the quick hop. They were having their (annual?) Fall Foliage tour, with dozens of pilots taking people on short flights around the area and then landing back at the airport. Accordingly, the CTAF was abuzz with pilots making calls. I knew where the airport was thanks to the Sectional and my GPS but I'll be darned if I could find the place. I did see planes departing so I was able to circle around from the North, descend to pattern altitude, and head in the approximate direction on an extended 45.
Finally, I spotted the airport about 3-4 miles out and made it around the pattern to short final for the (very narrow!) runway. I've got to say that I was quite proud of my short field landing. Set her down just past the numbers and turned off onto the taxiway in under 1,000 feet. Now, it might not be as awesome as Dave said it was (thanks for the kind review, tho!) but I was quite satisfied. Especially after the horrendous landing back at Kent. He was even kind enough to take a short video and email it to me, which I didn't know about until we got back home - thanks, Dave!
I finally got the chance to meet with fellow blogging pilot Dave!
Gina and me in front of 2814L before heading home
Dave was there on the ramp to help me get parked and we quickly shut down and hopped out to say hello. Most readers of the blog know how much I enjoy meeting folks through it so I was excited to finally shake Dave's hand and say hi. He took me and Gina on a short tour of the place and I've got to say it's downright awesome. Whether you read articles or watch videos about the Skypark, there's no way to avoid the love people have for the place. One stop and I'd already call it my second-favorite place after Stewart. Everyone there lives and breathes aviation and, hey, come on - how many other airports have two hot tubs, a movie theater, and a tiki bar? 'Nuff said.
Dave took a photo of us waiting in line for departure
We talked with Dave and his girlfriend Toni for about 15 minutes but had to launch again quickly to head back home. I really hate how short the days are growing! Luckily we'll get to spend more time together next month as he's joining me on a tour of the Cleveland ARTCC. Looking at the flight plan and nav log, I estimated we would get back to Stewart a little past sunset. Unfortunately we were stuck on the ground at the Skypark for about 5 minutes while people getting rides loaded and unloaded and I didn't figure this into the time needed to get back. Shortly after takeoff, I contacted Akron/Canton Approach and they told me I was leaving their airspace and to contact Mansfield Approach. I did just that and we remained on flight following (with hand-offs this time) all the way through to Dayton Approach until we were within 10 miles of Stewart.
Rolling hills near Loudonville about 30 minutes before sunset
Some beautiful clouds on our way home shortly before sunset
Sunset and more pretty clouds - I love flying!
It was getting dark quickly and I realized we'd be landing a few minutes later than I had planned. I figured it would still be light out enough to land at Stewart - remember, it's an unlit grass strip - but already was planning to divert to Wright Brothers if needed. Thankfully I made up a little time in our descent from 4,500 to pattern altitude and was able to use the sky reflecting off Caesar Creek Lake as a nice waypoint from over 20 miles out until I had the lights of Waynesville in sight. By now it was quite dark but I could still see the field and the cones as I entered the pattern at Stewart.
On short final, I was a little high so I went to idle and dropped in all 40 degrees of flaps as the landing light became increasingly visible on the grass. We landed just past the hump on Runway 8 and I've got to say it was a real nice one - smooth and stable and only a hair more forceful than I desired due to the runway sloping down on the far side of the hump. I taxied over to the tiedowns and was glad I double-checked my flight bag for my two flashlights before we left this morning as they were needed to grab all our stuff from the back seat! From being able to visit so many people in one day to the continued learning experiences I'm having as a pilot flying long cross-country flights, today was great. I was far from perfect in some of the piloting aspects but the important thing is we made it safely home and I've got a few more things to think about next time.
Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 3.9 hours
Total Time: 137.2 hours