Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cruising past Detroit via water and sky

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: Y47-DET-40I
Weather - DET: Clear, 74 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 6 knots
Weather - MGY: Scattered clouds, 75 degrees, wind 350 degrees at 9 knots

Today was the day where traveling by airplane was truly advantageous over driving. We wouldn't be leaving Detroit until around 6:00 pm and wanted to get home at a decent hour. An under two hour flight versus a drive that approaches four hours? That's some real time-savings right there.

We had spent the night with Gina's parents and did breakfast with them at a local restaurant. They drove us the short distance to New Hudson / Oakland Southwest Airport, where we had moved the airplane last night. It took a few minutes to load everything into the plane and do the preflight but we took off around 1:30.

Our short repositioning flight from New Hudson to Detroit

This was another short hop - just over 25 miles to move the plane to Detroit City Airport, where it would be conveniently waiting for our return later in the afternoon. On the way we passed directly over Novi and took some aerial shots of the in-laws' house. Then we followed the grid-like streets of Metro Detroit all the way to a successful landing at DET.

Grand River Avenue takes you straight into Detroit from many, miles away

Southfield Town Center, including the well-known "Champagne Glass" tower

Detroit skyline from about 10 miles north of downtown

Another view of the city

Palmer Park Golf Course

Detroit City Airport from a two-mile right base; Lake St. Clair's in the distance

Short final for Runway 15 at Detroit City Airport

We spent about three hours with my family, most of it on the Detroit Princess riverboat. The food was tasty and the views of the U.S. and Canadian shoreline along the Detroit River were great. It was actually a little chilly on the deck of the boat - a nice change after all the hot weather we've had this summer.

On the river - a sight we'd soon be enjoying from above!

Back at the airport, we said our goodbyes and I did a thorough preflight. AvFlight had fueled the plane while we were enjoying our afternoon in the D so we had full tanks for the trip home. Great service from them, by the way - I highly recommend DET!

I noticed a familiar face as I was finishing up outside; Price Fielder strolled out of the FBO and climbed into the Citation X parked next to us on the ramp. Based on the FlightAware track, it looks like he was heading to his home in Orlando after the Tigers game this afternoon. Didn't get a chance to say hello but that's certainly an experience you wouldn't have in your average automobile....

The flight from Detroit back to Dayton - including lots of ATC/FSS chatter and my first PIREP

We took off around 6:20 pm after I called Flight Service on the ground to activate our VFR Flight Plan. I don't usually file them but I did today for an important reason - you can't cross the US/Canadian border without a flight plan on file. Although I planned on remaining in US airspace, it seemed like simple and cheap insurance in case we were turned in that direction!

Prince Fielder's jet on the runway in Detroit before us, ready for takeoff

Unfortunately, transponder issues reared their ugly head again. It was working fine earlier in the day but City Tower couldn't pick our squawk up immediately after takeoff. Continuing towards Canada would be a problem without the transponder so I offered up a suggestion - we would level off at 2,000 feet to remain below Detroit's Class Bravo airspace and would hug the shoreline as to not cross the border. That worked out well for everyone; ATC was able to pick us up on radar a few minutes later.

As we flew over the Detroit River at 2,000 feet we were treated to a spectacular view of downtown Detroit.  All the familiar landmarks - the Renaissance Center, Comerica Park, Ford Field - passed under the right wing as I made sure to stay to the right of the imaginary line in the water. Flying VFR down the river reminded me of when we took a similar route past Chicago a couple years ago. It was around the time we passed over the Ambassador Bridge that City Tower handed us off to Detroit Approach.

Looking towards downtown just after takeoff

Lake St. Clair

Belle Isle - that's Canada beyond the river!

Passing over downtown at 2,000 feet

Ford Field and Comerica Park are in the center of the photo

That's the church we were married in near the bottom of the photo

One final shot of the city

Passing over the Ambassador Bridge; the ground you see is Canadian soil

Heading south with the city, river, and Canada all visible behind us

Wyandotte Municipal Power Plant

The new controller was extremely friendly and helpful, just as they were when I spoke to them back in 2009. Once again, he cleared us (without request) into their Class Bravo airspace up to our desired cruise altitude of 4,500 feet. Visibility was unreal and we enjoyed watching the Lake Erie shoreline pass under the left wing as we made our way towards Toledo. As you can see, power plants dot the landscape with some regularity in this part of the state.

Gross Ile Municipal Airport, originally a WWII-era Naval Air Station

Trenton Channel Power Plant

Enrico Fermi Nuclear Plant (don't worry, we didn't get too close)

 Monroe Power Plant, the second-largest coal plant in the US

Toledo Approach was friendly as always. We probably spent a half hour in their airspace before they canceled our flight following. I then took the opportunity to file a Pilot Report (PIREP) with Indianapolis Flight Watch, something I never had done (public shaming time...) in my four years of flying. I gave our altitude, outside temperature, clouds, and visibility to the friendly briefer. He pointed out some weather along our route but it was clear from our vantage point that it was pushing out of the area to the east of our route. If you'd like to listen to the whole interaction, it starts at the 11:55 mark in the video above.

Nice way to finish the trip - a rainbow upon landing at Stewart

Before long we were nearing home. Our groundspeed steadily increased as we flew past the weather system and was in the range of 135 to 140 MPH by the time we reached Dayton. Gina noticed one airplane in the pattern at Stewart as I crossed midfield to enter a left downwind for Runway 26. The isolated cell the Flight Watch briefer had mentioned earlier was now clearly visible; you could see the rain falling about five miles southeast of the airport.

I touched down softly and taxied over to the tiedown. Total time in the air was about 1:45, certainly an improvement over the driving option. All in all, this was an incredibly fun weekend flying trip filled with great weather, crazy visibility, and awesome views!

One final note regarding the transponder... I obviously brought the altitude encoding issue to their attention at Stewart. They shipped it to their local avionics guru and it turns out the vacuum tube (there's another name for it that escapes me right now - but that's basically what it is) inside was bad and had to be replaced. Everything's working properly in 2814L again.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.5 hours
Total Time: 234.0 hours


  1. Nice! I can't believe that I still have not cruised the riverfront yet, but it's never been particularly convenient to do it.

    Regarding your transponder, I wonder if the encoder is just getting old: sometimes they take a while to warm up.

    I liked the video down the river. Your radio work is much more relaxed and professional than what I often hear on frequency.

    1. Yeah it doesn't make much sense for you guys, unless maybe you made a stop at Put-In-Bay or Cedar Point on your way home from Detroit.

      I completely forgot to mention what happened with the transponder. Basically, it was a bad vacuum tube. Thanks for the catch - I added a note to the end of the post about it.

      One funny thing about my radio work is that I was somewhat unknowingly (Gina pointed it out) adding "and..." to the beginning of many of my calls. I've been trying to pay attention to that. Anyway, I don't think I'm always great at it but I definitely try and keep things clear and concise. It certainly seems to improve the service.

    2. For the "vacuum tube", perhaps you mean "cavity"? I had mine go out a few years ago On a cross country trip to AZO. Toledo couldn't read it until I was directly overhead. I wound up replacing the transponder with a solid state version.

    3. Yeah, I think it might be called a "cavity resonator" or something along those lines. If it were my airplane I'd probably install a solid-state as well. But she's a rental so I get what I get! ;-)

  2. Great photos and blog posts. I love seeing famous people at FBOs and I too check their tail number to see where they are going. Saw Arizona Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald a few weeks back getting into a King Air with some team mates.

    1. Thanks, Todd! I agree - traveling by private plane is always a unique way to see the country and people, too.