Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fly-ins, pancakes, balloons, and lasers

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-BTL-2H4-OEB-40I
Weather - 40I: Clear, 50-65 degrees, wind calm
Weather - BTL: Clear, 64-72 degrees, wind light and variable

Today was, quite simply, a perfect day for a pilot. We've been planning to fly to Kalamazoo for the day to attend the Triple H Fly-In for a while. My friend Rob has been telling me how great it is and I've been trying to get up there for it. Today, the weather and calendar finally cooperated.

It also turned out to be the day Western Michigan University's College of Aviation was holding their annual Pancake Breakfast Fly-In. Both Gina and I are WMU alumni and I'd never landed at W.K. Kellogg Airport before (home to the College of Aviation) so those were more than enough reasons for a last-minute change in plans. I decided that we would stop at BTL for breakfast, then continue on to 2H4 for the fly-in. We arrived at Stewart around 7:30, just after sunrise.

There were some visitors at the airport before we took off

As we were preparing to leave, a hot air balloon began descending over the airport. I assumed they were going to land and asked (yeah, you can easily talk to people in balloons - they're neat, and quiet, aerial contraptions) if I should move the plane. They said nope, just passing by for "in-flight beverage service." One of the ground crew members proceeded to toss bottled water to the people in the basket. Ha! Gotta love the good folks at Bella... :-)

One thing about early morning, cool-weather departures in parked-outside airplanes is that the windows love to fog up. I wiped them clear during preflight but knew it would take a minute in the air to rid them of all the moisture. Forward visibility was sufficient as I pushed in the throttle and the Skyhawk took to the crisp, fall-like air. As anticipated, the view fully cleared in seconds.

Highlights from all of today's flying - BTL, 2H4, OEB, and more!

I contacted Columbus Approach and got a squawk code for flight following all the way to Battle Creek. An Air Force KC-10 was up early practicing approaches at DAY; the controller called the traffic as they passed about 1,500 feet beneath us. We made our way northward, eventually receiving a handoff to Fort Wayne Approach.

Some early-morning clouds were lingering near Eastwood Lake

Thousands of cars were parked at the USAF Museum for the Air Force Marathon

Windmills stretch for miles in the Blue Creek Wind Farm near Van Wert, OH

Crossing into Michigan while flying parallel to I-69

Somewhere near the Michigan-Indiana state line we were told to contact Kalamazoo Approach. They called out one airplane (which we never spotted) and told us to contact Battle Creek Tower about eight miles from the airport. The controller told me to enter a left base for Runway 23R but traffic was so light that he cleared us to land well before we reached that point.

Downtown Battle Creek lies ahead

I made a pretty good landing - until the nose wheel started to shake like mad. Back pressure on the stick, a little dance on the brakes... ahh, all better. Mental note to tell them to check the shimmy damper when we get back to Stewart.

We parked on WMU's ramp and hopped out, hungry for some pancakes. They were delicious and lived up to their "flying" reputation - the cook tosses them into the air and you have to catch your meal with your plate. I'm happy to report that Gina and I went five-for-five on the morning.

After the blood sugar boost, we wandered around for a little while. I ran into another WMU grad who now flies for United and we talked for a few minutes about his recent 787 upgrade training (jealous!) and aviation in general. Then it was time to head to Triple H, so we climbed back in the 172 and contacted Ground. We were airborne off Runway 23R a few minutes later.

It's a very short flight from BTL to 2H4 - when I checked on the video back at home, it was only 13 minutes from takeoff to touchdown. However, those were a relatively busy 13 minutes. Being a grass strip nestled amongst trees on all sides, it took a few minutes to find the place. Thankfully I was able to spot other airplanes in the pattern and entered on the 45 from a few miles out.

My landing was less than graceful but it got the job done. I set up for a short field approach using all 40 degrees of flaps and a 70 MPH approach speed. It worked out perfectly until the flare when, due to the limited remaining energy, I flared a bit too much... right when we hit ground effect, which caused me to balloon up more than expected. I recovered, though, relaxing the back pressure and touching down rather softly. We turned off the grass runway about halfway down its 2,400 foot length.

This one photo pretty much sums up the fly-in

A pristine 1959 Imperial and a Studebaker Champion

A beautiful first generation Chevy Impala

You're not going to find many better-looking Cessna 140s 

I love Cessna 195s - this guy made an awesome pass on departure, too

Piper J-5 Cub Cruiser with a hard-to-miss paint job

It's not a proper grass strip without a yellow Cub on the ground!

This polished Ercoupe is a thing of beauty; we ran into the pilot at OEB later, too

Gina and I wandered around with Rob and his girlfriend Abby for a while. As you can see from the photos above, it was a pilot's kind of place and a perfect example of a grassroots fly-in. Old airplanes, old cars, (some) old people. Not to mention free food! We brought one of Gina's famous strawberry pies (the crowd must have agreed - it was gone long before we made our way up the food line) as our dish to pass.

You can't beat this vantage point for watching T-6s depart up close!

Eventually, we all climbed into Rob's SUV and headed into Kalamazoo. It's a city that both Gina and I love so we appreciate any opportunity to visit, even if it's only for a couple hours. We ended up at Olde Peninsula for some snacks and drinks - a Coke in my case, since I had to fly. Not that I didn't figure out a way to enjoy some of their famous beer. We bought a growler of their seasonal Pumpkin Ale to enjoy back in Ohio!

We said our goodbyes and prepared to depart around 5:30. It's handy having friends who are awesome aviation photographers. Rob took a bunch of great shots of us leaving Triple H! I've included a few of them below for a different perspective of our departure...

Lifting off in a combination short/soft-field takeoff

About to wave the wings to say goodbye

Making a low approach before departing towards Kalamazoo

The only other time I've flown over Kalamazoo was way back in 2002 on the third flight ever recorded in my logbook, before I even was thinking about attending WMU. Since I don't know when we may fly overhead again I figured we shouldn't pass up the opportunity to fly over campus for some photos. Kalamazoo Tower gave us permission (it's at the edge of their airspace) and Gina manned (womanned?) the camera while I flew a wide circle overhead.

WMU's Goldsworth Valley - where Gina and I lived freshman year

Zimmerman Hall - our sophomore year home in Kalamazoo

Looking northeast down West Michigan Avenue

WMU's West (Main) Campus

West Campus and the recently-completed "New" Sangren Hall

Waldo Stadium - Go Broncos!

College of Health and Human Services on East Campus

The famous water tower at Kalamazoo State Hospital

It was a ton of fun to see so many familiar buildings and sights from above. Admittedly, I was concentrating on flying at the time and didn't get to fully appreciate the view until I got home and looked at the photos. Gina and I really do love WMU, Kalamazoo and West Michigan in general (have I said that enough yet?) and we both had a blast circling over campus.

Anyway, I pointed the nose towards Coldwater and Kalamazoo Tower handed us back off to Approach. There were no clouds in the sky and the sun was at that just-right angle where everything below was lit up in beautiful, vivid color. I enjoyed the view while Gina read a book during our short hop to Branch Co. Memorial Airport.

We landed on Runway 04 and taxied to the fuel pump. It took a minute... guess I should've Google Earthed the airport before we left home to figure out where the pump was located! The airplane took 25 gallons of 100LL, which calculated out to a fuel burn of about 8.0 gal/hr. That's precisely in line with the numbers I've seen on previous long trips in 14L. It's nice when things work out like that.

Shortly thereafter we were back in the air, climbing to 7,500 feet and talking with ATC. I heard what was one of the best radio calls I've ever witnessed while we were under the control of Fort Wayne Approach. The controller asked a helicopter pilot where he was headed; he replied that, oh, he was just dropping a bride off at her wedding. Love it.

Descending over Dayton, we experienced something I honestly never thought I'd encounter in the air. Someone was shining a laser into the sky and, as far as I could tell at the time, was aiming at our airplane. Thankfully it was still light out and we were relatively high so it wasn't anything more than a brief distraction. Not-so-thankfully (for the idiot shining lasers at airplanes) I happened to have the camera recording at the time. It's all captured on the video below. The investigation's in the FAA's hands now so that's all I currently have to say about it.

The camera was recording when we were hit with a green laser over Dayton

The sunset was beautiful tonight. Gina took some photos as we passed over downtown. The lights of the city twinkled below in the dwindling daylight. It truly was a beautiful view during our final descent down to pattern altitude.

Passing over top of downtown Dayton just past sunset

It's blurry, but the colors are too good not to include it!

I crossed over the airport midfield and made a smooth landing on Runway 26. We were safely back home after a really fun flying adventure! Although it was still plenty bright to see, my video camera doesn't have the best low-light performance. That's why the video at the top of the post ends while we're passing over downtown Dayton.

There's not too much else to add about today. We flew a lot, saw a lot, ate a lot, and expended a lot... of energy. Both of us were pooped by the time we got home. That said, we'd do it again in a heartbeat. You just can't beat a good day trip made possible by general aviation!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 4.8 hours
Total Time: 243.6 hours


  1. Great write up and pictures. I don't get why someone would think it is funny to point lasers at planes...

    1. Thanks!

      ...and I gave up on trying to rationalize the intellect of most folks a long time ago ;-)

  2. Great post! It's always fun to get back to Kalamazoo. I'm glad you got the chance this year. Love the shots of the water tower and the sunsets. That first photo taken by your friend of the takeoff in 14L is terrific (they're all good, but there's something about that one that I particularly like - it's very crisp).

    I haven't been to Coldwater (OEB) since before leaving Michigan. There used to be a decent restaurant on the north end of the field there that required a bit of a cross country drive on the grass to reach. As a relatively new pilot still flying rentals, that struck me as pretty cool.

    1. Yeah, it was great to finally get back up to that part of Michigan. We're actually going back up this weekend for tailgating and football - via car.

      Rob always takes awesome photos. My two all-time favorites of me in the Cub (at the end of this post) are ones he took a couple years ago. It's amazing how steady he can hold the camera at slow shutter speeds. The results (prop blur, clear airplane) are usually spectacular. Check his Flickr stream for plenty more examples.

      I'm not sure about the old restaurant but there's a cafe in the new-looking building next to the fuel pumps. Didn't have time to check it out but there were some locals in there. Might have to swing by for a bite next time we fly up.

    2. Those cub shots are nice, for exactly the reasons you describe. Very, very cool.

      Any new-looking building there would be new to me. I haven't been on the field since 2005.

  3. Great post. I appreciate the time you take to stitch the media together. It must be a hardware problem for me, I always have trouble getting the videos to start. Anyone else?

    1. Trouble getting my videos to play? Or just in general?

      It might be due to the fact I have them embedded with HD playback defaulted to active; to do that, YouTube takes a bit longer to buffer the video before playback starts - and it might take a while if you have a slower internet connection.

      Try clicking the YouTube button in the bottom-right of the player to watch it directly on the YouTube site and see if that makes a difference.