Sunday, July 4, 2010

2010 Summer Adventure - Day 3

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: TVC-83D-ESC
Weather - TVC: Partly cloudy, 89 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 17
Weather - 83D: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, wind 260 degrees at 14 knots
Weather - ESC: Mostly cloudy, 81 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 17 knots gusting to 23

After a day and a half enjoying the Blue Angels and Traverse City, it was time to continue on our flying adventure. We checked out of the hotel and stopped at a McDonald’s for breakfast, where I used the free Wi-Fi to get a weather briefing and file a flight plan. Due to weather moving in faster than expected from the west, we would have to skip an afternoon on Mackinac Island and head straight to Escanaba. I paid the fuel bill when we arrived at Harbour Air and then drove the rental car out to the airplane.

We continued our circle around Lake Michigan this afternoon

We got everything loaded and then realized we couldn’t find the car keys. I’ll spare you having to re-live the pain of 45 frustrating minutes spent removing luggage two times, searching through every pocket of every bag, and finally finding them wedged in between the weather stripping and the body panel under the trunk lid – which we’d also searched no less then three times. At this point, it was about 1245 and we needed to get in the air.

Traverse City (TVC) to St. Ignace (83D) - click the YouTube logo to view in full HD

Tower cleared us for takeoff and requested a wide left turnout to avoid the airshow performers. I was quite aware of them, as we’d seen (and certainly heard) the A-10, F-4, and F-22 pass right overhead right before we began our taxi. The winds were from 220 at 12, gusting to 18 so the ground roll was short. As soon as we lifted off we started to get tossed around in the expected turbulence, which basically continued for the entire flight.

Passing Grand Traverse Bay on climbout

The view of the bay out the left window was wonderful as we climbed to 3,500 feet and slowly turned on course. I watched the A-10 make a diving pass over the East Bay as we flew away from Traverse City. Visibility was still great for a slightly muggy morning, easily 20 miles or better. We also had a monster tailwind that brought a ground speed around 130 knots. It was an enjoyable flight – even with the bumps – as we passed over the Northern Lower Peninsula and numerous lakes.

Torch Lake and Lake Michigan in the background

Lake Charleoix and Boyne City, MI

Boyne Highlands ski resort, north of Petoskey

I spotted the Mackinac Bridge a good 20 miles out; the two white towers stood out from the water between Michigan’s two peninsulas. Although we would have to forego the Mackinac Island landing, I wanted a great view of the bridge and began a slow descent. I also knew it would be wise to top off the tanks before we made the turn into the headwind towards Escanaba. With all that reasoning, I descended into the pattern for Mackinac County Airport (83D) as we crossed the Straits of Mackinac with the bridge off the right wing.

Approaching the bridge, just before crossing the water

Staring down at I-75 and one of the Mackinac Bridge's massive towers

One more shot as we passed by the center of the Mighty Mac

There were two planes behind us as I came in for landing. The wind was almost straight down the runway and it was howling – a slight gust hit right before touchdown causing a slight balloon. I added a touch of power and made a decent landing, then taxied over to the fuel pumps. A man came out of the office and topped the tanks while Gina and I walked into the very nice terminal building for a brief restroom break and some cold water.

Mackinac Island, which we unfortunately weren't able to visit this time around

Close-up view of downtown Mackinac Island

After only ten minutes on the ground, we were back in the plane with the engine turning. It’s always a bit disconcerting when you’re taking off towards a tree line but I knew we had the performance and soon clearly saw us climbing above all those pines out the front windows. That nice tailwind was now on the nose – I’m being completely honest when I say we had a 40 degree crab angle on climbout! I looked down past the wing strut at all the trees and it seriously appeared that we were flying sideways.

St. Ignace (83D) to Escanaba (ESC) - click the YouTube logo to view in full HD

On the ground in St. Ignace (83D) just before takeoff

One nice thing was that we were now on the other side of the water and all the bumps had disappeared; the air was completely smooth. I called Green Bay Radio and activated my VFR Flight Plan. My tongue twisted once during the transmission (I don’t think I’ve filed a flight plan since I was a student) but I got the message across and they opened it with our amended time of departure. Given that we’d be flying over some sparsely populated terrain I decided it would be wise to have our route on file just in case something went wrong. Coupled with the 406 PLB that’s always in my pocket, I felt we had a decent safety net in place.

Our second checkpoint, the town of Naubinway

Doing that pilot thing

The flight led us along the southern coastline of the Upper Peninsula and, as you might expect, the view was beautiful. We got to enjoy everything we saw for a while since we were moving at only 60 or 65 knots across the ground. I looked down at one point and cars driving down US-2 were passing us. Minneapolis Center had us relay a radio message to a Mooney they couldn’t reach, which was a first for me. Halfway to Escanaba I could tell the weather was moving closer as the clouds began to increase and I saw some puffy scattered ones at our altitude about 20 miles off the right wing.

The middle of Michigan's Upper Pensinsula - not much there!

Scattered clouds starting to form as the front moves closer

I descended from 4,500 feet to 2,500 feet when we were 30 miles out. Suddenly I had noticed some wispy clouds right in front of us – it had looked like nothing more than haze until we were on top of them. They didn’t block my visibility (I think it was harder to see through the haze when I flew to Lunken a couple weeks ago) but I didn’t want to get trapped in anything and started on down. Still on flight following, Minneapolis Center advised us of a contact they had just lost on radar right as Gina spotted them off our nose. It was another Cessna traveling in the opposite direction and they passed a half mile off our left wing.

Manistique - another checkpoint

Traffic passing off our left wing just past Manistique

Yet another photo of my beautiful, happy passenger! :)

Gina was taking lots of photos - is this a subliminal message of some sort?

Nahma, our final checkpoint before reaching Escanaba

I'm lucky to have someone who enjoys GA travel as much as me!

I just thought this was a neat-looking little island

You have to wonder if this lake's natural!

Escanaba came into view when the airport was 12 miles away but I held off calling “in sight” to Minny Center right away. Given our slow crawl across the ground we still had nearly 15 minutes until we’d be there. I had checked the AWOS and the winds were still strong at 200 degrees and 17 knots with gusts to 23 knots. I turned south to position us for a proper entry into the pattern for Runway 18 and canceled flight following.

Positioning for entry into the traffic pattern in Escanaba

Turning for a 45 degree entry to left traffic for Runway 18 at ESC

Downtown Escanaba, MI from the downwind leg of the pattern

We were the only plane in the pattern and the Unicom operator asked if we had a rental car reservation when he heard me make my initial call on the CTAF. I had spoken with him on the phone before we left Traverse City and replied over the radio that indeed we were the plane with the car. He said they’d let National know so the car would be ready when we landed – very nice!

As I turned downwind our ground speed picked up significantly with all that wind on the tail, so my turn to base happened only a few seconds later. The plane was getting rocked back on final and I was working the controls constantly all the way down. I floated along the runway for probably five seconds, ballooning slightly and then kicking the rudder to align the nose with the centerline before a decent touchdown. Given all the winds we were dealing with this afternoon I’d certainly rate my landings as acceptable.

I taxied over to a tiedown painted on the ground and then realized that some of the tiedown rings were missing, so we taxied over to a different spot. Upon shutting down and climbing out we noticed that sand I couldn’t dig out one of those rings either so we pushed the airplane to a different spot. Third time’s the charm! It was really windy so I made sure the ropes were tight and installed the gust lock. We walked into the terminal to get our rental car and they had security open the gate for us to drive the car out to the airplane. Once everything was loaded, I waited and watched a Mesaba Saab 340 land and then we headed out.

Less than an hour after we landed we were driving down US-2 and the sky opened up. We passed through some more heavy rain showers as we continued as well. I’m definitely glad I made the decision to skip Mackinac and go straight to Escanaba, since that was the main destination for this leg of the trip. Spending a few hours on the island isn’t worth being stranded in the middle of the Upper Peninsula when we’re supposed to be visiting Gina’s grandma!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.6 hours
Total Time: 163.8 hours

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