Thursday, July 8, 2010

2010 Summer Adventure - Day 7 (Leg 2)

Plane: Cessna 172
Weather - OSH: Partly cloudy, 81 degrees, wind 300 degrees at 6 knots
Weather - UGN: Few clouds, 77 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 3 knots
Weather - AZO: Clear, 76 degrees, wind 310 degrees at 5 knots

I'll begin this post by warning you it's somewhat lengthy. This leg of the trip was absolutely incredible and I simply can't narrow down the photos any further. We saw so many great sights and I want to share as much as possible with you!

You may recall that my last post left off in Oshkosh, us having just arrived from Escanaba for a top-off and check of the weather. By the time we took a short break and I had spent some time on the computer checking out the weather it was already 6:30 pm Eastern time. Sunset at home is just past 9:00 pm and we had a solid 2.5 hour flight back. On top of that, the weather still wasn't great because the front had not yet moved through. I decided that we definitely would not be flying home tonight, so a new question arose...
where would we be going?

Part 1, Oshkosh (OSH) to Kalamazoo (AZO) - click the YouTube logo to view in full HD

I had called my sister as soon as I first checked the weather to see if she was at her apartment in Kalamazoo, MI. The front had pushed across Lake Michigan and we had a clear path around the lake to make it there. That also meant that we'd be able to fly the shoreline past downtown Chicago, something I had hoped to do on this trip. We also would avoid having to pay for a hotel for the night. Best of all, we would get to visit Kalamazoo - Gina and I graduated from Western Michigan University and are always excited to visit because we love the town. As you can see, this was about as many good things as a pilot can hope for in a diversion! I logged on to AOPA's Internet Flight Planner and figured out my route, then plotted it on my sectionals when we walked out to the plane.

Last-minute flight planning on the ground in Oshkosh

Highlighting the lines on the sectionals that will lead us to Kalamazoo

The plane had taken 13.2 gallons, good for an 8.3 gallon/hour fuel burn on the way down from Escanaba. We both climbed in and I ran through my checks and called Oshkosh Ground. It was a short taxi from Basler's ramp to Runway 27 and I held short briefly for a jet that had just landed. Tower cleared us for takeoff with a left turnout and I pushed in the throttle and said goodbye to Oshkosh. Gina took some great photos of the Airventure grounds as we climbed out. You could definitely see things beginning to take shape as they prepared for the week-long aviation celebration.

Passing over Camp Scholler and other Oshkosh landmarks

Preparations for Airventure were well under way

I contacted Milwaukee Approach as we flew over top of Fond du Lac for VFR Advisories. They gave us a squawk code and we continued south, passing over the Quad Graphics plant in Lomira that I visited on a trip when I was a college sophomore in 2005. We leveled at 5,500 feet but I don't think we remained there for more than 5-10 minutes before I had to descend down to 3,500 to get under the scattered clouds. There were some very tall and puffy cumulus out the window but none of them had any storms or precipitation falling out the bottom. Cruising direct towards Chicago at 3,500 would have put us in the way of Milwaukee's arrivals and departures so they vectored us around their airspace.

Quad Graphics' Lomira, WI plant - they have their own runway!

Flying between the big, puffy clouds at 5,500 feet

Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary - who knew you'd find this in Wisconsin?

The detour around Milwaukee lasted for a while - we flew 30 miles on our 190 degree vector until Approach had us turn back on course. Thanks to the joy of traveling as the crow flies, however, it added less than five total miles to the trip. Visibility was still good, easily at 15 miles or more, as I flew towards the shore of Lake Michigan.

One thing I wanted to do on this trip was add Illinois to my "states I've landed in" map. Although we had no real reason to stop there, I had decided early on in my planning that Waukegan (UGN) would be a perfect airport for this task. It was right on our course along the shoreline and wouldn't add more than a couple minutes to the flight.

I checked the ATIS and heard they were landing Runway 5, which would set us up nicely for a left base entry. Milwaukee cut us loose about this time and I contacted Waukegan Tower, 10 miles north inbound touch-and-go. They asked me to report a 2 mile left base and I acknowledged. Two other planes were in the pattern and they got in line behind us. Tower cleared us for the touch-and-go with a right turnout on course.

The landing was pretty good and I smoothly retracted the flaps while rolling along the concrete, added full power, and gently lifted off and turned back on course. I doubt the whole thing added even five minutes to this leg, but now I can officially say I've landed an airplane in Illinois. Yes, for the record, it's in the "just barely" category... but I'll take it!

Turning final at Waukegan Regional Airport (UGN)

Photo proof that I've piloted a plane on the ground in Illinois!
I climbed to 2,500 feet along the shoreline and prepared to call Chicago Approach for flight following. Suffice it to say I knew this was going to be a very busy chunk of airspace and that the controllers have a reputation of being less-than-forgiving at times. I've also heard that they often deny requests for VFR Advisories, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to ask!

I'll push aside any modesty and say that I'm quite proud of my radio work, especially on my initial call. Who you are, Where you are, What you want. I had all that ready in my head before I ever keyed the mic and I was as brief as possible. I have enough experience to know with total certainty that "sounding the part" definitely makes ATC more willing to work with you.

The controller responded back and she granted my request, gave us a squawk code, and went back to working lots and lots of traffic. We appeared to be the only plane flying VFR along the shore this evening but there was the usual flow in and out of O'Hare. At one point a United 747-400 passed directly overhead, surely headed to some far-off destination. The Chicago skyline slowly appeared out of the haze in front of us as we passed by the first shoreline checkpoint - Bahá'í Temple and Northwestern University.

Bahá'í House of Worship, north of Chicago - a checkpoint

Ryan Field, home of the Northwestern University football

United 747-400 departing O'Hare as we flew down the shoreline

Still level at 2,500 feet to remain below Chicago's Bravo airspace, we were handed off to another controller. He sounded a little more at ease than the first controller but the traffic load was similar so perhaps it was just a difference in personalities. Unlike the first controller, who was working O'Hare arrivals, this guy was working the traffic headed into and out of Midway. I heard numerous Southwest jets on the frequency as we made our way south towards downtown.

Part 2, Oshkosh (OSH) to Kalamazoo (AZO) - click the YouTube logo to view in full HD

The next stretch of the flight, which only lasted about 10 minutes, was simply spectacular. I've seen photos from other pilots that have flown the shoreline route past Chicago but doing it yourself is just an incredible experience. The buildings grew larger and larger until we were right beside them, looking eyes-level at the top of the Sears Tower. We crossed over the top of Navy Pier and past what should still be Meigs Field (don't get me started on that...) suspended in an entirely different world than the millions of people down below. Connections to my employer aside, I'm just going to stop writing here and just let you see for yourself because sometimes a picture absolutely is worth 1,000 words.

The Chicago skyline slowly begins appearing in the distance


Some folks were tubing on Lake Michigan

We were just about level with the top of the Sears Tower

Approaching the North Side

Lake Shore Drive and the Chicago Harbor

The new Trump Tower (left) and the Hancock Building (right)

Downtown and the mouth of the Chicago River

There was a concert going on in the pavilion in Millennium Park

Another view of the Chicago Harbor

Soldier Field, home of... Daaaaaa Bears!

Sadly, the spectacular view couldn't last forever...

I contacted the approach controller as we left the city behind and advised we would be climbing to 3,500 feet. At the same time, I confirmed with him that the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) over Gary was inactive. Earlier, during my flight planning in Oshkosh, I saw that a TFR for the Gary Airshow was in effect beginning today. While I was almost certain the show was over and the TFR had been deactivated for the day, I wanted to confirm with ATC since our route took us right through that airspace. Sure enough, it was no more and Chicago Approach coordinated our transition through Gary's Class Delta airspace.

Passing over the Chicago Skyway and Calumet River

The USAF Thunderbirds were on the ground in Gary for the airshow

Chicago canceled our flight following as we continued along the shoreline but the controller was kind enough to provide the frequency for South Bend Approach. I must say that the Chicago controllers (especially the second one) were incredibly helpful and I really appreciated their service. I had Gina dial in the frequency for South Bend and gave them a call. They gave us a new squawk code and we were radar contact for continued advisories all the way to Kalamazoo. I also asked them if they had anything on radar between us and the destination and they said our route was clear of weather.

We passed over some really scenic shoreline as I hugged the southern edge of Lake Michigan. Much of the land there is protected as part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. That's one thing I love about the eastern coast of Lake Michigan - all the sand dunes. Gina took some photos and I enjoyed the view as we passed over Michigan City and finally flew inland, leaving the lake behind.

A small portion of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Near Michigan City, IN - you can see the edge of the cold front on the horizon

Watching the sun begin to set over top of Lake Michigan

As we passed over Berrien Springs, I could tell that visibility was starting to reduce. I made a mental note of the airport we were flying over should we have to turn back and land. I also dialed in the AWOS at nearby airports to check the temperature/dew point spread. With the humidity I knew fog or clouds would eventually be forming but that appeared to be a few hours away and we were less than 20 minutes from our destination.

South Bend Approach handed us off to Kalamazoo Approach and I advised we were landing Kalamazoo - somehow that was lost in the handoff. It took a long time to spot the airport, even though I knew where it was in relation to some landmarks. I did live there for four years but I never flew GA during that time! I finally identified the airport by referencing two lakes and the large Pfizer manufacturing plant when we were probably eight miles out.

We were cleared to land Runway 35 when on an extended base, at least five miles from touchdown. My approach was very smooth and stabilized - a definite change from the usual pattern at Stewart but a great sight picture, especially with the rabbit (strobes) guiding us to the end of the runway. I brought the throttle to idle, flared, and gently let the mains of our trusty Skyhawk kiss the runway for a very smooth landing.

Final for Runway 35, Kalamazoo/Battle Creek Int'l Airport (AZO)

Ground gave us great, detailed instructions to taxi over to the GA parking. I enjoyed seeing the familiar airport from a new vantage point and noticed that the new airline terminal (only a plan on paper when I lived there) was well under construction. Gina texted my sister with instructions on where to pick us up and she drove her car over to meet us. Once I shut down, I attached my tiedown ropes and helped unload some of our things from the plane and then a lineman entered the key code so we could exit to the parking lot.

They're building a nice new airline terminal at AZO

This was the longest day of the trip in terms of flying hours (we flew 4.3 total) but it was also probably the most rewarding. I hesitate to say that because the views flying into Traverse City and over the Mackinac Bridge were something I'll never forget, but today was great all-around. I had to use plenty of Aeronautical Decision Making, both in the air and on the ground to deviate around and change our route/destination due to weather. I spent a lot of time talking to controllers and successfully navigated through some very busy and complex airspace. And to top all that off, Gina and I landed in Kalamazoo and got to go out to the bar and spend the night in the town where we first met nearly five years ago.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.7 hours
Total Time: 168.1 hours


  1. Absolutely awesome pictures! I can't watch the videos from work but I'll check them out when I get home. Your radio work always sounds excellent, so nice to hear a pilot get the information out without all the fluff. I agree, if you sound like you know what you’re doing and that you belong there ( in that airspace) ATC will handle you the same.

    08Romeo has the shoreline flight in her past; I would love to make that run with me on board. For now I will live through your pictures :)

    Our flying is all about the journey not just the destination, so glad you and Gina had a great flight. Oh, da' bears? Finally a kink in your armor, said I, the cheesehead packer fan.

    Great write up, look forward to the recap of your flight home.

  2. Gina really did a great job with the camera on the trip and the photos from this leg were indeed awesome. I did take a few myself but she gets credit for most of them! :)

    All the videos from this trip added up to a ton of footage (that took FOREVER to edit) but I didn't want to remove too much. That means that there's a lot to watch and I'm glad you and others enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

    Maybe some day we can fly up to Oshkosh together on the shoreline route. On a clear day without the receding weather and haze the views would be even better - and I'm sure 08R would love to stretch her wings over downtown Chicago again.

    Your comment about the Packer fan instantly reminded me of this classic bit...

    But no, I'm not a Bears fan - being from Detroit I'm technically a Lions fan, however miserable of a NFL existence that may be.