Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday flight to Michigan

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-OZW
Weather - MGY: Scattered clouds, 78 degrees, wind 350 degrees at 10 knots
Weather - OZW: Few clouds, 70 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 8 knots gusting to 15

My dad has been planning a family weekend for the past couple of months. He invited me, Gina, my sister, her boyfriend, and some aunts and cousins to all spend two days together in Michigan. We're all going on a river cruise on the Detroit Princess riverboat on Sunday afternoon. Since it ends after 5:00 and we need to be home at a decent hour, this became the perfect weekend to fly up and take advantage of the time-saving aspect of GA.

A good portion of our flight to Howell this evening

Gina and I arrived at Stewart roughly an hour prior to takeoff. She helped me load our luggage into the airplane and I got everything mounted, secured, and preflighted. Once the two wing tanks were filled to the top, we turned on the fan and lifted off the grass runway just after 6:00. I called Columbus Approach for flight following when we were abeam Wright Brothers Airport.

Flying over farmland north of Dayton

As you can see, I had a spectacular vantage point

ATC had intermittent problems with our Mode C. Specifically, they weren't consistently receiving our altitude squawk. For the non-pilots out there, that's part of the transponder - the device that basically lets the controllers match the blip on their radar to our specific airplane. Mode C is what replies to the radar with extra data so they can see our altitude next to the blip on their scope. Eventually they identified us with an Ident as we headed north over Dayton.

Gina noticed this colorful train passing the small town of Delta, OH

As pilots, we probably use the term CAVU (ceiling and visibility unrestricted/unlimited) more often than we should. Today, however, was the kind of day you would expect to find if you were to look it up in a dictionary. You can see from the photos below that we could identify objects over 70 miles away. In terms of visibility and scenery, this was truly an exceptional day to fly.

The clouds throughout the flight ranged from few to scattered to broken. I kept checking the AWOS frequencies (another non-pilot note here: those are the automated weather stations we can tune into on the radio to listen to the winds, cloud heights, temperatures, etc.) along our route and they consistently reported cloud bases around 1,500 feet above our cruise altitude of 5,500 feet. My eyeballs said they were lower in some spots but we remained at least 500 feet below them (the legal requirement) as we flew northward.

Detroit skyline, visible through the haze from 73 miles (!!) away

Looking east towards downtown Toledo

Detroit skyline again, now 60 miles away (Detroit Metro Airport is also visible)

Yet another skyline shot - this time it's Ann Arbor

We crossed the invisible state line sometime around 7:00 and shortly thereafter Toledo Approach handed us off to Detroit Approach. They still were having intermittent issues receiving our altitude but the extremely friendly controller had no problem with the situation. She pointed out traffic near Adrian but the frequency was relatively quiet for the most part.

Around 20 miles out, I first spotted Livingston County Airport. Well I actually spotted the nearby outlet mall first; the white buildings reflected the sunlight in a very hard-to-miss fashion. There also turned out to be a guy in an experimental jet making low passes over the runway. If I had any doubts as to the location of the airport, his smoke system thoroughly marked the spot.

Chrysler Proving Grounds just outside of Chelsea, MI

Having grown up in the area - and spent more times than I can count driving out to the airport as a teenager, dreaming of learning to fly - it's always neat to spot landmarks from the air. Even though I've barely done any flying here (I did all my flight training post-college, after moving to Ohio) I've been able to pick out many familiar places on the couple occasions we've flown up. This would be the first time landing at my "childhood airport" so it was a special place to check off my "flown-to" list.

Detroit canceled our flight following as we were descending to pattern altitude. I pointed the nose slightly west of the field to position us for a smooth, 45-degree entry into left traffic for Runway 31. There were numerous airplanes in the pattern including the previously mentioned jet. We sequenced in nicely and were soon on short final.

A few of the countless lakes you'll see flying over Michigan

The aviation gods must have been smiling down on me finally returning to what is perhaps the place that first inspired me to fly. We touched down in what can only be described as an absolute greaser. I'm talking about one of those landings that's so soft you don't even feel the wheels touch the ground. If it wasn't the best I've ever made in the 172, it's certainly on the very short list. Gina said she did notice when we touched but I'm just going to ignore that. After all, she was looking out the side window and probably saw the wheel contact the asphalt. Cheater.

We had the airplane tied down, our bags unloaded, and were driving away about 10-15 minutes later. It was a little over two hours since we'd taken off from Stewart. In comparison, the drive from there to my dad's would be close to four hours. Yes, I'm ignoring the preflight time and drive to the airport. But even if you skip the time aspect completely, you sure as heck can't beat the view. Especially not tonight.

Editorial note - Sorry it's taken so long to get the posts up about this trip. I've been trying out some new video editing software over the past month. Unfortunately, the software I was using to edit this video has been giving me fits and refusing to fully render/export the video. I think it's finally working as intended; the other posts will follow shortly.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.2 hours
Total Time: 230.5 hours


  1. It's about time! :-)

    I think I can empathize. I felt really strange the first time I landed in Oakland County, because I did all of my training near AZO. Aeronautically (is that a word? Meh, who cares...), east MI seemed like it was another world. I remember that first time flying over Lake Orion and seeing the lake I lived on until I was six. I saw Pine Knob (I don't care what anyone says, it's still "Pine Knob", dammit) and my old high school. I felt this strange dissociation from reality as past and present collided from such different perspectives. So, I guess I'm saying that I can appreciate how it may have felt for you to land at OZW!

    Looking forward to the rest of the tale!

    1. You hit the nail on the head - it's very cool to see such familiar places (on the ground) from the air for the first time. I've also flown over many of them on approach into DTW over the years, albeit much higher. Still, I know that helped me develop a sight picture to some extent.

      Anyway, sorry again about the delays. This is certainly motivating me to get (er, build) a new computer and get some serious editing software. I've reached the point where the "what I want to do with the video" seems to have exceeded my hardware and software's capabilities.

      P.S. I agree, it's most certainly Pine Knob to me.

    2. I'm not trying to be one of those readers with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement - I'm only teasing about the timing of the post. Blogging is supposed to be fun, right? Take your time, never apologize for delays!

    3. Nah, it's self-inflicted procrastination that begets self-imposed frustration. I do try and keep the stream of posts as steady as possible. It drives me crazy when I end up with large gaps. That's not fair (and is probably frustrating) to most readers.

      It is fun - and I love the photo/video stuff. I just need to figure out a better platform that'll make all the editing more fun than chore again!

  2. Great use of a GA aircraft. Even cooler was return to the place where your interest in aviation and flying was sparked in a GA aircraft. Well done!