By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 8 – Back home!

We’ve made it back to Ithaca, as of Tuesday afternoon. Our last day’s flying was uneventful, if a bit bumpy (and, of course, with a headwind…)

When we arrived at Cape Isle Airport (a/k/a Odell Williamson or 60J) and fueled 46493, we discovered that the left-hand fuel cap was missing. Either the line crew in St. Simons forgot to put it back after they fueled the airplane, or they’d put it on loose and it vibrated off. I’d prefer to believe the latter, but I have to admit I didn’t check to see if the cap was there before we took off. I suppose one tends to look at eye level and lower during a preflight, and there’s no way to get on top of the wing of a 172M without a ladder (the step on the cowling was added in a later model). Whatever – from now on I find a way to check. In any case, the local Auto Zone was accommodating – for future reference, apparently the fuel cap from a 1953 Ford Pickup fits a Skyhawk, and we flew back fully capped. (No, it’s not official – I will replace it with a real Cessna cap).

Anyway, the weather was beautiful when we arrived at the airport, and the air was smooth as we climbed up to 3,500 feet. Things are green already down there – this is the Cape Fear River.

Once at 3,500 feet, I found that we were fighting a 20knot headwind – at 105 knots air speed, we were only doing 85 knots over the ground. Winds are often less closer to the survace, so I went back down to 2,500 feet and picked up about 7-8 knots. Not great, but 92 is better than 85…

This is the Bay Tree Lake State Park – I liked the pattern made by the lakes and the canal around the inside of the isthmus (if that’s what you call a piece of land between two lakes).

I’ve seen quite a few wind farms this trip, but this was the first solar farm – near Kelly, NC.

A neat pattern of green bushes and brown fields in Virginia.

We crossed Virginia, and the Shenandoah Mountains appeared on the horizon. That marked the highest point in our journey, but we only needed another 500 feet to clear them comfortably. Soon we were flying over the Shenandoah Valley.

Our lunch and fuel stop for the day was Martinsburg, West Virginia – Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport to give it its formal name, or KMRB. As you approach the airport the three huge grey concrete hangars on the far side of the runway are the first thing you see, from miles away. As you get closer, you see the huge grey jet airplanes parked in front of them.  They’re C-17’s, flown by the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia National Guard.

Martinsburg Tower cleared us to land, and we were soon on final. The right-hand or north side of the field, looking westward on Runway 26, all belongs to the Air Force. The FBO is all the way down at the end of the runway, off on one of the narrower taxiways to the left. It’s a newly renovated facility, with friendly staff. They tossed us the keys to a Kia and gave us directions for lunch. For what it’s worth, if you visit KMRB, don’t bother driving all the way to the mall – there’s a little family diner on the left side of Route 11 only a few miles from the airport, and the food is great.

An interesting thing I learned at a Sun’n Fun forum – did you know you can tell the width of a runway from the approach-end stripes? Take Runway 26 at KMRB:

There are six stripes either side of the center gap. Multiply by 25, and you get the runway width – 150 feet. Sort of neat, actually.

After lunch we took off and headed northeasterly – only 200 miles to go from here. In a short while we were passing the Potomac River, and we were in Maryland for a short time.

After Maryland, it’s Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, in this picture), and a broken cloud deck formed overhead. We had the deck for the rest of the trip, but it wasn’t a factor, other than signalling a much bumpier ride than we’d had up until then.

Plowing patterns in north-central Pennsylvania:

And, finally… we were home.

The totals for the trip were approximately 47 hours flying about 4,140 miles, for an average ground speed of about 88 knots, thereby proving you can do that large a circle around the US and hit headwinds nearly all the way. Still, it was a fantastic trip, and if you’re flying for the flying, who cares if it takes a little longer?

Wonder where I can go next?

{-Back to Day 7: Clearwater to North Carolina

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 7 – Clearwater to Ocean Isle, NC

We’re on our way back to Ithaca.

When we checked the weather this morning, it looked reasonable, except for a cold front right across the Florida peninsula, about halfway between Tampa and Jacksonville. Still, all the airports in the area were reporting VFR, so we decided to give it a try. With a narrow band like that, you can always turn around, or if it’s just raining, you’ll be out of it in a short period of time.

We loaded up N46493, dropped off the rental car, and said goodbye to the folks at Clearwater Airpark. The ceilings weren’t too bad, and Tampa cleared us into the Class B as soon as we called them after taking off. They warned us about moderate to strong precipitation about sixty miles north, but we could see a long way and the horizon was clear, so we pressed on.

Further north, the Garmin Pilot radar display on the iPad started showing precipitation ahead. Mostly green, but some areas of yellow and orange and even “Danger Will Robinson!” red.

However, we still could see perfectly well out the window, and trusting our eyes more than electronics, we continued northward. Before long, we hit the precipitation. How bad was it? Let me put it this way – if I were standing out in it, I wouldn’t have bothered to put on my raincoat. Light drizzle at best, and over in a minute or two. Complete non-event, proving it pays to go look, as long as you leave yourself an out.

By the time we hit Gainesville (KGNV), there was a low deck of scattered clouds, but not much more.

The deck got thicker, but still broken, so as we neared the Georgia Coast we dropped through a gap to fly on under the clouds at about 1,800 feet.

Our planned lunch stop was a the halfway point, Saint Simons Island on the coast of Georgia. The mudflats in that area have really interesting patterns of meandering streams…

After crossing over St. Simons Sound, we were on final for Runway 4 at KSSI.

St. Simons had been written up in the AOPA newsletter as a fly-in destination a few months ago, because of this:

That’s Southern Soul Barbeque, a short walk from the FBO. It’s not very flashy, and we’d have walked past it – but for the smell of barbeque wafting from the smokers next to the unprepossessing building. It was everything the article said it was. The pulled pork sandwiches were great. If you’re in the area, this is a good place to stop.

After we took off from KSSI, the ceiling started dropping as we climbed and headed up the coast. We were clear beneath at 600′ or below, but what had been a broken deck had become fairly solid. The visibility was still pretty good, though. Our destination was reporting clear skies, so if we could get above the thin layer, it would be VFR all the way, so while I plugged along, Jerry called Jacksonville to see if he could file IFR to climb through the deck. By the time Jacksonville got back to us, though, the ceiling had lifted up to at least 1,800 feet with good visibility under, so we let it go and I continued flying.

Blue sky appeared as we passed Tybee Island, Georgia, and it was clear and beautiful from then on.

This is the Tybee Island bridge

A boat winds through the channels in the mudflats on Fripp Island, South Carolina.

I guess it was low tide – the road to these houses stands out against the mud flats.

All of these houses have boathouses on a channel – but it looks like they need incredibly long walkways to get to them.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, where the Civil War started 154 years ago this month.

After passing Charleston, we turned a little to follow the Intracoastal Waterway for a while

We headed back offshore as we approached Myrtle Beach, so as to stay out of the mix of airspaces. Myrtle Beach Approach was very accommodating about clearing us through the Class C and Class D areas just inshore, as long as we stayed off the beach (but within gliding range of shore – no floats on 493!).

A few miles north of Grand Strand Airport (North Myrtle Beach), we switched over to 122.9, and soon we were on final for Runway 6 at Odell Williamson Airport in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.


My college roommate picked us up at the airport as we finished fueling the Cessna, and we’ll be staying the night with him and his wife. Tomorrow morning, we’re off on the last leg of the trip, back to Ithaca – assuming there isn’t a blizzard going on up there. One could get used to this warm weather…

{- Back to Sun’n Fun Report | Ahead to Day 8: Back home! -}

By Skyhawk to Florida – Sun’n Fun

Greetings from Lakeland, Florida!

Our week at the Sun’n Fun fly-in is over, and before Jerry and N46493 and I head back tomorrow morning (knock on wood), I thought I’d post a report and some pictures to the blog. In case you weren’t aware, you can click on any of the photographs to get a larger size version.

If you haven’t been to Sun’n Fun, it can be really overwhelming at first. The event covers a huge area – basically the entire south half of Lakeland Linder Airport (KLAL). There are permanent buildings, like the Florida Air Museum and Central Florida Academy of Aeronautics, which are used during Sun’n Fun, as well as dozens of large tents and hangars, and small buildings put up by organizations like EAA, the 99’s, and so on.

There are forums of all sorts, put on by Sun’n Fun itself, as well as by EAA and AOPA and the FAA. Jerry and I went to several by Ron Machado at the AOPA tent – if you haven’t heard him talk, look up his YouTube videos. They’re very funny, and very useful, full of tips on how to fly and do it safely.

There are hands-on workshops on all sorts of topics from avionics to fabric covering to riveting – in the EAA tent they were building a Onex, and visitors were invited to drive a rivet or two to help the project along.

Most, if not all, of the General Aviation and Experimental manufacturers were there, showing off their latest products. This is the new SubSonex jet from Sonex, which gave flying demonstrations a few days.

You could buy rides in a helicopter, or a biplane, or Ford Tri-Motor, or a B-17 bomber.

Paradise City, on the south end of the fly-in, is reserved for ultralights and light sport aircraft. They fly off a grass strip all day, demonstrating the latest in kits and light sports. This is an Apollo gyroplane.

Many people flew in, and the more interesting airplanes were parked in exhibition areas for classics and vintage craft, arranged by brand or age. This is a very rare Fairchild 71.

Every day there’s an airshow from 2:00 to 5:30. The show often starts with warbird fly-by’s. This is a B-25 Mitchell bomber.

An F4U Corsair – remember “Baa Baa Black Sheep”?

A P-51 Mustang – Lee Lauderback’s “Crazy Horse 2”.

Another P-51 and a P-40 Warhawk.

A pair of T-34 Mentor trainers

The Warbirds class is not just WWII airplanes. Jet aircraft are appearing at shows, as well. This is an F-86 Saber, Korean War vintage, flown by Doug Matthews.

A T-33 jet, the trainer variant of the F-80 Shooting Star, flown by Greg Colyer.

There were many top-named aerobatic performers doing solo acts. Here, Greg Koontz demonstrates the capability of the Super Decathlon – a variant of the club’s Citabria. Kids, don’t try this at East Hill…

Jim Peitz performed his routine in a Beechcraft Bonanza.

Jerry “Jive” Kirby in an RV-8:

Kyle Franklin’s custom Demon 1 biplane, “Dracula”.KyleFranklin-Dracula_4543

Matt Younkin in a twin-engine Beech 19.

Patty Wagstaff cut a ribbon over the runway, upside down

Rob Holland’s MXS airplane has so much power, he can pull up vertically, and then hang on the prop, remaining motionless.


Skip Stewart in his modified Pitts biplane, “Prometheus”

Then there are the precision flying teams.

The Breitling Jet Team was at Sun’n Fun to kick off their first American tour. They fly L-39 Albatross jets, and they’re incredibly smooth in their routines.

Rob Holland, Matt Chapman and Bill Stein flew formations as the 4CE team (pronounced “Fource”). That’s an MXS, CAP580 and an Edge 540.

In a great display of formation aerobatics between wildly different airplanes, Gary Rower and Buck Roetman performed in a Stearman and a Pitts.

The GEICO Skytypers fly SNJ-2 Navy trainers from the Second World War – and very well, indeed.

Finally, the ultimate in precision formation teams, the Air Force Thunderbirds in their F-16 jets:

The Mirror Pass, cockpit to cockpit…

… and the other way up, just for variety…

Two of the days, Wednesday and Saturday, ended with evening airshows. The evening shows started at dusk with the Aeroshell team in their AT-6 trainers, equipped with LED lights and smoke:

Dan Buchanan carried an incredible amount of pyrotechnics on his powered hang glider.

I think the most beautiful performance was Manfred Radius, who flew his sailplane with pyrotechnics on the wingtips. Silent flight to the sound of classical music…

By far the most spectacular performance was by Gene Soucy, flying his Grumman Ag Cat:

Watch this space tomorrow (I hope), as we resume the flight…
{-Back to Day 6: Texarkana to Clearwater | Ahead to Day 7 Clearwater to North Carolina -}

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 6 – Texarkana to Florida

After a long – and sometimes frustrating – day, we’ve made it to Florida.

The weather this morning in Texarkana was beautiful, and the forecast was for the rain which was over north Florida and Georgia to have moved offshore by the time we arrived late in the day. So, with our fingers crossed, we took off from KTXK bright and early.

This is the Red River in Arkansas – the cut-off oxbow bend is now called “Cypress City Lake”.

I’m not sure what’s going on here. Looks like static electricity on a grand scale…1244-LA-trails

After an hour or so, we crossed the Mississippi – unlike my first crossing last week, the River was in full Big Muddy mode, complete with towboats. 1256-Mississippi

This is a tributary of the Mississippi, with farms on each bank. 1261-MS-riverfarms

I’d seen a post on the AOPA Members facebook group from the FBO at Monroe County, Alabama (KMVC), inviting people flying to Sun’n’Fun to stop in for a free buffet meal. As it turned out, KMVC was almost exactly half way between Texarkana and Clearwater, so it made a perfect stop for fuel and food. About three hours after taking off, we were on final for runway 21, KMVC.

Everyone at Monroe County was as friendly as can be – the guy on the line even pumped our fuel at the self-service fuel pump. We fueled next to another airplane (a Cherokee) headed to Sun’n’Fun, then we all went into the FBO for food.1278-AL-KMVC

It was still a bit early for lunch, so they had a breakfast buffet – sausages, corn bread, grits (of course), sausage-and-egg-biscuits, coffee and other drinks, even popcorn… 1279-AL-KMVC-buffet

We filled up, then sat around talking flying while we watched the weather on our tablets or smartphones – the storms moving in from the Gulf of Mexico hadn’t moved on as predicted. In fact, they seemed to be getting worse. We waited, and watched, until it looked like there was a route along the back side, if we headed more directly south and then east. The problem is that most of the Gulf coast around there, and many miles inland, are all restricted areas and military operations areas (MOA’s). We found that we could take a corridor from KMVC to Logan (1A4), Tri County (1J0), and Mariana (KMAI), then south to Talahassee (KTLH) which avoids the various airspaces. We decided to go ahead for an hour, which would take us to KMAI, and see how things looked. If the weather wasn’t good ahead, we’d land there. If not, we’d go on to Talahassee and see how it was there, and so on.

As it turned out, we started to get light rain around Talahassee, but the visibility was still good, so we decided to press onward to Perry-Foley (40J). About ten miles from 40J the ceiling began to drop and the rain strengthened. We decided to land and wait it out – along with about eight other airplanes, as it turned out. 1285-FL-PerryFoley-40J

Perry-Foley is another very friendly FBO, with a nice airport dog and a good facility for just sitting around in. So we did, for several hours. I read some magazines, petted the dog, talked flying, checked the weather, autographed the Sun’n’Fun poster on the wall… Finally, a little after 5:00 the weather broke and we got back in the air.

The route to Clearwater runs along the Gulf Coast. The weather wasn’t bad as we went along, and you could see clearing to the west.

To the east, most of the land is pine scrub or mud flats with interesting channels. 1300-FL-mudflats

As we neared Clearwater, it turned out that the storms had moved on – but they’d left behind a low deck of broken clouds at about 800-1,200 feet. We threaded our way through the clouds and the busy workspace (talking to Tampa Approach along the way), until we arrived at KCLW – and for a miracle, the deck broke enough to make our landing uneventful at last.

For an extra eight dollars a night, they offered an open-sided hangar for 493, which I decided was worth it. The Cessna’s done a fine job, and earned a week in the shade.1318-FL-KCLW-493

We’re off to Sun’n’Fun tomorrow morning, and all week. If everything works well with the weather (and when does that happen?) we will be back in the air a week from today. As ever, watch this space…

<- Back to Day 5: Santa Fe to Texarkana | Ahead to Sun’n Fun Report ->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 5 – Santa Fe to Texarkana

Today’s weather in Santa Fe was picture perfect – clear blue cloudless skies – albeit with a very strong north wind. We dropped off the rental car and were in the air by 9:00 Mountain Time. We climbed to about 8,100 feet to clear the hills southeast of Santa Fe – once you’ve made it over those ridges, it’s downhill all the way to Florida.

This is a map of our route for the day, courtesy of CloudAhoy, which I had running on the iPad to log the trip. With slight jogs to fit in waypoints at roughly 65-100 mile intervals, we headed basically east southeast for the entire day, crossing from New Mexico into the Texas panhandle, then following the Texas-Oklahoma border most of the day, dropping back into Texas for a while, then finishing up at Texarkana, Arkansas.

Once you leave the hills around Santa Fe, Eastern New Mexico is essentially flat, brown and mostly uninhabited. Roads ramble here and there, for all appearances purposeless. Surely there was a reason for these tracks to follow the paths they did – but what? Something to ponder as the miles slip by under your wings. 1185-NM-roads

At the perhaps ironically named town of Happy, Texas, there is a huge feedlot. A billion Big Macs on the hoof – I’d guess it’s not all that happy for them.1196-TX-feedlot-HappyTX

Once into Texas the land becomes much greener and more intensively farmed. At this point, some ranch roads approach and cross the wonderfully named “Prarie Dog Town Branch of the Red River”.

As we progressed east, the winds got stronger – much stronger. Every airport we passed was reporting in the mid-to-high 20knot range, with gusts into the mid-to-high 30’s. We had originally planned to stop off for fuel at Memphis (Texas, not the famous one), but it turned out that they don’t have it. So, we switched to landing at Childress, Texas (KCDS), about 3 hours after leaving Santa Fe. The KCDS ASOS automated weather reported 330 degrees at 24, gusting 32, but they have a runway 36 so I decided to go for it. My landing wasn’t bad, but taxiing with a 30+ knot wind can be really interesting. The Cessna really didn’t want to turn at some points as we taxied to the fuel pump. Fortunately, it was a credit card self-serve pump, since the FBO was closed. 1208-TX-Childress-KCDS

There were tumbleweeds tumbling across the taxiways – I stopped to let this one go by…1214-TX-KCDS-tumbleweed

We had wanted to grab lunch at Childress, but it was not to be. The airport has a courtesy car (like Hamilton, it’s a former police car), but with the FBO closed there was no one to give us the keys. There was no way to get into town, about two miles away, other than walking. Not that two miles is such a big deal, but we didn’t want to waste more than an hour getting there and back, plus the delay in eating. So, we taxied back to Runway 36 and took off – with a 30+ knot wind down the runway, old 46493 felt like a STOL 172. We were halfway to takeoff speed before starting the roll!

We continued to follow the Red River, Oklahoma on one side, Texas on the other. From this picture, it’s clear why it’s the “Red” river…

Having passed Memphis-not-in-Tennessee, we continued on to pass Chattanooga – also not in Tennessee. This one is in Oklahoma.

That sort of thing isn’t really unusual. As land played out in the East, settlers would move west and establish new communities named after the ones they had left. You can find strings of similar names across the country – think of Ithaca, New York, and Ithaca, Michigan (or Lansing, in both states), Rochester, New York and Minnesota, and so on.

Clouds began to gather as we left Childress. The further east we went, the lower the clouds, until we were down at about 3,200 feet, here at Texoma Lake.

At three hours, fifteen minutes, after leaving Childress, we were on a right base for Runway 22 at Texarkana, Arkansas (KTXK).

The folks at the TACAir FBO couldn’t have been nicer. They arranged to fuel and tie 46493 down for the night, then arranged for a hotel room and rental car for us, both at a discounted rate.

As it turned out, we landed just in time. As we drove up to the hotel, only four miles from the airport, it started to rain and a thunderhead appeared, with active lightning for a few minutes.

If everything works as planned (and when does that happen?) tomorrow afternoon we’ll be in Clearwater, Florida (KCLW). Texarkana is almost exactly halfway from Santa Fe to Clearwater, so if the weather continues to blow off to the east we should be able to make it in six or seven hours. We’ll see – as ever, watch this space!

<- Back to Day 4: Mack to Santa Fe  | Ahead to Day 6 : Texarkana to Florida->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 4 – On the way to Sun’n Fun!

The weather in western Colorado (that’s western Colorado as in “it’s always sunny in Fruita”) has been utterly wretched for the last three days. We’ve had snow, and rain, and this morning when I woke up you couldn’t see across the street for the fog. It took until noon before the clouds lifted enough that we could get out of Mack Mesa.

My plan for the first day of the second leg of the trip was to head south from Mack Mesa to Gunnison, climbing to about 12,500 feet to cross at Marshall Pass. Then, descend to Pueblo, Colorado for breakfast and fuel, and on to Liberal, Kansas for a half day at the Air Museum. But, this is one of my trips west, so…

Greetings from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

As I’d said, it took until noon for the clouds to lift, but they didn’t lift anywhere near enough to allow crossing the Rockies at any of the available passes. The clouds were at or below mountain level both north and south of the valley that Mack’s in, and the highest ceilings along the original route were well below the passes. So, we replanned the trip to head west to Utah, then turn left and follow the valleys down to Santa Fe. As it turns out, it’s entirely possible to do that route at no higher than 7,800 feet. Once the ceilings along the way got higher than that, we were off.

The sun broke out as we neared the Utah state line, following the Colorado River as it wound its way.

Note the railroad train, paralleling the road, paralleling the river… not too many flat spots to put a transportation system in those narrow canyons…

The valley opens up as you enter Utah, and the ceiling lifted and became much more broken, too.

This is Fisher’s Towers, a well-known photography spot not far from Moab.1132-UT-FisherTowers

Moab is just over the ridge, through the pass ahead. We dodged the clouds, and went past Castleton Tower close on the right. Very impressive from that point of view…1136-UT-CastletonTower

From just south of Moab, we turned southeasterly toward Dove Creek VOR (DVC), which sits in a corner of a farmer’s field.

From Dove Creek VOR, the route crosses Cortez (CEZ) and Rattlesnake (RSK) VORs. Rattlesnake is east of Farmington Four Corners Regional Aiport (KFMN), and was our first waypoint in New Mexico. By this time we were indicating between 125 and 135 knots groundspeed – after fighting headwinds all the way out it was so great to have a significant tailwind for a change.

By the time we got to Cortez we were able to climb up to 8,300 feet, which put us comfortably above anything nearby for the rest of the trip. The weather report (METAR) at Santa Fe had changed to a 4,100 foot ceiling, which meant not only that they were full VFR, but the clouds were over 10,000 feet (KSAF is at 6,400 feet). We could be sure that not only did we have lots of air below us, we were also comfortably clear of clouds, too. I should note that this was one of those times I was glad I had the Garmin GDL-39 ADS-B receiver – getting real-time weather uploaded as long as you’re in range of an ADS-B ground station is a real plus.

There were a lot of oil and gas wells in New Mexico. This one was out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing at all for miles but the rocker pump and storage tanks. Presumably someone must come along from time to time and empty the tanks – it must be quite a drive to do so.

Santa Fe is effectively in the next valley over from the one we’d been following – with the Sandia Mountains in the way, peaks at 9,000 feet and up. You have to continue southeast until you’re nearly due west of Santa Fe before you can turn left and aim for the airport (PEDRA interection, if you’re following along on a sectional chart). We did so, and as soon as we did we started hearing Santa Fe Tower. We called in about 25 miles west of the field, and were told to expect runway 28, as the winds were varying between 270 and 290 degrees at 17 knots, gusting 24 knots. Before long we cleared the last ridge, and Santa Fe was straight ahead.

We were cleared to land while we were on downwind, number two behind another Skyhawk. They weren’t kidding about the gusts – about 200 feet up, 493 sort of bounced upward and rightward. That got my attention, believe me. Nevertheless, I think my landing was quite creditable, if I do say so myself. At least, Jerry didn’t scream and grab the yoke or anything… and we were down and parked at Landmark.

Tomorrow, we’re heading east – the plan is to get to Texarkana at least, but I’m not really sure how far we’ll get.  The weather controls, as always…

<- Back to Day 3-Cheyenne to Mack   |   Ahead to Day 5 – Santa Fe to Texarkana ->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 3 – Cheyenne to Mack Mesa

I’ve arrived at my first long-term stop, with Jerry and Barb Friedman in Fruita, Colorado.

At the advice of the folks at the FBO, I got an early start to miss the worst of the daily winds. At 7:00AM, there was only a small crosswind on Runway 27, and after using a frightening amount of the runway (Cheyenne is at 6,200 feet altitude), we were on our way.

On the way out of Cheyenne, the scenery is basically flat, gently dimpled, and more or less uninhabited. This railroad cuts through the bumps and fills in the low spots – but it’s not at all clear why it’s there or where it goes…

As I headed southwest, climbing at the best rate 493 could muster, the land came up to meet us, and became more rugged with scattered outcrops of rock.

We made it up to 11,000 feet not long before we crossed our first pass, on the Wyoming-Colorado border. We flew over a low spot at the northern end of the Bow Mountains, and entered a wide north-south valley.

On the other side of the pass, we flew over these dunes – I’m pretty sure they’re sand, not snow. Impressive, either way.

On the other side of the valley was the highest point in the trip – the mountains east of Steamboat Springs. As you can see on the altimeter, we climbed to 12,400 feet to give the pass a little extra room (11,700 would have done it).

From Steamboat, the route was along a wide valley, via Robert VOR (BQR), Hayden VOR (CHE) and Meeker VOR (EKR).

At Hayden, they’ve got one of those end-of-the-railroad-line jug handle turnarounds. I guess I have to stop saying I’ve only seen them on Lionel layouts, since I’ve found one on each of my trips.

The route continues on southwesterly from Meeker, and we started our descent. It’s a very rugged country, north of the Colorado River Valley.

Descending down past 9,000 feet, we crossed the last ridge and entered the valley.

And there it was – Mack Mesa Airport (1oCO), sitting on top of its ridge.

The winds at Grand Junction, about 15 miles east, seemed to favor runway 25 at Mack, but I made two approaches and it just didn’t work out. Practicing go-arounds can be a very useful technique, especially in a Skyhawk with 40 degrees of flaps (hint – if you leave the 40 degrees of flaps down, you can’t go around). So, I turned around and landed on Runway 7, no problem. They need a bigger windsock – once I was down, I could find it and sure enough, the wind was right down Runway 7. Next time…

And so, 46493 is back at its one-time home, with the Book Cliffs in the background. 0767-10CO-493

We pushed 493 into the big hangar – they’re predicting high winds tomorrow – and we plan to be off early Friday morning. Watch this space!

<- Back to Day 2 – Oshkosh to Cheyenne    | Ahead to Day 4 – Leaving for Sun’n Fun ->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 2 – Oshkosh to Cheyenne

It’s been a long day – eight and a half hours flying – but well worth it. I’m in Cheyenne, Wyoming, ready for tomorrow’s relatively short 200-mile hop to Mack Mesa.

I got off nice and early from Oshkosh, into clear and cloudless skies. Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of wind in those skies – a 25-35kt south wind, to be precise. It took a lot of crab to hold a more-or-less westerly course, but for most of the trip the best I saw was this:


If you’re not familiar with the Garmin 430, the lower right-hand box is Ground Speed (GS) – 83.4 knots. My airspeed was about 105 knots, so that amounted to more than a 20 knot headwind.

I’ve got two Rivers of the Day today. The first one wasn’t very big, and seemed to have a severe problem of indecision as to what way it was supposed to be flowing. 0563-WI-river

Some time later, I crossed over the second River of the Day – the mighty Mississippi, just south of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. On the other side was Minnesota, my second state of the day.

From this point on, the terrain was pancake-flat and increasingly dry.0614-Iowa

They seem to have a thing for right angles out in the Midwest…


With the constant wind, it only seems logical to exploit wind energy – and they do. There were wind farms  sprouting all across Minnesota.

As I flew westward, the smooth conditions when I took off  became increasingly bumpy, and the reported winds at each airport grew higher. I had the choice to stop at Spencer, Iowa KSPW (state number 3, by the way), but the winds were kind of high – 23 gusting 33 – and I had what seemed like sufficient fuel, so I decided to stretch on to the next waypoint which was reporting only 15 knot winds on the METAR. So, on to Yankton, South Dakota KYKN (state number 4).

By the time I got to Yankton, the AWOS was reporting 19 gusting 31, but straight down Runway 19. The landing was interesting – felt like I was hovering at the last bit, and taxiing to the fuel pumps I was careful to use the control inputs you learn in training, but never seem to really need much in our calmer climate. Total elapsed time, four hours 51 minutes.

Jerry sent me a “welcome to South Dakota” text message as soon as I arrived (thank you FlightAware), with the note that he didn’t think there was anyone else there. There probably are, but you can’t prove it by me. I refueled, used the restroom in the airport office, and took off again without seeing a single human being.

With the wind strengths, I seriously considered tying down at Yankton for the night and trying again in the morning, but in the end I decided that although Cheyenne was predicting winds in the high 20’s and gusts in the mid-30’s, they had runways oriented correctly for the winds, and it was still early – worth pushing ahead the remaining 320 miles. And so I did.

In South Dakota, the circular irrigators I’d expected began to appear. What I hadn’t seen before are the little curved fillets in the corners between fields, lined out with windbreaks of trees. That must be something new, as a lot of them seemed to be rows of seedlings. These are fairly mature, though.


Once again, I saw Pac Man eating a farm – with eyes, this time!

Somewhere over South Dakota or Nebraska (state 5), the winds shifted around to northwest, and my groundspeed picked up significantly. For much of the last hour, I saw ground speeds in excess of 100 knots, which was very gratifying. Minneapolis Center and Denver Center both had radars down, so I had no flight following for most of the second half of the day. After about three hours, though, I was able to call Cheyenne Approach (Wyoming – state 6), and twenty minutes later, I was on final for Runway 31 (wind 310 at 22 gusting 34).

Another interesting landing, with a bit more wiggle in the wind than at Yankton, and I’d arrived at KCYS. The folks at Legacy FBO were nice enough to toss me the keys to their courtesy car, and the day was over.

The winds are predicted to be light, first thing tomorrow morning, so I plan to be out of here early and in Mack Mesa 10CO before 10AM. We’ll see.

<- Back to Day 1 – Ithaca to Oshkosh     |       Ahead to Day 3 – Cheyenne to Mack Mesa ->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 1 – Ithaca to Oshkosh

Finally, after waiting all week for the weather to clear, the weather this morning was at least MVFR in Ithaca, with ceilings getting higher as I headed west. For once, everything worked right! I filed a flight plan, took off on time, landed on time, closed the… all right, let’s not talk about that… took off again, crossed a lake, and landed again – all as I’d planned months ago. That’s got to be a first for me. Anyway, at eight-thirty this morning, the ceiling at Ithaca was 2,000 and clear under, so I hopped in 46493 and took off, heading west.

By Geneseo I was comfortably above 2,500 feet, and basically stayed around that altitude for the entire leg as the ceiling rose above me. There was a large headwind – 25kt or more – and it’s usually best to stay low in those circumstances. My ground speed for the first few hours was in the low 80kt range, rising into the mid-90kt range over time. In time, I passed by Niagara Falls. You could see the mist rising from miles away, and even from outside the restricted area the falls were impressive. 0381-NiagaraFalls

As I passed north of Niagara, I entered Canadian airspace, and was handed off to the St. Catherine’s controller. In case you haven’t done it before, overflying Canada is not a big deal. You just have to be on a flight plan and assigned a transponder code before you enter Canada, and then you just go. No need to deal with e-APIS or customs notifications or anything like that, as long as you don’t land in Canada.

This was my first time dealing with Canadian Air Traffic Control, and it was interesting. They must be the politest controllers I’ve ever spoken to, for one thing. For another, the terminology is just slightly “off” for ears used to decades of FAA-speak. I got used to it, but you have to listen carefully at first. The other interesting thing about Canadian ATC is that the enroute controller handed me off to the tower of every airport I passed by (or switched me to the CTAF at untowered airports), then picked me up again on the other side. That took some getting used to, as well. The last Canadian controller I talked to signed out with “good luck – at that speed it’s going to take you a long time to get to Wichita!”  “It beats walking”, I said, and he agreed.

After an hour or so, the St. Clair River and Lake Huron appeared at Fort Huron / Port Edward, and I was back in the USA.

My route entered the US at St. Clair (KPHN), and then it wasn’t too long before I was on the ground at Owasso Community Airport (KRNP). Owasso is a nice uncontrolled field with two turf runways and a longer asphalt runway 11/29. There’s a self-service fuel pump outside the airport office, and a small, but very friendly, cafe which serves quite tasty omelets.

I availed myself of all three – after four hours fifteen minutes in the air, 493 needed fuel, and after listening to all that fluid going into the tanks, I needed the airport office’s restroom desperately… enough said about that… In the interest of full disclosure, sometime between taking on fluid and getting rid of it, closing the flight plan slipped from my mind. Somebody from the airport came into the cafe and told me to call Flint Tower – oops. A good apology always works… After lunch, I took off again and headed northwest across Michigan. I suppose I should continue the “river of the day” tradition…     0424-CrotonDamLake

About 45 minutes out from Owasso, I’d climbed up to 4,500 feet so as to have a little more air under the wings as we crossed Lake Michigan. The Nordhouse Dunes stretch northward of Big Sable Point, and that’s the point where I turned westward to cross the Lake just north of the restricted zones.

Crossing Lake Michigan was another new experience for me. Once you get off shore, there’s nothing to be seen but water and sky – it’s 44 miles from Big Sable Point to the point just north of Manitowoc, and for most of that time you can’t see either shore. It’s easy to see how people get disoriented under those conditions. It was fairly clear by Eastern standards, but the horizon still wasn’t all that sharp. Finally, Manitowoc appeared out of the mist, and we’d made it across…

Forty miles further along, and I was on a two-mile final for runway 27, Oshkosh (KOSH).   0442-KOSH-final27

In investigating places to stay in Oshkosh, I found that the Hilton Garden Inn had a picture on their website showing airplanes parked outside. I’d called them, and sure enough they had their own private ramp for guests. How could I pass that up? When I landed I told the controller that I was going to the Hilton, and he said “taxiway Bravo, turn left on Bravo 3”, and I was there.

I checked in as quickly as I could, and walked the mile or so to the EAA Museum across the airport. I had an hour to spend there, and it was great.         0511-EAA

We’ll see what nature has to throw into the mix, but my plan for tomorrow is to push all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and pick up a day. If that works I can get to Mack only one day late. We’ll see…

<- Back to Intro: By Skyhawk to Florida  |  Ahead to Day 2: Oshkosh to Cheyenne ->