Fresh on Fridays
I miss the sunny blue skies of California, I am used to flying. Be it winter, spring, summer or fall, the Northeast weather is fickle. Any flying day, there is a chance of thunderstorm in the forecast or at least low ceilings and marginal weather. Long ago, during my instrument training I craved some clouds so I could get some IMC time. Nowadays, whether I want it or not, I am forced to fly in IMC weather. So I have been building, not only my confidence, but also IMC time.
But headwinds? Enough already!
The last few trips to Florida during winter and early spring, we constantly battled headwinds. Short days make it even more challenging. A six hour trip normally ends up being more than eight hours. Sometimes a second halt becomes necessary for refueling. All racing to get to the destination before dark.
Typically my flight school plans a week long Oshkosh adventure: departing Sunday and arriving back on Friday. The trip includes an overnight at Dayton, OH with a visit to the Air Force Museum, an Airventure arrival and three days spent in Oshkosh, an Airventure departure to Niagara Falls with an overflight and overnight stay, followed by a Hudson river flight and triumphant return to the Mid-Atlantic. It is such a fantastic trip, that this year I was all set to do it. I had my week long vacation planned and aircraft reserved. Only, my flight school decided to take a break this year!
But my heart was set on it, so I thought, how difficult can it be? I amended my plan and decided to leave out Hudson river overflight, as I have already flown it twice, but wanted to fly the rest of the route.
Severe weather in the Midwest and Ohio valley, prevented us from departing on Sunday as planned. We departed early on Monday, a little later than planned but hey it is Monday after all and DC traffic is usually a mess on Mondays! It was the day for a flight at low altitudes. Stiff headwinds were the story that day.
Clouds over the Shenandoah valley necessitated an IFR flight plan. And our direction of flight required a flight at 6,000ft. A stiff 45 knot headwind, meant we were clocking 65 knots of ground speed. Any more would mean we would hover where we were. I suppose we should be glad, we were not being pushed back east! At this rate we couldn’t make our destination of Moraine Airpark (I73). By the way, if you ever wish to visit the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, this is the place to land. The museum is just a few miles away, and the airpark loans a courtesy car over night if you let them know your intentions. I am told the museum has an excellent book store and the museum itself needs a whole day of viewing!
After almost two hours of battling the stiff headwinds, and barely covering 65nm, we definitely needed to reevaluate our plan. Also the clouds were thickening and darkening around us. The nearest airport that was VFR was Cumberland, MD. We hadn’t even departed the area yet 🙂
Out ahead most of the airports were marginal weather. So stop we did, diverting to CBE. There is nothing at CBE, grabbing a courtesy car we headed out into town for some lunch and planning. Cumberland is an almost dead mining town. Most of the restaurants in downtown are closed on Mondays. We did find a Tea shop for some fine mid-morning tea, pastries and finger sandwiches. All excellent, except the pastries were too sweet and too many 🙂
Two hours later we departed again, still IFR, but at least with only 25 knot headwind. We made slow, but steady progress. I73 is a VFR only airport and the weather being marginal, we needed to select an airport with instrument procedures. So we opted to land at Dayton Wright Brother’s airport (MGY). Two instrument approaches in one day? Well, it was that kind of a day!
There was no time to visit the Air Force Museum. We had decided along the way, that we would top off fuel and keep heading northwest towards Oshkosh. Arrivals into Oshkosh during Airventure can be very tricky before and after an airshow. Having experienced a Sun ‘n Fun arrival after the airshow, I knew very well what to expect. In fact, I knew it would be 10 times worse than that, since Airventure is so much bigger than Sun ‘n Fun!
Fuel and a short stretch later, we departed. Long days meant we had plenty of sunlight till 9pm. Although we couldn’t keep going till then. Most FBOs close at 6:00pm. Impromptu, I had decided that Joliet, IL was roughly two hours away from MGY and we could just make it there by 6pm. I had called the FBO to let them know our plans. BTW great FBO at JOT. They were happy to wait for us, past their closing. Past Dayton, the skies were clear, although headwinds continued to haunt us. We crawled slowly, but steadily this time under VFR, and made it to JOT around 6:15pm. Not only are the staff there friendly, but also were happy to loan us the courtesy car overnight. There are several hotels/motels within walking distance as well. We spent the night at the nearby Best Western and had dinner at the nearby Shopping Mall.
Tuesday dawned bright and clear. As per our request, the FBO had fueled our aircraft the first thing that morning at 7am and we departed right on cue at 7:30am and headed north. The winds were calm and the skies clear. It was going to be an easy and breezy flight up to Oshkosh. Terrain not being an issue, we flew comfortably at 2,000ft in content, reviewing Oshkosh arrival procedures along the way. There was one Class D airport along our way, that we needed a clearance to cross their airspace.
Arriving at Ripon at 1,800ft and 90 knots with transponder on standby, we tracked the railroad, followed the lead aircraft and were cleared for R27 at Fisk. There was a steady flow, but nothing hectic or nerve racking. Having done this twice now, I say, if you are new to an Oshkosh arrival during Airventure, early morning before 10am is the way to go!
Now that I have flown both the Fisk Arrival into Oshkosh during Airventure and the Lake Parker Arrival into Lakeland during Sun ‘n Fun, I have had time to reflect on the two.
Both arrivals are well documented in a published NOTAM, ahead of time, and available so pilots can plan, and prepare for the arrival. In the case of the Fisk Arrival, there are numerous videos available on the EAA Airventure website. Flying the arrival for the first time last year, I read and re-read the NOTAM, watched all the videos, fretted and felt excited, and eagerly awaited the experience.
Despite our expectation to arrive in Oshkosh on Thursday evening, we did not get there till Saturday morning. Executing the Fisk Arrival ended up being a lot easier, than what I imagined or prepared for. There are far fewer aircraft arrivals towards the end of Airventure. Further, the number of arrivals early in the morning are far fewer than what one would expect in the evening in the middle of the week. Still there was enough excitement and nervousness to keep me alert.
When the air traffic controller spoke to me as I approached Fisk, I knew exactly when he was talking to me. As he cleared me to proceed and when I transferred to Oshkosh Tower clearance, again I exactly knew when ATC was talking to me. Enough that I could recognize my ATC clearances on liveatc.net
The Lake Parker Arrival, on the other hand, was a whole different matter. Arriving during the middle of the week, in the evening, meant, there were hordes of other pilots doing exactly that! Even as we departed Leesburg International Airport (KLEE) around 6:00pm, our Traffic Advisory System started to pick up innumerable aircraft, all headed in the same general heading, and, at the same general altitude.
Since it is almost difficult to identify traffic visually most times by looking out the window, our chances here were even slimmer. A few miles from Lake Parker, one by one the aircraft disappeared from our display, as did we, likely from there’s, when we got within 3nm of Lake Parker. We were in the blind.
There is a VFR fix called VPKER over Lake Parker. A stranger (pilot of course) we ran into at Berkeley County (KMKS) earlier in the afternoon had stopped by to speak to us and give us some tips when he heard we were headed in that direction which was an extremely useful clue to making the Lake Parker Arrival. Next useful clue came from Conor from our Flight school, as we briefed the procedure at KLEE. He indicated, he would angle more east and approach the lake from the east, giving him a view of the aircraft over Lake Parker.
In the the end that is what we did. And it proved that is what ATC expected.
ATC communications were a lot less easy to follow at Lakeland. I think I rocked my wings a lot more times than I was asked to. Frankly how do you know you are not the high wing ATC is talking to? Considering there might be 4, 5, 6 or more at the same time?
I use flight following routinely for most of my cross-country flying. When ATC advices me of traffic, I rarely even locate it visually, before I am told “Traffic not a factor!”
Imagine now, that I am one of the hundreds of aircraft, all converging on KLAL for a landing. Frankly, once I identify who I think, I am following, I follow him as best as I can. Occasionally I see others, but it is hard to know if they belong to my hold loop or not…
But I let ATC worry about that. They seem to excel at what they do… Can you imagine monitoring hundreds of aircraft, different types, different speeds, and talking to them saying “Champ do this”, “High Wing do that”, “Mooney put your gear down” etc?
Ultimately, it all worked out well. I followed my lead aircraft, all the way to the runway. There was a brief moment when we forget what the procedure was to follow after all the holding. Luckily, I chose to worry less of the NOTAM and procedure, but followed the lead aircraft. There was a brief moment, when I let my guard down and almost stalled. But we fixed it and made it down safely.
All kudos go to the ATC who support Sun ‘n Fun and Airventure and make it a safe, fun and easy to arrive at, during a congested flyin event!
I know Airventure is a whole lot busier, especially during the evening, and during the week!
If curious about ATC communications during Sun ‘n Fun check here. Pick a date between April 1st and 6th morning or evening (Usually available for only 3 months after the date)
This year, it was all about the journey. All though we had planned a full 2.5 days in Oshkosh, we got barely a day due to all the weather delays we experienced. Considering the short time we had, I took it easy. Only taking in the two air shows, catching up with old and new friends, but mostly in a daze 🙂
Acknowledgements: Departure photos courtesy M. Ramesh.
Read all about the Oshkosh Adventures here… All Airways Lead to OSH
“High wing, 1/2 mile SW from Fisk, rock your wings”
“Good rock, Sir.
“Reaching Fisk, turn right heading 090, enter left base to Runway 36L.”
“High wing approaching Fisk be ready to turn now and monitor tower on 126.6, Good Morning. Welcome to the show”
The moment had arrived.
Did you notice the Sir? Ladies we need to change that!
The last few weeks I have been watching Airventure arrival videos, the EAA Webinar on arrivals into Oshkosh during Airventure, and poring over the NOTAM.
Intimidating, it was!
Did I want to do it? You betcha!
The Airventure website has a wealth of information on planning an Oshkosh arrival. The Webinar provides excellent information on what to expect, what to review and how to prepare for your flight into Oshkosh during Airventure. There are even a set of videos to demonstrate the Fisk Arrival procedure from Ripon to each destination runway. The one thing that always brought a smile on my face was hearing the controller say “Rock your Wings”. There was almost a sexy lilt to it 🙂
The bible for this trip was the 32-page NOTAM published well in advance, that can be reviewed and memorized. The Fisk arrival is the most applicable if you are a single engine aircraft, can maintain 90 knots and fly at 1,800 ft.
Linda and I had hoped to practice some slow flight, spot landings and holdings in preparation of the flight the weekend before, but unfortunately weather spoke otherwise. So here we were 30 miles from OSH, having flown GYY direct RIPON, north past the pristine Lake Michigan, Lake Shore Drive, Downtown Chicago and beyond:
Step 1: Listen to ATIS on 125.9, 15 miles from Ripon (fortunately no holding was in practice)
Step 2: Turn on all lights
Step 3: Set Transponder to Standby and go dark
Step 4: Breathe… and reduce speed to 90kts and plan to be at 1800 ft at Ripon
Step 5: Continue breathing… while maintaining 90 kts and 1,800 ft, following the railroad tracks directly overhead towards Fisk, in-trail 1/2 mile behind an aircraft you are following
Step 6: Continue what you are doing beautifully and monitor Fisk Approach at 120.7.
Step 7: Expect to hear from Fisk Approach only after crossing the town of Pickett, 6miles from Ripon. Don’t forget to breathe.
Step 8: Know how to rock your wings briskly and quickly when asked.
Step 9: Most importantly, Aviate, Navigate and maintain silence.
Unsurprisingly, I felt calm, relaxed and excited to be achieving one of my bucklist items. Almost. Who knew I would do this just a year after I published my Airventure Bucket List. Who knew, that I would even be thinking about it so soon? Does it count that I did not own the aircraft I landed on?
“High wing on left base, cleared to land on runway 36L on the purple dot, traffic on short final”
Down below, on the taxiway were a slew of aircraft waiting to depart. As we descended, we spotted the straight in arrival. On the runway, lined up were two aircraft on the left and right of the center line waiting to depart. “Am I landing over these two aircraft, ” I asked Linda. “Yes,” she responded, “Over them on the purple dot”
A few minutes later… “I am going to have to go around,” I thought. As I saw the aircraft on the right start to roll. Meanwhile, the controller continued to talk to another aircraft. I waited for him to stop, so I could ask him if he wanted me to abort landing. When:
“Cessna, put it on the numbers.. aircraft departing… they are rolling now. Put in on the numbers”
One click, and I dipped the nose down right behind the rolling duo of aircraft in formation.
“Good job Cessna, nice job, turn left onto the grass. Follow flagmen. Welcome to Oshkosh. Appreciate the help”
Linda had already placed our printed tag: GAC on the windshield as we turned left and waited for the ground personnel to steer us to North 40.
Half an hour later, as we waited to register at the North 40 registration desk, a couple of volunteering ladies walked into the registration booth and seeing us said: ” We saw you land. Very well done.” Wow!
If you happen to see someone with a wide, silly grin on their face for no known reason, a little out of this world, floating on clouds, it just might be me 🙂
Landing at Oshkosh during Airventure in any aircraft is to die for, if you are plane crazy. Still, there is time yet. I might keep that bucklist item on for a little while longer.
Continue reading the climax of the saga here… An Oshkosh Morning
Countdown to #OSH13
If you are one of those still wondering where to plan your summer vacation: look no further.
If you have never been to Oshkosh and Airventure: look no further
If you, like me, are plane crazy and have a week or weekend free during the last week of July: absolutely look no further!
Each year, the Experimental Aviation Association plans, organizes and orchestrates the best and most enduring event of the year. As I have said many times over, there is no place like it, if you are just plane crazy!
Airventure has a lot to offer:
This year might appear less exciting than normal. No major celebrity airplane on display such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus 380 or SpaceShipOne. Almost. Excluding Terrafugia, of course! Blame it on the economy or even sequestration. But don’t let that stop you. Despite that there is ample to see and do at Airventure. And if you happen to still find some free time , and love architecture, checkout Taliesin by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright about an hour from Madison, WI.
Oshkosh… Absolutely nothing like that!
What’s On your Airventure Bucket List?
Oshkosh: An Inspiration
Oshkosh 09: A Tribute to the Faithful
Oshkosh 04: Launching the Next Century of Flight
Oshkosh 03: Centennial of Flight
Oshkosh 02: 50 years of Airventure
Oshkosh: 60 years
This year marks 60 years of Airventure. Wow 60 years of the greatest airshow in the country. Of the 60 years, I have been to 7 or 8 of them. I envy those that have been going year after year.
10 years ago I made it to my first Airventure and there was no turning back. Since then whenever I could, I have made it to Oshkosh. Each year has been even better than the previous.
I still remember the first time I was there in 2002. It was the 50th anniversary of Airventure. I rushed from Seminar to workshop to flight line to air show. Devouring all I could in the time I had. These days I am more relaxed. The last few times I don’t think I caught a seminar or workshop unless it was a talk by Rutan or something too important to miss.
There is always too much to do and too little time. But each visit we faithfully visit the flight line to see the aircraft display, the ultra-light area, the seaplane base, all the airshows while we are there, the night air show and all Rutan presentations. It is a time to rejuvenate and be inspired.
I am yet to do the 5k run. I almost made it to the balloon launch last year although strong winds prevented the launch. I already took a ride in Breezy and the Ford Tri-motor. I might have missed the ultralight ride but being a pilot I worry less about that.
If there are three things still on my bucket list they are:
3. Be a volunteer at Airventure
2. Spend a whole week in Oshkosh during Airventure
1. Fly-in to Oshkosh for Airventure in my own aircraft.
What’s on your bucket list? Drop me a line…
The air rushed at us as Mike eased the stick back. Whoa! This must be how Orville felt on that fateful day in December in Kitty Hawk when he lifted of the ground. The Breezy is no comparison to the Wright Flyer. The original Breezy was designed by Carl Unger. It is a “no cockpit” aircraft with a set of modified PA-12 wings and a continental engine. After almost 40 years of giving rides the original Breezy was donated to the EAA Airventure Museum.
A tribute to Rutan
“The time has come, my little friends, to talk of other things
Of planes and charts and GPS,
of pilots and legends
And why the sky is bright blue, and whether pigs have wings
Calloo, Callay, come fly away / With the pilots and legends.”
It is that time of the year again, when the center of the world tilts northwards towards a small town in Wisconsin called Oshkosh. You might have thought there are only unhappy cows there and cheese, but for one week at the end of July, this small town of 66000 population is transformed into a mecca of aviation’s greatest celebration.