Thursday, March 12, 2009

All The Way To The Windy City

When Chris and Collette called me a few months ago and told me that one of my favorite Canadian bands was going to be playing in Chicago and that I should come for a weekend visit, it seemed like a long shot.

I love that general aviation brings long shots that much closer.

Rich decided it was also about time that he went for a flight in the Tiger, so we packed up Tiny Tiger and enough stuff for a small nation, and set off.

The prog charts for our 520 NM route West did not look promising, however. IFR conditions, mountain obscuration and turbulence were all forecast. Still, if we didn't get out on Friday, it was clear we were not going to make it VFR on Saturday or Sunday, so we decided to give it the ol' college try.

From Gaithersburg, it looked like we might be able to head directly to Chicago and still stay comfortably between the clouds and the mountains. I decided not to push it, though, so North we went to give the storm system as wide a bearth as possible.

We went over the mountains at a low point (around 2100 AGL) and decided that an airport in Akron, Ohio (KAKR) would be a good place to stop.

Although Rich was mesmorized with the Good Year Blimp hangar, I asked him to take my first video of me landing the Tiger. Watch it here.

I know, I know. WHAT was I thinking... :-)

Akron turned out to have numerous charms. A boxwood derby, the University football field, an oil pump, BMX track and skate park, and a charismatic original airport terminal. The only thing it was lacking was a restaurant. As I was eager to not lose the last hour of daylight, we decided to push on.

Chuffed with his earlier video, Rich filmed my take off too. Watch it here.

The sun set as my GPS unit taunted us with a "time until next destination" that read 3:28 for nearly fifteen minutes. With increasing headwinds, the Tiger was seeing ground speeds as low as 95 knots. It was painful. Fortunately, courtesy of Greg, we had music to listen to. And video cameras to play with. Make sure you have a dance song playing LOUDLY in your head before you click here.

As we flew into Chicago the calm behind the storm made for incredible views. We decided to detour and buzz the City. Although I like the below picture because it reminds me of a Van Gogh, the video was better. Watch it here. Afterwards, we got a Bravo clearance over to Lewis University Airport (KLOT) and touched down with 6.1 hours on the Hobbes.
Saturday dawned cold and rainy, so we had a bit of a slow start. After some time zone confusion and several blonde phone messages to Chris, we finally met up for dinner and the concert. I think the Canadians are just taking the stage in this next shot ...

Sunday would have qualified as a tropical storm, except we weren't in the tropics. Thinking we would beat the weather, we hopped a cab to the aquarium and sprinted over two inch deep fish smelling water, only to discover a line 20 meters long at a dead standstill outside the aquarium. Did I mention it was raining? No wonder I got sick after coming home. Although, I still fared better than my camera, apparently.

The aquarium and the 4D experience of the "Under the Sea" IMAX made up for our soggy start, however. Except for the horrible stick thing in your seat that jabbed you in the back to emphasize various scenes in the movie. You can ask Rich to demonstrate how it worked, as he gladly will. Trust me.

Chris and Collette had us over for dinner on Sunday night, which was a great end to the weekend. Monday we awoke to clear skies, and decided to make the most of the day. In fact, I think we covered most of Chicago on foot. Starting with The Bean, of course.

Then it was over to Navy Pier so we could ride the Ferris Wheel like all the other tourists in Chicago who were not perturbed by the 35 degree temperature.

The ice on the lake was really cool, as was the stained glass museum on the pier. We certainly didn't have any trouble amusing ourselves. But then again, I suppose some people are more easily amused than others.

If it weren't for the inclemental weather, I suspect the whole world would live in Chicago.

We saw great monuments, bridges, and modern art.

We also saw the same Forever 21 store nine times in four days, which was a bit odd, but at least we weren't in Bruge.

On Tuesday, Rich studied while I prepped a witness, and then we met up with my Venable colleague, Jerry, for dinner at a funky restaurant on Millenium Mile, complete with piano bar.
The FBO at KLOT called Tuesday night and kindly offered to put the Tiger in the hangar so the tarp wouldn't be frozen stiff on Wednesday morning. The weather wasn't looking great, but it looked better than the 48 hours that followed, so we had decided to see how far we could get.

Rich's plans for us to be airborne at 7 somehow slipped to 10, but we more than made up for it once we took off. You know you've got some good tailwinds when a U.S. Airways pilot spends five minutes chatting about it with an ATC controller in Ohio. I saw groundspeeds of 191 Knots, Rich saw 192, and Greg saw 198 on Flight Aware.

Tiny Tiger was duly impressed, even though he's a bit sad because he misses Greg.

As we sailed along, we got great views of Indianapolis, even at 7500 feet.

We passed the place we'd thought we would stop for breakfast after only 45 minutes, then the next one Rich found was not favorable given the runway alignment and variable, gusting winds at 30K. We finally settled on Green County (KWAY), Pennsylvania. Nestled in some low lying mountains, it was proving to be a fun landing until about 500 feet, when the turbulence dropped off and the air smoothed out.

To the still somewhat ominious predictions of the weather briefer that we were going to run into IFR conditions before Gaithersburg, we took off from KWAY not sure when we would be getting home. Our speeds dropped to 165 knots, but we weren't complaining. (I flight plan the Tiger at 135K.)

There was a good deal of flooding along our route, including near the above river, which ran along Ohio and West Virginia. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot to see, so I got in an hour of instruments flying.

Crossing over the mountains, we saw some funky cloud formations, and hit some good mountain wave turbulence, but, all in all, we definitely lucked out on the weather. After just three and a half hours, we were back on familiar turf with Martinsburg, Harper's Ferry and Sugarloaf stretching out before us.

Coming into Gaithersburg, I was feeling the effects of our fast-paced weekend and my landing showed it, but my longest cross-county flight as PIC was definitely an overall success.


At March 15, 2009 at 10:31 AM , Blogger Amy said...

As you know all too well, Kev, sometimes when I sulk long enough it's easier to just let me have my way. I was extremely prudent, however, and took care to remove him from the plane when I left... :)

At March 15, 2009 at 11:50 AM , Blogger Greg said...

Sounds like a great trip! I've already decided that being merciful is overrated, especially where stuffed animals are concerned. I went to the plane and eagerly opened it up, hoping against hope to find a forgotten or abandoned child's toy to toss into a spinning propeller or out of the plane over Harper's Ferry.... Alas, I was once again disappointed.... Congrats on a successful trip, YJ!

At April 7, 2009 at 11:03 AM , Anonymous Anne McMaster said...

A few weeks late in reading this one! Chicago is now on my "have to visit" list.....super photos and super adventure. Your glog shows me why flying is addictive!

At April 7, 2009 at 11:05 AM , Anonymous Anne McMaster said...

PS: oops...I DO know it is called a blog!!

At April 7, 2009 at 6:56 PM , Blogger Amy said...

Sure you do, Mum. ;)


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