Flying Westward

After having flown to most of the well-known airports in range of Richmond, I had an itch for adventure. So on the next flight, I chose a random airport called Effingham County Memorial (1H2) an hour and a half west (towards St. Louis), preflighted and left with Horace in the Seminole.

As we departed Richmond, we faced a few problems to deal with. The ceiling was at 4,000′ broken, and multiple PIREPs were reported for icing descending through clouds. However on the bright side, the clouds were supposed to clear up a little past Louisville. So in order to be safe, we just cruised at 3,000′. It was very bumpy and unenjoyable, however I got to see the landscape in greater detail which was pretty cool. When we were passing Louisville, the layer started to break up a bit into scattered, but not enough to warrant a climb up to the smooth air. So reluctantly, we accepted our fate of flying through bumpy air all the way to our destination.

Snapchat-5768105394066445576As we crossed into Illinois, the land started to flatten out considerably, and the weather was clear blue and sunshine. The air traffic was almost non-existent, and we talked to Kansas City Center all the way to Effingham County. All that could be seen was farmland stretching far into the distance, and long straight roads dissecting the fields. The approach into the field was very straight and long, and the airport simplistic. When we landed, I swore I was on the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

Only one plane was parked on the ramp, and it was as if it had been there for months. I did not think anyone was even on the airfield, however when we opened the door to the small FBO we were greeted by an enthusiastic “Good Day!”. The man there fueled our airplane up, and meanwhile I soaked in the Midwestern small town atmosphere. Prior to this, the furthest west I had traveled was Nashville or Chicago, so this was very different to me.

We ended taking back off, and the weather cleared substantially for our route home. We cruised for half of it in the smooth air at 8,000′, and landed in Richmond without a problem.

It was a lot of fun to take a break from busy and iconic airports, and to take a seek-and-find flight searching for a small airport somewhere for fun. It was neat to experience a new area of the country, and now I’m excited to experience the far west in the future. For the meantime when people ask how far west I’ve been, I can tell them Effingham County Illinois.

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Knoxville, Tennessee

Last Wednesday I walked out of class to a windy, gusty day with only four or five hours to complete an entire flight. As I thought about where to fly, I remembered hearing in the past that Knoxville was a quick trip in a multi, and quickly decided to fly there myself.

I filed for seven thousand feet, however that was not enough to escape the rough air blowing in from the west. The entire hour trip down felt like riding a roller coaster, and I just could not enjoy the flight as much. However, the approach into Knoxville led us right over the skyline, and the winds were right over the runway so we had a relatively easy landing.20160323_142938

When we got out, the sound of jet engines were whistling in the air constantly, and a couple of them streaked down the runway. We had even passed a couple from airlines I am considering on the taxi to the FBO. TacAir was kind of nice, and we munched on free cookies while being fueled up and getting the weather for the return leg to Richmond. 20160323_142957

It was no smoother on the way back, however my stomach felt better since I was at the controls. We ended up making a Pilot Report (PIREP) about moderate turbulence over London, KY since the previous report had only been light chop. When we arrived in Richmond, I had a great approach and landing, and was glad to be on the ground. Some days I love flying, especially when the air is glassy smooth. However on days like this flight to Knoxville, I am glad when I just take short trips and get the job done. Despite passing this airport many times on trips further south, it was nice to stop in and see it from the ground as an experience.

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Chicago Dupage Airport

Last week was Spring Break for Eastern Kentucky University. I worked the weekends, and went home for a couple days-never expecting to have a day off to fit a flight in. However, I got lucky and the last Sunday before classes opened up for me, and Horace had also gotten back from his vacation. Therefore, we set our alarm clocks early for the next morning, and planned on flying to Dupage Airport in West Chicago.

I got a weather briefing in the FBO at seven, and the weather conditions aligned with our flight perfectly. Richmond was clear, and en route over Indiana broken layers existed one or two thousand feet below our cruising altitude. Chicago was supposed to be a little bumpy but clear, so we would be able to see the city skyline and traffic in the area.

The flight was incredible just as I had imagined at seven in the morning. Not much exists over Indiana save for Indianapolis, however once in Chicago’s airspace it is a ton of fun. Lake Michigan creeps over your windshield as you approach the area, and as you descend you start to notice the density of housing pick up. Around fifteen to twenty miles from Dupage, the skyline pops into view, and the Willis tower stands tall and proud alongside the other iconic buildings of Chicago. The air traffic begins to pick up substantially as you cross approach paths for O’Hare and Midway, and jets begin to pass to and from in front of your windshield. After three radio frequency changes, you find yourself on final approach parallel with another aircraft passing railroads and busy highways. As you touch down, your are faced with a huge flight center that houses the FBO.

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Flight Center at KDPA

The ramp was ginormous. Although it was fairly quiet and empty when we were there, it was a Sunday and I imagined it filling up for weekdays or important events. Inside the flight center were homeland security offices and other offices I didn’t have access to view. It was a very neat place.

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Part of the ramp space at KDPA

As we returned, our altitude was once again perfect to experience conditions without the challenges associated with them. Right as we had finished our climb, the layer below us formed into a broken layer, and eventually an overcast layer. We got the experience of being on top of these thick layers without worrying about icing. Then once we crossed Indianapolis, it cleared and we had a good view. We experienced one more broken layer in southern Indiana, but our arrival to Richmond went very smoothly. It was a flight packed with new experiences and I had a lot of fun.

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Cruising at 9,000′ vs 31,000′

airplane-897048_960_720Last week I found myself cruising over the Smoky Mountains at the minimum en route altitude. At first, I was unhappy with air traffic control for only allowing me to fly at this lower altitude. I did not want to deal with unnecessary bumps, poor visibility, or stress. However while flying at nine thousand feet, I was able to take in the stunning colors, valleys, and peaks of the gigantic geographic feature.

I had flown over it before, but with a couple more thousand feet between my aircraft and the mountains. The difference in flight enjoyment was huge, and it had me pondering the differences between flying low and flying high in general. I have been on airliners before, and remember vividly the sights from cruising up in the flight levels.

The greatest advantage to flying higher is the performance. Winds in the higher altitudes are much stronger than down low, and much more uniform due to the absence of surface friction. Conditions up higher are also often times much more favorable. It is very rare that clouds and weather systems reach up that high, resulting in a flight outside of instrument conditions with good visibility, and glassy smooth air. Less problems from icing, bumpiness and visibility arise whilst flying at these altitudes, which is a significant pro.

However, flying at higher altitudes has drawbacks. The crew or pilot must plan out and think of their flight a little more. Descending from 30,000′ does not happen in a matter of minutes, it has to be thought about prior to reaching the destination. Also, the enjoyment of the scenery can be a little less enjoyable. I have had many more experiences such as the Smokies where I was immensely grateful of the ability to take in beautiful details of the ground. At higher altitudes, many features are ant sized or minuscule and somewhat takes away the awe of flight.

Flying at lower altitudes also has drawbacks. Often times, pilots have to deal with turbulence, cloud layers, and obstacle clearances which can be a pain. They are also more susceptible to traffic collisions, as much private and amateur flight happens at these altitudes. However, I believe these are outweighed by the adventure involved with lower altitude flight. Flying visually and interacting with the terrain of the earth is a fantastic aspect of being a pilot. Seeing the shapes of states and geographical features, the roundness of the earth, and finite details of cities and their landmarks are just too incredible to pass up for a safer, more efficient ride in my opinion.

I am not denying that I will still enjoy or employ flight in the flight levels in the future, but I will always treasure flying lower and simply having fun.

Did I leave anything out? Which would you prefer if aircraft performance was not an issue? Drop a comment and share your opinion. Thanks for reading!

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Flight to Peachtree Dekalb

20160308_161843When I think of a busy airport, I think of parallel runways packed with constant departures, expensive aircraft filling loitering the airspace and ground, and a radio frequency with no more than a second of silence. I experienced much of this yesterday when I took a flight to Peachtree Dekalb airport in Atlanta, GA.

20160308_161827This is a popular airport among private aircraft, and it is very impressive. The two FBOs I saw in my short time there were packed with high end jets and turboprops. The interior of the FBO we used was very high end, had multiple stories, and the front desk had two busy attendants taking constant payments from incoming aircraft for fuel. The ground staff had the professionalism of butlers, and every second spent there we felt like millionaires. The diversity of aircraft on the field was fantastic as well. I saw a beaver (seaplane), Pilatus turboprops, Falcons, Gulfstreams, Hawkers, Senecas, Mooneys, and King Airs. They were all there, and mixed around in the whirlwind operations happening in the small area.

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A Mooney landing while a Pilatus holds short the runway to cross

We had to wait twelve minutes to take off again, and while we sat we heard the high-pitched whistle of a Falcon jet behind us, and planes roaring over top landing on the two runways in front of us. When we were cleared to take off, we wasted no time. Once five hundred feet in the air, we were told to keep separation from a Cirrus (which was literally fifty-hundred feet off our wing), and a Cherokee (which had just took off on the parallel runway). I kept our climb fairly rapid in order to clear this traffic, and once five miles clear of the airport we took a deep breath and enjoyed the tailwind home.

Flying to Peachtree was a great experience. I could spend a week’s vacation just sitting in a lawn chair in the center of it taking in the chaos. I would love to return, and Horace would too even though this marked his second trip there. It gave me a greater sense of Atlanta’s busy nature, and gives me greater appreciation for it and the other Bravo airspace in the U.S. I will definitely try and find an excuse to visit KPDK again in the future.

 

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Flight to Pittsburgh, PA

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A Gulfstream that had parked in front of us while we were off to lunch

A couple weeks ago, I was staring at good weather to the north, and my “wishlist” of airports to travel to. It just so happened Horace and I had the Seminole for the whole day, and Pittsburgh was about two hours away. I did the performance calculations for the trip, got a weather briefing and filled up the airplane. After that we set out for Pittsburgh (ACG).

My roommate Adam and RA Jeff were also flying a Seneca that day, and decided to go up with us. Horace and I had filed for 7,000 feet, so for simplicity Jeff and Adam filed for 9,000 feet. I was flying the left seat on the way up, and once we took off from Richmond, I looked behind me at the runway. I saw the Seneca taking off just as we were contacting Lexington Approach. While we technically were not a “flight,” or two aircraft flying together, we were the IFR equivalent throughout the trip which was a lot of fun.

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EKU Seneca (front) and Seminole (back) lined up on the ramp

Fast forward to the point where we were crossing the West Virginia border. The approach controller there was a treat to talk to. He loved the idea of us flying to Pittsburgh together, and laughed several times. Right about this point, we saw the Seneca pass overhead. It was extremely neat to see an airplane that I fly so much in the air ahead of me. We had to switch to Indianapolis Center control shortly after this, and briefly leave the nice controller’s airspace. When we got to Pittsburgh’s airspace, I was vectored ten miles to the west, instructed to fly to two more fixes, and then was cleared for a close visual approach. It must have been a busy day or something, but I did not spot much traffic in the area. My landing was absolutely beautiful, and Horace and I went into the FBO. It was extremely nice, with free chocolate and drinks, a crew shower, aristocratic leather furniture and entertainment. We ate at a local place called the Primanti Bros., known for sandwiches stuffed with fries and cole slaw. The town had an old-fashioned American feel, and I enjoyed it a lot.

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Tower, nearby was a busy heliport

When we were on the return trip to Richmond, we had to carefully pick our way through clouds due to EKU buddy flying procedures. The West Virginia controller recognized us, and happily accepted our altitude requests, bidding us a good day for the final time once we were clear of his airspace. The weather in Richmond was fairly clear, a relief from what the AWOS was reporting before (2,500 broken). We landed without a problem, and each of us had a huge smile on our face. It was a fantastic trip, and I think the next big one I get to take will be to Memphis, TN. Fingers crossed I will get to complete it over Spring Break in a couple of weeks.

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Flight to Evansville, IN

Last week, one of EKU’s two Piper Senecas broke down, and simultaneously Horace and I wanted to fly that Saturday. Unfortunately, Adam (my roommate) already booked the other Seneca for his own buddy flight with Jeff. This would have put us in a bit of a pickle had Greg Wilson (the new safety officer here) not changed the policy for buddy flying. Now we can utilize both the Piper Seminoles and Senecas for our trips. The Seminoles at EKU are quite a bit nicer and newer in my opinion, however there is one major drawback: they are slower.

Granted, they only cruise 5-10 knots slower than the Senecas, however they also climb much slower due to the normally aspirated piston engines. Knowing this, Horace and I selected an airport from our list that was a little bit closer, yet fun. We went to Evansville, IN (KEVV).

If you have not heard of Evansville, it is a Class C airport right on the border of northwestern KY. Airline activity goes in and out of this airport despite the relatively low population of the city. This is because the government subsidizes air routes to the city, as well as other similar cities around the U.S. The flight down was very smooth, and it was nice to fly over flat land as opposed to mountains. kevvWhen we arrived, it was fairly busy. We were number one to land in front of a jet, and two aircraft were waiting for departure at the runway-including Adam and Jeff. Turns out they decided to fly there as well, and we did not know because we had to take tests before “soloing” in the Seminole while they departed Richmond.

When we got to the FBO, the coolest thing happened. The line crew put a red carpet out for us to get off of our airplane with. It kind of caught me off guard, but it gave me a good laugh. The airport was pretty large, it reminded me of Louisville Standiford. Other than that there was not much to it. We returned to Richmond, and called it a day. I wish we would have chosen somewhere further away in hindsight, because we still had two hours left on our reservation. We made up for it on our next flight though, and next week I’ll give you the report on it!

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