Ely & Boundary Waters

My wife’s family has a cabin on a lake very near the boundary waters just outside of Ely, Minnesota.

Ely, Minnesota

Ely, Minnesota is a wonderful place. One of the primary egress and ingress points for the Boundary Water Canoe Area. It’s also got that friendly Minnesota small-town feel but due to the enormous amount of tourists and travelers the have an economy and businesses that are similar to a much bigger population.


Flying with a glider pilot

I have been a track coach with the local Special Olympics group for eight years now. At a recent track meet, I found out that one of the fathers is also a pilot and has spent most of his time in recent years in gliders.

He probably cringed at my power management today, but in my defense, it was cross-wind every time and just a small bit gusty. Still, I’ll chalk today up as a learning experience.

Our flight out of KOSU went around Ohio Stadium then downtown Columbus. After that I gave Larry the controls and had him take us over to Grimes-Urbana (I74) and then we did a full-stop landing.

Short final at Grimes-Urbana airport, I74

Why a full stop? Because today was the first time I was testing my suction-cup GoPro mount and somehow I forgot to turn the damned thing on. So we stopped at Grimes-Urbana and turned it on. There’s a video of the flight back to KOSU below.

When flying in to I74, there was a lot of traffic. They happen to have a very popular diner there. We came into the pattern on the downwind for runway 20 then turned for final.

Larry got a great shot of the planes lined up and waiting for us to land and get off the runway.

Short final, I74. 3 planes waiting to take off.

Crosswinds gave us an approach some would call “unstable” but honestly, in a light sport, any uneven wind gives you an unstable approach. The damned thing weighs 700 lbs empty and blows around like a leaf. It’s a good thing the control surfaces are so large.

Anyway, we came down pretty smooth. The only real complaint I had about the landing (besides the power management on approach) was the fact that we gave the gear a bit more side-load than I normally do.

I won’t write home to mom about this landing.

Oh. And the centerline. Ugh.

Anyway, we stopped for a moment, stretched our legs, determined that the GoPro was still suction-cupped to the airplane (and actually started the recording this time) and went back to KOSU.

Here’s the video!

A trip down to Southern Ohio for some sim-IFR training

I’ve got a Private Pilot License which allows me to fly just about anything, anywhere, at any time. But a lot of pilots call the PPL only half of the license because the major restriction is that you must always remain clear of clouds. That means that a pilot is often grounded when he doesn’t want to be.

The instrument rating is a rating added to your license that allows you to fly under Instrument Flight Rules and therefore fly through clouds. But there’s a lot of flying that has to be done first before you can take your Instrument test:

My current progress towards my Instrument Rating.

The first two are complete or nearly so. The last two are easy enough to knock out with an instructor when I get close to the exam time. It’s the middle requirement that takes a lot of time & money.

40 hours of time is as much as you need for the entire Private Pilot License, and this rating needs another 40 of actual instrument time or simulated instrument time. Actual instrument time is time spent in clouds. Since I’m not allowed to do that yet, I would need to pay for an instructor to go up with me for all those hours. Simulated time means wearing some “foggles” that attempt to limit your vision to only inside the airplane. You don’t need an instructor for simulated time, but you do need another licensed pilot to act as a safety pilot while you are wearing your blinders.

So I’ve found a new friend & safety pilot to fly with lately and we’ve been taking short flights to build the Sim time. I fly with the foggles on the way out, and he flys with them on the way back. For a 1 hour destination, we each get about an hour of Sim time, an hour of cross-country time, and due to some weird glitch in the FAA matrix, we get to double-up on Pilot-in-Command time while someone is wearing the foggles.

This trip we went down to Portsmouth, Ohio (KPMH). It was my first time flying due South and it was kind of nice to see something a little different than endless Ohio farmland.

Southern Ohio hills covered in haze.

But we did also see plenty of farmland too of course:

Wet farms in Southern Ohio.

And on departure we did something a little different than we normally do, we flew under the Columbus class C shelf at a little under 2,000 feet.

At that altitude we were actually dodging radio towers.

Columbus from under 2,000 feet.

It was a good flight and it’s always nice to see a new airport. Looking forward to returning to Portsmouth again!

Return trip from St. James to Columbus

After the baby baptism my intention was to stay the rest of that day and take off the next morning but weather was getting in the way. I had clear weather that afternoon (albeit a bit windy) but it was potentially going to be cloudy the next day. That would have potentially stranded me for a few days. Between having good weather for sure and chancing it 18 hours later, I took off that afternoon.

I passed directly over Harper’s Ferry, IA again.

Harper’s Ferry, IA on the Mississippi River

A little later, I followed a section of the Wisconsin River

Section of Wisconsin River between Mississippi and Madison.

Then Madison. It was tough to get a decent picture or even a half-decent picture as the light began to get a little dimmer. Here’s the best I managed.

Madison, Wisconsin

I had to stop for fuel as it got darker and made a pit-stop at KENW. Then it was time for one of the reasons for the trip in general: The fly-by of Chicago at night. As I discussed briefly in a previous post, to stay out of Chicago’s airspace, you need to fly low and over the water. If you don’t, you risk having Air Traffic Control vector you half-way across America to keep you out of the way.

Chicago, IL at night from over Lake Michigan

The remainder of the flight was quiet and smooth as I flew over Indiana and Ohio farmland before arriving at my home airport.

After getting a strong head-wind the entire flight back, it felt great to get out of the airplane and stretch my legs.

Saint James, Minnesota

I’ve wanted to fly to Saint James since I got my pilot license. It was so nice to skip the commercial flight and rental car and land within 5 minutes of my destination. Having the whole in-law family plus some to see me land and pick me up at the airport was an extra treat.

St. James water tower

As long as I had the plane in Saint James and the weather was clear, it was a good idea to take a short tour of the town from the air. I went begging for a bit to find someone willing to climb into the right seat of the airplane but eventually convinced an only slightly worried sister-in-law to be designated photographer.

Grandma-in-law’s place on St. James lake.

St. James high school

We did a quick fly-by of the in-law’s home and they even came out to wave.

My wife’s childhood home and parents waving from the street.
St. James airport (KJYG) short-final runway 15.

It was a short circuit around the town but it was a lot of fun to see it from the air.

Ohio to Minnesota

So 0 year-old daughter and wife went to wife’s Minnesota hometown of Saint James to visit parents and our daughter’s great-grandmother. Since my wife is on maternity leave and I was working that week, she left a few days earlier than I did and I caught up for the weekend. The weather forecasts looked good enough that I felt confident flying private rather than commercial.

Weather forecasts are bullsh*t. Columbus, sunny all day. I had to find a hole through THIS to even get going.

Heavy cloud
Heavy clouds at approximately 6,000 feet. I’m at 8,500 feet.

But, after a 2 hour delay, I found an opening worth going for and climbed through it to get over the top of the cloud layer. Unending clouds is just about what I saw for nearly an hour as I worked my way northwest.

My direct route crossed through Chicago airspace. Some of the busiest airspace in the world. Since I needed to re-fuel anyway, I stopped in Gary, Indiana and topped off the tanks before skirting Northwest along the coastline and under Chicago’s class-B airspace. This allowed a nice daytime shot of the Chicago Skyline:

Chicago, November 4, 2016
Chicago, November 4, 2016

Saw quite a few other planes in the area. Everyone staying below the Chicago airports’ control space.

Once north of Chicago I turned west again towards St. James. It wasn’t long before I crossed over Harper’s Ferry, Iowa and got a great shot of the Mississippi.

Harper's Ferry (with an apostrophe), Iowa
Harper’s Ferry (with an apostrophe), Iowa

You might be thinking, is that THE Harper’s Ferry I read about in the history books? Nope. That one is in West Virginia. But if you want to know something really weird, here’s a piece of trivia you won’t find anywhere else:

Harper’s Ferry, IA (on the Mississippi) started out as Harpers Ferry (no apostrophe). The apostrophe was later added.

Harpers Ferry, WV (famous, no apostrophe) started out as Harper’s Ferry. The apostrophe was later removed.

Anyway, started to get a little closer to St. James and the sun also started to set.

Albert Lea Lake, MN
Albert Lea Lake, MN

And then just a short while later I was there with all the in-law family to greet me. It was one great welcoming.

St. James Airport
St. James Airport

Coming Home (3/3)

The weather cleared up substantially for the trip back home. Still not ideal, but at least there was plenty of room between the bottom of the clouds and the top of the Appalachians.

Here I am somewhere near Charlottesville, VA approaching the Appalachians.
Here I am somewhere near Charlottesville, VA approaching the Appalachians.

Was getting bumped around quite a bit over the peaks as the air got pushed around. It was easy to unintentionally climb or drop 200 feet based on the air movement. When over the valleys, the wind was substantially calmer.

10b - Appalachians
An Appalachian ridge line with afternoon sun breaking through clouds.

As nice as the Appalachians are, I was happy to be over them and back in Ohio. I learned a lot about marginal VFR flying this trip, and most especially when it is smart to safely divert to a nearby airport when things get sketchy.

Even when not flying, there’s something nice about crossing over the Ohio river. It feels like home, but this is the first time I did it at this altitude and it was a lot of fun.

Ohio River. Newport, OH on the left side, the St. Marys Bridge crossing the river to St. Marys, WV on the right side.
Ohio River. Newport, OH on the left side, the St. Marys Bridge crossing the river to St. Marys, WV on the right side.

Traveling northwest, I came across the Muskingum River. There were a couple of small towns along the way. Here’s Beverly and McConnelsville, OH. Both covering both banks of the river.

Beverly, OH on Muskingum River
Beverly, OH on Muskingum River
McConnelsville, OH on Muskingum River
McConnelsville, OH on Muskingum River

After passing by the Muskingum, it was finally time to be close to Columbus proper. Being handed off to Columbus Approach at John Glenn Columbus International Airport was nice except for the fact that they were extremely busy at the time. No niceties from Air Traffic Control today. They vectored me around the major traffic areas but set me up for this shot. Probably around 5:30pm at this point.

I-70 looking west over Buckeye Lake towards Columbus, OH
I-70 looking west over Buckeye Lake towards Columbus, OH

I did get a proper welcome at OSU’s airport where the club was eagerly watching for my return.

Virginia Tech (2/3)

So there I was stuck in Elkins, West Virginia waiting on clouds to give me some space over the mountains. There was another couple stuck there too that had actually been stuck since the previous night trying to head south west to Texas.

After a few hours of deliberation and pointing out holes in the clouds that might mean they’re breaking up, just to see the hole close again, the other couple and I decided to call it a day and try again the next day.

I booked a hotel room and had the shuttle come pick me up. As we drove to the hotel, the sky kept looking better and better. I was starting to kick myself for booking a hotel — buuuuut — I wanted to be safe. So I got to the hotel, got a shower, got into clean clothes and prepared to head to the local Applebee’s to have a beer and call it a night.

This is what the mountains look like without close cloud cover.
This is what the mountains look like without close cloud cover.

The clouds looked better and better so I decided to call the national weather briefing service for one last chance. They showed that I was looking okay currently and had about a 2-4 hour window to get over the peaks before the clouds came back down and shut me out until noon the next day.

I had a quick self-conversation. Was I succumbing to “get-there-itis” or was this a legitimate opening? At that moment, the beer sounded a lot better than getting back into the hot & sweaty plane and I decided to turn back if the clouds were close to the peaks.

So, I hopped back in the plane and took a peek at the peaks.

Things looked good. Got over the mountains and it was clear sailing into Hanover County, Virginia where I was able to pick up my old college buddy Matt.

Matt sits co-pilot seat.
Matt sits co-pilot seat.

We flew from the Richmond area to the Williamsburg airport just so that we could take a look at some of the many Virginia rivers from the air. Then it was due west to Blacksburg.

Spring Hollow Reservoir
Enjoy the dam picture.

This is Spring Hollow Reservoir just outside of Roanoke and Blacksburg. Really cool looking lake at such a high altitude. There’s something gorgeous about mountain lakes, even if they are mostly man-made with a dam.

We had to cut below relatively low cloud cover again passing over one last peak to get into Blacksburg, but when we made it to campus, it was well worth it.

Virginia Tech campus from the southeast.
Virginia Tech campus from the southeast.

This is what we came for. Finally! Matt’s cousin picked us up from the airport and we went to have some fun at the local bars. By the way, the best place to go in Blacksburg, VA is the Hokie House. Tune in for the trip home in part 3, and take a look at this shot of Lane Stadium!

Lane Stadium / Worsham Field
Lane Stadium / Worsham Field

Leaving Ohio (1/3)

Ever since I was in undergrad at Virginia Tech, I’ve always wanted to fly into the Blacksburg airport. I finally made that happen this past weekend. The flight plan was to leave Columbus on Friday morning and fly southeast to Richmond Virginia (KOFP) where my old college friend Matt lives. Pick up Matt in Richmond and fly to Blacksburg. If everything went according to plan, we would be in Blacksburg by Friday at about 3pm.

Things didn’t go as planned.

01 - Cloudy ColumbusDespite clear blue skies for practically the entire month, THIS weekend, my entire route was overcast with low cloud covered ceilings.

The picture on the right shows my route on the way out of Columbus. The ceiling is not uncomfortably low here in the city, but as I approach the Appalachians it gets worse.

02 - Buckingham coal mine south of Corning OhioI like to see quarries and mines from the air. It’s always interesting. Especially seeing a mining operation from such a height that you can see how small it is in the scope of the land around it. It’s reassuring that when you think that one of these places is a huge polluter or destroyer of the earth, that you can see that it is instead just a tiny blip in an enormous swath of untapped land. The planet is simply humongous. The mining operation on the left is the Buckingham Coal Mine a little south of Corning, Ohio.

03 - Burr Oak State ParkJust a little to the southeast is Burr Oak State Park. Besides quarries and mines, rivers and bodies of water are my next favorite subject to photograph. This makes me want to get my float plane certification.

After this, I was off to West Virginia!

04 - Crystal Lake WV05 - West Union, WVWest Virginia is beautiful but that Friday, the cloud cover was very low. 4,000 feet was generous and the mountains were going up to 5,200 feet in places. I passed by a couple towns after crossing the Ohio River: Crystal Lake (left) and West Union in the picture just under that. Then, after getting over some of the smaller foothills and one of the first or second line of major ridges, I got blocked in by clouds and couldn’t go any further.

There was no choice but to land at a local airport and wait out the overcast skies. You don’t want to cross these ridges without visibility. Here I am stuck in Elkins, West Virginia waiting out the clouds:


Attica, Ohio

Flew over Attica, Ohio the other day returning from the lake. It’s got a special place in my heart for being one of the most ruthless speed traps for traffic between Columbus and Lake Erie. Feels good to swing by at a blistering 105 knots.

But it’s a nice looking small town from about 2,000 feet I wish I was able to get a better picture but the weather just wasn’t that great. I’m sure I’ll get another chance because I don’t intend to drive that route ever again if at all possible.