To Ely, MN

I flew to Ely, Minnesota in August with my friend Jared.

Jared on right, me on left.

He takes a regular trip with his family into the Boundary Waters (BWCA) and my in-laws have a cabin on a BWCA lake. In order to avoid driving and to get some flying hours in, we took this tiny plane from Columbus, OH to Ely, MN.

Red line is actual GPS route. Blue line is simply airport-to-airport route.

We were trying to avoid flying over large bodies of water because when you’re in a single engine airplane, you don’t have a lot of options besides swimming if your engine goes out (ours didn’t).

We meant to get fuel after Chicago but the day we were flying we had 30 (thirty!!!!) knot headwinds even low to the ground. It was stupidly impressive bad luck. So we had to stop in Gary, IN to grab some gas before heading up again.

Gary, IN

After grabbing gas, we were off. We saw the Blue Angels parked on the north ramp of the airport as we were taking off but it was too late to grab a picture. Turned out they had a show over the Navy Pier in Chicago a little later in the morning.

We know because we flew through the TFR (before it activated).

Chicago from the most expensive seat available.

We thought we only had about 15 minutes to get through the TFR which we thought we could barely make, but also thought if we’re going to get intercepted, would be pretty cool to get intercepted by the Blue Angels, then realized the time change to Central and that we had an extra hour still before the TFR went active. The Blue Angels did not intercept us.

Next we flew up towards Duluth. Still staying low because of the ridiculous headwinds, but that meant things were also super bumpy.

Jared puked for the first time ever in a small airplane. I always have a puke bag in the plane for emergencies but never expected to use it with two pilots on board.

So Jared pukes. The turbulence and motion wasn’t getting to me until then, but that puke-bile smell? Oh yeah. I could feel it.

The problem was that I only had one puke bag in the cockpit. If I had to hurl, it was going to be in the same bag Jared used earlier. Gross.

Furthermore, Jared told me point blank that if I hurled, he was going to need the bag back to go again.

Faced with the prospect of sharing a puke-bag and passing it back and forth, we decided to land and take a 45 minute break.

We felt better after taking off (and getting the back-up puke bag from the baggage compartment).

Anyway, here’s Duluth:

Duluth, MN
Duluth, Sky Harbor Airport

After turning the corner at Duluth, we went along Minnesota’s North Shore to drop Jared off in Grand Marais.

Two-Harbors on the North Shore of Minnesota

Then finally, with the plane to myself, I flew over the Boundary Waters due west to land in Ely, MN.

Somewhere in the BWCA between Grand Marais and Ely. Endless untouched nature.

Was a fun trip. 9.3 hours in the plane due to the ridiculous headwinds. I was super happy to get a burger on the ground.

Wedding anniversary flight with wife!

Weather looked great for the weekend of our anniversary so I booked one of my usual planes at the club to take up to Cleveland and back for a local area vacation.

The day before the trip, a student pilot at the club had a very rough landing and did some damage to the plane I had reserved. The student is fine (physically) but the plane is out of commission for probably 1-2 months.

To salvage the trip, I took another plane up with an instructor right away to get familiar with a different airplane and have the club sign me off on being able to rent it, so that’s how I ended up taking a “SportCruiser” up to Cleveland.

Burke-Lakefront Airport, Cleveland, Ohio

So this is Burke-Lakefront, an airport I have wanted to fly to since early in my lessons. It’s a gorgeous airport right on lake Erie and within easy walking distance to downtown Cleveland.

Not to mention, you get a SPECTACULAR view of the Browns stadium if you are doing a standard pattern entry to runways 6R or 6L.

First Energy Stadium, home of the Browns! Cleveland, Ohio

After landing (smoothly this time), we grabbed our bags from the plane and walked about 10 minutes to the downtown Westin.

The nice thing about the sport cruiser is the baggage area is easy to get to and is pretty large sized in comparison to most light sport airplanes. The bad thing about the sport cruiser is that it has a bubble canopy cockpit (glass roof) which in bright sunlight makes it pretty warm even at altitude and it is even slower than the other light sports I am used to.

My wife and I enjoyed our one-night stay in Cleveland. Caught a comedy act at “Hilarities” and had a lake view from the 21st floor of the Westin. Awesome time had by all.

Taking off, KBKL 24L

We had great weather on the return trip. Only a slight headwind.

Cleveland, Ohio
Lake Erie off of Cleveland, Ohio

Smooth air all the way back to Columbus until we had to descend below the cloud layer.

6,500 ft over (very) scattered clouds.
Descending underneath the cloud layer.

Had a great landing back at KOSU (love the way the SportCruiser floats), parked, and headed home.

See you later Cleveland!

Cleveland, Ohio

Louisville for Lunch

My brother lives in Louisville, KY and I’ve been intending on making the flight down there at some point. We had a wind from the SW so the trip down took about an hour and fifty minutes. The return trip was brisk though at only about an hour fifteen.

I’ve never actually had an opportunity or reason to cut through some Class-B airspace (the blue rings around Cincinnati) so this was a first for me. As it turned out, it was also completely non-eventful. Cleared through, minor vector’s around the actual airport but no major re-directs.

Downtown Cincinnati
Descending into Bowman field (KLOU)
Bumpy landing. Totally not my fault. A little windy near the ground that day.

After landing, it was a nice lunch with brother at the local BBQ smokehouse. Then a quick trip back to Columbus with my first real tailwind I’ve ever had on a cross-country flight.

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

Flight Planning to Minnesota

There’s a lot that goes into planning a long cross-country flight but the vast majority of the planning is really just contingency in case something goes awry. If everything goes smoothly, the reality of cross-country aviation is simply hopping in the plane, pointing it in the right direction, and when you need gas, pull into the nearest airport and fuel up. Not much different than driving a car down the highway except there’s less stuff to run into.

Anyway, my wife is on maternity leave and is using some of the time off to take the baby back to her home town for a week to let the grandparents dote on her and to introduce the baby to her great-grandmother who doesn’t travel as well as she used to. Four generations of women all together is a rare feat. My wife will be flying commercial.

I, without any maternity leave, will be flying up just for the weekend. Now here’s the thing about getting to rural town in southern Minnesota from Ohio: Flying commercial takes two hours to get to Minneapolis. Then you have to hike over to the car rental counter, deal with that nonsense, and then drive for another two and a half hours to get into town. Add in airport time like waiting at the gate, or waiting for baggage claim, shuttle to and from parking and you’re looking at six to seven hours of total travel time; or, I can fly a plane myself which I like to do anyway, and land 5 minutes outside of town in five and a half hours.

So the first thing I have to do is look at my route: It’s 560 nautical miles. That’s about five and a half hours of flight. I can carry about six hours of fuel. That cuts things a little tight, especially if there is a headwind on the day I travel. So I need to re-fuel somewhere along the way.

Next thing I see is that I’ll be going directly over Chicago. Since that airspace is some of the busiest in the world, it’s unlikely I’ll be cleared through so I’ll probably have to go around it anyway. Might as well use that diversion as a fuel stop.


The class B airspace (blue rings) starts at 3,000 feet above sea level at its lowest point along my route, so as long as I stay under that, I can skirt along the Chicago coast and get some great pictures of the city. Once I get north of the more restrictive airspace, I’ll land at Kenosha Regional airport and re-fuel.

So that’s my intended route. It’s very possible that weather over the lake will make that plan impossible though so I’ll plan some back-up airports to the south I can use too.

Next, I’ll make sure that I have radio frequencies for all of my intended destinations written down. The plane has the information on its gps, and I have my phone as backup, but it’s always nice to have a hard copy just in case.

Since I’ll have a short stretch of flight over water, I’ll throw a life jacket in the passenger seat just in case.

That’s about all the planning I need to do besides choosing what snacks I want to bring and what podcast I might listen to.

All that’s left is to hope that the weather is good enough for the flight when the weekend comes around! Hopefully I’ll be posting some pictures of the Chicago skyline soon.

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: