Thursday, August 4, 2011

Flight to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2011

Departing Skaneateles (NK71) under partly cloudy skies Jeff and I climbed into smooth air and headed west. We had a flexible plan that would carry us southwest over PA and OH then west-northwest across IN before turning north and passing just offshore of Chicago to avoid the Class B above and inland. The plan was to stop at Timmerman (KMWC) airport just north of Milwaukee to meet up with Warren and David Lee flying a Piper Warrior II before making the last leg into Oshkosh Whitman Field (KOSH). Knowing of some shower activity along the route and particularly in the Chicago area we kept one eye on the Garmin 496 displaying the weather ahead.

Within a short time wisps of clouds were forming below. As these thickened we discussed whether above or below this low layer would be the best option. Seeing some shower activity ahead on the Garmin I thought at first that below might be the best choice. However cloud base below was too low for comfortable cruising and we could see for quite a distance ahead with no sign of cloud tops that would give us trouble crossing. To the north towards Lake Ontario the clouds ended and this gave us an escape route if needed. Jeff felt that we should continue above and I agreed.

Flying on top turned out to be the correct decision as we later learned from David and Warren. We had left ahead of them while they were at the fuel pumps. David's Warrior II cruises about 20 kts faster and would have little trouble catching us in the air. However, from the time that we departed until David was rolling, the low cloud layer had spread east to Skaneateles. Once in the air they couldn't find a sufficient break in the ceiling to climb above. Forced to stay below what became a lowering ceiling they found themselves only able to get as far as Batavia. Luckily, the delay there was short and conditions improved enough for them to take-off and climb on top.

Crossing into Indiana skies cleared and the farmland and towns came into view. This didn't last for long...

At first in the distance, then looming overhead, cirrus clouds. Spawned by storms to the southwest of Chicago the cirrus thickened and darkened the sky. XM radar on the Garmin showed showers, some quite heavy, close to our turn-point near Gary, IN. We switched the radio to 121.7, a frequency reserved for air-to-air communications and we heard constant talk between pilots trying to work their way around both the showers and the Class B airspace of Chicago.

As more clouds began to form below and the view to the west was ominous, we decided to fly NNW across Michigan. This would put us east of Lake Michigan and north of this weather for a crossing of the lake from near Muskegon, MI

Cloud tops to the west of our track.

We landed at Grand Haven Memorial just south of the busier Muskegon. It was a quiet little airfield and gave us a chance for a short break before crossing the lake. Jeff also wanted to check on a small oil leak. Climbing out of the plane and walking around to the front we spotted oil streaks on the belly. Removing the upper and lower sections of the cowling showed the greatest concentration of oil in the area of the recently replaced oil sensor. Whether it is blowing past the threads of the sensor or through a crack in the oil pump we couldn't tell. Fortunately it is a very slow leak with about 1/10 quart of oil lost.

Being cautious, Jeff climbed using reduced power and made use of a thermal close to the airport to gain altitude. Once sufficient height was attained, we started across the lake.

At any point well beyond the first part of the crossing we were within gliding distance of Grand Haven. We had climbed to 12,500 over the lake. With a 28:1 glide ratio, 2.5 miles of altitude translates into about 70 miles of gliding range. These calculations were very reassuring however I imagine the hour it would take to glide this distance would seem to last forever!

At least we had some company out in the middle...

After staring out into the haze and across the blue waters eventually the western shoreline came into view.

We stopped at Timmerman and within a short time David and Warren arrived. They were able to fly the Chicago route without much trouble. With a review of the Oshkosh NOTAM we took off and headed out on the final leg of our journey to AirVenture. David was close behind and we both joined the stream of airplanes along the approach to Oshkosh. Everyone is lined up single file over the railroad tracks flying at 1800 feet and 90 kts. Here we are over Ripon which is the entry point for this approach to Oshkosh. Ahead of us is a Cessna with other planes visible beyond that.

Through the whole approach procedure incoming aircraft are required only to listen. First to ATIS before 15 miles from Ripon, then to Approach for commands from controllers along the approach path. We rock wings to acknowledge that first contact then simply follow instructions beyond that. We were assigned runway 36R probably because of the slower speed of the motor-glider. Most aircraft were landing runway 09. 36R is the taxiway, 36L is the main runway. It is painted with large colored dots wich are touchdown points that can be assigned enabling controllers to land 2 aircraft at a time. (first plane lands long, second plane short) There is lots of room as the runway is 9,000 feet long. The EAA expected close to 15,000 aircraft!

Once on the ground there are flagmen at every intersection to keep us headed in the right direction. With a "GAC sign held up to the windscreen they knew to direct us to General Aviation Camping. Arriving late afternoon on the day before the show we did a lot of taxiing, all the way to the absolute furthest point on the airfield just off the approach end of Runway 09.

Here is our campsite the following morning. We were on the NW end of the airport along the perimeter road. In the distance one of the buses is visible making its outbound run from the show to the "Northwest 40". These buses passed every 10-15 minutes or so and made the mile trip to the show much easier with the heat and humidity during our stay.

With 2 tents and 4 people sitting around Jeff's Lambada, I had a couple people ask me if we all came in that plane. I answered "Yes. Why?" 
(David"s Warrior was parked even further out and close to a busy road. It was quieter a hundred yards in by Jeff's plane so we all camped together here.)

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