Today Missy, Halle, Haley and I flew Cessna 172 N75706 from Middleton to Appleton, Wisconsin. Last week I bought an older Lowrance AirMap 300 handheld GPS (to use as a backup) off eBay and wanted to test it out. The flight was originally going to happen yesterday, but it was very windy so I moved the flight to today, and that was a good decision.
I had not done a cross-country flight in a while, so I sort of obsessed over the planning the last few days, checking and double-checking all of my calculations and notes. Normally I am not this meticulous (anal), but considering almost my entire family was in this plane (only Delaney was missing) I wanted to make sure everything went perfect, even though the entire flight was less than 100 miles each way. My biggest concern was not busting any controlled airspace in Madison, Oshkosh and Appleton.
Doing something that I have not done since my private pilot check-ride in 1989, but something I should always do, I filed VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight plans with the FAA. This is optional for VFR flights, but is a free insurance policy. Basically if you don’t show up at your destination within 30 minutes of when you say you will be there, the FAA starts looking for you. It’s a good idea to file, and only takes a couple of minutes.
I got up a little earlier in the morning and took my first weather observation, I looked out the window of my bedroom. Finding the skies critically clear with calm winds, I logged onto the AOPA Flight Planner and recalled my previously planned route, which took us from Middleton to Madison to Oshkosh to Appleton. I requested weather information, which showed forecast surface winds out of the west at 5-15 knots and winds aloft at 6000′ out of the northwest at 22 knots, indicating we would have a crosswind on both legs of the flight, slowing us down a little in both directions. Winds at 3000′ were lighter, but I did not want to fly that low, I had filed for 5500′. I left for the airport a little after 9AM, Missy would bring the kids about 10:30 or so.
I hung out at the airport just talking to Rich Morey for a while and watching the other planes practice in the calm morning air. An old Pietenpol open-cockpit plane was taxiing out on the grass runway when I pulled in and I watched him take off. That would be fun! I was quietly trying to persuade Rich to sell the 152 Aerobat and buy a Super Decathlon. He is trying to sell one of the 172’s to buy a Super Cub, which would be great, but I told him I thought the best thing would be to sell a 172 and the Aerobat, then buy the Super Decathlon. He would get a great aerobatic plane and a tail-dragger all in the same plane. I doubt he will do it, but I could see the gears turning in his head 🙂
A little after 10AM, the girl that was practicing in my plane landed and I asked the lineman to top off the fuel, taking much more than we actually needed. We could have flown to and from Appleton about 3 times with that much fuel, but it’s one of those things that I would rather have in the wings than on the ground. I did a thorough preflight inspection and got the plane set up for our flight, which included borrowing 3 extra headsets from Rich for the family. I mounted my new GPS and called up the flight plan on it. I found the previous pilots digital camera on the floor and took it back to Rich to return to her. About 10:45 the girls showed up, everything was looking good.
I pulled the girls into the pilot lounge for a last minute briefing. We covered my rules of no talking below 1000′ and to always listen when air traffic control says “Cessna 706…” and shut up immediately, don’t even finish your sentence. And the second to last rule, when my hand goes up, the mouth goes shut. The final rule of course is to have fun and enjoy the flight. We climbed in the plane and took off about 15 minutes late, about 11:15AM.
Initially climbing west, away from Madison’s airspace and towards Cross Plains, I opened my flight plan with Green Bay Flight Service and showed the girls Cross Plains. I contacted Madison Approach Control before climbing through their airspace up to 5500′. We had a great view of Madison, Lake Mendota and the Madison airport, which we flew directly over. As we were flying over, a RegionalJet was taking off directly below us, that was cool to watch. The air traffic controllers were pretty busy this morning, but there was no traffic near us, and after crossing Madison we turned directly on course, V341 to Oshkosh.
About 35 northeast of Madison, air traffic control told us to contact Milwaukee Approach control on 127.0. This caught me by surprise, I was expecting Chicago Center on 133.3. I asked the controller to repeat that was for us, and she said yes, Milwaukee would take us from here. So I called up Milwaukee and they provided VFR flight following until we were a few miles north of Oshkosh, and only about 13 south of Appleton. I didn’t know their RADAR reached that far, but apparently it does!
The flight was perfect, the air was calm and there were no advisories for other aircraft that came our way, the skies were nearly empty. Quite a surprise to me considering how good the flying conditions were. The only advisories were about parachute jumpers near Fond Du Lac and Fort Atkinson, a long way from us. We started our decent about 5 miles north of Oshkosh, with 13 miles to go.
I contacted Appleton tower and told them we were 13 miles south and had the runway in sight. He told me to expect runway 21 and winds were calm, so I planned to keep flying my present course, go past the airport, and then turn around and land on runway 21. About a mile or less from the airport and still at 2500′ the controller asked me if I could land on runway 29. It was quite literally right in front of me, just a 90 degree left turn, but I was high. I should have said no, but I said yes, chopped the power and dropped the flaps.
I could not get the speed down quick enough and was doing about 75 knots (65 is perfect) over the numbers, meaning the flare would be long, and it was. It took a long time to bleed off the extra airspeed. The gentle “porpoising” of the plane to kill airspeed did not bother me, but I was not thinking about Missy. She did not like it at all, so I will keep that in mind next time, and either turn down an approach like that, or make the final approach longer. A stable approach not only makes for good landings, but makes your non-pilot passengers feel better. The landing itself was fine, but the winds were not calm as the controller stated, they were shifty, from all directions, about 5 knots. On landing they were from the left.
I was in the middle of telling the controller I was going to taxi to MaxAir and did not know where it was when I saw it, right next to the airline terminal, which was right next to our plane. He told me to make a “half-turn on taxiway Bravo”, and voila, we were there. Taxiing in, MaxAir had a lineman providing directions and wheel chocks. Very professional, and much appreciated. We could see Paul, Heidi, Natalie, Will and Joel waving to us through the window at MaxAir. I parked the plane and shut it down, telling the lineman we did not need fuel, just needed to borrow some tarmac space for a while.
We were greeted by the entire Heuring family, and they told us that another plane had landed just before us. Thinking it was us, they gave them the same welcome! 🙂 After a short break, I climbed back in the plane with Paul, Will, and Joel for a scenic flight around Appleton. All the other girls left with Heidi to go to their home. Will and Joel had never flown before, in any plane, so this was really a first for them. I told the controller our intentions and we taxied back to runway 29 for takeoff.
We had a real nice scenic fl
ight. After taking off we headed east about 10 miles at 2500′ (1600′ above the ground) which took us over the city of Appleton. We turned south towards Lake Winnebago, and then west towards the airport while skirting the very northern edge of the lake. The visibility was literally 80 miles or more, terrific, and only a couple of small bumps along the way. We landed back on runway 29 and headed for their home. The boys loved it, they talked about the flight the rest of the day.
Paul grilled brats and hot dogs while Heidi worked on the side dishes in the kitchen. We had a real nice visit and a great lunch. The kids played in the backyard and we finally got to meet the nearly-famous dogs, they were real cool. I hung out with Paul on the back porch while he was grilling, noticing the cumulus clouds that were now starting to form in the otherwise blue skies. This is a warning to pilots, so I kept and eye on the sky the rest of the afternoon.
I knew we were not going to make our 3PM departure, so I called Flight Service on the phone and pushed it back to 3:30 and also got an update on weather conditions in Madison. 4500′ scattered cumulus, light winds out of the west, good flying reported, pretty much exactly what the weather in Appleton was. We finished our (late) lunch and headed back to the airport to come home.
I warned everyone we would likely encounter light turbulence until we were about 1/2 way to Madison. I was half-right, we did encounter light turbulence, but it did not end until our wheels hit the runway in Middleton 🙂 The route home was the reverse of the arrival, and was uneventful.
Well there was one small event, Haley’s lunch paid us a return visit. This was only her 2nd flight in a small plane, and apparently the hot dog and Kool-Aid she had for lunch’s first airplane ride. She said she was going to throw up and I told them to look for Sick Sacks in the panel behind my seat. There were none. Damn, I knew I should have included that in my preflight check! Missy had a cheap WalMart jacket that had to take one for the team. So Bug emptied her stomach and then to everyone’s relief, fell asleep. Poor Halle had to deal with the vomit jacket the rest of the trip, but she pulled through for us!
The landing at home was good, and everyone was glad that leg of the flight was over, including me. We all had a great time. A wonderful flight up to Appleton, a great scenic flight with the boys, a perfect Wisconsin lunch, and terrific people to spend the afternoon with. The return flight could have been better if we had some calmer air, but it was safe, and we all made it back just a little tired but happy after having such a nice day.
The old $65 eBay purchased Lowrance AirMap 300 GPS also worked flawlessly and was a joy to use. It is simple and provides just the right amount of information. I cannot for the life of me figure out why they make panel mount GPS’s so damn complicated, and they do. The way I see it, I am a pilot and computer programmer, and if I cannot figure out the panel mount GPS then they have designed it wrong. This plane has a multi-thousand dollar Garmin 530 mounted in the instrument panel. I used it for the communications (radio) and VOR tracking, but did not touch the GPS navigation part of it. Too many dials, buttons, screens, settings, etc. I need to look outside the plane (or at the other instruments), not at this screen for 5 minutes trying to get it to do something. The $65, 8 year old, handheld GPS worked flawlessly.