While the highways were clogged with people heading off to their 4th of July weekend vacations, I was crisscrossing the sky for about six hours today.
I started my Friday morning by taking my student Tony for a ride in the Ercoupe. Then he and I did a 1.4-hour lesson in the 172 doing short- and soft-field takeoffs and landings at New Holstein. It was a nearly calm, sunny day and even though it was turbulent, Tony decided it would be good to fly extra today. So when we got back from the first lesson, we sat down together to plan his first dual cross-country. In the early afternoon we took off for Watertown and flew 1.7 hours round-trip. I took a picture of the windmill farm south of Fond du Lac.
Later in the afternoon I packed the Ercoupe full of baggage: a backpack full of clothes and supplies, a tent, a folding chair, and some food. The owner, my student Todd, was off to Chicago and said I could go ahead and fly the Ercoupe all weekend. I planned to take it to Sidnaw, MI (in the upper peninsula) where some pilot friends were hosting a weekend get-together. I had been there once before: last year on Labor Day weekend when they held a big camp-out, which was an annual event.
Meanwhile my former student Chris called to ask if he could take the 172 to Shawano for dinner with his dad, and I said sure, no problem! After he and his dad took off, I realized the antenna for my GPS was still in that plane. My route would take me past Shawano, so I planned to stop there and fetch it.
About halfway through my half-hour flight the plane started making an odd high-pitched whirring noise that I couldn’t pinpoint. At first I thought it might be air hitting something in the baggage compartment, but no, this noise was coming from up front somewhere. It came and went, and there seemed to be an associated vibration. It went away by the time I landed in Shawano.
I got the GPS antenna from the other plane and didn’t see Chris or his dad anywhere, so I knew they must still be eating. I checked my oil which still measured fine, but just as in the last few flights there seemed to be small oil leaks everywhere inside the cowling. I’ve heard that Ercoupes with C-85 engines are prone to leak. But how much is normal? Hmm. I figured on making an intermediate stop or two enroute to keep an eye on the situation.
I set up the GPS for Prickett-Grooms Airport in Sidnaw (6Y9) and took off to head further north. During takeoff, only my second solo takeoff in the plane, I paid close attention to how much runway I used. This plus my Brennand Airport takeoff started convincing me I might not be able to make it in and out of the airport in Sidnaw, which is a grass strip with obstacles.
While my mind mulled over alternate plans such as going to a different airport in the U.P., I flew north over the Menominee Indian reservation, which is such a solid mass of trees that you can see it from space. Then that strange noise started again. I was not sure what it was, and everything seemed to be functioning normally. But I wouldn’t want to keep putting up with this noise, plus I was thinking about the oil and the possibility of not having the performance to get in and out of Sidnaw. There would be nothing but trees between me and my destination with very few places to put a plane down. Yes, it was time to turn around. False start. I should have taken the 172 in the first place.
I got back to Shawano just in time to move all of my gear into the 172 and catch a ride back to Brennand with Chris and his dad. Rather than waste time trying to figure out what was going on with the Ercoupe, I tied it down and left it there. During my ride back (in the back seat) I looked over my maps and tried to pick out a place where I could camp for the night. I knew I could no longer make it to Sidnaw before dark because I had used up too much time. But I knew I could make it at least most of the way north and still have fun camping somewhere under the wing.
As soon as Chris and his dad hopped out of the plane, I topped it off with fuel and headed out solo. Destination: Crandon, WI (Y55). I had never been there, but it seemed to look like somewhere I could pitch a tent. It took me 1.2 hours to fly there and I landed about 15 minutes past sunset. I knew I was officially “up north” when two eagles flew right over me after I got out of the plane. There were only a few planes tied down outside and not a soul around. Before getting anything out of the plane, I went to check to see if there was a bathroom open on the field somewhere– if not, I would have taken off and flown to somewhere else, such as Tomahawk, which I hear caters well to camping. Luckily there was a building accessible 24 hours a day. It was still light enough to see while pitching my tent. I could see the town’s fireworks from the inside of my tent without being eaten by mosquitos.
The temperature fell to the upper 40s overnight and I kept being awoken by coyotes howling, but other than that, I was enjoying myself. I hadn’t seen so many stars in a long time. Unfortunately I missed out on the party in Sidnaw with the fireworks and band, but oh well. I didn’t mind the solitude. I can’t remember the last time I took a flying trip alone, going wherever I wanted, completely unrelated to work. I need to do this more often. I have forgotten what it means to be a pilot!
Even my tent had somewhat of a history: I bought it in 2002 to camp with another pilot under the wing of a Super Cub. It had finally come full-circle.