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South Carolina Trip


It’s always fun to see new scenery. I got to see a lot more of the southeastern part of the country on a trip for work in the Cessna 182 the past couple days. I have never flown the 182 this far from home. Our trips are normally in the Midwest, but for this mission, the 182 would beat the airlines in convenience, so off we went. My passenger was going to get a long introduction to general aviation!

I couldn’t believe our excellent weather luck for this trip. There was a big high pressure system over the eastern U.S., bringing an unusually huge area of good clear weather with very little wind. We would have beautiful flying weather most of the time. This was great for November!

 

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Surface analysis chart for the flight down, November 29
Milwaukee area

This trip would get an earlier start than most of the flying I’m used to these days. It was a little bit weird taking off from Appleton at 6:10 a.m. under a clear night sky with the moon still out. The sun didn’t rise until we were past Milwaukee and near Chicago.

We flew VFR down the Chicago lakefront in order to shave some time off today’s long adventure. I think this might have been the earliest I’ve ever flown down the lakefront, and it was cool to see the sun’s glow on the buildings.

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Early morning in Chicago

 

So far, so good. I switched over to flying my filed IFR flight plan by picking up the clearance airborne near Gary, Indiana.

Our fuel and rest stop would be Columbus, Indiana, south of Indianapolis. That would be 100 air miles less than halfway. I chose it because I had been there before and knew there was a restaurant right inside the terminal building. We landed at about 9:00 a.m. after about two hours and 45 minutes of flying — or, well, to them it was 10:00 a.m.

An hour later, with the plane and our bellies refueled (going easy on the liquids…), we were outside getting ready to go again for a long flight of over three hours. We took off at about 11:15 eastern time, heading for what was for me, unfamiliar territory.

The land started looking different when we crossed the border into Kentucky. Fields were no longer laid out in a neat grid.

 

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We started seeing more hills around I-75 and Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. The terrain kept getting hillier to the southeast. We saw our first serious-looking mountain near the Kentucky/Tennessee border where a little sliver of Virgina sneaks in. We flew past the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The mountain elevations in this area reach a bit over 3,400 feet.

 

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Cumberland Mountains northeast of the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap itself is on the other side of our plane, out of the picture.

 

We flew through eastern Tennessee, where bizarre, long ridges make you wonder what went on here millions of years ago.

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My zoomed-in photo of mountains way off in the distance

None of this would compare to the Blue Ridge Mountains ahead, which top out over 6,000 feet. I planned our route to take through a valley over Asheville, North Carolina, to avoid the most rugged terrain. When these mountains started showing up on the horizon, they were breathtaking. They may not be the Rockies, but for this flatlander, 6,000-foot mountains are quite a treat to see.

I wished I would have been able to land and spend some time in Asheville, because it looked like a neat place. It’s in such a long and flat valley that you forget its elevation is over 2,000 feet. The mountains surrounding it were beautiful even though there were no leaves on the trees.

I kept thinking of the ads in my aviation magazines for Mountain Air, a private airpark known for beautiful views but notorious for accidents. I couldn’t spot the airport, but looking around, I could hardly believe anyone could build an airport in these mountains.
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The best views came when we were passing right over the city of Asheville. We flew past at 9,000 feet and it was smooth sailing. We got to see the highest mountain in the Appalachians, Mount Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, at 6,684 feet above sea level.
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Asheville, NC area with Mount Mitchell in the background (where the pine trees are).
We found some dramatic rock cliffs near Chimney Rock, North Carolina. U.S. Highway 74 Alternate takes a twisting, turning path through a deep valley to Lake Lure, past Chimney Rock Park. The terrain rapidly drops off here, from elevations of 3-4,000 down to about 1,000.
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Highway 74 Alternate and Lake Lure, NC area

 

Just a few miles later, we crossed into South Carolina with its relatively flat land, pine trees everywhere, and reddish colored soil. As we got closer to the coast, leaves started appearing on the trees again, like we were going back into time into fall.

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We landed in Orangeburg, South Carolina at about 2:30 p.m. eastern time, after 3 hours and 15 minutes on this leg, and a total flight time of 6.1 hours for the day. It was beautifully sunny, calm, and 60 degrees.

The friendly manager of this small-town airport gave us a warm welcome. He told us about the upcoming Santa Fly-In where kids come to the airport to receive gifts from Santa. He lent me the courtesy car for the night and got us a good rate at a nice hotel.

My passenger went to do some work at a customer’s farm, and I got an afternoon and evening of much-needed rest at the hotel. But not before stopping at the local Wal-Mart to buy some toys to donate to the Santa Fly-In!

The next morning, we left Orangeburg heading for home at about 10:30 a.m. eastern time. It was bright and sunny again with only a few clouds at the start of our first leg. High pressure once again dominated the southeastern United States.

 

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Surface analysis chart for the flight back, November 30

 

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Lake Murray, SC

 

We were in for another treat crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains again. This time, the sun was at a different angle and it was less hazy up high in the sky. With the morning mist still pooling in the valleys, the mountains were breathtakingly gorgeous.

 

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Just for the variety, I chose Louisville’s Bowman Field as a stop instead of Columbus, Indiana. I knew that Bearno’s Little Sicily was still in business across the street, so this would be a great lunch stop for pizza. I had been there way back in 2001.

Our whole 3.1-hour flight to Louisville was pretty smooth except for the last half hour. It was a little tricky getting into Bowman Field because not only was the radio busy, but the wind was gusty and really turbulent. There was a wayward Cessna 152 pilot not responding properly to air traffic control. ATC slipped me in between two airplanes by having me do a short approach at the last minute. I was definitely awake now!

The weather in Louisville was really nice by my Wisconsin November standards, around 60 degrees, so it was nice to stretch our legs during the short walk over to Bearno’s. My passenger and I really enjoyed our pizza. It was funny that the place looked very much like I remember it from 11 years ago. I recommend it to any pilot hungry for pizza near an airport!

We still had close to four hours of flying time left. A front in northern Illinois separated decent weather from questionable weather. So I chose to plan another stop in Aurora, Illinois, where we would be able to take a break and re-evaluate the Wisconsin weather before pressing on. Plus, I had a friend living nearby who might be able to help in case we got stuck.

Once we climbed above the turbulence and left the busy Louisville area, it was smooth sailing the whole way to Aurora. In northern Illinois, we flew above a solid cloud deck for the first time this whole trip. The clouds looked awesome! They ended before we reached Aurora. This leg of the flight took 2.4 hours.

 

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Hey look, a giant field of cauliflower!

 

 

I chose to visit J.A. Air Center out of curiosity for what one of the highest-rated FBOs in the country looks like. I think maybe only once before had I ever parked an airplane under a giant roof, and I can’t even remember where that may have been. Anyhow, here we were, getting out of our 182 under a canopy steps in front of what looked like a museum, with an owner or manager literally rolling out the red carpet for us. The facilities were quite stunning, with all the amenities a pilot could ask for.

I gave the next leg of the flight some careful thought, analyzed the weather, and decided it was a “go.” Temperatures on the cold side of this front were still warm enough to prevent icing, and the ceilings were low but not too low. This would be an IFR night flight.

We saw the lights of the Chicago area as we departed Aurora heading north. Then, we were inside or above clouds the whole rest of the way to Appleton. Pitch darkness sure was different than those pretty mountain views from earlier! Every now and then, we could see fuzzy orange blobs where small towns lit up the clouds from below.

It felt great to come down out of the clouds and have Appleton’s runway suddenly appear straight ahead, all lit-up. Ah, a well-flown instrument approach and nice landing to end this day!

This last leg was 1.5 hours, bringing the two-day total to 13.1 hours. I really enjoyed getting to see a different area of the country. This was one of the few long flights I’ve taken without a second pilot, and those trips always bring a special sense of accomplishment.