The Tortoise and the Hare

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What are the odds?

I rarely get to leave the Midwest these days, so when I had to fly to Huntsville, Alabama of all places, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I ran into someone I knew from back home. Our jaws dropped and we couldn’t stop laughing.

It was like the tortoise and the hare except neither of us knew we were in a race. It was GA versus the airlines. I’d have to say I won this one.

My door-to-door travel time was about two hours less, even though I had to spend time planning the flight, driving 40 minutes in a backwards direction to get the plane, and doing a preflight inspection. The flight south from Green Bay was about 4 hours and 15 minutes of air time including a fuel stop. I had a wonderful trip.

My corporate pilot friend had been sent on a mission to Huntsville via the airlines. He had to get up earlier than I did, and drive from Oshkosh to Milwaukee to leave on the airlines, with all of the associated “fun” of highway 41, arriving early for security, waiting in lines, and switching airplanes in Atlanta. He arrived at the airline terminal in Huntsville shortly before I landed, and then came over to the FBO to meet up with the corporate plane.

If we had been maybe ten more minutes apart, we never would have crossed paths!

How very bizarre. This was the weirdest coincidence in my aviation career. I couldn’t believe it at all.

Weather starts out with just a high overcast in southwest WI
Another layer of clouds begins to fill in, south of Waukesha, as the radar shows lots of rain to the southwest
Just above the top of the lower cloud layer. In and out of IMC briefly.
The darker color to the southwest doesn’t look that bad, but there are nasty storms with heavy rain on the radar about 100 miles away.
With storms pushing in from the west, a changing airmass is evident in the high clouds.
I stayed well east of the large area of bad weather, but flew through one area of light rain and virga that extended to the east.
Avoiding one area of heavier rain to the east.
…And much later, in beautiful clear sky, passing Nashville Tennessee
It’s very green in central Tennessee
Neat-looking floodplain on the Ohio River, at the Indiana/Kentucky border on the return trip. Evansville, IN is in the distance.
Back in the cloud layers again, with brown ground and lots of rain near the return flight’s fuel stop in Champaign, IL

 

Benign IFR weather in Illinois (storms moved out several hours earlier)
Just south of Lomira, WI in the evening on the flight home

Solo Practice in the Comanche

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Jet Air is adding a commercial pilot course to its Part 141 offerings, so I, as chief instructor, have a standardization flight with the FAA in the Piper Comanche tomorrow. I had fun brushing up on my commercial maneuvers tonight with smooth air and a pretty sky.

The only problem with flying this bird solo is that it almost puts me to sleep– it’s so stable, comfortable, quiet, and smooth-running in cruise. I have ridden in the back seat too, and it’s like a giant cushy sofa back there. This is a nice cross-country machine.

The Last Snow Sighting?

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It is May 14th and we’ve had an extra-long winter. Today I saw what I think, hope, and believe will be the last pile of snow I see until next winter.
Things are greening up, but northwestern Wisconsin managed to get a freak snowstorm on May 2nd.
I haven’t seen any snow in a while. That’s why I did a double-take when I saw this curious-looking dirt-covered mound of snow today at Menomonee Airport, west of Eau Claire.
Again, it’s mid-May.
Springtime weather can be so crazy. It was sunny for the 1.5-hour flight to LUM. It clouded over in the short time I was there, and I left just in time to beat a bunch of rain. It was a nice flight and I always like to see some forest scenery.
The last snow pile in Wisconsin?
Near the Nine Mile Recreation Area and Mosinee, WI

A Rare Treat on a Night Flight

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Originally published in the EAA UL41 Chapter Newsletter, May 2013

Sometimes we pilots really do have the best seat in the house.
 
There are certain things that I love to see from the air, like a great sunset, the fall colors, or the Chicago skyline. Those things photograph well. I have lots of pictures.

But no camera of mine can capture one of my favorite things to see from the air: a full or nearly full moon rising at night.

With the moon’s ever-changing schedule and Wisconsin’s ever-changing weather, plus the need to be airborne at the right time, this is a very rare sighting for me. Rare enough that I have only seen it four times in nearly 3,000 flight hours.

Yes, I really do remember exactly how many times. It’s that cool! Number four happened on April 27th.

My 16-year-old flight student Jordan is in the final stage of private pilot training. We had hoped to do the required night cross-country in the winter, when you can fly at night and still be home at a reasonable dinner hour. But we could never get the weather to cooperate with our schedules. Finally, on April 27th, we saw good weather coming and managed to do the flight. It turns out that this delay was a good thing.

Jordan is always interested in practicing things in training that he’ll do in the “real world” later. We could have planned a short 50-mile out-and-back night flight to satisfy the FAA requirement, but that would be too easy. Instead we planned a 290-mile round-trip to Eau Claire, where one of his brothers lives.

We flew from Green Bay to Eau Claire in the evening when it was still light out. Then we met up with Jordan’s brother for a $100 hamburger. By the way, I recommend the newly reopened restaurant in Eau Claire’s airline terminal. Check it out. It’s called The Farm on Starr.

Back on the ramp, under a clear, dark sky, I asked, “Hey, where’s the moon?” I remembered seeing a full moon in the sky a few nights before, at around 8:00. I thought it should be out by now.

Well guess what. There’s an app for that. ForeFlight doesn’t have moon data yet, but AeroWeather does. I had my iPad with me. Now I wondered if we might see that elusive moonrise.

“This thing says 10:26 p.m.,” I told Jordan, “but I’m not sure if I’m reading this right.” It was 10:00 now.

We took off and headed east. Jordan’s lesson needed to include some simulated instrument time. I had him wear the Foggles at first, but promised I’d let him see the moon.

We were west of Wausau, well away from any city lights, when I spotted the dark-cherry-red moon slipping up out of the haze. It was only a couple days days past full. Close enough to being round that I’ll call it full. We were pointing almost straight at it. I told Jordan to take off the Foggles. He was in awe!

We watched the moon slowly change to a lighter red, then orange, then yellow. The sky started picking up some light.

“Watch this,” I said as I turned off all the cockpit lights. It was as if the whole world outside got a shade brighter. It’s amazing how much better your eyes can adapt to the night sky with nothing lit in the cockpit.

“Wow!” Jordan said. We were flying along in our nearly pitch-dark little capsule in what might as well have been space. The radio was quiet. What a weird feeling.

I turned the lights back on so that we could see the instruments again, but we were mostly staring at the moon the rest of the flight. We weren’t paying too much attention to the paper navigation log or map anymore – we were using celestial navigation!

We landed at Green Bay just as the control tower was closing, at 11:30 p.m. The moon was bright now. It lit up the airport as we taxied back to Jet Air.

Jordan agreed that this was a great trip! As a flight instructor, showing these kinds of things to the next generation of pilots never gets old.

Several apps and web sites can help you find out whether the moon will be out on your next night flight. Most of these sources also include sunset/sunrise times, as well as official “civil twilight” times to help you with your logbook. Check out the astronomy section of the U.S. Naval Observatory’s web site at www.usno.navy.mil.
Flying at night is special enough, but seeing the moonrise? That’s one of those types of things that keep us all coming back.
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