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Our first IFR cross-country trip: NY-MI-IL-MI-NY
Trip to Michigan and Illinois, June 29 - July 4, 2005 Rick & Hai
Hai and I got our instrument ratings last Memorial weekend. After a
dozen or so of practice flights shooting most of the approaches at
nearby airports including one filed IFR trip to from Poughkeepsie, NY
to Hartford, CT, we felt confident enough to attempt our long
cross-country trip from New York to Michigan and Illinois - on
Our planning had been completed the night before, the plane refueled
and readied, so we were in pretty good shape for an early departure.
One problem though was that we were very near the end of the publishing
cycle for charts and plates. We downloaded the plates we thought we
might need from the internet and planned on renewing old charts as soon
as we could get new ones.
June 29. The weather picture was not too bad. Poughkeepsie would be
800 feet and =BE SM before sunrise, but would relax to broken 3000 feet
and 5 SM by mid-morning. Our fist leg would take us to Cory-Lawrence
(8G2) and nearby Erie would be P6M visibility and scattered at 3500
feet. We had picked Cory over Erie based on the favorable forecast and
some very cheap avgas. We arrived at the airport at around 7 and were
off by 7:50 with an IFR clearance to Cory, almost as filed with the
exception of the starting point direct from KPOU to WEARD. In contact
with NY approach, it was confirmed that we were cleared direct to
WEARD. I began a turn toward the intersection while we climbing
through 2500'. Oops! I was firmly reminded to adhere to Dutchess
Four Departure which called for climbing on runway heading maintaining
3000'. They do keep a close eye on us. Do they know we are
beginners? Can they see our training wheels? We continued to climb
through haze and were on our way at 8000 feet at the tops of light
cumulus clouds. This was only my second PIC IFR filing but my
confidence was pretty high. High, that is until we were near Cory. As
we descended through cloud and fairly thick haze - the ground was
barely visible from 6000 feet - I read over the NDB RWY 14 approach
we had chosen, rejecting the simpler but much longer VOR approach far
to the south of the airport. It was very straightforward - overtop the
Cory NDB and outbound to a procedure turn then almost straight in to
the NDB just short of the runway, MAP =3D 2400 feet. Hai handled the
communication as I prepared myself. She requested the NDB approach and
Erie approach cleared us for the NDB suggesting we report the Prang
intersection inbound. Prang intersection? Hai was puzzled. We knew
we had reviewed the Prang intersection somewhere, but the NDB plate had
no such thing. Then it dawned on us that it was on the VOR 32 approach
and must be a mistake on the part of ATC. Hai called back and
explained and the guy was apologetic. "Madam, you are absolutely
right! "Standby...ah...thanks for the correction. My
mistake...er..report Cory." Now we were ready.
Checking the Jamestown ATIS for and altimeter setting, we heard
"ceiling 500"! I glanced back at the NDB approach on my lapboard.
MAP 653 feet! Oops! We were expecting 3500 feet of clear air above
the runway and it was probably below minimums! Jamestown was 30 miles
north, and Cory might have had better weather, but and I did not feel
like going down to check it out for myself. Plan B was in order. My
"Erie approach, 30703 requests recommendation for an alternate.
Ceiling at Cory is low - 500 feet!"
"703 standby......703 take heading xxx degrees, maintain 4000 feet,
expect ILS RW 24 Erie".
Hai read back the clearance he gave us for the Erie approach.
" Read back was perfect!" came the reply. Hai suggested quietly
over the intercom that the controller was trying to atone for his
Whew! We were out of there. I felt my neck and shoulders relax. In
20 minutes we were vectored through the haze to Erie ILS 24. We could
see the lakeshore below and the runway a couple of miles ahead but I
used the opportunity to practice on the glide slope. Nice landing, at
11:00. The total flying time was 3 hours 10 minutes
Lessons learned for this leg are 1) Being cleared direct does not mean
we could start changing direction. 2) Controllers are only human. If
we suspect an error, ask for confirmation right away. 3) It is best to
plan your stop at a large airport with TAF, on-site weather report and
ILS approach and 5) we should have tuned ATIS earlier.
After refueling and snacking from Hai's backpack, our constant
backseat companion, we picked up new plates and charts for the route
ahead. At 12:41 we were off with Hai in the driver's seat,
destination: MKG - Muskegon. The routing was "as filed" and took
us out over lake Erie, so we donned our life vests as a precaution and
flew at 8000 feet. All went smoothly until we had almost reached the
opposite shore. We began to notice quite a discrepancy between the GPS
path and the VOR. We were 60 miles from the Erie VOR and almost that
to Windsor VOR ahead. We heard a call from ATC about being perhaps a
little off course? Yes, we had drifted more than 3 or 4 miles
laterally. We decided to rely on the GPS while we monitored the VOR
receivers. I think it was just too far for VOR use.
As we approached the Detroit area the otherwise smooth horizon began to
billow upward well above us. I gave a quick call to 122.0, Flight
Watch, for a check on the need to deviate. Even thought the cumulus
clouds ahead did not have the look of serious storm clouds, more like
popcorn, I already had concluded that a deviation would be in order.
Flight Watch was a feminine voice assuring us there were no echoes
coming from the region except a few returns from the Jackson area
moving south west - not directly in our path. We pushed on ahead.
Several other aircraft with us on the Detroit Approach frequency noted
the buildups also and the controller started routing all of us to avoid
a large TCU. We asked for farther deviation route and were told that
it was outside of Detroit approach radar so we decided to deal with the
smaller TCUs. First he wanted us down from 8000 to 5000 to avoid the
incoming lanes of commercial traffic. Then we skimmed along the sides
and tops of numerous white towers causing some light bumps and jolts.
Hai reduced the throttle each time we entered a big ice cream cone, so
she decided to call them speed bumps. I became a little anxious when
Detroit had not addressed us for 10 minutes or so. I wanted to be sure
we were not forgotten so I requested to be back on track for Muskegon.
The controller, with as much patience as he could muster, replied that
that was what he intended. "Yes sir", I said, realizing I had been
a bit foolish to think he had actually dropped an IFR flight plan on
the floor. I felt like a real novice, to put it mildly!
After an hour or so of "speed bumps" the sky cleared a bit and it
was pretty smooth sailing the rest of the way to MKG. We decided once
we were with Muskegon approach we would ask for the ILS runway 24. .
As we came up on 20nm from our destination, still at 8000 feet, we
requested lower altitude and were immediately allowed to descend. We
were cleared for visual approach at Muskegon but requested the ILS.
Now at 4000 feet and being vectored for the intercept with the
Localizer, Hai slowed to 90 knots to give herself plenty of time to
relax and mentally prepare for the approach. Muskegon came back with a
request for "at least 110 knots". Hai quickly added power, and
with the descent angle still in, we shot up to 110 knots, then 130
knots, then 140 knots! We were screaming down the glide slope toward
the runway and it felt like we might zoom right past the tower and out
over Lake Michigan. I sensed Hai was overreacting, as if she felt the
command from ATC was a rush to avoid being overtaken by a 747. But we
had practiced fast approaches in our training with Bill Zaleski so I
wasn't too alarmed. The landing went smoothly with a little float
along the 6,500-foot runway and we were finally at our destination and
could relax. Landing time was15:45 for a total of 3 hours and 4
minutes for this leg.
Lessons learned from this leg are 1) The GPS track is a lot more
accurate than fading VOR signal 2) It's not too bad to penetrate
small TCUs in the Midwest 3) It's a good idea to plan for your
descend instead of waiting for ATC's instruction 4) Try not to be
rattled by ATC's request during crunch time.
Family Visits: We unloaded and called Liz for a lift. We visited with
my brother's family, Kevin, Liz and Laura for the rest of the
afternoon, and then we all drove over to Grand Rapids to see a Blues
concert in the downtown area. Nice, but a bit loud for us. We enjoyed
watching the young people, some dressed in shorts and t-shirts,
appropriate for the 80-degree heat, and others in Goth outfits, much to
hot for the weather! We were dropped off at Coopersville and were
greeted by Hai's parents. The following day we spent time with
Hai's brother family, Trieu, Wendy and the kids, helping them move to
their new home in Lowell.
June 31. The next day would be my turn to fly on a trip to Chicago to
see Hai's sister. We would also see my old friend Abe from college
days. Nephew Mark would come along for the ride. We watched the
weather by visiting the Coopersville Library computers, which indicated
that the afternoon would be the best time to go. We lifted off at 3:43.
We had filed IFR with a 4000 foot ceiling and tops reported at 6000 to
DuPage Airport. The report of 6000 was very accurate. We chose a land
route which was much longer than heading direct across the lake, but we
were a little shy of being so far from shore with a passenger. We
found ourselves skimming the gleaming tops - not a real great
position due to light turbulence and occasional fluff obscured our
vision. I asked for 8000 and was given it. The trip down was clear
and sunny. Mark seemed to enjoy it. Later he said it was awesome!
Descending through the clouds, I found myself dropping at 1200 feet per
minute instead of a comfortable 500. Mark later said he got a bit
woozy. Dropping below the clouds at 4000, we could see the south part
of Chicago through some haze and just as we were handed off from
Chicago Center to Approach, the radio went dead. Not a sound. We had
been cleared to the next VOR but we were out of contact. I let us
drift right on through the VOR as we tried to raise Center again on the
previous frequency. "Standby" they said. We heard other traffic
being routed and switched to other approach frequencies. Apparently it
was a ground problem and Center would have to work around it. Finally
we were given a new frequency and we were vectored to DuPage airport
and given to the tower. We were now VFR but I only gave the tower a
limited report - "Cardinal 30703 at 3000. "Give me a full
report!" he insisted. "Inbound with ATIS Alpha." I replied. Good
enough, we were in.
Lessons learned: 1) Flip-flop radios are great to go back to the
previous frequency 2) Prepare to switch back to VFR reporting mode in
talking to Tower 3) More gentle climb and descend when carrying
Family and Friend visits: We parked and within a few minutes Dan showed
up to take us off to North Aurora. We visited with Teresa, Dan and
their baby, Ponette for the evening and went to bed anticipating a
meeting with my long lost friend, Abe, in the morning. I just recently
found his email through the Internet after 25 years. I would give Dan
and Abe a little ride in the Cardinal and from Abe's tone on the
phone; I was thinking he might pull out at the last minute. I
described the plane and the flight process carefully and got him into
the plane. "How do you feel?" I asked. "Well, you got me in
here" he smiled. When it was time to call ground control I
discovered a problem with them hearing us. We were only blocking the
frequency and they could not hear me. Ground announced that there was
a problem interfering with communication and asked whoever it was to
seek repair. We climbed out of our seatbelts and checked the wiring.
A wiggle here and there and we were once more on our way. It was short
ride west from DuPage at 3000 feet and a turn and return. Smooth and
slow so as not to upset the passengers. The terrain was flat and green
with small farms as far as we could see, and that was probably 30
miles. The crops must be pampered indeed since few fields showed any
sign of the drought affecting suburban lawns. The flight took about 40
minutes. I think Abe was fairly well impressed. He seemed glad to
have made the trip.
Lessons learned: 1) In troubleshooting radio problem, check the
connections first and only one headset at a time 2) Detailed
explanations are soothing to new small plane passengers. 3) Smooth and
slow =3D enjoyable flight.
The following afternoon, we were off to Muskegon again. 12:50. Hai
would take us back along the lakeshore VFR as the weather was fine and
we wanted to sightsee. Chicago approach provide flight following and
we expected to be routed around the city to the south east, but they
asked where we wanted to go and gave they gave us a short cut right
over Midway airport at 2000 feet toward the Lake Michigan shore. The
skyscrapers stood on the lake shore only a few miles north. Quite a
sight! We watched as a heavy (airliner) moved dreamily over us and I
snapped several pictures of another heavy below us landing at Midway.
When we reached the shore we turned east passing the sooty looking
airport at Gary Indiana and then Hai turned gradually north following
the curve of the lake and staying about 8 miles off shore. The lake
was fairly calm without whitecaps and with plenty of boats of all
descriptions. The boats thinned out as we gradually moved away from the
big city. The water was smooth, the air was smooth, and the sky was
blue with a few gleaming white wisps of clouds. It was a great ride.
Mark, in the back seat, seemed to relish it as much as we pilots did.
14:36 touch down at MKG after 1 hour and 46 minutes. The mission was a
Lessons learned: 1) It's much smoother to fly over the lake than
over big cities 2) It's safe to fly over the lake within gliding
distance to land.
July 3. It was time to start back to New York. We had enjoyed our
several visits but we had one more stop - a visit with Hai's
brother Tom in Troy near Detroit. We got a ride to the airport with
Mark and his ever-cautious father Tony, and as we transferred luggage
from the car to the plane, Hai came up with the idea of a quick flight
for Tony. Mark's father had been very nervous about Mark flying with
us on previous trips and showed every sign of being the type to refuse
the offer. He said "OK" with a nervous chuckle, so we strapped in
and I piloted up the coast with Tony as copilot and Mark in back.
After a while I let Tony "fly" a bit. "Boy! It's sensitive to
handle." He said. We headed back after 40 minutes, and I was aware
that I had given a man his first taste of GA fun.
We departed MKG at 1:05 and enjoyed a quick hop to VLL (used to be
7D2), Oakland Troy. Tom, Joanne and Joseph arrived just 10 minutes
later and we immediately invited them to fly over their new home just 5
miles away. Hai piloted and we climbed to about 2,500 feet and circled
the home, which was easy to find since it is on a small "U" shaped
lake. All seemed to enjoy the little (30 minute) jaunt.
We were driven to their nice new home on the lake where we paddled
about in small boats and later watched fireworks presented a day early
by the neighbors.
Lessons learned: 1) Don't give up in persuading cautious people to
get a ride 2) A digital camera with small video clips is a great thing
to keep in the flight bag.
July 4 - a holiday. 10:15. I filed IFR for Grand Canyon (N38) PA
and without a tower at Troy, we would have to pick up our clearance
using the local FSS frequency. We tried Lansing Radio from the ground
without success, so we tried Detroit Metro approach. No luck. We'd
have to try in the air. At 3000 feet we picked up Lansing who
suggested Detroit again - no luck, even from way up here. Lansing
gave us another Detroit frequency but with no better result. Finally
Lansing said he would call Detroit and see what's what. He came back
after another erratic holding loop at 3000 feet. This frequency finally
worked and we were started on our way east.
As we neared Grand Canyon we were handed off to Elmira approach, but as
we began our descent the controller was having difficulty hearing us.
We managed to have him give us the visual approach clearance with the
airport in sight at 4000 feet, and we cancelled our IFR in the air. We
dropped in and landed at 12:42, just 2 hours and 27 minutes after
departure at Troy. We had lunch, refueled, and relaxed and then filed
IFR to good old Dutchess County. Our clearance was to the Stonyfork
VOR just a mile south at 5000 feet. "Wheels up" at 14:06, we began
to spiral up and tried to raise Elmira approach without luck. We could
hear the controller but he could not understand us, and asked if we had
radio problems. Fortunately there was another aircraft in the area who
was hearing us well and had good contact with the controller. He
relayed the message that we were ready for a further clearance, and we
got it, on to the next VOR. Once we could climb further, the reception
at Elmira improved. Must have been the mountains interfering with our
transmission. The final leg went pretty well and once we were near
Monticello and then passed over Wurtsboro, we felt a sense of arrival
in our comfortable home area. Hai opted for the ILS RWY 6 full
approach at Dutchess in spite of a 6-knot tailwind. I would handle the
radio. We were aimed at the Meier NDB/intersection as the initial
approach fix and turned out bound for the procedure turn which took us
right over the middle of Stewart Airbase! I was relieved to be almost
home but fatigue was even more evident when the tower mumbled something
about reporting something inbound and I opened my mouth to repeat it in
acknowledgement. What came out I can't remember, but the tower guy
said, "That wasn't anything like what I said" and repeated the
instruction. I apparently got it right this time. We touched down at
15:49. We were pretty tired and hot, but we had conducted a successful
mission. "Let's go home and have a glass of wine", I thought.
Lessons learned: 1) Ease of ATC communication should be considered in
selecting a stopover airport. 2) We should ask other pilots heard on
the frequency to relay our call to ATC sooner. 3) It is better to ask
ATC to say again than reading back gibberish ;-)
We could not have accomplished the trip on schedule without the use of
our new IFR ratings. Some legs required it and some would have been
less comfortable bumping along close to the ground if we had not filed
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