Monday, June 21, 2010

Picking up Paco

Mom enjoying the view over Central Ohio

Once again, many things have transpired to keep me from writing up this trip in a timely manner, however we had such a good time it deserves a post, even a few months late. I had the chance to fly a fun mission with my Mom and Dad to go to Waterloo, IL near St. Louis to pick up their new English Setter puppy. Not wanting to submit his new dog to a flight in the belly of an airliner, or go through the 12 hour drive each way, Dad asked if flying ourselves was possible, and, of course, it was.

We got to the airport a fine June Saturday morning. The forecast could not have been better, basically CAVU all the way from Zelienople, PA (PJC)
to St. Louis. We would be taking our flying club's newest acquisition, a Piper Archer. One of the nice features about our new airplane is that is has a two axis auto pilot with heading and altitude hold, which I figured would make the roughly four hour trip a bit more manageable. After preflighting, during which Mom headed into town to buy some new reading glasses, we loaded up the Archer with our bags, reading material (for them), and the puppy carrier. I had performed a weight and balance and even with full fuel we were well within the envelope. In addition, I had studied the aircraft performance charts to determine our expected takeoff roll, particularly given that the temperatures were expected to be in the high 90s at the airports along our route and thus lowering the performance of the aircraft.

We departed PJC around 10AM and I contact Pittsburgh Approach for flight following to Indianapolis which would serve as a fuel and lunch stop. I climbed to 8,500 and we settled in for the 2 hour trip. Taking care to remain well north of the Presidential TFR over Columbus that day, we breezed by Dayton and before we knew it were passed off the Indy Tracon to help guide us into Eagle Creek Airpark (KEYE), just north of Indianapolis International. EYE is a neat airport; the lineman was friendly and right there to greet us and the FBO was immaculate. The airport is situated just east of the Eagle Creek Reservior and we walked across the road to Rick's Cafe Boatyard, which is right on the edge of the lake, and had a nice lunch with a view.

After lunch, we walked back over, paid for our fuel, and were off without a hitch. Our destination was now St. Louis Downtown airport in Cahokia, IL. This leg was to be a bit shorter in distance, but the weather decided that it would help us enjoy staying in the air a bit longer than the straight line distance would have us. We climbed again to 8,500 but soon we saw a cloud bank of cumulus ahead that looked like it topped out around 12,000-14,000. As we got closer however, I realized that they were spaced rather far apart and with some slight heading changes we were able to enjoy a ride dancing through the clouds with nary a bump to be had. After getting through the clouds it looked like we were past the worst of it but soon after we were switched over to St. Louis control, the lady at the other end of the radio queried if I had on-board Nexrad weather, to which I replied negative. She then said, "well I'm seeing a level 5 thunderstorm across your route of flight and suggest a heading of 270 (which was about 75 degrees to the right of our heading), but it's only a suggestion". Well, of course I will take that suggested heading, which was to clear air ahead. 20 minutes later we were motoring past a TOWERING thundercloud, as in roiling cumulus to fifty thousand feet which looked like a skyscraper made out of cloud, to our south and were treated to a show of lighting eminating from the bottom of this monster.
Of course we were well to the north of this storm and safe, but it was awe inspiring to see it.

We were soon past the storm and the
controller gave us a vector to CPS. We were able to get
some great views of St. Louis and their Arch from the air. As we descended to pattern altitude the turbulence and bumps increase significantly. We contact CPS tower who instructed us to call a 2 mile base for 12R. As we turned on final I could really begin to feel the affect of the 15 knot crosswind out of the south and it was gusty and bumpy. I had to wrestle with the Archer a bit and applied a fair amount of crosswind correction but we were soon on the ground and popping the door open to give us relief from the 97 degree heat. We taxied to the ramp and over to Ideal Aviation which had our rental car ready and waiting near where we parked the airplane.

We soon had airplane unloaded and the rental loaded and soon were on our way to see the puppies for the first time. The car ride took about 25 minutes and we found ourselves in front of our destination house in Waterloo, IL. We got out, and to breeder greeted us, and soon we were surrounded by eight very cute Setter pups. Dad was still not sure which puppy he was going to choose and for the next couple hours we set about watching how they acted, how they interacted with the other dogs and people, and to see how well they did with pointing the quail wing. I think Dad was pretty certain which one he wanted early on but he kept us in suspense through dinner. We ate dinner with the rest of the new-to-be puppy owners and the breeder and then retired to the hotel for some rest.

We had a pretty strong thunderstorm roll through in the middle of the night and I woke up the next morning and immediately checked the terminal area forecasts (TAFs) along our route. I was happy to see that the TAFs looked very solid up until 2PM which would give us time to get pretty far into our trip before we should start to see anything significant weatherwise. I talked with Dad on the phone and he agreed that we should just go pick up the new puppy and get going as soon as possible. So we met for a quick breafast, drove to the breeders house, and after they shed some tears see the puppy go (which Dad now named Paco), we were on our way to CPS, albeit we now had an additional passenger.

Getting ready to depart St. Louis Downtown (CPS)

Upon reaching St. Louis Downtown airport, we dropped the rental car with the FBO (one thing I love about flying private is how easy the rental car situation is to deal with), and loaded the plane back up. Dad and I set up the dog carrier and we decided that Mom would stay in the back seat to be close to Paco who was just behind her in the luggage compartment. Paco started barking a bit, but I started the engine up and with the class D airport quiet that Sunday morning, we were soon after climbing out into the blue sky. No sooner had the wheels lifted off the ground had Paco fallen asleep, and, bless his heart, he slept the entire trip from then on.

I called up St. Louis Tracon and received flight following. The plan was to fly about as far as our bladders or weather or fuel burn would let us. With a strong tailwind, but amazingly again, very little turbulence, we were soon covering ground quickly with a groundspeed of roughly 170 mph. We were treated to awesome views as the visibility was incredible for a summer day and even saw the results of a flooded river and how it had escaped it's banks with the recent t-storm activity of last night. Soon we were blowing past Terra Haute, Indianapolis, Dayton and Columbus. It was now about 1PM and we could see that clouds were building off to our left (north). Not wanting to mess with any weather and certainly not without a lot of fuel on board we elected to land at Richard Downing Airport (I40) in Conshocton, OH. We had just covered 460 miles in under three hours, and I could tell that Mom and Dad were pretty happy with that.

We could not have chosen a better airport to fuel up and spend the hours waiting out the storm line to pass. I40 is about the perfect country airport.
First, it's just a gorgeous area, situated in the rolling hills of south-east Ohio. We taxied up the taxiway to the ramp that is about 10 feet higher in elevation than the runway. We were immediately greated by the lineman and we soon saw that they had an outdoor grill staffed and ready to go. We got Paco out of the airplane, and amazingly had to wake him up! He had slept through the landing and everything. I'd have to say, I was impressed. We basically hung out at the airport, had some amazing grilled food and just chatted with the locals and other pilots. I took to checking the weather on the computer every twenty minutes or so and it became apparent that we would be able to get through a gap in the line of storms to get home.

After saying goodbye to the I40 airport crew we launched east and were soon dodging some rainshowers to stay VFR. I called up Youngstown approach and he helped us with a little guidance. After switching over to Pittsburgh approach, the controller there gave us a nice vector to squeeze us through a gap and we were able to navigate the area reasonably well. Once we were passed the line, it was another twenty minutes and I soon found myself on the familiar runway 35 final approach into Zeli. We taxied up the fuel farm and after getting out to stretch could see that some more storms were approaching and we would be best served to get the car loaded up and out of there.

The trip was a great time to bond and share an adventure with Mom and Dad. As well as it was just a lot of fun. Lastly, it really demonstrated to me the utility of general aviation and the freedom that flying can give you.

Back home after a successful trip and adventure

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thumbs up for ARF

Rhonda Sims, a van driver for Freedom Train Animal Transport talks about driving shelter dogs by car to new homes, and their connection with ARF (Animal Rescue Flights) to help the dogs get to farther locales.
Storyteller. Rhonda Sims. On a Mission For Dogs

Monday, June 7, 2010