Lake Lawn

‘Grass doesn’t grow on a busy street’ – Unknown



It’s a few weeks after I got my license to fly and we’ve decided to head out for dinner. According to the FAA I can fly at night, but that’s pretty unusual. Most countries require either a special night endorsement or an instrument rating. This makes good sense. Flying at night can be a lot like flying in instrument conditions. It can be easy to lose perspective of the horizon when stars and streetlights start to blend together in the distance. Add to that a bit of turbulence and a pilot whose experience in recovering an aircraft from an unusual attitude is limited to a few practice sessions and a date with the FAA to take a test and it’s easy to see why the recommendation is to not fly at night without getting an instrument rating.

With that in mind, our list of possible destinations is considerably narrowed to those that won’t require a return flight after dark.

We could fly ten minutes to Pilot Pete’s, but it would only take us eight minutes to drive there.

We could fly an hour to Madison, but that’s a busy airport and not something I’m quite ready to take on this afternoon.

We could fly to Lake Lawn. The airport is across the street from a nice little resort that says they will pick you up and drop you off. It’s less than 30 minutes by air and the food is supposed to be quite tasty. So we make our choice and do a quick flight plan. Using pilotage, known to the layman as looking at the ground and figuring out where you are, we’ll keep and eye out for I90, Algonquin, Woodstock, Harvard and Lake Geneva.

It’s a very nice afternoon to fly. The skies are clear and the warm September sun shining at my 270 is second only to the good company at my 90. This is Beth’s first flight with me as a pilot in command. A title I’ve only been able to claim for a couple weeks. And we’re in the trainer, so none of the distractions of GPS and autopilot to reduce the purity of the flight. It’s a Friday afternoon and you can almost feel the stress of the workweek radiating off Chicagoland as everyone decompresses and enjoys the end of summer.

Beth is calling out the landmarks every few minutes.

Algonquin? Yup, I see the airport next to it.

There’s Woodstock.

And Lake Geneva, and I also see Lake Lawn

Ok, Lake Lawn is our primary, so it’s time to start looking for the airport on the north side of the lake. Lots of people still out boating, I guess the water temps haven’t gone down that much yet.

Hmm, still no airport and we’re right over Lake Lawn…

Ah, there it is. The asphalt isn’t very dark. That’s expected, it has a reputation for not being very well kept up. But one of the guys from the club was just here and vouches for it being usable. I think I’ll get down to pattern early so I can get a look at the surface and the windsock. This airport only gets about 50 operations a week, so there is no weather information, much less a control tower. This approach will be done by making calls on the radio in case anyone is listening.

Wind is from the south east, that will be fine. We’ll land on runway 18 and will only have to taxi a few feet to the ramp.

Man, that’s a green shade of asphalt though. I remember from preflight planning the admonishment that this runway has numerous large cracks the entire length and that grass is growing in them. I guess this must be one of those few asphalt runways that has to be mowed every so often.

We’re now on short final and it’s becoming almost comical how grassy the runway looks. I briefly even consider aborting the landing and flying the length of the runway, just to get a better look before setting down. Instead I see that the grass is indeed mowed on the runway, and there are a couple planes on the ramp that have just landed. So the preponderance of the evidence is that we’ll be fine.

We’re about 50 feet up as we cross the threshold and now my angle shows that the runway is more asphalt than grass, so the final decision is made to set down. As we get closer and closer I start to wonder how bumpy things will be. This little Cessna doesn’t have shock absorbers like a car might. Just the flexible struts to which the wheels are attached.

Touch down.

The roll-out isn’t bad at all. The runway certainly looks a lot worse than it actually is.

Mission accomplished. Time to walk across the street and get some dinner!

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‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.’ – Strother Martin (‘Captain’) ‘Cool Hand Luke’


Wheels up from DuPage. Today’s mission is a simple one, head out to DeKalb and do some touch and goes. It’s been a good month. I finally soloed a few weeks ago and am getting confident in my ability to safely pilot an airplane. It’s a real blast to be able to say “hey, I’ll be back in a couple hours, I’m going to go flying for a bit”.

Heading out I go a bit south of the airport to check out the new wind farm that is being put in. Human ingenuity has found a way to use the same principle to keep my plane up, push it forward and generate electricity. Hmm, I wonder if that’s ingenuity or lack of creativity. In any case, watching the concrete pads go in, then the masts being delivered and now the blades are mostly there and the masts vertical and waiting has been fun. You get a different perspective from the air.

Time to turn north.

“Dekalb traffic, cessna 62681 is three miles south of the field inbound for touch and goes on runway 09, Dekalb”

Winds today are unusual, coming from nearly due east. This extends my flightseeing tour to the wind farm a bit, but doesn’t present a problem. DeKalb has a runway pointed in the correct direction for this low time pilot. Flying well above the pattern altitude as I pass the approach end of the field, it’s time to descend to 1914 feet.

“DeKalb traffic, cessna 62681 is two thousand three hundred feet, one mile west of runway 09, will be entering 45 degrees downwind for 09, DeKalb”

No one else is out here today. DeKalb is pretty hit or miss. There will either be four student pilots all trying to practice returning airplanes to terra firma safely, or it will be empty. Tonight it’s empty. A bit of a surprise, it’s a beautiful day, but that’s ok. There is plenty to do without having to worry about other people so much.

“DeKalb traffic, cessna 62681 is 45 degrees downwind for runway 09, DeKalb”

Time to start thinking about landing. I’ll be making a turn at midfield, so let’s do my GMC check now.

Gas: Both
Mix: Rich
Carb heat: On

“DeKalb traffic, cessna 62681 is entering left downwind from the 45, DeKalb”

Ok, made the required call, time to turn. We make calls on the turns because with the wings tipped, it’s much easier for other pilots to see us. Turning right to the…


My left wing up for the turn flashes into view a cessna 152 already downwind and it’s getting bigger, but not moving. We’re only about 300 feet apart.

I increase my rate of turn to the right to abort joining the pattern and make a call.

“DeKalb traffic, cessna 62681 is turning hard right to avoid the plane on downwind”

Now I finally hear the first call from the other pilot. He’s clearly inexperienced with the radio. Who knows how long he’s been there. Maybe this close call has caused him to double check and realize he’s on the wrong frequency.

“Uh, DeKalb, cessna 1234f has you in site if you would like to join pattern”

At that I’m comfortable that we’re ok, level the wings and adjust for the downwind. Even though I’m a runner my heart is going about 180 after my first challenging encounter with another plane.

“DeKalb traffic, cessna 1234f is left downwind for short field landing on 09, DeKalb”

Hmm, now Mr. Silent is no longer silent. That’s good. Not sure why he’s telling everyone he’s doing a short field. This runway is quite long, so he’s clearly doing it just for practice. The fact that he’s doing one won’t cause a problem for anyone else. Whatever, better to over communicate I suppose.

I continue around the pattern and land while listening to his calls.

“DeKalb traffic, cessna 1234f is turning left base for short field landing on 09, DeKalb”
“DeKalb traffic, cessna 1234f is final for short field landing on 09, DeKalb”

I’m almost back to the hanger to stretch out a bit and unwind when I hear:

“DeKalb traffic, king air 332ka, the cessna that just landed was short of the runway and needs to check its tail for damage. You guys took out a landing light, DeKalb”

Yeah, I’m definitely going to have a coke and relax until that dude leaves the area…

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Here They Come Again

hot-springs-quarter.jpgWhenever I dig into my purse or peruse the floor of my car for a quarter, no matter how much of a hurry I’m in, I always have to turn it over to see what state graces its backside. The U.S. Mint launched its 50 State Quarters Program in 1999 and from then until 2008 it commemorated each state in the union. Due to its popularity, the mint decided to honor 48 National Parks, two U.S. Fish and Wildlife sites, and six U.S. Forest Service sites. One site from each U.S. state and territory and the District of Columbia has been selected.

The first 5 coins to be released in 2010 are:
* Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas
* Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
* Yosemite National Park in California
* Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
* Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon

Today, April 19, 2010, the quarters are being released and the first release ceremony will take place at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. We hope to visit 3 out of the 4 national parks that are being released this summer and are glad that the mint is making everyone aware of how important and wonderful our national parks are. Even if people can’t visit in person, perhaps the quarters will encourage them to find out more about and support the parks. Not bad for .25 cents.

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August 25, 1916

This is the date that the National Park Service was created by the U.S. Congress under the National Park Service Organization Act. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill with the intent “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Up to this point, a handful of national parks were individually managed by the Department of the Interior.


RW2 and I not only love the outdoors and traveling, but watching movies. Most genres are attractive to us, but we are particularly fond of the Ken Burn’s style of filmmaking. His documentaries cast a bright light on many different topics from the birth of jazz to, you guessed it, the National Parks. During the fall of 2009, Netflix was kind enough to deliver all 6 discs of the series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

I was particularly struck by the adventures of Edward and Margaret Gehrke. They started visiting the national parks in 1915 and for the next 25 years, visited every park that existed at that time. Margaret chronicled all of their visits in journals and wrote of the beauty and majesty of the parks. I often wonder what Margaret would think of the national parks that have come to be since her death in 1978 and how she would describe her surroundings that are often indescribable.

Likewise, John Muir was an American naturalist and author. He was instrumental in preserving the wilderness of the United States, greatly through his writings. He is the founder of the Sierra Club and inspired many people to preserve, support and visit our national parks. Muir’s passion for wilderness is apparent in the architecture of a cabin he built on a stream in Yosemite national park along Yosemite Creek. He designed the cabin so a portion of the stream would run through a corner of the room for him to be able to hear the sound of the running water. Here in suburban Chicago, if I want to hear that sound, I have to turn on the tap.

I suppose that Margaret and John’s visions have been successful. If they were still alive, I know they would embrace me with open arms at the gate of every park. I would like to visit all of the U.S. national parks and after watching Burns’s beautiful film, I too have been bitten by the national park bug. This is one welt I will be happy to scratch.

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Don’t Get Behind The Power Curve

Running and flying have an odd similarity. The power curve.

Straight and level flight is an easy to understand flight condition. You are maintaining a given altitude and proceeding in a straight line. This is where you spend the majority of your time flying.

Descending isn’t a whole lot harder. You point the airplane down a bit and lose altitude. Unless you make other adjustments, you will also gain some airspeed.

Climbing is a bit different. In most instances you use your excess of power — the power available that you don’t need simply to maintain altitude — to add some feet of safety between yourself and the ground.

What can get weird is when you are at a high angle of attack (your nose pointed nicely skyward) at slow speed and your drag increases so much that a shocking amount of power is needed just to maintain altitude. This is referred to as “getting behind the power curve”. You are so out of sorts that you have to work really hard just to do what should have been pretty easy.

Running can be the same kind of thing. You can go out hard and fast, but can easily get yourself worn out to a point where maintaining your normal pace is impossible without extraordinary effort and you end up screwing up your whole race.

So, in flying and running, don’t get behind the power curve. Stay within your capabilities and you’ll be much more successful in the long run.

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