‘Go where he will, the wise man is at home’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Left base: Runway 1, Searcy, AR
Left base: Runway 1, Searcy, AR
Left base: Runway 28, West Chicago, IL

After flying back from Austin on New Years Day we just vegged out in front of the football games and recovered. Dad has a home theater in the basement. One of the ones with a curtained 12 foot screen and a bunch of speakers for the surround sound. For food we had a big shrimp plate, veggie platter and some chips and dip. For dinner we went to a local chain restaurant and got some fried catfish. It was good, but nothing compared to Flying Fish.

Then came the best part after a long new years eve and early morning. We slept for 11 hours. It was glorious.

Why are there three landings listed on this post? I had a chance to take my Dad, his wife and my little brother up for a couple quick flights before Beth and I left for home.

They live reasonably close to the airport so I thought I’d take them up, fly around their house and then back. Immediately upon arrival an issue popped up. There was frost covering the airplane.

Frost is strictly prohibited as it interferes with the airflow over the wings. This kills lift and makes the airplane sketchy to fly. Fortunately, after a week of bad weather, we had a bright sunny day. The first thing we did upon arrival was turn the plane into the sun. This allowed the sunlight to make short work of the frost. By the time I was done with my pre-flight the ice had completely melted and we were ready to go.

First I took up my Dad and six year old little brother. The air was cold and dense. Even with the plane near gross weight we accelerated rapidly and climbed quickly into the sky. We followed the highway toward Cabot and circled the house a couple times. My brother was glued to the window the entire time. As we landed I heard him repeating from the backseat, “I love flying”.

Next up was Sandra. Same trip, this time with a camera.

When we got back there was a helicopter doing a training flight. There are parts of flying airplanes and training to fly airplanes that are pretty boring. I wrote a few days ago about holding patterns as an example of pure boredom. As boring as airplane training can get, it’s nothing compared to learning to fly a helicopter. It’s been compared to standing on a beach ball. You constantly have to be feeling the aircraft and making small adjustments in order to keep from falling off. And this is the work you have to do to go nowhere. Generally for $250/hr or so.

I dropped off my passengers and we loaded up for home.

Searcy is an uncontrolled airport. There was very little wind. Those two facts combined mean that it isn’t clear what the “most right” runway is. When I was flying there was a wind slightly favoring runway 1. Hence the two landings listed above. When we took off for home someone else had decided instead to use runway 19. Ah, the pleasures of a free for all…

This was a long flight. The approximate endurance of our plane is five and a half hours, from which I subtract an hour for safety margin. This flight would be a bit over four. Over that much time we passed through a lot of different airspace and talked with a lot of different controllers. It’s a shame that some people train in uncontrolled environments and never have a chance to get comfortable on the radio. Using services like flight following is a great safety net.

This flight took us through eight airspaces with special rules:

Shirley C MOA
Lindberg C MOA
Salem MOA
St. Louis Class B
Springfield Class C
Central Illinois Regional Class D
O’Hare Class B
DuPage Class D

MOA stands for Military Operations Area and designates an area set aside for training exercises. Class B, C and D are different levels of control for the areas around airports.

We also used 12 frequencies.

122.70 Searcy
120.07 Memphis Center
128.35 Kansas City Center
127.47 Kansas City Center
128.10 St. Louis Approach
119.15 St. Louis Approach
126.15 Springfield Approach
128.72 Peoria Approach
123.75 Chicago Center
124.80 DuPage Weather
120.90 DuPage Tower
121.80 DuPage Ground

At Searcy we talked with other planes and a helicopter using the airport to coordinate our departure. Small airports often don’t have any air traffic control, so pilots work together to make sure everyone can operate safely.

From Memphis until DuPage we communicated with various controllers who kept an eye on us with radar. This is the essence of flight following. We punch a magic number into a magic box that makes us show up on the radar screen. Then when they see other planes nearby they can give us updates and help us spot the other traffic.

Once we got closer to DuPage we got weather, landing instructions and taxi instructions.

The self fuel pump was broken, as usual, so we bought more expensive fuel from the truck. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s frustratingly consistent. In the two years I’ve been flying the thing has always had problems. A more cynical person might suspect it’s to sell more fuel from the truck. But I’m sure that can’t be it. Nah…

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