‘It’s a 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.’ – Elwood Blues
My buddy, Buzz, was in from Hawaii — where he doesn’t get to fly, only surf — for a conference so we decided to go flying. Buzz is the proximate cause of me becoming a pilot. I have always been into flying and built a few radio controlled models, but hadn’t seriously considered getting my license until I spent some time talking with him about it. Since he was the one who got me hooked I felt it was only right to further mess up his biological clock by getting him up well before dawn Chicago time to go for a flight-seeing trip.
I arrived at the airport before dawn and started calling Buzz to see where he was. He was lost. I gave him clear instruction to get directions to Diamonds Gentleman’s Club, but apparently that wasn’t specific enough. He called from 20 minutes away asking if he was getting close. The best part is that I’m far from being the Magellan in any group, so it was a bit of the blind leading the blind.
Eventually he got there, about 30 minutes late, with the sun just starting to highlight the hangers. The forecast had predicted a possibility of fog, but none was apparent. It was, however, quite cold on the ramp. I took my brother for a flight to Rhinelander a few weeks ago and we had the luxury of a heated hanger to pre-flight. So, we took our time and I walked him through the process. That wasn’t going to happen with Buzz. Not that he needed the practice, but we were already late and now the cold was urging as much efficiency as safety would allow.
Taking off over Fermilab we got a beautiful view of Wilson Hall as the sun rose. I used to have an office in that building looking out over the prairie and, on a clear day, the distant skyline of Chicago.
Finally in the air, I was very disappointed to see Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline covered in fog. Our FAA supervisors make it difficult to get to the lakeshore directly, so we were going to head south of Midway’s airspace and then up the coast. The meant that it would take us around 30 minutes to get to the lakeshore, near the Illinois/Indiana border. I hoped, but wasn’t optimistic, that the bright sun would burn off the fog in that time, otherwise we would have to abandon that part of the flight and just head somewhere for breakfast.
As we flew on, things improved by the minute. By the time we flew over Stateville Correctional Center the skies were clear over the city and only a bit of cloud was still offshore, so we were good to go. The early morning skies were smooth as glass and mostly empty of any other flyers, so we had plenty of time to gaze around. The only other traffic was a couple helicopters reporting on the latest wreck on the highway.
Upon arrival at the lake, the weather gods had smiled upon us and conditions were perfect. The ride continued to be smooth and the clouds had parted. With the sun behind us we flew 20 minutes up the lakeshore snapping pictures and taking video.
Since we had been up so early, we planned to fly to Janesville, WI and get some breakfast. I like this place because they bake their own bread and make their own jam. It got my standard skillet of medical busting goodness and Buzz got an omelet. We were the first pilots there, due to our early start, but as we ate several more planes arrived. Always fun.
I’ve always found taxiing to be a mind numbering exercise. I got scolded for taxiing to quickly when I went for my flight test for the supervisors. So, of course, the tower sent me all the way to the other end of the airport to take off. Seemed like it took 20 minutes to get there. Finally, after wearing out a set of tires, we got to the departure end of the runway and used our mile of runway to get home.