Holland, MI

Another day, another chance to fly somewhere new.

This time I’m taking an old co-worker to Michigan to meet a friend, John, and his wife for lunch. I haven’t seen him in five or six years and I’ve never met his new wife.

My first officer this trip is a guy, Chris, I got to know at my previous company. We travelled a bit together and have stayed in touch since then.

Unlike the golf trip posted here recently, all the preparations are successful and complete. I get to the airport a few minutes before Chris and get the plane pre-flighted. I was the person who last flew the plane, so everything is ready to go. Chris calls me from the parking lot and I taxi over to pick him up.

He’s flown in small planes before, so a quick passenger briefing is all it takes to get him up to speed and off we go.

Today’s flight will take us southeast from DuPage underneath O’Hare’s airspace. I make notes about the altitude restrictions, setup some waypoints in ForeFlight and do a run-up on the plane to make sure the engine seems like it will run properly.

Once underway I get the plane stabilized and let him fly for a while. He has a steadier hand than most people and keeps us on altitude and heading without difficulty.

We gossip about our old company and compare notes on what’s going on with our new jobs. He’s working for a competitor of our last company so has some new perspectives. Chris also lets me know that another guy was just released. I make a mental note to see if there is anything I can do to help him land on his feet.

Flying around the southern edge of Lake Michigan always leads to a nice display of Southwest planes arriving and departing Midway. Today is no exception. Our flight is within a few hundred feet of both the O’Hare airspace and Midways. This puts us close enough to arrivals to see the whites of their eyes.

Ok, maybe not literally, but we are plenty close enough that large planes look like large planes. Typically the traffic we deal with are other small planes that end up looking like dots on the horizon rather than airplanes.

Clearing O’Hare and Midway’s airspace we approach the class D around Gary and request a transition through their airspace. We continue up the lakeshore for a while and I grab my mobile phone to send a text message to John to let him know to we would be arriving shortly.

Clicking the phone on I see a message from John asking about timing. Apparently I’ve managed to not organize this trip with the one hour timezone difference between Holland and Chicago taken into account so he’s wondering where we are. This turns out to be a bummer as now I won’t get to meet his wife. She has to shuttle children around during the new arrival time.

Chris and I land and arrange to have some fuel loaded onto the plane. As we get done talking with the lineman John pulls up and we head into downtown Holland. John gives us the nickel tour which includes the heated streets downtown (to melt snow) and the link to Johnson Controls that is responsible for much of the economy in the towns history.

John has picked The Boatwerks as our dining destination. It’s on the shore of a lake and the same great weather that has favored flying continues to shine down on us as we enjoy a tasty lunch with a view of the bucolic countryside surrounding the lake.

After lunch we head back to the airport and I get another quick briefing before departing. I explain to Chris that while the skies are clear, there are other things that can change. 9/11 was a dramatic example of that, with the entire national airspace getting shutdown. President Obama is another example. When the president travels there are temporary flight restrictions around wherever he is. This has always been true, but since Obama is a Chicago boy, we are more frequently affected than under previous administrations. The other reason, and the most common one, is that sometimes airplanes or pilots fail and turn an airport into crash investigation site.

As usual, none of these have happened today and we launch for home.

Sitting at my laptop the next morning I click on Facebook and see a message from John about an airplane crash. The airplane in question is an experimental design from the mind of Burt Rutan. There is nothing to indicate that the airplane broken. It crashed on short final, which makes it pretty likely that the pilot let the plane get too slow, stalled and didn’t have enough altitude to recover. On impact the plane flipped over and, tragically, the pilot was killed.

Coincidentally, the crash took place at the airport we flew into yesterday for lunch. We were lucky to have flown out when we did or we would have been stuck there overnight while the investigation took place.

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