For as long as she’s been alive Sarah has always had an adventurous streak. As a toddler we once went remote camping in Mammoth Cave National Park and were swamped for three straight days as the remains of hurricane Erin dumped inches of rain on our tents. Sarah never complained though and when the adults decided it was time to decamp for town she happily carried her stuff in the rain down the muddy trail singing “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family” (aka The Barney Song).
She grew from there to be someone who eschewed gender rolls and played travel soccer on the boys team, ran cross country and track and hurtled down the ski hills with reckless abandon.
And she’s always loved roller coasters. I remember taking her to Great America and riding coasters all day. My favorite was always the American Eagle, an absolutely massive wooden racing coaster. She prefers steel coasters with faster speeds and loops like the Deju Vu.
Since getting my pilot license we had talked about flying to Ohio to go to Cedar Point (the roller coast center of the world) and decided finally to do it.
We watched the weather and were delighted to find ourselves in a window of perfectly clear skies after a week or so of rain and thunderstorms. Today’s plane has great avionics, including two GPS units that can be configured to display weather and any other planes in the area. I pre-flight the airplane, judge it to be airworthy and we taxi into position. After a brief pause to allow an incoming plane to land, I push the throttle to the firewall, watch the airspeed gather itself and quickly we find ourselves climbing to the east as the skyline of Chicago shines to our port side.
We’re still sitting underneath the O’hare airspace and level off at 3,000 feet until we can get clear of it. Soon we’re east and can climb to more respectable levels legally, but I know from experience that Chicago Center will request that you stay lower to accomodate flights incoming to Midway. Rather than climb to 7,500 feet as planned I loiter around 3,500 and eventually begin a climb after getting well clear of the area. Unfortunately it turns out I’m not far enough and soon ATC says, “773SP descend to 3,500 for traffic incoming to Midway”.
Descend I do and before too long I get a thank you and clearance to climb however I like. We climb to 5,500 and decide that’s high enough for the moment.
Sarah has been interested in piloting lately so I tell ATC that we’re going to do a few maneuvers and then continue on our way. First we fly a couple steep turns. One to the right, losing a couple hundred feet of altitude and then one to the left with better altitude control.
I ask Sarah if she wants to see what it’s like when a plane stalls. She asks if I mean when an engine dies, but that’s not it. An airplane stalls when the angle of attack becomes great enough that the airflow over the wing separates and fails to lift the wing. This can happen at any airspeed, but we do our training at low airspeeds as when you are low and slow and getting ready to land is typically when stalls happen in small airplanes.
We idle the engine to reduce airspeed and gradually pull back on the yoke to increase the angle of attack as the aircraft slows. As we get slower and slower the stall horn sounds alerting us to incipient stall. In a normal flight this would be the warning that something has gone wrong and it’s time to correct by either adding power, lowering the nose or, more likely, both. Since I’m demonstrating this for Sarah we keep holding back the yoke until the stall fully develops and the airplane, by itself, swings the nose down in a fashion that makes it feel like the thing is going to fall out of the sky.
Needless to say, Sarah loved it.
Approaching Griffin Sandusky Airport we get a weather update from a nearby field. KSKY doesn’t have on-airport weather reporting. We select runway 27 and enter a left downwind. Getting the airplane configured for landing I notice that the bulk of the approach will be over water and adjust to keep things closer to land. Usually I’d fly a fairly casual approach and not worry too much about how far out from the runway threshold we are, but with no place to land other than the lake I’m going to run things a bit more strictly.
Turning left base takes us over the water and I keep things a little bit higher while adding some flaps. Turning final it becomes obvious I’ve got more safety margin than I need and do a slip to land to lose some altitude and speed and show Sarah what it’s like to land a plane sideways.
On the ground we arrange for fuel and jump on the shuttle to Cedar Point and road coasters all day. We road all the big ones with our favorites being the Millennium Force with a 300 foot drop (the tallest in the world when it was built), Mean Streak (former tallest wooden coaster int the world) and Top Thrill Dragster. Top Thrill Dragster is 400 ft tall and accelerates you from 0 – 120 MPH in 4 seconds.
Leaving the park we call the taxi company for a lift back to the airport and relax while talking about the rides. After the 20-30 minute estimated wait time expires I call the taxi company again to make sure we’re in the right place. “Sure you are”, we’re told and promised a callback with more information. Not receiving a callback and finding their phone to be kicking over to voicemail I abandon that plan and call a shuttle company. They show up, as promised, 20 minutes later and we’re on our way back to the airport.
Turns out we’re not the only ones. Some of the other folks in the shuttle are also heading to the airport and we determine that we have the same planes. They are from Pittsburgh and we talk some about our flights before arriving at sunset and getting things ready to go.
There are no winds so we take off on runway 36 to allow us to fly a bit closer to the park before departing the area. The setting sun and an amusement park with all the lights on make for a lovely end to the day indeed.