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Flying to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to experience AirVenture (aka Oshkosh) you may wonder why so many of us attend year after year. Well for me, AirVenture is a little different every year, and this would be my fourth year in a row. I guess there is something alluring about spending a week with thousands of aviators from all walks of life. We are, after all, a relatively small percentage of the population and as you might expect, you tend to make a friend or two. If I had to list just one thing that brings me back year after year it is just that. You tend to meet some great people at Oshkosh!

Making the trip:
Last year (2011) I rented a car one way and drove by myself from NJ to Oshkosh. It took over 15 hours and I nearly crashed twice due to fatigue (I did stop once for a few hours). I attended AirVenture for 4 days and flew home with Keith in his Lancair 360. The drive was terrible but the flight was awesome! I made the decision at that point that I would fly to Oshkosh the next year one way or another.

Back in June, I checked in with my friend Frank who flew me in his Cirrus SR22 in 2010. He had been in the market for a new plane since selling his beloved SR22 a year or so ago. He told me that he was about to close on a newer Cirrus but the deal fell through so I booked one of our club airplanes.

Choice of airplane:
I would have liked to fly our 182rg, but someone in the club beat me to it so I was stuck with one of our slower birds. 3054E is a Cessna 172n “Super Hawk”. What is a “Super Hawk”? A Super Hawk is a standard Cessna 172 with an upgraded engine (O-360 vs. the standard 0-320) it adds 20 horsepower, improves climb performance, and increases the max gross weight. The down side is that, at least in our case, it didn’t improve cruse speed by much (also, it doesn’t help that the airframe has a zillion hours). On the plus side, she is well equipped with a 406ELT, a Garmin GNS430W, newer paint, and interior.

Who to take:
My first invite was to Frank since I owed him a ride but he was in the process of closing on a condo so I started working my way through my list. Stephen Pope was the first to respond with an affirmative. The down side was that he needed to be at OSH by Sunday the 22nd. Unfortunately the airplane wasn’t available until Sunday night. Stephen told me that he would fly out commercial and fly back with me on the following Sunday.

Aircraft status:
54E had a faulty turn coordinator that grounded her for IFR operations. After a few calls and a few visits to the maintenance shop our Maintenance Officer was able to get it taken care of just in time for my flight. I was very grateful for his help and promised him lunch (at Oshkosh) since he would be attending (via car).

Time to get proficient!
Since I have been cutting back on my flying lately (trying to save a little cash and catch up on other obligations). I knew I was a bit rusty. I also needed to fly a few approaches as well as a hold before the end of the month to keep my IFR currency.

My first step was to do a little flying in my home simulator. Flying holds in the Mooney in slow flight configuration with turbulence tends to do the trick. J

The next step was to book some time in a real Simulator with CFII Don. I did surprisingly well but I will be scheduling more time with him to work on some of the rough spots. I was now legal to fly IFR but I still wanted to get comfortable with 54E.

You may ask why I went to such lengths to prepare for this flight. Being an engineer by trade, I like to “plan for the worse and hope for the best”. I was preparing for a flight in solid IMC with embedded thunderstorms and a failed vacuum pump! My next step was to book a few hours with club instructor John “aka Doc”. I wanted to shoot a few more approaches and do some short-field work. I did pretty well on everything. So, finally, I was ready to go!

As with any trip, I like to look at the overall weather “trend” a few days in advance. We were pretty deep in a dry pattern and I figured changes were coming. Well I was right. A few days before my planned departure the northeast was socked in with IFR conditions and some embedded thunderstorms. The weeks of almost constant sunshine were over for now. As the days counted down to departure it looked like I could get out early Monday morning as planned, but I would have to deal with strong headwinds en-route.

Weather forecast from the night before departure. It turned out that the weather stayed to the north of my route during the morning.

The bags are packed; the checklist checked (twice); W&B calculations complete; home made tie-downs tested; I am ready to go!

I tried to get to bed early the night before but that didn’t work. I just laid in bed awake until about 11:30pm. 3:30am the alarm goes off and I drag myself out of bed…. Need to make it to Oshkosh by my IFR slot time of 14:00 CDT (19:00Z) or at least before the air show starts. A side note: I couldn’t have done this before loosing 60 pounds and getting in shape.

I ate breakfast and ran a final check of the weather. The headwinds were worse than forecast. A check of the radar confirmed that the convective weather was passing to the north, so my route of flight looked clear, but I knew that I needed to get a move on it. The stage was set for worsening conditions in the northeast. I filed my flight plans and printed out the updated navigation logs from Figures, the printer would run out of inc on the last nav log!

As I left the house it was still dark, the air was still and cool. To the north, flashes of lightning lit up the early morning sky like a distant fireworks display. I smiled to myself as I remembered my early piloting days when the sight of a single cloud would send me running from the airport (true story, just ask my brother). On my way to the airport I called Flight Service for one last check of the weather. I got to the airport 25 minutes behind schedule 4:55am. My planned wheels-up time was 5:00am but I built in some buffer time at each of my stops so I wasn’t too worried.

First delay:
The FBO assured me that the tanks would be full before they left the night before but I figured I better check first.

I parked the car next to 54e, switched on the master and checked the fuel level indicators. Sure enough, half tanks! Okay guess they didn’t get to it. I called our backup FBO (Signature Flight Support) for fuel and started loading the airplane. Once done, I did my walk-around and called the FBO to check on them. They were busy filling up the business jets. First come, first serve. That’s when I started to think of other options. How much fuel do I have anyway? I climbed up on the wing with the dip stick. I opened the tank only to find that the tanks were full. Okay I know Cessna fuel gages are notoriously bad but come-on, both gages? Okay, time to call the FBO and cancel the fuel truck it’s time to kick the tires and light the fires!

Time now 5:40am (40minutes late); Morristown Tower was still closed so I called the Lockheed Martin Clearance delivery line. I got hung up on. Called again and got through but was put on hold. The briefer came back and asked me to call the TRACON directly since he couldn’t get through. He gave me the number and within a few minutes I had my clearance. I taxied to runway 23, made my quick video clip and called for my release. Time off 6:12am…

The departure was uneventful and I was soon cleared to 6000 feet direct SBJ. Once level at 6000 my hope was that the “Super Hawk” would perform better than my estimated performance numbers. Nope, that wasn’t going to happen. I had it pretty much right on the money. 115 knots true at 6000 feet. The first leg wasn’t bad. I averaged about 100 knots and arrived at Youngstown OH in about 3 hours.

Morristown NJ to Youngstown OH:
Considering that I was an hour behind schedule I couldn’t afford any delays so as luck would have it. I checked in with the FBO (very nice staff by the way) and requested a top-off. As she was running my credit card I mentioned that I was on my way to Oshkosh. She then told me about the fifty-cent discount that they were offering to pilots heading to Oshkosh. She told me that she would re-run my card for the new (lower) amount. I was a bit worried that this might cause an issue with the card. Sure enough, it did. They saw it as unusual activity and blocked most of my available balance leaving me with about $180.00. I could have used cash but my plan was to put the fuel on that card so I would have plenty of money for the rest of the trip. I had her put 180 on the card and I gave her cash for the rest. I called my wife and asked her to take care of the credit card issue before I arrived in Muskegon. She did, and even had the issue resolved before I took off out of Youngstown. She may not fly with me but she still makes one heck of a co-pilot!

Youngstown OH to Muskegon MI:
By this point I was starting to show some signs of fatigue. It didn’t make the final video (magic of editing) but I called Youngstown tower “Muskegon Tower” and after departure I checked in with Youngstown departure as “Muskegon Departure”. Heck, at least I was consistent! I have made mistakes like this before, but I normally catch them. This time, I didn’t even pause. This is just one more example of why I am a big fan of recording flights (including ATC audio). I catch my mistakes and learn from them much more than just armchair flying.

Right after departure I realized that my headwinds were pretty bad. I had leveled off at 6000 feet and only saw a ground speed of 86 knots! I also knew that the winds were going to get stronger as I got closer to Oshkosh. I could hear ATC working with other pilots’ in-route to Oshkosh. They were looking for better headings and altitudes. It turned out that 6000 was the best place to be unless you wanted to fly really low (VFR) and brave the bumps. No thanks. I will take a smooth ride and cool temps over a faster speed any day. I was vectored to an intersection in Canada named Leo (Cessna 3045E we have a route update, cleared direct Leo). Okay. Where the heck is that, and how do you spell it? “lleeo” well of course! Note to ATC. Now how the heck was I supposed to know that? J Well the good news was that the new heading gave me a better ground speed (thanks ATC). I was soon given a heading to fly over Detroit Metro. After that, I crawled my way direct Muskegon. The rest of the flight was actually pretty nice. The gray clag of the Youngstown area cleared up once I crossed a week warm front over lake Erie and outside of the headwind the flight was quite enjoyable.

Muskegon MI to Oshkosh WI:
After a quick turnaround in Muskegon I put on my Personal Flotation Device and Locator Beacon (thanks for the PLB Frank). I consider this required equipment for crossing the lake. I have two kids and a family to see and I don’t tread water well so at least the PFD is required.

The flight across the lake wasn’t bad at all! I would do it again in a second. Actually, I did it again on my way home. The only notable event was when the engine started to miss just a bit at the mid point of my crossing. This was expected as I was flying towards a low with increasing outside air temperatures and decreasing barometric pressure the engine had started running a bit rich. One half turn of the mixture knob and we were good to go.

Now this was getting ridiculous! Over the lake I was down to 80 knots and you would think that as I started my descent that my ground speed would improve but as the flight briefer predicted the headwinds were even stronger at 4000 feet. As I recall, it was something like 270 at 40 knots.

Approaching Oshkosh:
I was prepared to fly the Fisk approach in the event that ATC “suggested” that I do so (recommendation in the AirVenture NOTAM) but I was vectored for the RNAV 27 while still over Lake Michigan. I was starting to feel like I should paint my plane yellow and just make believe that I was a Piper Cub. I had the power just below redline and was still crawling my way towards the approach course. But I was almost at Oshkosh so life was good!

Welcome to Oshkosh!
My last transmission (captured in the video) was a bit rough. I was starting to feel a bit drained but a funny thing happened when I was handed off to Oshkosh tower. I had this rush of energy. I had made it! My longest cross country trip, solo, in a slow airplane, with a headwind and without an auto pilot! I flew well and didn’t make many mistakes despite a lack of sleep. This wasn’t by accident. I prepared for it and that preparation paid off!

The rest of the flight is well captured in the video. The landing (both of them J) were smooth and except for the fact that I was a bit short of the green dot (the first touchdown) heck I had a bit of a wind to contend with.

One of my major concerns about this years Oshkosh was that I was solo for most of the trip. Stephen had work to do so I needed to make some friends or I wouldn’t have a very good time. Well, as it turned out, I made a friend even before I tied the airplane down. “Kim” flew his Cessna 150 all the way from. Guess where, Greenwood Lake NJ!

The next friend was Marty in his beautiful V-Tail Bonanza. In the end, I had someone to hang out with every day!

Click to view Photos

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Amanda Michelle (Younkin) Franklin 3/14/1986 – 5/27/2011 Click for information on Amanda