I’ve flown this trip about one time per year for the past ten (10) years, but have never written about it until now. For me, the trip is as a commuter so I never thought of sharing. (The economy trapped me in the job market around our nation’s capital and my family members preferred their lives in the Minneapolis, MN region.) I share now because this trip demonstrates the versatility of the RV-8 (or any of the Van’s Aircraft line of aircraft), the adventures that can be had by taking a trip (short or long) in this plane, and the beautiful things seen, and the people met, along the way. Being a VFR flyer limits my opportunities to fly this route, so I have not flown it in the months of December, January or February. I may get that IFR rating someday.
Performance and reliability are the bedrock for this airplane and these characteristics make long cross country flights possible. I give my plane “TLC” (but not overly so) and it gives me issue free flying. I’ve never had a maintenance issue when out on the road…except my “nosey” landing…but that is another story.
My typical trip is KJYO to Ohio or Indiana (for a fuel stop) and then to KLVN. The trip length is usually 5 to 6 hours and I normally stay “feet dry” by flying slightly south of Chicago. (When flying alone (95% of my flying) I avoid long over water stretches, so I normally do not cross Lake Michigan. I have done it on occasion and would only do it with flight following. The picture in my mind of landing in that cold Lake Michigan water is too much to bear for the 60 or 70 mile leg.) The return trip is just the reverse, but about .5 hours shorter due to prevailing winds.
On July 4th I launched at 0630 from KJYO and headed mostly on course northwest to split the gap between two air mass thunderstorms heading for the Leesburg, VA area. I made it through the gap by a wide margin and by the time I was half way through West Virginia I was established at 8500 feet (msl) flying in smooth, slightly warm air. The haze and mist (around some cloud formations), even in very bright sunshine, this time of year can be quit disorienting so having some sort of artificial horizon is an absolute “must have”. I fly with a PC EFIS that displays on an Ipaq and it provides good attitude information. Never leave home without it. (And, again, that’s another story.) The picture below is of my cockpit heading west on July 4, 2012.
Those of you that live and fly around western West Virginia and south eastern Ohio know that the cloud build-ups in that area can almost always be challenging (particularly for VFR flyers). Don’t take it as a slight (because weather has put me down in some nice places like Cambridge, OH and Wheeling, West Virginia), but I’m always happy to have that area in my rear view mirror.
On my 4th of July trip, once I made it to 8500 I stayed there cruising along at about 185 mph ground speed all the way to my first stop in Warsaw, IN (KASW). (Having been an S-3A Tactical Coordinator, I can appreciate good ASW when I see it.)
The only air traffic controllers I spoke to on the whole trip (this time) was Fort Wayne approach so I could descend through the northern portion of their Class B into KASW. (Sometimes on my trips I will be in almost constant communication with ATC using “radar following”. As a safety precaution I always attempt to monitor the appropriate ATC frequency so I know who else might be in the air around me and “just in case” I need to make an emergency call. I use “Anywhere Map” so the approach / departure frequency for close by airports is easily available.)
KASW is a good stopping point for me for several reasons: (1) Bladder control; (2) Fuel replenishment; (3) Fuel price; (4) Two (2) runways offset 90 degrees (you never have a challenging cross wind); and (5) Weather check to get around the tip of Lake Michigan, Chicago and into Wisconsin. I had the opportunity to speak with the FBO owner (he was running the fuel truck) and he said Warsaw, IN is the bio-mechanical device capital of the world with a number of corporate jets based there in response to my question about why there was such a large airport apparently in the middle of nowhere. I was back in the air in about 20 minutes destined for KLVN.
Upon departing KASW to the west, I slowly climbed back to 8500 feet always watching the cylinder heads temperatures. Going around KMDW / KORD air space can be interesting and sometimes I ask for radar following. The controllers are really busy and sometimes it’s no fun, so I relied on my “Mark 8 I-Ball”, watched my PCAS for warnings, tuned the controller frequency for my airspace and exercised my extraordinary piloting skills (maybe 3 out of 4). Chicago airspace came and went without a hitch.
After turning the “Chicago Corner” it’s a long, straight drive into Airlake Airport (Lakeville, MN) passing Rockford, IL, Albertus Airport, IL, Mineral Point Airport, WI, Prairie du Chien, WI, La Crosse, WI, Rochester, MN and, finally, Airlake Airport. It’s a long slug through Wisconsin, but you get the pleasure of seeing vast stretches of emerald green and finally the mighty Mississippi before entering Minnesota.
Arriving at my hangar at Airlake I notice 5.8 tach hours for the flight. I button everything up and head off to visit with the family for a couple weeks.
My July 18th departure date arrives too fast and it’s going to be another hot day. An early start is in order. At 0600 I’m checking weather and heading to the airport. Seems to be isolated “thunder bumpers” and I know it will be hazy. The winds seem to favor 5500 for my return and I’m off at 0655.
My speed from KLVN to the Chicago corner is 190 mph and things are looking good. There was a thunder storm front to the east in Wisconsin that had cleaned out the air to the west a little. Around Chicago, the air started hazing up more, but after the turn I picked up 10 mph. I went through Indiana, south of Fort Wayne this time and was going to “clip” the Class B, so I got radar following for a couple minutes. I spoke to a very nice lady who informed me a flight of two (2) A-10s were approaching me at 4500. I said I would really like to see them, but I had “no joy”. She tried to help me, but they came and went without me catching a glimpse of them. I love the looks of that Warthog!
Time for fuel at Union County Airport Ohio. Just a quick, HOT stop and back into the air. Take off to the east and KCHM is to the right. I’m in a gentle climb listening in on the KCHM approach frequency, keeping my head on a swivel and watching my PCAS intently. I see an airliner at my altitude about 1 mile off to starboard turning left for an approach into KCHM. KCHM slips into my rear view mirror and I’m back at an altitude of 5500 cruising along at 205 mph.
Ohio and West Virginia slip beneath my wings. I enter western Virginia and I can almost see home except for the huge gray mass blocking my vision. Aren’t those pretty little white lines shooting out of that cloud? Where did that rain come from? Take a left into the sunlight quickly. Mother Nature’s beauty is mesmerizing. I reduce the RPMs (to avoid peeling paint from my prop) and turn left toward KMRB. Shortly, I am able to turn back to the right and straight into KJYO. (For those of you not familiar with operations around the WASHDC SFRA, you need to squawk 1227 approaching KJYO and comply with some other requirements for flying in the area.)
Back in the hangar I thank Mother Nature for the shower because it makes the airplane wipe down much easier and quicker. It is hot and I want to climb into my air conditioned truck. What’s the big deal…just another trip half way across America and back in less than 11 hours in my RV-8.
Did I mention how great these Van’s Aircraft are?