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Airventure Cup Race / Oshkosh Diary - Day 7

Date: July 31, 2003

So Wayne and I woke up around 7 AM on Thursday and checked the weather on the web, via the ADDS site and DUATS. It looked good down to Ohio, but then got crappy looking down through West Virginia and Virginia (we wanted to get Wayne home). It looked decent to the east, back to Massachusetts, and Friday and Saturday were looking even worse for everywhere from OSH to SFQ and FIT. Leave Thursday it was, so we packed everything up at the dorm and dragged it all back to OSH. We got a fuel truck, topped off, and then pre-flighted the plane. We stuffed all the crap in the back (nowhere NEAR as much as on the S&F trip, since we didn't camp), and started to pull the plane out.

Just as we were getting the plane to the start area near the taxiway, a C-150 (or something similar) landed on the taxiway, just where Jorgen Skovbjerg was pulling out his COZY III to depart. They were arriving on 18 left and departing on 18 right, and obviously this guy needed remedial training in the difference between left/right, as well as wide/narrow and runway/taxiway. 30 seconds later and he would have landed on top of Jorgen and his plane......

Anyway, we taxied out and departed on 18 right (the main runway), staying on the right side of the runway since a biplane took off not 10 seconds earlier from the left side of the runway - they were shipping us out as fast as we could get on the runway. The 18 right departure sent us straight out for 5 miles at 500 ft. AGL until clearing OSH airspace. In that time, I passed 4 - 5 planes on the right, even though I was only doing about 140 mph IAS. After clearing the airspace, I climbed up to 4500 ft, thinking we'd get above the haze, but no luck. We had originally thought that we'd head southeast over lake Michigan direct to SFQ, but I decided against that after seeing some heavy rain activity over the lake on the NEXRAD plots. Heavy rain, crappy visibility, 90 miles of water - no thanks. We headed south toward the Chicago "B" airspace, intending to cross over it at 10.5K ft. on the east side, over water but never out of gliding distance or view of land to the west and/or south. We climbed up after passing Milwaukee and did just that. Our intent was to head toward SFQ and see if the weather was better than predicted - if so, we'd continue on - if not, we'd turn northeast and head for FIT in Massachusetts.

For the first hour and 1/2 of the flight, there were few clouds, haze down below us but visibility was still 20 - 30 miles. After getting into Ohio, the visibility quickly began deteriorating. I had already begun a descent to 8500 ft. when Wayne called FSS on 122.0 and got a report on the path between us and SFQ. It sounded bad - IFR most of the way, with rain and scattered T-storms. Just about that time, after passing Neil Armstrong Airport (AXV), the visibility became very poor - I could see the ground, and maybe 3 miles in radius around us, but there was NO horizon and I was not at all comfortable continuing. Even as Wayne was collecting info from FSS, I turned us northeast and continued a descent, heading us toward Lima Allen County (AOH) so that we could land, check the weather on the computer screen, and calmly take our time to decide what to do.

Landing was a non-issue - down low, visibility was about 5 miles, and no-one was in the air when we got there. We got some granola bars for lunch, checked the weather, and decided that our best course was to fly east north east, heading for the space between Cleveland and Akron, staying under the Cleveland class "B" and as far north as possible to avoid some heavy rain showers (no T-storms) in the area. All the METARS for the path chosen were 3 mile visibility or higher with 1500 ft. AGL ceilings or better. While this was certainly not an optimal flight plan, it was safe, with airports all along the way as outs.

We took off and headed east at about 1500 ft. AGL, 500 ft. below the clouds (for the most part). The clouds were lower near Cleveland and Akron, so we stayed at about 1000 ft. AGL, but the visibility was always over 3 miles and the ceiling always 1500 ft. AGL. The clouds looked ominous, and ATC was calling for some heavy rain showers in the Akron area in 30 minutes, but we'd be long gone by then. I kept at 2500 RPM, 1400 F EGT, and about 175 mph IAS while down low. We got no precipitation at any time. We then proceeded over Kent State and toward Youngstown (YNG), which has a leftover TRSA from the old days. We talked to approach control there (who advised us wisely to stay VFR - thanks) and then left their area to the east. The weather definitely was clearer to the east, with visibility around 6 - 10 miles, but the ceiling was still pretty low, and we stayed at about 1500 ft. AGL. I told Wayne that if he ever thought I was doing something stupid, to please say so - I'd rather be alive and stupid than the alternative. He seemed satisfied with my plans and activities, and never yelled at me :-).

We continued east under low clouds toward Williamsport, PA (IPT). About 20 miles west of the Keating VOR (ETG), the clouds got lower, the visibility poorer (3 - 4 miles) and I headed us southeast toward Interstate Route 80 - about 15 miles south of our position. I slowed down to about 155 mph (more time to think and react) and wanted to be near something that could easily be followed and landed on, if absolutely necessary. That would, of course, be a last resort, but I wanted it there just in case. We were able to parallel Route 80 towards IPT, using it to help us through some passes through low ridges. We were always above the minimum enroute altitude for the blocks on the sectional, but not by much, so we were on the lookout for towers and ridge lines all the way.

After about 20 - 30 miles of this, the visibility improved, the ceiling rose a bit, and we arrived at IPT, landing on runway 12 and taxiing to the FBO to get some gas and another weather report. It began raining heavily for about 10 minutes just after we landed, but it was a small localized shower. The weather was improving toward the east, and was projected to be totally clear by the time we reached the NY/MA border. After gassing up and eating the last of our granola bars, we took off on 12 and headed east north east.

The weather did, in fact, get a bit clearer, and we were able to climb a few hundred feet or so, with visibility rising to 10 - 15 miles - a veritable bonanza of sight :-). There's a very interesting plateau west of the Wilkes-Barre TRSA - it's about 1000 ft. higher than the surrounding area and almost completely barren of civilization - just a couple of radar domes and some hunting cabins. Due to the weather, we flew over most of it at about 500 ft. AGL, and got a good view of the wilderness - very pretty. We then called Wilkes-Barre approach to transit their area, and they pretty much ignored us until we were about 30 miles to the northeast.

We transitted into NY state and flew just north of Sullivan County (MSV) and Wurtsboro (N82), where I had finished my glider rating 29 years earlier (before I got my power rating). We climbed up to 5500 ft, as the sky was clearing and the visibility was up to 40 - 50 miles. The rest of the trip (about one hour) to FIT was uneventful, except for the 9V battery in my Bose headset dying and me having to fish a new battery out of a bag in the back seat. Hardly the stuff of legends.

We landed at FIT late in the afternoon, having flown 5.9 hours to get from OSH to FIT over a somewhat circuitous route. This had been by far the longest day of my flying career, as well as the most challenging. I think we made the right decision turning away from the SFQ route, and also in continuing through MVFR weather with the options and outs that we had along the way. I never felt in any danger, although there were a few high stress moments.

Although our stay at OSH was relatively short, it was fun and interesting. The race was excellent - I may even do it again next year. The flight home was instructional and challenging, and I put about 15 hours on the hobbs for the trip.

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