It was awesome. After a brief familiarization flight out to Galt airport just west of McHenry, I came in for a landing and hit hard on a runway that was a solid sheet of ice. I didn’t have the feel for the plane’s landing characteristics yet, not to mention being a little spooked by the ice landing. It needed more power for the flare to touchdown than I gave it, because of the heavier and more powerful engine in the Skylane. 70hp more, in fact, nearly 50% more than the Skyhawk. Lesson learned.
So next I was instructed to fly to Palwaukee and land there just for the sheer terror of it. It abuts O’Hare’s tightly-controlled airspace by about a quarter mile, leaving no room for error, and is an extremely busy airport for its size and type. Second time was the charm on landing this plane though. Once I got the hang of controlling the engine RPMs and the manifold pressure for the propeller independently, I nailed it perfectly.
I requested a northern departure to head back towards Waukegan, and was cleared for takeoff on the same runway on which I landed. This plane climbs fast, over a thousand feet per minute, and at nearly 100mph. I was quickly up to 2,000 feet and flying low over the north suburbs. But then I looked at the clock and realized I still had almost an hour of time left.
I looked to my right and saw the frozen caps of Lake Michigan, and decided to fly out over it to take a closer look at how it was freezing. The water’s surface was broken into randomly-sized circular chunks of ice, making it resemble alligator skin. I’d never seen anything like it. I decided to continue out over the water and head south toward the city.
Back when the terror alert was raised from yellow to orange, a TFR (temporary flight restriction, or no-fly zone) went into effect in Chicago. Specifically, no planes were permitted to fly anywhere near downtown, because there was credible evidence of airborne terrorist threats against our fair city. Even O’Hare and Midway traffic had to be vectored around it. Once the terror alert went back to yellow last week, the Chicago TFR was lifted shortly thereafter.
So with no TFR to get in my way, I flew down to Chicago along the coast. With the weather as beautiful as it was today, I was kicking myself for not bringing along the camera. My ground speed on the GPS showed 133knots, or about 150mph. I slowed the plane down as I came up on the city for a fun fly-by. In this post-9/11 era it was remarkable to be getting away with flying a plane so close to downtown Chicago, but I was doing it, in command of a $260,000 aircraft and could go anywhere I wanted. A huge tanker was heading north and effortlessly smashing his way through the surface ice chunks as I came up on Navy Pier. The remains of Meigs Field were there, once a famous airport but now only a testament to a sneaky mayor heeding the demands of his special interests. I was accompanied by two Beech Bonanzas and a helicopter all taking advantage of the lifted restrictions and the beautiful sunny afternoon as I flew past the city.
So with time running out I headed back north for Waukegan. I only had the plane until 4. The trip back was a bit slower – with a stiff headwind I was only going 108 knots, or about 120mph. 15 minutes and another perfect touchdown later I was back in Waukegan. I could contentedly get my high-performance rating in that plane, and I’m now two hours closer to it. I still think I like the DiamondStar better though.