December 19, 2006

Kalamazoo Air Zoo

About 6 months ago, a couple guys I worked with (John & Mark) were hinting around going to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo (Air/Space Museum). At the time of mention I jumped out of my cube and said, "Hey, why don't I fly us there!" The cool part about the Air Zoo is that pilots can fly and taxi right to the building. Of course, at the time I hadn't flown in over five years and had no current medical certificate... minor problems.

Fast forward 6 months... we are finally able to make the trip!

Last week we set a date and today was the day. Its hard to plan a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) day trip with any confidence a week out. You never know what mother nature will have planned that day. But thankfully we had high pressure dominating the area!

We all met at the airport (D95 - Lapeer) around 8:00am. It was chilly, only about 25'F. The airport is a fairly low key place... when I arrived the staff mentioned the plane was in the hanger. I asked if it had fuel and was answered with a shrug of the sholders and a response like "help yourself if it isn't". When you rent small planes like this, they come "wet", which means fueled - sometimes by the pilot.

After fueling the wings and cleaning the windscreen, we started getting settled in the tight quarters. Questions like "What is the in-flight movie/beverage going to be...?" were the jokes of the morning. John had flown with me once before, but this was Mark's first time in a small aircraft. Thankfully I knew we had a smooth day ahead of us (except for my shitty landings...keep reading).

After we took off, I asked if they first wanted to do some local sight seeing. One of the passengers (who shall remain nameless) is cousins with Kid Rock and knew where he lived. So we decided to do a fly by. Mark had his video camera, here is a short clip:

After our brush with fame, we headed west for the hour or so journey to the Air Zoo.

The air was as smooth as glass, however it was a bit hazy. When we got close to KAZO, I contacted the approach/tower controller. They had cleared me to land on runway 17 (FYI - the big numbers on a runway refer to compass headings. So 17, means ~170' - they will round to the nearest even number).

Just as I was settling in on my final approach, I heard him clear a Citation for #2, meaning he was to land behind me. I knew right away the tower controller was going to have to move me. The approach speed of a jet is a bit faster than the little plane we were in.

Sure enough, the tower asked if I could switch my landing to runway 23... no problem, I was already waiting for that. I glided over and lined up for runway 23. The tower then asks me to slow my approach speed and let the Citation land on the crossing runway and I was cleared to land following his crossing. Again, not a problem, I was getting a bit close, but my approach speed was plenty slow.

Everything went as planned and I floated across the threshold of the runway. As I started my flare (the flare is the point at which you pull back before touchdown) I noted two things... The runway had a slight pitch up and I was going too slow. Before I had time to react, I touched down not so gently and bounced to an eventual landing. Not very pretty, but it was still safe. I apologized to John & Mark... although, they didn't seem phased by the bumpy landing (but I have to admit, this was one of my worst). I was cleared to taxi to the Air Zoo as an American Eagle regional jet (CRJ) was holding for me.

Mark took the time to shoot video of the takeoff and landing on the way there. You can see the Citation landing on the crossing runway and my ugly landing in the video:

One of the main reasons we came to the Air Zoo is to check out "The Largest Virtual Reality Theater in the World" (I believe this was the claim of the company that designed and installed it). And because we all work in a Virtual Reality Center, we thought it would be interesting. Unfortunately, I think we all were a little underwhelmed. The calibration was off and the effects a bit hokey, but we are hard critics. It was still cool, and the rest of the museum was nice. The best part was that we were the only ones there. They did have a cool, full axis, flight simulator. It was more of a game than simulator, but nauseating nonetheless.

I have to be honest, the BEST part of the museum were the hand dryers in the restrooms. They were like jet engines! I took a picture as it deformed my hand... sweet!

They have two hangers at the museum within walking distance, according to "Lucille". When we started walking to the other building, we all stood around looking for it... the short walk was more like a quarter mile. Not a big deal, but it was still early and chilly.

There was a nice gentleman that worked for the museum who caught our puzzled looks and offered us a ride. As he fumbled with his keys trying to unlock the doors, he gave up and unlocked them manually. After trying to start the car, he soon realized that the key would not fit. Turns out this was not his car! Hence the issue with the key fob. After getting in the correct vehicle we got our free ride and had a good laugh.

We had our fun and it was time to depart. We decided to head over and fly along the shore of Lake Michigan before heading home. Here is a shot of South Haven from about 4,500 ft.

The winds were about 23knots from the west, so I knew it would be a quick trip back. It was still a bit hazy, but very smooth and sunny.

As we turned back to the east to finish our trip, John set his camera on the dash to capture the crew. John is on the left and Mark is in the back. It took a couple shots before Mark stopped his normal antics during picture taking.

The sun was just starting to set as we were approaching Lapeer (captured by John).

As we came in for landing at Lapeer, I was trying to think about my landing. I wanted to show these guys I was capable of a decent touch down. It was better than the first landing but still a little rough. I asked if they wouldn't mind doing another.

So we taxied back and took off for another go at it... This time I was determined to get what I considered to be a nice landing. I realized what I was doing wrong. I was fixating to close to the nose of the plane. When landing, its important to look down the runway during the flare.

The third and final landing was good (if I do say so myself). I heard and felt the soft squeak of the tires, rather than a big "thud".

Mark took another video of the departure from Kalamazoo and both landings at Lapeer:

All in all we had a great day!

I want to thank John & Mark for going along and taking all the pictures/video from the trip.

1 comment:

Nicolas said...

I'll admit the first two landings were less then steller you did recover on the last one though.