Yesterday (July 1), the Banana and I set off for what was supposed to be a fun little "around the area flight." She had been asking me to go flying again, so how could I possibly resist? We were going to depart from Waukegan (KUGN) and trace the Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy the views of downtown Chicago on our way to Gary (KGYY). After a quick touch and go we would tack the Joliet VOR until we approached Lewis University, at which point we would turn north for Dupage Airport (KDPA). Finally, we would depart Dupage and head back to Waukegan. We had only one additional task: it was the Boy's birthday party and we didn't want to miss that.
The weather called for an increased risk of thunderstorms after 3 pm. I really should quickly learn rule #2 from my previous post.
The Banana and I arrived and conducted our pre-flight, and departed Runway 5 in N408ES and turned south along the shoreline. It was a bit hazy out there but nothing disconcerting. The Banana enjoyed the views of the lake, Navy Pier, Sears Tower, and a bunch of other landmarks. She also is starting to learn how to call traffic, which is very helpful. As we approached GYY for landing, I noticed a lot of nastiness brewing out to the west, which was our planned direction of travel. We did a full stop taxi-back on Runway 12, with a landing that was reasonable... only one small bounce and pretty much on center line. I'll take that for now.
I was getting updated whether when the tower let me know that a weather advisory had been issued in the last 15 minutes stating that there was very bad news that direction. Although a bit disappointed, the Banana did not complain that we were going back to Waukegan. I decided to demonstrate a short-field take off for her (and a bit of practice wouldn't hurt, either), but as I started the takeoff roll things didn't feel right. I peeked at the tachometer, which read 2100 RPMs. That didn't seem right to me, so instead we had an aborted takeoff demonstration. I did a new run-up, including giving full throttle and only got 2100 RPMs. That didn't seem right, so parking at the Gary Jet Center and figuring it all out on the ground seemed prudent.
A few phone calls into the flight school from which I rent and 35 minutes later, I learned something very important: Static RPM. It turns out that 2100 is perfectly normal for a 160-hp Cessna 172 at the beginning of the takeoff roll. I suppose that one culprit here is that I usually fly a 180-hp 172S instead of this 172R. Compared to the DA-20, the 172S already feels like a truck and the 172R feels like a tank. Well, that explains a lot. Another way to know the plane, and I'll be making a note of this number from now on to avoid this in the future (and to detect problems!!!).
Before strapping in for our return, I checked the weather again. I REALLY did not like the nasty squall line heading our direction. I was not sure I could get north of its projected line of travel before it got close to the Chicago shoreline, and after some deliberation and another chat with Sandy (a fine instructor up at Skill) I decided to be conservative and wait it out. I might have been able to get far enough north before they passed through, but if not I had no diversion options and could only go out over the lake. In a single-engine plane that just seemed like an unnecessary risk.
My daughter was exerting tremendous pressure on me to return home so that we could attend the party, and Mrs. Shrink was not exactly happy about the implications. My explanations about the end result of flying a plane into the middle of a thunderstorm gave little solice regarding my decision. Communicating that I understood the implications of this decision with respect to the storms gave little comfort as well.
So, the Banana and I took a crew car and headed over to Jedi's for some food. I'll say that the portions were ridiculous but the food was adequate. The Banana enjoyed her hot dog and fries, so I suppose that this was workable. We took our time and returned back to the Gary Jet Center to wait for the storm to go through. By now the rains were pounding us, the lightening was flashing, and the winds at Chicago O'Hare were in the neighborhood of 30 gusting to 60. Good call.
After a good three hours of hanging out in Gary and obsessive checking of the radar, we finally strapped in and took off from runway 30 and made "best speed" to UGN. The Banana took our pictures with our camera all the way back, and actually got some nice shots. She took one of us on short final for runway 5 at UGN, and a few more on rollout. Of course she got the evidence of my being a bit left of the centerline.
So, we made it back for the last 30 minutes of the Boy's party, which was the important part.