Saturday, November 30, 2013

L'Dor V'Dor (From Generation to Generation)

On November 26, I had a very interesting and unique opportunity: to take both my father and maternal grandfather for their first flights in a small airplane.  Unfortunately, this had to be done in two separate flights because we all take up more of a share of the weight limitations of the planes I can fly than any of us would like.  On the bright side, I got to fly more... ok, I guess that makes up for it.  Since the plan was to fly along the Chicago shoreline, the clouds just had to be "high enough."  Despite a 3500 foot overcast, the ride was quite smooth. 


Ever since I was a young child, I have called my grandfather "Killer."  The story goes that when I first met him (they lived a long way away), I kept asking him what his name was.  Apparently, I was smart enough to question his answer of "Killer."  However, the playful name has always stuck.  Tuesday morning, Killer and I got in the car and headed for Waukegan (KUGN) to load up in one of Skill Aviation's Skyhawks.  On the drive up, we talked about a number of things - possibly more than he and I have ever sat and discussed.  We talked about his transition to being a widower (I talked about my flight home to bury my grandmother here), his move into a smaller apartment in an assisted living facility, and his experience with small aircraft.  Turns out his last trips in small aircraft included helicopters, large munitions, and Korea.  I explained that I did not expect any anti-aircraft fire on today's flight.  

We arrived at Skill, and after the pre-flight we loaded up 97VA, a G1000-equipped model that would serve as our trusty steed for the day.

"Killer" and the Flying Shrink preparing to depart Waukegan (KUGN)
Getting Killer into this plane was a challenge, but it would have been impossible for him to crawl into the Diamond Star.  Although Killer is pretty stoic overall, even he was having a hard time containing his excitement.  The pre-flight briefing was delivered, and we lit the fires and prepared for departure.
We lifted off of Runway 23 and headed south toward Gary, Indiana (KGYY).  Normally, I would hand fly this trip, but today I used the auto-pilot more than I might have otherwise because I really wanted to show Killer the sites (I'd say it was a 65/35 split).  He had not seen it before, and honestly may not get a chance to see it again.  He is 82 and not in the best of health.  As I would glance over at him, he was still having a hard time containing his smile. 

As we approached Gary, I explained the normal traffic pattern as I expected this to feel quite unusual to him.  After initially being cleared to land on 20 (essentially a right base to final turn coming from the north), the clearance was changed to enter right traffic for 30 for conflicting traffic.  Now, that was a mighty large jet that touched down ahead of me for not receiving a warning about wake turbulence.  However, I made my own correction and all was well.

We taxied back to 30 and I sent a text message to my mother that they should leave "now."  I thought that was pretty unambiguous, but as we shall see it caused confusion.  Lifting off again we were enroute to Chicago Executive (KPWK) as this airfield is the closest to my home.  The plan was that we would land there, have lunch, and then I'd give my second first flight of the day.  As we worked our way in from the shoreline, I continued pointing out landmarks such as my house and things near my home.  "Man, we are awful close to the ground."  Indeed, we were at 1700' MSL, which is just around 1000' AGL.  I explained that the jet traffic into O'Hare does not appreciate us in their way, and that getting too much higher would result in an uncomfortable conversation with the FAA.

Touchdown on 34 at PWK was not exactly a greeser, but it was good enough and got the approval of the passenger.  Perhaps I'm too hard on myself.   As I got into Signature, I sent another message to my mother wondering where they were.  Just leaving?!?!?!?!  Sigh.  I guess we will have a cup of coffee and wait for them.  Killer said several times that he really enjoyed our flight, which of course made me smile. 

Snow what?

 As we waited for my parents to arrive, I of course took the opportunity to check the weather.  I noticed in flight that things to the northwest did not appear as advertised, and some time with Foreflight confirmed this.  The overcast layer was getting lower, some visibility challenges were occuring that direction, and the snow and associated IFR conditions were expected around 3 pm.  It was going to be after 1 when they got to the airport, and a 2 pm departure was very optimistic.  No lunch for me... a granola bar would have to hold me until returning the plane to KUGN.  By the time my parents arrived, I had determined that my father and I could fly down the shoreline as planned and turn around abeam Soldier Field.  This should get us in well before the expected snow, though I was mentally prepared to fly the ILS 23 approach if things got crazy.  Of course, it was COLD complete with an Icing AIRMET so the clouds were about the last place I wanted to be.  If I had to fly an approach, visibility was going to be my problem.  

The Old Marine

Truth is, I come from a line of Marines.  My father, both my grandfathers and other family members were all Marines.  My uncle went to the Air Force, and we're still not sure how that happened.  You also have to understand that in my family the Navy is part of the Marine Corps and not the other way around.  We just have to let the Navy feel better about itself.  My father, a Vietnam vet who worked on F-4 Phantoms and talks about his "low power" license for run-ups and maintenance checks, really was not excited when I agreed to meet with the Marine recruiter before my senior year of high school.  My ASVAB scores were apparently really high, and the recruiter said that normally he has to look at the different types of jobs available in the Marines and cross out what is not available based on those scores.  But there was only one thing he had to scratch off for me... pilot.  Apparently, one must have perfect vision to fly in the Corps.  He never said so, but I don't think the Old Marine wanted me to go into the military.  He would have supported me, but he never encouraged me in this direction.  Perhaps he knows my penchant for not liking orders. 

The Old Marine had never actually flown in a small aircraft before, but some of his accommodations between the States and Vietnam make the Skyhawk seem luxurious.  

The Old Marine and the Flying Shrink prepare to depart KPWK
I explained the weather situation to the Old Marine, and we agreed that it was best to get on with it.  After liftoff, we headed quite directly to the shoreline.  I contacted approach control so that I was already on frequency and set up with a squawk code in case that pop-up IFR clearance was required.  The Old Marine also had questions and we talked about the sites, about flying and other matters.

As we reached Soldier Field, things to my east did not look friendly.  I turned slightly east and then warned the Old Marine that we were going to have a pretty tight turn to avoid overflying buildings and such.  Personally, 30 degrees of bank is not all that much but it seemed prudent to warn him so he didn't worry that we'd go for a swim.

Turned out that the ugly weather never materialized, and we made a nice stable straight-in for 32.  The winds had certainly picked up and were gusty but right down the runway.  As we are about 800' AGL, my father points out that he would not mind having a tree stand about where we were to aid his deer hunting efforts.  I forgot to mention that sterile cockpit thing to him, but said something after I chuckled.  Smooth touchdown and roll out along with a taxi back to Skill rounded out our flying. The Old Marine had a good time as well - a pretty big smile.  I got some grief from the fine folks as Skill for bringing back a different person than the one I left with.

The Old Marine and I were hungry, so we headed to an Irish pub for a late lunch.  Since the flying was over, the Guinness was flowing.  See how that worked? 


  1. Very cool! My father is my only living immediate relative who has not flown with me. Maybe he remembers all too well those early days of trying to teach me to drive...

    1. Hi Chris - yeah, I wonder about all the things that my father remembers about how I drove when I was a teenager. Hopefully, he thinks I'm a bit more responsible. Of course, I've never admitted to even half of what I actually did.

  2. Sounds like a very good day in the air and sharing your passion of flight with family is always fun.

    I often wonder what my Dad would have thought about me flying, sadly, I never had the chance to share flying with him or my Mom. Mary's Mom did fly with us multiple times and she enjoyed it.

    1. Hi, Gary - it was a good time. I still have another grandfather who has not flown with me - will require a flight to PA. I understand that he has been in small planes before, but he too remembers what it was like to ride with me while I drove.... he might be scared of that.

      I think sharing our passion is one of the coolest and most rewarding parts of flying, but with family seems a bit different. My sister is still waiting for her flight.

  3. What a wonderful day of flying. There's nothing quite like a first flight, especially when it involves family. Glad you had the opportunity to make all these memories; thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

    1. Thanks, Steve. Agreed, and glad that y'all are taking the time to read.