Oshkosh (2001)

After finishing my commercial pilot rating, I was really hankering for owing my own airplane to avoid all of the randomization with renting and, ultimately, go someplace far.  That destination would be Oskhosh, WI, for EAA’s Air Venture.  For various reasons, not limited to prolonged time being unable to use the restroom and wanting to spend more time with the grandparents, my wife and kids flew out commercially to Chicago.  This meshed well with my evil plan of not actually flying into the controlled chaos of EAA Oshkosh. Bwuhahaha.

My trip began really early in the morning.  So early, the controller who didn’t have my IFR flight plan was completely reasonable about filing it for me as I was taxiing on the runway.  Adrenaline pumping for my longest. trip. evar. I dutifully wrote down the clearance I thought I already filed.

I wasn’t expecting problems with the weather, but while climbing southeast above the mountains, I encountered icing. They quickly cleared me to climb higher. The best part of this was popping out just above the clouds. It was mag-nificent.

Popping out on top of the clouds at 13,000', somewhere near Yakima

After flying a mostly straight line between navigation aids, I had blue skies and flat land all around me. The coffee I drank at 4am had completed its metabolic journey, so to speak. It was time for a … fuel stop at Twin Falls, Idaho.

Runway 25, Twin Falls, ID

After a good stretch, I headed in a general easterly-ish direction.  Salt Lake Center handed me off to Denver Center, who said “flight following discontinued, enjoy your day, VFR scum.”  Well, perhaps not that last two words.  I continued my merry way east.

Wyoming Alien Landscape

As the sun heated up the very brown, square state called “Wyoming,” the air got bumpier.  At one point, I donned the oxygen mask and climbed up to 17,500, the highest I could do without filing an instrument flight plan.   It helped some, but after an hour of being knocked around, I wanted a break and landed at Rawlins.

Runway 22, Rawlins, WY

Not looking forward to more bumpiness, I lollygagged on the ground.  When I finally took off, I discovered the true meaning of Density Altitude, one of those concepts that they drill into flight training, but most low-altitude fliers never have to deal with.

high altitude + warm weather = crappy aircraft performance

Even with the turbo assist, I was having a hard time eking out more than 200 fpm of climbing without the engine temperature eking into the red zone.  I’m sure I could have done some chandelles to gradually build up altitude — and doing this in Rawlins’ near empty airspace would have been okay — but instead, I turned it around can called it a day.

The fixed-base operator (FBO) were totally cool about it, telling me how to get to a motel before tossing me the keys to the truck they kept around for visitors. Oh, and there was cowboy poetry in town tonight.

Experiences like this are what you remember about trips.

Sunrise over Nebraska

I topped off the truck’s gas tank and left very, very early in the morning.  Nebraska was a lot prettier than I had expected it to be.  As the morning warmed, I could see cumulonimbus clouds forming to the south.

Runway 13, Sioux Falls (IA)

After departing Sioux Falls, I noticed I my engine power gauge was reading zero, even though I was clearly aloft and not having any problems maintaining altitude.  (This would later be diagnosed as “the thingie connecting the gauge to the engine thingie broke.”)


It's easier to see out the left window

The lower I got, the more bugs met my windshield.  This is something you just don’t think about when flying through The Square State.

 Runway 2R, Dupage (IL)


On the ground at West Chicago/DuPage airport

After spending a few days at Oshkosh (with a rental home in Fond du Lac — the best way to go) and the rest of the week in Chicago with family, I headed home.  I had a late start departing, stringing the trip out to three days with overnight stops in Rochester and Billings.

Map of my travels
From TO ID Duration Altitude
Seattle Twin Falls, ID KTWF 3.4 13,000
Twin Falls Rawlins, WY KRWL 2.6 11,500 – 17,500
Rawlins Sioux City, IA KSUX 3.7 9,500
Sioux City, IA West Chicago/DuPage, IL KDPA 2.8 7,500
Total: 12.5 hours over two days

The return trip went… very quickly because one of my ex-coworkers wanted to tag along.  Except for photos taken of my landings, I don’t remember a lot about it.

From TO ID Duration Altitude
Chicago Rochester, MN KRST 2.0 6,500
Rochester Rapid City, SD KRAP 4.1 10,500
Rapid City Billings, MT KBIL 2.6 14,500
Billings Spokane, WA KGEG 3.3 14,500
Spokane Seattle Boeing Field, WA KBFI 2.0 12,000
Total: 14 hours over three days


  • The country is very big.  There’s a lot of not much to do along the way.  I was glad I brought music with me since I could patch it through the avionics panel.  When I wasn’t talking to controllers (or they to me), I could jam out to Moby or Zeppelin or Neil Diamond.
  • Don’t spend so much time planning the route!   My idealized trek was on a more northerly heading, with camping at Voyageur’s National Park.  This was scuttled because of weather.  When I originally did this, I had a stack of VFR sectional maps for the route plus theoretical side trip.  WAC charts cover 2x the scale and would have been fine. Low-altitude IFR maps were much more useful because they have all the minimum altitudes and navigation aids calculated for you.  If I did it today, I would just use this.  Play music, shoot anthropomorphic birds at pigs, and navigate in one package at 1/20th the mass.
  • Savor side trips.  The most memorable part of the trip outbound was the unplanned overnight in Rawlins.  Great people.


  1. > I headed in a general westerly-ish direction.

    Hmm… (consults Google Earth) Yep, Rawlins is definitely to the east of Twin Falls. Colour me confused 🙂

    Do pilots use compass headings in “reverse”, like when people talk about the wind? Is flying in a westerly direction like a westerly wind, ie coming from the west?

  2. You are correct, Steve, though the error would explain why the trip felt like it took so long. 🙂 Thank you for catching that.

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