Cabin Class Fever | After the Great Lockdown: The Great Lakes = Great Flying

Cabin Class Fever | After the Great Lockdown: The Great Lakes = Great Flying

Cabin Class Fever | After the Great Lockdown: The Great Lakes = Great Flying

cab·in fe·ver
The distressing, claustrophobic irritability
or restlessness experienced when a person
 or group is stuck at an isolated location or
 in confined quarters for an extended period.

Lately, we have all had cabin fever. And our restlessness, frustration and irritability became privately and publicly evident – but no more. Now that we can resume flying, eating out and buying toilet paper, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity exists to see nature as it was in years past. While we’ve been in lockdown and not driving, flying or kicking up dust, a planet-wide reduction in air, water and particulate pollution has occurred. Nitrogen dioxide pollution from vehicles, power plants and industrial activities decreased by as much as 60 percent. And particulate matter pollution has also decreased by 35 percent in parts of the world. 

This reduction has allowed wildlife and vegetation (and our lungs) to flourish. Since we’re all looking forward to getting out of town to regain our social decorum, piloting proficiency and sanity, once we clear the cobwebs from our piloting skills and the airplane’s crevices, The Great Lakes can be a great, nature-as-it-was, cross-country destination. 

Drain Your Sumps

We all went through our springtime, back-to-flying rituals after last winter just in time to enter the COVID lockdown. So, here we are again, non-proficient. Remember that there’s a big difference between current vs. proficient, and we need to carefully climb back into the saddle. We are rusty pilots, flying figuratively rusty airplanes. Our planes may have sat for two or three months. Complete the preflight slowly and completely making sure to look for nests from some of that flourishing wildlife mentioned above. If you don’t always drain your fuel sumps, don’t skip it this time. Check the battery of both your aircraft and EFB. Make sure you have all switches set, pen and notepad where you expect them to be and follow all checklists. 

The basic skills of takeoff and landing, as well as advanced maneuvers such as RNAV SIDS, STARS and approaches, can be chair flown first. Next, be prepared for the direst emergency on your very first takeoff or approach. In Part 121 we consider engine fires, engine failures, a stall (misconfigurations, loss of correct airspeed indications, microbursts, etc.), controllability (rudder hard-over, runaway trim) and wind shear as a few of the real attention-getters. Think back to the times in which your skills as a pilot were tested and be prepared for a similar problem right out of the gate. Remember to fly the airplane first above all else. After an hour or two in the local area, make some contrails and head for the Great Lakes. 

The Drummond Island Airport splits the golf course.

Michigan Hand Geography

Michigan is called the Wolverine State, Great Lakes State or the Winter
Wonderland. The state’s name originates from the Ojibwa Indian word mishigamaa, meaning “large water.” The Upper and Lower Peninsulas were connected in 1957 with the construction of Big Mac, the Mackinac (Mack-in-awe) Bridge. The mitten-shaped state of Michigan is instantly
recognizable on any globe, sectional chart or first-graders crayon-drawn map and its shape is visible from space. A pilot would be hard-pressed to get lost while flying over the Wolverine State – even from lower-than-orbit altitudes. The acronym B-R-A-S-H is used to remember the major mountain peaks in the Cascade Range: Baker, Rainier, Adams, St. Helen and Hood. Similarly, H-O-L-S-E-M can be used for the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Lake Superior, Erie and Michigan. 

If you ask someone where they live in the state, expect an immediate and casual demonstration of the Michigander hand-pointing ritual. And they will tell you that only residents are permitted to use their hand as a geographic reference by pointing to cities, lakes, islands and airports. It’s a state ordinance, edict, superstition or something. Advanced hand-geography includes using the palm of the left hand, held with the thumb up, as the U.P. (The Upper Peninsula). You’re doing the hand thing right now, aren’t you? Those that live north of The Bridge in the U.P. are called Yooper’s (You-purr’s), and those from south of the bridge are called Trolls – because they live “under” the bridge. 

Lose the Crowd to Join the Crowd 

Today there are almost 700 aerospace-related companies in Michigan. The state has 7,649 registered aircraft, 240 public airports, 30 EAA chapters, 35 Civil Air Patrol Squadrons, 15,267 pilots and one of the largest collegiate aviation programs in the country. With 9.9 million folks, some great artists, inventors, writers and pilots (including Santa himself, Tim Allen) found inspiration and serenity in Michigan: Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall), Chris Van Allsburg (Polar Express and Jumanji), Michael Moore (filmmaker and writer), Madonna, Ted Nugent, Charles Lindbergh, William Boing, Roger Chaffee, Jack Lousma, Robert Jarvik, Daniel Gerber (baby food), Will Keith Kellogg, C.W. Post. 

And, of course, the families of Henry Ford, John and Horace Dodge, David Buick and Louis Chevrolet, are all Michiganders that found adventure, professional inspiration and success in the state. Famous for Vernors Ginger Ale, Faygo soda, Mackinac Island fudge, cherries, blueberries, Christmas Trees and growing potatoes for chips, the state was also inspiring to writers like Mark Twain, John Voelker and Ernest Hemingway – also several brilliant, but lesser-known aviation writers.

Wine, Golf and The Air Zoo

When you say Michigan, most think of Detroit, the Great Lakes, thousands of small fishing lakes, fall hunting, or wintertime activities like sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling, all accompanied by a remote cabin with a crackling fireplace. This is a reasonable portrayal of the state’s persona, but incomplete. Previously an FBO (which yours truly helped to build in the 70s), The Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Kalamazoo is a popular fly-in destination (see “Air-Zoology,” T &T March 2011). And the Gold Coast or pinky finger of the Michigan mitten around Grand Traverse Bay has prospered and grown exponentially, yet retained its northern beauty and a feeling of remoteness. 

In addition to a plethora of giant lakeside sand dunes, state-wide golf and snow skiing venues, several areas from Paw Paw to Traverse City have vineyards, wine tasting chateaus and both rustic and contemporary B&Bs. Examples are the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail near Traverse City, and just across Grand Traverse Bay to the East is the Old Mission Peninsula. There is also the Thumbs Up Wine Trail in southeast Michigan and the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Most of these venues are on or near an airport with fuel and an RNAV approach, many to LPV minimums. If golf is your bag (pun intended), Michigan has 650 courses with Mackinac Island, Frankford, Manistee, Harbor Springs, Boyne Mountain, Petoskey, Drummond Island, Bellaire and Mt Pleasant all within driving range (another pun) of the airport. 

Island Hopping

Michigan has numerous islands, including Bois Blanc, Drummond, Grand, Isle Royale, Mackinac, Sugar, the Manitou Islands and the Beaver Island archipelago. I can attest from personal experience that it’s possible to get temporarily “disoriented” (the airline pilots’ version of temporarily lost) while flying over the mitten, especially if you go offshore at night (aka JFK Junior, 1999). But an aviation tour of Michigan would be incomplete without visiting at least a couple of the islands by air. I recommend Mackinac (MCD – see “MCD; No Fries,” T &T June 2011), Drummond (DRM) and Beaver (SJX) islands; all three have RNAV approaches. Make sure that you have a gas to get back to a mainland airport with reserves as some of the islands have no fuel. 

If you are going island hopping for the first time, do it in the daytime, and because of large wooded areas and a large deer population, watch for “deer on and in the vicinity of the airfield” in the AFD or NOTAM’s. And trust me, they mean it. Plus or minus an hour of sunset and sunrise is the danger zone for deer. Bring a camera, golf clubs, a swimming suit, binoculars and a couple of good books. Once on the island, you can rent a car, borrow the airport courtesy car, be transported by horse-drawn carriage or walk depending on which isle you visit and your level of ambition. 

Wolverine Food

Whether you want to mix and mingle, regenerate and recuperate or simply become an honorary user of Michigan hand geography, log some flight time in the state that’s visible from space. While on your proficiency pilgrimage, find some Mackinac Island fudge and Vernors Ginger Ale. Hit some golf balls, breathe in some of that clean air and sample some wine. If you hurry, the Traverse City Cherry Festival is from July 4 to 11. Remember H-O-L-S-E-M for the names of the lakes and don’t wear your Ohio State hat. In fact, don’t even think about Ohio State – the locals will sense it and feed you to a wolverine. 

Marriages, friendships, child-rearing and our flying skills have all gone through a lockdown- induced stress test. But I’m confident that the smell of our hangar and airplane, the sound of our engines and radio, the majestic views of nature-as-it-was and the feel of a well-flown approach will go far towards curing our cabin-class, cabin-fever.  

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