A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Flight West Across the Plains

June 9, 2019
Emilie Phillips

This is the second day of our two week flying and hiking trip to the Rockies. Read stories from the rest of the trip.

Sunday we crossed the Mississippi River. This was our first day into the unknown. Our route and destination would be defined by how long we could fly and what the weather did to us. The first obstacle was the weather. We left Glenndale Indiana under low clouds and spotty rain.

We would have been stuck on the ground if Indiana weren’t so flat or had we been in controlled airspace. As it was, Tyson assigned both Isaac and I to watch for tall towers while he flew. Ahead of us, to the west, a band of rain blocked our path. We saw it first on the radar, stretching from Lake Michigan down to central Illinois. We turned south to get around it, but the storm line was blowing south too. We beat it to Mattoon Illinois.

Greener Illinois

The fields in Indiana had been brown. According to our hosts the night before, the fields had just dried out enough to plant crops. It was interesting seeing the news first hand. In Illinois, the fields were greener, and I didn’t see any tractors out planting. They must have dried out sooner.

In Western Indiana, the clouds broke apart. We had the option of staying low or going high. The previous day, Saturday, we had taken advantage of the counterclockwise winds around a low in Kentucky. The low hadn’t moved much overnight, so the wind map said we would be best off going up to 6,000 feet. Tyson climbed up through a break in the clouds to find the better winds. But then the clouds billowed higher and closed up. We had to climb again and again, until we lost more airspeed from the altitude than we gained from the tailwind. I started planning alternate airports for our next stop. It needed a grass runway or at least not concrete, and a weather station reporting clear skies. Fairfield Iowa looked like our best bet.

Descending between clouds at the Mississippi. Some flooding

At the Mississippi River, the clouds broke apart. The cloud layers were pretty to look at. Below us, we saw our first major flooding on the trip. The farm fields near the river were under water.

I flew the next leg from Fairfield to Red Oak Iowa. Back in New England, I use mountains as landmarks. Out here, there are no mountains, no hills, or bumps. Instead, Iowa has a grid of roads. I quickly noticed that, while I was pointing along the roads at 280° true, we were sliding sideways from one road to another. The GPS said our ground track was 266° true. That’s almost 30 knots of crosswind. We were no longer flying at a tangent to the circle around the low pressure behind us. When I landed at Red Oak, the wind was blowing 19-25kts on the ground. A little black bird took off from a grass tussock next to us. It vigorously flapped its wings, eyeing a different tussock upwind. All it could do was hover in place.

Given the cross winds, Tyson and I reconsidered our next destination. Tyson’s initial plan had been to continue due west to central Nebraska. That would give us the most options the next day. We could either fly north around the Colorado front range, or fly over it through passes. The forecast for Monday predicted a high pressure over Utah and Colorado with clear skis and minimal winds all day. We decided it was safe to turn south for the last leg today. That would give us the best tailwinds, but would force us into flying over the mountain passes tomorrow.

Flooding south of Omaha

Our new route took us through a corner of Nebraska and then into Kansas. We saw massive flooding on the Missouri River where we crossed it south of Omaha. The interstate was flooded. Gas stations and houses miles from the riverbed left frothy wakes in the water. Not good.

We hadn’t been sure how we would find a hotel near the airport. While in the air, I phoned our destination airport, Scott City Kansas. They said they had a courtesy car that we could use to drive into town. Score! Then I called up a hotel and made reservations. We were set for the evening. We were pleasantly surprised the rest of the trip how easy it was to find courtesy cars and get hotels.

7 hours of flying that day. 8I3 – KFFL – KRDK – KTQK. Continue reading the following day: Flight Over the Rockies to Moab.

All Photos

GPS Track