So this is the last night of my three-week stay at Cushing Field, a grass airstrip on the outskirts of Chicago airspace. Why park the Airstream at a grass airstrip for three weeks? Well, they let me stay here as long as I rent an airplane every so often. I think I can handle that. Along with the obligatory refresher of take-offs and landings, and the scenic tours of the Illinois Valley with an occasional passenger, I did two pretty cool things during this stay at Cushing.
I have always wanted to take my golf clubs in the airplane and find an airport right next to a golf course. So I did it! Blackstone Golf Club is a course I have played several times. It just so happens to have a nearby private grass airstrip used mainly for gliders, appropriately named Sky Soaring Airport. Along with permission to land, I got the unlisted radio frequency and local flight rules in use at Sky Soaring. Water bottle, muffin, iPhone, iPad, golf shoes, golf bag, and flight bag in hand, I loaded up the SportCruiser and took off for a distant speck of grass. I can’t believe it, but I actually found the airstrip, entered left downwind at 45 degrees, and landed on Runway 27 just as my friend pulled up in his black SUV. I believe his first words to me went something like, “You just landed in some guy’s backyard, and left the airplane sitting there. You know you look like a total drug dealer.” It was pretty cool to land in “some guy’s backyard” and then immediately go golfing. And the woman at the pro shop thought it was pretty cool that I flew in for my tee time. As cool as that was, I think what I did tonight was even cooler.
Cushing Field is way out in the middle of the corn fields, surrounded by farms that are also way out in the middle of corn fields. It’s what makes it so appealing. But as you head east, those corn fields soon turn into skyscrapers. Along with the acres of steel and concrete are two major airports, O’Hare and Midway. You may have heard of them. I wanted to fly over downtown Chicago, but from the southwest there is only a 5-mile wide by 300-or-so foot high corridor to stay out of restricted airspace. (Side note: as I was showing my planed route to another pilot, he told me of his nice F-16 escort he got when he busted some restricted airspace. Yeah, always so nice to hear!) Anyway, I did my due diligence and knew that I had to either skirt around the airspace or get some help. I chose to get some help, or “flight following”, as they call it. Anyone familiar with the ’80s movie “Airplane!” knows the quote, “We have clearance, Clarence. Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?” That’s basically what I did tonight. I flew right along with the big boys of Southwest, and United, and American. As I transitioned from one sector to the next, radar services would pass me off to the next controller, and tell me to switch frequencies. They had given me a special squawk code and watched me like a hawk as I flew past Midway, over I-55, next to the White Sox, below the height of the Sears (sorry, Willis) Tower, along the lakeshore, past Wrigley Field, over the Baha’i Temple, around Chicago Executive and O’Hare, and finally back to Cushing Field. In fact, I knew the system was working when I couldn’t find the nearby airplane in the sky and heard in my headset, “Traffic 12 o’clock, same altitude, one mile. Take evasive action!” I rolled to my right as a Cessna went past my left wingtip a few hundred feet away. The rest of the flight was not nearly as eventful. But, was it scenic! As a kid, I remember flying over the Rockies with my dad. And, with my flight instructor, I flew down the coast of southern California. But, as a solo pilot in command, I can’t think of a more spectacular flight than my flight over Chicago tonight. I tried to get a few photos, but as you might imagine, I had my hands full.Read More
I finally got a chance to try out that new pilot’s license at a hidden gem of an airport just outside Chicago. The locals call it Cushing Field; I call it heaven. It doesn’t have a control tower. It doesn’t have jets waiting in line. It isn’t surrounded by congested airspace. It doesn’t even have pavement. It is just a grass airstrip out in the country with genuine pilots hanging out there each and every day. I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much, I parked right next to the runway, plugged in to the flight school electricity, and stayed a couple weeks. In those two weeks, I took several people up for airplane rides (15 people to be exact), logged about 10 hours of flight time, and made over 30 landings (about 28 of them were good — don’t ask about those other few). It was an experience I will never, ever forget. Oh, and for those wondering about Six-Zero-One Charlie Foxtrot, it is the tail number of the airplane I flew. Most of the airplanes at Cushing Field have a tail number that ends in “CF”. Pretty cool!Read More
After another night at a Wal-Mart parking lot in South Bend, Indiana, I found a real house with a real bed and a real shower. I ended up staying all week with friends in Western Springs (a.k.a. “Mayberry”), a suburb of Chicago. We even got permission from “Barney Fife” to leave the Airstream parked on the street overnight. Thanks to all the people who stopped by to see a tour. There is an open invitation for anyone I met in Western Springs to come visit me on the road!
I needed to come back through Chicago, yet again, to get the stabilizer fixed (learn more about this idiotic moment), and I was also able to get some face-to-face time in at the office. The next leg of the itinerary is a quick circle tour of Lake Michigan. Anyone have any suggestions?Read More
I came back through Chicago to check in at the Viewpoints office and get some repairs made at the Airstream dealership. It was a very successful trip. I drove the Airstream right down to 444 N Wells to show everyone my new home. I would have stayed longer, but the friendly Chicago parking brigade threatened to tow and ticket me if I didn’t leave immediately. Then it was off to Joliet to fix the handful of issues from the trip out to Connecticut. The Touareg had a blown fuse (near the passenger-side door if anyone else happens to be searching for the 12-volt tow accessory fuse), so that is why it wasn’t properly charging the Airstream on the road. I also got a new wrench if I ever need to manually crank the hitch again. We fixed a few other random issues, so now everything is as good as new, for now at least.Read More
Well, I successfully made it from Chicago to New Haven, CT! After one denial to stay at a Wal-Mart parking lot (the toothless workers freaked me out anyway), one night in a rest stop off I-84 (right next to the State Police), and one night in a park surrounded by mobile homes (again, toothless neighbors), I am so glad to finally have a quiet and scenic spot at Hammonasset Beach State Park. This is my first self-sufficient multi-night stay (i.e. no electric hookup, no city water, and no sewer). It will be a great test to see how long the tanks and batteries will last! Another little test was the drive right through the middle of the Appalachians of Pennsylvania and New York. I am relieved that the Touareg handled it all just fine. I think I may have even passed a few people heading up some of the steep grades. Next test – the Rockies!
I will have to make it back this area when I don’t have such a tight schedule. Downtown New Haven (and Yale University) has a really cool vibe. And I may have just found my next place to live; the idyllic town of Madison, CT (where I finally had a chance to find a barber).
The only good photos I took were right outside my front window at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Apparently an annual Kite Fest was held the weekend I stayed.
The beauty of this whole adventure is the ability to change plans on the fly. With the weather in St. Louis not cooperating at all, we changed our destination to Galena, IL. After a late start from Chicago and surprisingly bad traffic, we didn’t pull into Galena until well after dark. And, with all the pull-through spots taken, I was forced to back into our spot (without scaring too many of the neighbors). Thank you, Kim and Max, for acting as human guideposts! Other than an embarrassingly noisy hitch, everything has gone rather smoothly. Seriously, I have to do something about that hitch; people were staring for all the wrong reasons! Here are some photos of the trip to Galena and Palace Campground (the oldest campground in the state of Illinois).
Oh, I almost forgot. It appears I may already have some people following my adventure. A friendly fellow camper, Jim, came over to help with the hitch, and after some introductions, said “Oh, you are that Kyle! We have been following your blog for the last month or so.” Apparently some of my SEO strategy has paid off. Yeah, needless to say, that was pretty cool to hear! And, Jim, thank you for all the great tips; I just ordered the same exact Blueline Ultimate Sewer Kit you had. Wow, I can’t believe my life now involves researching the perfect sewer kit!Read More
It is getting close to my departure date, so I figured it was about time to actually spend some trial time in the Airstream. I successfully made it through two days and one stormy night in my new aluminum home; parked in a campground just outside Joliet, IL. I didn’t think it would ever stop raining, but everything (and everyone) held up just fine. Talk about crazy weather for my first night in it!
Even the Touareg is all wired up and ready to go. Steve at US Adventure RV is the man! I got the chance to hook it up myself and take everything out for a test drive (with adult supervision, of course). For the first time ever towing anything, it went pretty well. (Remind me to share the story of the flying blender!) We took the Touareg/Airstream on some side roads, out on I-80, and back to a parking lot to practice backing up. And, yes, backing up is confusing, but I think I have the hang of it!
Not too many photos to share until I get everything unpacked and set up. The maiden voyage will begin on Friday, May 1, with a trip down to St. Louis. I will post plenty of photos then. For now, here was my stellar view last night. Lovely, huh?