The Labor Day weekend sees me taking a break from the humidity and scorching heat of the South Florida summer to relax in the cool fresh air of the middle Great Lakes.
I came north via CO and CO Express.
Here was my ride out of Fort Lauderdale:
Photo © Joe Fernandez - Aviation Photography of Miami
N69311 was clean and presentable. The cabin didn't look factory fresh but it did look well cared for
Unfortunately I got stuck in the tail three seats from the back...middle seat. And the gate agent had a pile of tickets ahead of me requesting a seat change so I didnt bother.
Takeoff was eastbound out over the ocean. Our turn north and back over the coast started to get choppy and would stay choppy until the final 15 minutes of the flight as we had to skirt and eventually penetrate the huge cold front that moved across the entire eastern seaboard Friday.
Flight observations: Is it me or are my fellow Americans losing their awe of air travel. Of course the worst case scenario happened...the lanky teenager at the window next to me dropped the shade as did the young girl across the aisle. Indeed most people slid their shades down in the back half of the aircraft. So here I am, all of a sudden flying in a United Parcel Service or FedEx windowless jet. Got some reading done.
-Food: A Chicken Caesar sandwich or Ham, apple and cube of chocolate. Served a tad too cold. The typical midday fare on most US airlines. Not bad. Not mouth watering. Just filling enough.
-Continental service personnel from phone agents to gate agents to the lady who instructed me through my first CO "E Ticket" terminal were friendly and professional. I have only one complaint to CO. My knees travelled the whole trip in the seat pocket. Thankfully the lady in front of me never reclined. Tell Gordon to take a hint from the gang in Dallas and pull a few seats out. Seat pitch needs to be improved.
-The fasten seat belt sign has become an almost useless feature on modern US jetliners. As I said the chop went from about an hour of light to barely moderate, then easily moderate as we penetrated the cold front. There's always someone who doesnt get seated next to their travel companion so decides to mosey on up and perch at the seat for a few minutes. Indeed one of the FAs insisted a heavy set man take his seat as she squeezed by him with a trash bag. He ignored her. I thought to myself "I probably wouldn't enjoy it but it would be some poetic justice to have N69311 amble across an errant thunderhead and watch this lout go sailing into the ceiling."
Our landing was in clear skies as the sun began to sink. The pavement at CLE was wet, indicating that the tail end of the cold front had just gone through.
SEGMENT TWO CLE-MBS...MY FIRST BE1900 TRIP!
Because of 20 extra minutes on the FLL-CLE leg due to weather related course deviations, I had 10 minutes to catch my Continental Express plane to Saginaw.
The new Concourse D is bright and comfortable. The underground walkway is fast. I made the trip from C14 to D21 in about 6 minutes. I arrived to see my chariot northward to Michigan, a Beech 1900.
Except the maintenence truck in front of us told us we were going nowhere in that one. After an hour delay, another Beech inbound from DTW was assigned to us. Then we got an announcement that nobody boarding one of the smallest airliners going really wants to here. The gate agent reported that there was 'tornadic activity' over Lake Erie. Yuck. After another 20 minutes I started thinking maybe a rental car and a leisurely trip across Ohio and up into Michigan might not be a bad idea. But right as I was about to make a decision the flight crew reported everything was set.
The Beech 1900 is the kind of plane the typical US air traveller despises. It's very small, very narrow and frankly looks like a schoolbus on the inside. The wing spar features prominently in the floor. I was first aboard, taking my seat overwing in 5A. I chatted with the pilots as there is no cockpit door in the Beech 1900! "Rough ride tonite guys?" I asked. "Getting out of here could be bumpy but once we get out over the lake we should be fine." No less than three of the women who boarded started talking about renting a car. They looked terrified. Considering the weather even I was preparing for a few choice stomach dropping plummets as we climbed out of CLE.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. We took off in a light rain but the air was smooth. Indeed ten minutes into the flight as the lights of my former hometown faded aft, a brilliant nearly full moon lit up the shiny white wing tops and revealed a thin layer of harmless scattered clouds below us. It was obvious the bad weather had all but gone east. We flew northwest into smooth air.
What a flight! Loud obviously. Weird too because the cheap lighting really did remind me of a school bus, one of the many trips I used to take as a high school football player! On that note, one glance across southern Michigan at 930 on a Friday revealed something that I'm sure has started conversations in many a dark cockpit....the blazing "Friday Night Lights" of high school football games. Every small farm town lives for their football team. The unique bright white of lights covering bigger stadiums or small fields dotted the darkness of rural southeastern Michigan. It brought back to me, sailing 14000 feet up at nearly 300 mph, great memories.
If you're a passenger in a Beech 1900, you have a window seat. It's 1-1 across seating! You also have an excellent view of the cockpit instrument panel! I could see the collision avoidance radar, the altimeter, the autopilot set to 14000. I recognized some of the VORs from my Flight Sim travels through the same area. And of course you get a view straight ahead!
As I said, nature gave us a wonderful ride. Not a bump. I mean NOT ONE. Our captain chimed in over the droning turboprops that we were 65 miles from the airport, beginning our descent. He said there may be a couple of bumps going through a cloud layer but that the weather was fine. It's a smart thing for a small airliner pilot to say. He's got to know he has some white knucklers aboard. Letting them know the jolts are normal and expected probably calms them a little.
But the most wonderous thing was his announcement that he was turning all the cabin lights out for better visibilty in the cockpit. Suddenly I was experiencing another airliner travel first....a pitch black cabin! It was awesome. And there were no shades down on this flight..(there were no shades but still!) ...my fellow passengers seemed to be enjoying this ride. Everyone was looking out the windows...a few were commenting on where we were, recognizing features as we roared across the southern suburbs of Saginaw. Most of the guys were looking forward watching the pilots and where we were going.
Looking ahead at about thirty miles out I could see the beacon at MBS beckoning us like a lighthouse guarding a safe port for ships. Then the light faded as we approached a cloud. I watched the cloud roll up on us through the cockpit windows. Even our cloud was being friendly tonight as we bounded through it with a ripple no worse than a bump on a taxiway.
And there ahead it was! The lighted rectangle that was the runway at MBS. Our co-pilot, a young man born long after I started getting interested in aviation, we had been told was flying tonight. The motors lowering the gear and the servos dropping the flaps could easily be heard. It was great watching the final approach. No one was looking sideays. All eyes were forward as the big bright red and yellow lighted box got bigger and bigger. Suddenly we flared and thunk! With the filling rattling smack that seems unavoidable on commuter prop planes we had arrived safe and sound at MBS.
Another funny thing about the Beech 1900 is how fast you go from noisy roar to complete silence after the engines were off. The guy in the seat next to me and I agreed we wished all flights could be as smooth as that one.
I recommend every airliner nut schedule some time in a Beech 1900! It sure brings the thrill of flying home!
In twenty minutes I was seated in a seat that terrified me far more than any Beech 1900 could! ...next to my mother who was driving me north on the Interstate in heavy Labor Day traffic with one contact lense missing!
I return the same route on Tuesday. I'll post at the end of the week! For those of you in the States, Happy Labor Day!