KPBH - Price County, WI                                       

04/26/2014 -

Winter 2013-2014 has been a rough one for MN Pilots.  Temps were much below normal for most of the winter.  Yes airplanes have heaters too, but when it's -20F on the ground and -40F at altitude, even the heater has trouble keep up.  Even before you can take off into those frigid temps you must first shovel out the snow/ice in front of the hangar door, then preflight the plane.  Needless to say 4TF spent much of the winter hibernating with the bears.  Spring hasn't been much better so far.  We're over a month into it, and we've still only had a few days in the 60s.

April 26th, was one such mild day though, and we decided to fly to central WI to visit a good friend for lunch.  KPBH was a nice (roughly) half way point that also conveniently avoided Minneapolis Class B airspace, which sometimes makes for a detour.  We took off a bit ahead of time so had little need to rush.  I throttled the Cozy back to 2450rpm and leaned it out to just under 8gph.  We were cruising along at 175KTAS (201mph for the non-pilots) resulting in over 25mpg.  For the next 40 minutes Ella and I shared frustrations at all the chatter occurring with ATC, as the intercom would interrupt her choice of music for our flight with every ATC interaction.  The further into north central WI we got, the more I began noticing that there were increasingly fewer open fields that would make suitable forced landing sites.  Just miles of trees with a few lakes scattered here and there.  The lone road we were paralleling would have to serve as emergency runway if something went wrong.  Though the Cozy is slowly earning my trust, knowing I can't spot land it on a sandbar keeps me vigilant about emergency procedures.

Price County Airport has a great little bar & grill across the street at the sea plane base.  The patio area is perfect to watch the float planes and the approach end of one of the runways.   It would make a great afternoon of cocktails and plane watching.  Camping is allowed on field, so we decided we'd have to come back when it was warmer to enjoy some drinks and airplane watching when we had time to camp for the night.  For the moment, lunch was all we'd be able to do.

After lunch and catching up with our friend we walked back across the street and I began pre-flighting the Cozy for the long, grueling, 45 minute flight home.  ATC was just as busy on the flight home, but I was glad to have picked up flight following as they began warning a number of us about a "Rocket Launch" about 2 miles south of our track.  I was a bit perplexed as there was no TFR or notam about a rocket launch, and there were no MOAs or military installations anywhere near by.  The advisory was for surface to 21,000 feet, so this wasn't some kid with an Estes kit who called up the local TRACON either.  I thanked the controller and asked that she pass along my request to not aim the rocket at the little white airplane, then I slowly started veering North.

About 12 miles out from KSTC, the controller called traffic for me at 12 o'clock low and 3 miles.  I couldn't say for sure but I thought I saw a little white dot bobble back and forth and a little.  I tried to get a little more info from the controller about altitude, as if I was going to be able to judge the difference 1000 below me and 5000 below.  This little white dot was getting large though, so I had a feeling it was the bogey.  Sure enough, the controller said, 1000' below you, and you're overtaking rapidly.  I told her I was pretty sure I had it, and that I had the field, so I'd contact tower and see if we could sort it out.  I switched over to tower just in time to here the local flight school's 172 calling 6 miles to the east.  I chopped the throttle, as I could now make out the wings, and called the tower with my position (7 miles east).  The tower replied rather anxiously, "4TF say again position?!?"  "4TF is 6.5 east now, I'm starting a 360 to the north to put some space between me and 17V," I replied.  "Thanks 4TF, 17V is on a practice approach, you're cleared for left downwind 13 once you've completed the 360."

One of the things I've noticed about flying with the Cozy vs my old Cessna days, is that there isn't near as much time from when ATC hands you off to local tower or CTAF and when you're starting to become a factor for the local traffic.  10 miles clicks by a lot faster at 180Kts than 110Kts.  It's something I'm going to have to start taking into account for VFR flying.  At the vary least I should start putting the local frequency on monitor, so I can get abreast of what's happening ahead of me a little sooner.

After landing in some gusty crosswinds (080 @ 16-24), I really didn't want to put the plane away, but the rain was going to be rolling in soon.  It's supposed to be raining for the next week straight, so from now on I have to start picking lunch runs that are a lot further away.  Gotta make the most of what little decent flying weather we get around here.

Pictures from the day are below: