“Sightseeing Michigan,” Greg’s December, 2015 Flying Carpet column

Visiting friends far from home

TedHeckman-1941MeyersOTW_AlleganMI-35D_1202-EditeSmw1200“For some great sightseeing, cruise low along the Lake Michigan shoreline on your way from Chicago,” my friend Jason Blair had advised before takeoff. However lake-effect showers streamed southward over northern Indiana, dulling the view. For the moment we navigated haze under grey 2,200-foot ceilings.

“We’re a mile below Flagstaff’s airport elevation!” Jean exclaimed, noting the altimeter. That seemed queasily unnatural compared to our normal 8-11,000-foot flight altitudes back home in Northern Arizona’s mountains.

Gradually, however, we found ourselves descending under lowering clouds and virga. I checked weather. While 60 miles away our destination of Allegan, Michigan remained clear, nearby lakeshore stations had suddenly fallen below 1,500 overcast, with Michigan City reporting 900 broken. We deviated eastward toward better weather away from the lake.

Why are we doing this? I thought, eyeing cobalt skies through broken clouds overhead. There were other airplanes down here, and tall radio towers. Rather than steer farther off course to escape the muck, I requested a “pop-up” instrument clearance, which South Bend Approach promptly granted.

In no time we surfed blue skies over snowy clouds, at 5,000 feet. Between them could be glimpsed vivid farm fields and sparkling Lake Michigan beaches. Funny how visibility can sometimes be restricted near the ground, and yet appear crystal-clear from above.

GregBrownFT1215_3768eSmw1200Jean and I now shared excitement about visiting our friend Tyler Allen, a sophomore at Kalamazoo College.

You may remember Tyler from previous columns–he began flight training as a high school student on the Navajo Nation, and we shared many Arizona flying adventures together. Here, finally, was our opportunity to visit him at college…


Top Photo: Ted Heckman’s 1941 Meyers OTW biplane, at Padgham Field, Allegan, Michigan.

Lower photo: Tyler and Jean at Kalamazoo College, Michigan.


(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)


©2015 Gregory N.Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

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