Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

July 2005

Flying Journal - What's your viewpoint?
People often say that your viewpoint makes a difference in what you see. Just compare the flight to some favorite destination with the view you see when you drive.

Last month I wrote about a flight from Springfield to Indianapolis. If you have ever driven east, to Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or even New York, there is a good chance you can recall that drive, interstate all the way. Now it does go through some pretty country as it snakes along the backbone of the Ozarks. While you can see lots of forests and pastures and farmland on that trip, still you are never really far from civilization.

Of course you could fly essentially the same route in a plane. Indeed, that's essentially the Victor Airway routing. Of course St. Louis is in the way. You can go right over the STL Class B airspace (remember TCA?) with it's 8000 foot ceiling. That makes the eastbound VFR altitude 9500. If you are at 7500 or lower the controllers will more likely vector you around their airspace.

I really don't like to get vectored around. I'd rather vector myself around. Add to that the nearly $4 per gallon fuel in the cities at both ends of that route, and I felt plenty of motivation this summer to find a better vector. Let's say you would like to make one fuel stop at a smaller airport like Rolla or Salem or Festus. Festus is a good one. Now you get a route composed of two direct legs. Now you miss St. Louis (but be careful because there are jets coming out the SE departure corridor which reaches all the way to the Mode C Veil).

You wouldn't think it would make that much difference, but the scenery is quite different. Not that the land has changed much in a few miles, but you get away from the line of civilization that develops along major highway corridors. You can clearly see the difference on either a highway map or aviation chart. Flying the airway takes you over a continuous parade of small airports. But taking a route just a few miles south, there is only one airport (Salem) near the direct route over 150 nautical miles from Springfield to Festus. The same applies from Festus to Indianapolis.

Once during some training at the KC FSDO, we got to spend time at KC Center and I spent an hour with a controller whose job was to blend two streams of (mostly airline) traffic into one line to enter the west entry gate to Indianapolis. They join together over Interstate 70 several miles west of the city and you can see them when you are driving. One clear night I was able to see over a dozen planes at one time, all lined up to the west, coming into their positions out there over the highway.

I guess it's not that big a deal, but an airplane lets you see how our country is really put together. In a car you are so much more a captive audience, forced along channels of billboards and development. I noticed the same thing when I flew to Stillwater, Oklahoma a couple times last month to attend a once a week class at Oklahoma State. I have flown to Tulsa and Oklahoma City before, but never to that in between place, Stillwater.

Tulsa is hardly worth flying to in a plane from Springfield. The road is so direct and since the speed limit on the Will Rogers Turnpike is 75, most traffic is going almost as fast as a small plane anyway! When you factor in your time to get to the airport and get your plane ready, you might as well drive to Tulsa, unless you have a fast plane. But Stillwater is another hour driving, including through Tulsa, and either another annoying toll road (including three toll stops in 40 miles!) or smaller country roads. Altogether, it's about a 4 ½ hour drive to Stillwater.

Since my class met from noon to 5 pm on Thursdays, it meant a really early departure to drive and still have any sense left to learn something in class, and another long drive home, or a night in a motel. In a Cherokee Six, the no-wind time was only about an hour and a half. Of course the Victor 14 Airway goes directly from SGF VOR, to EOS at Neosho and then on to Tulsa.

But Stillwater is far enough west of Tulsa that the GPS direct route from SGF to Stillwater (SWO) is a few degrees north of V-14. It's not much, but it makes the viewpoint--and the flying experience--noticeably different. Unlike the airway which goes directly over airports, the direct route goes between Neosho and Joplin, then between Miami and the cluster of airports around Grand Lake o' the Cherokees. The closest airport is probably Vinita (I drifted south and finally was able to pick out the world's largest McDonald's restaurant that spans the turnpike. It's not nearly as big as it looks when you drive under it).

The route continues west-southwest to cross several miles north of the Tulsa Class C airspace and cuts right in between the little airports at Cleveland and Hominy (I have got to visit those someday) before you descend into Stillwater (which has a great airport, including competing FBOs).

If you have driven to Tulsa, you may recall it can be quite beautiful, especially like this year when they have had more rain than us and it really is as the chambers of commerce like to call it, "Green Country." I have actually seen highway maps that designate that highway as "scenic." But obviously, you are limited by how far you can see from the highway. It is a gorgeous flight, especially this route that takes you over mostly open country.

What will be even more surprising, if you are not familiar with the area, will be how many lakes you will fly over. I cross the upper end of Grand Lake south of Miami, then Oolagah Lake northwest of Tulsa. On a clear day I might see Bich Reservoir (honest, that's what they call it) and on even a day so hazy it's MVFR, I can't miss the larger Skiatook Lake. I could see they were not having our drought this summer, but the first time I flew over I thought I was seeing a flood, or at least high water in the Arkansas River. Consulting the sectional, I realized I was actually seeing long, skinny Keystone Lake, formed by Keystone Dam just west of Sand Springs. Keystone Dam is also a VFR waypoint for area pilots and controllers. Actually, the Cimarron River, which flows through Stillwater, also runs into Keystone Lake.

As you can tell by now, Oklahoma may be "out west" and yes, there are some fine cattle visible along that route, but it's lush and green and probably not at all what some might expect.

For now, I'll just say I enjoyed the flights, I'm enjoying my class, and next month I'll continue discussing this summer's Oklahoma flying adventures.

Fly safely, and I hope to see you at the meeting, and have fun, safely, if you go to Oshkosh!

Earl Holmer