Flying Solo Around Lake Michigan in a C150

Flying Solo Around Lake Michigan in a C150

Ever since reading the book Zero Three Bravo: Solo Across America in a Small Plane by Mariana Gosnell, I’ve wanted to do something similar. One of the things I love about flying is the feeling of freedom to travel wherever I want, and the perspective of viewing the Earth from above its surface.

I finally have the rare convergence of time off (I’m between semesters with most of my fall planning completed), decent summer weather, and access to an airplane. So I’ve decided to take a trip around Lake Michigan somewhere in my time off. I’m going to give myself two weeks to do what will probably be a 5-6 day trip. Plenty of time in case weather strikes, or a maintenance issue arises. I don’t want to have to deal with any get-there-itis if I’m staring down at the start of the fall semester while I’m still in Northern Michigan.

I’d like to write some additional posts about my experience in order to share things with others. This post is to document my planning so far.

The Trip

I initially thought about flying east to visit my family. I grew up near Albany, NY, and it would be fun to visit them by flying myself out there. However, if any maintenance issue or weather arises, it’s possible I could get stranded significantly far away from both my new home (Chicagoland) and my old home (the Capital District of NY). Not only that, but I have flown almost exclusively in the Midwest (“flatland”) so the differing terrain makes me a little nervous for a first long distance solo flight. Flying significantly eastward also runs into issues of early nightfall, and I am not night proficient in the least.

The good things about Lake Michigan are plenty. I’m never far from my pilot friends who can pick me up by aircraft or car. I’ve already done a lot of flying on the southern parts of the coast of Lake Michigan, so about a third of the area will be familiar to me. I don’t have to worry about flying over large areas of unpopulated terrain (like I would if I went west), and in general the airports around the lake are in decent shape and have fuel. I’m never going to worry about being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Another benefit of flying around the Lake is that most of my pilot friends are actually from around here, so they have given me PIREPs of places that I should see and do, like Door County Peninsula and the Traverse City Peninsula. While I’ve been in Illinois for going on eight years, I still don’t know the area like a native does. I appreciate the advice I’ve been getting from friends about what I should check out while I’m flying through.

Trip around Lake Michigan
Trip around Lake Michigan, including all of the airports I plan to stop at.

The Supplies

The longest trip I’ve taken to date, solo, was 4.3 hours (244 NM), completed in a long afternoon. It was in a Remos GX that consumes thimblefuls of oil, and I have a bladder of steel. So this is going to be a very different trip for me considering it is 866 NM, and I plan to stop for a few overnights and hopefully hit nearly 30 airports. I’m sure I will be overpacking, but I figured I’d share some of my supplies in case somebody else is thinking about taking a similar trip in the future.

  • Oil – the aircraft owner and myself have calculated that I’ll probably need about 5 quarts for the trip, so I’ll bring 6. Because I’ll be stopping at some larger airports I have a feeling that it won’t be too hard to get extra oil en route in case I run low.
  • Handheld radio – I’ve never had the “pleasure” of having to squawk 7600 and never intend to if I can help it. I bought a PJ2 radio from Sporty’s because it is easy to use and has jacks for my headset.
  • Tie-down straps – this one probably goes without saying, but it’s so obvious that I would probably forget it if I didn’t write it down in my list. I’ve used ratchet straps before but haven’t tied down an airplane yet, so I intend to practice before the actual trip.
  • Chocks / cowl plugs / pitot tube cover – the airplane I’ll be flying is normally hangared, so other than chocks, these are things we tend to overlook because they’re almost never needed. I’ll have to be extra cognizant of that on my pre-flights, because, again, I’m not used to having to think about them when I fly.
  • Windshield cleaner / rags – bugs. Need I say more? I like to be able to see out the windshield. I’ll probably just bring a spray bottle of water.
  • Bucket – multi-purpose… I can step on it to check the fuel (there are no steps on the airplane so otherwise I can’t reach to check the caps), and also store things in it. It also weighs almost nothing and is easier to deal with than a step-stool. Perfect!
  • First aid kit – my worst nightmare is I get a paper cut on my sectional chart and have to go without a band-aid for 100 miles. I will probably use nothing in this kit, but will feel better because I have it.
  • Gloves – so I don’t get oil and 100LL all over my hands. I hate checking the oil, not being able to wash my hands, and then get it all over the throttle. I also pack wet wipes with me on long trips, but hopefully the gloves will be good preventative. Added bonus: no burning my hands on a hot engine if I need to check the oil while it’s still hot.
  • Tow bar – again, probably something I’d forget to pack if I didn’t write it down. I don’t know if I’ll need it, but I’ll regret it if I don’t pack it.
  • Tire pressure gauge – just in case.
  • Paper sectional charts – while I plan to fly with ForeFlight and the Garmin in the airplane (there will be plenty of magenta lines on my flight), a paper sectional is a really nice backup. And when I’m done with the paper charts I can use them to wrap presents! For this trip, I’ll need Chicago, Lake Huron, and Green Bay sectionals. I always keep a Chicago TAC and sectional with me because that’s my home area.
  • AA batteries – both my A20s and the handheld radio use AA batteries. I always pack these, even on short flights. The A20s are only awesome when the batteries are good!
  • Chargers – I will have wall chargers for keeping my electronics charged overnight at hotels, but I also have a 26,800 mAhr portable USB charger that I keep in my flight bag. It’s seriously awesome and I would recommend it to any pilot for any length of flight.
  • Food – this is actually my biggest concern on my flight because I’m vegan, and it can be tricky to find food I can eat in small towns. I’ll pack some peanut butter and crackers with me just in case I can’t find lunch, and probably some trail mix bars that I can eat in the airplane in case I get hungry. I plan to get crew cars / Uber and do lunch / dinner out most days though.
  • Water – goes without saying. I have so many airports packed into my flight that I don’t have to worry about tactical dehydration, because there will be plenty of places to stop and empty my bladder.