August 9, 2006 - Wednesday
20 Dollar Clouds

Well, what to say. I was up in Rockford and looking to make a decision on what to do next. I decided that the weather looked decent so I'd do some flying this evening instead of tomorrow evening. Just a short ride - nothing long or fancy. Just to get my feet off the surface for a bit.

Over to the airport I headed to pick up two empty fuel cans (2.5 gallons each). In goes the proper amount of pre-mix 2-stroke oil and I headed out, cans in hand, to the fuel station. Fuel cost $16+. Five gallons will be good for a bit better than an hour. I figure about 20 minutes of flying tonight should be about right - stretch that fuel into two or three evenings of flying. Back to the airport I go.....

Fuel loaded and pre-flight complete I grabbed a warm coat as it was just cool enough - I could open it up if I didn't need it - better to grab it. It's only going to be a short flight, right? Listen to the automated airport weather stats - broken clouds at 3,000 ft, ceiling at 9,000 ft. OK, whatever. I typically fly in the 1500 to 2500 ft range. The sun was still being covered by the upper layer of clouds. Sunset at 8:08pm and it was just after 7pm.

Camera at the ready - Off and up I head. I should add that the camera is the now fully functional Canon PowerShot A620 that gave me fits on the Taiwan and Thailand trip. It went back for warranty repair (two times - they got it right on the second whack) and it was finally ready to be used again. The LCD panel swings around and displays the image it should and the camera is quiet when it turns on/off (no stripped gear noise).

I get up to 2,000 feet and start to think - those clouds really are close - DUH - only 1,000 feet more. They are very thin and wispy and broken - large sections with no cloud. Something I can safely fly above. Why not....

Once above that first cloud layer I started to think about the approaching sunset - should I stay up and wait for it? Would I have enough fuel? Maybe this would be a good opportunity to, on purpose, run out of fuel. I kept flying up and shooting pictures.

Click, Click, Click went the camera - fresh batteries at the ready [which was a good thing since I took 233 photos - and I can tell ya - it was somewhat hard to look through them and decide which would make the cut and which would not. Forty-three did make it and are shown on this page].

I eventually stayed and waited for the sun to appear below the 9,000 feet cloud set - and even to fully set beyond the horizon. Just about that time the thought of intentionally running out of fuel came into mind. Perhaps I should give the fuel tank another check. For me to check fuel I need to look over my right shoulder. The fuel sight line is a bit difficult to see - and depending upon the throttle setting of the engine the carriage / fuel tank has a different tilt to it - the gauge reads slightly differently in the air than on the ground (which is why I would like to see where "Empty" is in actual flying conditions and thus the desire to run-out while flying).

While looking over my shoulder - camera tucked away - I noticed that I could not see any fuel in the sight line. Right then I looked over my left side and there was a trail of air bubbles in the fuel line heading to the carburetor. Before I could say - "won't be long now" the engine sputtered once and died. Pretty much a "died with no warning" type of stop.

No worries. I'm still up at 3,500 feet and DIRECTLY over the quiet airport. Ground is about 950 feet. The vehicle feels a bit different between powered and non-powered flight but nothing dramatic. The quiet is nice! It would be a while before I came close enough to consider landing so I set into a wide, slow left-hand turn. A slow spiral down. With the GPS rolling down elevation numbers I flipped to the seconds clock and timed a minute of drop - 500 feet per minute. I'll be landing in about 5 minutes. Time another minute - yep, right at about 500 feet again.

So I have an engine off sink rate of about 500 fpm and from a prior flight a 80-90% power climb rate of 167 fpm. Now I know. Still having time to look about I took a photo or two of the non-moving motor / propeller.

The landing was fine - I practice engine out landings every so often - so I knew what to expect. The worst part was PULLING the vehicle up to the hanger....

On to the photos!

I'm in the middle of the clouds. We're looking west and the sun is above the upper layer of clouds. About an hour from now it'll pop below this layer and shine until it sets. The clouds, unfortunately, didn't shine those intense shades of purples and reds.

A plot of the flight. When I started I flew southwest from the airport and then headed back. I was several thousand feet above the airport so circling above it wasn't a concern.

Just a few dabs of blue through the upper set of clouds.

The lower clouds were very thin and spotty.

Off to the east-southeast this one "monster cloud" did catch my eye. Could it be a rain cloud? Maybe I should stay close to the airport or get back on the ground.... The answer is discovered later on.

Farm field (around here it's beans or corn -soy beans that is) with the light green fingers being drainage strips.

Off to the northeast was a line of clouds that was lit up from the sun. It stuck out with nice white tops to shine back.

"Sneeks Field" A short hop southwest from Albertus field. A nice place to visit.

One of the several old rail lines in the area. Removed and somewhat reclaimed by the farmers.
(diagonal line going from the bottom left of the photo to the upper right)

Some instrument readings - full or near full power:
5800 RPM, About 340 F cylinder head temp, about 1000 F exhaust gas temp, 34 MPH ground speed, 7:10 pm, 4709 Feet elevation.

Pulling the throttle back to loaf about waiting
4600 RPM, 300 F CHT, 1000 EGT, 50 MPH ground speed, 32 MPH air speed, 7:18 pm, 5078 or 6078 Feet altitude

An airplane that was practicing landings.

City of Freeport, Illinois.

Albertus Field, Freeport, Illinois. Two nice grass strips and one long asphalt.

Looking northward.

And towards the south.

More instruments. 7333 Feet elevation / altitude. The highest I recorded on the trip.

Lake Carroll (I think).

Ah, finally!

From this picture came my answer on the "storm cloud". Byron, as in Byron Nuke Plant. You can make out the descending trail of white down to the two cooling towers. Nothing to worry about. It's a typical landmark but with the clouds today it wasn't evident.

The propeller's still spinning!

The Kawasaki 440 is silent...

And there you have it. "20 Dollar Clouds" 1.5 hours of flying time, 44 miles of horizontal travel, $16+ dollars of fuel plus a couple for oil. I didn't plan on staying up for the duration but I'm glad I was able to.

'Hope you enjoyed the view!