This flight was pretty cool.
Jeff, a friend of his (via texting) and I were talking through strategies for dealing with the anticipated low clouds and IFR at Oshkosh the next morning. The desired approach for everyone is VFR through RIPON, but only if the ceilings are high enough to allow it. I’d need to be at 2300′, with Jeff and his friend at 1800′ to make this work. The forecast wasn’t promising when we called it an early night. The plan at the time had me heading directly into Oshkosh, and Jeff looking to catch up with his friend and going in as a flight of two.
In the morning, Jeff, Brian, Bev, and I drove from Jeff’s house over to KCMI, University of Illinois airport. The university flight school is closing after the existing students cycle through, so the rows of school airplanes was a rather sad sight. I’d been flying simulated approaches into this airport for about 20 years, so I felt familiar with the place. The forecast turned out to be accurate – clear at KCMI and low clouds at Oshkosh. VFR all the way wouldn’t work.
The plan that we used was suggested by Jeff’s friend. Jeff and I would depart KCMI as separate IFR flights, with the proposed destination of KUNU – Dodge County Airport. This airport is about 20 or so nautical miles south of Oshkosh, and would be a good place to wait out improving weather, if it came to that.
The plan was to execute the flight, ending in an instrument approach into KUNU. The instrument approach provides lateral and vertical guidance down to the ground, which would afford a direct observation of the actual ceilings in the vicinity. I’d be making the first approach, followed by Jeff. As I descend on the approach, I wait to break out of the clouds and see what my altitude was. Passing through 2500′ I was still in solid clouds; then 2300; then 1800. I knew I could not cancel IFR at this point and would have to actually land. I informed the controller, changed to the advisory frequency, and announced my intentions in the blind.
Once up on the frequency, I announced my position on the instrument approach to runway 02 (20 degrees or north-northeast). Subsequently, I listened to similar announcements from a flight of 5 Thorpe T-18s doing airshow practice under the clouds and over the airport. This would be interesting. Within two miles of the threshold, I saw one of the T-18’s and determined he was the last in the flight that was on the downwind to runway 26 (a crossing runway oriented east-west). I fell in behind the last guy and maneuvered with him to land uneventfully.
Once on the ground, I cancelled IFR by phone (having asked for the number earlier) and asked that they pass on weather to Jeff who was coming in next. He also landed uneventfully, and we picked up some fuel and coffee while there.
IFR was not an option in my mind. I had tried several times to use e-STMP to get a reserve slot into Oshkosh over the previous days, and just considered it pointless. Jeff encouraged me to take another look, and there was one open slot. I felt a bit bad grabbing it, but appreciated Jeff letting me take it. He knew I’d need a higher ceiling due to my speed / ceiling VFR requirements. I departed 15 minutes after that and went IFR into Oshkosh.
Take a look at the flight from University of Illinois airport – KCMI up to Oshkosh included two approaches in lieu of the VFR Ripon approach.