Since we moved to Chicago I’ve been wanting to do a flight over the skyline. Yesterday I got my chance.
I had planned in advance to be flying the skyline solo. Since solo flying is usually in the left seat, I planned to fly out south before looping north so that the city would be to my left.
When I got to the FBO, the old pilot who handed me the keys to my rental asked where I was going. I told him I was going to fly the skyline, and he asked how. I explained my plan to him, and he offered to show me a better way.
The old pilot told me that if I flew North out of Schaumburg, squawked 5100 and then contacted Chicago Executive airport, they would pass me over their airport and then hand me off to Chicago Approach. That way, the Tower can plug your N-number into the system and have you assigned to a discrete beacon code before you have to contact the (busy busy busy) approach controller. Then you have access to flight following and wake-turbulence advisories while cruising the beautiful skyline. If you’re feeling bold, you can even ask for the Eisenhower Transition, which shoots you back inland in a narrow gap between the O’Hare class B airspace and the Midway class C airspace. This puts you out almost back at Schaumburg. Perfect.
I considered this advice, looked at the sectional, and quickly re-planned the flight. A few minutes later I hopped into the mighty Warrior and departed to the North. The ride was smooth for a minute or two and then I began getting some significant convective bumps. Summer flying.
Executive Tower was very helpful. I squawked 5100 as requested by their ATIS, contacted the controller, and asked for a Class D transition to the shoreline. The controller had me IDENT, assigned a new beacon code, and cleared me through his airspace. As I left his airspace he passed me to approach. I was nervous to call Chicago Approach (ironic for an ATC student) because they are very busy with heavy traffic at O’Hare; however, I do feel like already being in the system via Executive Tower helped significantly.
The skyline was awesome. Really neat to see the buildings and landmarks of Chicago from the air. And being over the water of Lake Michigan provided a glassy-smooth ride. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Towards the end of the shoreline, there was a moment of confusion. I was flying N8252V. Someone joined the frequency in N8252U. This similarity in callsigns happens sometimes and can be a bit confusing. After a moment or two of radio confusion, the controller asked me to descend to 2000 feet and stay there so he could pass 82U (a larger airplane) over me. Not a problem. (After the flight at Schaumburg, I ran into the guy who flew 82U. We were both amused by the similarity of our callsigns and the fact that we were flying in the same area. )
I headed back West, cutting around the Class C airspace for Midway and aiming the nose at the Lewis University Airport. As soon as I was over Eastern Illinois / Northwest Indiana, the ride got bumpy from convective bubbles rising off the train yards and industry. The turbulence followed me back to Schaumburg. Reminded me a bit of flying in Florida.
My first approach at Schaumburg was abandoned on base-to-final when I picked up some wind and my airspeed went way over where I wanted it. I could have hot-dogged and tried to slow her down to squeeze in, but the runway is short and I’m not an aerobatic pilot, so I took the cautious approach and went around. I always feel like someone will judge me for going around, but frankly I’d rather be safe and abandon the approach than crash short or overrun the runway because I’m too fast. The second approach was better, and I taxied back in and shut down.
All in all, the skyline was awesome. Even forsaking the Eisenhower transition it only took me a little more than an hour to fly it, and the view was fantastic. Helpful controllers, good VFR and a smooth ride over the water made this flight one I’ll definitely be doing again.