Saturday, March 31, 2007

Military Airspace...

I understand practice makes perfect and know that if you send a person in a 50 million dollar jet you want them to come back for their sake but also the planes. But why do they have to practice so much and eat up a perfect laneway in the sky to pretend to shoot each other and whatever else the do. Don't they have simulators ? Ok rant over...the reason for this post is that I planned on maybe not getting hit with airspace restrictions at Pike MOA (Military Operations Area) which is from 300 feet to FL430 or basically where everyone can fly.

When I switched to Toronto Center and the sector that controls the Canadian airspace to the east I did not got a re-route so I thought for once I have done it ! Then even better I got cleared to maintain 5000 feet at my discretion....but when things are too good to be true they usually are. The restriction later handed over with the 5000 feet was to be level 60 east of Alpena. This would be not a problem if I had two air conditioners on the plane but only having one I have to be able to glide to land if the fan stops spinning. Being 5000 feet over the middle of Lake Huron does not allow me to go anywhere else then Lake Huron when the foo hits the shan. So realizing I was not going to be able to go direct, I simply followed the 5 steps in grieving a valiant but unsuccessful mission to go direct to Alpena.

1. Denial- No this can't happen to me again for a fourth time :)
2. Anger/Resentment- Why do you smite me oh mighty smiterton !
3. Bargaining- If I go a bit north can I get to stay at 12000 feet please ?
4. Depression- Now we have to spend 15 minutes going around the airspace...
5. Acceptance- Well this is what always happens so lets do the only option and go around

I have trumped this airspace before....I cleared customs in Drummond Island which is about 10 miles north of the airspace and then from there heading west you miss all the airspace and can go direct. It is a great little airport in the middle of a golf course on it's own island. The airport golf course owner and airport manager is the customs agent so it's a pretty sweet deal to clear there.

So to make a long story short you can see from the above image the track we had to take to make it safely across to Alpena. I must also say that this time they only restricted from 5000 and up compared to the previous 300 feet and up making us go even farther.

So now, a day after the previous flight AROUND military airspace we file direct MSS Massena VOR from Green Bay. We got cleared as filed so I figured sweet it's not active. So we departed Green Bay, after being handed off from departure control we talked to Minneapolis Center. We were radar identified and cleared on course to Massena. Sweet deal I thought to myself. As we were about half way across Lake Michigan Minni center came across the radio telling me he had an amendment to my clearance and to advise when ready to copy. So following a few choice phrases I said for him to go ahead. He then said cleared present position direct Sault Ste Marie (VOR SSM) and then direct destination !

That's fine only an extra 90 miles added to our flight. The good news if any was that the winds were strong out of the northwest so going to Massena from the Sault would be shorter then before but due to the increased distance we would break even. So I used the fancy technology and figured we shouldn't have to go all the way to the Sault because in about 30 miles we could proceed direct APNEL intersection and bypass the Pike MOA and since we are at FL250 we were already clear of the lower MOA topped at FL180. So after 30 miles and sure that we were clear of that airspace I requested direct APNEL. The controller took a moment and then replied "unable due to active airspace". In a tone like "I know" I inquired to what airspace he was talking about. He said that the usual airspace that is restricted to FL180 was now NOTAM'd to FL430 temporarily. So now the USAF has most of eastern Michigan and Lake Huron to play in from the surface up to 8 miles above the earth. That's one hell of a play pen ! So seeing that we continued to whine he put us on vector as to make us feel better, it took us right towards the Mackinac Bridge and then east right across Manitoulin Island. We ended up going a route that we had not even been on before so it was a great new experience. If we had gotten direct we would have experienced the same airspace and geography we are always used to. So it goes to show that you must be careful what you wish for....more on this in a future post.

Bell 407 in all its glory in Green Bay. This is a hot lookin bird I reminds me of standing on the tundra at Ferguson Lake waiting for the new base helicopter to come in. It was minus a whole lot of cold and in the distance you could hear a beating sound slowly getting louder and louder. Ted the biker type helo pilot was flying her at top speed inches off the deck and flew directly over the camp and the sound of the rotor blades slicing the cold air was one sound that is so unique that I can still vividly remember it. That winter I got to experience some routine maintenance on the previous helo at the camp, an ASTAR. I had helped remove the rotor blades with the AME in the dark with a 30 knot wind at -20 and man I can see why he makes the money he does. You want to hurry and get it done but for the pilot's sake you are gonna do it right and freeze in the process.

Some island out in Lake Michigan. The water has an almost tropical look to it from FL250. The western shore of Michigan has many areas that look like this, it is a very nice area.

Just abeam Mackinac bridge and I saw this odd looking land form. I have no idea how it got like this because the surrounding area was relatively flat and benign. Looks almost like something had hit it at one point.

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