Give me a window seat on a four-hour flight in decent weather during daylight and there might be just a few pictures taken. Some of those might not suck.
There’s a lot to see if you pay attention out of the plane window. Let’s start with the airports and their towns.
Bloomington, Illinois. I actually lived here for six months when I was four years old. I’m assuming you can see our house from here.
The airport to the bottom right of center is the Central Illinois Regional Airport At Bloomington-Normal (KBMI). The big runway (running left to right) is 8,000 feet, the slightly smaller one (top to bottom) is 6,525 feet. No sweat!
For reference, a Cessna 172 or the like can land easily in 4,000 feet. Something like a small business jet needs 5,000 feet or so (they fly out of Camarillo at 6,013 feet all the time) and a Boeing 737 needs about 5,700 feet. Note that all of these types of planes can, and often do, land routinely on shorter runways. The figures I’ve given are ballpark figures for what is “easy,” but given preparation, acceptable weather and location, and pilot preparation, they can all land in something like 75% to 80% of that distance.
Springfield, Illinois. I lived in one of the other Springfields (the one in Vermont) but have been here to see the state capital.
Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport (KSPI) has three big runways, 8,001 feet, 7,400 feet, and 5,300 feet. Being pointed off in different directions it’s easy to pick one that close to being in the same direction of the wind, with minimal crosswinds.
Columbia Regional Airport (KCOU) in Columbia, Missouri. The two runways are 6,501 feet and 4,401 feet.
Central Kansas has a lot of big airports. Near Hutchison, Kansas you can see the Sunflower Aerodrome (SN76) in the lower left and the Hutchison Airport (KHUT) just to the right above center.
Sunflower is a private airport operating as a glider port with three runways, the longest being 7,000 feet. Originally built as a Naval Air Station during World War II, it is now apparently a great place to go gliding, something I have yet to try. “Yet,” I said.
Hutchison has major runways of 7,004 feet and 6,000 feet, with a small third runway of 4,252. (Little guys like me usually get the smaller runway if it’s busy, but if the weather or the situation demands it we can ask for, and get, any of the runways. Even at a place like LAX or ORD.)
Pratt Regional Airport (KPTT) in the upper right, the town of Pratt, Kansas in the lower left. The only active runway is the big 5,500 foot one. The smaller runway that goes off at an angle is closed and out of service. My favorite comment in the official FAA listing of the airport is, “Do not mistake lighted cattle pens for lighted runway.” Good advice, that.
The triangular layout (even though only one of the runways is still in use and one is gone completely) makes me think that this is another WWII training base. A little research shows that indeed, this was the site of the Pratt Army Air Field where B-29 crews trained. Given that, it’s not surprising that there is an All Veterans Museum Complex being built, dedicated to the “Bombers On The Prairie.”
That’s the kind of thing that I just love digging up and discovering.
Hugoton Airport (KHQG), just north of the Oklahoma border, has a big 5,000 foot runway and a smaller 2,626 foot one.
In 1952 a Braniff DC-4 en route from Denver to Dallas made an emergency landing here with an engine fire. When the plane burned to the ground after landing there were some injuries, but no fatalities. Favorite comments from the incident report are, “…one of the hostesses advised the crew that the right wing was on fire,” and, “the nr. 3 engine fell from the aircraft and a pronounced buffeting was experienced.” Sounds like the captain did a hell of a job that day!
The airport in Lake Havasu City, Arizona (KHII) can be seen just to the right of center. While I’ve never flown in there (one of these days, it’s going to happen) I’ve driven by a couple dozen times, having been a regular visitor to Lake Havasu in the past. The Colorado River runs from top to bottom in this view, with California on the left, Arizona on the right, and Lake Havasu in the middle, formed by the backup in the Colorado River caused by the Parker Dam (just out of view to the lower left).
Ontario International (KONT), on final approach into Los Angeles International (LAX) but still about fifty miles out, in San Bernardino County. Ontario is a commercial airport, capable of handling all of the big jets. It’s fun to land a Cessna there, you could almost land sideways on the runway they’re so wide. It’s also fun to be out taxiing around with jumbo jets – as long as they don’t roll right over you or suck you into an engine. (Unlikely, but…)
Over the Los Angeles megalopolis, you can see a handful of small general aviation airports where once there were dozens and dozens. Just to the upper left of center here you can see Cable Airport (KCBB) in Upland. It’s a charming place to fly into, even if it’s only to have a “$100 hamburger” at Maniac Mike’s Cafe.
To clarify for the non-pilots, the food doesn’t cost $100. Pilots have to fly regularly to stay current, and flying around in a circle at your home airport doing touch-and-goes, while it will qualify, is sort of boring. Instead, pick a place and go for lunch. Lots of small airports have restaurants or cafes and it’s much more fun (and better practice) to fly somewhere different. It helps to keep you sharp on your navigation, radio skills, landing and taking off in different conditions and circumstances, and so on. But, by the time you fly off for a half-hour to an hour (Cable is about twenty minutes from my usual “home” airport, Whiteman) and then fly back, it can cost about $100 for fuel, plane rental, insurance… Thus, the “$100 hamburger.”
All of this makes me wonder – how can people NOT be looking out of the windows on a cross-country commercial flight? I know I’m in a very, very small minority on this one, but I’ll stick with my belief that I’m the sane one and that vast majority is the group that has forgotten how übercool it is to see the world from 38,000 feet.