I took a flight a few weeks ago with my pilot friend Gary, and it was so much fun I jumped at the opportunity when he offered to take me flying again. This time, the destination would be a bit more interesting than the Wisconsin Dells: Chicago. He, Emily, Katie, and I jumped aboard the same plane as last time and took off, flying over the fields and farmhouses of rural southern Wisconsin. Soon thereafter, Milwaukee's skyline and Lake Michigan appeared on the horizon. We were already well on our way to the windy city.
Somehow I had always figured that every airplane was on radar, so they could easily avoid collisions. When we left Madison's airspace, I found out that this wasn't the case. An air traffic controller came on the radio and said, “Keep your eyes peeled. There's another plane nearby,” or something to this effect using airplane lingo. I got kind of nervous knowing that a hunk of metal was flying at us from an unknown direction at over 100 miles per hour, so I kept my eyes fixated on our surroundings. Then, a bit of movement caught my eye. It was a little yellow plane flying over 1000 feet below us, just above the treetops. The plane banked and started heading in the same direction as us.
“Do you think they know we're up here?” I asked Gary.
“Certainly not,” he responded. “There's no windows on the top of their plane.”
“What about the air traffic controllers? Don't they keep track of everyone?”
“Not out here. All the smaller towers have is a guy with binoculars looking for traffic.”
This freaked me out, and I looked for other traffic even more intently. Over the next two hours, we would see a few more small planes, which actually calmed me down. I saw that the sky was big enough to avoid having “issues,” for the most part.
We continued flying toward Waukegan, and turned south once we hit the lake. Soon, we could see the skyline of Chicago. Thunderstorms were in the background, and we hoped to complete our flight before they rolled in. We encountered a bit of rain, but Gary's a good pilot, and he safely navigated us through it.
Soon we were flying over a bunch of cool sites: First the Baha'i temple, then Wrigley Field, and finally the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. When we reached Navy Pier, we turned around and headed back home, cheering at the amazing site of downtown Chicago right next to us.
On the way home, we stopped for gas at Burlington. There was no control tower there, so Gary said (again using lingo) “Hey other airplanes, we're gonna land here, so you best clear out of the runway.” We touched down, added some fuel to both tanks using the self-service pump, and were on our way again.
We had to fly around some storms on the way back to Madison, but we made it back with a smooth landing. And unlike my last flight, this time I had no trouble with air sickness. Gary did a fantastic job and I'm sure I'll fly with him again someday. The only question now is “Where to next?”