Today’s guest blogger Downtown Tom takes to the skies for Sunday morning breakfast:

Last Sunday morning, my friend John and I decided to fly to Oliver’s Restaurant at St. Louis Downtown Airport (KCPS). First we thought it prudent to call to determine they were open on a Sunday morning. To our dismay they had a brunch only and shortened business hours. That was more food than we cared to eat so we decided to make a round robin and do touch and goes and eat at the new restaurant at St. Louis Regional Airport (KALN).

We preflighted the airplane and took our places in his Piper Dakota (PA-28-236). I was in the left seat and John in the right seat. I got the weather from ATIS on the radio and called the tower for permission to taxi. John set the course on the GPS. We taxied to runway 8R and did our run up. After getting clearance from the tower, I took the runway and pushed the throttle forward. At 80 KIAS I pulled back on the yoke and the airplane left the ground. I stayed on the runway heading and when we were at 800 feet above sea level I banked the airplane 20 degrees to the left and set our heading for 033° going to St. Charles Municipal Airport (3SQ). We both agreed breakfast is going to taste great.

Flight Chart

We crossed the Missouri River, went past Creve Coeur and Lambert airports off the right wing and continued the 33 nautical miles to our destination. This airport is a bit tricky to see. The asphalt runway is close to the color of the surrounding fields. The quickest landmark to find are the grass runways which look like an inverted “V” which touch the runway. Getting a big hint from the GPS, I dropped down to 1100 feet pattern altitude for a touch and go for runway 09. I floated a bit on landing but quickly dumped the flaps and pushed the throttle forward to take off to the West.

Off the runway, at 800 feet ASL, I banked 20° to the North and set the heading on 034° for our next destination St Charles County Airport (KSET) only 6nm distant. Airports can be hard to find by vision only. Our destination was between two rivers, Mississippi on the left and Missouri on the right. This is a hard airport to miss. We could see early morning boaters on the rivers and a few stray sea gulls. For the most part the morning was quiet. Several months ago flights of white pelicans were in the area but it appears they have moved on.

Light Traffic

With the airport in sight we listened to the weather on ASOS and decided to land on runway 18. I crossed the airport at midfield and banked to the left for the downwind leg. I trimmed the airplane for 85 knots and put in one notch of flaps. I turned left base just at the river and added another notch of flaps. I wanted to be at 900 feet ASL at this point but was a bit high. Looking to the runway on my left I banked to line up with runway 18. I added the third notch of flaps so I could descend at a steeper angle without increasing speed. I touched down within the first third of the runway, again dumped the flaps and pushed the throttle forward and lifted off heading South. At 800 feet ASL, I banked to the east and set the heading to 068° for Litchfield, IL (3LF), only 38 nm distance. We thought again those pancakes will taste great.

We crossed the Mississippi River at Portage Des Souix, MO. This is a beautful spot. The river is East to West at this point and there are steep bluffs on the North bank of the river. We did not see any signs of river activity. The river gave way to rolling farm land. Illinois fields are laid out in rectangular fashion observing the cardinal points on the compass. In this area one would know the direction headed even though one may not know exactly where he is headed. In the era of GPS whereabouts are instantly known. It is fun to practice pilotage, looking at a sectional chart and matching landmaks such as towns, highways, lakes and railroads.

Bluffs of the Mississippi

This leg was wonderful. The air was smooth. Haze was slight. Our final goal was off the right wing, the restaurant at St. Louis Regional Airport. Those pancakes were looming in our minds.

Nearing Litchfield Municipal, I remembered earlier flights and that they have a right traffic pattern, essentially landing in a clockwise rectangle so as to miss overflying the town at a low altitude. I activated the autopilot and set the altitude and heading and pulled out my iPod touch, in it I have the current FAA airport and facilities directory. As I remembered there is a right traffic pattern for runways 09 and 18. I deactivated the autopilot and looked for the airport. I saw the town and Interstate 55 which is adjacent to the North South runways. Winds were calm and I could take my choice. I decided to go straight in for runway 09. I pulled back on the manifold pressure to 15 inches and the airplane began loosing altitude. I lined up on the centerline for runway 09, trimmed for 85 KIAS, added one notch of flaps and prepared for another touch and go. I flaired too early and was caught in the ground effect, in that the airplane continued flying, superbly. I decided on a go around, pushed the throttle forward and gained altitude. At 1400 feet ASL I made my clockwise rectangle and landed as I had hoped I would on the first try. I taxied to runway 18 to depart for our next stop, St. Louis Metro Airport, known as Shafer (3K6). Those pancakes are sure going to taste good.

Illinois Farmland

I climbed out to 2500 feet for the next leg of 27 nm. The course was 194° which is a bit westerly of due South. This leg had Interstate 55 off the right wing and Sunday morning traffic was fairly dense. From a pilotage perspective, we knew to follow Interstate 55 South until it met Interstate 70 from the East.

Off our left wing was Illinois State route 4 which runs directly South to Shafer. We could hardly miss. The radio chatter indicated runway 31 was being used at Shafer. I headed to the right of the field so I could make my counter clockwise rectangle. This is one of the smaller runways being 2600 feet long and 50 feet wide. When landing in this direction there are wires running parallel to the highway which ought to be cleared for a more desirable landing. I made adjustments to speed, trim, flaps and the landing was as it should be. Again I dumped the flaps, pushed the throttle forward and ascended. Next stop is St. Louis Regional Airport and the restaurant and the pancake.

The restaurant was directly ahead bearing 311° and only 15nm. I obtained weather information and radioed the tower for permission to land indicating we were making a full stop and going to the restaurant. We were given permission to land on runway 29 and told the restaurant had closed. Our pancake had just disappeared.

Closed restaurant

Flying is a matter of training, redundancy, preparation for emergencies and quick correct decisions. I responded to the tower we would make a touch and go and depart to the West. Redundancy extends to pancake restaurants. I knew of an alternative. We had delicious pancakes after all.