Super Shoot – Iowa/Ohio via Cessna 172

By: Daniel Lilja

I decided to compete in the Super Shoot in May of 1998 and flew my Cessna 172 to Ohio for the match. I have relatives that live in Iowa and I stopped there for a couple of days on my way to Ohio.

I left Plains about 6:00 am on May 16th 1998 and had already decided on making it to Miles City, Montana for my first gas stop. The distance was 430 miles and that is stretching my range a little in the C172H. But with any tail wind I would have no trouble. Most of the week prior to leaving we had poor flying weather in northwest Montana and I was wondering what Saturday morning would bring. Friday night the sky started to clear though and when morning came there was not a cloud in the sky.

I climbed to 9,500 feet flying east towards the south end of the Mission Mountains. My course took me through the Blackfoot River valley after passing Seely Lake and I then crossed the Continental Divide near Lincoln, Montana. At this point I had a little tail wind, 10 mph or so, and other than a little ground fog, didn’t see a cloud anywhere. The air was very clean and I could see for at least a hundred miles, horizon to horizon.

I crossed the mighty Missouri River near Wolf Creek and using the GPS continued on a straight course to Miles City. I had marked my WAC chart with a pencil line to Miles City and looked for check-points on the map as I flew along. The air was very smooth and I had a wonderful time. It took 3.6 hours to Miles City and I made a quick turn around, gassing up and calling Sally on my cell phone.

After leaving Miles City it was all flat land ahead. I climbed to 9,500 feet again to take advantage of the tail wind. I soon found out how strong it was, about 40 mph and right on my tail. After leveling out at altitude I was showing a ground speed of around 160 mph in N6261Q. My next planned stop was Aberdeen, South Dakota and I was there in 2.6 hours. My course took me over the oil country of Southwestern North Dakota and on into western South Dakota.

I had quite a head wind landing on Aberdeen’s west facing runway. I made another short ground stop and was soon up at 7,500 feet headed for Iowa. My route took me over part of Southern Minnesota too. At about the point where I crossed into Iowa from Minnesota I called my Dad on the cell phone and told him when I’d be landing at Waterloo.

I’d still not seen one cloud in the sky and the tail wind had increased to at least 45mph. My ground speed at times was over 170mph. I landed at Waterloo on 30 into a direct head wind of about 30 kts. The time was about 3:30 mountain time. My actual time in the air was just 8.9 hours.

The next day my brother Pete and I flew in the 172 over to Guttenburg, Iowa using just pilotage for navigation. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s our family owned a cabin on Abel island in the Mississippi River. Running down the center of the island is a very nice sod strip. When we first learned to fly we would often go to Guttenburg and land. Sometimes duck hunting in the fall or boating and fishing in the summer.

The next morning I took off into a hazy morning sun headed for Kankanee, Illinois. I crossed the Mississippi just south of Clinton, Iowa. As the sun rose higher into the sky and the haze thinned, the visibility improved greatly. Still, I was used to our wonderful visibility in the arid west, where seeing 100 miles plus is more common than not.

I gassed up in Kankanee with the cheapest 100LL I’ve ever purchased, $1.65 per gallon. There is a Flight Service Station on the field too, a rarity today with all the cost saving closures.

From Kankanee I headed almost due east through Indiana, crossing though Ft. Wayne’s class C airspace, after talking to approach control. A few hours later and I was on the radio with Akron’s approach and cleared to enter their class C airspace. I landed and tied down as I would be leaving the plane there for close to a week.

The match at Kelbly’s range went well. This is the biggest bench rest match of the year with about 350 registered shooters. I shot well, finishing 23rd in the 2-gun and 8th in the Heavy Varmint class. A highlight for me was standing in front of the computer printed results on the “wailing wall” after the 200 yard Heavy Varmint event. When the results for a yardage are first posted on the wall there is always a crowd of shooters wanting to see where they placed. I was no exception. Gun writer Jim Carmichael was standing nearby and as I was looking at the computer printed list he asked me if I could see where he placed. I asked him his competitor number and found that he had placed 9th out of 350 shooters. He asked how I had finished and since I hadn’t found my own number before I checked Jim’s, I quickly looked and found my standing. I got a grin on my face and said: “Eighth Jim, just in front of you.” We were both quite happy with our performances.

Jim Carmichael is one of the few professional gun writers that I have respect for. Jim is a very experienced big game hunter and he also shoots in competitive bench rest matches. Most gun writers sit at their desks and write. Jim actually gets out and shoots and hunts. I’ve shoot with Jim at the Super Shoot and also at the Williamsport, Pennsylvania 1000 yard bench rest range.

The evening before the Heavy Varmint 200 yard event, Jim had invited me to his motor home for a visit. He recounted that he had just returned a few days earlier from a Prairie Dog hunt in Wyoming and flew back to Ohio in time for the big match. Jim writes for Outdoor life and is just their 3rd Shooting Editor. He was preceded by notables Jack O’Conner and Col. Townsend Wehlen. We had a nice time and wished each other good luck for the upcoming 200 yard Heavy varmint.

When the week of shooting was over and it was time to head home the weather didn’t look promising along my intended route. I wanted to return to Iowa and visit with my Dad and brothers again. But there were some nasty thunderstorms across Indiana and Illinois. After consulting with Flight Service I decided to head north through Michigan and then turn west when I could, possibly near Green Bay, Wisconsin.

I left Akron and headed northwest towards Detroit, neatly skirting Cleveland’s class B airspace using my GPS. I crossed Lake Erie headed towards London, Ontario with Flint, Michigan plugged into the GPS. Just south of Flint I turned west and had intentions of crossing Lake Michigan and landing at Green Bay for fuel. But the closer I got to the Lake the darker the horizon looked. I decided to land at Manistee, Michigan which is on the eastern shore of lake Michigan. I fueled up and called Flight Service. The briefer suggested a northerly route and crossing the lake using the “Island Route”. They also encouraged me to file a “Lake Crossing Flight Plan”. Once over the lake I was to activate this special flight plan and report to Flight Service every ten minutes. If they didn’t hear from me they would immediately dispatch the Coast Guard to my last position. The “Island route” commenced just north of Traverse City, Michigan over a peninsula and followed a sparse group of small islands north to a much bigger island, known as Beaver Island. Beaver Island was large enough to have a small town and airport. Once I made the airport on the island I turned west and headed for Schoolcraft, Michigan on the upper peninsula of Michigan. I suppose I was actually over water about 50 minutes and had climbed to 6500 feet to maintain radio contact. Once my feet were dry I cancelled the special lake flight plan. I was still under my original VFR flight plan though. I filed VFR flight plans for my entire trip.

I was now on a heading for Duluth, Minnesota. I flew over some beautiful country in northern Wisconsin, staying just south of Lake Superior. This area is flat but has numerous small lakes and is for the most part, forested. I did cross the western tip of Superior before landing in Duluth.

I topped off in Duluth and headed west again towards North Dakota. Amazingly I still had a tail wind. I flew over northern Minnesota over thousands of small lakes and some not so small, such as Leach Lake. I enjoyed navigating with the GPS but also picking out the small towns and lakes on my chart as I passed over. I always knew where I was.

With the tail wind I decided I could make Bismark, North Dakota before I ran low on fuel and while there was still good evening light. I was just north of the Fargo, North Dakota airport when I entered Dakota country. It reminded me of a stop I’d made there years ago in a heavy rainstorm flying a Cherokee Warrior. I was on my way home from a bench rest match on that trip too.

I spent the night in Bismark, having made many miles that day from Akron. I didn’t calculate the mileage but it had to have been over 1000 miles that long May day.

I was in the air the next morning at 8:00 and on a course for Miles City, Montana. The air was very smooth and it was a relatively short flight into Montana. I topped off with gas and called home on the cell phone. Before long I was in the air again headed for Helena. As it turned out I could have made a straight shot in to Plains from Miles City but I wasn’t counting on the continued tail wind. A fuel stop in Helena would be welcome should the winds turn to their normal westerly direction. But the tail wind stayed with me all the way to Helena.

I contacted the tower at Helena about 20 miles out and who should I hear on the radio a short while later but my friend Jim Tlumach from Plains in his Cessna 182. The night before I’d called Jim and told him my plans. He’d called Flight Service and checked to see if I had a flight plan. Based on that he timed his arrival into Helena with mine. We talked to each other on 122.75 most of the way home. That ole tail wind stayed with me until I got to the Mission Mountains. It was a short flight on into Plains from there.

In all I flew a very enjoyable 33 hours on this trip, saw most of my Midwest family and shot well at the match too.