valley fog
4 min read
valley fog

A great way to start the day–flying over the valley fog in a Cub.

I’ve been working at Sporty’s for over 10 years. It’s hard to get a group of pilots to agree to sit on the ground and answer other pilots’ questions all day without letting them go fly every now and then. About once a month, we are able to convince Hal that we need to test some of the latest products we’ve developed or see if that headset is really as good as they claim.

After all, Sporty’s doesn’t sell anything we don’t test first. The only way to test most products is by flying with them. We often use the opportunity to go grab breakfast at a neighboring airport, so I’ve become a connoisseur of the standard meal: Biscuits and Gravy. For all you who have not had the pleasure yet, you take two warm, flaky, buttermilk biscuits, split them in half, and cover them with white sausage gravy. The best gravy is so thick you can eat it with a pitchfork.

Departing Sporty’s and taking off on Runway 22 at Clermont County Airport puts you in the perfect position to be on top the valley fog as the earth falls away from the end of the runway. Today’s destination lies up the Ohio River in Portsmouth, Ohio (PMH), not because of their 5000-foot runway or friendly waitresses, but rather the route we often take to get there. You see, Sporty’s airport lies at 840 feet MSL, while the river is down around 450 feet. The only hills in our corner of the state are mainly due to erosion.

So “flying the river” means we can get a little lower than usual and enjoy some valley flying. It’s not rare to see a thick layer of fog on top of the river. With many of the smoke stacks from the coal plants billowing over 600 feet, it can be quite a sight. I often find myself wondering what the locals think when they see three aircraft that look nothing alike flying along in a horrible V-formation.

Our squadron is usually anywhere between two and five aircraft. Pilots, enthusiasts, first-timers…all are welcome. Early morning departures are a must, for we still have a full day of work to get in once we get back. As the sun peeks up over the horizon, the planes are in the air and beginning to rendezvous.

The type of planes are different every time. We’ve had Cessna 172s, a Skycatcher, an R44, a Citabria, a Cirrus, a Pacer, and even a Cub. Once in the same vicinity, we hook up in a loose formation (one that would make most warbird pilots roll on the ground laughing) and start meandering our way upstream. The taildragger and helicopter pilots always claim a service ceiling of less than 1000 feet AGL, so low and slow is the only way to go.

biscuits and gravy

The airport diner favorite–Biscuits and Gravy.

Undoubtedly on 123.45, the pilot chatter starts up. If you don’t have thick skin and witty comebacks, you’ll become an easy target. Everybody has an opinion about Tom’s freshly waxed bird, and if his wife really knows what those headsets cost. Did Kurt bring his flaps back up this time? Your gear looks a little low. I think your rudder is on upside down. My yaw damper must be broken. And don’t forget every Airplane (Surely, you can’t be serious) and Top Gun (I feel the NEED) movie quote you have ever heard. If you’re recording the open band, you’ll probably have a great late night show script by the time we’ve made the round trip.

Most airport diners have three things in common: friendly people, terrific food and cheap prices. It always amazes me the amount of money pilots will spend on fuel for the plane, but we always want to cheap out on fuel for ourselves. It’s hard to spend more than $6 at an airport cafe on a good breakfast. That’s the same cost as a 10 knot headwind. We’ll spend $120 in gas on a round trip to complain about spending $9.50 for a big burger and fries.

The return trip is usually not as rewarding. The sun is up, the valley fog starts to rise, the magic of flight fades slightly. Our new destination is still a lot of fun, but Sporty’s doesn’t sell Biscuits and Gravy. Back to Sporty’s to request permission for a fly by (the line guys don’t think it’s funny anymore). It won’t be long before we decide to make another run. Maybe this time we’ll hit Urbana (I74) for a buffalo burger at lunch time? Anyone want to meet us at 1500 feet over the river?

Doug Ranly
Latest posts by Doug Ranly (see all)
11 replies
  1. Richard D. Goller, Jr.
    Richard D. Goller, Jr. says:

    Sounds like fun. I love biscuits and gravy with basted eggs, sausage, bacon, and ham. I also love preflighting my bird before dawn and being airborne to see the sunrise while those below me are still in the dark.

  2. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    Yeah, I call it dawn patrol. My favorite destination is Puyallup, Washington. On the deck early in the morning, before anyone else is there, with a great view of Mt. Rainier (that’s 14,000′ for you flatlanders) and a cup of coffee in hand; after making a perfect flight, of course. Could drive there, but it’s not the same.

    I would question your use of 123.45 for air-to-air though. That frequency has been assigned for other uses.

  3. Joe
    Joe says:

    123.45 is reserved for air to air comm for flight over remote or oceanic areas that are out of range of VHF stations. No part of US is concidered out of range. It’s an easy one to remember but not the right freq to use. Happy flying.

  4. Art Pauly
    Art Pauly says:

    Launch at 6:30am on a Saturday morning from Lincoln, Ca in my Ercoupe. Windows down, 20 minutes to Willows, CA for breakfast at the Willows Airport Cafe. Then back to Lincoln with a side trip over the Sutter Buttes. Great way to start the weekend.

    • Peter T
      Peter T says:

      Ah yes, Willows is a top destination! The ultimate dusty strip with the best airport cafe/truck stop. And you can just hear the ag pilots laughing as they dive bomb through your short approach!

  5. John P
    John P says:

    I live very close to PMH and have spent a lot of time (years) in the Ohio River valley flying. The power plants really don’t like small planes that close and watch those electric wires crossing the river valley. Great place to fly. Hope your not teaching your students bad habits.

  6. Steve
    Steve says:

    Great stuff. As a local pilot (based at 40I) you’ve nailed some of the best destinations in the region. We’ve been to Urbana more times than I can count and just finally made it to Portsmouth last month ( Admittedly, I’m not much of a morning person and tend to fly out for lunch or dinner… but the morning fog sure is an awesome sight.

  7. Hank
    Hank says:

    PMH does a good breakfast. I’m there frequently for Sunday breakfast. Our group is usually 4-5 mixed planes, departing in rough cruise speed order to minimize passing. (That makes ATC nervous . . . ) Good home-style cooking all day, even the pie is good!

  8. Doug Ranly
    Doug Ranly says:

    Thank you for all the comments. The welcome mat is always out at Sporty’s. If you are looking for an excuse to fly, Sporty’s serves Metts, Brats, and hot dogs every Saturday from noon until two. Rain or shine, come on down and have a free dog on us.

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