5 States and 510 Airports in 55 Days Over 3 Years

Michael Haubrich, EAA 1169382, based in Racine, Wisconsin, decided to learn how to fly in 2015.

“I took up light sport because it was the easiest way to get into it, and also, I didn’t have to worry about getting a medical, and Racine Sport Flyers is based less than a mile from my office,” Michael said. “I eventually went on to get my private pilot license.”

In 2017, when Wisconsin launched their airport passport program, Michael decided it was the perfect challenge to build hours, experience new airports, meet new people, and improve his piloting skills.

“I was flying around a lot anyway and I had already owned my own plane, so it gave me an excuse to go fly around a bit,” Michael said.

13 months later, Michael finished Wisconsin and became the second fixed-wing pilot to finish after the state started its program.

Michael completed Wisconsin and went on to complete the challenge in North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota in his 2009 Flight Design CTLS. Michael’s CTLS has a maximum crosswind capability of 15 kts, burns five gallons of fuel per hour cruising at 110kts, and has a maximum useful fuel load of 32 gallons.

Wisconsin: Started in September 2017. 124 airports over 13 months.

Michael said participating in the Fly Wisconsin Airport Passport Program allowed him the opportunity to experience new airports and take in new sights that he otherwise would not have thought about visiting.

“Boulder Junction was one that stuck out in my head because there’s nothing there, you land and you still don’t know that you’re there,” Michael said. “I mean, it’s just cut out of the woods, and there really isn’t much there. There are no apparent markings at all. Needless to say, I could not locate the stamp so I had to use a photo to document my landing.”

Michael said when he visited La Crosse (KLSE), he experienced a situation that was a real learning experience.

“We hit the wingtip vortices from a regional jet landing, and it was a chain of events that taught me a very valuable lesson,” Michael said. “I will have no reservation to tell a tower I cannot comply to their instructions. I wish I’d have done that. It would have made it a lot less exciting for my wife and myself.

“I was inbound from the east while a Cessna 172 was inbound from the west ahead of me,” Michael explained. “The tower instructed me to report midfield right downwind to Runway 04. I was to follow the 172 that was on left base to Runway 04. All of a sudden, the tower called out to the 172 that he missed the runway and immediately instructed me to execute a left 360 hold for spacing. I was then instructed to change to Runway 36 and follow a regional jet.  To handle the direct crosswind of around 12 kts I planned on landing with 0 flaps for better control.  From my position, I couldn’t see where the regional jet touched down as I was on right base so I was guessing where the wake turbulence would end.  Just as I was in ground effect to touch down, I hit the wake turbulence and it got under the wing and pitched us up in the air.  Fortunately, I made the correct control inputs by reflex along with a 150 by 8,700-foot runway allowing a landing recovery.”

Michael said you never know when you practice emergency maneuvers during your flight training if you’re really going to be able to do it when you really have to.

“The good news is I did exactly what I was supposed to do without having to think, but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t scary,” Michael said. “Events like that and landing at airports where conditions were different than forecasted, makes me way more cautious and way more respectful of the weather and how uncertain it really is. No matter what you think, don’t ever underestimate Mother Nature. Don’t underestimate it. You’re doing that at your own peril.”

North Dakota: Completed 89 airports from July 12, 2019 – July 26, 2019.

When it came to choosing his second state to cross off his list, Michael turned to his wife, Tami, and said, “What do you think about doing a vacation in North Dakota?”

With Tami on board, they started planning for their next adventure. On day one, Michael and Tami hit 15 airports.

“It was very hot and humid, the air quality was really bad, and I was recovering from an upper respiratory infection, so we decided it was smart to take a little break for a few days, and finish up the following week,” Michael said.

Michael said the requirement to complete the program in North Dakota was to fly to all the airports, although it was not required to land at each airport if the conditions were not considered safe.

“You didn’t have to land, because it was all about being safe,” Michael said. “I remember one airport (Arthur, 1A1), it was outside of Fargo, and I was on short final for this little grass strip after making my radio call, and a local pilot radioed me to do a low pass to check it out because it turns into a rice patty when it rains and it had rained the night before. It was really a salvation, because when I was coming at it, I looked at it and thought ‘Boy, this is a nice, lush runway, no problem with this.’ Well, after doing a low pass, I could see how wet it was and I would have gotten stuck in there.”

Michael said he really enjoyed North Dakota’s airport passport program.

“They issued these weatherproof type mailboxes that were part of the program for the FBO’s in the airports,” Michael said. “They had stamps and extra passport books in there. The books said where you could find the mailbox with the stamp, and you’d find it in the craziest places. They would be zip tied to the windsock pole, or it could be anywhere. It was a little bit of a challenge in trying to find some of them. Overall, the program was really well organized.”

Michael said the most challenging and memorable airport in North Dakota was Gackle (9G9).

“Gackle was the one that required an intense use of piloting, navigation and performance planning with weight and balance because of where it was located,” Michael said. “It was a 1,150-foot turf runway completely surrounded by water. After landing I found out it had nearly a foot of grass along with a density altitude of around 5,000 feet. The real concern was departing on that short runway.” 

If you want to see what Gackle was like that day, Michael’s videos of both landing and departing that are on his YouTube channel.

Michael and Tami were able to complete North Dakota just in time for AirVenture, making it back to attend on the 27th.

Iowa: Completed 106 airports in three weekends.

Michael decided to make Iowa his third state to tackle. On the first weekend of August, he embarked on his mission.

The complete opposite of North Dakota, Michael said this was the easiest state to finish. This state’s program didn’t use stamps to document visits, rather pilots keep track using their logbook. Unlike the other states, touch-and-goes were permitted.

“I could knock out 25 airports in a day, because it literally was touch and goes,” Michael said.

Michael broke this challenge up over three weekends: August 23-25, October 4-7, and October 25-26.

“I flew the first weekend by myself, [my friend] Robbie Steger joined me and we shared 30 hours of the 50 hours it took to complete Iowa,” Michael said. “The first leg, I landed at Clinton, then flew across the state east to west landing at 14 airports. That weekend I completed 37 airports. On October 5, Robbie and I waited out weather in Des Moines visiting Iowa Aviation Heritage Museum at Ankeny airport then flew to 49 airports over the next few days.”

Michael and Robbie returned at the end of the month to finish up the remaining 40 Iowa airports. Michael said he really enjoyed exploring Iowa, especially the towns of Pella, Greenfield, and Ankeny.

“The big surprise was Pella where I took a lunch break taking what was a really nice courtesy car into the downtown area,” Michael said. “Downtown was very quaint with the feeling of being in Holland.  There were a couple of local bakeries and a butcher shop with its own smoke house. I learned that a couple of related families owned a number of the businesses including a B&B that I have on my bucket list to check out.”

“Robbie and I visited two outstanding aviation museums, Iowa Aviation Museum in Greenfield and Iowa Aviation Heritage Museum in Ankeny,” Michael said. “These are well worth visiting and spending a few hours at each.  Iowa Aviation Museum has a hangar full of vintage airplanes and loads of photos and books.  You could spend days there and still probably not explore everything. Iowa Aviation Heritage Museum in Ankeny is smaller but is still worth the trip. They still have vintage planes but not as great as Greenfield.  If you can only see one, be sure it is Iowa Aviation Museum in Greenfield.”

Minnesota: Completed 130 airports July 3-6, and July 13-21, 2020.

On July 3, Michael flew into Minneapolis/St. Paul (KMSP), his first Class B airport.

“I landed at MSP airport with another pilot, Greg Mallowsky, as co-pilot along with 10 other airports in the Minneapolis area,” Michael said. “This was the first Class B airport I ever landed in.  We covered more than two miles in taxiing. We also visited Flying Cloud Museum where I saw the finest P-51 restoration I have seen.”

Michael spent his Independence Day landing at 22 airports.

“The heat index was over 95 degrees,” Michael said. “I started flying at 7 a.m., East Gull Lake (9Y2) was a very pretty turf runway parallel to a golf course driving range. This was the second to last airport of the day arriving at 6:45 p.m.. The last airport and where I overnighted was Brainerd ending at 7:50 p.m.  The day consisted of over 12 hours including breaks. Overall, 425 miles were covered.”

“July 3, 4, and 5 felt like North Dakota,” Michael said. “I was having upper respiratory issues again, the air quality was bad so I came back to Wisconsin, recovered for a few days, went back out on the 13th and then finished up.”

Michael said at one point he wasn’t sure if he would be able to complete Minnesota. He experienced some of the worst wind conditions he had ever seen on July 15.

“At a place called Tower in Minnesota by Vermilion Lake, that was a time when I literally had to do some serious contemplation on just quitting,” Michael said.

That morning, Michael flew from Hibbing (KHIB), over to Two Harbors (KTWM) on Lake Superior, to Grand Marais (KCKC), flew across Boundary Waters, and landed at Ely (KELO) where he faced the strongest crosswinds he had encountered yet. From there, Michael saw an opportunity to land at Tower (12D).

“I saw that the wind was pretty much close to direct, based on the runway orientation,” Michael said. “I got that down on the ground and from noon until the next morning at 6:00 a.m., I couldn’t depart, and ended up staying overnight there; that was not scheduled. That was really a point in time where there was not weather reporting there. Contacting flight service to try to figure out what my next moves were, was not real successful either. It was really difficult to be able to plan it out. I realized, in Minnesota, you fly early in the morning, crack of dawn, until about 11:00, and then you put the plane down until about 3:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon and don’t even bother trying to deal with the afternoon winds. They were just too intense.”

South Dakota: Completed 72 airports in two weeks.

Michael completed South Dakota in two trips: September 19-22 (59 airports), and October 9-14 (13 airports with wife, Tami).

Michael was eager to bring Tami back to South Dakota to finish not only the state’s program, but to celebrate his five-state accomplishment with her and Tami was excited to be present when he put the last stamp in the last book.

Due to wind gusts of over 50 mph, the couple also spent two full October days exploring Rapid City including a visit to the Journey Museum. 

“That was a great museum and we were there on October 14, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Michael said. “We learned a lot about South Dakota history.”

They were able to do a fly-over of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial monument before gusting winds once again forced them to ground.

“The winds in South Dakota are something I won’t soon forget,” Michael said. “But it’s a beautiful state and a great place to end the five-state challenge I set out to do.”

In total Michael logged 36 hours of flying over 3,400 miles in South Dakota.

Gold Level Finalist

Michael finished each state as a gold level finalist.

To earn a gold status in Wisconsin, participants must fly into 125 airports, visit at least three aviation attractions, and attend at least three FAA seminars to earn a leather jacket, a flight bag, and patch.

In Minnesota, participants must fly into 130 airports (of 136), visit at least six aviation attractions, and attend at least six FAA seminars to earn a leather jacket, flight bag, and gold status.

The Fly Iowa Challenge sponsored by Iowa Aviation Promotion Group requires participants to at least touch and go at all 109 airports in order to achieve gold status and receive a leather jacket.

FLY South Dakota Airports program sponsored by the South Dakota Pilots Association challenges pilots to fly into all 74 airports, visit four museums, and attend four safety seminars before earning gold status and an “I Flew SD” patch and $100 gift certificate.

The Fly North Dakota Airports passport program requires participants competing for gold status to fly into all 89 airports, visit two air museums, and attend  FAAST seminars.

Michael said he would encourage all pilots to challenge themselves to complete their local I Fly/Airport Passport programs.

“The people were wonderful, the things I saw were wonderful,” Michael said. “I would encourage pilots to consider doing something like this. Maybe they don’t do it as maniacal as I did it. But, take some time and see some of these communities that are out there in the middle of nowhere. When you fly into these little communities and they hear what you’re doing, the local population, most of the time they’ll bend over backwards to help you. It’s just amazing. It was a pretty unbelievable experience.”

Participating as a student pilot

Michael’s wife, Tami Witt accompanied him for the entire duration of the North Dakota trip, and participated in some of the flying in Wisconsin and South Dakota as well.

“I decided to get my student pilot license when we were at SUN n’ FUN in 2019,” Tami said. “I attended some safety seminars and things while I was there, and I thought, wow, this is this was really compelling. I thought, it’s time to up the ante and get my student pilot license and at least learn enough to know my way around the cockpit enough to be helpful should anything ever happen that I need that skill.”

Tami said she had quite a bit of time under her belt as a passenger before embarking on the North Dakota challenge, but this was truly her first time where she felt like an “aware” passenger.

“This was the first time [flying] with more of a student perspective in mind,” Tami said. “So, it just heightened my awareness, I was watching for different things and was in more of a learner mode than a passenger mode. I was listening to the communications, kind of with a different set of ears, I was I was trying to be more alert and aware of what was happening with weather, what was happening with orders from the tower and taxiing procedures and all of those kinds of things.”

For Tami, this was the most flying she had ever done in a short period of time.

“The biggest difference in North Dakota, was the number of landings and takeoffs in all different kinds of conditions on all different sorts of fields, in a concentrated period of time; that was a great learning experience,” Tami said. “I didn’t do any of the landings, Mike was very much so the PIC but I think that a lot of students may not have quite that depth of exposure to all those different types of fields and conditions and surfaces.”

Tami said flying in North Dakota opened her up to a whole new world she never knew existed.

“I saw parts of the state that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten to see under any other set of circumstances, and there’s kind of a community that forms around when you go to places and people kind of just willingly accept you and greet you,” Tami said. “Anytime we encountered anyone, they were genuinely interested in what we were doing. They were fascinated to talk with us and hear about the plane, many of the people we encountered never saw a CTLS like ours and they wanted to know how it performed, what the capacity was and how we packed. It was cool, the graciousness and hospitality of the people we encountered was a highlight.”

Tami said the other fun part of taking on a challenge like this was fulfilling the educational requirements that each state had.

“There’s a certain number of museums that you have to visit that are part of the requirements, and safety seminars and things like that, and just being able to sit in on some of those; the seminars or the workshops or, being able visit the museums and learning about aviation and how it came up in different areas of the country, that’s fascinating,” Tami said. “I love museums of all sorts, I love history, so that was not a chore to me, that was a highlight being able to do that, because I don’t know that we would have necessarily made a special trip to someplace to go to an aviation museum.”

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