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Fly High and Fast – Vol. II Chapter 35 – Medical Flight Willow Run Airport, Detroit, Michigan USA

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JJ Meehan
WEB Site
The Meehan Family

One winter day, I believe it was a Wednesday in 1988, I got a call from Wathan Flying Service asking if I could fly a medical flight to Detroit, Michigan USA.  There was a patient needing transfer from a Detroit Hospital to the University of Iowa Hospital.  I checked my schedule and told my Administrative Assistant to move two meetings and headed for the airport.

I spent the next hour checking the weather and filing my flight plan.  The weather was bad.  Low Ceilings 200 ft with 1/2 mile visibility at most airports along the route.  I had to pick Memphis Tennessee for may alternate which had to be at least 1,500 ft and a mile visibility.   Icing was reported along the route, mainly from aircraft taking off and landing.  Detroit Metro was the closest large airport and it was below minimums.  The only good news was that the ceilings were reported to be 5,500 ft for almost the whole route.

Willow Run use to be the main airport in Detroit and had been the Ford Assembly Plant for the B-24 (The Liberator) during World War II.  You can watch a great video on the B-24 at “The Liberator”.  This is an amazing story.  They were able to produce a bomber every 55 minutes.  Most of the assembly workers where women since the men were away fighting the war.  My cousin, Grace Joan Nicholson Plant worked at the plant.  You can read her story at Grace Joan Nicholson.    Another cousin, Pat Doyle is the historian for Ford and has written several good books.   If you are interested you can read about Pat at Pat Doyle.  I was born in Detroit and always enjoyed a chance to go back to the area.  The city of Detroit is still having major problems but the suburbs are some of the prettiest places you will find anywhere.

The route of the flight from Cedar Rapids to Willow Run was a line from Cedar Rapids, Iowa USA to a point just south of Joliet, Illinois, USA, north of South Bend Indiana and then Willow Run.  Flight time was just over 2 hours.

The plane was my old friend – Baron 6WW.  We had by this time flow several thousand hours together.  The back was setup with a stretcher for the patient and one seat for the nurse.   I departed around 10:30 am and was in clear blue sky as I climbed through 5,000 ft on the way to 7,000 ft.  My call sign was 6 Whiskey Whiskey (6WW).  This would become Life Flight 6 Whiskey Whiskey on the return flight from Willow Run.   The following pictures were taken on my flight to North Caroline a few years earlier.  There is something special about being above the clouds in clear blue sky.

Willow Run is still a large airport, similar to Midway in Chicago.  Today, it handles freight and charter services.   The approach was very low IFR.  Ceiling was reported at 200 ft and visibility was just 1/2 mile or 2500 RVR.  Icing was reported by all aircraft during decent.  I was vectored for final and I turned on my heated propellers and Window Shield.  The boots used to remove ice from the wings only worked when you had an accumulation.   During the decent I would use use the boats a lot and the areas that were not covered by boots had accumulated about 2 inches of ice.  For this reason I keep the speed higher than normal for the approach.  I’ve included the low approach video on the right to give you an idea of what it looks during a low approach.

After we landed, we were given taxi instructions to the area where the ambulance was waiting.  They had moved it into a hanger so that we could transfer the patient inside the hanger.  The FBO was located in the area below that is marked “Arrow Freight – Kalitta Air Lic.  This was good since I also needed to deice the plane.   The plane needed to be completely ice free for our take-off.

Both the transfer and the deicing from the heat in the hanger took about 25 minutes.  During this time I checked the weather and filed my IFR Flight plan to Cedar Rapids.  They also refueled the plane while I was in the hanger.  The staff at the FBO were very freely and helpful.  They hosed the plane down with de-icier fluid and fill my thermos with coffee.

We were airborne in about 2:30 pm (eastern time).  I was not officially known as “Life Flight 6WW (6 Whiskey Whiskey).

Life Flight 6WW took off with 1/2 miles of visibility and a ceiling of 200 to 300 ft.  We picked up about 1/2 inch of ice on the climb and broke out on top at 5,500 ft.  Our cruising altitude was 8,000 ft.  The route of our flight was just the reverse of our flight to Willow Run (South Bend, south of Jolliet, Moline and then Cedar Rapids.  Flight time was just about 2 1/2 hours.  We landed around 4:00 pm in Cedar Rapids in light snow with a ceiling of 500 and maybe 1 mile visibility.  Again we made the transfer in the hanger to the ambulance.  I was heading back to the office around 4:30 pm.

This was one of my most memorable flights.  It was good to visit Detroit area where I was born but more memorable to have had a chance to be involved with a medical transfer.  The nurse and the patient both told me that the flight was smooth and comfortable.  I felt good to have been involved in a medical flight.  I have always been impressed by our Air Traffic Control (ATC) System.  The System handles a huge number of aircraft each day and they do it with a professional skill that is almost remarkable.  There is always room for improvement but the ATC has a remarkable record of safety and the controllers should be proud of their profession.  They have helped me more than once.

You can find links to my other blogs on flying on my WEB Site –  “Flying High and Fast”

Please contact me with comments or questions at mfmeehan@live.com.


Written by jjmeehan13

June 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Flying

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