Sneaking in, Safely — A Soggy Saturday Didn’t Stop One Cirrus From Arriving

By John W. Conrad

The skies had barely lifted and thunder still rumbled in the
distance when the Cirrus SR22, piloted by 22-year-old Steven Noonan of Western
Michigan University, entered the downwind from the Fisk transition, made a
tight base leg turn, and touched down precisely on the purple dot, as directed
by the tower. On any other Saturday before AirVenture, Steve would have been
one of many thousands to land at the busiest airport in the world. But today he
was alone. Rather than being shuttled off to general aviation parking, he was
directed up Taxiway A-2, air show center, directly in front of Boeing Plaza. There
was a feeding frenzy of volunteers in day-glow vests to direct him in — 20
volunteers, one airplane. Through it all, Steve seemed remarkably calm and

What should have been one of the busiest arrival days of AirVenture was washed out when a low pressure area swung a cold front in from the northwest and the front encountered warm tropical air from the southeast. The spectacular collision of air masses resulted in 50-knot winds, 2.5 inches of rain, and, needless to say, the cancellation of (almost) all flights into Wittman Regional Airport. One might reasonably wonder how it was that Steve was able to pull it off. Good flight planning, good equipment, the right resources, and professionalism seemed to be the answer.

Steve departed Battle Creek, Michigan, on an IFR flight plan and
arrived at Madison, Wisconsin, in front of the approaching storm. After lunch,
he used all the weather radar sites available to track the storm as it moved
over Oshkosh. When the line of thunderstorms passed he loaded up his student co-pilot
and two passengers and flew VFR at 3,500 feet over a few scattered clouds at 1,800
feet and beneath a 5,500-foot overcast. It sounds easy when you read it — a
piece of cake. But, as anybody who has been there knows, it’s much more than
that. Good pilots make it look easy.

Steve began flying in the Education for Employment program at Portage Central High School south of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He holds a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating and instrument flight instructor certificate. Though he just graduated with his bachelor’s degree this spring, he has been teaching in the aviation department at Western Michigan University for the last two years amassing 600 hours of flying time. While in college he was part of the Army ROTC program and is now a member of the Michigan National Guard, awaiting flight training in CH-47 Chinook helicopters. He is also part of the Delta Propel program for aspiring airline pilots. Steve was charged with bringing its flagship Cirrus SR22, Generation II, to AirVenture for display at the WMU exhibit. Western Michigan University operates a fleet of 28 SR20s for primary training. For more information, stop by its booth or check it out on the web at

Reflecting back on the flight Steve said, “It was a good real-life
flying experience away from the college (flight training) environment. PIC
(pilot in command) decisions had to be made, I had to be careful not to
overload my student co-pilot, and the passengers had to be attended to, while
making safety the first priority of the flight,” he added.

Stop by the Western Michigan University booth along “college row”
just southeast of the EAA Blue Barn. Say hello to Steve, thank him for his
safe, professional flight, and take a look at the bright future of aviation.

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