Midwest and Great Lakes Autumn Adventure

In Autumn 2023, Katherine and I (and our dog Magic) took our 1984 Mooney M20J on a flying 'road trip' from Orlando, FL all around the Midwest/Great Lakes area, to Toronto, Chicago, Minneapolis, and several other stops along the way. Lots of photos and details about the flights linked below.

Trip Overview Photos

Heading North

Heading North

A long day of flying to Niagara Falls, with stops in Georgia and West Virginia.

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes

Toronto, Detroit, and Fort Wayne, with views of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

The Upper Midwest

The Upper Midwest

Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison.

Heading Home

Heading Home

A quick stop in Cincinnati and then homeward bound.

About Us

We are Ryan, Katherine, and Magic!

About Us
About Us

A little bit about me

I bought my Mooney in January 2021 with the intention of making serious cross-country adventure flights with my wife and our dog (Magic, a Cavalier King Charles). Since then, we've been planning and taking long cross-country flying adventures, such as our flight all across the western US in 2021, our tour of the Northeast US in Summer 2022, and crossing the Rockies and landing in Leadville this summer. We've decided to make a big GA 'road trip' a sort of annual tradition for us. Our general goal is to visit all of the lower 48 states with the airplane, and eventually Alaska (which is probably next!).

Fortunately, we both work remotely as Engineering Managers, which makes the whole 'flying nomad' thing possible for us. (Both in terms of flexibility and the significant costs of endeavours like this) Other than these cross-country flights, most of my flying is instructional, I'm a part-time independent CFII in Orlando and I instruct a few days a week my own enjoyment and love of teaching.

For this trip, we set out from Orlando, FL on October 22nd with the goal of visiting Niagara Falls, Toronto, and a few other midwest states. My stretch goal was making some fun skyline flights in both Toronto and Chicago. This trip was originally planned for September, but an unexpected (leaky seals) propeller overhaul necessitated a delay to late October. Given the later season, the goal was to see as much as possible while avoiding any possible icing or snowy weather. (We avoided the ice, at least!) We had some relatively tight time constraints on this trip... we were attending our friend Abel's wedding on October 21st in South Florida, and we needed to be home for a trip to Peru no later than November 5th, so we made the best of it!

The Airplane

This is N374SM, our 1984 Mooney M20J.

  • 1984 Mooney M20J 201
  • Typical Cruise: 160 KTAS @ 12 gph
  • Fuel: 64 gal usable
  • Equipment: Garmin G3X Touch w/ EIS, GTN 650Xi, GFC 500 Autopilot, GTX 345, SiriusXM Datalink Weather
  • Extra Equipment: Garmin inReach Mini (for flight tracking and emergencies)

Trip Stats

  • Total Distance: 3,123 nm
  • Direct Distance: 2,881 nm
  • States Visited: 6 (and Ontario)
  • Hours Logged: 24.9 (All daytime, 2.1 IMC)
  • Total Days: 14
  • Flying Days: 9
  • Legs: 11 (5 VFR, 6 IFR)
  • Longest Leg: Cincinnati, OH (KLUK) to Orlando, FL (KORL) - 4.8 hrs - 653nm (direct) - 688nm (actual)
  • Longest Day: Orlando, FL (KORL) to Augusta, GA (KDNL) to Huntington, WV (KHTS) to Niagara Falls, NY (KIAG) - 7.6 hrs - 984 nm
  • Shortest Leg: Niagara Falls, NY (KIAG) to Toronto, ON (CYTZ) - 0.9 hrs - 37nm (direct) - 88nm (actual)
  • Approaches Flown: 0
  • Fuel Purchased: 252.0 gal - $1,695.82 ($6.73/gal avg)
  • FBO Services / Overnights / Fees - $571.53 (incl. 3 nights in CYTZ @ $80 CAD/night and 2 nights in a heated hangar in KANE)

Trip Legs

Leg 1 - Orlando, FL to Augusta, GA

Battling headwinds necessitated an early stop for fuel in Georgia.

Leg 2 - Augusta, GA to Huntington, WV

Over the Appalachians and into West Virginia and beautiful fall colors. Lunch in downtown Huntington.

Leg 3 - Huntington, WV to Niagara Falls, NY

A low-level flight up to the shores of Lake Erie, and then a flyover of Niagara Falls.

Leg 4 - Niagara Falls, NY to Toronto, ON

A short flight into Canada, with a landing at the dramatic downtown Toronto airport. Casa Loma and downtown Toronto.

Leg 5 - Toronto, ON to Detroit, MI

A short, cloudy leg to return to the USA. Exploring Detroit for a couple days.

Leg 6 - Detroit, MI to Fort Wayne, IN

A quick overnight stop in Indiana and trying out a local brewery.

Leg 7 - Fort Wayne, IN to Chicago, IL

A late morning flight to Chicago, including a flyby of the iconic Chicago skyline. Exploring Chicago and catching a performance of Hamilton.

Leg 8 - Chicago, IL to Minneapolis, MN

Beating a snowstorm on the way into Minneapolis. Magic's first snow experience!

Leg 9 - Minneapolis, MN to Madison, WI

A quick stop in Madison before heading back south.

Leg 10 - Madison, WI to Cincinnati, OH

A long, but easy leg, and meeting a friend in Cincinnati for Private Room Karaoke.

Leg 11 - Cincinnati, OH to Orlando, FL

Non-stop back to Orlando, over the Appalachians.

Final thoughts

This was a fun, but short trip! I really enjoyed seeing the fall colors throughout the country, which is something we really don't see in Florida. It wasn't quite the trip I was planning for September, but fall weather and icing threats constrained what we could do somewhat. Overall, I'm glad we were able to do it and our weather luck was pretty good overall! We've now been to 45 states and 3 Canadian provinces in the airplane and I think we will definitely hit all of the lower 48 soon :) GA flying is a great way to see the country!