Vacation Slapdash

Apr 30, 2019

More than anything else, I like to analyze things. An example: for the last ten minutes I've stood near the window of my hotel room south of San Francisco and watched airplanes on approach to SFO. I can't just watch them, though. I need data. So I pulled up my Plane Finder app so I could analyze their glide paths.

Yes, glide paths. I don't know why I care - call it aggressive curiosity - but I want to know why some of these airplanes are at 2,700 feet when they're seven miles out from the airport and why some are at 1,600 feet. At first I thought it was that regional jets come in high and hot (your Embraer 175's and such) while the big dogs rolled in low and slow, but then this Lufthansa from Frankfort to San Francisco (an Airbus A380-800) just flew by at 2,600 feet so now I don't know what to think.

The app shows me where they are on a map (and their altitude), so I know when an airplane is supposed to appear just about the hotel windows of the north wing of the hotel, and I was originally tracking this information by which hotel window they were above when the plane first appeared, but now I don't know what to think. My poor BIL's father (a commercial pilot) is going to get about 85 questions from me the next time I see him.

I'm not kidding - I could do this all day. My wife is at her training (we wrapped this California vacation around her work thing), and she's worried that I'm bored here in this hotel room, but I could honestly analyze this all day. It's not much different than an Illini football practice. "I will now watch seven defensive ends go through the same drill and rank them from 1-7 in my head. I will then take that information, combine it with the other 43 defensive end drills I've watched over the last few years, and come up with a depth chart."

I don't really have a point here. That's just how I'm spending my Tuesday while not working. Also, since I'm back in cell/data range, I'm catching up on all things Illini since Friday night. Such as...

Born For Leavin'

See, I knew there was a reason I forgot to add Dijon Brissett to my depth chart a few weeks ago. It's because... he's not really coming here. He flipped to Virginia.

Which makes sense - FCS kid at Richmond wants to give FBS football a shot, so he transfers 70 miles down the road to Charlottesville. Bronco Mendenhall, hired the same year as Lovie, I should add - went 2-10 his first year but then bowl game/bowl game in years two and three, so they obviously have much more to sell than we do.

Which means a wide receiver corps that was supposed to get a big boost from Jeff Thomas, AD Miller, Dijon Brissett, and Trevon Sidney will only get a boost from Sidney. This is a reminder that we're still Illinois, and if any guy on the football team wants to steal our prom date, they'll just go ahead and do it. Even Virginia football.

It should be noted that Brissett was the most far-fetched of the four. The jump from FCS to FBS is a large one. Personally, I gave Brissett two Tom Cruises (for comparison, I gave Sidney 3.5 Cruises), so this was, to me, the least-likely of the four to contribute in the Big Ten. But still, with three receivers no longer coming, Brissett could have been a big help.

I'm guessing the staff will continue to pursue graduate transfers. Looking at the transfer portal page at 247 Sports, there are currently 57 FBS wide receivers with a question mark next to their name (meaning they haven't chosen a destination yet), so I'd expect one of those names to announce that they're transferring to Illinois.

And then, three weeks later, announce that they're transferring to Oklahoma State instead.

January is on board in November and gone by April

I was surprised when I heard that Dijon Brissett would not be joining the football team. I was not surprised when I learned that Antwan January would not be joining the basketball team. From the moment he didn't sign in November (when he could have), something seemed fishy. Not Manti Te'o fishy - just that it didn't seem like this recruit was destined to play Division I basketball next season.

That might be the wrong read - January might pick another school this week, sign, qualify, and suit up in November. It's just that January wasn't playing high school basketball (so I couldn't follow his stats like I typically do for every recruit), he didn't sign in November and didn't sign when the spring signing period arrived a few weeks ago - he was so off the radar (and we were clearly looking at other options) that this announcement seemed inevitable.

So now the official roster (counting Kofi Cockburn, who is the only player signed so far) looks like this:

Seniors: Kipper Nichols, Andres Feliz
Juniors: Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams
Sophomores: Ayo Dosunmu, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Alan Griffin, Tevian Jones, Samba Kane
Freshmen: Anthony Higgs (redshirt freshman), Kofi Cockburn

If Bernard Kouma signs (he has verballed but hasn't signed), that makes 12. If TJ Holyfield picks Illinois (Underwood's former player at SFA, visiting this week), that makes 13. There are other number combinations (can Higgs return from injury or is it something that leads to medical scholarship? Is there a reason Kouma hasn't signed?), but those are the numbers for now. The simplest route to next year's roster: sign Kouma, beat Kansas and Texas Tech for Holyfield, 13 spots filled.

And if those are the numbers (meaning Holyfield would join Kipper and Feliz in the senior class), then this summer is all about finding two guards and a wing forward for the 2020 class. With maybe a fourth player thrown in there because Ayo will likely leave for the NBA.

Junior To Senior Leap

I'd say that both the men's tennis team and the men's golf team had similar seasons. Not up to par with what is expected, but decent nonetheless. And the conference seasons ended nearly the same as they do every year - tennis finishing second to Ohio State and golf winning the Big Ten.

This was certainly a subpar year for golf, and the streak of 11 consecutive NCAA Championships appearances is possibly in jeopardy. The Golfstat rankings currently have Illinois as the #27 team in the country, and only 30 teams make it through regionals and qualify for the NCAA's, so it's probably going to be close if the Illini are going to make it 12 years in a row.

Why a subpar year? Well, a couple reasons. The player who would have been the senior leader of this team, Edoardo Lipparelli, left the team two years ago to turn professional in Europe. So when Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy graduated last spring, there was, maybe for the first time in ten seasons, no real "this is so-and-so's team". There are three juniors, but none of them have stepped forward to where we could say "this is Bryan Baumgarten's team". Nothing like the Meyers and Hardys and Danielsons and Detrys and Campbells and Pieterses and Guthries of the past. Case in point: this is the first time since 2011 that the Big Ten Player of the Year wasn't an Illini player (Iowa's Alex Shaake won the award).

Hopefully that's just a one-year thing. I was quite happy to see them capture their 5th consecutive Big Ten title (and 10th out of 11 years). This was going to be the worst year of the last decade, so hopefully, with a rebound year next year, that streak stretches to 6-7-8 more years.

There will be some interesting roster decisions for Mike Small next season. The best case scenario: the juniors take a big step forward and have big senior years. Every great Illini golf team the last decade has had dominant seniors (except for 2017 when Hardy and Meyer took over leadership of the team as juniors). So if things go as things are supposed to go, Michael Feagles, Bryan Baumgarten, and Gio Tadiotto all have their best seasons as seniors.

But as strange as it sounds to say, it's possible that all of them could be squeezed out of the lineup? I mean, it won't happen, but here's what Mike Small has in front of him:

  • Adrien Dumont de Chassart (ADDC) was the co-medalist at the Big Ten Championships, meaning an Illinois player has won (or shared) the title nine years in a row. His World Amateur Golf Ranking is up to #72, by far the highest of the Illini players (Feagles is next at #267). He's likely the #1 player next season.
  • There's another Illini player in the top-100 of the WAGR, but he's not on the team yet. Signed recruit Jerry Ji from the Netherlands is #97 on that list. So it's possible that the #1 and #2 guys on the team next year are ADDC and Ji.
  • But don't forget about this year's breakout player Varun Chopra. The lowest-ranked recruit on the entire roster, Chopra came out of nowhere this spring to finish ahead of the rest of his teammates at several tournaments and find himself as the #1 player going into Big Tens. If he pushed his way ahead of all three juniors this season, no reason to not think he'll do the same next season.
  • And then there's still junior-to-be Brendan O'Reilly and rising sophomores Tommy Kuhl, Noah Gillard, and Luke Armbrust, all of whom pushed their way into the lineup at some point this season as Mike Small tinkered more than we've ever seen him tinker. In fact, with Bryan Baumgarten dealing with a bad back and shooting 78-80-80 over the weekend, perhaps we see one of these players in the lineup at regionals next weekend?

The bottom line: this is hopefully the weakest Illini golf team of the next five years. And hopefully that team still makes the NCAA's and uses it as a springboard to get back into matchplay (top eight teams at NCAA's) in 2020.

Which pretty much exactly describes the men's tennis team this spring. The seniors graduated, there weren't any juniors last season, which means that this senior-less team struggled at times but still found a way to host a regional (top-16 teams host regionals) for the 19th time. The script reads almost the same as golf:

No seniors, so the team looked to two juniors (Aleks Kovacevic and Zeke Clark) and one sophomore (Alex Brown) to lead the team. Brown began the season as the #1 player, but Kovacevic came on strong, taking over the #1 spot and climbing into the top-10 nationally in the rankings (he's currently listed as the #9 player in the country). Clark was the steady #3 all season, stepping up to meet the high expectations when he arrived (he was a top-5 recruit nationally).

Behind them, the 4-5-6 spots seemed to change weekly as Brad Dancer figured out his lineup. One week freshman Sipho Montsi was the guy pushing for the #4 spot and a regular place in the lineup. The next week it was junior Noe Khlif or freshman Keenan Mayo. Then it was junior Vuk Budic and sophomore Gui Gomes making a push.

Again, this is all very similar to golf. With no seniors, the roster seemed to change week-to-week. This was and experimental year which will hopefully lead to the "now there's a clear lineup and a clear direction" season next year. Tennis is the 15-seed heading into the NCAA Tournament (meaning they're aligned with #2 Texas in the Sweet 16), and hopefully next season will be a top-eight (or maybe even top-four) seed and a legitimate shot at the Final Four.

Overall, I'd say that tennis and golf were both slightly below their (lowered) expectations for the season. I was thinking that tennis could be maybe the 10th-best team and golf could hang on to the top-25. And I was maybe a little fooled by their early success (especially golf, which had a solid fall season). In the end, if tennis can make the Sweet 16 (they should) and golf can make the NCAA's (they should), then expectations met. Next year, junior to senior leap.

OK, now I'm over 2,000 words and I have no idea why. As per usual, this should be three posts (gets me three clicks!), but I can't even find it in me to do that. When the words come out of my fingers, they must immediately go up on the site. Phasing them as three different posts just seems wrong.

Which means I should probably mention subscriptions. My part of the deal is that I won't split things into three different posts just to get you to max out your monthly reads (also, NO ADS). Your part of the deal is that you won't ask to borrow your wife's work laptop so you can get five more free reads before the end of the month. If you're an occasional reader, keep on keepin' on with no subscription necessary. If you're a regular reader, we ask that you toss us a little something for the effort. $24 for unlimited reads for the full year.

If you find yourself doing the wife's laptop thing on a regular basis (or one of the many other ways around our leaky paywall), or if you've let your subscription lapse, this is me asking you to consider subscribing. All of the information on subscriptions is here. Or just click on that blue ticket over there in the corner to get started.

OK, back to watching airplanes.


Hoppy on April 30 @ 07:29 PM CDT

The airplanes are being sequenced on pre-determined paths through that particular airport’s airspace.

It may be tough to find because I’m pretty sure you have to buy them, but their are publications out there called the STAR (Standard Terminal Arrivals) and IAPs (Instrument Approach Procedures).

Every STAR has a starting point far away from the airport that gets closer and slowly brings a plane down to the correct altitude to start the approach. (IAP) Most of the STARS have set altitudes at certain points so a plane must be at 10,000 feet and 180 knots by point A then 3,300 feet and 140 knots by point B.

The whole idea is that if each plane is told to get on the “Frisco 4 Arrival” (I made that up), ATC has a better understanding of what each plane will do and when since it is all pre-determined in the STAR publication. (And because all pilots have access to the arrivals and know how to fly them...err really their auto pilot knows how to fly them)

Basically, it allows for sequencing far far out so planes don’t get stacked up on top of each other and have a collision.

The arrival procedure’s last point will dump the plane out on (usually) the first point of the IAP called the IAF (Initial Approach Fix). From there, the pilots are switched to tower control who monitors them as they stay on the predetermined path/altitude/speed of the IAP, until they land.

Why certain planes are put on certain arrival procedures largely has to do with weather, when they contact center control (for sequencing), how fast their plane can go (so they don’t get overtaken while on the arrival), plane performance (can it aggressively lose enough altitude that is required between 2 points?) and what runway/approach procedure it will be doing.


Source: I was a military aviator for 6 years.



uilaw71 on May 01 @ 06:49 AM CDT

So this explains Hoppy’s avatar on Loyalty!

Hoppy on May 03 @ 10:47 AM CDT


ktal on May 01 @ 09:41 AM CDT

Also, SFO has parallel runways, so Robert is most likely seeing aircraft arrive at two different Initial Approach Points, evidently separated by a thousand feet, (one at 1,600' and one at 2,600'), for approaches to different runways.

Hoppy on May 03 @ 10:48 AM CDT

I’m guessing that explains why some are higher and lower when Robert saw them. It’d be tough for him to tell which runway they were on from his vantage point.

Robert on May 01 @ 06:32 PM CDT

This is awesome. Thanks Hoppy.

I went a little overboard with this today. My wife was back at meetings this afternoon so I headed to the park by SFO, pulled up the SFO tower online, and listened to the tower direct takeoffs and landings while I watched it all happen.

I honestly could have done it for eight consecutive hours without getting bored.

Hoppy on May 03 @ 10:51 AM CDT

Listening to a good ATC or tower crew is a thing of beauty. It’s also probably one of the most stressful jobs out there.

Sometimes it’s tough to get a word in when you’re requesting clearance for takeoff. No matter how frustrated you get, you gotta treat those tower folks right or they will put you in the penalty box.

If you ever have an abnormally long wait time as you’re preparing for takeoff and it’s not maintenance related, you may have some rude pilots. =P

HailToTheOrange on May 01 @ 11:41 PM CDT

How long are you in the Bay Area Robert? I'm a scant 25 miles away from SFO (Berkeley). I could save you from the planes by buying you a beer or two :).

Glad to hear you enjoyed Yosemite BTW! I recommend a trip to Muir Woods if you have the time.

Bear8287 on May 02 @ 04:48 AM CDT

If you do go to Muir Woods, there's a nice hike (9.5 miles round trip) to Stinson Beach.

Also if you get a chance, Big Basin Redwoods State Park has several nice hikes of various lengths (and lots of big trees to see).

Norcal Illini on May 02 @ 01:44 PM CDT

Looks like we have several Bay Area readers among the IlliniBoard fans. Robert needs to tell us when he's in the area so we can all commiserate together.

HailToTheOrange on May 02 @ 06:32 PM CDT


Bear8287 on May 03 @ 02:23 AM CDT

+1 I infer that Joe Edge lives out here too. Would be fun.

Joe Edge on May 06 @ 02:21 PM CDT

I wish I still did.... lmao... I lived in the SF Bay area for nearly 20 years, and had a nice (but small) house about 1 1/2 blocks from the beach in Pacifica (does that qualify as a 'beach house' for betting purposes?). I love the Bay Area, but after the last big tech bust I had to leave - I was being 'aged-out' of the technology... LMAO. 12 years in China, and now back - but in the Seattle Puget Sound area.... (HINT: I love being near the water)

stuone19 on May 04 @ 01:18 AM CDT

As a fellow observer and data-lover, check out the flightradar24. It has this AR feature that will give you a live flight data overlay while just pointing your phone at the plane

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