Monday, July 09, 2012

Bringing Her Home

We’ve been back a few days and I’m still finding it hard to believe I went to California to pick up an airplane!

Phil has decided to sell the Chief which would have left me without a plane. I met Bruce and he was looking for a similar airplane to what I wanted. It didn’t take us long to find one that we wanted and next think I know we were on a Southwest Airlines flight to Oakland to pick it up!

As I boarded the 737, I couldn’t help having some second thoughts. Did I make the right choice? What if I get there and it’s not everything I wanted? The thoughts were unfounded. Joe, the seller, had told us everything about the plane ahead of time and was a completely honest, genuine guy and that sure makes these things easier!

When we walked out of the Oakland terminal, it was nice and cool. I wish I could have enjoyed that longer! Soon Joe had us on the freeway headed toward Tracy. After a quick stop for a bite to eat we were pulling through the airport security gate. When he opened the hangar I saw he had it covered in sheets and it was like a car show when they reveal the new model! I finally got my first peek and… Wow! Very pretty airplane. We spent a few hours going over the plane and looking through all of the things Joe had collected over his 25 years of ownership. In 25 years you acquire a few things!! We finally tired out and knew we had a long night ahead of us, so Joe took us to our hotel.

The next morning Joe picked us up and we headed back to the airport.  After a preflight, Joe jumped in the left seat and I took the right.  We taxiied out for a takeoff into the cool, smooth air.  (Not sure why I didn't bring some of that home with me!).  As Joe smoothly advanced the throttle, I was amazed at how smooth the engine was running.  We quickly lifted off and Joe took it around the pattern.  After he did on landing, I took over and flew a couple of t-n-gs.  It handled about the same as an 8A except I could tell it was heavier.  It liked 70 in the pattern, so that's what I used.  Nothing unexpected happened and I couldn't have been happier.  We taxiied back to the hangar to wrap up a few things and get ready for the long trip.

Bruce and I loaded our luggage and climbed in.  I fired up and we waved to Joe and headed toward the fuel pumps.  After fueling, we taxiied out.  One of the mags was a little rough, but nothing alarming, so we lined up and took off.  With both of us, our luggage, and full fuel we saw a longer takeoff roll, but still managed a 500'/min climb rate.  Not bad for 85 horses!

It was beautiful country and we quickly caught up to a couple of hot air balloon that had departed from Tracy as we were getting ready.  It must have been perfect flying over that beautiful country on such a nice, cool morning.

We were flying in between mountains and continually climbing so we could get over them when we were ready to turn east.  It was awesome looking at the mountains and seeing the water running down them.  Paradise!

Our first stop would be at General Fox Airport just south of Andrews Air Force Base. We crossed the mountains and saw a valley full of airports.  To our north we could see the runways they used to land the Space Shuttle on.  It was gusty as I lined up to land.  It was a rough landing!  I taxied over to the fuel pumps and was glad to stretch my legs.  As I did a helicopter landed and there would be a few more before we left.   We took some time to walk around and Bruce called the company that sold him his GPS to work out a few issues. When we got back to the plane, the radio wouldn’t work! We tried to call Joe but didn’t get him. We ended up having to call the tower and getting light signals to take off! It was a first for both of us, but went smoothly. Joe called as we were in the run-up area, but at that point Bruce had to tell him we would call him back. By this time of day it was starting to get hot and I could feel the performance of the plane dropping on takeoff, but nothing serious.

We turned east again, heading toward home. Our next stop would be Needles, CA. Every time we would pull the power to descend, we could feel the temperature rising quickly as we came down. It was 60 degrees at altitude and so nice.  We had to come over a mountain range and drop quickly to get into the pattern. I had to circle once to see the windsock since we had no radio to check AWOS. It was hot, hot, hot!! It was around 110+ degrees with no humidity and winds gusting to 33 mph! It was like sticking my head in an oven when I opened the door. I think I muttered an “uggg”. When we got inside I found Joe had left me a voicemail and I was able to quickly fix the radio following his instructions. Turns out I’d just kicked a connection loose… well maybe two, but I fixed one and was happy. I would find out about the second one later! We had a few things to take care of so we were there for awhile, but it was just too hot to sit around for long. They had a swamp cooler but it wasn’t on when we got in there and it took awhile to start cooling it off. We headed back out into the furnace and fueled, taxied out, and took off. The takeoff went smoothly but I had very little climb rate and the mountain was rising ahead of me at the same time! Eventually I was able to gently turn left and get on course and the mountain dropped away.

We turned southeast and followed the river toward Lake Havasu. Luckily Bruce knew that was the home of the London Bridge and I was able to get some photos of it. Soon after that I got photos of a very cool dam and some very nice bluffs. It was hot and bumpy, but it was probably the most scenic portion of our flight.

After flying for awhile, we were getting hungry. Bruce was flying as I was busy checking Foreflight for airports with courtesy cars or nearby restaurants. We finally chose Phoenix Goodyear. That’s when my second loose connection reared its head… I could hear the tower, but the tower couldn’t hear me. I tried several times but with no luck we ended up heading to a town called Casa Grande. We listened to him trying to guess where we were going for awhile and had to laugh. "Aircraft with radio issue, squawk if you need help."  "Aircraft with radio issue, squawk if you're going to Chandler."  "Aircraft with radio issue, squawk if you're going to Phoenix Mesa."  This went on and on! The one option he never gave us was to land at his airport! It turned out to be a good thing.

We set a course for Casa Grande, AZ. This would end up being my favorite stop. When we arrived, the airport looked empty and we found the doors locked. Before long though, we found the new airport manager, XXXXXX.  He and his family there moving him into his new office. I had to laugh as he apologized for the terminal and was telling us his plans to fix it up. It was a building any airport would be proud to own and would be a huge improvement over most we have around here! Still, he and his wife have plans to spruce it up a little. I can tell you this is a great place to stop by. He is new to being an airport manager, but has the right attitude and will do a great job. He even took the time to drive us into town for a meal and then came to pick us up when we were done. He says he’s trying to convince the city council to put a courtesy car in, but they’re considering their liability at this time.

When we were ready to leave, XXXXX, even walked out with his handheld radio so we could try to figure out why we weren’t broadcasting. Turned out there was a mic plug that I’d kicked loose and it was an easy fix. Soon enough we had fuel, a working radio and full stomachs on our way to the next stop.

The next segment of the flight was where I really had to lean on Bruce’s strengths. He has mountain flying experience and it came in handy. We plotted our course and actually flew through the mountains at night. At one point we saw some orange lights on the mountains to our left. It turned out to be a fire near Carlsbad. From the looks of it, it was pretty big. It was eerie seeing the ridges lit up. I could see smoke in the valleys and we could even smell it... it's not fun smelling smoke while flying a new airplane in the dark!  I think we were both happy to see the lights of the Lordsburg airport on the horizon.  We were starting to see some lightening on the horizon to make it even more fun. We knew it was far away and not a concern, but it still had our attention (I checked when we landed and the storms were actually in Mexico!) We landed at Lordsburg and found a note on the door explaining we could borrow their Ford Ranger to go to a hotel. We headed off into town for a few hours of sleep.

Knowing we were over halfway home was a nice thought to start the day off with. After some breakfast we drove back to the airport, fueled the plane and took off heading east again. Bruce found an airport called Horizon just on the other side of El Paso. We got clearance from El Paso to fly though their airspace and it was fun looking over the border.  It was neat seeing the cars lined up coming across the bridge.  There was a big sign on the building saying "No More Weapons".

We came in to land at Horizon and I landed long so a Cessna 152 could take off. There was a taxiway that took you about halfway down the runway, then you had to back-taxi. I landed beyond where the taxiway ended so he could start his taxi. We found a nice guy waiting to help us fuel and talked with him for awhile about the history of the airport and the area. We downed a few glasses of water, bought a couple of bottles to take with us and were off once again.

We had one more stop to make before getting home! At this point I was tired and ready to be home. We headed toward a town called Big Lake (Reagan County Airport). It was a pretty long flight and I was ready to land and get something to eat.  When we arrived a helicopter was in the pattern and we would later meet the guys flying it and discover one of them worked for the Border Patrol watching for drug runners! We found the keys to the courtesy car (a Buick from the 90's!) and headed into town for a Subway sandwich. When we got back to the airport the guys from the helicopter were inside cooling off. They said the airport manager was out of town and they called him to find out how to get us fuel. We could have flown to the next airport, but we were ready to be on the way and the thought of another landing wasn’t appealing. Luckily they figured it out and Bruce had some cash on him. Even if we hadn’t had cash, they offered to let us mail them the money. It’s nice to run into guys like these.  This is how all airports used to be.

This would be another slow climb-out. It was hot and the thermals were kicking us around, but we were on the last leg! This may have bee the bumpiest leg of the flight.  It was nice though as about halfway through the flight I was starting to recognized the area.  As we passed Llano I felt like I was home.  Around 2.5 hours after takeoff we had Kittie Hill in sight and I was crossing over mid-field and pulling the power back to land on 17.  I had a smooth landing and as we taxiied back I saw Travis and Andrew watching us and waiting to give me a ride home.  As much as I enjoyed the flight, it was nice to put the plane in its new hangar and head home. It was a journey I’m so glad to have taken and I’m glad I had Bruce with me. I think we worked together well and it’s always nice to have two pilots on a trip this long. There is no way I could have made this trip so quickly alone.

Now we own our own plane! Watch for many stories in the near future.

Jack “Luscombe Driver” Fleetwood

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