Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Silver Plane

As usual I woke up early Saturday morning.  I went to the airport and started the coffee pot.  My friend Gary showed up and we visited for awhile.  About three cups later, I decided it was time to see if Travis was up.  It was about 8:30 and we’d talked about going to Fredericksburg for some lunch.

It turned out Travis wasn’t feeling good, so I pre-flighted and pulled the plane out into the sun.  It was cold!!  Soon I had the engine warming and though the winds were calm, which would normally prompt me to use 35, I opted for 17 to give the engine more time to warm up.

Soon enough I was lining up on the centerline of 17 and gently pushing in the throttle.  She was eager to fly.  I turned right crosswind and departed to the West.  I leveled off at 4500 and settled in for about an hour flight.  Of course I snapped a few photos, but it was a tough call… get the photos or keep the cold air outside!

I flew over the LBJ ranch and looked down on the runway where Air Force One used to deliver President Johnson to his home.  A Lodestar he flew in while Vice President is now there and the tail was sticking out from under the hail shed.  I then flew over Burg Lake Aero where my friends Howard and Cynthia have relocated their Luscombes since Kittie Hill closed.  Their hangars were closed, so I continued on to Fredericksburg.

I tied down the plane and it wasn’t long before I had people walking over to ask about it!  That’s always fun.  I wasn’t really hungry yet, so I walked over to the terminal to get out of the cold wind and warm up a little.  I sat where I could watch my plane.  It’s nice to see people walk past all of the Bonanzas and 172s and head straight for my plane!

Eventually I walked back over to the plane and once again found myself answering questions.  A local guy named Dick was flying radio controlled airplanes down the street when he saw me fly over.  He walked over to see the plane and we talked for probably 45 minutes.

Some old cars and trucks started showing up and there was a photographer who brought her own models dressed in period clothes.  I watched them for awhile, then went in to the diner to get a burger and chips.  Not a bad burger and the waitress was really sweet.  I think she thought it was funny listening to all of the questions I was getting.  “You fly around just for fun?”  “How old is the plane?”  “1946?!  Really?  It looks brand new!”  “How much does a plane like that cost, $200,000?”  No, but I’ll sell it to you for half of that!

I called Howard and he said he’d be at his hangar around 2PM, so I headed that way.  It’s a fun little strip.  I’d never been there before, but it’s easy to find.  It has a nice pond and just seems like a good place to hang out and enjoy airplanes and the company of good friends.

I tried to come in slow, even using flaps which is rare for me, but still came in hotter than I wanted to.   I might have flinched a little as the mains kissed the grass, wondering if I was too fast.  As I crossed the road that goes through the middle of the runway and realized it was now going downhill, I was a little surprised.  It looked flat from the air!  No worries though, I probably used less than ¾ of the 1900’ strip.  It’s always interesting going into a new field though.

Howard was waiting with his cowboy hat on and his new electronic cigar replacement.  I’m glad he’s quitting tobacco, but it seemed strange not to smell that cigar!  We quickly pulled out chairs and started catching up.  Cynthia soon arrived and declared she was going up.  She soon had her beautiful Luscombe fueled and ready to go.  Howard and I watched her takeoff, then later she did several landings.  She can sure fly that plane!

After she landed, I decided I needed to leave.  We took some photos and I was soon lined up on 36 and bouncing down the runway.

On my way back I was watching my fuel level closely.  I was purposely trying to let it get as low as safely possible as I need to lube my fuel selector and change out the gaskets in my now leaking primer.  I heard a helicopter leaving Taylor as I was about 10 miles out and one other radio call I couldn’t quite make out.

As I entered downwind, I heard someone say, “The white powered parachute has the traffic in sight.”  It was Bruce.  After putting the plane away, I grabbed a beer from the fridge and walked out on the ramp to watch Bruce land.  He did some touch-n-goes before putting it away.  It sure is pretty to see the sun shining through a parachute.

And that was it.  Another great flying adventure!  Maybe next time you’ll go!

Jack “Silver Plane” Fleetwood

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Catching Up

This may be the most flying I've done in years without writing about it here. I bought N90098, or Nona as she's now known as, back in September. It's now January and I've flown her over 40 hours.

The first half of the return flight was perfect.  I stopped at several airports along the way and just enjoyed getting to know a new plane. At first it was awkward. Joel had them add a couple of inches of foam to the seat and that makes me sit a lot higher than I'm used to.  It seemed strange when landing but eventually I got it.

I took off from Eau Claire right before sunrise. It was me and quite a few regional airlines.  The tower couldn't understand me, but finally cleared me for takeoff anyway.  That left me worried about the radio, but I didn't have any more trouble and haven't since.

I crossed the Mississippi and watched the sun rise as I crossed from Wisconsin into Minnesota. What beautiful country.

As the several cups of coffee I drank waiting for sunrise weighed on my bladder, I started looking for a place to land. I set my course to Blue Earth Minnesota. It sounded cool!  But then I saw a very nice looking grass strip with three planes parked outside, one hangar, and a small terminal. I thought "Why not?", this flight was supposed to be about the adventure. I checked the airfield info and it turned out to be a city airport in great condition, Wells Minnesota.  I circled and entered a downwind, base, final, then gently held her off until the tires kissed the earth. What a cool place to stop.

I taxied up to the terminal, shut her down and was about to climb out when I saw a guy in a white shirt and black tie walking toward me. The first thing I thought was a local city employee or airport manager. He walked over and introduced himself and said he was with the FAA and was conducting a ramp-check. I promptly smiled and said bullshit!  You should have seen the look on his face!  Once I realized he was telling the truth I told him I was going to the restroom and then we could talk. When I returned I got out my paperwork and he looked it over. I had left my medical at home and he lectured me about that, but was otherwise happy. I too was happy and soon fired up and headed out.

My next stop would be in Nebraska. I watched as the dairy farms and rolling hills faded away to the plains. I was pushing pretty hard as I knew I would eventually hit some weather and wanted to get as far south as possible. I made it to a neat little airport with two runways.  It had a cool little terminal, complete with an old airport guy. He told me they were building a new terminal and I laughed and told him we'd kill for this one in Taylor.  As I walked back out into the sun to fuel my shiny new plane, I couldn't help but feel at peace.  This airport was in Wayne, Nebraska.  It would be devastated by a tornado a few weeks later. Fortunately nobody was killed.

I took off and circled the airport, then headed south again. Soon the fields and roads were turning into perfect squares.  The sun was heating the cockpit and I began to get tired. I started looking for a place to stop and eat.  I had heard Lucas had a good burger, so I punched it into the iPad and started that way. Mother Nature apparently didn't get the memo.  I caught up to a front and I could actually see a line on the ground where the sunshine ended and the clouds began.

As I continued on, the clouds came down. I soon figured out I wasn't going to make it to Lucas. I had to turn East. I found Beloit on the chart and dropped in. The mechanic told me the courtesy car had the keys in it and I went into town and had some Chinese food.

I made it back to the airport and the local pilots told me it should be safe to continue on as it's flat and there are quite a few airports to stop at.  That's all the encouragement I needed.  It didn't take long to run into rain though.  I had Ellsworth in mind as a place to stop and wait it out.  I couldn't make it there either!  The clouds became huge, white and puffy, and I found myself having to fly around them because they went so low.  It was like flying around mountains. I carefully kept my head on a swivel and always had a way out.  Eventually it became stressful though and when I called Ellsworth AWOS I found it was IFR.  I turned back to the northwest and headed to Lucas. Beloit would have been the smarter choice as I knew they had a decent terminal I could rest in, but I couldn't stand the thought of going back that far north.

I spotted Lucas and as I turned final it was raining. I parked and stepped out, glad to be on the ground. There were three hangars, but no terminal.  I walked over to a restaurant/gas station and got a drink and a candy bar.  I then walked back to the plane and sat under the wing out of the rain and wondered what was next.

It wasn't getting better.   I was bored and decided I would try to get to the next airport, in Russell Kansas. It wasn't my brightest decision, but it turned out okay.  The clouds were just as big and gloomy. I once again found myself flying around them. After zig-zagging around, I eventually saw the airport.  I landed and found the best terminal of my trip. It was an old building with lots of character.  I went inside and  found I had the place to myself.  After a much needed bathroom break, I explored a little.  There was a great tower outside.  After walking around a little, I headed back inside and found a leather chair with an ottoman and soon had my feet up in a chair that was in front of windows where I could admire my new plane.  I relaxed and made a few calls to friends curious about my trip. It was a much-needed break. I relaxed for a couple of hours and sure hated to leave.

Looking at weather though, I knew I was on the edge of a front. If I didn't get past it I could be stuck for days. I was only a couple of hours from my Dad's place in Pampa, Texas and if I had to be stuck somewhere that was the place.

The rain quit and the clouds were smaller. I fueled up and took off into the gray skies. It was calm and I climbed until I was on top.  I kept a close eye on the ground so I wouldn't get stuck.  Eventually I got over the storms and it was clear.  Soon I was over Oklahoma, then into Texas.

Now it would be illegal to make a phone call from the air, but if I could have, I would have called my Dad when I was about 15 minutes out.  He would have asked what I was up to and I would have said I was flying. He would have asked where and I would have said I was about to land in Pampa.

Since it would be illegal to make that call, I'm not sure how he knew I was coming, but he was there and excited to see me!  I hadn't told him I was planning on dropping in because I didn't want to disappoint him if weather prevented me from getting there.  He was sure surprised.

I tied the plane down and we headed off to dinner. The next morning I went out there and the airport manager insisted I couldn't leave such a pretty plane outside and we put it in the big hangar. I was glad it was in there when the wind and rain hit later.  My Great Uncle managed this airport when I was growing up so it feels like home. I bet none of the guys there remember my name, but if I stopped in there today, they would say, "There's Clarence's nephew!"

That's it for now. Later the less eventful trip from Pampa to Taylor.

Jack "Tired of Writing" Fleetwood

 In Eau Claire.  The first time I got fuel. 
 Tied down for the night.

 Crossing the Mississippi
 Notice the train by the river!
 I love the way they carved fields out of the hills.

 Wayne Nebraska

 Getting into Kansas.
 You can see the cloud shadows rolling in.
 I watched this truck throwing up dust for many miles.

 An oasis in the middle of farm country.

 At Lucas.  Nothing but a few hangars. 
 Russell Kansas.  This was my favorite stop.

 After leaving Russell.

 The morning I'm leaving Pampa.
 Wishing I hadn't got on top.  I had to fly back quite a ways to find a hole.
 Skellytown Airport - This is where I grew up flying!
 I landed to wait out the clouds.  I chose McLean Airport.  For some reason I thought this was a bigger airport.  It literally had one locked up hangar and nothing else!  I soon took off and flew to Wellington for fuel.

 Crossing the Red River.

 I low lake.

 Air Tractors!
 Notice the two-seat trainer to the right.
 The Carter Copter.  I had seen this on a documentary.  I had no idea I'd see it in person.

 A busy lake.
 A nice little airpark.
 And finally we're home!