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.