Keep the Skinny Birds Flying Safely
I'm sitting in KMHT, writing this while waiting for my flight which should be wheels up in about 10 hours. I fly to Newark, then to Seattle, then to Great Falls, and should be wheels down at KHLN about midnight (about 31 hours from now). Hey, I live in New England! We can't get anywhere from here! 41VT is at Boulder (K3U9) Airport, about 25 miles south of Helena, MT. I'll buy a used bike Wednesday morning (I hope), and pedal on down to Boulder to start prepping myself and 41VT for our trip east. Tim Talen and his lovely bride, Marian, will arrive the 23rd to help me with the final touches and I hope to get on my way the morning of the 24th. I have an old friend in Laramie, WY, so I hope to visit with him that evening. The next day, I hope to make it diagonally across Kansas to Bentonville, AR, to visit my Mom, who resides at some happy camp for geezers. When she starts telling me that she wished she'd never given birth to me, I'll head northeast to the grass strip of another old friend, north of Indianapolis. After a few days with him, the fish hanging by the front door should be pretty ripe, so I'll head east and skirt along northern PA, then cross the "heel" of NY and the Green Mountains of Vermont to Post Mills (home!). All this is dependent on Wx, so we'll see what kind of fun reality has with my plans.
Since it seems that even Ace Hardware stores have wifi now, I'll try to update this blog as we go along our merry way over the next few weeks. Soft landings!
The flights to Helena were uneventful, even my bag full of Porterfield and camping gear made the trip with me! Upon arrival in the Big Sky at 1 AM, I soon discovered a "business office," with big leather couches. A compassionate airport employee asked me if I was going to sleep there. "Yes, if it's okay." He turned the lights off for me and I was out with them until about 6 AM, when things started getting lively in the terminal. After oatmeal at Captain Jack's, I walked to a nice couple's home to look at their bike. A deal was soon struck that also included them giving me and the bike a ride to Boulder. There is no running water at Boulder Airport yet, so I had to fetch water from the local hot springs, about a half-mile away, with a blue, 5 gallon jug. The bike worked great for that, as it came with a rack and panniers that I could lash the jug to.
Upon arriving at Boulder and bidding my new friends farewell, I settled into Talen's cabin, then went into the hangar to see 41Vermont. It was nice to see her back together again, but the closer I looked, the sadder I became. Pokey Gordon, the man who represented himself as a restoration expert who had performed many museum quality restorations, applied the Polyfiber in a most amateurish fashion. I understand Pokey is a great welder, but his fabric skills stink. I was hoping that this little girl would come out as the belle of the ball, instead Pokey relegated her to working girl status. The silver lining is that I don't have to worry about scratching or dinging anything.
A few days later, the Talens arrived with their Aussie shepherd, Szekeley. I soon learned that Marion is a whiz in the kitchen and her gourmet meals came to the table three times a day. They’d brought fresh vegetables from their garden and I savored every bite, enjoying it while I could, with the knowledge I’d soon be subsisting on nuts and granola bars.
After completing the punchlist on September 23rd, Tim and I took her up for 0.7 hour on a local flight and to shoot some take-offs and landings. She handles like most pre-war and post -war trainers, with somewhat sluggish ailerons and heavy controls. With the Franklin 90, I was a bit surprised at her lackluster take off performance with Tim & I aboard, granted Boulder Airport is at 5000 feet.
The following day, I loaded her up with two 6 gallon gas bottles, my duffel, a water bottle, and a 2 lb bag of mixed nuts. Tim's wife, Marian, thought that I would freeze if I didn't dress warmly, so I layered up. I called Flight Service's 866 number and got a recording of some Spanish gal trying to sell me something. Is this how good ol' Lockheed Martin is fulfilling their lucrative contract with the DoT?
We departed Boulder and headed southeast. After about 20 minutes, I was pretty well settled in and had the view over the cowl in straight and level flight set in my head. I was a bit hungry, so I set the bag of nuts on my lap, shoved a handful in my maw, and resealed the ZipLock. A thermal picked up one wing and while I reacted, the bag slid off my lap and hit the floor, zipper down. I picked up the bag and found only air inside. Beneath my seat was a 2 lb pile of mixed nuts: one heck of a way to start a long cross country trip. I wondered how many rodents I’d pick up along the way. Thanks to being blessed with gorilla arms, I was able to reach down and scoop up handfuls of nuts and return most of them to their bag.
My initial plan was to skirt south of Bozeman's Class D airspace, but Steve, a local C-185 jock who's a periodontist, told me that the ATC there would let us follow the interstate highway through their airspace. Despite the garbled communications, courtesy of my ever-faithful, unshielded Eiseman mags on the back of the Franklin 90 drowning out my ICOM A-5 radio, ATC cleared us through and so we followed I-90 through the Bozeman Pass and a mountain range or two. It took us 1.2 hours to get to Big Timber, where we stopped to refuel and check the fuel consumption of the 90. Six gallons = 5 gph, cruising at 2050 to 2100 rpm at 75 to 80 mph. (I don't know where the figure of 100+ mph in the Porterfield ads came from, the only time I saw 100+ was diving in a thermal while trying to maintain altitude). There’s quite a bit of heat entering the cockpit from the uninsulated firewall, so I stripped off my jacket and sweatshirt and put them away.
Flying out of Big Timber, we headed south-southeast along the foothills toward Red Lodge. We passed over it an hour later and I thought we'd make Thermopolis in another hour, but without the protection of Yellowstone’s mountain range, the headwinds kicked in, full gale. Soon we were diverting to Worland, and after three hours of flying I noticed the fuel gage had dropped to where the crook in the wire was resting on the cap and decided Greybull would be better. Along the way to Greybull, wearing my Lightspeed Solo headset, I was reminded of the Easter-time photo of the two chocolate bunnies, each one with a big bite taken out of it. One says, “My butt hurts!” The other replies, “What?” Once on the ground, I recovered my sweatshirt, folded it, and placed it on the front seat for additional cushioning.
After 3.1 hours, we were on the ground and at the pump. A local IA named Al (he’s restoring a Champ) stopped by to ask what 41Vermont was and then helped me navigate the self-serve fuel pump. While we loaded up 12.75 gallons here, six of them auto fuel from one of the bottles, Al told me about all the active and retired water bombers that reside there. They even have a museum, but I didn’t have time to go through it. It was windy there, and my Cheyenne sectional blew out of the cockpit, unnoticed, and disappeared into the sagebrush. Al was kind enough to run around the airport in his pickup truck, looking, but there were no replacement sectionals to be had at Greybull, not even a Wyoming road map, so we would have to fly 36 miles down-river to Worland Airport, in hopes they would have one. I swept the remaining loose nuts from the floorboards and fed the local rodents by the gas pump, then headed out.
At Greybull, I learned that taxiing downwind on pavement, when the breeze is brisk, is a real challenge in the Collegiate. Those little brake pedals take a LOT of coordination with the rudder pedals when making turns, as the wind likes to swing the tail around when the engine is idling and the brakes alone can't keep it from happening. Holding the right brake and applying full right rudder while revving the engine to blast the rudder and tail back to where you want it, without leaping the whole plane forward through the taxiway lights, is a skill I have yet to master in the Collegiate. Perhaps if I wasn’t wearing my size 11 Hi-Tec hiking boots, it would be easier.
At 75 mph indicated, it took us 1.1 hours to get to Worland. The oil temp was approaching 200 after the climb out to 1000 AGL, so I kept the rpms around 2000 and it dropped back to about 175. We burned 3.1 gallons, as I learned from Jerome, the line boy, an International Studies major taking a semester off from UW-Laramie. The airport staff and resident geezers were all very helpful. One proffered an official, 2006 State of Wyoming tourist road map and fingered along the route we needed to take to get to Laramie, my planned destination for the day. It didn't take me long to determine that there was just too much headwind and too little daylight for me to make it to Laramie that day, so I decided to stay the night. I keep a small (2 lb) tent in the baggage compartment, but the airport manager had been brainwashed by the DHS to not let anybody camp at the airport (national security: the ultimate paranoia), so they offered me the use of their courtesy car with directions to a quiet little campground at the far edge of town, just across the road from the Washakie Museum, home of the mastodon. They have wifi at this campground, and after pitching my tent, I wandered up to the office and started typing this account. Tomorrow, the adventure continues, Wx permitting.
The next morning, I packed up the tent and stopped by a gas station and a McDonalds for a couple of Egg McMuffins on the way to the airport. Alisa, behind the FBO counter, thanked me for putting $10 in gas in their courtesy car and sold me a WAC chart for $9. Using the WAC and the road map, I hoped to make it to Laramie. Climbing south into headwinds, I was unable to find the “notch in the mountains” that I was told would lead me to Lost Cabin. We ended up climbing over a 9000’ range to the east of the “notch.” I’m not sure if we’d of made it over that range with 65 HP up front, and I thanked Angelo for his hard work installing the Franklin 90, back in the 50’s, in between bites on my first McMuffin. We never did see the lost cabin. I guess it’s still lost…
It was soon obvious that we would have to divert to Casper. I wasn’t thrilled with having to talk to a tower with my little ICOM radio, but it was the only alternate available, and at least I had the WAC to inform me of the tower and ATIS frequencies. The place was pretty sleepy, and the controller appreciated the novelty of a Porterfield arriving, so he was very helpful and immediately cleared us to land. After 1.7 hours in the air, we parked at the local College’s flight school, near the tower at the north end of the ramp, where the self-serve fuel farm is located. The flight school had a sectional and their CFI showed me the best way to Laramie and offered good advice. I topped off the tank with 5.6 gallons and filled up one of the bottles, realizing that I’d probably have to stop to refuel at Medicine Bow. The take off was uneventful and the CFI’s recent advice was put to good use.
Medicine Bow is easy to find, located just the other side of a wind farm, but the airport, just south of town, isn’t as obvious. It has a single dirt and grass runway, lined with orange cones, but the 45 degree cross wind and 11,000 foot density altitude was going to be a challenge. Wallowing through my missed approach, I noticed an unmaintained cross runway, heading directly into the 20+ mph wind, and landed uneventfully on it after a 1.8 hour flight, then taxied to the west end of the main runway where there are a few abandoned buildings. I ate my second Egg McMuffin for lunch, drank the last of my water, refueled, fired up, and taxied back to the end of the cross strip. The strip is so narrow, I elected to get out and turn the plane around by hand. That’s when I noticed the big woodchuck/prairie dog hole off to the side and began to wonder how many more like this one were ahead of me. The takeoff was uneventful but the climb out was sluggish. I looked up through the skylight and said, “Thanks, God!” All we had to do was follow a highway and railroad, along which a long freight train passed and sped ahead of us, southeast to Laramie.
The wind was off my right wing now, so my groundspeed was much better and soon Laramie was below us. We tried to circle my friend’s house, but the wind was 26 mph and the density altitude was over 10,000 feet, so after one turn, I decided it was a stupid thing to attempt and headed for the airport. Upon landing on runway 22, ending our 1.3 hour flight, we encountered 35mph gusts, as advertised on the AWOS, which had a penchant for picking up the whole plane, and dropping the left wing. After three of those, we were finally slow enough to depart the runway on the upcoming taxiway. The taxiway required a 120 degree turn and I was not going to put the tail into this wind, so we cleared the active, parallel to the runway. I announced it on the radio and shut down. Before I could get out, a gust picked up the right wing and there I was in a 3-point configuration: tail, left main gear, and left wing tip, despite full right stick. The gust abated, the right wing dropped, so I looked up through the skylight and said, “Thanks, God!”, then hopped out, pushed the tail away from the wind and started walking the airplane down the taxiway toward Cowboy Aviation, the local FBO. Two red pick-ups approached me and when I explained to them what I was up to, they immediately parked in the grass and Eli and Parker each grabbed a front wing strut and helped me walk 41Vermont to a tie down beside the FBO. I thought that was really nice of them, and told them I would give them a ride back to their trucks in the Porterfield, but it would sort of negate their help. They were college age, so didn’t mind a little walking.
I unloaded and called my friends, Russ and Gail Otto, to come pick me up, and informed them where we were on the airport. I went in the FBO for a very welcome drink of water, then back out to the ramp to prep 41Vermont for spending the night and inspected her wingtip. There was a scrape on the fabric over the wing tip bow and aileron tip, but not all the way through the fabric. The dope on the left elevator tip was scratched a bit, too. I felt bad, but she’d still be able to get us home with about a foot of hundred-mile-an-hour-tape for a patch. Gail and Russ came out to see 41Vermont and Gail complemented her looks.
Weather moved in, so I spent several days with Russ and Gail. It was a welcome break, as the mountain flying had rattled my nerves a bit. They took me around to many of their favorite hiking spots and I enjoyed their hospitality, company, and Gail’s delicious cooking. Russ had been a teacher of mine in high school, he’s still the best teacher I’ve ever had, and we’ve stayed in touch for decades. Gail taught second grade. They’re both retired now, but not slowing down. I’m truly honored to have them for friends.
Finally, the weather looked good for a diagonal run down across Kansas, so I filled up both bottles with 91 octane at a local, ethanol free station, topped off the tank, and crankcase, loaded up, and we were on our way, Sunday morning. The take off was good until we got to about 100 feet AGL, then hit sink. At about 50 feet AGL, we were through the downdraft and climbing again, but wallowing a bit. Things were too skittish for the traditional wing rocking, so we just pointed the nose east and followed I-80 up the grade. With our trusty Franklin 90, we were able to climb with the slope, so we didn’t have to spiral climb up to 8500 feet to clear the ridge.
2.5 hours later, we were at the self-serve pump at Wray, dumping 7 gallons into the tank. I saw a couple of goomers in a nearby hangar, puttering on a colorful Supercub, but they didn’t come out for a look at 41Vermont, so after watering some tall weeds and eating half of the peanut butter sandwich Gail made for me, we were soon on our way.
After 3.1 hours of dragging my finger along the sectional, the cork was getting low in the tank, so we landed at Hays, just the other side of their refinery. A big strapping line boy name Grady topped off 41Vermont’s tank, while I emptied mine, and sold me a quart of oil with the 9 gallons of gas.
Airborne again with the sun behind us, I began to get the feeling we wouldn’t make it to Bentonville, AR before sundown. There was a big MOA ahead of us and I began to realize we wouldn’t even make it across that before sundown, so after 2.5 hours in the air; we landed at Eldorado for the night. We taxied up to the self-serve and when I saw the pump for 91 octane auto fuel, I looked up through the skylight and said, “Thanks, God!” The low sun cast a golden glow upon 41Vermont as she sat at the self-serve pump, while I topped her off. There were a few people around, but they didn’t come by. Some goomer in an Ercoupe flew a few patterns at dusk, and then left on a 3-wheeled motorcycle (I guess he had a thing for tricycles). I pushed 41Vermont over to a tie-down, one that had the tail in the grass and the mains on pavement, and tied her down, then unloaded and pitched my wee tent beside her right stabilizer. I ate the rest of Gail’s sandwich and a handful of nuts for dinner and called it a night. Cattle at a nearby farm were bellowing away, which I assumed to mean feeding time, and also a convenient alarm clock in the morning. I dozed off to the sounds of coyotes and a creaking wind tetrahedron.
Morning came, the cows ate, and I ate granola bars, and packed up for the final flight to Arkansas. Caleb, the airport manager, arrived and welcomed us, offering me the use of a courtesy car, etc. and informed me I could have stayed in the pilot lounge if I’d punched the Unicom frequency into the electronic door lock. Oh, well…
I explained our flight plan and how those who fly cross country in antique aircraft never know where they’ll end up, so they need to be self-contained, so I had everything we needed, and I thanked him very much. We were soon airborne and back on track, at a heading of about 140 degrees. After half an hour, I noticed a cloud bank ahead. After an hour, I was just west of it and sized it up. The bottom was about 300 feet AGL, the top was about 2000 feet. There were antennae somewhere in there that went up over 500 feet, so scud running under it was dumb. I didn’t know the extent of it, so I wasn’t going to go on top without a good navcom. We turned west and after 1.2 hours in the air, we landed at Coffeyville to see what I could learn about this foggy nuisance. Kathy was seated behind the counter in the FBO and was very friendly and helpful. She directed me to their computer terminal so I could check the Wx. There was a KingAir 350 parked out front and her pilots were lounging about on the cushy recliners, watching Trading Places on the TV. A retired electrical engineer named Steve came in to show his latest circuitry creation to Norville, an engineer at the nearby John Deere test lab. For some reason, the old Beatles song, Penny Lane, popped into my head.
I asked if there were any Funks based there, as that is their birthplace. Kathy informed me there were two, and admitted to first thinking 41Vermont was a Funk until she got a clear look at her tail. I bought a quart of oil and went out to putter around the engine compartment and dump 6 gallons of gas from a bottle into the tank. I left the fuel on and noticed a drip at a primer line fitting. I shut the fuel off and went back inside and asked Kathy if their mechanics were approachable to borrow tools. She asked me what I needed, went back, and returned a moment later with the two wrenches. I tightened the fittings, hoping that would end the fuel smell that had been an unwelcome passenger in 41Vermont, and returned the wrenches.
After a 2 hour wait, the fog had dissipated into small cumulus with bottoms at 2300 feet AGL, so we were on our way again, cruising at about 1000 feet AGL. Skirting the northeast edge of Fayetteville’s Class C airspace, we did a straight in approach to Bentonville’s runway 18, landing after 1.4 hours. We were immediately directed into a tie-down spot by Will, the line supervisor for Summit Aviation. As I tied down 41Vermont, three aerobatic planes with British registrations, one a CAP 232, taxied by and took off. They were going up to practice for an airshow the next Saturday, October 5th.
I texted my sister, Kerry, and told her where I was. She called me back and said she’d be there in 15 minutes. I prepped 41Vermont for a several day stay, unloaded my worldlies and gas bottles, and headed for the FBO gate. I dropped my stuff outside and went in the FBO to give them my contact information. Will told me he wished he had $25K to buy her, as he thought she was the most beautiful plane he’d ever seen. I advised him to have a pre-purchase inspection done before he bought any plane. He said they would probably be moving 41Vermont to a less public location for the upcoming airshow. I replied that if it would help increase public interest in the airport and learning to fly, they could park her where the public could push their noses up against her. I went back out to wait for Kerry. Some geezer asked if I was with the team. I replied that I was the geezer who had just arrived in the antique, but we wouldn’t be performing the “drunken farmer” routine on Saturday. Kerry arrived and I was delighted to see she had our Mom in her car. They both commented on how pretty 41Vermont is. We spent the rest of the week together, along with Kerry’s husband, Dave.
On Thursday, I visited 41Vermont to top off her tank and crankcase and check on her well being. They’d moved her to a place that appeared to be a backdrop for airshow central, but didn’t wrap the tie down ropes around the struts and tailwheel spring quite to my satisfaction, so I retied her and cleaned her up a bit. I then taped a piece of paper to the side window, printed up with basically what is in the ad for her on the Porterfield website. Later in the day, I posted an ad for her on the local Craig’s List, informing potential buyers of her location and admonishing them to come to the airshow. It rained most of the day on Saturday, October 5th, and so far there have been no replies to the ad. The Wx prog charts say tomorrow will be good to continue on to Elwood, Indiana.
Sunday morning was clear and bright, with a bit of wind from the west-northwest. I performed a thorough preflight, looking for cotton candy stuffed up the tailpipe, as 41Vermont had been on public display. She looked good, so I loaded her up and bid Dave, who’d given me a lift to the airport, a fond farewell with many thanks. I’d said goodbye to my Mom the previous night, and my sister at home that morning. On the runway, we followed a Cessna 172, departing to the south at 10:45, but we turned a 180 and wing-rocked to Dave as we paralleled the runway on a course north to avoid Rogers Airport’s airspace.
We were soon over Missouri, headed for Elwood, Indiana. After about two hours, I had to pee, wicked bad! Salem was just up ahead. We didn’t need fuel yet, but I didn’t think I could hold it another hour in this turbulence. I considered peeing in an empty water bottle, but I was wearing Carhartt double walled pants and didn’t think I’d have adequate access. No sense peeing all over myself and 41Vermont in this turbulence. Salem has a north-south runway, but the west side is protected by trees, so I figured the crosswind wouldn’t pose much of a challenge. Landing to the north after 2.3 hours, I must have flared a little too much and touched down on the tailwheel first, flexing the leaf spring up to the point where a tailwheel spring came off its chain, causing the tailwheel to shimmy so violently on rollout, it shed the other spring. My immediate fears were soon realized when the cross wind caused us to weathervane as soon as the rudder authority had diminished, and we were off the runway and headed for the puckerbrush. I saw a ditch, running parallel to the runway, ahead and figured that was it for Mr. Flottorp. We were still rolling too fast for me to lock up the Shinn brakes, as I’d just put her up on her nose, but I did tap them quite a bit. We came to a stop about five feet past the ditch, after rolling over the only section that hadn’t been dug out. I looked up through the skylight and said, “Thanks, God!” I shut down, got out, and made my bladder gladder…priorities, you know.
Pushing the plane through the tall grass, back to the runway, was a bit strenuous, but a lot easier on my ego than asking to borrow tools to dismantle her with. Once back in the short grass beside the runway, I walked the runway and found the missing spring and reinstalled it, refueled, ate the slice of apple pie my sister had packed for me, and peed again (never pass up an opportunity to). I swung 41Vermont to the south, fired up, and back-taxied to the numbers for an uneventful departure. I looked down at the FBO on climbout and noted that I hadn’t seen a single soul through the 48 minutes we’d been on the ground there. Barnstorming is a lonely venture.
It took us 2.7 hours, but we managed to cross the Mississippi River and all of southern Illinois before landing north of Terra Haute at Sky King Airport. Sky King has two, nicely paved runways, roughly N-S, and E-W. We lined up for the west one, but then noticed the tetrahedron favored the north one, so we went around and lined up for it, but we were too high and hot , so shot another missed approach and then noticed a windsock favoring the west runway. We got in the pattern and announced our intention to an instructor and student in a Cessna 152 on the end of the displaced threshold, then landed uneventfully. Over the radio, the instructor explained to me how to find the manager so we could get some gas, as we back taxied to the fuel pumps. I found Mr. Brown, bought 9.2 gallons of gas and asked him if he thought we had enough daylight to make it to Elwood at 85 mph. He said we could, easily, if we didn’t waste any time, and had me climb in and prepare for our last leg, then gave me a prop.
The run past Indianapolis to Ancient Airport (you won’t find it on any sectional, it’s a N-S grass strip between Elwood and Frankton) took only 1.2 hours. I was at 2500 feet, to better see enough landmarks to navigate, and the grass was at 900 feet, so I throttled back to idle and glided through crosswind, downwind, base and final to a nice landing and rollout. Ed had asked me to park on the north side of his barn, nestled in the trees, so he never heard nor saw me arrive until I walked into his machine shop, where he was busily feeding some of his cats. I hope it was a pleasant surprise for him…
He approved of where I’d parked, so I pulled out my tie down kit and planted 41Vermont in the north central Indiana soil, which is the reputed to be the best in the world for growing tomatoes, and the Pontiac Red on the fuselage is pretty close to the color of what grows on the vine. Ed had hoped I’d be able to stay through Wednesday morning, and the prog charts indicated he’d get his wish. The next two days were quite memorable.
Ed and I first met at Oshkosh ’78, long before the yuppies took over, replaced the grass-roots rusticity with corporate American glitz, and renamed the convention, AirDisney. We both had worked for NASA in Florida and elsewhere, Ed on Gemini and Apollo, I on the Shuttle and ISS programs, and we both have a passion for preserving antique aircraft and their history, so we speak the same languages. He has a business, called Terronics, which designs and manufactures machines that apply materials to surfaces using electrostatic deposition, like powder-coating paint, except he can apply a lot of other materials to any shape surface. Need the cables on your ski hill chair lift oiled to reduce intra-cable friction and the power required to haul those skiers up to the top? He has an oiler that doesn’t spray or squirt oil: that would just make a mess. His oiler creates a mist electrostatically that leaves a film, a few molecules thick, on all the surfaces of every strand in the cable. Maybe you want to control the coating thickness on your time-release pill, or how much flavoring you coat your potato chips with, Ed has a machine for you. One big benefit of Ed’s stuff is the minimizing of waste. There’s no overspray, no clouding of powder, so the work environment is safer, as there are no airborne particulates and slippery floors, so accident and insurance rates go down. Yeah, Ed is cool, and I’m pretty fortunate to have him for a friend.
On Monday, Ed took me over to Anderson Airport, where I was able to get a Detroit sectional to get home. I didn’t order one earlier from Aircraft Spruce because they were due to expire in mid-September. We then rolled his PT-19 out of the hangar and blew the cobwebs out of her for about a half-hour. She handles delightfully, with a light stick and well-balanced controls.
On Tuesday morning, Ed took three of his employees up in 41Vermont for local flights. He’d never flown a Porterfield before and was quite impressed with her. That afternoon, he took me over to Alexandria, where the Central Indiana Soaring Society has their own airport, Terry Field, and we rolled his J-5 Cub out and took her up for about half an hour before the shadows got too long and we were hungry for dinner. Ed also has a beautiful Pitts S-1 that he built with a friend, and that he competes in and does very well with. Okay, enough hero-worship!
Wednesday morning was beautiful, even though it held a 4 mph headwind for me. Ed’s machinist drove his ’41 Ford convertible over and we parked it in the sun beside 41Vermont for a photo shoot, before I loaded her up and we headed for home, departing just before ten. The air was smooth and 41Vermont flew hands off: what an absolute joy after all our hands-on flying in turbulence. I could fold and refold a sectional with impunity.
3.3 hours later, I was on a long final for Wayne County Airport in Ohio. Two twin brothers came out to greet me. One was visiting from Atlanta, the other managed the airport. They were so tickled by 41Vermont; they couldn’t do enough for me. She took 10.5 gallons of gas and a quart of oil, with a ten cent per gallon discount for paying cash.
In a large, open hangar sat a half-dozen Piper PA-28/32 types that had just been completely rebuilt, with fresh paint, new engines, interiors, and panels. They were all sold, but couldn’t fly to their new homes because there was no FAA available to process the 8050 forms. You can thank the Koch brothers for that. They’re the billionaires who created the TEA Party and duped thousands of well-meaning Americans into believing it’s a grass-roots effort, all the while doing the rich boys’ bidding by electing hand-picked zealots who don’t understand and certainly don’t care how Congress is supposed to work. Perhaps enough people will wake up to realize the Koch boys’ selfish, anti-American intentions and they’ll go the way of Joe McCarthy. Anyway, the boys at Wayne County treated me really well, and I’m sure you’ll get the same reception, too.
Twenty five minutes later, we were aloft and headed around the imaginary obstacles officially known as Class C and D airspace, enroute to the deciduous forests of northeastern Ohio/northwestern Pennsylvania. 2.8 hours later, we were letting down on a long final into St. Marys Airport. We taxied up to the fuel pumps where 41Vermont took on 8.7 gallons of fuel and a quart of oil. A couple of goomers wandered over from the restaurant, located over the FBO. They wanted to know what 41Vermont was. I replied, “What’s your best guess?” No reply, so I followed up with “she’s a 1941 Porterfield Collegiate.”
“You said she’s a Porterfield, you were right!” one said to the other, and they wandered off toward a homebuilt with a WWII warbird paint scheme, parked on the line. I shouted after them, “nice RV-7!” They acknowledged the compliment with explanations of how one helped the other build it, and then bought another one already built. I replied that when you don’t build your own, you cheat yourself out of that well-advertised “first-flight grin.” One responded with how the other “couldn’t buck rivets worth a sh#t,” so he had to buy one already made. I concurred with the wisdom in that decision and prepared to head east.
I had about two hours of light left and figured I could make it to Wellsboro-Johnston Airport and put down for the night there. So off we headed, away from the setting sun. To get there, I should have followed the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” but elected to fly a straight line over the mountains and keep the “canyon” to the north of me. About 2/3’s of the way there, I miscalculated my position as being further east than I was, then became concerned when the airport wasn’t where I thought it should be. There were many clues, like a tower on the chart that wasn’t there and another tower on the ground that wasn’t on the chart, about 15 miles to the east, but I was distracted by my concern with the onset of darkness and the scarcity of places to land in the area. I saw towns in the “canyon” and misidentified them as other towns farther east.” I decided not to venture farther east, but to turn around and return to St. Marys, flying over landmarks that were now a bit familiar to me. It was a race between us and the runway, and the sun and the horizon. We won, after 1.3 hours in the air, then taxied up to the FBO/restaurant and tied down in front.
I walked toward the FBO entrance and was greeted by a friendly woman with a border collie. I asked if it would be okay for me to tie down there for the night. She pointed me to a man inside the FBO, “You’ll have to ask Al, he’s the airport manager.” I reached down to pet the Border collie. “He’s Cody, the assistant manager,” she added.
I went inside and said, “Hi Al, my name’s Andy Gelston and I’m wondering if it’s okay for me to leave my Porterfield tied down there tonight.”
He gave me a puzzled look. “Have we met before? I don’t recall your face or name. How do you know my name?”
“No, your assistant manager, outside, told me your name and sent me in to see you.”
Al laughed. “Oh, that explains it! Sure you can tie down there. Do have accommodations arranged for tonight?”
“Well, that’s my second question. Would it be okay if I put my pup tent behind the tail on the grass?”
“Wouldn’t you rather stay in the pilots’ lounge tonight? It’s going to get cold.”
I was delighted, “Oh, you have a pilots’ lounge?”
Al took me back and showed me a big bathroom with a shower and clean towels, then a bedroom with a bunk bed, then offered me the use of their courtesy car if I needed to go into town. He apologized that the TV wasn’t working, so I wouldn’t be able to watch any of their DVD collection on it, but the desktop computer would play them. He also recommended the restaurant above the FBO; assuring me their food and service are excellent. The RV-7 goomers had said the same, a few hours earlier. He showed me how to work the door lock, asked me what size T-shirt I wore and gave me an OYM T-shirt (“You’ll need a clean shirt to wear in the morning,” he asserted), then headed for home, as it was almost 7PM.
I unloaded my laptop and duffel from 41Vermont and settled inside the pilots’ lounge, then ventured back outside to the restaurant. It was well appointed inside with a lot of aircraft prints on the walls and plastic scale aircraft models hanging from the ceiling. It kind of reminded me of my childhood bedroom, with even a wood Sensenich hanging on the wall (except mine was off a Cub and theirs is from a Stearman). I ordered a glass of water and their “Runway Classic,” that proved to be a wicked good Panini. I got away for under $10, including tip, and returned to the pilot lounge to review the next day’s flight plan and prog charts before spreading my sleeping bag on the lower bunk and changing into my pajamas. The beds have sheets, blankets, and pillows, but I didn’t want to make any more work for Al than he’d already graciously done for me. I slept great.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, but AWC was painting ground fog to the northeast, so I was in no hurry to get airborne. After a breakfast of mixed nuts and a granola bar, I got dressed for the day and packed up my duffel. As I was loading up 41Vermont, a man came by and we started to talk airplanes. His name is Denny and he has the restoration/maintenance shop next door. He’s a Stearman guy, so we swapped Stearman stories from our misspent, adventurous youths. His were much hairier than mine, though.
Al showed up and asked how my night went. I asked him if I could buy some oil and he sold me a couple of quarts for the trip home. Willissa, his secretary, arrived and she offered some local navigation advice while I topped off the fuel tank with 4.4 gallons. As we departed to the east, Willissa invited us back over the unicom. St. Marys is the most pilot friendly airport I’ve ever been to. If I ever fly through that area again, I’ll try to make it a fuel stop for sure, if not an overnight stop.
The next 45 minutes were quite humbling as I retraced my flight from the previous evening and picked out where I’d made my navigation blunders. There was the mystery tower, right where it should be: on the sectional and on the ground, and just past the ridge where I decided to turn around and head back to St. Marys, was Wellsboro-Johnson Airport. So close, yet so far. It looked like I would have spent the night in my pup tent, had I not turned around, and had mixed nuts for dinner as well as breakfast. I looked up through the skylight and said, “Thanks, God!”
After an hour, we were flying under a 12,000 foot overcast and I could see rain clouds south of us. I didn’t mind the overcast, as it minimized the thermals, but it muted the colors of the fall foliage, which were at peak. After 2.8 hours, we’d crossed into New York and Sidney Airport appeared over a ridge in a river valley. I radioed in my intention to land and that we were on a long final to runway seven. At the fuel pump, we were greeted by the manager, an affable man who owned a J-3 Cub. He asked if 41Vermont was a Champ and I replied, “That’s a good guess, as both have right-side doors, tandem seating, and the fuel tank ahead of the windshield, but the shape of the tail is different. If you can remember that tail shape, you’ll be able to tell it’s a Porterfield Collegiate.” I told him we were headed for Vermont, so he quickly topped off the tank with 8.5 gallons and showed me inside to pay the fuel tab and use the restroom, so we could avoid the approaching rain. We were out of there in twenty two minutes, flying over the old Bendix magneto plant on climbout. “Ya hear that, Bendix?” I shouted out the side window. “That’s the sound of real magnetos at work. We’re talkin’ Eisemans!”
We continued up the river valley until it veered due east and we continued on a course of about fifty degrees. Eventually, crossing the Mohawk River and Saratoga Springs Airport, I was able to see Killington Peak on the horizon and aimed right for it. This put us right over the top Rutland Airport, shortly after crossing the Hudson River and into Vermont. When we crossed over Killington Peak, I looked down on the east slope and noticed the chairlifts of a big ski resort were just a few hundred feet below me, and were running, loaded with “leaf-peepers” taking in the foliage and vistas. We throttled way back to glide parallel to the slope. I pulled back the side window and screamed out, “I’m on TOP of the WORLD!” I don’t know if they heard me or were just surprised by 41Vermont’s grand entrance, but tens of little faces turned up toward us as we glided overhead. We leveled off at 3000 feet, throttled up to 2050, and continued toward home. After 2.4 hours, we were rolling out on the turf at Post Mills Airport, our home base. Post Mills is also home to a glider club, and one of its patriarchs, Rick Sheppe, is a good friend of mine. He was standing by the tow plane, watching this strange, red and silver bird roll by, turn, and come taxiing up. I slid the side window open and shouted, “There’s a new bird on the field and your Cub’s just going to have to get used to it!” When Rick realized it was 41Vermont and me, his jaw dropped. With his RayBan Aviators on, his face appeared to have three dark spots, all about the same size and shape. He kind of looked like Munch’s The Scream, but not really...must be Halloween coming up. We chatted a while and then I taxied over to our hangar. Welcome home, 41Vermont!
Epilogue: 40.5 hours and 120 gallons of gas: I like the Franklin 90’s ability to average 85 mph on 3 gph. That’s better than an A-65 with a Stromberg carb can do, but the 90 definitely needs an air-oil separator on the breather, which I will soon install. I have a squawk list that I’ll be worked through before I fly her again, as she’s still for sale for $25K and I don’t want to have to make any excuses for her. She’s a great flyer with a strong engine and I don’t want any potential buyers to be distracted away from that by a few squawks.
Long cross country flights in antiques are always adventurous and full of many new lessons and some that we have learned earlier and forgotten. Trips like these force you to become a better pilot, as the complacency from flying over familiar terrain is left at home. I urge everyone to take at least one trip of longer than 1000 miles...and leave your GPS at home with your complacency.
While on our journey home, I visited with three couples who are completely devoted to each other and whose personalities mesh together so well, they are no longer two halves , but one. Though I didn’t mention it earlier, I spoke to my girlfriend of many years, Penny, every night on this trip. I’d like to have a relationship with her just like the three I’d just observed, and so would she. Our personalities mesh very well and we are very devoted to each other, so I believe we’re well on our way to joining the likes of Marion & Tim, Gail & Russ, and Kerry & Dave. If I could also be as cool as Ed, that would be icing on the cake!
Thank you, Mr. Ed Porterfield, for recognizing a lovely design and putting her into production, so long ago…and thank you, God, for helping us along our journey home.