Trip Across America by Francis Malczynski" <ebbfmm at yahoo.com>
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Trip Across America
The following is an account of a cross-country trip taken by my wife, Eleanor and I this past September/October. It is long and may appear to some as ordinary and to others as out of the ordinary. Regardless, this was the trip that culminated five years of building a slow build RV6 and was well worth the experience we gained and the experiences we had flying this majestic country of ours.
We traveled 5773 miles, burned 380 gallons of fuel, spent 55 hours side by side in the plane, landed in 19 states, met the most wonderful individuals and best of all renewed our confidence in the people and spirit of this country.
When we started out 594EF had 70 hours on it and I had all of 282 hours, 56 of which were cross-country hours mostly over flatland. Prior to flying the RV, I had flown only one cross-country leg more then 300 miles and that was my long student cross-country. I never flew over any thing that could be called a real mountain; never stayed overnight anywhere with a plane; never had to consider density altitude or leaning before take off or forest fire smoke or crosswinds that varied from 45 degrees on one side of the runway to the other. My highest logged hours for a year prior to building the RV was 60 and again that was when I was a student pilot over 30 years ago. My wife and I are both 59.
Eleanor had taken some flying lessons, knew the basics of navigation, could keep the plane upright and straight and has a remarkable memory for numbers. This proved invaluable during the trip since my brain usually disengaged as my hand was reaching to change a squawk or center frequency. “Uh, what was that frequency again EL?”
I had hoped that all the squawks had been worked out of the plane and after doing my first conditional inspection took off on what we hoped would be a trip we would never forget.
When we first started out we agreed that if any aspect of flying made either one of us uncomfortable then we would put down. We did this several times. A cold front grounded us in Galesburg Illinois; turbulence put us down in North Platte Nebraska, Charlottesville and Winchester Virginia. Forest fires in northern California grounded us in Grants Pass Oregon; poor visibility slowed us up in several stops in Texas. In contrast to this we had days of nearly unlimited visibility, air as smooth as glass and views of this country that we were privileged to see.
We gained experience in high-density altitude takeoffs (highest was nearly 9000 ft. in Gallup NM), found that 594EF could easily climb to clear the Rockies (12800 ft. just outside of Salt Lake City), realized that you don't have to cross a bunch of high mountains to get to the west coast if you followed the old Oregon Trail from North Platte Nebraska to Portland OR. Experienced nearly IFR conditions when we ran into forest fire smoke in southern Oregon and didn't realize it until we were in it. Learned that this RV6 handled a little different when loaded to near gross and had a CG within .6 inches of max aft on landing with half tanks. Flew about 2.5 - 3 hour legs before stopping for fuel and food because we found that's what we could take. After that time the noise and irritation of the headsets started kicking in, bodily urges started making themselves known, we were getting hungry and the lumbar region was aching. We rarely flew more then 5 hours a day.
Flight planning had us leaving Royalton Airport (9G5) in Western NY on September 16th 2003 and traveling to Nappanee IN to visit one of Eleanor’s cousins. A little diversion to Goshen Municipal (GSH) got us some fuel at $2.60 a gallon, a bargain I thought considering I paid $2.75 when we left western NY and considering the fact that our flight guide didn't show Nappanee Municipal (CO3) with fuel. Landed at Nappanee and guess what? Taxied up to a fuel pump that showed fuel at $1.94. A beautiful HR III landed and naturally fueled up. I guess a flight guide is only as good as the information given it.
Airborne again the following morning we flew the quilted patchwork of the Midwest and put down in Galesburg Municipal (GBG) IL (home of the annual Stearman gathering) to let a cold front go past. Rose at Jet Air Inc. quickly had us set up at a local motel (with the airport discount) and we spent the next day and a half leisurely exploring Galesburg. Found out that Carl Sandburg was born here and Ronald & Nancy Reagan grew up here. Also found out that the Maytag plant was shutting down and going to Mexico and 2000 people will be losing their jobs.
A 1985 Chevrolet Impala was our first introduction to airport courtesy cars. We stopped in Red Oak Municipal (RBK) IA for food, fuel and to see if any of Eleanor's relatives (Stiles) still lived there and were given the keys to this former town police vehicle to take into town. The seat didn't move from its full rearward position and there were spent shotgun and other caliber shells scattered on the floor. El and I loved it. Stretching my body out to its full 5'6" length, I managed to get us to and from a mediocre lunch in one piece.
The grass crosswind runway at Jim Kelly Field (LXN) in Lexington NE was the next to feel the wheels of 594EF and the service from the boys at Lexington Airport Authority was terrific. Besides filling the tanks they volunteered to clean the canopy, which I let them do.
We graciously gave way to a Lear jet on long final at North Platte Regional (LBF), landed and had a great steak at the hotel restaurant. The next morning found us following the North Platte River to Torrington WY. What a great river. Wide and shallow with many sandbars and islands, it looked like a perfect place to grow up around.
Here we are at the end of Torrington WY's (TOR) 5700 foot runway; leaning the engine to eke out that extra 20-30 rpm. Looks like I did it right cause we are climbing toward our first high plain crossing. We set a course for Phifer Airfield (EAN) and were slowly bringing the plane up to 10,500 feet to put a few thousand feet between us and a couple of small peaks on this ridgeline and a few minutes later we were angling our way across. Off to our south west we could see Elk Mountain which I was kind of leery of after listening to a story from a friend of mine who was heading east from Utah and got caught in a mountain wave downwind from Elk Mountain and nearly flipped his RV over. So as I'm trying to remember my winds aloft forecast from early this morning I'm keeping decidedly north of the mountain. An occasional ranch or small mining operation is all we see of habitation on this leg in this starkly beautiful country. Landed at Rock Springs – Sweetwater County (RKS) because it was time for lunch and again got use of a courtesy car. This time it was a Chevy Blazer and it adequately transported us the 12 miles into town so El and I could get a burger. This very pregnant waitress who obviously loved her job very much served us and kept us entertained at the same time. Great burger, but not the best we were to get on this trip. We waited for the afternoon thermals to quiet a little, made phone calls and talked with a pilot of this huge helicopter that landed for fuel. Seems he and his crew was off fighting forest fires somewhere and was heading back to their home base. Said his copter could carry 500 gallons of water on a tether to drop where needed. No courtesy car was needed for our next stop in Evanston WY, (EVW) home to a giant windmill farm that is capable of generating 144 megawatts when the wind is blowing; enough energy to power some 45,000 homes. The motel sent out a car and El and I spent a quiet night anticipating our first Rocky Mountain crossing.
N594Ef was pre-flighted and ready to go at 0730 the following morning. A 182 pilot and his son were ready to take off for Apple Valley CA so we chatted for a few minutes. The temperature was in the low 40's when we began our takeoff roll. A few minutes later we were cruising at 12,500 feet and heading for the Wasatch Mountains. A patch of blue appeared on the horizon and as I checked and double-checked the sectional to be sure of what I was seeing the Great Salt Lake appeared, a good 50 to 55 NM away. What a thrill. Not to be outdone, in a few more minutes, the peaks of the Wasatch chain slid under the belly of this great RV6 and we turned northwest and dropped it down to 10,500. We then crossed the Promontory Mts., the Hansel Mts., followed I84 up past Black Pine Peak and crossed into Idaho on the Snake River Plain.
Nampa Idaho’s Municipal Airport (S67) was where we spent our next fuel dollars and after a walk around the airport to stretch our legs and check out a WW II museum on the field we were off again. Continued to follow the Snake River and I-84 till we crossed into Oregon and left the Snake River Plain behind. Over some hills into another valley around Baker OR over more hills covered with spruce or fir and the green firry carpet suddenly ends and we are looking at the Columbia River plain. Avoid some restricted areas around Pendleton OR and now we are following the mighty Columbia. (Here is where it gets really good.) I'm doing my normal left to right and right to left visual scan when I pick up one, then two, then three and now four mighty peaks that we can see at the same time. From the north to the south we see in succession Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson. Right here, right now, this trip is so worth it. It still gives me shivers thinking about it. Continuing on and semi getting over our dual “shock and awe” at the sight we've just seen, we position ourselves for landing at The Dalles Municipal (DLS). Coming over the river we set ourselves up for landing on runway 30. After gassing up and parking we go inside to pay. Now all RV builders know or should know that there is no sales tax in Oregon. Well there is no sales tax unless you're from out of state buying aviation gasoline then you pay a sales tax. At $2.86 a galloon, this is the most we paid for gas on the entire trip. I was also confused at The Dalles being in Oregon since it was on the north side of the Columbia River and the river forms the boundary between Oregon and Washington. The line boy tried to explain it to me, but I could see that this would be a long conversation and we wanted to get to Portland so I feigned understanding, thanked him, and left. The good news was that we ate the third best hamburger on this trip at the airport restaurant.
“Report two mile final” the Portland-Troutdale (TTD) controller said after initial contact, but before I could report he cleared us to land. We had made it to Portland. This was the real reason we made this trip. Not withstanding the beautiful country we had seen and the wonderful flying we had experienced, the real reason for being in Portland was to see our son, daughter-in-law and our granddaughter Molly. It had been almost a year since we had seen them and oh how Molly had grown. This three year old was a real cutie (obviously), was so smart (again obvious) and really wanted to be with us (so obvious). We spent a week and had a great time exploring Portland, a great little city. I was really impressed. My son and I also fished the clear cold glacial streams and rivers for steelhead and coho and explored the National forest near Mt.Hood. We oohed and ahhed at the splendor of Multnomah Falls, one of the highest year-round waterfalls in the US and drove around the Portland area and spent our 37th wedding anniversary at a Pizza Hut in Gresham OR with Molly and her parents, just enjoying each others company. Our gift to each other was this trip.
Too soon the week was up and it was time to leave. We decided to fly the Willamette Valley south following I-5 because of coastal fog. It was fairly hazy but still exhilarating flying between the coastal ranges and the Cascades. The cities and towns passed by and soon we were in southern Oregon near Grants Pass. We were cruising at 9500 feet and I noticed that it seemed hazier then it had been before. Just as the thought became cognizant the visibility went to about 2 miles in severe haze. We also smelled the forest fire smoke for the first time. I executed an immediate descending turn to the left back to Grants Pass airport (3S8), which we had just passed over and never took my eyes off it as we spiraled down to a landing. We had received a NOTAM about forest fires in northern California on our pre-flight briefing, but since they were well off our route did not consider them a factor. Well, they were a factor. The visibility on the ground was no better then it was at 9500 and so we were grounded for the night. Again, the airport counter guy took care of us even to the point of asking a local pilot and his wife if they could take us into town. Vic and Dee, two very gracious people went out of their way to make sure that El and I got to the motel. You just can't beat airport people.
A change in wind direction the next day cleared out most of the smoke and had us flying past Mt. Shasta in northern California. Our flight path took us within 6 NM of the mountain and we had a great view of its snow-covered peak. Further on local burning in the central valley necessitated us dropping lower to keep under the haze and by the time we reached Nut Tree Airport (VCB) in Vacaville CA we were at 3500 feet. El's sister came out and picked us up and we spent a pleasant three days in the San Francisco/Oakland bay area. El and I had been to San Francisco before and I had spent a year in the Navy at Electronics “A” school on Treasure Island so we were both familiar with the area. That did not stop us from acting as newbie tourists and while my sister-in-law was at work, El and I took the BART to SF and did the whole cable car, Fisherman's Wharf, Embarcadero, Ghirardelli Square thing and loved it. The next day El's sister took us into foothills east of Sacramento to a small town called Coloma on the American River. That's right, El and I stood at the very spot where gold was discovered in California. You'd expect a much bigger production of it at the site considering the entire state of California, the Golden State, was a direct result of the discovery of gold “in them there hills”, but no. While we were there maybe 20 or 30 people came and looked and departed. We left after walking around a while since it was getting late and it was getting close to suppertime and we needed to find dessert. Another reason we were in the foothills is because this is great apple country and is famous for it's many country apple pie stands. Trouble is it was close to 1700 and the first three stands we stopped at were closed for the day. It looked like we were gong to strike out on the apple pie. We stopped at another stand that looked open but wasn't, but guess what? It was self serve, complete with frozen pies in a huge refrigerator. Apple crumb, apple and raisins, country apple, deep dish apple just all sorts of apple pies. Took us a few minutes to make our decision given the choices and presently we were on our way with dessert. After supper, with coffee it was delicious.
Our next stop was Las Vegas NV to try and recoup all the money we had spent on building our RV. Just kidding folks, actually I have two nephews and their families who live and work in the Las Vegas area and my sister wanted us to check up on them. We flew down the central valley and then hung a dogleg left near Bakersfield CA, over a low point where it looks like the Sierra Nevada's join the coastal range and headed for Palmdale, then Barstow and then Las Vegas. What was really memorable about this segment was trying to get in contact with Joshua Center for flight following. The controller on duty covering our segment literally talked non-stop for a solid hour before I could get in with a request. These guys EARN their money. Flying over the Mohave was also a learning experience since we found out that if we flew over the tan and brown part, there was very little turbulence. If we flew over areas of green, then the chop started up again. Las Vegas approach dropped us when we were within a few miles of Boulder City airport, our destination. Landing gave us a little thrill since a gusty crosswind kicked in at flare time and up goes the right wing and down goes the left wing and stop goes my heart, but my muscles are still responding and the aircraft again comes under my control and not the winds. Heart starts up again shortly after plane is brought under control. Boulder City Municipal airport (61B) was perhaps our biggest disappointment. On landing we saw a lot of planes but very few people. The FBO was closed even though it was before 1700 and the transient parking signs were misleading to me. Finally flagged down a fuel truck that got us pointed in the right direction. A phone call to one of my nephews and an hour later were talking about what we are going to do and see. Spent two wonderful days sightseeing in the Valley of Fire and viewing petroglyphs that purport to tell stories, but which I think are maps. We also fed the carp at Lake Mead. If you've never done this, it's a riot. Hundreds of carp will come up to the docks looking for food, so thick that the ducks that are also there walk across the carp's backs. Naturally when breadcrumbs or popcorn is tossed into the water it literally boils with frenzied feeding. Unfortunately, just like in many parts of the west the drought was readily apparent. The level of Lake Mead was way down since the last time we had seen it over three years ago. Our trip through the west was to give us continual visual reminders of a drought that has been going on for too long.
After taking more photos at the plane we were off again and heading for Colorado. Our flight plan took us down the Colorado River to Bullhead City and then east across the high plains of Northern Arizona and New Mexico. Gassed up and ate some pretty good Mexican food in Gallup NM and we were off again heading toward Albuquerque. We again had flight following as we had ever since “leaving Las Vegas”. Does anyone other then me think of that terribly depressing movie every time I hear that phrase? Moving on, Albuquerque (ABQ) center asked me what our flight route was. I answered and they came back and asked if I was sightseeing. Not understanding the query, I answered in the negative and center “rogers” me. Now they have me thinking. Reviewing what I had told them I had given my route of flight out of sequence and it had me going toward ABQ and then back to Grants Milan (GNT) and then to Sandia East (1N1). These guys are good and this wasn't the first time I was queried about my flight path. Center hands me off to ABQ approach and approach now asks be my flight path. I tell them ABQ to 1N1 to Springer (Q42) to Perrystokes (TAD) to Spanish Peaks (4V1) to Greenhorn Valley to Fremont County (1V6) this time forgetting to add Las Vegas NM (LVS) and of course this puts over some high mountains obviously higher then the 11,500 were currently flying and they come back and tell me that the MEA for my route is 14,300. I couldn't believe that I had screwed up my routing again. Serves me right for trying to give it to them from memory rather then reading it off the list that El had made. The good news was that it was with ABQ approach and not ABQ center, so center didn't have to think that I was a complete dolt. After all that, we never did complete that route that day. It was getting late in the afternoon and we had decided to put down in Las Vegas NM. The flying this day had been relatively smooth and I had pulled the power back slightly and was descending toward the airport some 17 NM away when we hit a bubble of turbulence that had the plane dropping rapidly and then rising just as rapidly so much so that El and I both hit our heads on the canopy hard with the plane ending up in a 30 degree up angle. I quickly brought the plane to level flight and that was it. El and I looked at each other and without saying a word; our eyes said, “What the hell was that?” Neither one of us was hurt and the air was as slippery and smooth as Teflon again. The whole episode took maybe 2.5 seconds; occurred with no warning and the flight continued on as if nothing had happened. No turbulence, no burbles, just smooth air all the way to the airport. Another one of those vagaries of flight that says don't ever take flight for granted, the unexpected will happen.
The airport was closed when we landed so we tied up next to a RV4, called the Comfort Inn at the edge of town and they sent their shuttle vehicle, a circa 1985 red and white F150 out to pick us up. A few minutes later we were ordering pizza delivery from Pizza Hut and were getting ready to hit the whirlpool to relax.
When we arrived back at the airport the following morning the RV4 was gone. Our driver, an ex cattle rancher who had to sell his herd last year because of the pervasive drought, told us that the pilot, a young lady, had gone to the airport at 0630. We topped off the tanks and took off for Canon City CO. The flight up was beautiful. On our left the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with its Culebra Range containing the snow covered Spanish Peaks was breathtaking on this early autumn morning. The two and a half hour flight was over too soon as we planned our approach into Fremont County airport (1V6). An hour after landing El's brother picked us up and we were off to Woodland Hills CO. The next couple of days found us exploring the hills and mountains around Woodland Hills. We walked the streets of historic Manitou Springs, had a passable barbeque dinner in town and drove the Gold Trail up to Cripple Creek, Victor and Blackhawk CO. I loved coming into Cripple Creek. Main Street descended into the heart of this small town and on both sides of Main Street it was lined with Mom and Pop casinos. The gold dust may have run out, but there is still gold (if your lucky enough) to be won on the streets of these towns. The next day we drove up to Pikes Peak and I want to tell you going up those roads without the benefit of guardrails unnerved me. I wanted my RV. I wanted control and I had none. Coming so close to the edge of those drop-offs sweated my palms and put my heart into overdrive. El was fine. She was sitting in the middle. My brother-in-law Donny, was fine. He was in control; he was driving. On top, at 14110 feet and 36 degrees the view was almost worth the ride up. After twenty minutes on top got a headache and was feeling a little funny. Was this early symptoms of hypoxia? Perhaps. I asked the park ranger if the altitude affected him and he said no, but said it could at any time. I guess there is good reason for the 30-minute rule when flying between 12500 and 14000 feet.
The weather briefing on our departure day said we would have good weather from Colorado down through New Mexico and through the panhandle of Texas. From there it would start to deteriorate and that's exactly what happened. We were trying to get to Houston to visit El's nephew who was attending school there. At Childress TX (CDS) we put down because of the feeling uncomfortable rule at the beginning of this missive. Once parked and refueled we asked about getting into town and were told there was no courtesy car and no taxis, but if we wanted a ride just hit the police button on the telephone and they would come out and get us. Sure enough, 15 minutes later El and I were looking through a reinforced wire mesh separator from the back seat of a police car. After making a quip about it being a while since I was in the back seat of a cruiser, I asked why they did this. The very personable officer said they did it for public relations and also to get a feel for who's coming into town from the airport. At the motel the officer told us to be sure and call in the morning when you want a ride back out to the airport.
Ate at K-Bobs that night after walking a couple of miles to a local barbecue place only to find it closed. We could of done worse. The next morning we had to wait for the fog to clear and so we walked to Wal-Mart and I got a prescription re-filled. Around 1100 the police cruiser was there as promised when I made the call, but this time there were two officers in the car.
We had a good flight as far as it went that day which was Mineral Wells (MWL) TX. Richard from the City of Mineral Wells, which runs the airport, could not do enough for us. Fill up the plane, transport our bags to the terminal building, loan us the courtesy car, not just for an hour, but all night since it was later in the afternoon, recommended a barbecue place to eat (Shotguns) and genuinely made us feel very welcome. After settling in the Ramada, we drove to Shotguns and had the Texas version of a Friday night fish fry. Shotguns had a special that night, eight pieces of catfish instead of six. I loved it; El didn't care for the texture of the fish.
The following day we tried again to get out, but after flying a few miles from the airport the visibility just wasn't to our liking so back to the airport we went. Before we had taken off I had shown our RV to Dwain who was building an RV7. We spent about 45 minutes talking about various aspects of building an RV. When we returned, Dwain and his wife Rose were still at the airport. It was near lunchtime so Dwain said “Why don't you all come to lunch with us. We'll go over to this here honky-tonk that serves the best hamburger in Texas.” So off we go to this honky-tonk. El and Rose in the front of the pickup and Dwain and I in back. The sign out side the honky-tonk said “The best hamburger in Texas”. Uhmmm, Dwain knows his hamburgers. The building is a Quonset hut and inside a bar and a cooking grill dominate one side. Long dark tables and chairs fill up the center with pool tables and a slightly raised bandstand at the end. Neon beer and pop signs grace the walls and seemingly provide most of the lighting. The waitress comes up to take our order. I let Dwain and Rose go first. They order hamburgers, chips and Coca-Cola. Dewayne has already cautioned us that the only food they serve here is hamburgers and cheeseburgers. You cannot get French fries or a side of coleslaw or potato salad. El and I order cheeseburgers, chips and Pepsi-Cola. “We don't carry Pepsi,” says the waitress. “Will Coca-Cola be Ok?” “Fine.” We both answer almost in unison. On this trip it seems you just cannot get a Pepsi anywhere west of the Mississippi. The burgers come and they are beyond delicious. Garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion and mayonnaise they are truly the best burgers I have ever had. Dwain and Rose pay for lunch.
Back to the airport we wait for the weather to clear. Pilots from the local EAA chapter flying a poker run try to be optimistic with their visibility estimates, but it's different flying in territory you know versus territory you don't know. El and I decide to give it up and spend another night in Mineral Wells. Dwain really wants me to see his plane and suggests we take ride out to his place. The only vehicle available is his pickup, so with Rose and El in the front and Dewayne and me in the truck bed we take off for Wetherford Texas. Our decision to land and stay put looks better and better. The ceiling is lower and it intermittently rains on us on the 35-mile trip. Dewayne’s RV7 looks great. It's amazing. Once you build your own RV you know whether someone’s workmanship is better or worse then your own. Dwain’s was definitely better. After a couple of hours of questions and answers and "how do I?" and "here is the way I did it", we were on our way back to the motel, this time in a station wagon.
The time spent in Mineral Wells was wonderful. We could not have met a nicer bunch of people and when the courtesy car picked us up in the morning it was with more then a little regret that we had to leave.
We are still trying to get to Houston to see El’s grandnephew, but soon were landing in Mexia-Limestone (“that’s pronounced Mehia”, the Dallas controller kindly advises me) to wait for the weather to clear a bit more before we continue. Fortunately we packed some granola bars, bananas and grapes and so had some lunch and talked with a couple from Dallas who were on there way back and stopped for the same reason we did. A couple hours later were inching our way toward Houston and the visibility and ceiling are both higher. In no time I’m calling my position to land at West Houston (IWS) and deliver our plane into the very capable hands of two of the most efficient line boys we run across. Fueled, tied down, canopy cover on we are now in a rental car trying to hook up with El’s grandnephew.
I gotta tell you that was more difficult then flying across this country and half way back again. His cell phone would intermittently refuse to transmit, but he could hear us. With us misunderstanding some directions and missing others, it took longer for us to hook up with him then it did to fly from Mineral Wells to Houston. But, hook up we did and now were off to find some real Texas barbeque. The place I picked turned out to have a real catchy name like Bob’s Barbecue Pit. The decor was fifties plastic; it was cafeteria style, but for 23 bucks the three of us had one full pound of beef ribs; one full pound of spiced beef sausage, potatoes, beans, cole slaw, bread and drinks and it was better then terrific. I’ve never had ribs that good. El’s grandnephew took enough home with him to feed himself and his three roommates another full meal.
El had to report back to her sister and niece, so off we go on a tour of the grandnephews school and the apartment he shares. Satisfied that her grandnephew is safe and is doing OK away from home, we make plans for breakfast the next morning followed by our departing for Natchez, Mississippi.
Texas proves just as hard to get out of, as it was to get into. Low ceilings and visibility has us landing at Cleveland Municipal (6R3). I am so wishing I was IFR rated now. Just by getting on top we could have saved four nights lodging and food expenses. On the other hand our stay at Cleveland gives us another day of true southern hospitality. The airport manager working out of a temporary trailer gave us a grand tour of the new terminal building that’s going up; explained to this ignorant Yankee that crawdads (mudpuppies) really do live in the ground and make those funny little volcano shaped mud piles that were scattered all over the front lawn. He also dropped us off that evening and picked us up the following morning at the local motel and took us to lunch the following day before we departed in the afternoon. What a great way to be treated.
We didn't know anyone in Natchez. This stop was for us to enjoy and was a last minute change because of a neighbor who saw us off when we started this trip. Eleanor mentioned that we were going to stop in New Orleans because she wanted to see some antebellum mansions. Carolyn, our neighbor, who has traveled a lot across this country, mentioned that Natchez would be a far better choice if we wanted to see a gaggle of mansions all in one place. So, here we are enjoying clear, relatively smooth air going across Texas, Louisiana, and the Mississippi River and eventually turning final for runway 36 into a pretty stiff breeze at Natchez-Adams County Airport (HEZ). Soybean and cotton plants grace the entrance to the terminal building, which is slightly over air-conditioned for an OAT of 70 degrees. The FBO is very helpful in recommending places to stay and see. We rent a Jeep Liberty and were off. The entire next day is spent looking at or walking through absolutely fabulous antebellum mansions. We had lunch in the carriage house of the Stanton Hall mansion near downtown Natchez; wandered the pews and aisles of St. Mary’s Cathedral; took a horse-drawn carriage through the narrow streets of old Natchez; took walking tours through three antebellum mansions (Auburn, The Towers and Lansdowne) as part of the Fall Pilgrimage, two of which were occupied and in one met a gentleman from nearby Lockport NY. That evening we drove past the Isle of Capri casino, across the Mississippi to Visalia Louisiana and ate crawdad, étouffé and crabmeat au gratin. While eating we watched the slow ponderous efforts of several tugs pushing barges up and down the river. Altogether, a great day and night.
The weather was forecast for severe clear and as we climbed out of Natchez to 7500 feet the following morning it did not disappoint us. What a perfect day; what a perfect flight. The pine forests of Mississippi gave way to the pine forests of Alabama and pretty soon we were hearing the positional chatter of several planes in the pattern at The Robert G Pitts (AUO) airport in Auburn AL. Auburn University runs a very active flight school at the airport in conjunction with their aviation management program. Soon we merged with the flow and were landing on their very active runway. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out where the fuel pumps were and had a very long taxi back to where I just had been. The terminal building was very crowded mostly with members of the Auburn University women’s volleyball team as El and I tried to eat and take a catnap. I managed to nap a little as El talked with a woman whose daughter was checking out the flight school. Everywhere we went, people were endlessly fascinated with our flight and Auburn was no exception.
"You flew all the way across country in a small plane?"
"Yeh, we’re on our way back."
"Where you all start out from?"
"Near Niagara Falls New York."
"What kind of plane is that?"
"It's called an RV6. It's an experimental homebuilt. El and I just spent the
last five years building it."
"You flew all the way across this country in a plane you built?"
"Yeh, pretty cool eh?"
Not too much variation from this and I never tired of it. I would spend as much time as it took talking about the flight and the plane as long as the person wanted to. Some of our departures were delayed up to an hour because of this. It was wonderful.
Nap finished, plane fueled up, conversations over it was time to depart. Heading generally northeast to Florence SC, we picked up flight following from Atlanta, Augusta, Columbia, Shaw Air Force base and then Florence.
We get positioned for a right base to the active runway at Florence (FLO) and are quickly directed to the FBO tie down area. A call to my brother and soon were heading to the best three days of eating I have ever had. My sister-in-law, Rita is one fantastic cook and that night we were treated to a very Polish meal of pierogi, capusta and kielbasa. The following days were just as palatably thrilling as this one was. It was great to see my brother again; it had been awhile and we just spent the next few days hanging together. We did chores around the house; went to a hockey game on Saturday night; drove around looking at houses to buy and actually toured a few model homes. El and I keep talking about moving out of tax heavy New York, but so far all we've done is talk. We were scheduled to leave on Sunday, but Rita enticed us to stay a day longer by promising she would make shrimp creole for dinner that night. She followed through and we stayed. Eventually though, we had to leave heading toward the outer banks of North Carolina.
Our destination was First Flight Airport, (FFA) but a NOTAM had already told us what we didn't want to hear. The runway was closed for resurfacing in anticipation of the air traffic that would be landing there in the next few weeks. Disappointed, but not deterred we announced our intentions after listening to other traffic in the pattern to enter the upwind for runway 05 at Dare County Municipal Airport(MQI)on Roanoke Island NC. We make the turn from base to final and it doesn't feel quite right. I continue the approach and into the flare we are just humming down that runway. I now know we are landing downwind and finally coax the six to the runway. So much for listening and believing the traffic in the pattern and not double-checking wind direction myself. Another lesson learned. We borrow the courtesy car with an informal agreement that we would pony up $20 for every hour after the first hour and a half that we have the car. Our intentions are to drive over to Kill Devil Hill; thank the Wrights for the incredible experiences we are living because of their perseverance and ingenuity; drive back to Dare County and continue our journey. Well, the trip and touring the first flight site takes longer then we expect (naturally); we have a late lunch afterward and by the time we get back to the airport the winds have picked up, there’s an active AIRMET for turbulence and I'm a little unsettled about continuing. We decide to stay over another day and then because the front causing this turbulence moved slower still, we stayed over an additional day. Didn't turn out too bad. We spent a few hours reading and walking on the beach and then drove down to the Bodie Island lighthouse just to see it. Big, tall, nice horizontal stripes that differentiated it from other lighthouses in the area. The lighthouse at Cape Hatteras has diagonal stripes, whereas the one at Cape Lookout has black diamonds on a white background. The following day dawned bright and sunny and even though there were a few AIRMETS regarding turbulence I didn't feel they would affect us. We headed westward and all was calm and smooth. We then made a right turn north and it seems that just as we entered Virginia the turbulence hit. At the same time flight following out of Norfolk was telling us they couldn't see anything below 7000 feet because of some hardware problems and now they wanted us to change frequencies so Potomac approach could handle us. Oh great, bumping along like a skier in a mogul field, scanning for traffic and trying to tune the radio with a finger that won't stay still for a nanosecond. Maybe one more day back at Roanoke Island would have been OK. We continued on however, the RV just kind of rolling with the punches. Had quite a few tail wags, which seemed a precursor to the next bump to hit us. After about 45 minutes of this, I had enough. Checking the sectional I was looking for a long, wide runway that somewhat approximated the wind direction and we settled on Charlottesville VA. The ATIS said that the wind was 20, gusting to 30, but swinging about 45 degrees to each side of the centerline. This is going to be interesting, I thought as approach vectored us for a straight in to runway 03. I felt like I was trying to follow the ball for a carrier approach in rough seas as I came down final for a landing. Somewhere during short final everything seemed to smooth out and I thought that this was going to be OK. Then......the bottom fell out and I could feel the RV dropping like a rock toward the surface. A quick burst of power and help from the strong wind put us 50 feet above the runway. Remember, I looked for a long runway, well we had it and I was determined that this plane was going to come down safely even if it meant using all 6000 feet of it. Slow flighting it and slowly reducing power as I traversed the runway I finally coaxed it down and landed with only a little sideways drift. I estimated that we used over 3000 feet to get down and recalled hearing the controller advising following aircraft to slow down as there was still an aircraft on the runway. He would have been more accurate if he had said there was an aircraft all over the runway. Taxing back to the tie down went OK as a lineman came up to guide us to the tie down space. When El and I got out a strong gust of wind pivoted the plane quickly around the right side after the lineman inexplicitly chocked just one wheel. Quick action by El in holding the empennage and me on the wing saved us from having a runaway plane in a tie down area. Finally tied down, we waited for a taxi to take us to a local hotel and then we waited and waited and waited and called back and of course the taxi driver went to the passenger terminal area rather then the FBO passenger area, couldn't find us and promptly left; obviously not our best day of flying.
A good meal at Red Lobster, a refreshing nights rest at a Days Inn, a nondescript taxi ride back to the airport and soon we were freezing our behinds off pre-flighting our RV. This was, by far the coldest day we've had on our trip. Climbing out on runway heading we soon crested a ridgeline of the Appalachians and were in the Shenandoah Valley. The visibility was great, but again we were getting bounced all over the place. Our plan, based on our preflight briefing was to head toward Winchester VA, put down, have lunch and decide which direction we were going to take to get back to New York state. It did not look good. The route up through central PA was laced with low ceilings and snow showers. An alternate route to the northeast over Harrisburg PA, up the Susquehanna River then angling toward Elmira NY was better but rough air would be our constant companion. In Winchester VA, we stayed overnight and ate twice at the Cracker Barrel figuring the following day would be less bumpy.
The following morning my pre-flight briefing definitely said the Northeast route would be better. Above us we had clear blue skies, but it was cold and once we reached PA we would encounter a broken/overcast that would keep us below 4500 feet and promised that underneath the bumps would resume. Our route would take us within 12NM of the prohibited area around Camp David MD and a pre-flight NOTAM warned us that the prohibited area around Camp David would be increased from 5 to 10 NM by 1400 that afternoon. The first half hour was wonderful. Great visibility, smooth air, fall foliage still in good color. In quick succession we were out of Virginia, in and out of West Virginia, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania; then the bumps started again. They were probably worse than what we had experienced the previous two days, but by now El and I were hardened veterans. Neither one of us said a word about the turbulence although at times we would look at one another when an especially strong bump aggressively urged us up or down or side to side. Reducing speed to about 10 knots above maneuvering speed took a lot of the sharp edges off the turbulence and still gave us a decent cruise. For two hours we put up with this and just about the time I was ready to cry uncle, the sky above us started to open up and the turbulence was losing its grip. By the time we passed Elmira NY it was almost pleasant again. Our next stop was Hornell NY, a short 45 minutes from our home base. We stopped there for lunch and because we had an 180,000 mile, 95 Pontiac Grand Prix airport car there. We make frequent trips down from out home to Hornell to visit El’s mother and her other relatives in the vicinity so our own car at the airport comes in handy. After we landed, we went to the car and wouldn’t you know it, neither one of us had a key to unlock the car. We ask if there’s a courtesy car we could use, but no luck. However the counter lady says, “ Take Mine.” Hmmm, southern hospitality in the north; how refreshing.
After lunch we takeoff on our final leg home. He sky is ice blue clear and the ride is once again smooth. Passing Akron NY airport (9G3) I announce our intentions for landing at Royalton Airport (9G5) 10 NM away. John, the airport manager at Akron, hears my call and says, “Now there’s a voice I haven’t heard in a while, welcome back.” We land on runway 25, taxi back to the hangar, shut down and it’s over. We sit there quietly for a minute, kiss and hug each other and exit the plane. Willie, a mutual pilot friend of ours was up near the FBO lounge. I get on the radio and ask her to come down and take a couple of photos of us, which she obligingly does. The first telling and retelling of this story begins.
Keep poundng those rivets. It is so worth it.