By Bob "Pop" Owens
When Laird (Owens) suggest that Mom and I use our RV-6 N515 Lima to take a summervacation he never envisioned that he would be without his favorite plane for three weeks. Nor did we. Jay and Margie Johnson are friends that date back to the 1940's. They lost their son, Scott, in an aviation accident. We learned from Scott's widow, Sally, about a Memorial to Celebrate the Life of Scott Johnson. It was to be held in July in near Culpeper, Virginia. Jay and I were good friends and flew airplanes and models together before either of us got married. Our sons Mark and Laird had grown up playing with their sons Randy and Scott Johnson. Mom suggested that we accept Laird's suggestion by flying N515 Lima to the Celebration.
I laid out plans for the flight that would permit visiting as many relatives and friends as possible and break the trip down to flights of 2 to 3 hours each. I began watching the Weather Channel on TV to get a feel for the storm patterns and frequency with which they occur. The biggest concerns are the summer thunderstorms with lightning, hail and vicious winds in their vacinity. I accumulated aeronautical charts and Airport/Facilities Directories of the entire route both directions. I tried to select airports that have more than one runway. We announced to the Johnson's that we would like to attend the Celebration and were eagerly accepted.
A detailed itinerary was prepared to alert relatives and friends along our flight path to see if we would be welcome. All eagerly accepted. When Laird saw the itinerary his comment was, "Three weeks? And me with no plane to fly?" "Get used to it, Kid". The plan was to call our host on our cell phone immediately before takeoff to confirm our estimated time of arrival time. This is a good substitute for filing flight plans with FAA. Our plans always included taking off in the coolness of early morning to avoid the winds, turbulence and storm buildups that occur in the afternoons. The RVers on the SoCal_RVList provided excellent suggestions regarding proper call up procedures, etiquette and functions of FSS, Flight Watch and Flight Following. I had no problem with these services.
When we declared the start of our Late-In-life Flight Adventure on June 26, 2001 two couples expressed the desire to see us off and wish us God's Speed. They witnessed the loading of 100 pounds of baggage, water jug and equipment into N515 Lima. My weight and balance calculations had already confirmed this is amount to be acceptable. A quick cell-phone call to our hosts in Sun City, AZ announced our plan to take off at 0800 and land at 1000. The only weather would be a high cirrus overcast. I called Whiteman Tower (WHP) and requested once around the pattern, a low approach and a left crosswind departure through Burbank's airspace. The request was approved and we flew down the runway at 50 feet altitude and saluted farewell by wagging the wings. Since the Palm Springs (PSP) traffic pattern extends into my flight path I requested and received permission to transit their airspace.
Our arrival at Glendale Airport (GEU) required either circumventing or requesting permission to transit the airspace of Luke Air Force Base. I elected to fly south of Luke then turn north toward GEU over the Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). I was cleared for a straight in approach after reporting I-10. Our hosts greeted and whisked us away for two wonderful days. The big event was dinner out with several transplanted families from the San Fernando Valley, some of whom we have known since 1949. All too soon it was time to move on. We got to GEU around 7:00 AM on a clear day with typical AZ visibility of 100 miles plus. Weather would not be a factor this day and light tailwinds were forecast.
Just before engine start up we took the obligatory photos and made a cell phone call to our next hosts in Amarillo, TX. Weather was fantastic and N515 Lima climbed quickly to clear the 10,500 feet mountains north-east of Phoenix. I made a slight miscalculation and started our descent into Tradewind Airport (TWD) earlier than necessary. As a consequence we encountered a hot and turbulent ride the last few miles. With gusting cross winds I greased the wheel landing. Our hosts, my sister and other relatives were there to greet us. We had a great visit and caught up on all the family news from that location. My nephew Dusty Ray requested a ride in N515 Lima. Since it is an amateur-built experimental airplane I always wait until a person makes a request for a ride, then read them their rights, "You have no rights, but I'll do my best to make the flight enjoyable for you". He got his flight the next morning. I let him handle the controls and he did well. He loved it and expressed a desire to someday get a pilot's license. I had made the first of seven RV-6 converts on this trip. Time's up. Let's move on. A phone call the next morning for a weather briefing revealed a major slow-moving storm across western Oklahoma right in my intended flight path with IFR conditions as far north as Gage, OK. After several "what ifs" with the weather briefer I announced my intentions to do an end run to the north hoping to avoid the storm. He concurred. Our departure to the Kansas City (Lee's Summit Airport - LXT) included a route directly through the controlled airspace of Amarillo International Airport (AMA) immediately after takeoff. I requested and received permission to fly through their airspace. As I headed north toward Dodge City I monitored Flight Watch (122.0 mHz) and gave my PIREPS. As I neared Liberal I was over a solid low level cloud-deck that extended to the horizon to east but broken to the north. PIREPS indicated clearing conditions at Wichita. I made a right turn directly toward Wichita (ICT) and proceeded for an hour between occasionally broken cloud layers. GPS is marvelous! This is considered VFR-On-Top which was no problem because Kansas has no mountains of consequence. LXT was very busy and has no tower. Communication was complicated because the same radio frequency (CTAF) was being used by several nearby airports. Again our hosts were waiting, taking pictures and waving as we taxied up to the fuel dock. We were greeted by the pilot of my WWII US Navy patrol bomber crew. He had once owned a Swift 145 and was anxious to see our RV-6.
Being fearful of possible thunderstorms during our 3 day stay at LXT sheltered tie-down was obtained for N515 Lima. Our hosts had a long list of things do in Kansas City. We visited the restored rail depot including an exhibit of Titanic artifacts. We saw a museum of the artifacts from the steamboat "Arabia" paddle wheeler that was sunk by a tree skag in the Mississippi River. The river later changed course and the "Arabia" remained buried in a corn field about 40 feet down in silt for about 140 years. For lunch they took us to the Stadium Club of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. She had worked in the team Ticket Office and still maintains her Stadium Club membership.
A call for a weather briefing for a flight from LXT to Bowling Green revealed no problems, except local fog along some of the river valleys. I made a cell phone call to our next host. I had warned June that if she bought anything she would be required to ship it back home. She did buy small gifts for each hostess along our route. This hostess makes the best apple and peach pies. Seems the seat belts in N515 Lima keep getting tighter! Wonder why? While there I accessed my email account on her computer. I was able to send email activity reports from every place we visited that had a computer and on-line service. Everyone back home seemed to appreciate receiving these updates. I did a few honey-do chores around the house to keep on the good side of our pie-making hostess.
Capt. Steve Hunt, my BA 747 Instructor Pilot friend, had these comments to make concerning my email progress reports. "I can't begin to tell you how many people over here in England are following your travels. I keep them up to date when we meet in the Pub, at work, all over the place. So, it's not just David and me over here who enjoy hearing from you! I was explaining to the whole bunch of crew, some American, over in Dehli last week. This must be quite a famous trip by now! I think you should write it up and publish!" So far we were maintaining our itinerary schedule. We had only one more flight to go to make it to the Memorial on schedule. Surely, God must be parting the storm clouds to permit us to fly through. As a precaution against not arriving on time due to weather I had sent email messages to Jay and Margie from my family members relating what joy and laughter Scott had brought into our lives.
An early morning weather briefing revealed that a morning thunderstorm was passing a few miles southwest of BWG with associated rain, fog and IFR conditions. Just as I hung up the phone to ponder our delay, Jay called to suggest that it would be better for their family if we would arrive after lunch at 2:00 PM. That was very fortunate request. This was significant because N515 Lima experienced the highest ground speed of any flight segment - 230 miles per hour. Winds aloft forecast 20 knot tailwinds. This is my all-time best cruising speed, but I knew that payback time would occur on the return flight when these tailwinds would become headwinds. This tailwind permitted our arrival over their home at precisely at 2:00 PM. The only significant weather problem occurred on departure where low clouds forced us to remain down at about 1000 feet AGL for an hour. After that some breaks in the overcast permitted a cruise-climb to on-top of broken-to-scattered clouds for the remainder of flight to Culpeper, VA. A few late morning cloud build-ups over the Shannondoah Valley obscured the view but proved no problem.
As we approached Jay & Margie's farm, named "Deep Run Farm", Jay and I were communicating via radio. All their guests were standing on the porch as I made several requested low passes over the farm then headed for Culpeper Airport (CJR). Jay and Margie drove to CJR to pick us up. Jay had put his ultralight in a trailer so N515 Lima could use his hanger. While driving us back to the farm Margie explained the "Good news-Bad news" situation. Due to the large number of guests a huge pontoon boat had been purchased and floated on their private lake specifically for our living accommodations. The bad news was that it was in such poor conditions that it could not be used. The good news was that accommodations had been arranged for us to stay at their neighbors who run a Bed & Breakfast and Christian Camp. Jay had also arranged a car for us to use for transportation.
The Celebration of Scott's Life was an emotional experience. Rev Doug Farmer with whom we stayed presided over the Memorial and did a masterful job. June and I managed to read our family messages without too much emotional break up. Because Scott's body has never been recovered from the sea we were told that the written words of Scott's family and friends would be preserved in a time capsule. The time capsule will be buried at the selected site. It is adjacent to the site where the ashes of Randy were placed last year. There is so much more to this story but lets move on to the flying. Jay had mentioned that he and several others would like a ride in N515 Lima so they could see the farm from the air. I made flights with Jay, Margie and 3 others. It was a pleasure to demonstrate RV-6 N515 Lima and introduce another 5 persons to the world of Van's RV airplanes.
Another early morning weather briefing revealed hazy but good weather for our short flight to Georgetown, DE. A quick cell phone call announced to our next hostess that our estimated flight time was just over an hour. The routing of this flight necessitated dodging south of Washington airspace and north of US Navy restricted airspace around NAS Pax River. We over-flew Georgetown Airport (GED) and continued on to the Atlantic Ocean thus competing the first half of our Flight Across the USA. To prove we made it all the way we photographed Rehoboth Beach, DE before turning back to landing. Our hostess was waiting at the ramp. She is a longtime friend and the widow of my ex-partner in an Ercoupe way back in 1952 through 1955. It was time to start our return flight. She had requested a flight in N515 Lima. Our early morning departure was pushed back just long enough to take her up and out over Rehoboth Beach. A low pass by all the beach cottages provided her an unparalleled view and thrill. Her comments were; "You both have made my whole summer! I'll always treasure the short time we had together. And you can bet your life the highlight was my flight over Lower Delaware in your beautiful plane." Thanks to a perfect 3-point landing we have another RV-6 convert. A cell phone call to Bowling Green announced our return visit with our previous hostess for one more night. Weather was very cooperative again, except for the prevailing headwinds. Our hostess remained gracious for our second stay and came up with another pie. A cell phone call to McKinney, TX announced the uncertainty of our intended arrival because a line of storms blocked our path. But it was clear as far as our planned fuel stop in Hot Springs, AR. We said our farewells and circled over BWG where our hostess was still standing on the ramp apparently willing us to not leave.
Hot Springs (HOT) was in the clear and very busy with trainer traffic. After re-fueling, the TV weather monitor in the pilot's lounge revealed that a small fast moving break in the squall line was approaching. IF we took off immediately we might just sneak between rain cells. It worked, almost, and soon we were landing at McKinney (TKI). With a quartering tailwind of 10~12 knots the landing was OK but not a thing of beauty. My brother and other relatives arrived by the time we had N515 Lima safely parked in a big hanger under the wing of a Cessna Citation. We all departed for my sister-in-law's home on Lake Lavon, northeast of Dallas. Because we were there on a weekend their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren came by to visit the 75 year old California flyer and his wife. We spent much time discussing the good old days.
A call for a weather briefing for an early morning flight to Albuquerque's Double Eagle II Airport (AEG) revealed nothing but headwinds for the nearly 4 hour non-stop flight. At AEG June and I rented a car and motel to facilitate our visit with my eldest sister who is in a nursing home. We found her in good spirits and fully expecting us. Her granddaughter had told her were would stop by for a visit.
When the alarm sounded in our motel the next mornong the first thing I did was turn the TV to the Weather Channel. I was greeted with a view of southerly monsoon flow with yellow and red stuff approaching AEG. We expedited our departure. The takeoff from AEG at 1700 lbs GTOW and 5000 feet elevation with density altitude over 6000 feet was piece o'cake. We did get out before the rainstorm hit. Since a non-stop flight to Whiteman Airport (WHP) would be marginal against the headwinds we elected to land at Winslow, AZ (INW) for fuel during the cool morning. This strategy paid off and we arrived at WHP at noon just as the morning clouds were burning off. We off-loaded the 100 pounds of baggage into our waiting car and put N515 Lima back in the hanger.
Well Done, N515 Lima!
Flight Statistics Landings Mileage (est.) 4500 nm (5200 sm) Perfect (2) Flight time 35.9 hrs (tach) Good (3) Fuel used 283.3 gallons So-So (11) Fuel cost $711.22 Lousy (4) Fuel cost (highest) $2.66 @ TDW Fuel cost (cheapest) $2.25 @ CJR Fuel cost (average) $2.51 Avg. fuel used $7.89 gph (62% power typically at 2450 rpm) Longest flight time 3.8 hrs Greatest flt dist. 535 nm Oil used 2.5 qts