Ich habe lange nichts von Dir gehört und vermute deshalb, dass Du Dich im Training für Deinen Flug über den Atlantik befindest. Bis bald dann. Your former classmate Renate
WOW! What a special surprise it was for BE and me to arrive back at our Gettysburg Airport departure point at 3:35 last Saturday afternoon, after flying 4.4 hrs from Bluffton, IN, and find the group of local friends and family awaiting us and to see my five-year–old grandson, Zach, eagerly leading everyone to the plane once BE’s propeller came to a final stop. It was the culmination of an unbelievably fantastic trip and experience for me and the further manifestation of the outpouring of support, encouragement, best wishes, etc. that so many of you have continually extended to us. Please know that I sincerely appreciated each and every wish, thought, prayer, etc. that you passed my way via this website, email, phone, letter, etc. It’s difficult to describe how good it feels to have had such an unexpected outpouring of support from old friends, as well as all the new ones I’ve met over the past three plus weeks. While it would be untenable to cite everyone, there are two individuals and an organization whose contributions were key to the success of my trip. First and foremost, Tem (who is either my 41-yr-old wife, or my wife of 41 yrs – it’s sometimes hard to remember) has unselfishly supported and encouraged me to follow my heart and do this ever since I first mentioned the possibility of it. She was often the behind-the-scenes factor that enabled it and she made it possible by “keeping the home fires burning” while I was away. Whether there’s a quid pro quo on the horizon doesn’t really matter because she is certainly deserving:) As an engineer, I’m a firm believer in the double-entendre adage that “safety is no accident” and that philosophy extends to system reliability as well. Russ Ruppert, the FAA licensed A&P/IA at Bermudian Valley Airpark who has meticulously maintained BE for almost six years now, gets full credit for the unprecedented lack of any significant maintenance issues during the almost 80 flight hours of this trip. Russ is a true maintenance professional who I am privileged to have support my plane. Finally, the Gettysburg Barnstormers (EAA Chapter 1041), under the leadership of Henry Hartman and Jim Sheen, have been the core support group of fellow aviators and aviation enthusiasts who are always “ready, willing and able” to collectively support the initiatives of their members. They embody the true spirit of general aviation.
My only regrets are that in undertaking a trip of this nature in a small plane, it is decidedly a solo effort and because of realistic time constraints, the opportunities to spend extended time at any one destination or visit people along the way are limited. As to the future, I hope to be able to continue roaming the skies with Bald Eagle for many years, but as I wind down in life, have already provisioned to fly him and others in my Ready Room flight simulator when the time inevitably comes to make that change. In the not too distant months, I plan to make a short trip to New England and “bag” the six remaining states there in order to complete the lower 48. I already have a surrogate Aeronca lined up to fly the next time I’m in Hawaii and am confident of being able to arrange a similar opportunity in Alaska. Additionally, a trip through Canada and up the Alaskan Highway with BE is not out of the realm of possibility, dependent right now only on the speed of the Canadian bureaucracy in recognizing Americans who are flying under the provisions of the relatively new Sport Pilot privileges. Additionally, after almost 50 years of involvement in many different aspects of general, commercial and military aviation, there is probably a book or two in the back recesses of my mind. Bringing them out in the open and sharing them is something I’ve started thinking more about during some of the long flight legs on this adventure, encouraged by the comments and suggestions of several of you who have vicariously followed along. So, who knows? The future is always heavily dependent on whatever you make it be.
During the course of this trip I exchanged several emails with Nancy K, one of Tem’s best friends since childhood and also a former classmate and friend of mine as well. Since it’s usually Tem who keeps in touch with her, I wasn’t aware that she always included a specific quote at the end of each of her emails. However, I became fascinated with it and asked her about its origin. She responded that it was from her favorite poem, The Summer Day, written by Mary Oliver. With Nancy’s indulgence I leave it for you to ponder here as the closing line to this great adventure of my own life.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Over and out,
Charlie & Bald Eagle
P.S. Sixty-four-year-old Nancy is the daughter of former longtime Gettysburg Borough Manager, Charlie Kuhn. She is a very rare six-year survivor of multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that took her own mother at an age younger than she has currently achieved. If you are in any way touched or inspired by Nancy’s outlook on life and would like to help support the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), I invite you to visit her “Team Remarkable Me's” website at http://321cure.themmrf.org/site/TR?team_id=10320&fr_id=1133&pg=team for additional information and then click on the "Support Team Remarkable Me's" link that is immediately under her picture.
P.P.S. Please note that numerous additional pictures and video clips have been added to the Photos and Videos links on the site. Unfortunately, they are not all in chronological order, but the photos do have captions with dates that are visible when you scroll over them with a mouse and there are several different clips on most of the video links.
First of all, the numbers of the day as a warm-up for my “confession”: 6.7 hours of flight time, 619 miles and 4 new states to complete the objective of 23 new states and a grand total of 42 for me and BE. The remaining 6 of the lower 48 are the 6 New England states and we should be able to easily “bag” them in a weekend trip – but not this weekend! My day was significantly altered by a thought provoking email from flying buddy Joe K. He and I have spent around 250 hours flying BE together on various other less ambitious adventures where we alternate who “drives” and who naps in the back, plus Joe has spent over 30 hours glued to my wing in his national award winning 1930 Waco RNF as part of the “Grey Devils” formation team, so he knows me pretty well. He has been reading of my solo adventures on this trip and his email encouraged me to resume a habit that I have essentially avoided mentioning in these blogs and finish out the trip by including one of the lifestyle quirks that he knows I really like. That my friends, is the habitual use of “grass”. Some call it by other names and my late mother used a different term when she warned me in my teen years never to use it. However, by age 16, coincidental with when I started flying, I was hooked and have continued to use it frequently ever since, with the exception that while serving as a Navy pilot, I can’t remember ever using it, even though there were many pilots in other service branches who did. Since first being introduced to it, I have always enjoyed the mellow feeling of being involved with something that is a natural product, rather than some complex combination of various compounds. It fits very well with today’s environmental emphasis and trends toward going “green”. In the pilot community, the use of grass is a controversial subject that has both advocates and “naysayers”, and I would admit that it’s not the perfect solution for everyone or all the time. However, it’s been my personal choice for almost 50 years now and I have no intention of stopping as long as it’s still available to me. Joe pointed out some specific opportunities for me to use it at the end of this trip, and I’m happy to say that I took his advice and used it twice today. It made me feel much more comfortable flying. So, a big shout out to thank Joe for his insight. When I landed on that grass strip at Kankakee, IL this afternoon and then later at the end of the day on the grass at Miller Field here in Bluffton, IN, I realized that I’d missed it on this trip and it was a great feeling to have completed the last of my intended 23 states today while using grass – in fact I even felt a bit high when it was all over! (For anyone who has read this far and is trying to decide who to call first - the DEA or the FAA, please re-read the above before you do or give me a call and I’ll try to explain it:) It was hard to get away from Martin Field in Sioux City, NE this morning. Breakfast with Gene had opened up all kinds of fascinating things. The fact that he was sitting there talking to me was directly linked to one of my heroes, Charles Lindbergh. Lindy had come by Sioux City in August ’27 while on tour following his famous flight. Gene’s dad met him and as a result got interested in becoming a pilot and eventually founded the airport that bears his name and that his 72 year-old son now runs. Gene has personalized, autographed pictures showing Lindbergh with his dad and his dad helping work on the Spirit of Saint Louis. Additionally, Gene has pictures and mementoes from his own personal relationship with Pappy Boyington, as well as numerous other aviation treasures. I video recorded some of his comments and the pictures, but won’t have them available until after I get home. Gene also has an association that will undoubtedly be of interest to the Shues and the other Waco guys. One statistically interesting thing that happened was while Gene and I were talking to another pilot, Ken. Gene mentioned that his birthday was on Valentine’s Day. I then said that mine was the day before that and Ken followed up by saying that his was the day before that! What are the odds? The first flight leg was to Hampton, IA and on that one, as well as all the others today, I rarely saw anything less than three figures on the GPS groundspeed - i.e. we averaged better than 100 MPH. I altered the initial plan for a different WI landing spot to enable getting gas there rather than in IA and took a lunch break in the airport lounge at Platteville. While there, two 30ish guys came in with a J-5 Cub they were ferrying from WI back to Corpus Christi, TX for a purchaser. One of them, while unshaven, had a clean-cut look and I asked if they were in the Navy (Corpus Christi is a big Navy flight training town), They both said they weren’t, but then the real target of my question sheepishly said he was in the Marines. I pressed on with another question on what he did in the Corps and it turned out that he was an F-18 pilot stationed at MCAS Miramar, where I used to be stationed as an F-4 pilot when it was NAS Miramar. The resulting conversation ended up with promises for him to visit me in Gettysburg and evaluate how good the F-18 is that I have in my flight simulator and for me to visit him at Miramar where he promised me a flight in the full-up mission systems F-18 simulator there. I’m already checking out ticket availability:) The other guy turned out to be from Beeville, TX where in ’70 I went through advanced jet flight training in the F-9 Cougar. While not even born then, he was able to report on the status of the Mar-Ray apartment complex where we lived. I love these small world connections! Take a look at the photo that I’m putting on the site showing the “external baggage pods” these guys had on the wings of their J-5. After lunch, it was time to use the grass at Kankakee and Bluffton where I landed just as the sun was disappearing. Joe was right, the fields are great and the reception by John Miller outstanding – I’m driving his SUV tonight while staying in a local hotel. Also met his unrelated neighbor, Kerri Miller and couldn’t help telling them that my maternal grandparents were also John and Carrie Miller! If I haven’t yet used up all my good luck, it should be two legs tomorrow to an arrival back in Gettysburg. For some reason, don’t think I’ll blog tomorrow night, but in the next couple days hope to put out a final summary, wrap-up, etc, and it should include the pictures and video clips that I just haven’t had the time to process while “on the road”. Where did the last three weeks go?
To incorrectly quote W.C. Fields, “I went to Gettysburg and it was closed”. Early this morning while looking at the route map for the day, I realized we would be passing very close to Gettysburg, SD, so it seemed like a good idea to stay there rather than someplace a few miles up the road. However, later on as the day was running short, I called ahead to make sure there would still be someone at the airport at my 6:00 PMish planned arrival. A woman in the town offices answered the phone and related that the airport was currently closed for repairs. (This info was probably available in the NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen), but I hadn’t had an opportunity to check them since getting the idea). Anyway, that’s why we’re RONing in nearby Timber Lake tonight. The airport is the first all-grass one we’ve been at on this trip and appears to be the farm of Jake, who runs a crop dusting business from here with both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The bar stool “wags” in the local food and drink emporium tonight say that Jake also runs the Gettysburg Airport and several others in the area. He offered me a room in his hangar, but I declined due to need for internet access and proximity to a food source. So, Jake arranged for me to rent a brand new hunting cabin in downtown Timber Lake (most of the streets are dirt) and gave me the key to his pickup truck. It’s even more memorable than the one in Liberal and is my third pickup truck “courtesy car” of the trip. Last night in Powell, WY I used the one from the hotel clerk to sit in McDonald’s parking lot at 2 AM and blog. Orville and I had breakfast in the local diner this morning amidst a zero- zero fog that engulfed the area. He took me along out to the airport, but it wasn’t until after 11:00 AM when the fog burned off enough for a legal takeoff. Meanwhile, we did “airport stuff” and I heard a lot of fascinating stories about Orville’s years of service as a mountain search pilot in MT. I tried hard to defend my home state to him and the other locals, by telling them that we have a peak in western PA that’s over 3,000 feet high. For some reason they thought this was funny and mentioned that it was 2,000 ft less than the airport elevation where we were hanging out. Orville’s last name is “Moore” and I was honored when on departure he presented me with a baseball cap bearing the outline of a Cub and the name of his business “Moore Quality Flying”. He’s fortunate that his mother didn’t marry someone with the surname “Less” :) By the time we got airborne again, I was fully briefed on Orville’s “must do” sightseeing route on the way out of the area. I took the tip and climbed to 10,000 ft and went “eyeball to eyeball” with Salt Lake Center’s ARSR-4 Long Range Enroute Radar located on the top of one of the Bighorn Mountains. The ARSR-4 program is one that I was involved with for several years at Westinghouse/Northrop Grumman, so it was neat to see this remote site almost 20 years later. Immediately behind the radar site, there are well known Native American Medicine Wheel ruins. From there, it was a power dive back down to about 6,000 feet for a 30 mile run through the spectacular Big Horn River Gorge. When done “playing”, we set a heading for the planned gas stop at Huett, WY, in the shadow of Devil’s Tower National Monument. On arrival, I was surprised by the unforecast magnitude and direction of the wind. BE and I have landed in stronger winds, but for me this was the all time nastiest crosswind ever, due to the variability of both the direction and the gust factor. After feeling more confident following the landing, Mother Nature tried even harder and really made our high, hot and heavy takeoff “very interesting”. Knowing what I do now and since there wasn’t a better runway alternative in range, I might have looked for a road that was better oriented into the wind. From there, it was a lot of desolate South Dakota Badlands on the way to Timber Lake. After all this work today, South Dakota was the only new state in the 5.5 hours spent boring 386 miles of holes in the sky, but some of the time was burned up sightseeing without making forward progress and tomorrow is another day.
Today’s story is one of still more police involvement and a major misteak on my part. While having “dinner” at the bar of the Dakota Restaurant last evening and then again at breakfast this morning, I was approached multiple times by Timber Lake locals who identified me with Jake’s truck that they had seen parked outside. Because Jake wasn’t there and I was, but without seeing me do it, they assumed that I was driving his truck. One woman came up and said, “So you’re staying with Jake and Jodi”. At the time, I didn’t even know there was a Jodi (I may have her name wrong too). However, when returning to the airfield this morning with a clearer head than when I arrived, I realized that Jake and his wife actually lived in the big hangar. He had invited me to stay there and I had declined, despite having often expressed an interest in living in one. Guess I’ll have to make a return visit! Jake fueled BE and we were underway by 9 AM and heading northeast to first dip into the far southeastern corner of ND. However, like Gettysburg yesterday, my first choice airport was closed and we had to go about 30 miles further for an alternate to check the ND block with. Then resumed the original plan with a short hop over the border to Wheaton, MN for a gas stop. I had checked and found no NOTAMS, but the place was deserted. There was a gas pump that had a sign on it that said “no credit cards – local cards only” (sound familiar W05 tenants?) Since we had already flown 3.5 hours on the initial gas load, I didn’t want to take off and start looking somewhere else with minimum fuel. However, there were several other signs posted that said if you needed help to call “Jon” and gave an 800 number. Of course, there was no cell phone coverage there! Eventually I found an open building with a phone that worked and called the number. There was an immediate answer with a recorded message by a very enthusiastic feminine voice that encouraged the caller to call another 800 number for “the time of your life”. So I did and was introduced to the world of phone sex by the next recorded message! (You just can’t make these things up!) Three hours later….:) Since this was a municipal airport, I looked up a number for the Wheaton City Offices in an old phone book and eventually spoke with Jaime who actually believed and was amused with my phone sex story and agreed to try and help. While waiting for her return call, the town police car showed up with none other than Wheaton’s affable Police Chief, Michael Johannsen (remember this is MN). After several trials and error, he was able to get the card he brought along to work long enough to fill BE’s tanks. When I asked who to make the check out to for the gas, the answer was “Jon”! He turns out to be a local farmer with a spraying business and he owns the gas concession at the airport. The Chief, who told me all about being raised on a farm adjacent to the airport, eventually left with an action item to check out Jon’s phone number. From there it was all downhill directly south to Sioux City, NE for more gas and an RON. “Gene” is the old time airport “been there, done all that” head honcho at Martin Field that’s named for his late father who started the business. Gene has two sons who are both professional pilots in the local area. He drove me to a motel and is going to join me for breakfast in the morning. Sure hope we can find something to talk about! Today’s tally was 6.8 hrs, 507 miles, three new states and as always, priceless experiences.
In answer to Dick Crenshaw’s question on the website comments page, BE came off his production line at Aeronca in July ’46 and I came off mine in Gettysburg in February that year. We both spent our early years with many different partners before finding each other late in life as we contemplated settling down in retirement.
Today’s story begins and ends on transportation issues and as usual includes an airport ride scenario. Yesterday, when I arrived at Coeur d’Alene Airport, the FBO staff told me the only hotel with a shuttle back and forth to the airport was Shiloh. They called, made a reservation for me and the driver arrived a short time later. This morning after breakfast, I stopped by the main desk to coordinate when I should be ready for the return trip. Meredith, the young woman on duty looked me in the eye and said with a straight face “I’m sorry sir, but we need 48 hours notice for our shuttle service.” Thinking she was after my own smart-ass heart, I quickly responded that I had already provided a signed written request. When she inquired about “when” and “to whom”, I told her that it had been personally delivered to the Shiloh General Manager in corporate headquarters. After another iteration or so of this banter, it became clear that I was the only one kidding around! She finally agreed to check with her supervisor when he/she arrived and see if there had been a policy change and I sulked off to my room wondering whether I was really awake yet. When I returned with my bags 10 minutes later, the woman was gone and Tom, who I had checked in with the day before, was now on duty. He explained that it was all taken care of and she had just failed to ask which airport I wanted to go to and had ASS of U & ME’d that it was to Spokane, which is much further away. Since I had recently been on the other end of this stick (see Day 13 Blog for 9/30), I fully understood. Skipping to the end of the day, I couldn’t get the wireless to connect at my RON hotel in Powell, WY. After several chats with Rick, the duty manager, he apologized for the hotel’s failing and offered me the key to his personal vehicle so I could drive to some place like McDonald’s and access a “hot spot” for my internet needs. Talk about customer service! The main story today also has its high points at the beginning and at the end. Despite the rain and clouds apparently clearing out, along with the supporting weather sensor data, it was a different picture when we actually tried to get thru the Mulan Pass on I-90. There is an automated weather sensor there (AWOS) that kept saying it was clear. It was, but only at the sensor on the top of the peak. Much of the area around it was still under a low overcast. Seeing the clouds building as I flew toward the pass, I had decided to go on top and stay out of the muck. The dilemma was how to get underneath again, because there was a known solid overcast on the eastern base at Missoula and BE doesn’t have any instrumentation for flying in the clouds. The solution eventually was that we entered the hole at the top of the pass and came down the back side following the highway while VFR underneath. I know it sounds weird, but it really was a safe and viable solution based on all the info available and thanks to GPS with terrain and obstacle displays! Once over the hump, we kept on rolling until it was gas time at Butte, MT (New state #14 so far). Progress was good with a nice tailwind and we launched again heading for a dip south to “bag” WY as #15. It was a beautiful journey through scenic passes and I even had a chance to make a head-on run at a lonely train out in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere tonight there’s an engineer who is still wondering what that was all about, but he did wave:) The “fun” started when we got close enough to hear the ASOS/AWOS automated weather at our intended destination. While not forecast that way, the wind was 24 knots, gusting to 30 and directly crosswind on the only runway. Since that didn’t look like a good idea, I eventually found an alternate WY destination where the winds were similar, but there was a short turf strip where they were only about 10 degrees off the runway heading. After talking to “Orville” on the UNICOM, we landed almost in a hover on a surface that reminded me of the Rosamond Dry Lakebed. I was afraid to try and taxi in for fear of blowing over when turning crosswind and wasn’t able to get the tail to turn anyway because of the wind (sound familiar Joe and Bill?). So Orville, who is the Powell Municipal Airport Manager, came out and hung on the upwind wing while helping get BE to turn. It took both of us working in a coordinated fashion to get BE safely chocked and all three wheels tied down and then Orville still respectfully suggested that I orient the propeller horizontally so it wouldn’t hit if the plane nosed over during the night! Orville was very understanding of my predicament and I later found out why when he admitted to about 11,000 hours in tail draggers! He toured me around the airport, showed me his Cessna 150 tail dragger and his 650 HP Ag Cat, introduced me to some of the locals, gave me his comical rock collection show, drove me to a motel in town and is coming back to pick me up for breakfast in the morning on the way back to the airport (I’m buying!). Who knows, the way things are going and the way this guy loves aviation, I won’t be surprised if he shows up with his brother, Wilbur! Other than that, it was pretty much just another dull day on the road. We successfully navigated over the Rockies again, flew 5.4 hours, landed in two new states and are 451 miles closer to home. Life is good. I’m going to miss this!
For the second day in a row, I awoke to the sound of rain, but this time it was in Lewiston, ID. It stopped before too long and the hotel shuttle had me at the airport by 10 AM, where I consulted with Ralph, the FBO owner, on the best route to Missoula. While he didn’t reject my plan, he thought it was a better idea to go on to Coeur d’Alene and start from there rather than take the shortcut, because he thought the weather would probably make the shortcut attempt futile due to the terrain and his way at least had a higher probability of success. BE and I then took off and demonstrated that he was right, but that the higher probability still wasn’t enough. During the flight north toward Coeur d’Alene, every time I’d steer BE east for a quick look at the weather in that direction, we’d encounter low clouds on the mountains. Even Pappy Boyington Field at our destination was barely VFR when we arrived and it appeared that the only way we could have gotten across today was perhaps in a very tight formation with an 18-wheeler on I-90. Tuesday is now the focus, but it isn’t a sure deal. The rain has moved east, but the Mulan Pass at the summit of I-90 is still fogged in. I have a feeling that I’m at least going to go take a look at it sometime today (Tuesday), since it might just be localized fog that I can overfly. The option of going back down south to UT and crossing from there, has its own set of weather issues right now and by the time I’d get all the way back to the I-40 crossing in AZ/NM, it will surely be clear here anyway. Patience may be a virtue, but it sure isn’t mine. I’ve posted a link in the Videos tab of this site to a YouTube clip that one of the Edwards Fly-in attendees apparently took There are several others on YouTube where people filmed their own landing from the cockpit, but this one is sort of an overview of the whole event. About a minute and 40 seconds into the over-6-minute clip, you’ll see BE taxiing after landing, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it. The other person of the day in addition to Ralph, was Paul (not my brother), a geologist turned environmentalist who specializes in gold mining. We shared a few laughs while having dinner at the bar of a local hotel restaurant and multi-tasking to watch the NE-MIA game on Monday Night Football. He’s probably going to be checking out the website to verify how much of what I was babbling about is just “BS and bananas":) Onward, upward and eastward!
Reality has finally arrived on my trip in the form of both rain and reign, and today it was an all day event. I woke up early this morning in Ontario, OR with it raining outside and confusion reigning inside. The hotel room clock was an hour later than I thought it should be. It turns out that there’s a small cutout section in east central OR where the PST-MST dividing line encroaches into OR, so it was actually Mountain time in Ontario rather than the expected Pacific. To take this a step further, we later flew north to WA and en-route as well as there, it was Pacific time. Then flew east over the border into Lewiston, ID and here, in the northern part of ID it’s still Pacific time, rather than Mountain time as it is in the lower half of the state. Go figure. In any case, the rain delayed our departure until late morning and even then I wasn’t sure that we were going to go very far. There’s a photo posted of today’s “chariot” from the hotel to the airport in Ontario. It’s the same one that brought me the other direction the previous evening and is a ’77 Checkers Taxicab with over 660,000 miles on it, driven since it was new, mostly by the 60ish woman who drove me. The really “cute” part was that when she picked me up at the airport, her 94 year-old mother who also “mans” the phone as her mobile dispatcher, was “riding shotgun” in the front seat and screening the clients for acceptability! However, I was happy they were both Americans and spoke English! At the airport, I followed up on what I had only seen a snitch of on arrival the previous evening. There are multiple, old, military, mostly jets, US and foreign airplanes scattered across acres of once-paved parking aprons. I helped a local rancher load a 50 lb box of nails in his C-180 with a Ron Paul sticker on the tail, for a trip to Salmon (he saw me limping around and asked if I could still lift because he couldn’t). He told me that Earl Maine owns this collection of warbirds. I belong to the Warbirds Association and don’t remember hearing about him, but he checks out at http://www.ontarioairfaire.org/Merle_s_Warbirds.php and it’s worth a look for plane (or plain) nuts. This discovery further delayed my departure into the temporarily dry skies as another local drug me off to a hangar where they are almost finished with the restoration to flying status of a very rare twin-engine F-7F Tigercat sporting two beautiful, newly rebuilt, R-2800’s. My name’s now in the hat to come back soon and do the first flight on it:) I could have easily spent the day prowling around here, but limited myself to ensuring that there is photo evidence to document BE’s first MiG-21 kill. This was almost like the Liberal, KS escapade from last Sunday morning, except this time I had company and these guys sure weren’t liberal. Finally got “wheels up” at either 11:15 or 10:15 AM, depending on which side of the runway we were on:) Had to dodge scattered rain showers all the way to Walla Walla, WA where we landed two hours later and took a stretch break, before climbing back out of the hole and over the hump into Lewiston, ID, which was not on my trip plan. Actually, it was on the draft one, but I later decided on a more conservative approach to cross the Rockies further north because I wasn’t too sure about BE’s high altitude capability. However, after the experience of this trip so far, I have no further worries and am amazed at how well he does climb on high, hot and heavy days. Thanks Russ for maintaining him in such good health! (Or maybe it’s just that Joe K weighs a lot more than he says he does) After looking at the unknowns ahead on my self-designed shortcut to Missoula, I decided not to press on anymore until the weather improved and I had a chance to consult some local mountain flying experts and get them to buy in on my plan. I was tired, the weather was only marginal and it was getting late in the day, so all the bells and whistles started blaring and I decided that an unplanned RON in Lewiston was the best course (plus, despite the time zone confusion, my body clock said it was “Miller Time”). Early in the day I was surprised to answer my cell phone to a call from Jeff A. who is my longtime friend, former Illini roommate and Best Man 41 years ago. It’s totally inexcusable why he didn’t know that it was 5 AM (or whatever) in Ontario, (he was on the road in Orlando) but it was great to talk with him anyway!
Today BE and I are officially heading home again after completing the two planned major milestones of the trip. Somewhere on the 2.9 hr first leg from Lancaster, CA to Tonopah, NV we passed the half-way point of the overall route based on the initial planning. It was also the longest day so far, with 7.8 hrs behind the stick and 672 miles of advance. Rain showers followed close behind us all day and we were lucky to get out in front early. After a gas stop at desolate Tonopah where there was a “yard sale” underway at the house behind the gas pumps (new idea: fly-in “hangar sales”), we flew another 2.3 hrs through some real “no man’s land” back country to Winnemucca, NV. There, I tried to contact my brother Paul who lives in southwest OR and follow up on his offer to drive part way if I’d fly part way so we could get together somewhere in OR for breakfast or whatever. Unfortunately, our schedules weren’t in synch and I didn’t want to delay because of the close following weather. So I ended up flying another 2.6 hrs north and landed at sunset in Ontario, OR and my 11th new state of this trip. The main issue right now is the approaching rain in the northwest part of the US. I’m going to take a look at it Sunday morning and go as far as possible, but it may cause a delay until it gets through and then we can hopefully follow it home. Randy Watson sent me some neat photos he took of BE and me being parked at Edwards. At the time of taking them, he had no idea that it was me and it wasn’t until later when he saw my name on the door that he realized it. I’ve posted a picture of Randy and me in the Photo Gallery. Am also keeping my fingers crossed that one of the professional photographers that I befriended at Edwards will follow through on his promise to send me a video clip of my lakebed landing. It’s actually one where I “got lucky” and got all the wheels on the ground at the same time:)
WOW! What a fantastic day! I was motivated to make this trip by the expectation of enjoying an unprecedented opportunity to experience landing on the historic Rosamond Dry Lakebed for the first time and in my own plane. It was certainly worth the trip to do that. However, as so often happens, it was the people/personal encounters that eclipsed the anticipated event. What a thrill it was to see Rick McCleaf as I got out of the plane after my landing and long taxi to BE’s parking spot and later to unexpectedly meet Randy Watson, from my Navy days. The Edwards people had been very concerned about making sure everyone was prepared for the lack of visual cues for depth perception while landing on the lakebed and there certainly is a difference. However, for me the landing was a “piece of cake” (maybe “mud pie” would be more accurate) and I think that’s because of ski flying experience where there’s a similar loss of visual cues while landing on a field of new fallen snow. Who would have thought that the young Boy Scout in about 1957 who was laying in his bunk in the middle of the night while on a camping trip to a hunting cabin in the mountains of southern PA and amusing his fellow Scouts by impersonating a wacky radio announcer from WNUT, would someday be at Edwards AFB greeting another Scout in the cabin that night, but this time he’s a Voice of America executive with a resume of 42 years in the broadcasting business? Rick thanks for coming and bringing Mike. I’ll be looking forward to publishing the links on this site when you go to press with the fly-in story and have the video available from our reunion. Mike’s picture of the two of us is already posted here. Another picture that I’ve posted is of the unexpected opportunity to “hold” the infamous Pancho Barnes. I won’t try to explain here why I, along with many others of my ilk, love Pancho. If you’re interested, you can check out her website http://www.panchobarnes.com for her full resume. I was disappointed the other evening while at a steakhouse close to the actual location of Pancho’s “Happy Bottom Riding Club” and commented to the 30ish bartender that the place reminded me of Pancho’s and this young woman didn’t even know who she was! I bought a copy of the new DVD with her story, so those of you “back home” (wherever that is) will get a chance to see it sometime. Later in the day as I was returning to BE to get ready for our departure, which was accelerated due to approaching thunderstorms, I saw two guys poring over my plane. I asked if they were planning to steal it and a familiar face turned around and said “well, we might, Charlie”. Randy Watson’s stature in my book is that in the 1973–74 timeframe, he was brave enough to fly with me and sometimes even specially asked to do it, on F-4 Phantom test flights. At the time, I was the Flight Test Officer on the F-4 B to N conversion program at the Navy’s rework facility at NAS North Island in San Diego. Randy, who was several years and a pay grade senior to me, was on the staff of the Commander of all Naval Air Forces in the Pacific and he was also located at North Island. His interests in getting out of the office and in the air often coincided with my needs to have a qualified RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) fly with me on a test flight. Now retired from the Navy, Randy was a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) which is the pilot’s counterpart for the mission systems aspects of Navy planes. However, he does fly privately and is even rated in tail draggers, so I hope to one day fly with him in BE and this time he can sit in the front and “drive” while I look at the back of his head. Maybe he’ll even make it as “interesting” for me as it sometimes was for both of us on those F-4 test hops. Otherwise, the day was filled with briefings and aviation socializing opportunities. The Air Force really did a great job with the event and it was a special privilege to be part of it. Flight-time wise though, I only got 0.4 hours today and subtracted 24 miles from the planned route. The event was so well structured that while squawking a pre-assigned beacon code on take-off from Fox Field, the tower advised us that Joshua Approach had just called them to say they had radar contact and they gave us an assigned heading and switched us to Muroc Tower, who immediately turned us onto a right downwind for runway 20 on the Lakebed, followed moments later by a “cleared to land”. When I started the takeoff, I thought I was going to an arrival fix 26 miles away! The designated “runway” was 17,000 feet long and 300 feet wide, but we were supposed to just use the first 5,000 feet. We touched down near the approach end and left it roll for about 500 feet and then exited to the right where everything else is a taxiway. They claim that the city of Washington DC would fit (in area) on the Rosamond Lakebed – and that’s the smaller of the two here at Edwards! I was surprised that while it didn’t feel bumpy, the lakebed surface had what someone best described as a “potato chips” look. It was sometimes dusty, but overnight rain had diminished some of that. On takeoff at the end of the day, thunderstorms in my intended path to California City for an RON caused a replan back to Fox where the FBO support has been outstanding. My special thanks to Steve, Mark, Rick and Ken who literally went out of their way to give me a hand. I highly recommend their services and there is a really good aviation atmosphere and spirit with all the people I met at Fox. The forecast is for a cold front coming Sunday with lots of winds and water in it. So, I’m anxious to get underway on the initial part of the homeward bound portion of this continuing adventure.
While the last flying day coming into Las Vegas was the longest, today’s single leg out of town was the shortest day of flying so far. Didn’t get airborne until late morning and it was already getting close to 100 degrees as we took off for an easy 2.4 hour, 203 mile run thru the desert to a landing at General William J. Fox Airfield at Lancaster, CA – just over the fence from Edwards AFB. In fact, on the way in while skirting the Restricted Area, I could clearly see where we’ll be going for the Fly-in on Friday on the Rosamond Dry Lakebed. BE is parked in the #1 slot in front of the WJF terminal and will probably get some company during the day Thursday when fellow warbirds join him there in order to stage into Edwards on Friday morning. I plan to spend Thursday getting him ready to go with some fresh oil, a good cleaning, etc. Also have to spend some more time making sure I’m fully up to speed on all the arrival procedures. The USAF has planned this flyin event to the gnat's behind with details. As one of the 20 warbirds that will be on display, BE even has a reserved parking spot and a map of exacly how to get there. Sure hope they have his name on it and it’s spelled ccorrectly:) Seriously though, this is a really big deal here and the Edwards guys have been busting their butts to ensure that it comes off as planned. I’m personally getting re-excited about it as well and looking forward to the event. According to the plan, the other 19 warbirds will be HU-16, AN-2, L-18, Yak-18, DC-3, CJ6, B-25, SF-260, 2 P-51s, BT-13, Bulldog, T-28, T-34, L-5, T-6, PT-22, C-12 and PT-19. I need Joe K to tell me what a couple of these are:) Additionally there will be 100 general aviation aircraft who were selected by lottery to attend the fly-in, along with about 500 carloads of people. Today’s update from the Flight Test Nation staff says “We made contact with the ghost of Pancho Barnes today, she was colorful, as usual, and may be showing up when least expected.” Sounds like an impending great photo op to me! Maybe Chuck Y, Scottie C, Bill B, and some of the boys will be hanging around too.
Spent most of the day at Fox Field getting BE prepped and ready for the big event tomorrow. Didn’t realize how much “road dust” he had accumulated on the trip. Ironically, like a car, he gets dirtier when it rains than when it doesn’t and most of this is probably from the light rain in AR. Amazingly, this morning’s forecast here called for some showers today and the mountains all around have dark clouds and some precip, but when I left the airport none had arrived there yet. However, it doesn’t really matter since BE is resting quietly in a HUGE hangar and it’s all due to another police connection (Whew – finally the third one:) While working on BE, one of the FBO employees stopped to talk and we developed quite a rapport. Mark is a former Burbank Policeman who is working a retirement job and of course, he’s a pilot and building a plane. Later on when I went in to the Airport Restaurant (Foxy’s) he was sitting with a group at what looked like a German “Stammtisch”, which is a table for locals and you don’t dare sit there (in Germany) unless you’re a regular or invited. I said hello and then the guy at the head of the table who I didn’t know, invited me to join them. Introductions tagged him just as “Steve”, but it wasn’t three minutes into the conversation, just after Steve and I discovered we had both flown Sabreliners and his dad is a former Navy F-8 pilot, when he looked at Mark and said “Why don’t you put Charlie in that vacant hangar”. Mark readily agreed and I asked how much it was going to cost, to which the answer was that it wasn’t. Later, after he left, I found out that he was the Airport Manager. Delightful lunch with a great group.
Today, I once again proved the old adage “to assume is to make an ASS of U and ME”. There are supposed to be two P-51’s coming for the Edwards Fly-in. Sure enough, mid-morning two P-51’s arrived, including “Double Trouble Two” with a black and yellow checker pattern on the nose like BE has on his tail. However, they didn’t park near BE, but went to the other side of the tower (it’s a controlled field). I drove over and started my introduction by jokingly suggesting that they went over there because they didn’t want to look bad next to BE. We got over that hurdle, but either I smelled worse that I thought, or they just didn’t seem to think I had it all together. They finally asked what the hell I was talking about and it soon became clear that they were two different P-51’s who didn’t even know about the Edwards event and were going to an airshow with the Thunderbirds at Salinas, CA! We all had a good laugh and my face didn’t even get red because the sunburn wouldn’t let it.
Not sure what this final item will turn into. Rick McCleaf, a Gettysburg native and friend of my youth emailed me and left a post on the website. We were both pre-teen charter members of the Adams County Amateur Radio Society (ACARS), an organization that still exists today almost 55 years later, but we haven’t seen each other in almost 50 years. He contacted me recently to try and get together while he was visiting his family in Frederick and I had to decline because of being on this trip. However, he got very interested in the Edwards portion since years ago he did some field work there for Voice of America. His current boss the Bureau Chief is very interested in aviation and when Rick told him about the event they checked and got press coverage permission and they’re going to meet me on arrival tomorrow with “cameras rolling”. Now I’m going to be up all night worrying about screwing up my landing:) Stay tuned.
I’ve always believed that no matter how good the plan, there has to be room for flexibility to change it to meet circumstantial reality. This is one of those occasions, since I wasn’t planning to write anything else about Day 11 of this trip. However, an unforeseen opportunity to spend a large part of the day with someone I only described in the previous blog as “one of my old Navy bosses” caused the reconsideration. So, if you’re only looking to hear about the trivial pursuits of CT and BE in Las Vegas, read no further. However, if you’re interested in the poignant story of a true American hero, please allow me to try and tell a piece of it.
In late ’72, while a Navy Lieutenant assigned to a special project in a temporary duty status on the staff of the Commander Fleet Air Miramar (COMFAIRMIRAMAR), I was part of the Operations Department headed by seasoned Navy Captain, Jack Finney. Because of his reputation in the fighter pilot community, he was someone I had already heard about before checking onboard. I didn’t report directly to Jack, since my professional contact with him was buffered by a Navy Commander between us in the chain. However, in the short time I knew him, it was clear that while appearing of quiet demeanor, he was a forceful and inspirational leader. In the normal course of things, I would have never had further contact with Jack once I moved on to my next permanent duty station. However, by that odd twist of “small world” reality, I later discovered that he was the cousin of Judy G. who was a University of Illinois graduate school friend of Tem and the bridesmaid at our wedding, about three years before I met Jack. Over the ensuing years, Judy would occasionally mention what Jack was doing, where he now lived, etc. But in another twist of fate, after reading my position report in Henderson, NV on Monday, Judy called Tem and also emailed me to remind us that Jack lived in Henderson and she reported that he had Parkinson’s disease, but was looking forward to a family reunion for his 80th birthday in November. That motivated me to call Jack from just a few miles away, intending to invite him to lunch for a few “war stories” from the past. His wife, Darlene, fielded my call and explained that the cruel Parkinson’s was taking its toll on Jack and he had trouble even speaking on the phone. However, she assured me that he was excited about the possibility of getting together, although as the caregiver, she would have to bring him. So, with some trepidation, I met Jack and Darlene at a local restaurant at midday Tuesday. What followed from our almost three hour luncheon touched me deeply and at the same time, “blew me away”. It was followed by an invitation to join them later at their nearby home for an evening of additional reminiscing, since they wanted to show me Jack’s scrapbooks and personal mementos from his 30 year Navy career.
I had developed an admiration of Jack as a result of working for him and knowing his reputation. However, during the over six hours I spent with him yesterday, I discovered that I really only knew a small part of his story. As this quiet, humble, wheel-chair-bound man struggled to talk with me, it became increasingly obvious that he had lots to relate that not many people who are still around know about. Darlene, his incredibly dedicated and caring wife and self described “former Idaho potato farmer”, hadn’t even met Jack until after his Navy career. She too hung on every difficult word that he tried so hard to articulate and we both were amazed to hear of his exploits.
It would be difficult to recount all his stories, but some things that I learned included the account of how after his F-8 Crusader was severely damaged over North Viet Nam , Jack managed to get the crippled fighter back aboard the carrier (a difficult task in that airplane without any damage). He had a picture showing incredible damage, taken just before they shoved the plane over the side once he successfully trapped onboard after being led back to the ship while plugged into an A-4 tanker to try and replace his rapidly leaking fuel. Unbeknownst to me, Jack was also flying fighter escort for John McCain when he was shot down by ground fire and taken prisoner. He has incredible pictures that he personally took during the throes of combat showing John’s airplane exploding. He also had MiG kill photos that I had never seen before. In another incident, he had an involuntary in-flight engagement of the arresting cable on a late fouled-deck wave-off that caused the nose gear to collapse as the plane slammed down on the deck. It wasn’t a big deal to him at the time, but modern neurological theories suggest that it could have been the precipitating event for the onset of his Parkinson’s decades later. There are pictures in his scrapbook taken with many dignitaries, including President Harry Truman. There are also pictures and mementos from a solo demonstration he once gave for the King of Belgium to demonstrate the capabilities of the A-4 Skyhawk. During his career, Jack flew virtually every Navy fighter and attack aircraft from those of WW II vintage, through and including the F-14 Tomcat. Along the way, he amassed well over 1,000 arrested landings in these aircraft. Amazingly, after countless thousands of hours flying in harm’s way, he always brought his planes home and never had to eject. The USAF was also the recipient of his services when he spent a two year exchange tour with them flying the F-105 Thunderchief. On another assignment, he also flew the slot position with the Navy’s Blue Angels demo team in the F-9 Cougar. Not only that, he flew the F-9 for the movie “Bridges of Toko Ri” and has pictures taken with William Holden and Grace Kelly! However, when the Navy’s top leadership started talking about making him an Admiral, Jack made a personal decision to retire rather than fly a desk in the infamous five-sided polygon in Washington, DC.
Captain Jack Finney’s exploits go on and on and it was a distinct honor for me to have this chance encounter with him and listen as he struggled to relate his Navy history. Despite everything else, Parkinson’s hasn’t robbed him of his razor-sharp mind. Darlene fully understands the significance of what she heard and the need to formally record it in the annals of Naval Aviation history. Jack is fortunate to have her loving and patient dedication during his twilight years. When he inevitably salutes the Cat Officer and takes his final catapult shot into the westward sun, she will be there to see him off. He is a Naval Aviation legend, an American hero, a proven Warrior and above all, an officer and a gentleman. I too salute you Jack and wish you all the very best as you endure this difficult time of your life. Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you so much better almost 40 years after you provided leadership and guidance to my own career. Fly safe my friend.
BE and I are now enjoying the warm sunshine of Las Vegas. We arrived here late Monday afternoon and plan to leave for the final leg to Lancaster, CA, just outside Edwards AFB, on Wednesday, 9/29. Monday’s adventure started with an awesome departure from Santa Fe in the early morning light. I’ve been fortunate to have visited the southwest US many times and have driven and flown commercially throughout the area and also flown in some of the areas in fast military jets (think early 70’s and 500 kts below the Grand Canyon rim – the statute of limitations has expired:) However, I’ve never before had the perspective of the “low and slow” view and it’s been absolutely fantastic! The weather this week has been perfect because of the clear skies and light winds. We crossed the Continental Divide northwest of Santa Fe at 9,500 ft on the way to Farmington, NM. Maybe it was the impending hypoxia, but I was euphoric at the visual sight and it just kept getting better as the day progressed. The nice thing about flying this way is having the time to take it all in and the opportunity to go check out something a bit closer.
Monday was the longest day so far, with 7.1 hrs of flying, 555 miles on the trip meter and three new states. After getting gas in Farmington (Four Corners Airport - UT, CO, AZ & NM), we went west to Page, AZ for more gas. I filled all the tanks for the first time in the high terrain, so our takeoff was almost at gross weight and at a density altitude of 6,800 ft. No sweat for BE and we enjoyed flying over Glen Canyon Dam and Lake at the end of Runway 33 as we climbed to get over the mountains into UT. There was a mean direct crosswind on the only runway at Kanab, UT, so we checked the block with a touch and go rather than press our luck with a full stop and then another takeoff. After another climb, we headed to Las Vegas and a final landing of the day at Henderson Executive, just south of the main airport, where BE made all the corporate jet guys and gals envious:) In the tradition of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, I won’t be writing a separate blog for Tuesday. However, it probably won’t be too exciting anyway since all I did last night was shower, eat at the bar/grill across the parking lot from the hotel and “crash” in my room. I do have a rental car and plan to reaquaint myself with Sin City and also try to lookup one of my old Navy bosses who lives here.
What a beautiful day for flying! Couldn’t ask for better weather as we crossed our first really high terrain while flying 4.8 hrs on three legs and landing in two new states. While I had worked all the numbers and felt confident, the proof never comes until you try it and BE performed like the Champ he is in take-offs and landings up to about 8,500 feet density altitude (equivalent altitude considering temperature and humidity factors). I was actually surprised at how well he did at high-altitude takeoffs just shy of max gross weight and it gives me confidence for challenges yet to come.
It wasn’t the Gettysburg Barnstormers weekend event, but my day started with breakfast with the locals at the Liberal Pancake House and then a final ride in the courtesy truck. On arrival at the plane, I was concerned to see that my main gas tank cap was missing. However, it was laying nearby on the ramp and some gas had apparently evaporated overnight. After checking everything out, I believe the line boy just didn’t replace it last evening and it blew off the cowling. It’s a reminder of why we always pre-flight the plane, but I also have to gig myself for not providing more supervision yesterday, since I had noticed the young lad was not very savy in other aspects of his job.
The Mid America Air Museum is on the perimeter of the Liberal Airport. It was closed when I arrived yesterday, but I noticed that all the airplanes sitting out back were accessible from the ramp on the airport side of the fence. So, as the sun was just coming up this morning, I taxied BE over to the Museum and did a photo shoot of having him meet some of his bigger and faster brethern. (Bill G. – where were you when I needed your photography skills? You would have had a ball). I was particularly pleased to get a shot of BE with an F-4. Robbie D, you recently comented to me about doing that while at Tyndall, which wasn’t a possibility. However it was probably the origin of my early morning BF to do it today while nobody was looking – thanks. I’ve included several “teaser” shots in the Photos section.
Made a revision to the trip plan this morning after talking to a local experienced mountain flyer while at a gas stop in Clayton, NM. His recommendation is why I’m in Santa Fe tonight, rather than down near Albuquerque. Was able to cut across further north than planned and am all set up for a run tomorrow into AZ and UT before going back downhill into NV. Hope it’s like today again with calm winds. I got as high as 9,500 feet, although it wasn’t necessary to be quite that high. For about a 30 minute stretch over northeastern NM at 8,500, I didn’t even have to touch the stick because it was so smooth. Slowly gained a couple hundred feet altitude as we burned gas, but that’s better than I do sometimes when I try hard not to:)
A busy day with 6.8 hours in the air and 3 new states! It started with the typical lack of transportation from the hotel to the airport this morning. Today’s lucky provider was a guy that I “chatted up” in the breakfast room at the Searcy Holiday Inn. He was wearing a T-shirt that said “Aerial Applicators” and had a picture of a helicopter on it, so he was a natural. It turned out that while he wasn’t a pilot, he owns a fleet of 6 or 7 helicopters and a spraying business. He had been to Gettysburg for an auction of Ag Rotors equipment and knew several people in local spraying businesses, including the Voss’s and one of my cousins. He was a southern gentleman from MS and had also known the late “Buddy” who I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. As always, it’s a small world if you just peel back a layer or two. After a bit of conversation, he offered to drive me to the local airport without even being asked:)
It was a beautiful early morning 2.0 hrs hop into Neosho, MO, followed by 1.8 hrs over to Ponca City, OK for gas and lunch at a super little Mexican restaurant in the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) building at the airport. The “fun” leg was the 3.0 hrs from there to Liberal, KS. Initially got to “play” in the cumulus clouds that were building, but eventually had to start avoiding them as they developed into scattered thunderstorm cells. Then the winds shifted and for the first time on this trip there were significant headwinds. By the time we got to Liberal the surface winds for landing were 22 kts, gusting to 29, which is a bit sporty for lightweight BE. However, they were only 20 degrees off an available runway and it wasn’t that bad. The crosswind taxi was more interesting, but we got tied down OK before we blew away. I missed having the weight of someone in the back seat to help keep the tail on the ground.Tomorrow’s transportation story was today, since there was a courtesy vehicle available at the FBO and I’m now driving a vintage blue pick-up truck, complete with mud on the wheels and the pervasive essence of bovine elimination products throughout. However, it runs great and I feel right at home here in this town that despite its name is probably anything but liberal.
BE and I will get our first look at the really high terrain as we swing south into NM tomorrow. It’s already almost 3,000 feet elevation here and the density altitude was over 5,000 when we landed late this afternoon. There are new challenges ahead for both of us.FYI, I’ve added a “Videos” page to the website that allows me to post links to video clips. There’s not much on it yet, but I’ve been taking video on a small HD recorder and will try to add clips from time to time.
Good to be back in the air and on the route again and finally landed in a new state today (AR) - now they'll start adding up fast. Took off from Panama City at 7:20 this morrning after Don M. drove me there before he headed home to Hidden River. Had a really nice tailwind and changed my fuel stop destination twice while enroute to take advantage of it. Ended up with a 335 mile/3.6 hr leg and stopped in Grenada, MS which wasn't originally a planned stopping point. Joe K and I spent several days there in Jan. '05 while weathered in on our trip back from Houston after I bought BE. We were superbly hosted by Buddy Sanders and several of his friends and I hoped to say hello to Buddy this morning. Unfortunately, I found out that he had "gone west" after battling colon cancer about two years ago. Lots of great memories about Buddy who was a lifelong cropduster and a real "good ol boy". Also was surprised to find a big fuel leak after landing in Grenada, but it was quickly fixed by tightening the gascolator strap. Didn't think I'd make it to the planned RON here in Searcy, AR due to an approaching weather front and had several alternatives ready. However, the front slowed and when I got here after a 1.9 hr leg from Grenada, there was only a light rain to contend with, so am still right on the plan. Hopefully, the front will move through overnight and I can get out early tomorrow and start tackling the expected headwinds behind it. It may be a long day.
The last couple days were an interim destination on the trip to attend PHANCON 2010, the annual get-together of the F-4 Phantom II Society held this year at Panama City, FL/Tyndall AFB. Sometimes known as "Phantom phanatics", we're basically a bunch of mostly OF's who have a special appreciation for the F-4. For me, it's my favorite plane of all the different ones I've ever flown and it was a special treat to see them still flying here at Tyndall this week. As QF-4s, they're slowly disappearing as they are used as remotely controlled targets/drones for weapons test and evaluation. However, the Air Force also has several that are being used specifically for heritage flights.
In addition to the F-4 focus of the visit, we also had briefings and contact opportunities with the F-22 Raptor, the newest fighter in the inventory. - an amazing machine! We also spent a day with the Navy in Pensacola for briefings at the Training Wing and some time in the National Museum of Naval Aviation which is always a personal favorite. The event concluded this evening with a banquet where the speaker was retired USAF Brig. General Dan Cherry who spoke about his Vietnam MiG kill and a subsequent reunion with the Vietnamese pilot and the restoration effort on the F-4 in Bowling Green, KY.
It's been a great week and I particularly enjoyed the chance to spend some time with my old squadron mate and good friend, Don Marteney. Now I'm looking forward to getting on with the trip early tomorrow morning as I head west for Edwards AFB.
The trip has had police involvement for the second day in a row. Yesterday, retired PA State Trooper friend Don Blevins helped me get underway from Gettysburg. Today. I started off with my first ride ever in the back seat of a police car! The short version of the story is that there was no transportation available from the town of Elberton, GA to the local airport this morning. So, at 6:30 I started standing along the road in front of my hotel holding an "AIRPORT" sign. Twenty minutes later the local police shift commander stopped and he had already called for backup. By the time they were done, there were three police cars onsite. After some "introductions" it turned out that the Captain has a son in the Navy on the USS Enterprise. A short time later, a deputy was dispatched to drive me to the airport. Nice guys just doing their job trying to keep elderly WASP terrorists off the streets of Elberton on Sunday morning. After that it was an easy two legs of 2.4 and 1.3 hrs into Panama City International where I was cleared to land while still 10 minutes from the field - not a very busy place. The interim gas stop was at Eufaula, AL. Am now settled in the hotel in Panama City while Bald Eagle gets some well deserved rest while tied down at ECP. This is the site of PHANCON 2010 until my planned departure on Friday, so probably won't blog anymore until then as we start heading west to Edwards AFB.
Takeoff from Gettysburg was at 7:10 AM on a perfect calm and clear morning. Gas stop at Smith Mountain Lake, VA and then into Elberton, GA for gas and RON. Probably could have made it to Panama City, but decided to stick with the plan and do the final four hours to there tomorrow. All the good wishes for "tailwinds" came true and had about 10 kts directly on the tail for much of the day. Overall, a super start to the trip! My thanks to everyone for your encouraging notes and calls. It feels great to be finally underway after the last couple weeks of planning and preparation.