Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Day 19: Pennsylvania to Massachusetts

I awoke at 4:45am and did my usual morning routine with a few added bonuses of the Jimmy Stewart Airport which include a morning shower and a television. Flipped it on and what did I get: Rocky I. All Rocky wanted to do was "go the distance." And go the distance he did against Apollo. And my morning plan was the same. Go the distance...to home.

But before I could go I ran out to the plane to check the surfaces. I set my handheld radio to wake me up on the frequency which gives the airport weather information. The temperature and dew point being -3 and -5 respectively in Celsius, I was afraid there may be some frost on the wings and sure enough there was. So I started scraping it off with a little plastic tool and made slow progress with the growing light to the east. Shortly thereafter, Boyd and Joanne arrived with big waves and smiles and Boyd soon came out in the golf cart with a ladder, deicing spray and a huge role of paper towels. Freddy was soon clear and ready to go.

First though, I had to see Boyd's plane. A Noker tail dragger with fabric covering for the wings. It was a very cool plane that Boyd had done much rebuilding to. There were few gauges and what ones there were, were very cool: needles that went counter clockwise, and an altimeter that only goes to four thousand feet with the needle in a fixed position - the back circle moves instead of the needle. A very cool plane.

Then I was off with many thanks to Boyd into the early morning sun. Departed from Jimmy Stewart airport and over the radio Boyd passed on some good advice: Remember, if you get to the big blue ocean, you've gone too far. It turned out to be the most peaceful flight of the whole journey. I had worked hard the night before so that I'd have next to nothing to do while flying except to keep my eyes outside. The Pennsylvania hills and ridges and valleys were extraordinary and there was a bit of haze in the air with the early morning sun made it a majestic morning of flying. Soon I will have the pictures to show it.


I continued on over New York, its Hudson River and into Plainville Connecticut where I landed, called home to say I was near and to report my ETA.

Soon I was off again flying the 45 minute leg back to Norwood Memorial Airport. I did not really want to be ending the trip, but time and high expense of aviation gas were saying it was time. On the way to Norwood I saw and avoided the restricted airspace around Gillette stadium, where endless cars were on their way to a Patriots football game. Soon I was in contact with Norwood Tower and they told me to fly in on a left downwind for runway 28. This would put me very close to tower which is exactly where the welcoming committee would be. Mom had a handheld radio with her so they could all hear me call in to the tower. And sure enough, as I came over the tower I looked down to see many wavers. I gave my best rock of the wings, continued the downwind leg which is parallel the runway, got to the numbers and started the descent from 1000 feet up: pulled out the throttle a bit, pulled out the lever for the carburetor heat, slowed the plane until we were under 100 mph, then added some flaps to increase the descent rate and slow the plane down further. Turned to the base leg and added the second 10 degree increment of flaps, and then turning final, I lined up with the runway added the last notch of flaps and landed Freddy nice and smoothly onto the runway. We were back safe and sound.

I made my way to the parking spot, and as I shut down the engine, the committee arrived. Mom, Dad, Lol, Tots (the owner of Freddy), Jock, Court, Collette and Perri! Fantastic. Before I could get out, there were many pictures taken and then a rug with airplanes sewed into it was laid down for me to step on to in lieu of a red carpet, they said. Hugs all around and a picture of everyone with the plane. So wonderful to have them all there.


Everyone took a look inside the plane, and then it was quickly unpacked and tied down in its familiar spot. Everyone soon had places to go, so I went over to the plane one last time (at least on this trip) and gave Sir Fred a well deserved thank you for taking me so far in such safety and in such style. It was hard to leave my partner tied down. It was like trying to tell a dog that you're going for a run without him. They don't really understand, but that makes them always ready. And so Fred will wait for a bit, with full tanks, for our next adventure. And with that Mom and I drove back to Sherborn.

The trip was 19 days total, 13 days of flying, 26 legs, close to 60 hours in the air, and over 5,000 miles flown. From the air I saw rivers, valleys, mountains, monuments, towers, lakes, reservoirs, windmills, farms, fires, cities, towns and dwellings among other things. I saw the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, New Jersey and Rhode Island. On the ground I met many fabulous people - friendly and welcoming - and realized there is a great community of pilots and airport folks around the country who take great pride in their planes and their airports, no matter how small, and most importantly, they do a wonderful job of looking out for each other. It was one of the most unexpected aspects of the trip and it started the very first night in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. And so many of the people away from airports were so great too. With many wonderful people did I share my meals with along the way. I think it was only that one night in southern Colorado, did I eat my dinner alone without any one to talk to. Hoping for years to fly like I did, and finally fly it I did.

Thanks to all of you for reading and for all of your interest. It really means a lot and it is wonderful to feel supported by so many friends and family. I can never feel lonely knowing how many of you there are out there. Potential lonely times cease to be lonely because I know people will read about them and be right there with me. I get much enjoyment from sharing my experiences with you. So thanks again, and enjoy the pictures that will soon be out there.
Sincerely,
Ben and Fred (N7202G)


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Day 18: Mississippi to Pennsylvania

And awake early I did. Spencer the security guard had to lock up at 5am so he got me up at 4:30. I had wanted an early morning so it worked out well. He had been in and out all through the night and I felt like I was on a ship running at night and it was time for my watch. So stuffed my sleeping bag, collected my flight back and backpack and headed out to the plane. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a high overcast cloud ceiling. It was clear and cold when I had gone to sleep before doing so I had noticed that there was a bit of frost building up on the Freddy's surfaces. Frost being very detrimental to smooth airflow, thus to lift, thus to my safety, I was happy to see the clouds had covered over - warming the air below them by not letting the earth's infrared radiation pass through. There were wet spots on the pavement where the water from the melted frost had dripped off Fred's wings. I was in luck.

I had my normal breakfast of a banana followed by grape-nuts, rehydrated dried milk and raisons in the usual position of standing under the starboard (right) wing, holding the door open. Breakfast completed, I got the cockpit in order, put the video camera back on it's tripod next to the my seat, put the still camera within easy reach, put my flight bag where the co-pilot seat was, and opened the side pocket to expose the items that I will have on my lap and others I need within easy reach: on my lap: the kneeboard which was switched to the right thigh, the cross-country navigation log, and the area's chart. Then within reach, the circular flight computer, the airport directory and pens and pencils. I preflighted the plane by headlight while just a touch of light was coming over the horizon. Ten minutes later, all the surfaces and connections checked, a bit of fuel drained from four spots was checked and put back into the tanks, and I was ready to go. I hopped up into my seat strapped in and started the engine. There was enough light to find a field to land in should I have to make a forced landing so I deemed ourselves ready to hit the skies. The runway was a little dark still so I turned on the taxi and runway lights by clicking the microphone switch 7 times. The white, blue, green and red lights come on like magic. Turned on all the lights in the cockpit, including the red one that lights up all the instruments and we taxied to the runway, ran-up the engine and took off into the morning twilight. Fantastic it was, my favorite lift off. There was still a bit of cloud cover, but there was a great red band stretching horizontally across the horizon.

Headed west first to see Alabama for the first time and then turned north to land in Sparta, Tennessee. Gas and go is the phrase, so I gassed and went. Over Kentucky and then was heading into West Virginia when I found myself over endless tall hills that had no flat areas around them. I could see the Appalachian mountains far to the east and I was over the foothills of those mountains. But a quick look around revealed no spots to land, should an engine decide to stop working and it would be as unforgiving a landing as one in the mountains. So I altered course to the north to get me back to the farm lands and into Ohio. I landed in Gallipolis, Ohio and then took off for the third leg of the day and eventually landed in Indiana, Pennsylvania at the Jimmy Stewart Airport. The Stewarts lived there and Jimmy evidently was quite a pilot as well as an actor.


I was extremely well taken care off by the airport folks there, Boyd and his wife Joanne. (They are now reading these emails - Hi Boyd) They gave me food, the pilot's lounge to sleep in, even a hat that had the airport's name on it. We chatted for a while, they left and I planned the last day of flying home.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Day 17: Texas to Mississippi

Hello folks,

The skies were clear, the wind was calm and it was time to head out of Houston. And so I did. But in doing so had the most memorable pre-take off experience of my flying career. There was much jet activity that morning, and once I had gotten a clearance to taxi to the runway and pulled out onto the taxiway, i was told to give way to - and follow - the NASA T-38 that was also going to runway. i was quite excited, yes, and quickly turned the video camera on. we were a team, me and Freddy and that T-38. I was going where it was going, at least while we were on the ground. When we got to the end of the taxiway, it was time to do our engine run-up checks. So check the engine I did, with an F-16 Falcon to my right, and the T-38 just past the F-16. Yeah, it was no big deal, Freddy, the Cessna 172 hanging out with an F-16 and a T-38...everybody just checkin' the engines...just us pilots and our planes...no big deal...a 172, a 16 and a 38...a skyhawk, a falcon and a talon. The T-38 departed and I followed though quite a bit slower, and as I taxied to the runway, I got a wave from the F-16 pilot. Though it may not have been his, I think it was perhaps one of my most memorable wave receivences. Just a wave it was, but it was like a non-verbal salute between pilots about to take their ships into the sky, pilot to pilot, the ship not mattering at that point.

So off I went to the south east first. Flew to the coastline over Galveston to touch the Gulf of Mexico and thereby complete a cross section of the US: from Canadian border in Montana to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Turning north, I flew into Ruston, Louisiana where I refueled and then took off again and landed a few hours later in Cleveland, Mississippi. On the approach to landing, there were these little white things that would go flying by the plane. Didn't know what they were until I landed and saw all the cotton fields. Took a run in the twilight and soon had wisps of cotton streaming behind me 10 feet long. Cotton, cotton everywhere. In the fields, on the road, caught on the street signs, on the runners, and on the ground. Later biked into town on the tube i had just patched (also had to patch a hole on the way back from the NASA space center) and when I asked a guy about finding the town and a place to eat, he gave me the info and after chatting for a few more minutes, he said not to worry about asking other folks, as he said, "You in the hospitality state!" I did not find the Mexican spot he recommended and instead found another Chinese buffet, where I controlled myself a little better and ate with two brothers - one a high school sophomore football player and the other a lawyer. They said everything is agriculture around there. If you weren't doing something in agriculture you were doing something that relates to it.

I biked back to the airport and there found a security guard about to close the small terminal that was open. When I asked him about it, he said there was no problem with me sleeping inside on the couch. As he was going to be there all night as security, he would just leave the door open for me. We got to chatting and later on his sister even brought me a container of tasty vegetable-beef soup. The hospitality state, indeed. Got things ready for the morning, as I was trying for an early departure, and to the sack I went...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Day 16: Johnson Space Center

On the 17th of November, I made my pilgrimage to the Johnson Space Center. I pulled out a flat tire out of Freddy and in my frustration put it back and decided to see if there was a courtesy car available. I came in to the FBO and asked if I could use the car. The receptionist looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, who are you with?" To that I replied, "I flew in yesterday and I'm sleeping in Sleeping Room #3." To that she replied, "Oh YOU'RE the one who asked if you could sleep in your plane." I said yes, and the ice was broken. Try as she might though, she could not arrange a car for me. So she decided to take me herself.

I was dropped off with my bike at the visitor center having put a new tube in the tire and headed in for two IMAX space movies, many displays, the actual Apollo 17 command module, and a tram tour of the rocket garden, a vehicle mock-up facility and historic mission control where many of the Gemini and all of the Apollo mission controls took place. a splendid spot full of history. I did get to meet astronaut Ellen Baker who took me to the mock-up facility - not to the observation deck where the tram tour goes, but to the inside of the shuttle, space station and Soyuz spacecrafts. Splendid were the spacecrafts and it was great to talk to Ellen.


The highlight of the day was a total by chance meeting of flight director Gene Kranz. (Ed Harris was the actor who portrayed him in the movie Apollo 13.) Gene is one of my great role models and I was so honored to meet him. It was after the space center closed and he was giving a talk to the employees - Gene said I could stay for it, but the security guards would not let me. Oh well, it was great to meet him.

Back to Ellington, which seems like a space center in its own right, and had a light dinner of plane food. (The night before, I had given a nod to the Crazy Horse boys and eaten at a All You Can Eat Chinese Buffet and over did it a bit. Sat down with a college student from India who walked into the restaurant at the same time I did.) I checked weather for the next day and to bed I went in my cozy little sleeping room number three.

And I did not see Dex nor Karen that day as the visitor center is very separate from the actual goings on of real astronauts. Oh well. More to come later.
Ben

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Day 15: Fort Stockton to Houston, Texas

The boring part: woke up, weather brief, took off and 2.5 hours later landed at Austin Texas International Airport. Gas was a killer at over $5 per gallon. Got a lesser quote earlier but went to the wrong fuel place. (Thought there was only one) Refueled, lunch, took off after being cut in line by airliners, kind of exciting it was to take off in between them, then was told to fly at 2,000 feet for what seemed like a long time to keep me clear of other aircraft traffic. Then on to Ellington field, the old air force base. I was cleared through class B airspace and landed at Ellington, and taxied to a parking spot.

The exciting part: ELLINGTON. On the ramp, the first planes I saw upon landing were about 20 T-38s, all lined up in their sleek rows looking like the incredible flying machines they are. It wasn't long before a few of them were in the pattern doing touch and goes, without even letting the nose wheel touch the ground. Amazing. I got lots of video shot, and I quite enjoyed having a T-38 in the same video frame as Mr. Fred. Then an F-16 falcon took off, did the normal climb out and then like a rocket shot straight up until it was out of sight. Fricken amazing. For security reasons I can't go any closer to the planes but I’m happy to have seen one up close at Roswell. For tonight, they have given me a sleep room, as for security reasons, they cannot allow me to sleep in the plane. So I get a room all to myself, with sheets and a comforter. There is also internet, conference rooms over looking the airport, a huge lounge with a big TV and they've given me the keys to the blue van - courtesy car.

Tomorrow I head to the space center and might even meet up with a astronaut that is the sister in law of a client of my aunt who is a horse veterinarian. Her bio I’ll put below. BIG THANKS TO LOL! I might just decide to take up residence in sleeping room #3. Zion. That’s it for now. So glad I have made it. Ellen, the astronaut, who I talked to on the telephone today said the visitor center is not much, but I’m very excited to check it out. Shortly to head back to the plane, to clean it up and then out into town in the blue van! Space pictures and jet pictures everywhere. I love it. Adios for now!
Ben

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/baker-e.html

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Day 14: Fort Stockton, Texas

Hello my friends,
A rest day in Fort Stockton as there were instruments conditions along my proposed route and I wanted no part of them combined with gusty winds up to 30 knots. So I stayed put and occupied myself by catching up on some sleep, another run around the golf course, watching some business jets fly in, and looked at a bunch of displays at the local airplane mechanic school which is in the next hanger over. So all in all a successful day, though I hope to make it to Houston tomorrow. I had initially hoped to make it to the southern Texas border but a quick look at the chart shows numerous restricted areas, military operating areas military air bases and defense zones. Not wanted to get shot down by doing something wrong, I’m electing to head direct for astronaut land.

Dinner in town tonight was at IHOP as today was their grand opening. Went with four of the airport guys. I’m not really sure who works here, who volunteers here or who just hangs out here, but they're a very friendly group and my dinner was paid for. Texas hospitality! Dinner last night was at a Mexican spot, Bienvenidos, and I had a wonderful dinner with a man from some part of eastern Texas that I sat down with. He was an engineer and we had a very nice conversation throughout our meal. I said good bye to the engineer, named Michael, and then was driven back to the airport by one of the airport guys, who dropped me off at the restaurant while he did some errands (Texas hospitality!) and then slept a much needed deep sleep on the pull-out couch!

Back to the couch I go now for hopefully another deep sleep. Hope everyone back home is braving the weather. They say it might drop below freezing down here for the first time this season. "To infinity ... and beyond! (the beyond)" - Buzz Lightyear / Pete Townsend
Ben

Monday, November 14, 2005

Day 13: Colorado to Texas

Awoke early to get an early start and finally got off the ground at 8:15. It was perhaps the chilliest morning at 25 degrees F. The flying was uneventful, though I did see Oklahoma for the first time and saw Texas for the first time.

But before I could land in Texas, there was New Mexico to see. Over the wind turbines that I like to take pictures of, towards the land of UFOs. Roswell, New Mexico, I was cleared to land straight in on runway 21. Land I did and realized that I was in somewhat of an airplane storage airport. Airplanes everywhere, just sitting there, some stripped of parts, some lying in wait of being sold and some just there to pass the time, and no longer will fly. As I taxied to my parking spot I noticed a sleek air force jet parked a few spots away. Yes, indeed, it was a T-38, the air force's trainer, but also NASA's plane they use for pilot proficiency. This one had the camo color scheme and was very cool up close. I cursed a good amount as I normally do when I am stimulated by the aviation and space worlds. Seeing my favorite plane was no exception.


But, alas, I had places to go and could not stare any longer. In to get plan the next leg and then call the 800 number for a weather briefing. However, before I could make much progress, I noticed too royal blue flight suits walking out the door. They were probably helicopter pilots or something. But a minute later, I took a look at the flight line. And there...parked near the air force t-38 was a gleaming white NASA T-38. My favorite airplane in my favorite service. I checked with the front desk. "Where those astronauts in the blue suits?" "Yes, they just took the courtesy car into town for lunch." You can imagine my excitement. But also my remorse. Had I been a bit quicker, I could have said, "excuse me, I just flew in myself and need to get some lunch in town. May I come with you?" I wanted to do bad things on account of my frustration of a missed opportunity. Lunch with the astronauts. Sharing flying stories. Them coming from Houston (where I’m headed) but me coming from BOSTON! Beat that.


So I would wait for their return and try to plan the next leg, though I couldn't really concentrate. In the mean time, a T-37 jet trainer of less sleekness was departing and I chatted with them. They asked the price of fuel saying, "What’s the price of fuel now? I don't really have an idea because we always just pay with the government card." My eyes narrowed in thoughts of that government card. Those lucky #@!$s. And while the astros were lunching without me, I did have a close look and took some pictures of their plane. And I ran off at the mouth.

Eventually they came out towards their plane and I jumped out of mine, making sure that I approached them not in the flight building but from my own aircraft as they were heading out to theirs, and introduced myself. Their first names: Karen and Dax. Dax's real name is Allen but his last name, which I couldn't quite get off his name tag, must have had dacks in it. I plan to look them up on NASA's website which has pictures and bios of all the astronauts. While Dax preflighted the plane, we talked and then when he was busy I talked with Karen who was already up in the back seat. She's been an astronaut since 2000, is a civilian, and has her own private pilot's license like me, and is very pretty. I told them I am hoping to be an astronaut, but I bet everyone tells them that. I eventually had to walk back to Fred as they started the two engines. Lots of swears as I watched them taxi away. and then more swears as I listened to them prepare to take off, talking to the tower as NASA 515, the number I don't know, but I’d love to have NASA as a part of my call sign. Well, "Cessna 7202Golf" will do for now.

They took off like they were on fire, and were a speck in the clouds before I knew it. Heading back to Houston. They have to keep up their flight time so they came over to Roswell, New Mexico, to have lunch. Race you back to Houston, I thought. They go at probably 700 miles per hour. I go about 110.

Before I could go, I did have to make a visit to the UFO museum. So I took the courtesy car, which happened to just have been driven by the astronauts. Yes, I operated the same vehicle as the astronauts. I be not too many people can say that. I took a quick tour, and then headed back to the airport, the aliens spacemen not being able to compare the live ones I had just met.

So into the air I went and back into Texas. I am now in Fort "John" Stockton. (I added the john) Very nice Texans came out to help fuel and tell me about the place. Good facilities, nice area, and lots of Mexican food. Went for a quick run on the golf course to get the kinks out, though I never really feel stiff when I get out of the plane. The mental stimulation must move blood to my muscles.

So that's the story, tomorrow I’m trying for an even earlier start, and make it to Texas' most southern tip and then to Houston to see the space center. Things still going very well. Nice to be in a new state. My best to all of you. Thanks for reading.
Ben and Fred

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/nyberg-kl.html

wow

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/poindexter.html

wow
I guess it was "Dex" not "Dax"

I’m be looking for them in Houston, so I can say, "Dex, what's happenin' my man!" and then, "well, hello doctor"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Day 12: Colorado to Colorado

Greetings!
A windy night in Boulder was had. Though we were tied down, Freddy moved quite a bit and my quality of sleep was not stellar. But the following day, I met up with the band, and witnessed quite a show. the boulder crowd seemed to dig it as I did. I spent the night in a hotel room with Chad, Syb and mom and departed their company the next morning after a nice sleep in. I finally got into the air in the early afternoon and landed in Lamar, Colorado. It was agriculture flat lands, very different from boulder, and I had a nice twilight run down a dirt road towards a farm house. Jumped some barbed wire to get into the cow fields to really get a feel for the place. ran down the endless dirt road - they all seem to be endless around there and all seem to be going in the cardinal directions. The houses are in the middle of nowhere and it seems it would be challenging to have a community other than the people you live with. They probably manage it somehow.

Town and temperatures being a little outside my biking radius of comfort, I took the courtesy car, (this one also had the "check engine" light on, like the last one) and headed the five miles into town, stopping at BJ's Burgers and Beverages. a somewhat fast food place I sat down and picked up the phone that was in my booth, pressed the button under the phone which rang a buzzer in the kitchen, the placed my order. Quite cool, I thought. What was not so cool, apparently, was myself, when I tried to start some conversation with the two college aged couples at the next booth over. So uncool was I that the ones with their backs to me never even turned around to see who was talking to their table. Well, I had my mini map to keep me occupied through the two $1 bean burritos and tossed salad.

Back to the Haus, I almost wrote, and now I have, back to the Freddster, to bundle up as the temp was already near freezing. But before zipping up my bag I had a little project. Most airports have a rotating green and white light, like a light house for aviators, and seeing I, alone, was at the airport, and that there was no gate to the tower, I headed up for a nice view of the airport, lit wind sock and then the rotating light itself. Memories came back of being in the top of the light house on one of the Panamanian islands. Down the ladder I climbed, feet on the rungs, hands on the sides, just like climbing the rigging on a tall ship. To bed I went to sleep very well in the cold Colorado air.
adios
Ben

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day 10: Wyoming to Colorado


Finally up to today! I slept very well, and got up with the morning twilight. The weather in Colorado was forecasted to deteriorate with thunderstorms and showers so off I went, driving the ex-cop car courtesy car back to the airport and away we went. A sight seeing flight I had planned. First south into Nebraska and over some higher terrain which did make me keep an eye on the oil pressure and emergency landing spots among other things. But shortly out of my window, what did I see: THE CRAZY HORSE MONUMENT. It was very neat more so to finally see it after nine months on our own crazy horse. it is a work in progress - carving a huge crazy horse into the side of a mountain. many thoughts to the crew of crazy horse! Wish you were up there with me! onward I flew and towards my GPS waypoint labeled RUSH. Finally I could see Mt. Rushmore, though much smaller than crazy horse, very interesting and majestic to see huge faces cut into the rock. then farther east to South Dakota's badlands - a fascinating 100 mile stretch of, not knowing how to describe them, badlands. erosion leaving pillars and plateaus - very cool.

And then south into Nebraska, where I did my fastest lunch turn around of fueling, briefing, and fuel checking (postponing lunch for later) and I was ready to go again. Before I went, though, I had a nice chat with a old man who has been flying for 40 years, has some four thousand hours under his belt (compared to my 150 or so) and tries to do four touch and goes each day. Says it's like getting into a car. I beat him into the sky but I enjoyed hearing him call out his positions around the traffic pattern as I headed off to Colorado, boulder, Colorado - my old stopping grounds. Land I did without seeing any thunderstorms or rain. There was a bit of haze so I could not see too clearly, but the Front Range snow capped mountains were fantastic.

I must say it is a bit strange to be here after 2.5 years away from my three years spent in school here. I am now in the remodeled student center on new apple computers. I eagerly await the state radio show tomorrow night at the fox theater. it will be fun to see the band again and I hope to see some folks I have not seen in a few years.

So that is the story, I wish I had a satellite uplink so I could write each day, but that wasn’t quite in the budget. I’m still having a blast and plan on heading to the Texan-Mexican border and then to the Houston space center in a few days. That is all for now. Adios muchachos y muchachas.
Ben

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Day 9: Montana to Wyoming

I had planned to go as far west as I could get in Montana, but the briefer said gusty winds into the 40s all along the Front Range. So abort the west plan. To the south I go. but first to the north. to the US-Canadian border in hopes of getting all the way to the Texas coast and thus seeing a complete cross-section of the us from the air. Forty minutes north touched Canada airspace and then south I went and into Wyoming after a lunch in miles city, Montana.


I planned to go to Rapid City, South Dakota, via Wyoming’s devil's tower, but after seeing the devil's tower from the air, a magnificent piece of rock sticking straight up, I decided to land for further exploration.

Landed in the tiny town of Hulett, Wyoming, to increase the town population of only 400, self served myself and then got out the bike - the tower being only 7 miles to the south-west. An hour before darkness, I should have no problem. But it turned out to be a bit more considering it was a long dirt road into the town and then more than 10 miles on roads to get to the national monument, and then a few miles once inside the park boundaries. I did eventually made it, and also made up for missing some exercise. It was a beautiful sight up close lit by the half moon. It was a bit disconcerting to be more than 10 miles from the plane in the dark, in sometimes quite cold air, but it was fun. I ran around the tower trail and then biked back to the plane. I had not eaten much of a lunch and did not bring any snacks in my pack to the tower, so I was exhausted when I got back to the plane. It was a matter of not stopping pedaling. The Wyoming landscape was fascinating on the outbound bike, but on the way back, it was dark and all I could think about was bananas. It felt like I was doing the last sprints of a hockey practice only it went on for more than an hour.

Then it was time to hop in the courtesy car and drive to my new friend Dave’s house. He is a local bachelor, age 65, who invited me to stay at his house. I met him at the airport before I left on my tower bike ride as he was flying a remote control airplane. He was a very nice fellow with a beautiful house. He is a retired electrician and served five years in the navy as a submariner. You can imagine my fascination. I got to hear all about it. It was very nice to have a real house and bed to lie down in after my night time bike ride epic, and he seemed very happy to have some company.

Day 8: Dakota to Montana

Since I wasn't able to get my town experience of the night before on account of the wind and rain, I went the next morning to get some fruit. It was still a bit breezy but it had calmed down a good bit. The town itself was very old school western - very square buildings, wide streets, I expected to see cowboys come out of saloons. I got my fruit and then headed back. By this time the sky had become a bit more overcast, and I took off into still gusty winds with a ceiling not much more than 4,000 feet. The weather briefer had told me that the skies were clearer to the west, so I had hope that I wasn't going to have to fly low to the ground for the whole flight. And sure enough near the horizon, I could see patches of sunlit land. I flew on, towards them and gradually the cloud cover went from overcast to broken to scattered to few. Before I was under totally clear skies I found a large pocket between the clouds and headed up. It was fabulous, clouds all around in their brilliant white splendor, while we flew up through a gap camera in hand and smile on face. the land was getting a bit more hilly and I eventually landed in Montana just over the border.

Another quick lunch and I was off again landing the second uneventful leg just before sundown in Malta, Montana. I took a quick run in the dark and then biked into town. The only places to eat were a few steakhouses and one family restaurant bar. So I went into the restaurant was seated at table and then walked up to a man seated by himself and asked if I could join him. He hesitated for a second then said sure and after I was seated we proceeded to have a great conversation over our dinners. So good, I guess that he took my bill! It was not much at $4.95 for a salad and sandwich but it was very nice. he is an engineer from North Dakota, an avid fisherman, with two boys who love hockey and music. Needless to say his boys will soon have a state radio CD coming their way.

Back to the plane I went. Arranged my sleeping area, exercised to warm up, bundled myself up, then hit the sack.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Day 7: Wisconsin to North Dakota

8 November 2005

Back to Freddy, after a few days with the band. It was good to be back with the fellow. Took off around 8:30am and flew fast up north into Minnesota to see the land of 1000 lakes. And more than a thousand lakes I saw. Very cool it was. A quick lunch in Alexandria, Minnesota and then I continued on to try to make North Dakota! And make it I did, landing in Jamestown, which is just over the border. I had initially planned to go further but there was a bit of haze in the air, and I did not want to fly in haze after sunset. So land I did in Jamestown. I could reach no one on the radio when I inquired about fuel and a tie down for the evening. I could also see no planes nor people on the airport. I wondered if the airport was closed but seeing the runway lights on, I knew it had to be open.

I fueled up with the self service, the standard routine now, and then took a look around. There was one spot with ropes for a tie down which someone said I could use, when I finally knocked on a hangar door. But since landing, the wind had gone from three or four knots to twenty four or so. In my exploration I had found what looks like an abandoned hangar, that is except for the many pigeons who had taken up residence there, so I pulled Freddy around and slipped him in with barely a foot of clearance on either wing tip. But we were a bunch of cozy cookies in there. The front door stayed open but it was facing away from the wind. The wind eventually made it to gusts of 39 knots and hard rain poured down. Canceling my usual evening in town because of the wind and rain, I hung out with my man, Fred. We still rocked about due to the wind even inside the hangar, and it continued all through the night.

I had a slight crisis earlier when I thought I broke the video camera. I was taping the putting of Freddy into the hangar when a gust blew the tripod over, yes, I have a tripod. My main form of entertainment would not focus - the blow had crippled its internal electronics. Or so I thought. I gave thanks to those who take thanks when I put in the other battery and my problems were solved. The sacrifices we make for a good shot.

So I hung out with Fred and did some housekeeping: reviewed my notes, added some things to my checklists, watched a few planes go in and out and listened to North Dakota public radio. my in house dinner: hummus, black beans, wheat bread, raisons and some Triscuit crums. Deliciousa. 48 degrees inside the plane at bedtime. Many thanks to the pigeons who let me and Freddy be by ourselves. It would have been a nasty night out in the open.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Day 3: Ohio to Wisconsin

Hello gang. On day three, I awoke at 6am from a nice sleep on the couch. My goal for the day was to try to make it to Madison, Wisconsin to see my favorite band, state radio, which happened to also be heading there for a show that night. so got out of my sleeping bag, packed up my gear, went for a quick bike ride as the sun rose, then had a shower in the hangar, had my breakfast of a banana, grape nuts with raisons and dry milk left over from an outward bound course I taught, loaded and organized Freddy, preflighted the plane, got my weather briefing on the telephone, found the courses to steer against the winds aloft, and I was at last ready to go.

The older white haired men that surprisingly accumulate at almost every airport to talk about flying peered out the window as I taxied to the end of the runway, no doubt, to discuss my plane, perhaps me, and most definitely the quality of my take-off. The take-off came off smoothly at 8:59am. The morning flight was a good one and the GPS actually showed us making in the 90 mph range! Close to double what our slowest speed was the days before. So on we flew over the farmland that is very comforting to fly over. Always on the lookout for a field to land on in an emergency, there's suitable fields everywhere. The roads were also helpful in that they were not the windy roads of back east. They were the midwest roads pointing exactly north-south and east-west. And since I was headed almost exactly west, I just followed the road from 4,500 feet above it.


I was making such better time and managing my fuel better with the fuel tank switch that lets me draw fuel from either the left or right wing tank. I had always previously left it on both so I never had to think about it, but since the left tank draws a little more than the right, using the fuel switch is imperative to increasing range. The only drawback is that I have to remember that I have switched it to one tank (must be on "both" for all maneuvers, take offs and landings). So I must be aware of the fuel levels and the switch position. To remind myself that I’m not on both tanks, I put a glove on the dashboard. I have to say that I was a little concerned about having never used the switch before, though everything told me it should work fine, so I got to high altitude above the first airport I came across and then switched over to left tank from both. Everything worked as expected but I had been prepared for any unusual happenings. I also felt like I had crossed another line of becoming a real pilot not afraid or intimidated by any little switches.

So I flew on, making good time and worked out that I’d have enough fuel to go about 60 miles farther than initially planned. So I got out the green airport book and found the info for Greater Kankakee airport. Pronounced with a long a on the first syllable which is the stressed one. It took one of the air traffic controller (ATC) guys three times to figure out that that was the place I was talking about as I adjusted my destination. (I was saying a stressed second syllable - they need a pronunciation guide in the directory). I had to tell the controller because I was getting a service called "flight following." That means that the big control centers have me and my altitude on their radar screens and they alert me if any other planes come in my direction near my altitude. It’s like having a huge pair of eyes looking down me, giving me a hand in spotting other aircraft. so those worrying about us can be comforted by knowing I always have someone on the radio, who knows where we am, what altitude we're at, and where we're heading.

I followed the roads right to Kankakee airport, in Illinois - I flew right over Indiana - and made a straight in soft landing on runway 22 (facing 220 on the compass). This airport has no tower (class E) so as I came in I self announced my positions and intentions on the CTAF, (common traffic advisory frequency). I talked to the field guy on the radio and as I taxied to parking, he came out in the fuel truck to top Freddy off. He was a very nice fellow and called me "boss" which I liked.

Inside to pay for the fuel and plan the next leg in the board room. Got the distances, courses, and checkpoints off the chart and then was ready to call the weather briefers when the real boss told me that there was a flight service station (FSS) right across the way. So instead of calling I walked right in. Had to get buzzed through two doors for security reasons and then got a briefing from a briefer right in front of me. Rows of computers everywhere, it was like being in mission control. Very cool it was to finally see the places I call to get weather briefs. I asked if I could get my video camera but Lockheed Martin has recently taken over from the government in the operation of the FSS's so I was told that no cameras are allowed and that all the info is proprietary to Lockheed. Oh well. Back to the skies!

Had a lunch of bread, an apple, Triscuits and a tomato and we were off, self announcing that we were taking off on runway 22. When I was up about a few hundred feet, I noticed in the distance that it looked like a plane was preparing to land on the same runway but coming the other way. I turned off to the side just in case and it looked like he went around, either way he did not seem to be announcing his intentions. Safely up and away, I headed north-west towards Madison. it was an uneventful flight and I even filed a flight plan with the Kankakee FSS for practice. (With a flight plan, if the plan is not closed within half an hour of the proposed landing time, a search and rescue operation will begin. I put my other glove on the dashboard to remind me to close the plan. Usually I don't get the flight plans when I get flight following, but if I come across spots of the country where flight following is not available, flight plans will be a good option.)

Into Madison, Wisconsin I went, landing at a bigger class C airport with long runways and airliner capabilities, though it's not as busy as a class B airport like Boston’s. An hour later I see the new state radio sprinter van - huge and blue, right now affectionately known as "red" coming to pick me up. Chad, Chuck, Brian and Sybil came out on the ramp to check out Fred, Syb and Chad even sitting in the pilot seat with the headphones on practicing their pilot-speak. Into town we went and got ready for the show. It was a good one and I did some singing on the diner song and also did some good jumping with Chad and chuck on stage. also did a little Roger Daulty swinging of the arm as if I was swinging a microphone - a credit goes out to my cousins Maude and eve for their film on the who's Tommy broadway musical - a film I’ve watched a hundred times. Much fun it was.

The weather was foggy the following day both in Wisconsin and in Minneapolis, my destination, and the location of state radio's next gig, so into red I went leaving Freddy tied down in Madison. Into Minnesota for the first time I went for another SR show and to see our cousin Matty Cochran, who lives in Minneapolis. another good show, and another round of the diner song, as the encore, with even bigger jumps (including the scissor leg jump as well as the spread eagle leg jump - like the who's Pete Townsend) and double arm swings - I bet Roger Daultry never did that!

Today we're heading back to Madison, where they'll drop me off and continue to St. Louis. I’m anxious to get back into the skies and continue my expedition. it was great seeing Matty and it's been fun spending time with the band. I’ve been doing some good aviation reading during the down time and now have a pencil holder sewn into my dickies. One more brunch with Matty and we'll be off. Have to leave here before the cold winter sets in. (All the buildings are connected with above ground enclosed walkways over the streets so that folks don't have to venture into the freezing temps in the winter time.)

From here I’m not sure where I’m headed, but still heading west to the Dakotas or Montana, states I have never been too. We shall see what the weather brings. I’ll try to head out tomorrow morning and might meet the band in boulder, co on the 12th or so. That’s the scoop. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Day 2: Pennsylvania to Ohio

A cold night it was in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Got down to freezing and when I woke up at 6:30 to the line guy saying, “what time you wanna get up?” all I could see was fog – pea soup. I went for a run in the spare time waiting for it to burn off and finally leapt into the air past 10:00am – not quite the early start I was hoping for.


The flight was smooth up at 6,500 feet…but it was not fast. Fifty-five miles and hour at times. Slower going than a highway car! Descended to 4,500 feet. (When going west the flying altitudes are always even thousands plus 500 feet for traffic separation purposes.) At 4,500 the plane quickened a bit, sometimes going as fast as 80 mph but the ride was a bit bumpy – sometimes in the fun way.

The strong head winds would have made me run out of fuel before my planned destination so I had to land short at another airport. Got out my airport directory and found a suitable alternate and all of its pertinent info: runway lengths and directions, communications frequencies and field elevations and I was set to go for a straight in approach to landing.

The landing though was not so straight forward. The strong turbulence would carry down to the ground and manifested itself as a nasty crosswind and to make matters worse, the runway was sloped downhill for the first half! Not an ideal situation. So land I did, twice. The first time just a bounce, but for the second, a few seconds later, the wheels held their grip on the pavement. Not my best landing by a long shot but as they say, a good landing is one you can walk away from and a great landing is one in which you can use the aircraft again. Which I did!

The excellent part about the landing was that the slight jar encountered during touch number one somehow fixed the issue with the automatic direction finder (ADF) which points towards strategically placed ground beacons to aid in navigation. I’d been listening for the Morse identifier to sound in my earphones for the last hour to show we were getting the signal. No signal. I left it on so that I’d gear the code once we were in range. But once in range…no code. It was not until we touched down that, what’s that noise? Morse code! Happily the ADF was in back in business. Seems Freddy just had a successful visit with a chiropractor of sorts.

Onwards: fueled up Freddy with 100 low lead octane aviation gas and fueled myself with two pieces of wheat bread, raisons, Triscuts, an apple, a can of pineapple chunks and a few pieces of dried fruit for good measure.

Then the next leg to plan. Found a good one after a few no go’s because of landing fees or distances too long for the amount of sunlight left. 2:30pm it was. Found my spot. Class E airport ( no control tower and usually lower key.) Very close to its home town, shown in yellow on the flying charts.. Bucyrus, Ohio here I come. One hundred and twenty miles.

The highlights of the leg: leaving Youngstown (no offense to the Young’s), seeing a field that had GET LOST written into it and landing at Bucyrus just before the sun went down. Farms surrounding most of the airport. Landed, taxied to the pump, fueled and spayed (3.95/gal). Upon a discussion with Kevin the instructor/airport worker, I asked him if I could sleep in the plane. He said sure and then having already offered me the “courtesy car” (I declined in favor of my bike) I took me to hanger three where his buddy has a live in hangar and a couch for me to sleep on to say nothing of the bathroom and shower. Living it real tonight.

Biked into the farm land in the early twilight throwing my arms in the air and saying, "mon dieau", speaking French like my favorite cyclist character in the movie Breaking Away. A happy bike rider, exploring what I’d seen from the air – though the ride was almost abruptly ended when an un-athletic looking dog tore off his farm land onto the road to chase me. I gave a burst of the pedals as if to say "yeah nice try buddy" and figured he was toast. However, i looked back a few seconds later and not only I had not lost him but he was gaining on me at an alarming rate. A sustained firing was needed this time and thankfully Buddy reached his aerobic threshold before I did and quit the chance. Sadly, Buddy did not respond to my taunting whistles on the return trip.

Then into town I went to find a place to teat and to get the feel for the town. Went opposite the fast food joints and found a Greek family place on the edge of the main road through town. I sat at the front table and had a chicken Gyro - a wonderful chicken sandwich on a fat pita with lettuce and some special sauce. The owner and his worker came out the chatty, just as I had hoped and soon got the question, "you from around here?" The woman - born, raised and lived most of her life in Bucyrus. Now lives in the next town over. The man started the place eleven years ago after he left the local garden/automotive/etc hose plant as a senior manager who had no experience. They said the town used to be an industrial town but most of the industries have gone away now leaving a quiet place. In good sprits though they were and their food delicious.

Biked back to the hangar, stopping once to get some fabric to sew a pencil holder onto my pants. Planned the next leg of the flight and went to bed.

More to come,
Ben

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Day 1: Massachusetts to Pennsylvania


And so the flying adventure has begun. Initially conceived years ago, the expedition has finally taken off. Postponed for years because of this annoying thing called “college,” I finally thought I would get my chance. But then a chance came up to sail in the Mediterranean with outward bound. Flying mission scrubbed. Another chance the following year. Enter the crazy horse voyage…flying trip scrubbed again. Was I forever going to be stuck doing circles around the traffic pattern of my local airport?

But alas, a word I love using, on this day, after much planning, packing and dreaming, we have left. Yes, I use the possessive we to describe us: myself and my plane, just as Charles Lindbergh did when he crossed the Atlantic. Does this other have a name? Well, yes, officially his name is N7202G – G phonetically is GOLF, which naturally led itself to the name Freddy in honor of my favorite golfer, Fred Couples – also the favorite golfer of my friend Geoff Young and my brother in law Dan Cignarella, two fine golfers in their own right. Coincidence, I think not. I digress.
Mom and dad drove me to the airport this morning after loading the car and doing my customary trampoline front flip and swish on the basketball net (if the ball hits you after the swish you have to do it over.) A wonderful tour of Norwood’s airport’s control tower followed the drive and I was then ready to load the plane now that I’d seen the face of the voice I’ve heard for many years over the radio.

The plane was loaded, I said goodbye to ma and pa, the flight was planned with the latest weather info, specifically the winds aloft, and then the cockpit was organized: GPS plugging in and programmed, checklist under right thigh, kneeboard strapped onto the left thigh, chart, aircraft manual, airport directory and circular slide rule in pocket by left leg, voice recorder wires plugged in and navigation planning sheet within easy reach. It was time to “light this candle” as Alan Shepard said before he became the first American in space. And so I went through the steps:


Breaks: hold
Fuel: on both tanks
Fuel/air mixture: full rich
Carburetor heat: off
Circuit breakers: in
Primer: primed and locked
Throttle: set
Master and alternator switches: on
Flashing beacon: on


I then called “CLEAR” out the window, turned the key and lit the candle. Got my taxi clearance from the controller then proceeded to go all of two feet forward to the edge of the taxiway which the main wheels would not roll over from their parking location on grass abutment. Canceled my taxi clearance and shut down the engine.

Switches: off
Mixture: lean
Ignition: off
Master and alternator switches: off

Got out, waved down the fuel guy and together I pulled and he pushed Freddy’s main wheels onto the taxiway. Take 2. Light candle, candle lit. Taxi clearance obtained, taxied to runway 35 (which points to 350 on the compass) did my run-up engine check, then saying goodbye to my nervous-antsy feeling as we gathered speed down the runway, the nose wheel lifted off and Freddy decided it was at last time to get the show on the road.

Climbed at full power circling to the right to fly over the airport, heading at last: WEST! The clouds looked near scattered as they were, to my cruising altitude of 4,500 feet but as I nudged upwards finally out of Boston’s airspace, I stayed just below them.

And so it went. Beneath the scattered clouds, above the trees, the lakes, the houses, the people oblivious to our passage thousands of feet above them. From one checkpoint to another I went until landing at Sullivan county airport, New York. Fantastic runway – long, wide and no other airplane traffic.


Took a much needed bathroom break, called home as I do after each leg, fueled up ($80 worth of fuel at 4.25 a gallon. ) then planned the next leg, and away we went! Over hills, over a row of large wind mills churning away on a ridge line. Absolutely beautiful. Video taped the sun setting in the direction I was flying then my approach and landing between the hills into a Pennsylvanian valley. Beautiful.

Got fuel, got dinner in town at a Chinese restaurant and am now here in the back of Freddy ready to bed down for the evening. I told the fuel guys that I was supposed to meet a friend. Eventually I asked if I could sleep in the plane saying I wasn’t able to contact my friend and that I didn’t want to pay for a hotel. They laughed, bewildered. No one had ever asked them that before, he said. He called his manager. There were no policies against it because no one does it. I got the go ahead from the friendly guys.

I have taken out the three other seats to the plane, making it now a single-seater. In the back I now have my sleeping bag, a bivi sack, my sister's bike, a back pack of clothes, another pack of miscellaneous things - tools and such, a bag of operational flying equipment, manuals, charts, airport directories and navigation planning sheets, a few quarts of oil, and a bag of food. Bike is now outside, and all my other gear is organized on the starboard side, while I sleep on the port side, feet under the copilot controls and head in the back looking up through the rear window. Just like winter camping tonight.

So wonderful to be exploring again. Biking through town made me feel like I was back on the crazy horse adventure. New ports are so interesting, so fascinating. A new part of the world. My days are once again invigorating, pages in the journal written now instead of only a sentence or two for a day. It is wonderful and now I must do my exercises and stretches and call it a day, a wonderful day.