Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 4E: Washington, Iowa to New Castle, Pennsylvania

Highlights of today:
1. A dawn discussion with a young South African crop duster.  They fly the hell out of their machines.  No airport pattern, they head straight for the middle of the runway 30 feet up, kick it high into the air to lose their airspeed, kick it hard over and land.  Remarkable flying that I won’t try in Freddy.  Twenty flights a day.  Fly, load, fly, load…until the conveyer belt loader broke and I had to leave. 

2. Flying above the clouds, which is always a highlight. 

3. Stopping after my second flight at Neil Armstong Airport in Wapokoneta, Ohio, Neil’s hometown.  I met a family that included a grandfather, a father and his two young daughters.  They had flown over from elsewhere in Ohio in their Cessna 170.  They invited me to join them in the courtesy car so we drove to the museum discussing space and flying and the like.  The museum was fun, we practiced landing the shuttle simulator, watched a film on the first lunar landing and poked around at the displays. 

4. Most air traffic controllers are male.  Every now and then there is a female controller and it is nice to hear a change in tone.  But today, there was this amazing voice on the other end of the airwaves.  There was something about her voice.  I could have listened to it all day as I tried to picture who was behind the voice issuing appropriately strong, instructions and communications to her aviators.  When I had the airport in sight and were bidding each other the customary “Good day” or “Good night,” I couldn’t resist telling her that she had a beautiful voice.  She responded that I did too, but she was just being polite.  I’ll keep a listen out for that one again. 

5. The double sunset I saw when the sun set on the cloud layer I was flying above, and then again on the ground as I was descending. 

6. Playing my travel bass guitar with a headphone amp and The Black Crowes on my ipod also playing on my headphones through the amp, playing and dancing around in the dark, under the stars as the space station flew overhead. 

I should make it home tomorrow!  Returning is always a bitter-sweet experience.  How I love sitting in Freddy’s cockpit.  It’s been a fantastic voyage so far.  A few more flights to go!

Friday, September 12, 2014

DAY 3: Ogallala, Nebraska to Washington, Iowa

Eastward!  I left Ogallala late morning today.  The clouds lifted just enough to warrant a try, knowing full well I might just take a loop around the pattern.  The clouds were low, only a few thousand off the deck, but it was enough.  I paid careful attention to the antennas on the chart and made sure I stayed far away from them, even knowing I was above them all.  I don't usually like to fly only a few thousand feet up but with I-80 below me and an endless grid of fields and N-S/E-W criss crossing roads, I knew if I had an engine failure, I had quick options.  Thankfully, I did not need such options. 
I landed in Maryville, Missouri and hoped to beat my record of 45 minutes before I start the engine again, but was delayed due to a long weather briefing.  IFR conditions prevailed but at last we came to a solution of heading northeast to make a little bit of progress and set me up for tomorrow.  

I passed two beautiful cranes up high today.  So beautiful to see them in their element, up high soaring along.  Otherwise, the most interesting thing I flew over today was a huge abandoned ammunition cache.  Bunker after bunker for miles and miles.  

Ammunition bunkers.

A coal plant.  To think, some people think a wind turbine is an eye soar.

I hope there were some people enjoying this sunshine on the ground.  They must have done something right!
So off I went back into the sky and eventually made it to Washington, Iowa.  I passed the airport in hopes the briefer had been wrong or that conditions had changed, and I found a huge opening in the sky, but beyond it was solid and low overcast.  I hit my personal minimums and turned around but first climbed a few thousand feet in the huge hole just to see a bit of the sun that I hadn't seen in a few days.  So beautiful on the white clouds from above.  

So beautiful above the clouds.
Back down I went and back to Washington for a smooth landing, the cheapest gas yet at $5.05/gallon and a few crop dusters on the tarmac.  

I fueled up, organized and then tied Freddy down for the night.  The legs were eager so I ran the runway as I did this morning in Ogallala.  For how much I like the mountains and the sea, there's something to be said about the plains at dusk on a cool night.  The sunset reminds me of the sunset pictures from space, the open views satisfy my aviator's want to look at the sky in all directions.   

It is remarkably colder today and I've put on pants and shoes for the first time in what seems like months.  I'm now about 900 nautical miles from home.  Within striking distance but rain will probably preclude me from arriving home.  Maybe that will mean a stop at Neil Armstong airport in Wapakoneta, Ohio - Neil's hometown...

My bed for the last two nights.
How I keep busy when I'm organized and exercised.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DAY 2 EASTBOUND: Ogallala, Nebraska

Homeward bound I am, or was...and hope to be again soon.  I managed to leave Lander before the storm, only to make it to Nebraska for the storm.  One bumpy flight with lots of clouds; not quite the beautiful puffy ones, but the ones that have rain under them, the ones that take concentration to avoid.  The mild turbulence stems the usual relaxation I feel in the cockpit and a few tosses of Freddy made me laugh after bringing the wings level again.  Toward evening things settled out a bit and the ride happily got smoother.  Ten miles out from the airport, I had to duck under an overcast layer of clouds at about 2,000 feet.  So clear above the clouds and so dark below.  It was such a distinct layer, I wanted to try to land the plane on top of the clouds and spend the night there.  

I headed below, over flew one airport then decided to divert 10 miles to the North to an airport with a second runway and automated transmitted weather broadcast.  (I like having the weather info both when I'm in the air and on the ground and the second runway give me better options for taking off into the wind.)  I landed in Ogallala, Nebraska (named after the Ogallala Sioux Indians), fueled up Freddy, found the pilot's lounge, had dinner in the plane as I logged my flight and tidied up the place and checked the next morning's weather, and then called it a night on the comfortable couch in the lounge.  

Today's weather was rain and overcast skies all day long with low ceilings.  By flight rules, the area was marginal VFR or marginal visual flight rules, so technically I could have taken off.  However, the number one cause of accidents is pilots flying from VFR into IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions.  So I did my best to exercise good judgement, and stayed on the ground.  

Around mid-day, I went into town and climbed the hill known as "Boot Hill" where all the cowboys were buried.  Apparently I'm in the cowboy capital of Nebraska.  Then went to a petrified wood museum, and had lunch at the local grill.  I asked two men in their sixties if I could sit down with them and they said yes.  There was not much conversation after that, despite their conversation before I got there.  I asked many questions about the town and about their work, one half-seemed to roll his eyes with each of my questions, but was very polite when I said goodbye.  They were certainly not the chatterbox that I ran into at the petrified wood museum.  Otherwise I had very friendly interactions as I got a new watch battery and at the music store.

I'm hoping to continue east tomorrow, at least by the afternoon.  More rain on the way with a chance of snow tonight!  Freddy's tied down facing east, very patiently, eye on the prize.  Now out to the plane to scrounge up some dinner.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ready to Fly East

I've had a wonderful time here in Lander, WY.  I have done the refresher course for my WEMT, recertified my CPR, sutured a dead pig's foot, practiced intubating a mannequin, became known as "Ice-man Ben" to a group of fifth graders in Victor, Idaho, seen some wonderful friends, and made some wonderful new friends.  It has been wonderful to be near the mountains.  

Please excuse the poor stitching.  We did not have the right gauge so things slipped a bit.
Now Freddy is all packed to head east before the rain, and maybe snow, hit Wyoming.  I am eager to hop back in the pilot seat.  I love that seat, the smell of the plane, it makes my blood move a little faster, and makes me smile and sometimes laugh.  

From the Buick courtesy car to Freddy.
A beautiful evening!  Excited for tomorrow!
I'm hoping to get back in fewer than 5 days, and plan an early start for Wednesday, hoping for three flights before the sun goes down.  Trying to get a gauge on the weather and see which way the systems are moving.  I look forward to being back in the air, interacting with the weather.  

Here's a quote I've been thinking of a lot lately.  It was read to me on one of the first days of my student NOLS course.  To the East!

Security and luxury shield us from life.  You never see the sky until you’ve looked up at the stars for safety.  You never feel the air unless you’ve ben shaken by it’s storms.  You can never understand the ocean uyntil you’ve been alone in its solitude.  To appreciate fully, you must have intercourse with the elements themselves…Know their whims, their beauty, their dangers.  Then every tissue of your being sees and feels, and body, mind, spirit become one with the Earth. 
- Charles Lindberg

Sunday, August 31, 2014


I slept for most of the night outside, under Freddy's wing.  The pilot's lounge was a bit grungy and lacking of the air quality outside, so I slept on the tarmac until I was awoken by the patter of rain on my face.  I gathered my gear and ran inside to sleep for the rest of the early morning.  At 0630, I was awake and ready to see what the troposphere had in store for me.  There were clouds all around, radar returns of rain and a few thunderstorms here and there.  But generally VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions.  So off I went!  Into a few very light rain showers.  I was able to get some weather in the cockpit, and I enjoyed the challenge of threading my way through the rain clouds.  Rain is not so bad, but the visibility and chance of downdrafts make me head elsewhere.  The rain was from my south heading north east so I turned north and flew until I could turn west through a corridor through the rain clouds.  With some maneuvering also due to some mountains, I ended up flying this way and that, quite enjoying my last leg of the outbound trip.

I landed straight in to Lander and was greeted by a good friend with blueberries!  I'd been eating the same food for the last five days, so it's a welcome break from my normal fruit, veggies, hummus, cheese, nuts and triscuts.  (Yes, blueberries are still fruit, but I did not have the luxury of having any along.)

I was greeted by the airport manager, who helped me out a few years ago when I was here, and told where the courtesy car was, which I am now using.  I fueled up, unpacked and did a little clean up of Fred.  I must say it was hard to leave the cockpit and come into town.  In the cockpit of a plane, everything is at my finger tips.  It's like a station for my mind and body.  Everything within reach.  It feels like a chair of action.  And it's been my home for the last week.  Though the trip is really only half way through, as I have to get home, I'll be out here for a week and won't have the time to fly until the week is done.  Freddy has done excellently, keeping me safe and happy and moving along to the west together despite fronts, clouds and the like.  We picked our way along.  

All told so far: 
5 days.
11 flights.
24 hours of flying.
2000 nautical miles flown.
288 gallons of aviation fuel.
$1000 in gas charges.

And the experience of piloting my way across the country instead of being herded like cats through the commercial airline system, to have explored my way across the country, instead of being asleep at 700 miles per hour, to navigate through cloud layers and thunderstorms, to have to land early, and make fuel and runway length calculations enroute, most of all to see the beauty and wonder of the sky up close was absolutely extraordinary.  I very much look forward to the return trip and hopefully I get some tail winds!  (Average speed heading west was about 95 knots or about 109 mph.)

I've now settled into the NOLS Noble Hotel, got my favorite room and am overloaded with memories of pre- and post- expeditions on land and water, in the summer, winter, fall and spring.  It's too bad, NOLS doesn't have flying expeditions.  There's a lot to be learned in the sky.

So many many thanks go to my uncle Tots, with whom I first flew as a young boy in Freddy more than 20 years ago, for igniting my interest in flying.  And to he and my aunt Lol, for holding onto Freddy all these years, and for your support and encouragement of my flying adventures.  These magical adventures would not happen otherwise.  The two of you have shared the sea and the sky with me and opened my world to all they have to teach and offer.

Lander, WY!

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Time: 1730
The night of day 3 was quite pleasant.  I stayed up late doing things that had been needing to be done, and slept quite hard.  I had a nice relaxing morning tidying up a bit, hanging my wet clothes out to dry on the struts of the plane, and having a nice breakfast in the shade up Freddy’s wing.  There was no fuel in Superior so after a run to check out the town and stretch my legs, I flew to Holdrege, Nebraska where there was cheap fuel.  I watched some sky divers there then headed into Wyoming. 

The flight was relatively smooth.  No cloud cities.  The haze continued and the terrain below became less populated with people and more populated with cattle in dark brown square pens.  No grass feed beef out here apparently.  On the way in I listened to the automated weather broadcast at Guernsey and heard the density altitude was 7,800 feet.  This means that while the airport is around 4,000 feet, it will feel like a 7,800 feet airport due to the combination of pressure and temperatures in the 90’s.  I haven’t landed at an airport close to 8,000 feet so I quickly had to pull out my aircraft manual and work my way through the charts.  I felt I could land alright, but I needed to make sure I could take off again!  Factoring gross weight, temperature, wind speed and direction, density altitude and calculated my ground role requirements.   Add a few hundred feet just to be conservative and I’d still have extra runway to spare.  Landed easily, knowing I should be able to get skyward again. 
America's beef!  Pack 'em in and don't give 'em any grass!

I wonder what it's like to grow up in a town like this.
Irrigation is pretty strange.

I’ve never had to make sure I could get off the ground before.  Freddy doesn’t need much in good conditions.  Two years ago, however, I wondered whether I could get on the ground.  I was somewhere near Arkansas and the winds picked up to where I did not want to land with that kind of cross wind which make landing more challenging.  I searched around for an airport that was oriented in the right way but they were all oriented the same, for the prevailing winds which were not the same as these gusty winds I had.  I would dial in each airport to try to listen to the automated wind direction in hopes some local features channeled the wind into a favorable directions and eventually found one and was very happy to be on the ground.  It is very strange to be up in the air wondering how to safely get on the ground.  Thankfully I was able to figure that one out and a little extra in the tanks meant I did not need to panic. 

So now, stuck in Guernsey, WY, hoping the thunderstorms will clear out and I can get to Lander.  Another deserted airport.  But with WiFi, a couch, outlets, and a courtesy van!


On the ground for the night.  A corridor opened up (maybe) to Lander but it would have meant landing 45 minutes after sunset at best.  Darkness and potential for some lingering bad weather are not a good mix.  So here I stayed.  Went for a bike ride to see the local area.  And now must call it a night.  Very much looking forward to bed. 

Good to be on the ground.

This little one caught my attention.

Wouldn't it be a lot easier if everyone just had a few solar panels?

A few days ago, Taylorville, the woman at the office said with a somewhat quizzical look, "Is that your skateboard?"  I said yes, to which she replied, "That's a first!"  I explained how excellent a skateboard is to get around the tarmac of an airport, but agreed most pilot types are not skateboard types.  Here's to a new mold.


DAY 3: Illinois to Nebraska

No hail!!  I had some nervous moments watching through the window, hoping not to see the tell-tale bounce of a hail stone.  Just down pour after down pour and thunder all around, but thankfully never right on top of us.  I took the liberty and risk of a lightning far off lightning strike and had my first shower of the trip.  As I was the only one at the airport, I stripped down and outside I went for just a brief moment. 

The night went well mostly.  No more storms, I could rest in relative peace as I slept inside the office on my sleeping pad.  Relative peace except for exceptionally loud crickets at 4:30 in the morning!  They are crazy.  I would yell at them and they would go silent for about 10 seconds.  And then they’d start right up again, and I’d yell, “What did I just say!!!”  To no avail.  They quieted a bit later after I dragged my sleeping gear into a different room and got a little more rest.

I wasn’t able to get right off the ground in the morning as there was very little visibility, so I did some other things and eventually got off the ground at around 10:00am.  It was an uneventful flight though I landed early because the airport I was planning to land at had huge thunderstorms in front of it.  I had hoped the airport was going to be in the middle of a gap in the stormy front, but things were moving more slowly to the north than I had hoped.  I quickly found an alternate, Lake Ozark, Missouri.  Storms all around within an hour and I was happily eating my lunch as it poured outside.  No hail!  There were thunderstorms all around so I relaxed a bit and then went for a bike ride to the lake as I had landed in the middle of a state park!  Good hills and good roads.  I found the lake went for another very fast swim as more storms were approaching.  There were a few others swimming and obviously paying no head to the thunder.  Two of the three were making out in the water and the third indicated he’d just smoked some good weed, said they were going to party tonight and then asked how big my dick was.  Back to the plane! 

This one reminded me of Cloud City in Star Wars. 

I got poured on as I stood under a tree with my bike hoping the lighting part of the storm wasn’t going to come right overhead.  It thankfully did not and I braved light rain as I climbed back up the steep hill to the airport.  I got the plane ready, changed my clothes, bought a quart of oil and was ready to leave before the next storms rolled in.  The two guys at the office, and the ones who refueled Freddy, asked me, “You okay?”  I said I was fine.  “You go for a bike ride?”  “Yeah, down to the lake and then back around past the airport.”  “Aren’t you tired?!”  with a tone to suggest, why would anyone get exercise, because then one is going to feel tired…  I chuckled and explained I had been sitting most of the day and had a bit more sitting to do.  They wished me well, and we said goodbye. 

Off I went leaving the storms behind, bound for Nebraska.  After an hour I was finally through the stationary front!  It seemed to have taken a whole day.  But then up at 8,500 feet I noticed the hinge rod to the cowling flap that covers part of the engine was starting to work itself out.  It had done this before and I had tried to prevent it by taping the end of the hinges.  This had worked for a few flights but it must have vibrated itself through the tape.  I did not want the whole rod to come out as then the cowling would have flapped in the 94 knot breeze maybe torn itself off, maybe damaged part of the tail as it flew off. 

So after watching it closely I determined it might be coming farther out, so I explained to the controller who was following me that I was diverting to land at the airport that was only a few miles away.  He asked me if I needed to declare an emergency, and I said no, but he nicely had me contact him after I was safely on the ground.  Very nice to have a controller ready to do anything it took to help me safely on the ground.

I landed in Kansas and was refueled by a nice guy named Rodrick, I belive it was, who may be reading this now.  He is a pilot and it was fun to discuss the joys of flying.  I asked him how he likes living in Lawrence, Kansas, and he said he loves it because of the sunsets and the people. 

Off again I went, fly around the heavy precipitation that looked like a wall of water, then headed into Nebraska toward the setting sun.  All was quiet, the air was calm, no other planes and a beautiful sunset.  I laughed out loud as I was flying along thinking of how much I love to fly.  The radios, the headsets, the dials and gauges, the sunsets, the moonrises, all the buttons and knobs, the exploration…
Sunset and the moon is up!
I landed at Superior, Nebraska and being that no one was at the airport and there was no automated weather broadcast over the radio, I did the old school: fly over the airport, look at the windsock, and land appropriately.  I saw the windsock indicating a breeze from the North, so I landed accordingly into the wind after first taking a spin around the small industrial town and checking out the football game which was undoubtedly the town activity.  Friday night lights!  As I came in on my final approach, I clicked the mic 7 times and the runway lights came to life as if I was landing the space shuttle.  I always loving turning on the lights like that.  It’s as if the airport is saying, “WE GOT ONE COMING IN, LET’S BE WELCOMING AND READY FOR HIM!”

Within a few seconds of engine shut down, I heard the cows in the distant.  Welcoming again.  I’ve checked out the little office.  Bathrooms, outlets, sink and table and couches.  Not a bad little spot for a beautiful sunset touchdown.  As I stand at my standing office with computer on the horizontal stabilizer, I see lighting far off in the distance.  No thunder so we may be alright.  I’ll have to check the forecast before I pick inside our out for sleeping tonight. 

Freddy’s all put to bed, tied down with an old climbing rope.  Now to try to get myself ready for bed.  I’m now within striking distance of Lander if tomorrow’s weather is decent.  Looking forward to being there but have been loving this voyage in the sky. 
Thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far.  Much happens in the course of a day in the sky.

There’s a pretty cool website that tracks flights, can send alerts, and show graphs of speed altitude.  For any interested it’s, they also have an app for iPhones/iPads.  On the lower left of the website is an orange box that says “LIVE FLIGHT TRACKER” and then “PRIVATE FLIGHT TRACKER”   Put in “N7202G” where it says “Flight/Tail#”  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty awesome.  That’s enough out of me.