Thursday, July 15, 2004

Cross country: Kansas to Florida in a J3 Cub

This flight took place in November/December 2001. I didn't get around to writing about it until 2004.

Last minute details:

I haven't spent this much time on a 1000 mile flight in 5 or 6 years. That previous flight was when Son John and I picked up our Grumman American Trainer in Texas ... the airplane had been ferried to the Dallas area from California by a friend. Our flight to Tallahassee took a day and we parted company when I had to airline back to New York for my job and he flew to Clearwater Airpark where we live.

The details seem to multiply - take on a life of their own. Since the Cub is in west Kansas, a list of charts and equipment is made, revised, revised a few more times and finally checked off item by item. Our unseasonably warm weather gave way to winter, requiring a bulky set of insulated coveralls which baffled the airport security people in the wake of 9/11. Evidently they found me harmless. I ran a DUATS flight plan with waypoints every 60-80 miles and plotted my course, planned my fuel stops, made a bunch of phone calls and ordered a hand-held radio to be delivered to the FBO in Kansas. My backpack held enough to get me by - a spare set of underwear and socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, razor, deodorant, a headset, a bungee cord, long silk underwear, and my old standby - a half roll of toilet paper. You never know.

Once in Kansas on Wednesday, Leigh Crotts and I spent a few hours going over the airplane from spinner to rudder and then flew one circuit - the engine quit at idle rpm on the rollout. We got it started again and adjusted the idle and mixture until it ran great - on the next circuit there was a helluva racket - I had left the seat belt buckle draped outside the airplane and it whacked the hell out of the fabric just aft of the cockpit. Man, did I feel dumb - also embarrassed - not to mention horrified at having chipped some paint off that immaculate airplane. The last circuit was uneventful and I spent the night there in Dodge City.

The next morning, Thursday, a weather front lay across my route, blanketing eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi ... no way through it, no way around it. I decided it would be gone by the time I got there and launched eastbound at noon-thirty.

What a great start to a great trip! The airplane was flying beautifully. Starting out from Dodge City (Boot Hill, Wyatt Earp, all that) in late November turned out to be perfect for tailwinds. John's GPS showed 90 knots direct to Medford Oklahoma. My sectional chart pilotage came back pretty quickly so I turned off the handheld GPS and COM radio and spent my time watching the fuel float in my windshield and the great plains out both side windows as the float and the terrain both descended. Finally, pretty close to Medford, I switched on the GPS and radio and called Medford unicom ... no answer. Hmmm. Pressing on, the GPS said the airport was five miles away ... let me tell you, five miles looks like FIVE MILES from 1000 feet - when you're used to covering the distance in about a minute, five miles is suddenly a long way away. The perspective was something I'd have to get used to. I got my bearings, followed a disued railroad track right to Leo's Flying Service at Medford and my first of many warm welcomes by real airport people. Leo gave me a tour of his shop and I saw his Lark Commander and Ercoupe, the new metal rotating beacon mast, and got some advice on oils. He lubed the trim jack screw and got it working again (I had been flying with forward pressure on the yoke all that time) and after fueling, was off again in the general direction of Okmulgee OK.

Jim and Jeremy at Okmulgee were just great. Jim helped me push the Cub into their hangar and took me to the hotel and Jeremy picked me up the next morning. My arrival had been just under the trailing skirts of the advancing cold front and just before dark - I couldn't have gone further had I wanted. Stop. Think about this. I have flown an airplane to a place where nobody knows me and they took me in without charging me landing fees, handling fees, ATC user fees, just for the hell of it fees and who knows what else, and on top of it they were nice people. I had this same treatment everywhere I went in the old Cub.

On Friday morning I filled the fuel tank with about 10 gallons of the very finest aviation gasoline available and got away at about 0930. The tailwind I had the day before was now a headwind and it was something awful. I began to think I'd have to plan another day to get to my Clearwater FL Airpark home base. The groundspeed was showing barely 40 knots and the day that had been stretching out before me began to shrink. I'm thinking any more headwind and I'll be flying backwards so I cut the leg short and landed at Poteau OK. There was not a soul in sight. Oh boy. Then came a car, then another, then the whole place filled up with pilots and airport bums - "Saw you coming in and didn't think you'd ever get here!" - that sort of thing. Apparently, Poteau is where all the real airplane and airport nuts congregate - a great bunch of people. One guy brought doughnuts, the mayor showed up. I couldn't let the opportunity pass, so we spent an hour on the ground prowling through hangars and listening to good small talk. It's a good think I stuck around. Three more airplanes showed up and one guy was bragging about his groundspeed - Westbound, I asked - No, Eastbound! While the headwind was awful at 1000 feet AGL, 2000 feet higher it was a tailwind, and a mighty good one at that! My groundspeed tripled the next leg! Thanks, whoever you are ... he groused a little, said he'd like to give his airplane to someone he didn't like (joke) - we talked a little more about how they take over your life. I like Poteau OK. I'd like to go back some day.

Next leg: What a groundspeed! Poteau to Pine Bluff AR where there's a good airport restaurant for lunch. I happened to hit the catfish buffet day. The lady behind the counter was really nice and I bought a logbook from her - I like to keep a separate log in the airplane where I can make notes and write down passenger names and times for transcription later into my master log ... you know, the impressive one, leather bound with the gold foil you can use to put your signature on the cover. Off in an hour and set a course for Meridian MS. I stopped short of Meridian for fuel at a small airport with nobody around. I was afraid I'd have to sleep on a chair in the old building but I managed to find a house trailer with people in it and a key to the fuel pump. Maybe I paid too much for the fuel, but it was good gas and I needed it. Meridian's controllers must have set their watches back a little because I pressed awfully close to official night time. No electrical system = no lights. Nobody said a thing. The FBO was terrific and helped me again with a hangar and a ride to the hotel. As much as I might have needed it, I skipped dinner and hit the sack.

Saturday morning. The coldfront has cleared out completely, leaving me a straight shot at making it home. The alarm in the room didn't work and I overslept by an hour which was probably a good thing ... up at 0600 and at the airport by 0630, the fog was just lifting. I was the first VFR flight off at 0700. At 0730, there was patchy fog clearing along the route to Andalusia AL where I was the first customer of the day. The guy at the FBO was a new guy - his first day on the job - so we figured out the fuel truck together and how to write a credit card bill.

The next leg to Tallahassee Commercial Airport went uneventfully, and I was once again in familiar territory - the airport at Quincy FL where we used to have the EAA Fly-Ins in the '70s slipped by and I was there. Mr and Mrs Henson weren't around but the people who were there were very nice and got me fueled and off in under a half hour.

The flight from Tallahassee to Cross City had to be extended to Williston because Cross City didn't have fuel. It was a little dicey but that part of Florida is just about as flat as Kansas, and I figured the airplane would make it with no trouble (and if it didn't, there was a lot of flat ground to set it on). No need for worry - Williston was another good stop. I called Tampa Approach Control to get their OK to go in under the enhanced Class B airspace and they told me, essentially that I didn't have to bother them with such trivia ... this, less than 2 months after 9/11. It sure was good to get back to something close to normal after all the dust-up following the attacks.

John was at the Airpark to meet me when I landed at 1707. There was much rejoicing and a crowd of Cub admirers which we capped off with a nice steak and a tall, very cold, Corona. Tired? Yes. Hammered. I had just flown an antique airplane nearly as old as I am 3 days to get from Dodge City KS to the Tampa Bay area. 14.2 hours of flying time and a lot of time chewing the fat at fuel stops along the way. Everybody had seen me arrive .. I thought I'd gone to barnstormer heaven. I regret that I didn't at least buy one of those throwaway cameras to mark all the people and places but I didn't and blew the opportunity. They will always be with me, and as long as this blog is floating around somewhere I can come back and read about it.

My first passenger in the Cub (Leigh at Dodge City doesn't count - he was checking me out in the airplane as a CFI) was my son, Captain John of NetJets, of whom I am so proud. When I left the airplane with him I just said "Have Fun!" and I know he did just that. After our short flight he took me to the TPA airport for my flight back to New York and to the world of fast jets to many, many destinations. Somehow, things have changed, I know, and I am back in a world of flying that I started with ... and I like it.