The following article was written by Elaine Huf
For the past several years, my husband Tom and I head out to Blakesburg, Iowa for their annual Antique Airplane Fly-in over Labor Day weekend, always flying his 1944 twin Cessna T-50 Bobcat……a distance of 882 statute miles. In the Bobcat, this usually takes one day with a fuel stop somewhere in Indiana.
This year I decided to fly my 1947 7BCM (L-16A) Champ to Blakesburg, starting out Monday with the intention of arriving either late Wednesday or early Thursday – – – Tom would be flying out Wednesday or Thursday with the Bobcat and the camping gear. I departed our farm in Harford, PA (PS50) that afternoon with about 7 kts. on the tail. First leg was 195 miles (2 hrs. 38 min.) to Clarion, PA (AXQ), I fueled up and got a free hot dog left over from Sunday’s Young Eagle Day. Next stop was Medina, OH (1G5) 121 miles which only took 1:30 hrs. but I would soon be running out of daylight because of the late start. Up went the tent and out came the coyotes howling at midnight (almost a full moon).
Departing the next day, my first fuel stop was Auburn, IN (GWB) covering 173 miles in 2 hours. My next stop was Dwight, IL (DTG) 175 miles in just under 2 hours. Dwight has a 2,800 ft.grass strip (9/27) with 25′ of asphalt down the middle (due to drainage problems) and a second runway that runs North/South – 1,900 ft. of grass cut out of a cornfield. This airport is owned by David and Jeanne Constantine – what a delightful couple! I had about 2 more hours of daylight, but it was so pretty with all the corn fields and that nice grass runway I decided to stay there for the night. I only had another 2:30 to 3 hr. flight to Blakesburg which I could easily fly the next day. Taking their courtesy truck into Dwight, I did some sight-seeing downtown (which is what you are supposed to do on a cross-country). Dwight is known for its large publishing company and beautifully restored railroad station. The train stops in Dwight 3 times a day and runs from Chicago to St. Louis. There are 2 restored gas stations from the original “Route 66” and you feel you could be back in the late 40’s or early 50’s. It’s a lovely town, and I enjoyed the visit. Plus they let me sleep in the office on the couch; I didn’t have to put up my tent overnight….no coyotes.
This is a working farm with corn and soybeans in the surrounding fields – and the early morning fog came down to the tops of the corn stalks the next day. I ended up having breakfast with the Constantine’s and as soon as the fog lifted I headed west again (another 7-8 kts. on my tail) to Monmouth, IL (C66) for fuel…115 miles with a groundspeed of 89 mph. My husband had stopped there a day earlier and let the FBO know I would also be stopping in for fuel. The FBO knew of a local pilot that used to fly the L-birds in Korea and he was there to greet me when I landed. Leaving Monmouth, I flew the last 102 miles to Blakesburg, where I finally landed in the early afternoon….a total of 10 hours, 45 minutes – 882 miles.
Beautiful weather and good friends at Blakesburg – this was the year of the “Corporate Wings” and any older aircraft that flew corporate was front and center. Our Bobcat flew for Berghoff Brewery and Tom was smack in center field, as was the Lockheed that was used to film “Amelia” (starring Hilary Swank – the movie was due out in theaters soon). We stayed to the end of the fly-in on Sunday, camping at night and enjoying the coyotes in Iowa (now a complete full moon!). Sunday night is the awards night, and I was surprised to hear my name being called to the stage to receive the “people’s choice” award from the Arizona Chapter of the Antique Airplane Association. I had given up hope of winning any prize, as there were so many beautiful and unusual airplanes that flew in – 362 in all, a banner year. Getting ready to leave the stage with my award….which was the state of Arizona cut from sandstone with a bi-plane flying in a sunset painted on the surface…..stunning!….I was shocked to hear the announcer tell me to wait as I also won the “people’s choice” award from the Iowa Chapter……but they FORGOT to buy a trophy so I have to wait until they mail it to me (or bring it out to Lock Haven next year when their president visits with his J-2 Cub). Another Champ won the award for “Sweetest Airplane” – – – great year for Champs in Blakesburg!
On Monday, September 7th I flew the return trip with our friend Joe Kaminskas and his newly restored 1930 Waco RNF (which took Grand Champion at OSH this year) making our first fuel stop at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (MPZ) about 55 miles East of Blakesburg. We hit headwinds but our speeds were about the same, I was a bit slower so I took the lead. He had no radio so we used hand signals and planned alternate airports for every fuel stop. Our next destination was back to Dwight, IL and our groundspeed dwindled to about 66 mph. There was rain ahead so we stayed overnight, and I got to give Joe the tour of Dwight. The Constantine’s had renewed their vows a day earlier – 60 years of marriage – and even saved a piece of cake for me!
After the morning fog cleared Tuesday, we tried to fly to another grass strip further south on Joe’s route (he has a strip outside of Harrisburg) but had to divert to Peru, IN (I76) after covering only 121 miles in one hour and 37 minutes – the rain and low ceilings kept us in Peru overnight. Since I had been camping all along the way out and at Blakesburg, I opted to get a motel room in Peru – it is the Circus headquarters of the US and is the hometown of Cole Porter. But the only thing I was looking for was a washer and dryer for my clothes.
Wednesday had us sitting in the airport terminal until 2:30 PM when the ceiling FINALLY lifted and the rain stopped, and Joe went southeast and I headed northeast into headwinds again. Around Ft. Wayne I hit horrible clear-air turbulence that shoved me sideways about 1/4 mile and 40 degrees off-course……I have never encountered wind-shear like that. All I could do was throttle back and ride it out……quite unnerving to say the least. I was afraid my wings were going to come off! I was headed to Seneca County Airport in Tiffin, OH (16G) and was only 30 minutes away, and I couldn’t wait to land. Even though it was sunny the turbulence was awful and I opted to stay put. This airport has about 30 employees working in the propeller repair shop based there, and they were also in the process of restoring an L-4 Cub. They pushed the owner’s Stearman further back in the hangar and stuck the Champ inside, then gave me a tour of the place. 3 beautiful collie dogs and one huge labrapoodle greeted me in the terminal and the courtesy car got me to a local motel. I was wiped out from flying 2:30 hrs. in that turbulence, but I was 154 miles closer to home.
The first 50 minutes I flew on Thursday was smooth and clear, and then I hit turbulence and mist and low ceilings again by Youngstown, Ohio. When I made my first fuel stop 2 hours 25 minutes later (159 miles) in Grove City, PA the crosswind was so bad I had to slip it down to the runway into the crosswind, land and then taxi to the pumps with the right wing totally deflected – and stay on the brakes until the line crew came out to chock the wheels. WHEW! I had called ahead to make sure they had hangar space available and we put it away and I rented a car and drove home. I had no intention of submitting myself or my airplane to those conditions – I could come back later and pick up the Champ.
It rained the next several days, but Monday (Sept. 14th) was beautiful so my husband and I drove the rental to Grove City, got in the Champ and had (normal) tailwinds home – fuel stop in Lock Haven to visit with some friends and then HOME. Total time was 12 hours and 14 minutes, mileage home 891; total round trip was 1773 miles. All in all, a great trip – I got to meet new friends and new airports – we are so lucky to be able to do that in this great country of ours. Even with the turbulence and headwinds, flying over the beautiful countryside in a slow airplane is still the best!
By Elaine Huf