LOW AND SLOW ACROSS AMERICA SUMMER TOUR

by Andrea and Kevin Eldridge

 

 

8/26/2013 6:AM DEPARTING CABLE AIRPORT, CA (CCB) FOR BLAKESBURG, IOWA (IA27). Incidentally, both are private, family owned fields. Check out www.antiqueairfield.com and www.cableairport.com. Due to a line of weather out by Palm Springs we decide to delay our takeoff for two hours and instead have coffee with our friend Mike Polley at Maniac Mike’s, the airport café.

8:AM CCB – PSP We decide it’s time to get underway and officially depart on the longest trip we’ve ever taken in our small airplane. Unfortunately the GPS database won’t upload and we have to run home and reconnect it to our computer…really?

9:AM PSP – CGZ Off like a herd of turtles. After one hour of flying we land in Palm Springs. For the first time our little plane is sitting on the ramp outside in the rain—boo hoo! First time we try out our airplane canopy cover to keep the rain out. For the first of many times in the coming week we borrow a free airport car and drive to lunch. Finally at noon we are really on our way with a decent 3.5 hour leg. We are flying along munching on pistachios and listening to the Neil Diamond soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull generally feeling pretty good about ourselves. We notice a black wall in front of us and what appears to be smoke from a fire.

Turns out it’s the dust storm in front of the lightning and rain storm that brought on the flooding in Arizona everyone across the country saw later on their nightly national six-o-clock news. We quick did a quick 180 and were concerned we would not be able to outrun the monsters. We backtracked to the nearest airport behind us 23 miles away. After landing we scoured the place to find an open hangar or even an open FBO of which there was none. It was past 4:30 pm and everyone had gone home for the day. We quickly tied the airplane and controls down under an overhang figuring whoever owned the spot was not going to use it in the near future and just tied the canopy cover on when the dust storm hit. The visibility sank to about 1 ½ mile and our bare legs in shorts were getting sand blasted with grit. It was almost a relief when the rain storm came but there was no place to hide. We were sopping wet rats when we called the hotel who informed us that we could not be picked up at the airport due to the storm. The taxi cab companies said the same thing, are you not aware there is a big storm?

That’s when we noticed the taxiway was starting to flood. With no one coming to our rescue and nothing open we found a medivac helicopter building and the team in there took pity on us where we waited out the storm until they could pick us up. On the positive side, at least it was 80 degrees in the rain. I was never so happy to see a Best Western Hotel or a Dominos Pizza. What a way to begin the first day.

8/27 9:AM CGZ – DMN  After a rough first day we decided to give our next day some extra thought after our eye-opening and skin drenching experiences. We flew our first 3.5 hour leg to Demming, New Mexico, but decided it was too high and too hot to go over the mountains in the afternoon 100 degree heat of the day and with these late-in-the-day summer storms popping up called it an early day. The winds were distinctly not in our favor. At this point, we were now headed for the La Quinta Hotel in the airport car a full day behind schedule. The weather sure changes fast out here! I used to have these beautiful visions of New Mexican cities Albuquerque, Taos and Santa Fe but I’ve since changed my tune after seeing miles and miles of barren desert covered by oil derricks.

8/28 6:AM DMN – HOB – CSM – AAO  At this point we figured things had to improve and we had better shake a leg if we were going to get anywhere near Iowa this week. It was our longest flying day with a grand total of 7.5 hours. (Incidentally, we could have flown from LAX to Iowa and back two and a half times had we been in an airliner today.)

We saw an unspectacular sunrise, flew through some sprinkles and over El Paso, Texas saw the Mexican border. We were grateful for an overcast layer that kept the sun out of our eyes as we flew Eastbound. We made fuel stops in Hobbes, New Mexico after a 3 hour leg, and Clinton, Oklahoma after another 2.5 hours. The airport manager who kindly dropped us off in town for lunch had a bumper sticker on his car that read, BEWARE: FARTAHOLIC – Enter at your own risk! Unfortunately, I didn’t see that one until after I got out—bummer. Finally we were catching a break and a tailwind for our final 2 hour leg that day. After landing near Wichita, Kansas at Jabara Field we were greeted by our dear friends, Paul and Gail Bowen who, recognizing our need for rejuvenation, took us under their wing for a wonderful dinner complete with dessert, drinks and great conversation. We stayed at their beautiful home on the lake. Thank goodness for hospitality on the road.

8/29 9:30AM AAO – IA27  A wonderfully quiet and cozy night brought us to breakfast at Stearman Field fortified for the last leg of our outbound trip. After a relatively short 3 hour leg we landed at Antique Airfield in Blakesburg, Iowa! And only a day late which was fine because we had actually given ourselves 4 days to get to destination thinking it would only take us 3. It was quite an interesting short final seeing that grass strip with a big dip followed by a crest on the other side at the beginning of the runway along with a gravel road cutting across midway down the field for the first time. But our landing was uneventful; thank goodness after seeing the grand number of people in observance from the peanut gallery! Having never been there we had no idea where to taxi but were directed to park. We didn’t know how lucky we were (and were so grateful later) we were right smack dab in front of the first line of airplanes on display in front of the Pilot’s Pub—choice digs for the next four days and prime viewing of the landing strip, beautiful grass and green hills. Walking distance to breakfast, lunch and dinner where “Walking Tacos” were a revelation and I heard they can also be made with Fritos.

8/29 – 9/1 ANTIQUE AIRFIELD – AAA FLY-IN 2013 – BLAKESBURG, IOWA Because we had no extra weight and room in our little Luscombe we decided camping was not an option. We would travel light, stay at the Hotel Ottumwa (where I looked for Radar every day while Kevin looked for Starbucks) and buy lawn chairs at the local Walmart. We drove the long way there and back just to see the fields, old barns and arm houses of middle America every day. We spent leisurely days meeting and talking with wonderfully sincere and fascinating aviators from all over the country including our gracious hosts the Taylors; from Washington State Mike and Karin Culver, phone and facebook friends like the hard-bargaining Harmon Dickerson and swimming daredevil Elroy Hilbert, and many members of Judy Birchler’s Ladies Love Taildraggers including Sharon Tinkler who flew her own Luscombe in from Tennessee. I especially enjoyed making a new friend in Elaine Huf whose “Bamboo Bomber” Cessna T-50 airplane was parked in the row across from ours forcing her to pass us every time she walked across the field. I discovered she had been a cop, raced in the women’s derby, lived on her own grass strip in Pennsylvania, mowed a lot of grass and owned her own tailwheel airplanes one of which was painted PINK—my kind of gal! At the Sunday dinner we came away with an award; quite an honor given all the fabulous airplanes in attendance. Given that we were all celebrating 75 years of the Luscombe 8 there were a record number of airplanes including around 70 Luscombes! What an unforgettable Fly-In experience!

9/2 8:30AM IA27 – TVK – MPR – BGD  On the way home we chatted over the radio for a couple of days with our California buddies, brothers John and Joe Pribbilo after a short fuel stop at Centerville, 3 hour leg to McPhereson, Kansas and stopped in Borger, Texas for the night after a 6 hour flying day.Incidentally, Borger is the home of the largest inland oil refinery in the country owned by Phillips 66. They had a brand new FBO at Hutchison County Airport with a planning room, pilot rest room, beautiful bathrooms, kitchen and waiting room with television that all still smelled of new leather not to mention their two free airport cars.

9/3 7:30 BGD – CNM – DMN  A short fuel stop at Carlsbad Cavern City Airport’s which contrary to the AOPA information has a beautifully paved runway next to Chandler Aviation’s FBO. This would make a great for cross-country flying destination. Another FBO with beautiful leather smelling facilities, free airport cars and it is 25 miles from the Caverns. We continue on to Demming again where we figured the Tex-Mex food was worth another try after 6 hours of flying.

9/4 7: AM DMN – BXK – CCB  Fuel stop in Buckeye, Arizona and a final 6 hour day. After skirting more rain around Palm Springs again—we’re home! What a trip of a lifetime together. The furthest we’ve ever flown our little Luscombe and without a mechanical hitch. Keep making memories and fly safe!

(*NOTE* On a sad note, Elaine and her husband Tom Huf passed away in their airplane when it crashed during a storm 3 miles from their home airport returning from Blakesburg and will be sorely missed by many.)

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