Flying 5000 miles in Long-EZ, Varieze and other Burt Rutan Aircraft

Flying 8500 miles in a Long-EZ

Al Hodges

Jul 30, 1999 Long-EZ N829CL

On Friday, July 30, 1999, I left Miami FL in the Long-EZ to retrace my 1949-1989 trip around the U.S.A. Fifty years ago, I hitchhiked, but in 1989 and 1999, the uniform no longer fits. The weight is the same, but the waist line is not. I did this ten years ago because I was not sure if I would be walking by fifty years (1999). I am walking, but it is a lot more tiring than it was in 1989.

On Sunday, August 1, I spent all day (9:30 AM until 6:00 PM) in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. On Monday, a half hour flight took me to Hagerstown MD, the airport nearest to Sharpsburg (Antietam for any Yankees) where my great-grandfather was killed fighting for something. A short video recorded the location of the Georgia sharpshooters who held off three charges by General Burnside's division to capture the famous 12 feet wide bridge. The fourth charge against troops without ammunition succeeded. Some time that morning, my great-grandfather was killed.

The next day was a long flying day, 1,500 miles to Rapid City, South Dakota. That land east of Rapid City is the ugliest land I saw during the whole trip. A desolate landscape ravaged by wind and water with few signs of life anywhere passed beneath the EZ for hours. The Badlands were the only signs of color as I neared Rapid City.

The following morning was a good adrenaline flowing flight over the eastern Rocky Mountains to West Yellowstone, and the first time I got lost. A pilot suggested flying into Yellowstone National Park by way of Cody, Wyoming for a great view.

Wow! He was right! The road through the pass into the park is at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. I was a mile higher, at 10,500 feet passing between 12,000 and 11,000 feet high peaks. Exhilarating, as more adrenaline flowed. As I entered the Yellowstone caldera, I spotted the Yellowstone Grand Canyon and both the Upper and Lower Falls with two rapids in between. This view is not visible to tourists on the ground due to the right angle turn of the river. The sun was high, causing a brilliant reflection off the yellow walls of the canyon, the reason the park is named Yellowstone.

The view was so impressive, I forgot to fly the plane, followed the wrong river, and got lost for the first time. Like Daniel Boone, I was not really lost, but flew 50 miles in the wrong direction ("confused", Boone said). An FBO owner, Duane Hodgkins in Paradise Valley, directed me back south to West Yellowstone, "Fifty miles that-a-way."

The trip through Yellowstone was similar to the 1989 trip - practically no animals. My remembrance of 1949 is very different. There were herds of elk, bison, and moose, plus many begging bears. In 1989, a year after the fires of 1988, we were told that the animals were "temporarily" out of Yellowstone. The federal government also mentions "temporary taxes".

Flying out of West Yellowstone, Montana to Seattle required climbing high. At 13,300 feet, I crossed the highest ridge through a light rain from a small cumulus shower. It was a strange sensation, seeing the small cloud and light rain sitting above a 13,000 foot, bald mountain. The rain sensitive canard responded the same as at sea level and was as easily controlled.

Nearing Seattle, overcast with 2,100 feet ceilings greeted me, so I landed at Wenatchee, about an hour (150 miles) east of Seattle. Four hours later, the forecast and weather reports indicated it would be possible to land through scattered to broken clouds. After an hour flight to the Seattle area, weather conditions had not improved. The center controller offered me an instrument approach. I declined, as I did not have the charts. She offered a radar vector approach. Again, I declined because I am not current for IFR flight. Then, she vectored me north toward Lake Washington, where holes had been reported. I started looking for the opening needed to circle down from 4,500 feet to get under the 2,100 feet overcast.

After finding a hole, I dropped down over a red barn in pretty country. At 2,000 feet I found myself surrounded by hills reaching up into the clouds. Lost again, as the center no longer had me on radar. A pilot offered to help lead me to the airport. I searched and found an Interstate, an easy landmark. The Cessna pilot suggested that I follow the Interstate west until I could identify something. When I saw Lake Washington and a town, he said he was there, also, and would bank so I could see him. Smart thinking! He did; I saw him.

As I pulled up beside him, the tower called him and asked, "Do you see the Long-EZ?" "No," he answered. The tower quickly said, "He is very close to you!"

I added, "I am coming up on your right side at your 3 o'clock." I guess i was back on radar.

Being faster, I continued. The Cessna pilot suggested turning south at the bridge, continue south to the end of the lake to land at Renton Airport, which I did. Naturally, I had to make a very, very good landing, displaying total calm and control.

Within fifteen minute, a TV cameraman accompanied by a talking head appeared. I had the pleasure of telling the media representative my opinion of his profession. For some reason, I did not appear on the 6 o'clock news.

After an enjoyable, restful (?) visit with my daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren, and a new puppy, I left for Oregon. As in 1989, I flew close to Mt. Rainier (no turbulence this time) and Mt. St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens is spouting some gas, but snow remains in the crater. The area has changed from black ash of 1989 to brown colored land spotted with a lot of low green growth. Nature takes care of it’s own!

From Oregon, a four hour flight down two valleys takes me to Livermore Airport, California, for a visit with my uncle, aunt, two cousins and their families.

Finding Livermore Airport should have been easy, because I turned on the GPS. The elapsed time said I was in the right valley. I dropped down through scattered clouds but there was no airport in sight. I looked east, west, north and south, but there was no sign of the long runways of Livermore Airport. After a steep bank to change my view, I saw the airport directly below. This new invention, the GPS, is pretty good.

Saturday, August 14 was a three hour flight to San Diego and about 5,800 miles of trip behind me.

My son in San Diego commented, "Dad, you probably are the only person on the planet that has gotten lost twice within 50 hours with a perfectly good GPS in the plane."

He probably is right! However, a few days later on August 21, the 12 year satellite cycle began and my GPS did not work.

After giving my grandson a Young Eagle flight, I headed northeast for a four hour flight to Heber Valley, Utah, a short drive from my other son's home in Park City. After a few days (my fresh fish rule), the next leg of the trip was eastward.

My three hours flight over the Rockies was my "seeing the elephant".

I carefully followed an old timer's advice, "If you see a mountain goat standing on top of a cloud, do not fly into the cloud!" Layered clouds allowed me to fly across the peaks, often at 13,500 feet for short periods. Adrenaline did flow. After climbing up to over 12,000 feet for the last ridge and three hours after taking off, Pueblo, Colorado popped into view two miles below at 2,000 feet elevation. Ahead, light green, flat land stretched from horizon to horizon.

To put this flight in perspective, the three hours crossing the Rockies is the same time it takes to fly from Miami to Tallahassee, and Florida is a long state. I do not plan to repeat that three hour flight!

For hours, the flat land of eastern Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri appeared to be one big emergency landing field, contrasting dramatically with the hills behind me. I hoped to get to Georgia, but ran out of daylight and stopped in Tennessee. I did have great views of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers with tugs and barges slowly navigating the rivers.

The next day, a short hop carried me into Blairsville airport for a few days rest beside the Toccoa River in the land of "Deliverance". If you have not read the book or seen the Burt Reynolds movie, the story gives insight to the local culture of the Blue Ridge, Georgia area.

Four hours and forty minutes of flying and a "Cleared to land 9 Left" ended my trip of 8,500 miles, 27 days, and 57 hours of uneventful pilotage. The overcast Seattle sky was my only weather problem. After seeing this great country through a Long-EZ bubble canopy, you return home a super patriot.

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