Adventrure flight to Kittyhawk, Long-EZ, Varieze and other Burt Rutan Aircraft

A 5000 mile flight to Kittyhawk in a Long-EZ

Al Hodges

Introduction: In 1995, two years after the 90th Anniversary of Flight, I volunteered to work at the 100th Anniversary, the Centennial of Flight. The Manteo (Dare-County) Airport manager, Tim Gaylord, represented the Kitty Hawk organizations and the State of North Carolina at the Sun 'N Fun Fly-In each year at Lakeland, Florida. I requested a reservation for airport parking for 2003.

"The only people parking on the airport will be VIPs and volunteers."

"Put me down as a volunteer," was my response. That was my first step on a 5,000 mile journey.

Then, I filled out forms, paid the National Park Service for tickets, tried to reserve

a room, and found all motel space reserved or at exorbitant prices. Not to worry, when I arrive, I will be able to get a room, if I have to knock on doors to get a room for the week.

The first big change was the trip distance. Instead of a six-hour flight from Miami, it became a 15.4 hours flight from San Diego, California.

In June 2000, my son, Bob, in San Diego phoned me to comment, "Dad, you only have a few years left; come on out here and enjoy them."

The next day, I received a letter addressed to Mrs. Marvin A. Hodges. Since there had been no "Mrs." for a number of years, I opened the letter, which started with "We were very sorry to hear of Marvin's death." Shades of Mark Twain! The writer was a lady whose friend many years earlier had married a Marvin A. Hodges. She had lost track of her friend, happened to find me on the Internet, and wrote to the wrong Marvin A. Hodges.

A day later the mail included an ad from the Nautilus Society offering to dump my ashes in the Atlantic Ocean. A cemetery offered eternal care in a four by four by six feet underground condo.

I called my son and asked, "Can you guarantee me a few more years?"
I moved to San Diego.
Still, I maintained contact with the MQI volunteers.

Once in a lifetime….

October 2003

Maintenance of the Long-EZ for the cross-country trip was critical. By October 1, 2003, this was accomplished and the annual inspection (Conditional Inspection) was completed.

Some improvements in the aircraft included a 60.5 x 75 pitch propeller to increase cruise speed, a Tri-Avionics EZ-Pilot auto-pilot to remove some of the stress and strain on my 75 year old body during a 5,000 mile round trip flight from California to North Carolina, new engine mounts, hoses, new spark-plugs, replacement of the gel battery with a recombinant battery, and fine tuning the engine.

Fifty dollars for new charts, trip planning, borrowing winter clothing, digital camera training, and other odds and ends were slowly accomplished. The National Park Service limited the number of tickets sold, so I used the Internet to order tickets for the week’s events. Photo I.D. is a requirement for volunteers, and we sent a digital photo by e-mail.

In the meantime, my son and daughter-in-law in Raleigh started worrying about my lack of sleeping accommodations at Kitty Hawk. They rented a house for the week and planned to join me for the weekend before the Celebration. What a great Christmas gift!

Later, news that Park Service tickets were sold out for the ceremony on the 17th prompted me contact the “Man Will Never Fly Society,” whose motto is “Birds Fly; Men Drink.” I did not want to miss the forty-fifth roast of the “Smoke and Mirrors” activity to take place on the 17th. My e-mail evoked the response, “All the tickets were sold within two weeks of availability.”

I contacted James Dadson, explaining my 1993 trip and having a pilots certificate for over 45 years and 50% of the time man had been flying in 1993. Now, with 55 years flying and 55% of the time man has been flying, I volunteered to work as an Air Ambassador during the Centennial. The trip from San Diego in an unheated Long-EZ in the winter demonstrates my interest, and if a ticket should become available, I would appreciate him holding it for me.

About a week before I flew off into the sunrise, Jim sent an e-mail saying that a ticket had become available. This was one of the highlights of the 1993 trip, and it turned out to be just as memorable in 2003. I am very glad I did not miss it.

Dec. 1, 2003 San Diego – Winkler County – Graham, TX 8:00 Comfort – Cold flying is not fun flying for me. So, I layered regular underwear, thermal underwear, wool socks, fleece lined boots, warm pants, heavy shirt, sweater, ski vest, heavy jacket with liner, and scarf – all under a ski jacket and ski pants. Before jamming my body into the cockpit, I covered my boots with two plastic newspaper bags to break the wind from the elevator holes. My normal 160 pounds, clothed body became about 175-180 pounds. But, I never suffered from the below freezing cold.

For a few weeks traveling, I would need extra clothing, a small bag weighing another 25 pounds. Then, the plane needs gas, so 45 gallons equals about 270 more pounds to add to the 980 pound, empty Long-EZ for take-off. All told, about 1,450 pounds needs to get airborne, about 25 pounds over take-off gross. The only benefit of flying in cold weather is improved aircraft performance.

My weather window was from December 1– 6. It appeared that a December 1 departure would miss the bad weather, both the storms ahead and the new storms coming from the west.

Dec. 1, 2003 – Off to Kitty Hawk, my hajj of 2003.

At 6:30 AM, I rolled down Runway 27R at Gillespie Field and headed east. No one else should be taking off at that hour, but there was Maurice Orange in his Lancair behind me.

“I’ll follow along for a while,” he told me.

As we approached the rising mountains, Maurice turned back, and I continued eastward on my long awaited trip. I departed Gillespie (KSEE) early, but the short days of winter, 1700 local sunset times across the country, and a loss of three hours in time zones reduced daylight flying.

Dec. 1 – KSEE – KINK – E15 8:00

Out of KSEE, a nice tail wind helped me across the California desert before it slacked off and became calm at Yuma, AZ. Across New Mexico saw the GPS reading change from 159 knots ground speed to 113 knots. I had time, too much time, to admire the ugly, featureless scenery. I questioned the politicians’ decision not to take Baja California instead of New Mexico in 1848.

Finally, after 5.5 hours, I landed at Winkler County Airport, TX (KINK) for cheap gas and lunch.

“Can I get something to eat?” I asked Charles Cooper, the Airport Manager.

“I can fix you a sandwich.”

It seemed a strange way to mention there was food available, but I did not question. On entering the FBO to pay for the gas, I realized he meant exactly what he said. A napkin, a plate with a sandwich, and a glass of water were on the table. He had fixed a sandwich!

Charlie said, “This is Thanksgiving turkey; hope you don’t mind.”

“It’s great! I live alone, so I did not have a Thanksgiving dinner.”

He remarked, “I live a lone, also. I live here in this building.”

As I finished the turkey sandwich, Charlie placed a piece of pumpkin pie on the table, remarking, “I might as well make it complete.”

See why I like small airports?

When I left Winkler County, I was over 45 minutes behind my scheduled flight time and realized that I would not reach Sherman, TX. At my age and with my deteriorating vision, I do not fly at night. There were sixty-eight miles to go to Sherman at sunset as I dropped into Graham, TX (E15). Graham (E15) was not my original destination, but it was as far as I could fly before sunset. I taxied to the ramp but did not see the tie down area. A pickup leaving the airport turned around and drove up.

Bob, the airport Manager, asked, “Are you planning to stay overnight?”


“Is anyone picking you up?”


“Do you want to go to a motel?”


“Here’s the key to that car over there. Drive down this road to the square, hang a left for about five lights and you will see the motel on your right. They have a good Chinese restaurant at the motel. If I am not here when you leave in the morning, just leave the key in the car.”

He made no record of my aircraft number, no name, just the use of a nice car with a big sign on the door. I wondered what the policeman on patrol thought when he passed me, a stranger, driving the car with the big door sign, “Graham City Administration!”

See why I like small airports.”

Dec. 2 – Graham, TX (E15) to Pickens County Airport, GA (KJZP) – Jasper, GA 5:10

Forty-eight minutes after leaving Graham, I passed Sherman, TX, my destination yesterday. So, again, I was behind my schedule. To simplify the flight, just north of Dallas, I punched a GOTO in the GPS to Pickens County (KJZP) for the 700 nm journey. The EZ Pilot locked on, and off we went for the five hours flight. I had drawn a nice straight line from Sherman to KJZP on the WAC chart. I did not know this was a great circle route until the auto-pilot slowly changed from 78 degrees at Dallas to 93 degrees as I arrived at Pickens County.

At times, I thought the EZ Pilot was acting up, but I guess 0.01 miles off-track can be lived with. During the 15 hours of the eastern trip, the track error message generally was 0.00. Fantastic! At times, my only entertainment was watching the left-right arrow change back and forth without changing to 0.01 (60 feet) off course. I even found an airport on the wrong side of the road!

When I arrived at Pickens County, the little old man and slow gas pump were still there. (See cheap gas sources and comments on the Internet.)

“Cash or check, only. The machine for credit cards is broken. I told them (County) but they haven’t fixed it. No, the Unicom is not operating; it’s in the shop. The pump is real slow, too. I cleaned the filter, but that didn’t fix it. I told them about that, too, but they haven’t fixed it. Watch out; it doesn’t shut off, and gas will run on the ground.”

He was right; it did not shut off. It did run on the ground.

“What kind of plane is this?”

I explained the Long-EZ, probably more than he wanted to hear.

“I fly a J-3 Cub, he said. “‘Got out of the Army in 1946 and decided to learn to fly. The course cost me $450. Yep, ‘bought my Cub 52 years ago. ‘Won’t sell it, either. ‘Took it to Pennsylvania to the Piper plant. ‘Told them my only regret was I didn’t get it right off the assembly line. ‘Only have 500 hours on it since new.”

Then wistfully, he added, “I just hope they (FAA) get that Sport Aviation license out soon.”

After the slow gas pump filled the two tanks (gas is over a dollar per gallon cheaper in Pickens than in my destination, Raleigh), I checked the time. Two hours till dark, 2.3 hours to KRDU. I decided to stay in Jasper.

A local pilot offered a lift to the local motel. As we arrived, he showed me a gravel road and said, “In the morning, if they do not have a courtesy car, just walk up that road. It takes you to the airport. Just walk across the runway and to your plane.”

His advice was good. In the morning, I walked UP that road, and UP that road to the airport. After about three stops to rest going UP that road, I reached the airport property. Using my distance glasses, I could barely see the tail of the EZ. After more walking, and more resting, I reached the ramp.

The trip to KRDU was an easy 2.3 hours, including the vectoring through the Charlotte Class B air space. The trip from San Diego to Raleigh was 14.2 hours flight time, spread over three days in the winter, but it would be a two-day trip in the summer.

By planning for the weather frontal movements, I left San Diego early and had nine days to visit with my son and his family, double my “fresh fish” rule. Raleigh had very expensive gas, which is why I filled up in Jasper. Tie down was $10 per night, expensive, but not as bad as Dare County Airport at Manteo, NC (KMQI), the airport serving Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks during the Centennial. It should have been spelled $entennial or $dollartenial. The advice I received from the president of the Man Will Never Fly Society before leaving San Diego was “BRING MONEY.”

Dec. 12, 2003 – RDU – MQI (Raleigh to Dare County at Manteo) 1:10

The Weather Channel became my favorite channel when I started the trip. THAT soon changed! Now, it showed clear skies to the Outer Banks. After 1.2 hours, I approached the bridge for a “direct to the numbers, cleared to land Runway 5.” As I turned off the runway, the temporary tower instructed me to contact the ramp control frequency, which controlled movement of planes to the parking areas. There was a temporary Ground Control, but it seemed to be used for departures. Another voice came on the same frequency and said, “Do not give taxi information. Do not tell him where to go.” Then silence.

Finally, I asked, “Do I continue?” The original voice gave progressive taxi instructions that lead me to the tie down area. As I shut down the engine, I thought, “It seems the organization has not resolved all the problems of handling so many planes.”

When I started tying down the plane, a man wearing the red jacket of the parking volunteers asked, “Do you have tie downs?”
“Sure,” as I continued tying down the plane.
“We do not like that screw in type,” he said.
“OK. What do you have?”
He showed me a new version of a three-legged tie down with three pegs holding each leg. It is a good design.
“How much to rent them?”
“Oh, we do not rent them.”
“How much to buy a set?”
“Well I think I will use these that I have been using for fifteen years.”
“You pilots are too cheap. You do not want to protect your expensive airplanes. If it blows over and hits another plane, you will be responsible.”

When I related this experience to the local volunteers at the airport, they said that the seller of the tie downs was not part of the airport administration and not a parking volunteer. I guess his comment about “we” meant he was pregnant. A local volunteer, Perry, with a reputation of being a know-it-all, tried to defend the man selling the tie-downs.

“Well, he is right. I have seen a screw in type break off, and I had to unscrew one.”
“Well, after I leave, I guess you will have to unscrew two more.” But he did not.

I checked in with the Volunteer group and was able to work indoors at the Hospitality Desk. Being a Volunteer helped me throughout the Centennial Celebration to beg rides to and from my lodging about 25 miles north of the airport.

On the first evening, Jack Meagher, a local charter pilot, took me to the realty office to pick up a key, then drove me to the house that my son had rented. About thirty minutes later, the phone rang. It was Jack.

“How did you get this phone number?”

He answered, “I called the realty office. Sally and I are going out for pizza and wondered if you would like to join us.”

So from a foodless house to the local pizza joint meant I did not have to go to bed hungry. And Jack had a charter early the next morning, so he offered to take me back to the airport. Then, on the 18th, after all the festivities, Jack delivered me to the airport when I left MQI.

Dec. 12 - A No Ticket Day - Programs for Kids.

Thursday was my first full day at the Centennial site at Kill Devil Hills. There were many interesting static aircraft on display and exhibitors displaying aviation and space accomplishments and goods. Fly-bys continued all day.

Probably the best exhibit was the NASA pavilion, well manned and with many different scientific subjects on display and many handouts. My grandson liked the shuttle engine best. We both were impressed with the size of the nozzle, about nine feet in diameter.

No one likes grandchildren stories, but I must include one. There were several “Wright Flyer” simulators for public use. Probably twice as many adults were trying to fly them as kids, with large crowds watching and waiting. Before my grandson, John, climbed onto the table, I explained how to move the stick with small, gentle movements. Most of the people were crashing after 5-10 seconds. Six-year old John climbed up and started flying, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 seconds before a right turn got out of control. When he climbed down, the whole crowd applauded, the only time I saw that happen during the week. ‘Nuff grandkid stories!

We were warned about security. No one can enter a bus without a ticket to the event. At the entrance, expect multiple metal screeners, explosive smelling dogs, and security personnel. By now, we know the main qualification for security personnel is a total lack of a sense of humor.

So I entered the bus (no ticket asked for), arrived at the metal detector and put my cell phone in the basket, no alarm when passing the gate with a heavy jacket with zippers and metal snaps, just a “go ahead” from the security guard.

“I am clean?” I asked.
“Unless you have something you would like to discuss with us,” he jokingly answered. I wonder how he got that job with a sense of humor.

December 15 - Military Day

Aircraft - Static Display:
Piper J-3 Cub, painted blue-gray with Royal Air Force markings (48 of these aircraft were displayed during WWII to raise money for the Royal Air Force Benefit Fund), Stearman, BT-13 with cut-away sides to show the “plumbing” and controls, F-16

Aircraft - Fly-By:
A Catalina based in Tamiami Airport in Miami, FL, along with the airport manager, Jim Handrahan (old home week), C-47, C-54, Warthogs, YAK, Four AT-6s, F-15s in formation with P-51s, Helicopters, C-130, Air Force, C-130, Coast Guard – the Coast Guard demonstrated a rescue with a C-130 and a helicopter, Aerial Tankers (the Douglas KC-10 and Boeing 707 versions), Ospray (It did not crash!), 2 B-1 bombers, 1 B-52

I did not see a B-2, but it is a stealth aircraft. The one pilot attending the Centennial that generated the most comment was a man named Goode, who flew a “Breezy” from Montana to Kitty Hawk in eleven cold, cold days. The “Breezy” offers no wind protection for the pilot. “I never knew what cold was until I made this flight,” Goode told me. He shipped the ultra-light back to Montana.

The most memorable event for me in 1993 was the “Man Will Never Fly Society” dinner with 350 happy people gathered for fun on December 16. About two months ago, Jerry Hansen mentioned that he had heard that the tickets for Kitty Hawk activities were sold out. I had not thought about getting a ticket to the dinner before arrival because in 1993, I purchased the ticket on the day of the event.

After an exchange of e-mail with Jim Danstead, USN Captain, Retired and President of the Society, I learned that Jerry was right. Within two weeks of announcing availability of tickets, all were sold. I explained (tearfully) my plight to Jim, and should a ticket become available, please put me on the wait list. A few days before leaving San Diego, Jim informed me by e-mail that one ticket was available.

On arrival in Kitty Hawk, I realized that I did not have Jim’s telephone number and did not have access to the Internet. After trying to find a contact for Jim at the airport in Manteo and at Kill Devil Hills, a member of the Society suggested that I call the Comfort Inn, South, where the dinner was being held. Jim was in charge of the dinner, so they should have a phone contact. I did; they did. I called Jim in Virginia Beach and arranged for delivery of the ticket when he arrived for the celebration. The dinner was the high point of the trip in 2003, also.

“THE” Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003

When our bus arrived at the gate to the Event area, the police told us to stay on the bus because of the rain. After fifteen minutes, we entered the waiting area along with a few hundred others lining up for the metal detectors in the cold, but light rain showers. A few pushed forward, but most waited patiently and in good humor. Few had umbrellas. Only one official asked for tickets, the other security people just hurried the visitors through.

Rain, rain, and more rain. The Ford Pavilion housed the replica of the “Wright Flyer.” The end panels of the temporary building were raised and the crew was ready to push the replica out for the flight attempt. Dope on fabric was not used until 1908, so a little rain would weigh the plane down very quickly. Inside, a large count down clock continued marking days, hours, minutes, and seconds, with no time out for the rain. At 10:35 AM, a Ford employee handed out special Centennial badges to the people present.

Around noon, the rain stopped, and we exited the pavilion to stand at the starting line. The plane was wheeled out after they added an extra 20 feet of rail to assist the take-off. In 1903, the Wright Brothers used sixty feet of rail and the original “Wright Flyer” lifted off at forty feet in a wind exceeding 20 miles per hour. In 2003, eighty feet of rail should make the event a success.

Tom Poberezny explained the flight would be delayed until the wind was strong enough. We waited, even waited patiently. At last the pilot received the signal to go, and the plane was released. It rolled down the rail, past the forty feet mark, past the sixty feet mark, and past the eighty feet of rail and flew straight down into the mud.

My first thought was, after millions of dollars in time, effort, technology, testing, and money, and using airline experienced pilots guided by Scott Crossfield, an X-15 test pilot, the result was this failure. More importantly, this result emphasized even more the genius of the Wright Brothers. Their $1,500 investment and sound, original engineering in every aspect of flying succeeded. Their instant success came after three years of hard work, over 2,000 glider flights, physical discomfort, frustration, discouragement, and the disappointment of many failures.

After the ceremony, I returned to the Volunteer office, because many pilots were planning afternoon departures in marginal weather conditions. When I arrived, my regular position was well manned, so I wandered into the office of the administrator.

“Well, can’t we call in George? We need drivers.”
“Can I help?” I had volunteered for any job, as long as it was inside. Now I was venturing out into the cold Outer Banks.
A key to a van, an orientation trip, and I became a chauffer, almost 60 years after receiving my first driver’s license at 16, a Maryland Chauffeur’s License.
Two interesting human contacts resulted. The first was a pilot that shoved a parking slip in my face to let me and the world know he was flying a prop-jet aircraft, and it was supposed to be on the ramp, not on the grass, and his airplane was not on the ramp. “Find my plane!”
We drove over the ramp, no plane. We drove to the adjacent area where other
twins were parked; no plane. We drove about a half mile away where other planes were parked; no plane. I returned to the ramp to let him sort it out with the Airport Manager.
As we pulled up to the terminal, he said, ”Oh, there it is, on the ramp!” He had failed to see it before.
The most enjoyable and satisfying contact followed. A pilot asked if he could send his wife with their baggage and two daughters to the plane to prepare for the flight while he finished some unfinished business. They climbed into the van, and off we went to their white Cessna (Casper is its name).
Chatting with the five and six year old girls, I asked, “What did you like best?”
“Patty Wagstaff!” they both exclaimed.
“We have a goal. We want to learn to fly as a team and compete against her. Well, it is a goal,” they added.
On arrival at their Cessna, the wife removed the canvas cover and the strong wind did not help. Some papers blew away, and the girls ran after them. Little girls and moving props on moving planes can mix too well. So, contrary to any common sense, I left the warm van to help.

We corralled the girls, retrieved the papers, and I helped the wife carry the bags. She admitted she was not a pilot. Keeping in mind the adage, “You can always tell a pilot; you just can’t tell him much,” I suggested that she have her husband recheck the location of the baggage for weight and balance. In my opinion, they were pushing the envelope, if fact several envelopes. Weather was marginal. Winds were gusty. The sun was setting, and the field would close at dark, in about twenty minutes. I suspected the weight and balance was marginal. They were rushing to take-off. Any one of these factors can spell disaster, and the pilot was not yet at the airport.

But there was a bright side. The little girls were a delight. For the first time in years, I saw young children who were polite, respectful, and considerate! One said, “You are so kind. Thank you very much for helping our mother.” “Mother” was twenty feet away and did not prompt the remark. I was dumbfounded. I cannot remember when kids noticed a kind act, much less showed sincere appreciation.

On the way back in to the terminal, I received a radio call asking about the departure plans of the family. A cell phone call determined the husband was still at Kill Devil Hills. I hope he was too late to leave that evening. I saw nothing on TV, so either he stayed over till morning, or they made it. There are old, bold pilots, but they are few; and they are lucky.

Dec. 18, 2003 Manteo (MQI) - Jasper, GA (JZP)

Thursday morning, I took off to Blue Ridge, Georgia, home of “Deliverance.” Headwinds were very strong, as they will be for the entire trip flying west to San Diego. By flying low (3,000 feet), I avoided the strongest wind. (3,000 feet, 20 knots; 6,000 feet, 40 knots; and 9,000 feet, 60 knots.)

On arrival at Jasper (Pickens County Airport), 80 year old J.B. Murphy was there to greet me with, “Glad you could come back.”

Damming the rivers and creating a reservoir made this area a popular recreational and vacation home area for many Atlanta families. So in spite of the back country appearance, there are many very good tourist facilities and eating places, some with a touch of country, some with a luxury golf club atmosphere. Most of us like to rough it, as long as we have a comfortable bed, warm surroundings, and good service of quality food and drink. I keep trying to tell people who own tents, “That is why they invented motels.”

Relaxing is the key. What better way to relax than visiting with old friends from Miami? And friends with homes by a rushing river with the soothing sound of the water dashing over the rapids is about as relaxing as it gets. The break in the trip afforded needed rest and relaxation before the next part of the trip, a two-day flight to San Diego. In spite of headwinds, I will have an extra three hours of daylight with the change in the time zones.

Again, a long trip requires using the weather instead of fighting the weather. After almost a week in Georgia, the frontal systems indicated that a break in the storm systems should occur around Thursday, December 24. And the meteorologists are never wrong.

Dec. 24 – Jasper, GA – Campbell-Corsicana, TX – Stephenville, TX

(Clark County)

Fog. Low ceiling. But the TV Weather Channel promised clear, blue sky as the front passed through North Georgia and the Carolinas. Those smiling, talking heads may be cute and cuddly, but they do not predict the weather. After four hours, the sun poked through a broken ceiling, but the four-hour delay meant a new destination for the night.

As I took off, a voice on the Unicom called “You have a good flight and be careful. Come back, ya heah?”

See why I like small airports?

About a mile west of Jasper, I found a hole, climbed above the 4,000 feet tops of the overcast layer, and the EZ-Pilot flew toward Campbell-Corsicana Airport southeast of Dallas. This would be another gradual change of course of 15 degrees over about six hours into strong headwinds with nothing visible except the flat, white, cloud layer below for half the day. The ground finally became visible a few miles east of the Mississippi River. I had found clear and sunny conditions as forecasted, but only above the 4,000 feet cloud layer!

However, the strong headwinds caused me to remain low at 4,500 feet. The trip from Georgia to California was against headwind components as high as 27 knots, even at low altitude. For only about five minutes in New Mexico did I see 140 knots ground speed on the GPS, the same as my true air speed.

I landed at Corsicana, TX to refuel and allowed a line-girl “help” me move the Long-EZ so she could fuel another plane. It only took about two minutes to repair the damaged, bent aluminum on the nose gear in order to retract the gear, but she was trying to help.

As the sun set, I landed at Stephenville, TX (KSEP). While tying down the plane, a gentleman came over and asked if he could look over the plane.

“Go right ahead,” I answered.
“Are you staying overnight?” he questioned.
“Yes,” and I’ll need to bum a ride to the nearest cheap motel.”
“No problem, I’ll drop you off. Throw your bags in the van,” said Jimmie Fair. “But first, we are having a little Christmas Eve party in the office. Come on in and join us for some home-made candy.”
Jimmie’s wife, Shelly, had fixed a meat and cheese platter and the home-made candy for half a dozen airport personnel. Now I could enjoy a late lunch.
Jimmie handed me a Dr. Pepper, “You like this drink?”
“Sure, one of my favorites.”
“How is it?” Jimmie asked, after I took a sip.
“Very good,” I replied, and it was especially good, but I had been flying for over seven hours and was dehydrated.
“Look at the can,” Jimmie said, and I heard the claim to fame of nearby Dublin, Texas.

The Dr. Pepper bottling company in Dublin is the oldest Dr. Pepper bottling company in the world. They still use pure can sugar, not corn syrup. It does make a difference, and except in Dublin, Dr. Pepper consumers are forced to suffer the loss of quality because of cheaper substitutes. After returning to California, I checked Dublin on the Internet, and yes, that is their claim to fame.

About an hour later, Jimmie and Shelly dropped me off at the motel. Incense masked the odor of curry, the universal sign of a cheap motel in America. Jimmie offered to pick me up in the morning, so I went to bed early.

Dec. 25 – Stephenville – Winkler County – Imperial

By six in the morning of the 25th, I had packed, enjoyed an early morning breakfast in a country restaurant, and was waiting for Jimmie to arrive. While watching the Weather Channel (Why, I do not know!), I fell asleep and woke to see the morning sun at 7:15. Fortunately, the motel was close to the airport, so I started walking, thinking Jimmie must have overslept, also.

When I arrived at the deserted airport, I found a package under the aircraft cover. It was a lunch, with a nice Christmas note, and a Dublin Dr. Pepper. My falling asleep had caused us to miss each other and gave me some unwanted exercise.

See why I like small airports?

I would need some gas and oil soon, so I decided to stop off at Winkler County, three hours flying time from Stephenville. I had enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner on December 1 with Charlie Cooper, so the timing was about perfect.

Charlie met me as I taxied up to the pump for the fill-up and welcomed me like a long lost friend. I mentioned how much I appreciated his Thanksgiving dinner.
“We have a ham in the oven, and you are welcome to join us if you can wait a couple hours.”
“Thanks a lot, but I am racing the sun to San Diego.”
Charlie’s father and a lady were inside the terminal building. I explained how
Charlie fed me on December 1, and without hesitation, they invited me to stay for the ham dinner (dinner is mid-day in Texas). When I declined, the lady offered me a bowl of home made beef and vegetable soup. This I accepted, and it was delicious.

See why I like small airports?

From Winkler County (KINK), the next stop will be Gillespie (KSEE). But the best made plans of mice and men….

Constant headwinds continued as I crossed West Texas. The one consolation of flying low, about 2,000 feet AGL, is the ground appears to pass very fast. Then, an incident caught my attention.

In West Texas, the Guadalupe Mountain National Park runs NNW to SSE with steep, sharp sides and ends south of my course where I wanted to cross the mountain range. This location is just east of the Salt Flat VOR (SFL) and 80 nm east of El Paso, TX.

I approached the ridgeline at a 45 degree angle, and there was a lot of air between me and the ground. Climb rate exceeded 500 fpm at 8,000 feet as I reached the level of the mountain, but the climb seemed to diminish. The VSI showed a 500 fpm descent! It was time to turn away when violent turbulence hit me - hard! The Long-EZ was slammed into a 90 to 110 degrees, uncontrollable bank. Things were banging; what I do not know. The turbulence was the worst I have ever encountered. I now realize I entered the rotor under a local lenticular cloud that did not look like a typical lenticular.

I could not level the plane, but I immediately dived away from the cliff. As speed increased, I regained control, circled away, and leveled off for the 7-mile trip south around El Capitan, the south end of the Guadalupe Mountain National Park. El Capitan is the striking cliff shown at the following URL:

About seven miles along the right side, to the rear of the picture, is where I hit the rotor. My course was from right to left (east to west).

I had turned off the EZ-Pilot as soon as I regained control of the plane, but now turned it on for an intercept of the original course. The autopilot headed toward San Diego, but it did not keep the plane level when I hit the rotor. [Note: After returning to San Diego, the EZ-Pilot builders – Trio Avionics - checked the unit (it has a “black box” utility) and could find nothing wrong. This is the value of solid state gyros, which operate using the Doppler effect of an electronic tuning fork.]

I continued across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and only one hour remained across California to San Diego when I passed the Colorado River at Yuma. Unusual, picturesque sand dunes passed below east of Imperial Airport.

Ahead, I began to see clouds over the mountain ridge east of San Diego. When flying cross-country, I remain tuned to Flight Watch and the silence had been deafening. When there is bad weather, the frequency is very busy.

Passing Imperial, I flew for about twenty minutes to the mountains. There were clouds, solid, dark rain clouds. I saw no holes or breaks, so I decided return to Imperial to spend the night. The sun won the race, again.

I telephoned my son, Bob, who informed me that there had been two days of bad weather in San Diego. Landing at Gillespie would have been impossible. Two days of San Diego bad weather meant 0.5” of rain, a tenth of the yearly quota. I leave California for a few weeks and they have a big earthquake, heavy rains, and I missed it all.

So early on the 26th, I left Imperial Airport (55 feet below sea level) and landed at Gillespie Field at 10:15 AM.

The total flight time for the entire trip was 34 hours and distance traveled was over 5,000 statute miles.


The best of things and the worst of things were the people. The petty local politicians in Dare County were among the worst. Tim Gaylord, the Airport Manager, used innovative programs to improve usage of Dare County Airport. Every spring, he went to Sun ‘N Fun in Lakeland to promote the airport as part of the North Carolina booth. Few airport managers do this. Tim promoted the Air Venture Race from Kitty Hawk to Oshkosh and other flying events. For over ten years, he worked to make the Centennial Celebration a success.

About three months before the Centennial event, which was developed and promoted by Tim, the local politicians fired him. Too bad such a great event had to be soiled by such petty people.

Genes are important, and the descendents of the pirates of the Outer Banks showed theirs during the celebration by price gouging. Most of the locals were good, friendly people enjoying participating in the celebration. They made the event a great memory!

Across the country, the people in small airports make trips worthwhile. As someone once said, “It’s the journey, not the destination, that is important.” A cross-country trip always is an adventure and the people you meet make it memorable.

The Centennial Celebration of Flight (or “Smoke and Mirrors” as the Man Will Never Fly Society states) was an excellent example of a great destination. The celebration was crowded with aviation enthusiasts, generally a genial group. The security was a nuisance but not obtrusive. On the 17th, a large, friendly crowd waited patiently, in a cold rain, to pass the metal detectors.

President Bush demonstrated his character, when asked by his aides if he wanted to wait in the trailer until the rain stopped.

“How many people are waiting in the rain?”
“Then I can wait in the rain, too.”

NASA and Ford had excellent exhibits in their pavilions, including several “Wright Flyer” simulators. After the 25 seconds flight on a simulator by my grandson, I can bore people with a “My grandson did….” story. But, my grandchildren are different!

Yes, after a ten-year wait, this once in a lifetime experience was worth it!

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