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Copyright © 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer
Ever since moving from Washington state to the Dallas area in 1988, I had
dreamed of flying back to visit family and friends. I had never been on
cross country of more than 370 nautical miles, and really wanted to
try a truly long distance flight. Finally in 1997, the required money, time, and justification all came together. Jane,
Serena, Katie and I planned to fly back to Washington for a family reunion at my
parent's cabin. We rented a Cessna 172, tail
number 5252Q, packed it with our gear and took off. This is my flight log
from that trip:
- 6/28 Addison, TX -> Cordell, OK 2.1
Diverted around central Oklahoma due to T-storms. Bumpy. Jane got
I planned to depart Addison at about 8:00 AM that morning and fly up to
Hutchinson, Kansas where we would stay the night. Unfortunately,
thunderstorms had developed over central Oklahoma and blocked our direct route
north. I waited around for two hours on the ground at Addison,
occasionally checking weather, but there wasn't much change. In talking
with Flight Service, I realized that by diverting about 150 miles west of our
planned course, we could skirt the weather. I filed a flight plan
and took off right away, headed for Cordell, Oklahoma. Man, was it
bumpy...constant bump and tumble all the way. The atmosphere was really
churned up. No one puked, but when we got on the ground in Cordell, Jane
had to lay down on a couch in the pilot's lounge. She said the whole
room looked like it was spinning. The kids seemed fine though, thank
goodness. It looked like it was going to be a while before Jane would be
ready to brave the airplane again. Since it was almost lunch time, we decided to
take a courtesy car into town and grab a bite. We stopped at a
diner in the center of town. We were the only ones there. Jane
wouldn't eat anything, but the kids and I got hamburgers. Jane lay down
in the booth and held very still as the room continued to spin around her.
After about an hour, we left Jane lying in the diner and took a walk
around the downtown square. It was dominated in the center by an old courthouse
and ringed by small shops. We stopped at a drug store and bought some
Dramamine pills for Jane. We returned to the diner about an hour later
to collect our ailing co-pilot. We found her sitting up at a table, sipping water;
still woozy, but ready to give it a go. She
choked down a couple of Dramamine pills and asked "Did you close your flight
plan?" Gaahh, I forgot! I called the FSS and sheepishly
requested that my flight plan be closed. "Sure!" came the perky reply.
Gee, here I was over three hours late closing my flight plan and they didn't
even seem concerned. Good thing I wasn't bleeding to death in the center of a
smoking crater somewhere thinking, "Just...hold on...ol' chap...the
search and rescue boys will be here soon. Just a
- 6/28 Cordell, OK -> Hutchinson, KS 1.7
Smooth uneventful flight. Skimmed under sct clouds at 5500'.
We were back on track to Hutchinson. I climbed up as high as I could to
get to cooler air since that usually helps the nausea. Mercifully, we
didn't run into much turbulence. Flight Service said most of the thunderstorms
had drifted further east. The atmosphere had settled down
considerably. There were small scattered cumulus clouds all along the
route. About 4/10ths coverage with bases around 6200 feet.
We arrived at Hutchinson right at sunset. I made a great landing; one of
those landings where you can't even tell when the wheels touch the ground.
Got a hotel for the night.
- 6/29 Hutchinson, KS -> Wray, CO 2.7
Deviated west around T-storms in OK and NB. Good flying.
Unfriendly people at Wray.
In the morning, we awoke to drizzling overcast. We stalled around; got
breakfast, waited in the room; the kids watched cartoons. I intended to fly
north through central Nebraska, but once again, thunderstorms blocked our
path. The weather seemed much better to the west, but Flight Service said
the low overcast stretched west over 150 miles. Finally, at about 10:30
I looked west and saw the edge of the overcast, and beyond, miles
of blue sky. I called Flight Service again. The briefer said all
stations west were still reporting overcast, but if I could see blue sky he couldn't
argue with that. I decided to just go. The hotel gave us a lift to
the airport, we pre-flighted, and launched. Nothing but clear skies and
calm air all the way to Wray. After landing at Wray, I taxied to the
fuel pumps and shut down. The Flight Guide said
the field was attended 24 hours per day, but no one was around. I walked
over to the FBO office and found the door unlocked.
There was a sign on the counter with a phone number for fuel, so I called. I talked to a guy who said he'd come right out. With nothing
to do but hurry-up and wait, I stepped
outside and milled around. A couple of guys walked
over and asked what I was doing there. They were kind of intimidating.
I said I had just landed and needed fuel. One of the guys asked loudly
why I hadn't stopped to get fuel in Scottsbluff. Clearly, he wasn't
expecting an answer. They both turned around, got in a car, and drove
off. Scottsbluff? That's 120 nautical miles northwest...sheeezh!
After about 10 minutes a guy arrived in a pickup. "You the fella lookin'
for gas?" Yeah, I'm the guy. He unlocked the pumps, climbed up on
the airplane and started filling tanks. "This is dang inconvenient ya
know...I was watchin' TV when you called. Why'd ya stop here?" I
explained that I needed gas, as he could clearly see, and that both the
sectional and Flight Guide indicated he had some for sale. What's more,
the Flight Guide said the field was attended 24x7. "Lemme see that
thing!" I indicated the appropriate page of the Flight Guide. "I
thought I got that changed a year ago!," he growled. I paid my bill and we blasted
out of there. Antisocial weirdoes...
- 6/29 Wray, CO -> Sheridan, WY 3.6
Nice flight to Sheridan, WY. Scattered T-storms; flew under anvil of 2
A very nice, relaxing flight to Sheridan. Beautiful terrain; plains and
rolling hills giving way to small mountains and eroded cliffs covered with
patches of pine forest. During the mid-section of the flight, we snaked
our way through widely scattered thunderstorms. Just small single cells.
Pretty tame. I tried to stay at least 10 to 15 miles from them.
They all seemed to be more or less in the dissipating stage with long sinuous
tendrils of ice particle blow-off near the tops. I had to fly under some
of this blow-off and was kind of nervous. Hail usually lurks somewhere
under the anvil, if there's any hail at all. I really wasn't near the
main part of the anvil, but I still worried. When we got to Sheridan, I
pulled out my tie-down anchors and screwed them into the grass. I
adapted a set of out-building tie-down anchors for use with the airplane.
I used a big crowbar as a handle to screw them into the ground, and man,
did they have holding power. I had some half inch rope to tie the
airplane down. After securing the plane, we called and found a room at
the Best Western. The hotel sent a van out to pick
us up. After getting settled, we
grabbed supper at a Burger King up the street. Serena and I took a dip
in the crowded pool then went to bed.
- 6/30 Sheridan, WY -> Three Forks, MT
Low ceilings and rain showers. Big T-storm over Butte forced us back to
In the morning, Jane asked if I heard all that wind and rain last night.
No, I didn't hear anything, I was so tired I just slept through it all.
She said it got very, VERY windy. Oh great...the airplane! I could
just see it in a crumpled mess, blown up against the airport fence with all
the other tumbleweeds. We ate some breakfast, and headed for the
airport. Hey, the airplane was right where we left it...well, sort of.
It had been blown a bit sideways, and was now pointed about 30 degrees off
where we left it the night before. The anchors had done their job! I was
so glad I resisted buying those wimpy pigtail anchors that Sporty's sells.
They probably wouldn't have held the plane down. We loaded up and took off. Ceiling was about 5/10ths
coverage at 7500 feet. We cruised along at 6500, eventually picking up
Interstate 90 and following it west. The plan was to follow
I-90 through Mullan Pass and on to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Hopefully, we
would make it to the cabin by late afternoon. I-90 tracks along a low
broad valley as it crosses the continental divide. This gave us a lot of
advantages. The most important benefit was that we could land on I-90 if
we had an emergency like engine failure or something. It was really
comforting to know all that asphalt was directly under us, especially as we
crossed the Rockies. Another advantage was the low altitude of the
valley. We could cruise lower, and that was more comfortable for us carbon units.
The valley was broad, so if we were forced down under low clouds, we
would have plenty of maneuvering room to execute a turn and double back. As
we entered the valley, the ceiling turned into an overcast and lowered to
about 4500 feet, so we dropped down to 2000 AGL. After a
while we picked up some light rain. The rain gradually became
heavier until it was a steady roar. Still, the visibility was a good 8
miles or so, and we had plenty of ground and cloud clearance. I pressed
on. Finally, just a few miles east of Butte, Montana, a thunderstorm
loomed directly in our path over the highway. I didn't want to chance
flying under it, and we couldn't easily go around it without getting pinched
between the clouds and the ridge tops. We had just passed Three Forks,
Montana about 15 miles back. I decided to turn around, land at Three Forks, and wait out the weather. We
around in Three Forks for several hours with the weather deteriorating around
us. The rain increased and the ceilings lowered. We retired to a
hotel for the night. Walked the main drag in Three Forks and found
nothing much to see. Ate some pizza and went to bed.
- 7/1 Three Forks, MT -> Coeur d'Alene, ID
Low Ceilings and rain showers. Hairy crossing of Mullan Pass.
Tight squeeze over Wallace. Landed at Shoshone to wait out WX.
The weather looked considerably better the next morning. It was still
spitting rain, but the ceiling and visibility had improved greatly. We
decided to press on. It was a scenic and uneventful flight through light
rain all the way up to Mullan Pass. Mullan Pass demarks the continental
divide in these parts. The valley we'd been flying in narrowed
considerably as it crested the pass then widen back up a little on the other
side. I decided to hug the right wall of the valley, only a few hundred
feet from the tops of the trees. If it looked like the pass was blocked
by low clouds, I wanted to have plenty of space to execute a left turn and
reverse course within the confines of the valley walls. The pass has a
little S-turn in it, so that if you're down low, it is hard to see the other
side. As we approached
the pass, I could see the clouds were lower on the other
side. At first glance it looked pretty hairy, so I decided to turn around and think
about it. I reversed course with plenty of room to spare, and headed
back the way we came. I wasn't able see how low the ceiling was on the
other side. If it was a lot lower, it could force us
so deep into the valley that there wouldn't be enough room to turn
around...I'd be forced to fly straight ahead, come what may. I examined the map
trying to get a feel for the ground elevation on the other side. It
dropped off sharply, so that was a plus. It would compensate somewhat
for the lower ceiling. I decided to turn around and approach the pass to take another look.
As I approached, I strained to see where the ceiling and ground were on the
other side. Although we were too low to see very far past that S-turn,
it appeared the ceiling was maybe 750 feet lower on the other side. I turned
again and headed away from the pass. Well, it looked doable, but as I
crossed over, I would have to make a descending turn right then left to negotiate the pass and contour along the
underside of the overcast. I still had enough fuel to get back
to Three Forks, but in 20 minutes we would be at the point of no return. I
had to decide what I was going to do pretty soon. It look reasonably
safe, so I opted to try. My ace in the hole should
something go terribly wrong was to land on I-90. I turned around and
headed back for the attempt. Crossing the pass was
easier than I thought, although the ceiling on the other side pushed us down near the critical altitude in the
valley. We had just enough room to reverse course if we had to, but it
was really tight; the situation would have to be desperate to risk trying it.
I didn't feel very good about that. It was also raining a lot harder on
this side of the pass, but visibility was still a good 4 or 5 miles. We
flew over Wallace, then over Shoshone airport. About 3 miles west of
Shoshone, we saw an almost solid wall of clouds ahead. The valley had
broadened a bit and executing a 180 was pretty easy. I landed at
Shoshone to wait out the weather. After two hours on the ground, the
ceiling lifted appreciably and the rain lightened a bit. We took off and
pressed on. About 15 miles east of Coeur d'Alene we ran in to more
low clouds blocking our path. Fortunately, the ground elevation had
decreased considerably and we could easily cut cross-country over the ridge
tops. We altered course to the southwest, dodging low clouds, and
popped out from under the overcast just south of Spokane. It was like
coming up for air! Ah, sweet sunshine! We flew north to Coeur
d'Alene and landed. Whew...that was a lot of hard flying.
I'll always remember it.
- 7/1 Coeur d'Alene, ID -> Priest River, ID
T-storm blocked west approach to Priest River. Went back to Spokane and
came in from the east.
The final step of the journey would be landing near my parent's cabin.
There was a small grass airstrip, Cavanaugh Bay, where I wanted to
land. It was only about 3 miles from the cabin. The airstrip was short, we would be coming in near gross
weight, and it had been raining for several days making the field soft.
I was worried that I'd get the plane in there and not be able to safely take
off again. I wanted to drag the field and see how it looked. If I
couldn't land, the next closest place was Priest River. It had a
paved runway and was plenty long. The only problem was the distance from
the cabin; my parents would have to drive 30 minutes to pick us up.
While on the ground in Coeur d'Alene, I phoned the cabin and talked to my
Dad. We arranged a signal. I would make a low pass by the cabin.
If I rocked my wings, it meant he should pick us up at Priest River, otherwise
he should pick us up at Cavanaugh Bay. With the signal arranged, we
piled in and departed. Arriving at Cavanaugh Bay, we flew low over
the airstrip one time, and that was enough. It was narrow, short, sloped up-hill,
was surrounded by a thick forest of 40 foot pine trees, and was soaked with
rain making it soft. I might have tried it if conditions were ideal and
if I only had a half load on board, but for now it was out of the question.
My parents cabin was right on the lake front. I got down about 60
feet off the water and flew in a straight line parallel to shore right
by their cabin at about 90 knots. A few of my family spilled out of the
cabin and watched us buzz by. I made another two passes rocking my wings
then flew off to Priest River. We attempted to approach Priest River
from the east, but a heavy rain shower blocked our route. At first it
looked like we would be able to fly through, but as we entered it visibility
dropped off alarmingly. I immediately turned around and continued
further south in an attempt to fly around the cell. As we headed south,
thick clouds moved rapidly in from the west, squeezing us down to about an 800
foot layer of clear air up against the heavily forested mountains.
The clouds looked like they were moving at something like 30 knots, but I knew
the wind wasn't blowing that hard.
Then I realized that the clouds were actually in the process of condensing out
of the moist air as it was pushed up over the mountains by the wind. It was a tight squeeze, but we got through OK.
That obstacle navigated, I turned west and went up over the top of a high
ridge, then turned back north. We were set up for an approach to the
field from the west, upwind of the rain shower. We flew
into the west edge of the rain. Visibility was much better. As we
approached the field, I made the customary radio calls to any traffic in the
area that might be listening. To my surprise, a twin called saying he
was on the far end of the field, preparing to depart. He said he would
hold there until we landed. I spotted the airport, and lined up for
landing on runway 01. It was raining pretty hard. There's a tall pine tree right off the approach
end of the runway, and as soon as I had that cleared, I pointed the nose right
at the numbers. A good landing. When we were clear of the
runway, the twin made his departure on runway 19. He bid us good-day and
was gone. About 20 minutes later, my parents arrived in the pickup to
- 7/6 Priest River, ID -> Pullman, WA
Nice flight to Pullman. Windy landing.
After a nice visit with the family, my parents drove us out the to airport.
We bid adieu and took off. It was a nice, uneventful flight to
Pullman on a clear sunny day. A welcome relief after so many nail-biting
weather problems. We encountered mild sporadic turbulence; nothing big.
When we got to Pullman, the wind had picked up considerably and became quite
gusty. Dang! I had learned to fly in Washington years ago, and had
flown into Pullman many times. Never once had I made any kind of
respectable landing in Pullman. For some reason, I always seemed to
prang the plane down hard. After a while, I started getting psyched out
about it...like the Pullman airfield was out to get me or something.
Truth be told, I had come to loath landing here. Something always seemed
to go wrong. The high gusty wind just added to my trepidation.
Even on dead calm days landing here was hard for me. Rationally, I think
it had something to do with the fairly high set of hills that ringed the
airfield. They seemed to create an optical illusion that you were too low
in the pattern when, in fact, you were at the right height for the airfield
this day was no different. Praaannngggg! We taxied up and shut
down. Jane's Mom and Dad came out to meet us. Jane's Mom said they
had the airport radio on in the pilot's lounge. She heard our radio call
10 miles out and scampered out to the ramp to watch us land. I hoped
my horrid landing didn't look too out-of-control from where she was standing.
- 7/8 Pullman, WA (local sightseeing)
Took Roger, Jack, and Bekka flying. Flew over house, Kamiak Butte, and
Steptoe Butte. Bekka got motion sick.
While staying at the in-laws house, I spent some time talking to Roger, the
SO of Jane's sister, Bekka. Roger and I decided to go on a little
sight-seeing tour. Jane's Dad, Jack, and Bekka wanted to tag along.
No problem, we should be just under gross weight. We arrived at the
airport around 10 AM. After the preflight ritual, we loaded up and took off.
On climb out, at about 150 feet, my door popped open. There was a rush of
wind and noise. Over the din, I heard Bekka let out a sharp, funny little
sound like "aaahhhoooh!" I think it scared her a bit. I tried
to concentrate on what I was doing and continued the climb until we had a bit
of altitude. When we got up to 800 feet,
I reached over and tried to push the door out against the slip stream so I
could slam it shut. It seemed harder than normal to push the door out,
and I failed on three attempts to close the door. I looked around to see
if a seat belt or something was caught in it. Then I noticed that Jack,
who was sitting directly behind me, had his hand on the door trying to hold it
shut. I asked Jack to let go, and then succeeded in closing the door.
Everyone seemed shook up, and I realized they may have
really thought they were in danger. In fact, doors do sometimes
pop open in flight if you don't get them closed right. On Cessna
aircraft, it's no big deal. The door cannot open outward in flight
because of the 100 knot slip stream blowing past it. You have to push
very hard just to get it to open 6 inches when you're flying.
I can't even imagine how much force it would take to open it far enough to
actually fall out. I suspect it would take more strength than the
average person possesses. Of course, my passengers were apparently not aware
of this fact. Bummer. Murphy's law...if anything is going to go
wrong, it will happen at the most inappropriate time imaginable. After a
few minutes, everyone seemed to settle down. We flew over Jack's house,
then over Kamiak and Steptoe buttes. On the return leg,
Bekka said she was getting queasy. I gave her a sick sack and tried to
make very shallow turns...no appreciable bank angle at all as steep turns seem
to really jangle sensitive stomachs. We landed...this time it was only a
very firm landing rather than a prang...thank goodness for minor miracles.
- 7/9 Pullman, WA -> Walla Walla, WA 0.9
Low ceilings, light rain. Flew alone through low clouds. Fun
flight. Little wind.
I left Jane and the kids in Pullman for a visit with her parents, and
proceeded to Walla Walla to visit friends. I departed Pullman at
about 6 PM into scattered low clouds and widely scattered light rain
showers. There was virtually no wind. It was good to be alone in
the airplane, with plenty of fuel, and flying over familiar terrain. It
was a beautiful flight. Buzzing along serenely, occasionally dodging a
stray cloud, the periodic hiss of light rain on the wind screen; it really
felt like I was up amongst the clouds, in their element, on their
terms...almost at one with them. This is why I like flying! I
couldn't help but smile. I approached Walla Walla from the east.
Cutting across Kooskooski canyon, I crested the top of Scenic Loop up above
Russell Creek Road. I cleared the ridge with 200 feet to spare, and was
surprised to see about a dozen people with cameras and tripods out taking
pictures of the sunset. They all looked up and waved. I returned
their salute with a waggle of my wings and descended into the valley beyond.
I looked ahead and saw why they were busily taking pictures. The sun was
setting and rays of sunshine were filtering through the rain streaks
underneath a little rain shower hovering over the valley. Boy, was it
pretty. I contacted Walla Walla tower, jockeyed around their airspace,
and made a pretty good landing. I taxied up to the local FBO, tied down,
and called my Mom. She came out to pick me up. It had been a good
- 7/11 Walla Walla, WA (local sightseeing)
Sightseeing with Rick and Dave Cochran. Flew over Dad's house then over
to Fishhook. Bumpy.
Rick and Dave are high school buddies of mine. I've actually been
friends with Rick since 5th grade...nearly 30 years. They're both
great guys, and I really value their long standing friendship. When I
got to Walla Walla, we spent a few days kicking around together. We
decided to take a little flying tour of the area. In the afternoon, we
piled into the airplane and departed. Our first destination was my Dad's
house. I wanted to get some aerial photos of the place. After
that, our plan was to fly out to Fishhook State Park on the Snake river,
follow the river, buzz over a few dams, then head back. It was
the air was hot and bumpy. That's a recipe for nausea, and I half-way
expected Rick or Dave to start turning green. They surprised me though
and didn't really seem bothered by the turbulence. We looked at Fishhook, flew down the river admiring the grain barges plying their routes,
gawked at Ice Harbor dam, then turned for home. On the way back, we flew over the
ranch that Dave's family owns. We circled the old homestead a few times
commenting about the cistern on the hill and other accouterments of remote
living. We then flew over the family ranch of my brother-in-law, Johnny.
I had never been there on the ground before, but had seen photos that my
sister Elaine had sent. It looked interesting, and I thought it would
be fun to visit sometime, although it was a ways out from Walla Walla.
Finally, we landed back in Walla Walla.
- 7/12 Walla Walla, WA -> Pullman, WA
Flew up to Pullman to get Jane and kids. Bumpy. 25 knot tailwind.
It was time to say so-long to my friends and head back to Pullman to collect
Jane and the kids. The day of departure was a bit windy. My Mom
and Dad ferried me to the airport to see me off. After climbing to
altitude and settling on course, I was gratified to see the ground flashing
past at a good clip. There was a 25+ knot wind right on my tail.
I made excellent progress. Per Standard Operating Procedure, I pranged
the airplane down in Pullman. I could swear that stupid
Pullman airport was out to get me! Grrrrr...
- 7/12 Pullman, WA -> Coeur d'Alene, ID
Met with Bekka and Roger in COE for lunch. Bumpy flight made Serena
sick. Puked in Roger's car.
Jane, the kids, and the in-laws were all waiting for me at the airport when I
arrived. We loaded passengers and cargo then departed for Coeur d'Alene. We were to meet Bekka and Roger
lunch. Along the way, we got into some turbulent air;
thermals were beginning to pop up as the hills warmed in the late morning
sun. Serena started turning a little green, but managed not to puke.
We landed and found Bekka and Roger waiting for us. They were driving a
little sub-compact Ford. We had to squeeze tight to get four adults and
two kids in the car. We decided to go to McDonald's because that was the
kids favorite. About half way there, Serena lost it and puked all
over Roger's car. It was really embarrassing for Serena. I
honestly thought she had made it through the worst of the nausea. Oh
well. Roger was unruffled by the incident and was very understanding.
His noble poise amazed me. We spent an unhurried two hours
lingering over lunch and letting the kids play. It was good to let the
kids get the wiggles out of their system before the long flight home.
- 7/12 Coeur d'Alene, ID -> Sheridan, WY
Fun flight to Sheridan. High ceilings let us cruise at 9500'. 20
We took off and headed for Sheridan. I tentatively planned to stop at
Butte, Montana for gas if I had to. It turned out we had a very strong
tail wind, and easily made it to Sheridan. According to the GPS, our
peak ground speed was 142 knots; pretty good for a Cessna 172! The sky
was entirely clear for most of the route, and we cruised high above the ridges
that we struggled through eleven days ago. About the time we got to
Bozeman, Montana, we encountered scattered clouds that eventually merged
into a solid overcast. We went under the clouds, and about 20 minutes
later, it began to rain. I was really getting used to this kind of
flying; 6 to 8 mile visibility, 4000 foot ceilings, and rain. By the
time we got to Sheridan, we had flown out from under the rain and overcast.
It was partly cloudy in Sheridan with ceilings of 5500 feet. It just so
happened that we arrived in the middle of the annual Sheridan rodeo.
It's a big deal in these parts, filling up the hotels and restaurants.
We were lucky to find a room at the Best
western for the night.
- 7/13 Sheridan, WY -> Goodland, KS 3.6
Bumpy flight. Serena got sick and puked all over. Landed early at
Bumpy, bumpy, bumpy. We slogged through thermal turbulence all the way
to Goodland. We were downwind of the Rockies, and I think we were
also picking up some turbulence from wind spilling off the back side of the
mountains. At one point, the airplane started climbing at over 1500 feet
per minute. I closed the throttle and nosed down a bit, but we kept
going up. We drifted up as high as 10,800 feet before coming back down
to our cruise altitude of 7500 feet. That's the highest I've ever flown
a Cessna 172. It was probably just a strong thermal, but could have been
a bit of wave lift. As we approached Goodland, Serena puked all over the
cabin. I expedited our approach and landed. We scrambled out of the
airplane, turbulence weary, hot, and in a bad mood. It was late
afternoon. After getting the plane cleaned up, we decided to go into town
and grab a bite to eat. We borrowed a courtesy car and ended up at
McDonald's again. The restaurant was filled with nasty
biting flies. We grimly gnawed at our chicken McNuggets, choked down our
fries and headed back to the airport. The whole Goodland experience was
not good. We were happy to be leaving.
- 7/13 Goodland, KS -> Addison, TX 4.3
Smooth night flight. Serena kicked flap handle down when we were 110 kts.
We took off from Goodland at dusk. Everyone was asleep by the time we
were 45 minutes into the flight. I had the satisfying feeling of being
alone with my thoughts and the airplane. The night was very dark with no
moon. The sky was clear and the stars brilliant. We were flying
over desolate terrain with almost no ground lights. I imagined that I
was floating in space amongst the stars. It gave me vertigo, like I was
falling or dizzy. It was kind of cool. I reveled in the darkness
of the night. Turning off all the instrument lights, I cruised along in
total darkness. The darkness was supreme, omnipresent, permeating.
I drifted along for some time, letting the mood wash over me. Way up
ahead, there was a faint yellow-orange flicker; lightning. It was
directly ahead but probably at least 40 miles distant. Over the next
half hour as I drew near to the source, I could see that it was confined to a
small thunderstorm. I altered course so it would pass to the right.
It was just an isolated little cell, about one mile across at the base and
15,000 feet high. A cute little thing, just sitting there, spitting rain
and occasional bolts of lightning. The flicker of lightning illuminated
the interior of the plane. The storm almost seemed alive, being
possessed of personality and humble ambition. I felt as though I had
been fully accepted into some secret society and was being shown an
inscrutable treasure. I felt I understood this thunderstorm or nature or
something in some special way; on a level beyond just dew points, barometric
pressure, and wind speed. As I looked off to the east and west, I
noticed that I was actually crossing a line of small thunderstorms spaced
about 20 miles apart. They were forming along a little dry-line running
from Oklahoma down through west Texas. About 60 miles north of Dallas,
the sky ahead began to brighten appreciably. I turned up the instrument
lights and started getting ready for approach to the huge Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. I felt a little sad leaving my quiet solitude and those
secret little thunderstorms behind. About twenty minutes later, I contacted
Addison Tower and began to arrange for our arrival. Nosing over into a power-on descent to Addison
pattern altitude, we edged up to 110
knots. Now about 10 miles out, everything was OK. Serena, sitting
next to me in the front of the airplane, stirred a bit in her sleep.
Suddenly, the nose of the airplane started coming up. I pushed on the
yoke to bring it back down, but it continued to rise. The nose was now
about 10 degrees above the horizon, and the airspeed was rapidly bleeding off.
Uh oh, I had a problem. I pushed HARD on the yoke to get the nose down.
I was unable to stop it from pitching up. If this continued, the plane would
keep losing speed finally culminating in a stall and possible spin. I
had no idea what was causing the problem. My mind raced. I might be able
to add power and hang on the prop. That would give me a few more seconds
to solve the problem before we fell out into a stall. Maybe there was an
elevator control failure. If that were the case, I might be able to
control pitch attitude with the elevator trim wheel. What could have cause the elevator problem? Maybe we
had hit a bird, or a
balloon was wrapped around the stabilizer, or a control cable snapped, or a
control horn had broken. All this blazed through my mind in literally
seconds. The airspeed had wound down below 85 knots and was still
falling, with the nose now pointed about 30 degrees up. I was still
pushing HARD on the yoke with little seeming effect. I began to
turn around to see if the elevator was somehow jammed or damaged. As I
turned my head to the right, I noticed movement out on the wing. Aghast, I
saw that the flaps were about half deployed and still coming down. I
looked over at the flap switch; it was set to the 40º position! I
reached over and snapped the flaps back up. As they retracted, I was
able to get the nose down and resume normal cruise. How did THAT
happen!? I looked over at Serena, still sound asleep. I grabbed
her foot and stretched it out as far as it would go towards the flap switch.
With her toes pointed straight out, her shoe just grazed the flap handle.
When she stirred in her sleep seconds earlier, she must have just nicked the
flap switch and moved it to the full flaps deployed position. Wow, what
a heart stopper. We arrived at Addison without further incident,
unpacked the plane, and headed home. Glad to be back and much richer for
Some facts about the trip:
- Flying time from Addison, TX to Priest River, ID - 17.6 hours
- Flying time while fooling around up there - 5.3 hours
- Flying time from Coeur d'Alene, ID to Addison, TX - 12 hours
- Total flying time altogether - 34.9 hours
- Flying time at night - 3.3 hours
- Number of landings - 17
- Number of legs - 17
- Number of legs which required flying through rain - 4
- Number of legs in which someone became nauseated - 4
- Total fuel cost - $634.75
Some observations about flights like this:
- When the weather is acceptable, fly as much as you can. The weather
is so variable that if you hit a window of good weather, you should capitalize
on it to make as much progress as possible.
- If the weather is marginal, don't push it. Something bad will
happen. Be ready to land and wait out the weather for a couple of days
if it comes to that. You'd better plan for one or two non-flying weather
- It's amazing what you can accomplish VFR. In my opinion, the only
reason for an IFR rating is if you are going cross-country and must keep a
schedule. If you're just flying around for fun locally, you'll fly on
good days because there is no reason to fly on poor weather days. If
you're going cross-country and don't have to hold to a rigorous schedule, then
you can afford to land and wait out the weather.
- When flying cross country, monitor EFAS on 122.0 MHz. There is a
wealth of weather information going back and forth between Flight Service and
other pilots in the area. Just monitoring it for an hour really helps
develop an awareness of the evolving weather situation around you. You
can learn quite a bit about what's going on, even if you are unable to contact
Flight Service yourself for some reason.
- In mid-summer there are almost always thunderstorms of some type scattered
across central Oklahoma and Nebraska. The thunderstorms seem less
numerous and less severe on the west side of these states and points further
west. I think the air tends to be drier, giving the thunderstorms less
"fuel." The character of thunderstorms seems to change as you go
Thunderstorms seem worst in intensity from Texas through Nebraska, but by the
time you get into Wyoming and Montana and further northwest, the thunderstorms
seem much smaller and significantly less intense. They are generally
wimpy by comparison to the monsters lurking in the mid-section of
- A weather pattern appears to entrench itself in late spring and early
summer over the Idaho panhandle and western Montana. It is characterized
by low ceilings, light rain, and scattered embedded thunderstorms over a wide
area. For several years I've watched the weather radar in early summer
and often noted this pattern.
- Give your passengers Dramamine. I know this is going to sound
politically incorrect, but it is true in my experience: women and
children appear to be significantly more susceptible to motion sickness
brought on by turbulence. For some reason, children 3 and under don't
even seem to notice it, but any older than that and they'll likely have
problems. The optimal method for inducing nausea is a hot stuffy cabin,
constant moderate turbulence, lots of turning and maneuvering, with a bit of
fear-of-flying stirred in for good measure. They'll puke for sure.
Modify any one of these variables and things improve markedly. If one of
your passengers is predisposed to getting motion sick or is beginning to feel
nauseous, have them stare at a fixed point ahead on the horizon. Don't let
them look down at their lap or at something directly below the airplane on the
ground. Looking down seems to amplify the effects of nausea.
Staring at a fixed point ahead on the horizon helps the nausea dissipate.
Get some cool air blowing directly on their face. That helps a
- I puzzled over hearing protection for the kids for a couple of years.
I finally settled on a cheap ($12) pair of headset type hearing protectors
from Home Depot. The kids adjusted to wearing them very quickly.
They just can't stand ear plugs in any form. I tried innumerable ear
plug variations for about a year before finally giving up. They can even
sleep in the headsets. I thought the headsets would slip off all the
time. They do slip off occasionally, but not enough to become a