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Flight To Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 2011

The REST of the Story...OR - Why I Crashed

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Sunday evening, Aug. 21

First, I want to apologize for not finishing this saga sooner - I've had lots of concerned e-mails and phone calls about what happened and why did my engine die. But since I've been home - 2 whole weeks now - I have been focusing on family, farm, and getting the Talon repaired. And, to be honest, I've also been beating myself up for that abysmal landing and just didn't want to deal with having to write about it.

So...cutting to the chase...my engine died because the oil seal at the ignition end of the engine failed. That messed up the oil-fuel mixture, and the piston on the prop end seized. BUT...at first, it was diagnosed (completely wrongly) as having run out of gas. Not by me - I KNEW I hadn't run out of gas. So here's the back story - with a warning about how easy it is to misdiagnose an engine failure.

Backing up two weeks:
When we took the Talon out of Humongous Harry (as I called the truck in which I brought the Talon home) everyone wanted to know "What happened?!?!?" The guys swarmed around it, looking for reasons why the engine might have quit. Nothing was immediately apparent.

The next morning one of the guys wanted to start it up and see if he could figure out what had made it die. He immediately discovered that the gas tank was empty.

("Discovered?" you ask. "Why didn't you discover it when you were in the wheat field?" Because all we wanted to do was get the plane out of there. We didn't do any troubleshooting and I'm not sure any of us where even aware that the gas tank was empty when we were turning it right side up, getting it out of the field, and loading it into HH. How could we miss it? Because there were four of us grunting and heaving and we didn't have a sense of how much it should weigh (if it had gas) compared to how much it did weigh.We weren't consciously listening for sloshing in the tank.)

He added some gas - and it started up immediately and ran perfectly! He couldn't replicate the engine out. So - how did that happen? Did it drain out of the overflow tube when it was upside down all night? Was there a leak in the aluminum tank? Hole in a fuel line? Mechanical pump spewing forth gas? What was especially puzzling was that there was absolutely no gas odor when the fire chief and I went out to look at it 90 minutes or so after I upended, and no leakage. And nothing was gas-saturated as I'd expect if there was a leak - not my sleeping bag, not the fabric bags holding clothes and other miscellaneous stuff, not the wiping rags stuffed next to the tank. (I had taken all this stuff out and put it in the cab of the fire chief's truck, so we KNOW there was no gas-saturated fabric.)

A few pilots were insistent that I had just forgotten to refuel at Miles City, and had simply run out of gas. They were so convinced of their own conclusion that I began to doubt myself - until I checked my log AND my credit card statement. Yup, I HAD filled up and was carrying 17 gallons of gas when I took off.

Then the conjecturing began. Wayne, who had been flying higher than I and in visual contact, mentioned that he had seen something that looked like dandelion puffs coming out of the back of my plane. He was puzzled, and attributed it to the evening light playing on the golden fields. When a pilot who sometimes helps the NTSB do accident investigations in our area, heard about the "dandelion puffs" he immediately said, "You had a leak. Dandelion puffs are what av gas looks like when it's evaporating."

Then we thought that the lever on the drain valve, which was not safety-wired, had vibrated open just a tiny bit, probably due to the way I had packed. When the drain valve was installed, I was assured that it would "never come open in flight, due to how the valve lever is positioned." Probably correct under normal flying circumstances, but not when packed for a 3-week cross country flight.

ALL of these conjectures were wrong! (Yet they seemed to make so much sense!) It wasn't until Ernie Moreno, an amazingly talented builder and mechanic, took the engine apart that we found out that the engine failure was due to a piston seizure due to a failed oil seal. Ernie explained that frequently an engine will be able to start after a seizure - it just won't be able to get to full power after take-off, and will usually quit again. So you just can't tell what is really the problem just by starting it up.

Yet when I look at the limited damage (so limited that the FSDO rep told me not to bother filing an incident report - just to get it fixed and get in the air again!) I am very, very aware how lightly both I and the Talon got off.

Wrapping this all up:

Perhaps the person most affected by everything that went wrong during this entire flight was Norm. When I finally got home after putting the Talon in its hangar, Norm didn't greet me with big hugs and kisses as he usually does when we've been separated. He was furious - so angry that he almost couldn't talk. We've been married long enough that I knew not to push him. The next day, Sunday, he told me how upset he'd been during much of the flight: the radio problems, the brake problems, and then the cockpit fire at Oshkosh. The accident was the final straw. (He had never let on during our nightly phone calls - was always interested and supportive of my recounting of the day's flying events.)

"I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, and I've finally decided to put my foot down." He said in a taut voice. I immediately tensed up. I know he doesn't like my long flights, always worries. But "put his foot down"?

"You didn't give yourself enough time to prepare for this flight. We had our Norwegian family here until two days before you left! Well, that's NEVER going to happen again! Before your next long flight, you're going to have a full week with no company, no work, nothing to do but get ready for the flight!"

I don't think I have to say anything more about why I love this guy so much! I also didn't tell him that everything had tested out fine when I left - because I know that having a week to prepare certainly can't hurt.

In ending this blog -

• I've been told I need to rename my plane, from The Wandering Wench to The Wounded Wench. I think I'll just put a vertical arrow on the pod pointing up - that ought to be enough!

• I blog fairly regularly on AOPA's website. Take a look and let me know if you enjoy it.

• I want to thank all of you who have been reading this and especially those of you who have been sending comments. I'm now in a frame of mind where I can start responding to your e-mails personally, so if you've written, expect to hear from me!

The Ending Chapter to this Adventure

Flying 8 feedbacks »

Sunday evening, Aug. 7

It's 7:30 p.m. here in Oregon, and I just talked with Bob. I was puzzled that Wayne's SPOT showed him taking off from Prosser, WA (where he and Bob had spent the night) early this morning, and landing in Hood River, OR about 90 minutes later. Then...nothing. I was busy being with Norm, so just now checked Wayne's SPOT again and discovered he'd taken off from Hood River at 7:00 p.m. I called Bob - figuring he was already home, since he doesn't have as far to fly from Hood River as Wayne does.

Turns out that the infamous Columbia River Gorge winds have been howling all day - a boon to wind surfers but not to pilots.

Bob said he made the most difficult landing of his life at Hood River, and both he and Wayne figured that they needed to wait til the winds died down - which meant all day. As I said, Wayne took off @ 7:00 p.m. and radio'd that it was rough but not impossible. Bob waited until now (7:30 p.m.) and I caught him just as he was about to take off. So they'll both be at their respective airports tonight.

Yesterday I had a wonderful drive from Spokane, WA, where I spent the night. The skies were clear and the highway through eastern Washington and across the Columbia River into Oregon is nothing short of spectacular.

Then following the Columbia from eastern Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge - well, it just doesn't get any more beautiful.

Yet the closer I got to home, the sadder I got. I shouldn't be bringing the Talon home in a truck - I should be flying this route, reveling in the beauty from above, not below. As I got off the freeway, only 30 minutes from home, I called Sandy River Airport. My spirits were immeasurably lifted - a whole gaggle of pilot friends were waiting to greet me and help me get the Talon out of the truck.

When I pulled into Sandy River, everyone was there to lend a hand.

Me in the truck, guiding the tail wheel, two men on each gear leg, and two more helping with the boom tube. Others helped get the wings out. Then the BIG question - "WHAT HAPPENED?" Why did the engine die?

We're all perplexed, since I had filled up with gas at Miles City, MT and had flown only an hour when the engine died. The next morning, when Bob, Wayne and I went to get the plane, the gas tank was completely empty although there was still gas in the carb bowls. Yes, the plane was upside down overnight, but if the gas had leaked out of the overflow line during that time, I'd expect that the wipe cloths, sleeping bag, and other fabric which I'd packed next to the gas tank would be saturated - or at least smelling strongly of residual gas. But they were completely dry and odor free. So now the "figuring it out" begins.

And repair work begins as well. The amount of damage - or I should say, the small amount of damage - is really extraordinary and I'm very, very glad. I have to replace a bent strut and the nose pod and that's about it. Of course, we'll be looking at everything very very carefully to be sure that there's not more damage; that detailed inspection begins tomorrow. Today I slept in and spent time with Norm.

So - the end of a much anticipated flight which I'll never forget!

What did I learn/remember from this three weeks?

1. I'm not up there alone.
Even though I fly a single seat aircraft, I'm never really alone. The web of relationships I've created surrounds and supports me. Complete strangers reach out and offer help. The power of these relationships is as important as the joy of flying.

2. I'm responsible for my choices.
I make numerous decisions that affect my flying...who I fly with, the equipment I use, the degree to which I maintain or neglect the Talon, the attention I pay to my pre-flight inspections, the route I choose to fly. When things go wrong, I have to take responsibility rather than blaming the weather or the plane or someone else.

3. I have to force myself into my courage zone, or I'll stay in my comfort zone.
I wasn't sure I really wanted to make this flight: I'd heard too much about the awful winds in Wyoming - and had experienced them when I worked there years ago. But I've learned that for me, my comfort zone gets boring. Flying is never boring, but it is stretching myself that is challenging. That applies to many parts of my life, not just flying.

4. If I can't fly as far as I want, then I fly as far as I can.
I've learned that I can be incredibly patient, waiting for the right weather conditions. I'm not a patient person, but I've become comfortable with waiting until it's safe to fly. And if I only cover 200 miles instead of 400 in a day, I'm content because I've still made progress. Once you learn the skills to fly, you can fly anywhere. In an ultralight-type aircraft, it just takes longer.

There's lots more I've learned - but that's enough for now!

(Note: Click any photo to view the full sized image)

Three States in Three Days - By Truck

Flying 6 feedbacks »

Saturday morning, Aug. 6

First, let me tell you about what's happening with Bob and Wayne.

Yesterday morning Wayne took off from Hyshem, MT and flew to Laurel, MT to meet up with Bob. Wayne had the more miserable night, due to numerous mosquitos. He thought he was minimizing opening his tent, but apparently lots of mosquitos still took it as an open invitation to join him for the night.

As they flew from Laurel, they saw huge dark clouds along their route, and Bob decided to land at Three Forks, MT - an uncontrolled airport. Much to his surprise, when he called in to land on Rwy. 20 - he got a response from the control tower! He followed instructions for landing, and as he taxied up to the ramp, he saw lots of people staring. "Uh oh," he thought, "What did I do wrong?" Nothing wrong, as it happened. The local EAA chapter was having a fly-in and was running a temporary tower. They were delighted to see Bob and then Wayne arrive, and invited them to the party. Since weather also wasn't particularly great, they stayed for a while before taking off again.

The rain and dark clouds that I was driving through on I-90 plagued them during the day.

(click photo to view full sized image)

They landed at Twin Bridges, MT @ 3:15 p.m. and didn't like the look of the clouds, so hung out for a while and then took off for Deer Lodge, MT. They had hoped to make one more leg after Deer Lodge - it's only a short flight from there to Stephensville, MT, just south of Missoula, but the weather dictated that they stay on the ground for the night.

I received a SPOT notice from Wayne's SPOT that they took off from Deer Lodge @ 7:30 a.m. today.

As for me, I found driving I-90 an astonishing experience. I had a strong, almost physical sense of what it would be like to be flying the route. I-90 goes through wide valleys between numerous mountain ranges: the Sapphire Mountains southeast of Missoula as well as the Bitterroot Range, which is composed of several different mountains.

(click photos to view full sized image)

As I drove I was watching the sky as well as the road. I drove through clouds and light rain into Butte, noting that the amount of rain probably wouldn't have grounded us. It would have been uncomfortable for me - I've often said that in an open cockpit, flying through rain is like getting facial accupuncture. But at the time I didn't know whether the storm was better or worse when Wayne and Bob actually flew the route - and obviously it was worse, since they landed to wait it out.

As I drove over the Clark Fork Rover (one of the many times the river intersects with I-90) the clouds started to build again.

(click photo to view full sized image)

I wondered if Bob and Wayne would take another route that had been recommended by a friend at Oshkosh - flying up the Clark Fork Valley. I saw the turn-off, but with that huge truck I didn't want to do any sightseeing.

I was happily imagining coming back to fly this gorgeous area...until I was about 30 miles from the Idaho border. Here the Bitterroot Mountains became high, steep, heavily forested - with apparently no place to land but the freeway. Of course, from the air you can see much more and there might have been landing spots which were obscured by the evergreens I was driving through. I hope so. There was about 50 miles of really ugly country (I'm talking from a flying perspective - from a driving perspective it was absolutely gorgeous.)

(click photos to view full sized image)

Unless I hear from Bob and Wayne that they saw landing spots along the way, I'm not sure I want to try it. I even found myself thinking "I'm glad I'm driving this, not flying it." Immediately I wondered "What WOULD I have done if I'd been in the air? Would I have wimped out, wanted to land and find another route? Is there even another route that doesn't involve going through these mountains? I don't think so.

That got me thinking about the pressure I put on myself not to be the wuss, the wimp, the weak sister. I never hear the guys talking about being afraid - perhaps they are, but they don't mention it. (I'm talking about all the male pilots I fly with - not just about Bob and Wayne.) They talk blithely about landing on the highway if there's absolutely nowhere else to land. Yet this is summer and I-90 is well traveled. I probably would have just soldiered on, and kept my fears to myself. We had looked at the route before we chose it, and I've driven it before, so I DID know what we were heading for. And, assuming that I could land with the flow of west-bound traffic, I'd probably have made a better landing than I did in that wheat field!

When I talked with Bob last night, I told him that one saving grace is that there is construction work being done on I-90 and the west-bound side of the freeway is completely closed off, with west-bound traffic using a single lane on the east-bound side of the freeway. We had talked before - while in Wyoming - of how a freeway closure created a miles-long runway for us if there was an emergency!

I'll be eager to talk with them tonight and will let you know how they're doing.

Well, it's time for me to climb back into the truck and head for home.

P.S. These are not my own photos. My regular camera is on the blink and my GoPro's battery wasn't fully charged. But these ARE photos of the route I took.

Sorry I Didn't Blog Yesterday - Here's "The Rest of the Story"

Flying 7 feedbacks »

Friday, Aug. 5

I tumbled into bed @ 1:30 a.m. this morning - absolutely too exhausted to blog. So here's "the rest of the story".

When I blogged on Wednesday night, the evening of my awful field landing, I had intended to leave the plane in the wheat field (I wrote that it was a barley field, but I was wrong,) catch a commercial flight home from Billings, and Norm and I would bring our trailer out to get it next week after the field was harvested. The farmer, Levi Hein, didn't want a truck going out into the field until after harvest - not only would it ruin more of the what, but there was a real danger of fire.

In the morning, at breakfast, either Wayne or Bob (I don't remember whom,) wondered out loud if it might be possible to dismantle the wings and roll the fuselage out of the field, then "pull a BJ" and hire a U-Haul truck and drive it home. Regardless of what we would decide, we knew we had to go out to the field, pull the wings and turn the plane upright - leaving it upside down wasn't a good idea.

I called Levi and asked him if he'd let me remove the Talon today, explaining that we'd take off the wings and walk them out the the road, then upright the plane and roll it out. He immediately agreed, and said he'd call some strong young men to help us.

When we drove back to the wheat field, we saw that the Talon wasn't as far from the farm field road as we had thought.

(click photo to view full sized image)

In 90+° heat we pulled the wings, the struts, and the cables. We were astounded to see that there seemed to be very little damage, other than to the nose of the pod.

(click photo to view full sized image)

One strut was slightly bent, but there didn't seem to be any other damage. We figured we'd see much more once we got the Talon upright. Bo Harrison, a strapping young man who obviously played football and other violent sports, drove out to help us turn it over and get everything out of the field. By 12:30 p.m. we were dripping with sweat and wheat burrs, but everything was out of the field and on the field road. My tough little GOPRO camera, which had been sitting out on the wing, wasn't damaged and had taken this shot of the wheat field just before I crashed.

(click photo to view full sized image)

We went to the Custer bar & grill, gulped huge quantities of ice water, and had lunch as I went onto the Internet to find a place to rent a truck. Thanks heavens for laptops and broadband cards! I ended up renting a Budget truck with a 24'box in Billings, for $598.40. All done on-line. Then we drove the 50+ miles to Billings (I had mentioned in Wednesday's post that we had the Laurel Airport's courtesy car,) to get the truck.

It's a behemoth!! 12'6" high, 30 feet from bumper to bumper, 8' wide when you include the external mirrors - I have to admit that my heart quailed when I saw it. I've never driven anything so huge. Two steps just to get close enough to the seat to grab ahold of the strap and pull myself up, And my heart sand when I saw that there wasn't a lift gate - and the bed was about 4.5' off the ground! I knew there was no way the three of us could lift the fuselage (with the engine still attached) up that high. So I called Bo again and asked if he'd be willing to come out and help us. He immediately said yes, and I told him we'd be there about 6:00 p.m.

I followed Bob back to Laurel so he could return the courtesy car. I was really tense driving and crept along at about 30 mph. Bob must have been very annoyed, yet he never mentioned it so perhaps I'm projecting what I would have been feeling if I'd been in his shoes. Then Bob got in the cab with us and I drove us back to Levi's wheat field.

I had already decided that I wasn't going to try and get the truck down the narrow and bumpy field road to where we had left the plane. I drove down Levi's gravel driveway to the field road and stopped the truck there. Bo was already there and Anna, Levi's girlfriend, drove up in her pickup to see what was going on. She stayed to help, and between the 5 of us it took only an hour or so to get everything in the truck and tied down.

We all went out to dinner and then Anna said "Let me drive Wayne to Hyshem (20 miles east) 'cause gas is really expensive and you don't need to do the trip in that big truck." I was delighted - for me it wasn't as much the cost of gas as the idea of driving that big truck east 20 miles and then west another 80 miles to get Bob back to Laurel. It was already almost 9:00 p.m. So I gladly said YES!!

It was 10:00 p.m. by the time I dropped Bob off at Laurel, and I just wanted to find a motel and crash. There is a Best Western in Laurel, but much to my dismay, when I went in and asked for a room, the woman just looked at me pityingly and said, "Honey, between the oil spill and the rodeo and the fair, there's not a single room to be had between here and Livingston." I soon found out that Livingston was 100 miles west! I couldn't just go to the Laurel airport and camp, because my sleeping bag and blow-up mattress were being used as padding for the wings.

So - I literally stuck out my chin and told myself "You can do it!" It was another adventure. I'm not a night owl, and I was still uncomfortable driving the truck. It's noisy and uncomfortable. Even with the seat pushed as far forward as possible, it's clear that it was never intended to be driven by a 4'11" person!

To buoy my spirits, I did a little game of cheering out loud every 10 miles, and whooping out loud when I did 25. At the 25 mile mark I congratulated myself for being 1/4 of the way there. Then a third of the way, then half, and before I knew it I was rolling into Livingston @ 12:30 a.m. I was truly exhausted yet greatly, greatly pleased with myself as I pulled into the parking lot of a Super 8 Motel.

SAME STORY!!! Not a room to be had in all of Livingston - which is right next to Gardiner, which is the gateway to Yellowstone. Tourist time and not an empty room anywhere. The front desk manager took one look at my discouraged face and said "Do you think you can make it to Bozeman? That's another 28 miles west of here." Then she called...and called...and called motels in Bozeman. There was ONE motel with ONE room left in the entire town! I didn't even ask the price - I just said "Put me on the phone and let me make a reservation."

I pulled into Bozeman @ 1:24 a.m. and didn't even think of pulling out my laptop and blogging!

As I look outside, the weather seems fine for flying. I'll be touching base with Bob and Wayne as they continue their journey, and I'll continue to blog about how they're doing. As for me, I figure it will take me another two days to get home.

Before I sign off, I want to be sure to mention the ASTOUNDING offers of help that I've gotten. Jon LaVasseur, whom I've mentioned in previous posts, called from Minnesota and offered to come out with his airplane trailer and drive me to Oregon. Charlie Brocksmith, of northeast Montana, whom I've never even met, e-mailed and offered the same thing. And my hangar mate in Oregon, Ron Barnes, also offered to get a trailer and drive out and get me, as did my long-distance flying buddy Randy Simpson. I'm overwhelmed and deeply, deeply appreciative.

As I said, I'll continue blogging for the next few nights until Wayne and Bob are safely home. I get messages from Wayne's spot - and I can tell you that he made Laurel safely.

In tonight's blog I'll also tell you what we think caused my engine failure.

The Silver Lining-I Still Have My Drifter

Flying 14 feedbacks »

Wednesday Aug. 3 (technically, Thursday Aug. 4)

Well, bummer - my flight is over.

We left Bowman, MT @ 4:20 p.m. and had the most gorgeous flight to Wiley Airport, Miles City, MT. All of us were raving about the beautiful scenery and the smooth air. We refueled at Wiley and continued to follow the Yellowstone River toward Laurel, MT - just outside the Billings Mode C veil. I was having the time of my life, thinking about Norm (today's his birthday,) and the beauty of western Montana.

(click any photo to view the full sized image)

I was flying straight and level when my engine coughed, and died. I immediately turned on my back-up electric fuel pump, (even though @ 5000' it shouldn't have been necessary) and pushed the starter button. It started up - but only @ 3000 rpms. Then it coughed again and died a second time. So I didn't bother trying to re-start it - I began looking for a place to land. I had my choice between sugar beets and wheat. The wheat looked better. I radio'd Wayne that my engine had died and I was going to land.

I felt pretty good about the quiet glide down, but then the wheat reached up and grabbed the wheels and so suddenly I never really knew what happened -the Talon had done a somersault, ass over teakettle as the saying goes, and I was hanging upside down from my harness.

I quickly undid the harness and crawled out, waving to let Wayne know I was o.k. . I wasn't hurt at all! Just stunned that I had botched what should have been a nice, easy dead stick landing. I thought I saw gas dripping, and wanted to get out of there in case there was an explosion or fire. A field full of wheat ready to be harvested is a tinderbox!

I walked across several fields to the closest farm house, but no one was home. My emergency whistle came in very handy to scare off the two farm dogs that came racing out. The next farm was over a mile away, and here someone was home. I called the field's owner, and the Fire Chief. I wanted someone knowledgeable to determine the fire danger.

We drove out to look at the plane, and I was glad to see that the dripping had stopped. The Fire Chief said he smelled a little gas, but couldn't find any leak. I asked him to get some help to turn the Talon back on its legs, since that would be safer, but he didn't think it was necessary. I took a few photos and spent the next hour on the phone with Norm, Wayne, and Bob.

I'm not even sure how badly the Talon is damaged - the pod is torn up and one wing strut is slightly bent, but I didn't really assess the extent of the damage. I just grabbed stuff that I didn't want to leave overnight.

Wayne had seen me go down and circled - he said he wasn't sure of how best to get to me. He took a picture, but he was high and you can't see the Talon. The field where I crashed is the one that is almost touching the river, right of the bridge and on the far side.

(click photo to view full sized image)

There was a private airstrip nearby, but when he flew low over it he saw that it hadn't been mowed and was too rough for him to land. So, knowing I was o.k., he turned and flew the 14 miles back to Hysham Airport, then called Bob - who had already landed at Laurel.

Meanwhile, I was trying to juggle talking to the Fire Chief, the field's owner (whom I assured that I'd pay for any wheat loss,) Norm, Wayne and Bob. The Fire Chief drove me to the town's bar and grill (the gas station was closed, and those are apparently the only two commercial establishments in Custer, MT - if I'm wrong, I apologize to the inhabitants.) Bob had told the airport manager at Laurel what had happened, and was given use of the airport courtesy car to come and find me. He met me at the bar and we drove to Hysham to get Wayne...who was also waiting at a bar. That's all that was open.

By now it was past 11:00 p.m. and there aren't any motels in Hysham or Custer. So we drove another 25 miles east to Forsythe, where we are spending the night. Tomorrow we'll drive back to the wheat field, assess the damage, make decisions on what to do, and then get Wayne and Bob on their way so they can finish their flight. I'm just so bummed that I won't be finishing it with them.

Norm was a rock - didn't freak out at all, as soon as I assured him I wasn't injured at all. What a wonderful guy!

The true puzzle is why the engine quit. It was running so smoothly, the EGTs and water temp numbers were right where they were supposed to be. Since it's on its back, we may not be able to determine exactly what happened - but I hope we can.

I'm just SO GLAD I didn't sell my Drifter, so I still have a plane to fly. Because it might be a while before I can afford to put the Talon back together.

I'll write more tomorrow evening about what we find out and what I'll be doing to get the Talon home.

Storming in Bowman, ND-and cloud seeding

Flying 2 feedbacks »

Wednesday morning, Aug. 3

Yesterday I wrote: "Bowman, ND is blissfully dry and cool." I should have known better than to wake up the weather gods with such a statement. When we got out of our tents this morning it was sunny and bright, but we could see dark clouds building. We decided to tarp our planes before we left for breakfast. And we're glad we did! We're now sitting in the Airport office watching the thunder and lightning and downpour.

Last night we met a group of "cloud seeders". A fascinating group of people, they are involved with the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project. The objective of the NDCMP is hail damage mitigation and rainfall enhancement. Involved are meteorologists, pilots, and students in the commercial aviation program at the University of North Dakota who vie for pilot internships in this summer program. We've met 5 or 6 of them here. Learning a little about how they seed clouds has been fascinating; it brought to mind Elmer Gantry and a cloud seeding episode of Sky King.

They use a Cessna 340 and a Piper Seneca 2. The Cessna 340 is a hybrid-plane, which can be used to seed at the base of the clouds or at the top of the clouds. The Seneca is strictly a base seeder.

The meterologists monitor radar, satellite and visual sky conditions looking for towering cumulus growth. Once found, a plane is launched to diagnose what is going on within the storm. If all parameters (smooth dark cloud bases, updraft rate, inflow - pulling of bouyant air into the clouds, and size and level of ice pellets) are met, then seeding begins. This is an example of what they're looking at.

They fly out ahead of the clouds, at the base, looking for shelf clouds, (which extend out in front of the main storm clouds,) They use a chemical cocktail mainly composed of silver iodide, in liquid form, which is burned off during flight. The particles are drawn into the inflow of the storm and result in reduction of the size of the hail pieces.

These pilots are looking for conditions that most pilots avoid - high turbulence right below the storm base and flying through the growing cumulus towers. To be PIC , you must 500 hours of multi-engine time; the students don't have to have a certain number of hours; they must have multi-engine time.

I talked with Tony Tollefson, who was an intern and now is one of the PICs. He said that one of the coolest things about this type of flying is the power of the storms, the strength of the growth and development of the storm. You can pull the power to idle and still be climbing even in one of these heavy twin-engine planes. You can put them in 60° banks just to maintain your altitude. We fly really safely - trying to stay in smooth and controlled air where the storm is growing, not into the core of the storm. You always have a "bailout heading" if you get into hail or if you start getting into cloud obscuration. We fly VFR - not going into the clouds at all. The backside of the storm - coming back to the airport - is where the roughest air is.

This is "summer seeding", done from early June until the end of August. "Winter seeding" occurs in areas that are trying to increase the amount of snowfall; in this case, pilots fly into the clouds themselves. Yet these are not thunderstorms - they are mostly high level clouds with only some convective activity.

This has been a major success story - over the course of the past thirty years, they have seen a reduction in crop hail losses of 45%. If you're fascinated by this, you can read more at http://www.swc.nd.gov/arb - and then navigate to Cloud Modification Project.

Three States Today!

Flying 6 feedbacks »

Tuesday, Aug. 2

At 6:00 a.m. we woke up to another torrential downpour. Happily, we had anticipated it last night (radar pictures are so helpful) and had tarped and otherwise covered our planes. But we obviously weren't going to be going anywhere for a while - not with almost two inches of rain on the tarmac! So we burrowed deeper into our sleeping bags and blessed the air conditioning of the FBO at Montevideo Airport, MN, where we had spent the night.

We weren't able to take off until 12:30 p.m., and there was heavy cloud cover. Wayne and I flew @ 2500' MSL, about 1000' below the clouds. Visibility was excellent; I had bought some Pledge swipes and cleaned my windshield. I had been puzzled for a moment when there were huge streaks of black when I cleaned the inside of the windshield - then I remembered the fire - and realized it was smoke residue.

We flew for about 40 minutes under the clouds - and then we crossed the Minnesota River and we were in South Dakota!

(click any photo to view full sized image)

Soon the clouds began to dissipate, and by the time we reached North Dakota the skies were clear and we had a slight tailwind!

The first leg was a long one - 2 hrs. and 40 minutes. I was glad to touch down, get out of the Talon, and stretch. It was hot and humid - much more pleasant up in the air.

Our next two legs for the day were exceptional. Wayne and I were doing 75-80 mph over the ground, and the skies were crystal clear and deep blue. Visibility seemed to go on forever - over the plains of South and North Dakota you can almost imagine that you're seeing the curvature of the earth.

The flooding in both South and North Dakota was overwhelming to see from the air. Both states look like an extension of Minnesota - "The Land of 10,000 Lakes". It was very sad to see the devastation - miles and miles of swamped fields.

(click photo to view full sized image)

As we flew further west, the flooding in North Dakota disappeared. Now we were over lovely farms, fertile fields, and green hills.

(click any photo to view the full sized image)

Our GPS' continued to show 75-85 mph over the ground, so instead of stopping in Hettinger, ND, Wayne radio'd and asked if I wanted to continue on to Bowman, ND. (No, my radio isn't working any better, so we've developed a pattern of flying within visual contact, which also means within radio contact.) Happily we were able to contact Bob as he prepared to land in Hettinger, to tell him of our change in plans.

Bowman, ND is blissfully dry and cool. The first time we've been out of the heat and humidity in over 10 days! We're camping under our wings at the airport and looking forward to being in Montana tomorrow. We're only 30 miles from the state line!

Being in the air for almost seven hours today gave me a lot of musing time. I thought of all the people at Oshkosh who came by and said wistfully, "I'd love to do what you're doing, but..."

It got me thinking about yearnings and dreams deferred.

Someone once said "We regret the things we don't do...not the things we do." And Sue Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees wrote, "“Never underestimate the power of a dismissed dream. There must be a place inside us where dreams go and wait their turn.”

I believe that we all have unfulfilled dreams and yearnings, which we assume we can't make happen. And the more we think about the obstacles, the larger they loom. In an earlier blog post I wrote about taking on a wall of clouds, and seeing how they weren't as inpenetratable as I thought. A wise friend of mine, Ed Warnock, advises taking "baby steps" to achieve our dreams. I think of his advice often.

When pilots would tell me "I can't get anyone at my airfield to go on cross country flights with me" I'd tell then about taking baby steps. You don't start out with 2500 mile flights. You build up to it, perhaps in 50 mile increments, perhaps in 25 mile increments...whatever pushes you slightly out of your comfort zone.

When a friend talked longingly about someday running a marathon, her first baby step was to buy her running shoes. She put them in a prominent place in her home, and seeing them gave her the incentive to start a walking program which she eventually built up to a jogging program and eventually to a running program. She hasn't yet run her first marathon, but I know she will.

I think that determination and persistence - and baby steps - allow us to do much more than we think is possible. So I'd like to have you ask yourself -

• When was the last time – in any part of your life – that you dared to push past your fears and apprehensions, to do what challenges, stimulates, and excites you? How long has it been?
• When was the last time – in any part of your life – that you took a giant leap forward, into a compelling unknown? How long has it been?
• When was the last time – in any part of your life – that you acted on an irresistible, maybe even irrational sense of hope and expectation? How long has it been?

If you can't remember when, or if it's been too long, then you owe it to yourself to take that first baby step!

Maybe This Time...

Flying 4 feedbacks »

Monday, Aug. 1

The drama of Wayne's missing carbuerator diffuser/atomiser continued today. My former neighbor, Bob Dougherty, (in whose home we spent the night,) and Wayne were on the phone and internet, trying to track down the part. Jon LaVasseur, good friend and fellow pilot (in Minnesota) was also making calls on Wayne's behalf. Wayne finally tracked down a BMW dealer in Lake Crystal, MN (a 90 minute drive from Bob D's.) Bob D. immediately cleared his work schedule and offered to take us there. On the way, we drove through a torrential downpour that lasted for miles. The lightning and driving rain made us worry about our planes, but there was nothing that could be done as we were already halfway to Lake Crystal.

Yeah! The part was the right one, we headed for the airport, and wiped down our sodden planes, none of which was as water tight as we had thought. At 6:00 p.m. we were wheels off in a stiff wind - a marvelous tailwind! I saw 113 mph over the ground at first, which then subsided to 110 mph and then down to 101 mph. It was pretty bumpy at 2400' MSL - but worst was the haze. There was 3-4 miles of good visibility, but further out the heat haze was thick, making everything indistinct. Heading into the sun as we were, my Anywhere Map was unreadable except for the line showing the way to our next destination...Montevideo, MN. Wayne and I made the 126 mile flight in less than 90 minutes, and Bob made it in 75!

The humidity and heat are overwhelming, and we are delighted that the FBO here in Montevideo is unlocked and air conditioned. Being in tents tonight would be intolerable. Unfortunately, there is a speaker in the FBO which broadcasts - loudly - whenever any plane calls in on the frequency. Wayne is trying to disconnect the wires for the night.

The barometer reading is really low - presaging another storm tomorrow. Maybe not. We'll wait until tomorrow to worry about it.

Here are some pictures from yesterday's flight. My GoPro fisheye camera is working again.

(click on any photo to view the full sized image)

What was it like at Oshkosh itself?

Flying 2 feedbacks »

Sunday, July 31

I only blogged once from Oshkosh itself. Between running around looking for parts to fix the fried wiring, then running around to look for a new brake cylinder (I lost my brakes early in the flight and REALLY didn't want to fly home without any. When I landed at Oshkosh, a friendly volunteer got off her scooter to show me where to enter the ultralight parking area - I couldn't stop in time and wiped out both of her mirrors,) and the heat, heat, heat - I just didn't have the energy to blog. So now I'll tell you about the show itself.

First, it was HOT and HUMID. And the place is HUGE. When Randy, Gayle and I went into the city of Oshkosh to do laundry, it took us almost 15 minutes of driving to leave the airport grounds! Planes, people, tents and RVs everywhere.

I have NEVER met such friendly, friendly people. In spite of the sticky heat, everyone I saw was cheerful. There were long lines waiting for the trams to get from one area to another. I frequently took 3 different trams to get where I wanted to go - and standing in the hot sun waiting to board wasn't fun. Yet no one griped, people squeezed together so others could get on board, and folks started up spontaneous conversations.

(click on photo to view full sized image)

What was truly amazing to me was that every person I met who was working the show - in the restaurants, in the vendor booths, driving the trams and the busses, cleaning the showers - EVERYONE was cheerful and friendly. In spite of the heat and the humidity.

Some folks were lucky and had their own airshow-sponsored transportation. I fell in love with the cute bugs that seemed to be everywhere. They were painted various bright colors and were assigned to folks who had come long before the show to help set up.

(click on photo to view full sized image)

(One woman told me that she and her husband had come in early June to help get everything ready in the ultralight area, and didn't expect to leave until mid-August, helping break things down.

People come to see the planes, and there were thousands of planes. Hundreds of RVs (the planes, not the camping vehicles,) hundreds of Cessnas, hundreds of everything, it seemed. Here's a shot of some Cessna 195s - there were about 80-100 of them lined up next to each other, in 5 rows.

(click on photo to view full sized image)

As you know, we got in on Monday morning and my cockpit fire happened that afternoon. I spent Tuesday looking for parts - and the Emergency Repair Service Center volunteer, Ron White was going to help me put it all together on Wednesday morning. Didn't happen.

It started to POUR on Wednesday morning about 5:30 a.m. I love being in my tent when it's raining; it's such a cozy feeling. Soon I was feeling more than cozy. My tent is no longer rainproof. I got up to a huge puddle in the middle of the tent - everything was soaked. It rained most of Wednesday. When Randy, Gayle and I went that afternoon to do our laundry we stopped at Target for tarps.

Yet even with the rain, people put on all sorts of rain gear (including garbage bags,) and continued looking at the planes, the vendor booths, and everything else. People stood under the planes' wings to talk and share experiences. I can honestly say that the rain didn't dampen anyone's spirits.

It rained some on Thursday, but not much. I spent most of Thursday and Friday like everyone else - walking, gawking, and talking.

Saturday afternoon was horrible - a "straight line wind" (Wisconsin/Minnesota language) whipped up suddenly. I don't know how fast the winds were going - best guess is about 60-70 mph. (North of Oshkosh the winds were clocked @ 100 mph.) In the ultralight area it was a disaster. Five planes were almost totally destroyed. People grabbed for whatever plane they were standing by, holding them down - even though virtually all were already tied down. I saw a Casperwing go cartwheeling, and two Quicksilver MXs were sadly broken.

(click on photo to view full sized image)

(click on photo to view full sized image)

Tents were blown down and anything left out went flying across the area. I don't know what the damage was in the general aviation area - probably not as bad, since they are much heavier planes.

What else can I say about Oshkosh itself? The daily airshows were spectacular and there were several concerts. The last night (Saturday) there were TWO airshows - the usual afternoon one and then a night one, where the planes looked like meteors streaming fireworks. Absolutely incredibly beautiful.

Sunday morning while Wayne was shopping, Bob and I did some final flight planning.

(click on photo to view full sized image)

Now we're in Faribault, MN staying with friends and looking forward to continuing our flying adventure.

In The Air Again!

Flying 2 feedbacks »

Sunday July 31

We were wheels off from Oshkosh @ 11:00 a.m. this morning. Why the late start? Wayne didn't really want to fly home fighting density altitude problems again and Mark Bierle of Earthstar (Thundergull) and Jerry from Green Sky Adventures both suggested he put in smaller jets, which will lean out the mixture and cause the engine to run more efficiently. So Wayne did some shopping this morning and then we took off.

On the way, his engine was running rough at high idle, and when we got to Faribault Airport (south of Minneapolis) he did some troubleshooting and discovered that in the process of checking his jets at Oshkosh he had inadvertently dropped the needle jet diffuser. So we're staying overnight with some friends of mine and hoping that tomorrow he can find a replacement part. Supposedly there's a Rotax Service Center near here and we hope they'll have what he needs.

We made two, two-hour legs today. We had a steady headwind of about 6-10 mph and averaged 60-65 mph over the ground. (At least that's what Wayne and I did - Bob as usual zipped along much more quickly. We're flying across gorgeous Wisconsin and Minnesota again. Hazy in the distance, but perfectly clear for 20-25 miles out. My plane is so perfectly trimmed out that when I was trying to remove one sectional from the rubber bands around my leg (to get to the underlying sectional) and both sectionals suddenly sprung free - I grabbed for them, totally taking both hands off throttle and stick. Caught them - and suddenly realized that the plane was just flying along straight and level with absolutely no rudder or stick inputs. Yeah!

It's hot, hot, hot.

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