The good news about storms passing through is waiting them out. Our first night in Nebraska, my boss tells me it’ll be a late start in the morning and to me that means sleeping in. Excellent! I set my alarm for 7am. Compared to the time I woke up to leave Watsonville, it was a significant improvement. I go to bed exhausted, and wake up to country music playing on the radio and the sun shining. I know the coffee left in hotel rooms isn’t the best, but I get excited about it every time I travel. The novelty of miniature shampoos and soaps has worn off, but I can’t help but be giddy about the complimentary coffee. I think it’s the fact that I can have something warm and comforting to hold onto before I go out and face the world, even when I’m far away from home. But when did hotels get rid of their mugs? There’s nothing like a cup of coffee in a plastic cup. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
Well anyways, after my morning coffee and solitude, I go downstairs to meet everyone for breakfast. All three of my travelling companions are glued to either a laptop or phone….Dave and Tim checking weather and Darwin simply not wanting to waste a single second away from his new phone that he has to give up at the end of the trip. I fill up a plate of food and realize too late that there’s biscuits and gravy, my favorite. As I’m eating what I wish were biscuits and gravy, Dave sums up the weather and mentions I should review the NOTAM for Oshkosh, since we’ll be getting there in the afternoon. Naively, I’m expecting the usual abbreviated sentence, perhaps a paragraph. Instead, he hands me a binder. Really? The NOTAM fills up a binder? Luckily, I only had to review the arrival procedures for now, so that meant only reading ten pages or so on all the different scenarios of what runway to land on, what to do when they have to close the runways, where to hold, so on and so forth. And you’re supposed to do all that without talking on the radio. Reading through it, I was amazed people flew in at all. To be honest, a lot of it was diagrams and maps, but still, it’s a little intimidating for someone who has never done it before, and maybe even for someone who has. After breakfast, we head out to the airport. Somewhere up ahead along our route, the storm is still blowing over, so we relax at the pilot lounge. Still reading that NOTAM, I grab a wingback chair and ottoman and make myself comfortable. Shortly after I finish, it’s time to forge ahead. The pilot that helped us the day before was there again to see us off, and to point out the fires burning from lightening strikes.
We could see the smoke before we took off, but flying by, the smoke was a thick cloud, like we were flying over a fog bank. For a moment, it was like being back home. After that, there wasn’t much else going on for the next hour and a half. In fact, I was a little worried I’d get bored. It was the first time I’ve ever seen flat land as far as the eye could see, even several thousand feet up, although the visibility wasn’t exactly unlimited with all the haze. The most exciting event of this leg was crossing the Missouri River, with Lewis and Clark Lake off to our left. We cross-referenced our position over VFR charts to identify landmarks along the way, as a way to entertain ourselves. The farmland was more scattered this leg. The land below looked more rugged and brown. Over time, though, the farms became more clustered and the land turned a lush green. They weren’t the circular fields that I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing after crossing into Nevada. They were the familiar square fields like the ones around Watsonville and San Joaquin Valley. Eventually, we caught up to the remaining remnants of that storm we were trying to wait out, but were able to skirt around most of the rain. After that, the view cleared up significantly. We even passed over old fashioned grain silos. Hundreds were scattered all over the place.
Towards the end of the leg, we crossed into Minnesota and landed at the Austin Airport, home of the Hormel Foods hangar. A classic Midwestern boy, garbed in baseball attire, fueled up our plane and I went inside the FBO where I met Austin’s greeting committee… a friendly yellow lab named Tex. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of Tex, one of the few times where I didn’t think to snap a photo. Actually, I didn’t know where we were until I looked on the map hanging in the FBO. I was reminded of the joke about the pilot who lands at an airport and tries to get the fuel attendant to tell him where he is without admitting he’s lost. Thank God for maps! We grab the courtesy car yet again and head to a local diner and grill. I order a Rueben sandwich, something which Darwin points out I have a habit of doing, seeing how they are my favorite. We linger at the diner, trying to get a feel for the traffic heading into Oshkosh by listening to the updates on the ATIS. Dave decides to fly directly to Oshkosh, rather than to a nearby airport, since the traffic didn’t sound too congested.
Back at the airport, Tim tells me I should fly right seat since I studied the NOTAM more closely than he did. I have to admit, I was hoping to fly in back since I have never gone into Oshkosh before and I just wanted to hang back and watch. Oh well! We tookoff for a much shorter leg, but also for a more hectic one. Over the green fields once again, I notice another shift in convention. Rather than square or circular fields, they follow the natural contour of the terrain. The fields here are more reminiscent of clover leaves or lace. It’s like each field is a separate piece of artwork and they’re sewn together into some kind of huge crazy quilt.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about farms, but let’s face it, that’s all there is over there. Or is it? Up ahead is something so monumental, such a figure in history, and yet I totally forgot about it…. the Mississippi River. I’ve always imagined the Mississipi as a vast gushing river with “river boat queens” as CCR calls them, rolling along up and down the river. Where we crossed, it was definitely vast but was also scattered with islands in the middle of it so that it looked as if it were contaminated with pond scum. I think next time I’ll “hitch a ride on a river boat queen”, if I want to appreciate the river better. Get down in the trenches, so to speak.
With Oshkosh fast approaching, Dave, Tim, and I rehearse what we need to do and when to do it by: turn lights on and put transponder on standby 30 miles out, get ATIS and tune in the approach frequency prior to 15 miles from Ripon, be established at 90 knots at 1800 feet before Ripon, follow the railroad tracks to Fisk, listen for ATC instructions after Picket, do what they say, if we get this runway do this, if we get that runway do that, don’t mess up… Nah, there was no pressure at all. During the initial stages of this dry run, naturally I forget just about everything I’ve read. When Dave first asked what to do with the lights, my response was something like” uuugh”, and fumbled through the binder once again, having never left the clutches of my hands. The good news is, we get everything together and do just fine getting in, despite the fact that when we got within range of Approach, we found out no planes were landing due to some mishap on the ground. The planes that were already on the published arrival had to end up holding around one of two lakes that was alongside the approach path. Since we weren’t quite there yet, we ended up circling on our own, rather than joining the holding pattern.
Eventually, though, we continued toward Ripon and fortunately traffic started moving again, so by the time we came up to one of the holding lakes, we were able to merge in easily. What we didn’t realize, is that we were closely followed by several other planes trying to merge in as well. First we were passed up by a biplane. Of all planes to pass up an RV, an antique biplane is the last plane I would’ve thought to do it. Dave’s RV did not like flying at 90 knots either. We were passed again by a V-tail bonanza on the left, passed again by a Mooney on the right, and passed again by another biplane from above. All close enough to read their tail numbers practically. But we all fell in line single file, following the tracks on our way to Fisk where we would be told where to go from there. It turns out, as it is first and foremost an experimental aviation event, there are a lot of RVs on their way to Oshkosh ahead of us, and a couple of times we weren’t sure if ATC was talking to us, or another RV. After a plethora of planes ahead of us were cleared to various runways, they finally called us up and uttered the most heraldic phrase of AirVenture… “Rock your wings.” I mentioned before ATC does not want pilots talking on the radio since, as it says on the first page of the NOTAM, it’s the busiest air space in the world. There’s no time for chit chat. So when I heard that phrase, it was like the trumpets calling, confirming that, no I haven’t been dreaming, I did fly across country and I’ve made it to general aviation’s greatest event and community. Oshkosh was here and it was just starting at that moment. It was such a thrill, I had to get the “Rock your Wings” T-shirt later on. And believe me, I don’t need any more T-shirts.
We were told to head for Runway 36L and to switch to tower. We did a 90 degree turn to our right and followed a road parallel the runway. Tower cleared us to land on the yellow dot on 36L. It’s so busy here, that ATC has planes landing on the same runway simultaneously. The runway has four dots along its length and the yellow one was second from the approach end. Good thing Dave was up on his short field landings. The NOTAM told us to exit as soon as possible, even if it meant taxiing onto the grass. Before we reach a lineman, I put a sign on the windshield to let them know we’re going to experimental parking. Honestly, this part is a blur. Wittman Regional Airport is huge, and we are passed off by a myriad of linemen. It is the most packed airport I’ve ever seen, and it only gets fuller as the week goes on. Somehow we end up parked in a field and join the ranks of the other homebuilt and kit aircraft.
It’s hard to believe that it only took nine and a half hours (Hobbs time, that is) to get here. If it weren’t for the fact that we couldn’t top off the fuel tanks, Dave said we could’ve gotten here in a day with only two legs instead of four. I’ve really got to get an RV for myself! Out on the ground, I can feel the heat and humidity. It’s Saturday, July 21st, late in the afternoon. People started flying in the day before, but there’s still plenty of space in the surrounding fields. We get the plane tied down and covered and flag down a courtesy truck. Fortunately, we got a ride right away, whereas other people weren’t so lucky. It reminded me of people flagging down the fuel truck in Watsonville during the airshow… everyone wants fuel at the same time. We get dropped off where we thought our rental car would be waiting for us. It turns out Hertz gave our car to someone else. The nerve! Oh well. The FBO had free cookies so I was satisfied. Eventually, we solve our mishap by taking someone else’s rental car and we go on our merry way to where we will be staying the first couple of nights: the University of Wisconsin. Those dorm rooms brought back memories, whether they’re good or bad I’m still undecided, of my freshman year in college. We freshen up and meet back up again ready for dinner. Where is the best place to be in town, aside from the airport? The local brewery of course! We decide to walk the mile or so to the pub in order to compensate for the fact that we’ve been sitting down for the last two days straight. As soon as we get there, Tim runs into an old friend. I guess that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve heard aviation is a small world, and I suppose you’re bound to run into an acquaintance at Oshkosh. After the last two days, we sit down to a good meal, and even better, a good beer. Sure, I was still nervous as all hell about my presentations, but those were fears for another day. Today, I just arrived to the greatest aviation community and just concluded the greatest adventure I’ve had to date. Cheers to that!
The engine started at 6 o’clock in the morning of my boss’s RV-10 on July 20, 2012. Passengers included myself, my two bosses Dave and Tim, and Dave’s 12-year-old son Darwin. Departing point is Watsonville, California. The destination is Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with a few stops along the way, of course. With the four of us and no more than 25 pounds of luggage each, we crammed into the plane, rather comfortably. I thought to myself you couldn’t do this in a Cessna 172, the plane I’ve been flying for the last five years.
I was surprised to see that the typical morning fog had decided not to grace us with its presence, and had instead left a clear and bright summer morning. I was in the back seat for the first leg, which I was thankful for, thinking I would get a nap in before my time came to fly right seat. Getting up before eight in the morning really isn’t my thing. However, as I found out that morning, and throughout the rest of the trip, I couldn’t stop staring out the window. With my camera practically a permanent attachment to my hand throughout the trip, I snapped quite a few pictures. More than I could practically share in this article, topping out at 605 photos. I have to say I documented my first true cross-country flight fairly well.
You might be wondering at this point why we were going to Oshkosh. Obviously a business trip can’t be purely for fun. The company I work for, Aircrafters, is a builder-assist company for people building experimentals. I was asked earlier this year if I would like to go to Oshkosh AirVenture to present a composite workshop. My boss asked me to think about it and let him know by the following week. I remember thinking, “Oh, is this something I should think about.”, as if there was a reason why I should not go to the world’s best airshow, all expenses paid, have a flying adventure, and all I had to do was volunteer my time and present a composites workshop. I already knew my answer as soon as I heard the words “…do you want to go to Oshkosh…” Well, naturally, I agreed to go and take advantage of a rare opportunity to not only attend the legendary AirVenture, but be a part of it.
As the months went by with July rapidly approaching, I realized it wasn’t just one presentation I had to do, but at least two, and they weren’t just 30 minutes long, they were an hour and 15 minutes. And it wasn’t just on how to make a composite block, but it included a brief history and just about everything an A&P student would have to learn on the subject. So naturally, I was getting a little nervous, because honestly, talking really isn’t my thing either. So by the time July 20th came around (anniversary of Apollo 11, by the way), I was a mixture of excitement for the adventure and anxiety for the presentations and the inevitable questions that would be sure to follow. Good thing I skipped the coffee that morning.
We took off with the sunrise, and I’ve never seen the valley more beautiful. It was as if the ocean had spread into the valley, with the fog rolled in, with waves lapping against the hills and the sun reflecting off their surface. It was a whole different landscape. Our route programmed into the GPS, we made our way over to Lake Tahoe and then to Elko, Nevada. However, before we could make it into Elko, nature called, and we made a pit stop at Battle Mountain instead. Just descending, I could feel the heat creep up. We got out and stretched our legs and filled the plane up with fuel. I snapped off a few more pictures, including one of the airport cat. One of the things I’ve noticed at the various FBO’s throughout the trip, is quite a few have pets. I think we should definitely get one for Watsonville. Another thing I thought was funny, not being used to it, even though I ran the fuel truck part-time at Watsonville for ten years, was the linemen. They just stand out there, not even facing you sometimes with their hands up. Well, apparently, that’s where we were supposed to park. Good thing Dave was at the controls, otherwise I would have just waved as I went by in search of a tie down.
Taking off from Battle Mountain, I got to fly right seat. Dave let me fly for a little bit, but then after a while we just turned on the auto pilot. Dave said, “Now all we have to do is remember to switch fuel tanks.” The autopilot is a nice thing to have. I’m sure flying without one would have been a lot more exhausting, but satisfying as well. I remember when we finally got to Oshkosh, we were supposed to have a rental car waiting for us at one of the FBOs, but it wasn’t there. Another pilot duo out of Van Nuys also was left stranded without a car. They flew up in a Cessna 195. I didn’t ask, but I imagine an auto pilot wasn’t part of their avionics platform. They must have had a whole different experience flying by hand.
Eventually we wandered over to Utah and passed over the Great Salt Lake dessert and the lake itself. The dessert was the brightest landscape I’ve ever seen. It was a blinding white and stretched on for miles. I sure was glad I was in an airplane far above it than down on the sand. I don’t think all the sunblock in the world would have prevented instant incineration. Then passing over the lake was interesting as well. It was divided into two sections, split by a railroad in the middle. One side of the lake was pink with algae, and the other a crystal blue. I always thought Lake Tahoe was good sized, but Salt Lake is huge.
Pretty soon afterwards, we started flying over some colorful terrain that I’ve only seen in pictures and movies. It was like going back in time to my grade school social studies class when we learned about the Oregon Trail. Not that I’m a well-traveled explorer, but there have been only a few times where I’ve gone on a trip and have actually seen distinctive features from one place to the next. Underneath the green, instead of the mountain being a dull brown, they were striped red, white, and orange. That’s when I told myself, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” so to speak. The further we got into Wyoming, the more the red faded into brown, but the striations were still unmistakable. Our second stop was in Sweetwater, Wyoming. We took the airport’s courtesy car out to the town to grab some lunch. If the mountains didn’t give it away that we were in the Midwest, the cowboy hats sure did.
With our bellies full and the wings filled up once again, we we’re off to Nebraska. Finally, storms came into view. We knew they were coming and figured that we would fly between them. Frankly, at this point, between the food coma and the two hours of sleep the night before, I slept through most of it, being in the back seat again. But I woke up here and there and took some more pictures, including one of a microburst off of our left wingtip. Definitely a new experience.
After we made it through unscathed, our final destination for the day of Valentine, Nebraska was close by. We tuned in the ASOS and Judy Garland’s voice runs through my head once more when the temperature calls out 40°C. How can there be nearby thunderstorms and the temperature is that hot? Apparently, as I was slowly discovering, it’s seems to be the norm for most of the country. We rolled up to the fuel station and climbed out of the plane. One of the local pilots was there to greet us, help us fuel up and showed us where the courtesy car was. One of the first things I noticed, aside from the weather, was how they bundled up the hay surrounding the runways. I’ve only seen rectangular hay bales before, but here the hay is rolled up into bundles. Maybe not the most riveting fact about the Midwest, but I thought it was interesting.
Now, I know I wasn’t PIC, and I was only copilot once out of three legs, and even then it was more sightseeing than copiloting, but after a long day of flying, I was ready for dinner and a full night’s sleep. We drove to the hotel we saw on approach to the airport and checked in. Thankfully I got my own room. I did feel a little guilty with the three guys crammed into one room, but I got over it. Time to myself was much appreciated. We went to the Valentine Lounge for dinner, which is apparently the place to be in town. The food was pretty good, and any place that makes their own blue cheese dressing gets my seal of approval. Back at the hotel, I looked over my pictures I took that day, listened to my favorite music, and just sat thinking how amazing it was that only this morning I was in California. Up to that point in time, the longest flight I’ve been on in a general aviation airplane was down to Camarillo. Today, I went all the way to Nebraska.
*Note to readers:
I started writing this account at noon, thinking I would write about the whole trip in one afternoon.. The day is half over now, and I’m only one day into my trip. Hopefully, you’ve found it interesting so far and would like to read more, but I’m thinking it would be best to stop for now, and write some more next week. Stay tuned.
Members of the Santa Cruz Flying Club flew the Bay Tour Saturday, January 28. 2012. The flight of two (a Cessna 150L and Cessna 172N) departed Watsonville, California (KWVI) and landed at a very busy Livermore Airport (KLVK).
The route took us clockwise from Watsonville, over Highway 17 and the Lexington Reservoir, up the peninsula, just west of SFO and AT&T Park, then East of the financial district at about 2,500 feet. The airspace around KSFO was very busy as evidenced by ATC chatter. I often had up to 7 targets on my TIS display (Garmin 430W) at a time.
Over the bay, we passed near Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Angel Island. After flying over San Pablo Bay, we headed east to the Carquinez Straights and the mothball fleet, then southeast over Concord and down the valley toward Dublin.
The controller at Livermore was up to his armpits in weekend warriors, as evidenced by his comments to some of the inbound aircraft. At one point, the controller told one of the pilots who was having difficulty orienting himself, to leave the airspace because he couldn’t follow instructions (I removed that conversation from the footage so not to embarrass the pilot who’s N number and call sign were clearly audible).
Landing was a bit left of the centerline but there was pretty stiff crosswind blowing from left to right and I didn’t want drift into the soft stuff.
Three GoPro Hero cameras were used to capture the footage; one attached to the port wing just aft of the pitot tube, one below the horizontal stab on the starboard side and one handheld in the cockpit. The cockpit camera was a new GoPro Hero 2 that allowed me to capture ATC chatter by plugging it on to the 1/4 jack in the plane that is connected to the audio panel. The external cameras were attached using suction cup mounts. Video was edited using Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5 (first time for this program) and time compressed from 2.2 hours to just over 20 minutes.
We had a great time on this trip! We ended up having two aircraft and six people attend. One plane departed IFR from Salinas and the other departed VFR from Watsonville. We both arrived at Mariposa/Yosemite Airport (KMPI) in time for lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch we loaded back up in the planes and flew over Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley for the incredible views. After taking all of the photographs we could, we headed back home.
Wow, what a trip! Dan Jadick, Bruce Bundy and I spent a wonderful day in the Sierra foothills. We could not have chosen a better day for a smooth ride to Columbia State Park in California’s gold country. We launched into a typical central coast summer overcast layer IFR to VFR on top then direct to O22 and arrived at our destination in about an hour. Columbia is a very popular place during the summer as we were #4 for landing after doing a 360 for spacing
We stepped out into the warm 82 degree sunshine and the distinct smell of pine trees and moist summer soil in the air. We spent about 3 hours exploring the town, rich in gold fever history, had lunch in the local saloon, complete with Sarsaparilla, and an ice cream before heading for home. Overall, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.