Several Stearmans flew into Galesburg from Chino to attend the fly in. There was Jack Davis with Chuck Pozanac in the front seat of his blue bird, Mike Walsh in his white bird, Mac McCauley in his red bird, and me in the yellow one.
They had flown as a group. I went independently as I had chosen a little different route. After the show I left Galesburg on Monday the 10th for Tulsa. On Tuesday 9/11/01, I left on my Tulsa to Hobart, OK. It was still dark as I taxied out and I remember the beautiful blue/purple exhaust leaving the stack and drifting back along the fuselage. This turned to an angry orange/yellow on take off.
I landed at Hobart, OK for fuel a little before 0900. Hobart is a huge abandoned WWII Training air base overgrown by weeds. A very small part is presently used as a private air strip. As I taxied in, apparently an infrequent event, the caretaker and his wife met me. They said “Welcome to Hobart. Have you heard the news? You’re not going anywhere. The FAA has grounded all aircraft.”
They brought me into the office (shed) and let me watch the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on a twelve inch TV. They gave me the use of a beat up relic of an airport car and directed me to the towns only small motel. To my knowledge the town had one Café where I took my meals – very good. Hobart had only one traffic light which the locals tended to disregard irrespective of indicated color. I spent three days there. Each morning I would call Flight Service hoping for clearance. The morning of the fourth day, Flight Service said the restriction had been lifted and that I could take off for Lubbock, TX. They said by the time I got there it would be open. I was out of there.
I was no more than a half hour out of Hobart when over my headset came “All aircraft return to your airfields. Flight restriction have been imposed”. Since I had seen enough of Hobart the airfield I was returning to was going to be Lubbock. Twenty five miles out of Lubbock I called them and gave my position report and asked for landing instructions. Their response: “Stearman 7122 Tango the airport is closed you cannot land here”. My answer: “ Lubbock tower this is 7122 Tango I have just left Hobart where the FAA gave me clearance to Lubbock ”. Their answer: “ 7122 Tango if you remain on this heading for two more minutes we will send an F16 fighter to intercept you. Divert to Plainview ”. Well that got my attention. I knew they weren’t bluffing because Lubbock is a shared military/civilian Airport and they had an Air Force F16 Wing there.
I began to orbit my position and radioed back. “Lubbock tower this is 7122 Tango I am flying a Stearman cross country from Galesburg to California. I have no idea where Plainview is and I cannot unfold a chart in this open cockpit. At this point I am extremely nervous. Let me talk to your supervisor”. They could tell by my quivering voice that I was distraught. Their answer “Stearman 7122 Tango take up a heading 250 degrees to Lubbock and land on runway 26. Upon landing immediately call this number”.
You know it is hard enough landing this damn Stearman when you’re not shaking. Upon landing, I called that number and spoke to their supervisor. Actually she was very understanding and explained that all flights were cancelled and that I was grounded until further notice. The reason they were so hyper about Stearmans was that they were considered a vehicle to disperse Anthrax. Around Lubbock they not only grounded dusters, they chained their propellers and removed their batteries. On the second afternoon, sitting in my hotel room, I got a call from the Fixed Base Operator where my plane was tied down. They said that three of my friends had just arrived. I rushed out there to find that three Stearmans from Chino had just flown in from Plainview. Jack, Mac and Mike had chosen Plainview as a fuel stop rather than Hobart and they had been grounded in Plainview while I was down in Hobart. The FAA had just allowed certain IFR Flights and Mac’s Stearman was equipped for IFR flight. They had flown in as a group from Plainview to Lubbock. This was a happy reunion. Shortly after they arrived a business jet landed in route to Riverside, CA. Since they were empty the pilots offered to take us to Riverside, I hurried back to checkout of the hotel while the guys stored Jack’s and my plane in the hangar. Mike and Mac decided that they would fly on to Chino IFR. They were cleared to 10,000 feet. Mac in his 450 got there with dispatch while Mike thought he would never get there. In my ten years of Stearman ownership, I had never arrived as such a lofty perch. I understand they had one cold and miserable flight. Shortly after they departed we left in our Citation for our luxury flight to Riverside some ten miles from Chino.
Two weeks later Jack Davis and I flew back commercially to retrieve our Stearmans. Someone had told Jack about a short cut into Tucson. A 7,000 ft pass in the mountains East of Tucson. By the time I reached the pass I was not too much over 7300 ft. This was the pinnacle of my Stearman flying. At the time, I dearly wished I had achieved as higher number.
It was so nice to land in Chino, shut down, and let 7122 Tango and me rest after this long venture. Did you notice the call sign Two To Tango, many towers did.