The Chino Stearman group consisting of Mike Walsh, Mac McCauley and Jack Davis had made three flights to Galesburg from Chino, but it had been five years since the last one. We had long since gotten past the last “Never Again” syndrome that sets in just after the flight home. This time Chuck Pozanac came along a second pilot in “44”.
The flight takes three and a half days going the southern route through Tucson, El Paso and around Guadalupe Pass.
To make sure that we were able to get out of Chino, we went to Palm Springs on Friday afternoon and parked our planes at the Palm Springs Air Museum courtesy of Gene Ramirez.
Upon leaving Chino we got permission to transit through Riverside Airport airspace. While approaching the airport we heard a conversation between the controller and a female pilot on the ground. He had cleared her in prior communication to take a position on the active runway.
ATC: NXXX are you moving?
ATC: WHY NOT?
NXXX: I don’t know!
ATC: Are you blocked?
ATC: ARE YOU BLOCKED!!
NXXX: SIR, I’m not familiar with that term!!
ATC: IS ANYONE IN YOUR WAY?
NXXX: I don’t think so!
While the tower almost went IFR what with the steam coming out of it, my copilot suggested that we expedite leaving this airspace before she got off the ground.
We left Palm Springs early on Saturday and stayed the first night at Deming, NM. We were treated very well with the Stearmans safely in a hangar.
I have a persistent virus that causes me to lose Tachometers. On the three prior trips I lost six or seven mechanical clock action tachs. I used to carry two or three spares, along with having my wife overnight more. So since the last trip I had converted over to more reliable electric tachs. The first day out the electric tach in the rear cockpit went south. Chuck Pozanac’s tach in the front cockpit continued to work, so I knew it was the tach and not the generator.
I called my wife and had her get a spare tach to Tony Farhat to bring to Galesburg. She mentioned that she surely thought that I would have taken a spare. (Nice!)
The second night was one of our favorite stops at Lubbock Aero in Lubbock, TX. What fine people. We didn’t realize that we would see a lot more of them later.
We have never found a good place to put down overnight near Kansas City. There, we have been treated the worst, including this trip, at Executive Beech, Olathe, KS. You would think we would learn a lesson. Even though they knew we were coming for over six weeks, upon arrival we were told that they didn’t have room. Fuel was $3.10 a gallon, and they wouldn’t budge from $50 per Stearman per night for hangar cover after they decided they did have some room. That particular “never again” will last a long time. If anyone knows of a good stopover in that vicinity, with hangars, we would be glad to hear about it. A bright spot was the discovery of “Jack Stack” Restaurant. They have barbeque to die for. And so much that we had snacks clear to Galesburg.
On into Galesburg arriving about noon for a great week of “All Stearman”. The plan was to leave Sunday morning early for the return to Chino. When I told the weather briefer that we were planning a flight leaving at 7:00 AM to Keokuk and Excelsior Springs, he asked “who on earth would plan a trip like that in an open cockpit through the front that is coming at us” Certainly not me, so Sunday we went to a movie in Galesburg and loaded up on popcorn.
Monday looked a lot better and we were off to Wichita. Yingling is another great FBO, that always gets us under cover. The only downside is that they no longer have the popcorn machine going that we always looked forward to.
At dawn Tuesday we took off for Woodward, OK. On landing at Woodward for fuel we learned of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and found out that we couldn’t take off again. They had a large hangar with lots of room and a tug with the right kind of tow bar for a Stearman. We called the Northwest Inn for rooms and they sent a van out to get us. The Van driver, Mary, insisted that she stop by a Subway so that we could get some lunch to take to the hotel.
Dinner at the hotel. I ordered a glass of Merlot and Mike and Mac both ordered a glass of Cabernet. The waitress responded, “That’s wine isn’t it?” When the order came I had a glass of red, and glasses of white were set in front of Mac and Mike. They sputtered something about wanting Cabernet and these looked a lot like Chardonnay. The man who brought the glasses said summarily, “that is as close as we can get to Cabernet.” Mike said “this will be fine!”
After dinner we asked the woman at the desk where the town movie was. It seemed way to far for us to walk, but she tossed some keys at us and said “take my truck”. (That doesn’t happen a lot in LA without a gun being involved.) We were in Woodward long enough to learn to pronounce it like the locals. It’s ‘Wuderd” Lots of great people there, and our unscheduled stay was announced on the local radio station.
Tuesday we watched the weather channel, listened to the Flight Service and AOPA messages, and went to another movie. Most of the messages said that it looked like VFR would be opened up at 10:00 AM on Wed. Wednesday morning at 09:30 we called FSS and confirmed the 10:00 opening and got a weather briefing to Carlsbad, NM.
At 10:02 we took off. The next fuel stop was Plainview, TX, about two hours away. Arriving at Plainview the astonished FBO people at Miller Flying Service wanted to know what we were doing up, and told us that the release for VFR was cancelled about 9:55 AM.
More very nice, friendly, helpful people. They juggled around some planes in their big hangar and got us in. Miller Flight Service is the Mecca for Bellanca Airplanes, and there were a half dozen beautiful examples in the same hangar.
We stayed in Plainview watching great flying weather drift by. Miller Flying service gave us a car to drive and we made several trips to buy out Walmart. We had seen all the movies showing in Plainview, or didn’t want to.
On Monday Mike and I moved my plane to Lubbock with an IFR flight plan, and Lubbock Aero again put it in a hangar. Chuck Pozanac, George Widly (who was flying separately, but also was put down in Lubbock) and I got reservations and Tickets on Southwest Airlines to fly to Ontario at 6:15 that evening. By chance, a Citation flew in and the pilot asked some questions about the Stearmans. It turned out they were headed for Riverside, CA 15 miles from Chino, had empty seats and invited us to ride along. The first positive thing that had happened in several days.
When we arrived in Riverside two hours later, I had an emergency message from my wife that I had Marlin Miller’s hangar keys still in my pocket. And they had been so nice!! I raced to a Fed Express office, and he had his keys by 09:00 the next morning. (How do they do that?)
Mac and Mike, with instrument ratings, filed IFR flight plans the next morning and headed for home from Lubbock. The flight went smoothly except for the tribulations and teeth chattering in maintaining a Minimum Enroute Altitude of 10,000 ft in a stock Stearman.
While at home, the weather forecasts were not promising for northern and western Texas, but we decided to return as soon as VFR was released and wait out the weather there.
When VFR was opened up, George Widly and I caught a Southwest plane to Lubbock on Friday, got there by noon and took off for Carlsbad, NM about 1:30. In spite of the weather channel showing bad forecasts in that whole area, the weather on takeoff was severe clear, horizon to horizon. The most accurate weather information we had came from the AOPA weather site. We enjoyed 5 to 10 knot tailwinds going west?? We stayed the night in Carlsbad and were again put up in a hangar.
From Carlsbad, around Guadalupe Pass, over El Paso and into Deming for fuel. We took the shortcut from Cochise, AZ to Cascabel and across the north edge of the Tucson airspace. Good tailwinds all the way.
George Widly landed in Avra Valley to meet his son, and I went on to Casa Grande, where Terry Emig put the Stearman in his hangar for the night.
The girl that is retracing Amelia Earhart’s trip also had her biplane in the same hangar. She left the next morning just before I did.
Next morning with great weather, tailwinds, and a fuel stop at Blythe, “44” and I were home and in the Hangar at Chino by noon.
That was two weeks from the time we first tried to leave Galesburg on Sunday the 9th.
Never again!! (Well maybe!)