It is a beautiful day in Denver October the 9th , 2001. I am waiting here for my Son, Mark (a businessman and private pilot), who is flying in from California, to join me on a ferry flight from Jefferson Co. Airport, Colorado to Lantana, W. Palm Beach, Florida. We will be flying a 1944 custom modified Blue and Yellow, 450 P&W Stearman. It has wheel pants, turtle back headrest and a beautiful full engine cowl.
As I wait for him I am reminiscing over the last 3 years that I have flown Larry Winnermans’ 450 Stearman from Florida to Aspen Colorado. The last trip being all the way across Texas to El Paso & up the back side to Aspen. Quite an adventure, with ground speeds up to 140 mph and altitudes to 13,000’. What a beautiful flight.
Well. Mark has arrived and we’re off to Jef. Co to get started. We arrive at 12:30, local time, blue sky and 74 f. and get right on the packing and pre-flight. Mark goes for the fuel truck and I start the walk around. Wouldn’t you know it, the tail wheel is flat! Well, Executive Air Maintenance, jumped right on it for us but just couldn’t get a new tube in until the next am so we wrapped it up about 4:30 and went to the hotel , dinner and a fun visit.
Bright and early on 10th, I looked out the window to see low clouds, a temp of 33f. and a chill factor of 22 f.! Great! Nothing like a brisk start. By the time we got to the airport, checked weather, canceled the flight and then re-planned it. It was 11:30.
Let me regress here a bit. I checked the weather and there was a fast moving front coming in from the NW with snow and wind and a very messy frontal system moving in from the gulf over Texas, Oklahoma and points N.E. I called Larry and said it might be better to call it off and I would come back when the weather was better. Then I checked the weather again and saw that we could get out ahead of the front coming in but may have to follow the one in Tex. So if he was willing to put up with the extra hotel time, we would press on. He agreed and we took off at noon of the 10th. First stop was Lamar, Col. for a quick refuel and on our way. If you are ever up that way, the folks are really nice. We then took off for Pratt, KS. and about an hour out we passed abeam Garden City, where last year I spent a long day and night with the winds out of the south at 25 G 38mph and temp in the low 30’s. We arrived at Pratt Kansas with about 1 hr. of daylight left so we put her in the hangar and went into town for the best steak we’ve had lately.
By the way, Pratt is famous for it’s “Hot & Cold” water towers and the service at the airport was friendly and helpful. Mr. Hewitt loaned us a courtesy car for the night.
Oct 11th, the weather was ok in Pratt but it looked like we could just get to Bartlesville, OK before we ran into the next line of weather. We arrived at Bartlesville in the late am and it was barely VFR. We were right on the edge of the low ceilings and drizzle. So, we fuel her up and David loaned us a car to get some lunch and to pick up some parts for that pesky tail wheel that was still giving us a bit of a problem. Bartlesville is the home of the great Bi-plane fly-in and quite a nice place too as we found out because after lunch and talking with FSS we put the Stearman in the hangar and found us a nice hotel, movie and dinner.
I wanted us to work our way south and east and if we were to have to weather it out I was trying for Hot Springs, AR. where I stopped last year for a great HOT bath in the springs. But, no such luck, we couldn’t go that way because of the really low ceilings, wind, rain and tornados. Sort of lousy open cockpit flying weather!
Oct. 12th was a bit damp with low ceilings, light wind & drizzle. We filled up the courtesy car, had a great breakfast and checked the weather and found out that we could go east if not to the south. So, at 11:30 am, we left for Fayetteville, Ark. and then, with low ceilings, over the hills to Little Rock, Ark. The weather seemed to be improving so we quickly fueled and departed for Greenwood, Ms. where I hoped to catch, Vernon Ricks, a fine aviator and friend of mine, to say hi! The ceilings were beginning to drop on our way to the great Mississippi River as was the sun. You could really see that there had been a monsoon ahead of us by the look of the land below us. Not a dry spot in sight where we could land if we had a problem. Oh well, the navy guys don’t seem to have a problem with that and that good ole 985 Pratt & Whitney hadn’t missed a beat! We arrived at Greenwood with about 2 hrs of daylight left (I thought) Mark fueled and I went off to call Vernon and get a weather briefing. Well, I didn’t get in touch with Vernon and the weather was really going to get bad, soon and for quite awhile. It looked like we were going to get stuck for a couple of days as we had caught up with one front
really bad one (actually two) was on the way from the so.west. So, with a few rain showers between us and Meridian, Ms., we took off and before you knew it, it was dark with 10 miles visibility below a very dark overcast sky. I hadn’t flown this Stearman at night before but it has all the necessary lights except (wouldn’t you know it) the light in the compass was out! Luckily I had my Garmin 195 and not only could I find the airport but read the compass on it too! My Son commented at this time how pretty the bright blue flame was, coming out of the stack. We were cleared for a straight-in to Rwy 19 but I requested an overhead to the left down wind followed by an uneventful night landing at Meridian. With progressive taxi instructions we found the Meridian Aviation hangar where they were waiting for us and put her away for awhile.
We got a ride to the Holiday Inn in their van and spent that night, the next day & night there before we were able to be on our way. It rained so hard that we had to put the bath towels up against the threshold to keep the water out of the room. There were several tornados reported during that time and we were glad to be safe on the ground with the Stearman in a strong hangar. During the storm the second night we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant as it had a very nice write-up on the lobby wall about how great it was. Well, the menu was very small and the waitress quite large so we didn’t complain, but take my advice and get a cab or walk in the rain before you eat there.
Oct. 14th. It was 10:00 am and we were on our way once again. The front had just passed Montgomery, AL. & the weather was VFR. After fueling at MGM we continued on to Tallahassee, FL. I normally stop at Cross City for lunch or Breakfast and fuel so I didn’t check the notams before we took off. When we got on the ground there she said she could fix lunch but there was no fuel. Darn and Double darn because we could go for something to eat but since we only have 46 gal and a thirsty 985 we never really had fuel to spare. So, no lunch, and off to Ocala. We were 20 miles N.W. of Ocala and we were looking at a wall of water! A quick punch on the 195 to NRST airport and we landed at Williston, FL. Real nice folks there and inexpensive fuel.
I checked the weather and FSS said there were many showers between us and Spruce Creek (home) but they said we should be able to pick our way thru. As we approached Daytona Beach the weather was really lousy. Approach was having their hands full and didn’t want to talk to us so we just dropped down to 1200’ to stay out of their class C and picked our way VFR into home at Spruce Creek. As we were taxing in I called a friend of mine, David Joyner, on the cell phone and asked if he knew of a vacant hangar. He said, bring it over as his new neighbor, Ray Adams, had just moved in and his plane wasn’t here yet. We parked the Stearman in Rays’ hangar, had a nice cool beer and then Mark and I walked home.
Mark still had a day left before he had to return home so the next day I gave him a choice of flying the SNJ-6, the 225 Lyc. Stearman or the T-34. He opted to take the T-34 out for some landings and lunch. He did a great job, considering we hadn’t flown in sooo long! Ha!
Mark left the next day to go back home to his Family and Business in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and I finished the delivery to Larry at Lantana, FL.
It was really a great trip, especially being able to share this one with my Son. He was great company and a lot of help. He got a pretty good understanding of the Garmin 195 and said he enjoyed the cross country experience. This trip will be a pretty unique entry into his log book..
There are so many people in this world that will never have the chance to enjoy the chills and thrills of a open cockpit Bi-plane because they are not a part of our Great United States. My Son and I are saddened by the loss of our fellow pilots, crews, and citizens on September 11. We thank our country for our freedom and our freedom of flight in General Aviation and we will do our utmost to maintain this way of life.
(P.S. 365 gallons and 21.5 Hrs.)