Since buying my 1967 Cessna 150 airplane (which I named "Peggy Sue") a few months after I got my pilot's license in 2008 I've kept track of the states where I've made landings with it. A couple of trips east across the Mississippi, a flying tour of the Southwest, and numerous other trips put quite a few on the map. But a wonderful flying trip to Maine my wife Beth and I made in August and September 2016 added a lot more. When I updated my map after the trip, here's what it looked like:
States Landed In After the Maine Trip
Only seven of the "lower 48" were missing! That provided a convenient excuse to make another cross-country flight. But people kept asking about our "destination". Kitty Hawk, NC, the site of the famous Wright Brothers flight, seemed worthy, so this became the Kitty Hawk Trip. Like our Maine trip, this would be a flying version of a road trip. Peggy Sue cruises at only about 100 MPH, so with frequent stops we don't cover ground a whole lot faster than we would in a car.
There were several friends and relatives along the proposed route whom we intended to visit, and Beth had never been to the Deep South so that would be a new experience for her. We found ourselves pretty constantly on the go, however, so didn't get a chance to sightsee on the ground as much as we would have liked. (When we want to do that, we'll fly commercially to the area and rent a car.) But in exchange, we got to see a tremendous amount of interesting country in a way you can only see from a few thousand feet.
The trip took 22 days and covered more than 7,000 miles. We landed 41 times in 19 states, and I logged 75.9 hours of flying time.
We're not big planners, and in fact the most enjoyable trips and vacations we've had have been the least planned. Our last trip to the U.K. was for 2-1/2 weeks where I was to give a talk at a convention on the day after we arrived. We had reservations for a place to stay the evening we arrived and the following night, and no other reservations, schedules, or firm plans. That's pretty typical of our travels, and we always have a great time. Some people really enjoy the planning process and meeting the challenge of keeping to a schedule; that's fine, but it isn't us.
So our cross country flights also tend to have a minimal amount of planning. Any schedule for a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) cross country trip in a small plane is bound to be blown anyway (or the planners killed in trying to keep it). We did roughly plan the general route, though, to cover territory we hadn't seen before from a small plane -- south through California to nearly the Mexican border, then east along the Gulf coast to Florida. We planned to visit Roy's cousins Thora Qaddumi and Mayo Martin and Thora's family in Houston, and Beth's cousin Marilyn Weller in Punta Gorda, Florida, so they would be on any route we ended up taking. From there we wanted to fly north to North Carolina to stop at Kitty Hawk and visit long time friend of Beth's Pat Borton and our son-in-law Tom's mother Dot Dudley. We didn't have any plan for the route we'd take home from there.
Getting through the Rockies does take some planning since there are only a few practical routes for a 150. (The Cessna 150 will only get to about 12,000 feet altitude under ideal conditions, and that takes a very long time when it can be reached at all.) I've followed I-90 across Montana a couple of times, I-80 across Wyoming several times, diagonally across Nevada to Utah twice, and across Arizona and northern New Mexico. This time we took a route a little farther south.
One other segment that required planning was the region east of New Orleans, just north of Gulfport/Biloxi MS and Pensacola to Eglin AFB FL. This is described later as we reach that part of the trip.
The only places we firmly planned to land were near Houston, Punta Gorda FL, Elizabeth City NC, and Tuck VA to see friends and relatives, Kitty Hawk because we just had to, and New Orleans to do a tourist thing. Ironically, we had to divert from two of those due to weather. We also decided that we'd like to stop for a day and see Austin, TX but couldn't get there due to weather.
Here's the actual route we took:
We landed roughly every two hours at locations marked by the flags.
We've made numerous trips to northern California but all have been north of San Francisco. So we got a new and great view of most of the rest of the state that few people do -- from a couple of thousand feet up. It was by far the most vast and diverse agricultural region we could imagine. Our own Willamette Valley is tiny by comparison, and although the Midwest is impressive in size, it's nowhere near as diverse. A lot of the fields were brown this time of year, and we're not farm kids so don't recognize most crops from the air. But talking with the people we met on the ground, we knew we flew over fields of nut, fruit, berry, and citrus orchards; vineyards; rice paddies; and just about every kind of vegetable you can imagine. And it went on for two solid days of flying! Here's just one shot of what we saw from horizon to horizon for those two days:
Our first overnight stop in California was at Chico, near Sacramento. Like nearly all our overnight stops, it was chosen nearly randomly, based on the practical considerations of where we happened to be in the early evening, the probability of being able to find transportation into town, etc. So we get surprised a lot. In this case it was a pleasant surprise -- Chico is a college town, home of California State University - Chico, and very nice. Our Lyft driver happily spent some time driving us around showing off the town for a very nominal charge.
I sure like my ADS-B system! (It's recently installed equipment that shows the positions and altitudes of most nearby aircraft on my iPad, and broadcasts my position to similarly equipped aircraft and Air Traffic Control.) I'll comment on it a few more times, but one of the places I've appreciated it most was in California. I flew between the Beale AFB and Sacramento air spaces (areas requiring contact with and control by Air Traffic Control to transit), and it was jam packed with airplanes! Among them were several C5s (huge military transport aircraft) flying very low for a landing at Sacramento, assorted other military aircraft, and bunches of other planes. I was able to determine that the best altitude to get through there was as close to the deck as I legally could go, so I went through at 1000 ft. AGL (Above Ground Level). If I'm ever down that way again I'll fly around the outside of one of the airspaces and not between them. It was the heaviest traffic I encountered anywhere on the trip.
Our second overnight stop was in Blythe in far southern California. Its setting was a major contrast from Chico, being in the desert. But we came across a couple of interesting things there, too. One was a phenomenon called a "sun pillar" which we'd never seen before:
In preparing for the trip, it seemed like one roadblock after another was thrown in front of me. If I were a believer in "signs" or fate, I almost certainly would have taken the hint and canceled. But I'm determined and have no such beliefs, so I proceeded. If you're into those kinds of things, though, you surely would would have seen some sort of positive mystical meaning in this spire of sunlight. Alas, in my mundane and physics-dictated world it's known to be caused by diffraction of the sunlight by that low thin layer of clouds. Sure was pretty, regardless.
Another unexpected and interesting thing we discovered there were the Blythe Intaglios. These are carvings on horizontal rocks made long ago for unknown reasons. The largest is 171 feet high, and they can't be fully seen or appreciated except from the air. And we just happened to have that ability. . .
There are about six altogether. Our photos taken through the side windows don't do them full justice, but they were really impressive to see.
Beginning in California before we reached Blythe, we encountered the most desolate and forbidding country we've seen. I've been across Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah a number of times by car and plane, and in my opinion this beats them hands down -- except maybe the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
This picture was taken about 200 miles east of Los Angeles, in the Joshua Tree National Park near Twentynine Palms:
In that general area we also saw the first of many huge photovoltaic solar panel arrays, this one being roughly triangular and about 2.7 x 2.7 x 4 miles in size.
You can see it in Google Earth just southeast of Twentynine Palms. Near the solar panel is a large mine I've since found out is an abandoned iron mine.
It's unfortunately impossible to get much of a sense of the huge scale of it or other mines from the pictures. You'll need to fly over them yourselves!
A couple of places nearby I saw a curious pattern near canals, looking like roads but going nowhere:
After some thought I decided that the V shaped "roads" were ditches to divert (probably muddy) runoff water to the structures over the canal to keep it out of the canal. They were really huge.
The desolation continued across the next two and part of a third state (Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). But here and there, in impossibly remote and inaccessible places, was a house or some kind of dwelling. And also, signs of agriculture in seemingly improbable areas. Talk about getting away from it all!
Weather was fine and we had a considerable tailwind most of the way, sometimes exceeding 30 knots (nautical miles per hour, approximately 1.15 statute miles per hour). That's sure welcome in an airplane with a cruise speed of less than 90! We spent a night at Las Cruces, NM where the folks at Francis Aviation treated us exceptionally well, before starting across Texas.
While New Mexico was treated as "fly over country" on this trip, I want to point out that it's a wonderful place to visit and tour. We've spent a lot of time in Santa Fe and Taos, I worked for a while in Albuquerque (and in fact was born there), and Beth and I had a terrific vacation some years ago touring southern New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is a truly remarkable place, and the history of southern New Mexico (largely featuring bandits, cattle barons, and gangsters) is fascinating. We just didn't have the time to do much of a tourist thing anywhere along this trip. Arizona is really nice, too!
Other than low clouds and light rain as we were leaving home, weather was essentially clear -- until we got to New Mexico. Just west of Deming we saw this:
Although it looked more like heavy haze, low clouds appeared to be mixed in. Sure enough, by the time we caught up with it the next day near Van Horn, TX it looked like this:
We did have a 30 kt tailwind, though.
Here's what we saw east of Van Horn. This picture was taken just south of the little town of Iraan:
Each of the dots is a concrete pad, nearly all of which have a one-lung rocking oil pump mounted, but we saw a few derricks on others where drilling was apparently still in process. Looking at our path on Google Earth reveals that this was just one of a large number of fields in this general area, some much larger -- there are thousands and thousands of these pumps. Now I know where my avgas comes from!
We had spent the previous night in Las Cruces, NM and were intending to stop at Austin for a half or full day just to see what it's like, then proceed to Houston to visit my cousin. After refueling at Van Horn, we proceeded east and refueled at Junction, TX. The ceiling was one of those with no well defined bottom -- as I climbed, the visibility just kept dropping. The Junction ASOS (automated airport radio broadcast of weather conditions) said clear and 10 mile visibility, but there was a high overcast. Five miles west on our way in, though, the overcast was solid and visibility was about 5 miles at around 2000 feet AGL.
Junction, TX is well named -- from the air or on a map it looks like the center of a starburst, with several major roads intersecting from various directions. It's a small town but has lots of motels and restaurants because of its strategic highway location. We got there at something like 4:00 p.m. and intended to fly another leg before stopping for the night. But the very nice guy at the one-room FBO (Fixed Base Operator -- a facility at most airports that provides fuel, shelter, rest rooms, sometimes a courtesy car, and other services to general aviation pilots) made us an offer we couldn't refuse -- he'd drive us into town and back the next morning. That was Bill, age 92, who generously and happily does this for every pilot passing through. The next morning we were eating breakfast at the hotel when Bill walked in. He had explained he was hard of hearing, and said he'd heard the phone ring but didn't answer it in time. He thought it might be us calling, so came into town to check. When we explained that it hadn't been us and we weren't quite ready yet, he cheerfully said he'd return when we were. And he did. Meeting people like that are some of the very best parts of these trips -- and being part of the flying community.
Pinned to a cork board in the Junction FBO were these pictures of local rattlesnakes:
Didn't see any ourselves, though. One of those dudes on the runway would have wrecked Peggy Sue.
When we landed in Junction the temperature was 92 degrees and quite humid. The next morning it was 42 and the ceiling was around 1500 feet. It was stable stratus, visibility was good under the layer, and the terrain was flat except for some low hills. So we proceeded. The cloud height varied some so we zigged and zagged a bit, following the areas where it was higher. But we eventually reached a point where the ceiling ahead was lowering and the terrain rising. . .
so I turned back and landed at an airport of convenience, Mason County.
It was deserted but I topped the tanks with 5 gal. of fuel and waited for the ceiling to lift as the day progressed. It eventually did lift some, so I tried again but had to call it quits when the ceiling again got too low and it was late enough in the day that improvement was unlikely. We ended up in Giddings, TX, about 100 miles short of Houston. We had to abandon the plan to see Austin since the lowest ceiling was in that direction. I called my cousin Thora who generously drove to Giddings to pick us up, bringing my cousin Mayo to visit on the ride back. We were entertained like royalty and had a wonderful couple of days in Houston which included a trip to Galveston and several hours at the most incredible farmers' market I've ever seen -- all Mexican. No pictures we took of the market can do it justice so I won't include any. It took up about a square block, all under cover, and was simply amazing.
We especially enjoyed getting better acquainted with Thora's children and grandchildren, and appreciated that Mayo who had driven all the way from Dallas to join the party. The low ceiling lingered for the two days of the visit, then cleared so we could proceed.
We stopped to refuel at DeQuincy, LA where crop dusters were refueling but there was a deserted FBO building and no bathroom or even a porta-potty. So we stopped at the next airport, Jennings, for a bathroom break. We were headed for New Orleans so I looked for an airport that wasn't too far out of town. Lakefront Airport (KNEW) on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain fit the bill, although I was a little apprehensive about the five-star type FBOs. (These tend to cater to the corporate jet types and can occasionally be a bit stuffy -- but by no means always.) There was nothing to be concerned about, though -- we got the usual courteous treatment from ATC (Air Traffic Control -- this is a controlled airport so we had to contact and follow ATC instructions to get in and out) and supurb, very friendly service from the Flightline First FBO, and it was just a few minutes by Lyft to the French Quarter. The approach to the airport was strikingly scenic, too:
We flew right by downtown New Orleans and landed.
We allotted two days to hit just a couple of the high points of New Orleans -- the French Quarter and the National WWII Museum, both within walking distance of our hotel. We discovered that some sort of carnival -- kind of a not-so-Gras Mardi -- was scheduled for the second day, so (not being carnival types) we chose to do the French Quarter on the first day and the museum on the second.
I've been in all 50 states and lived in nine. (Basic training in a tenth doesn't count since I never got off the base.) And having been in too many cities to count, I find a lot of truth in this observation (of controversial provenance and attributed to various authors):
There are only three cities in the United States: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans(*). All the rest are Cleveland.
(*) Some variations have Washington in place of New Orleans. I'll give that a pass and allow that there could be four cities. But whether three or four, New Orleans is definitely one of them.
New Orleans is truly one of the very few truly unique cities, and the French Quarter is its showcase. We had a delightful time, ate some terrific food, and enjoyed a variety of music from street musicians. I hadn't had a praline since my last visit there more than 50 years ago (a visit that's kind of blurry in my memory, not entirely because of how long ago it was) but I found them to be as delicious as I remembered. We took a couple of hours to go through a voodoo museum -- not the heavily advertised one but rather a small one established and run by actual practitioners -- and found it informative and very interesting to learn about the history and current state of this practice.
Don't go there, though, if you're easily offended!
The next day was spent entirely in the WWII Museum. Don't miss that one if you have any interest in the history of that war!
From New Orleans we headed east toward Florida. Two airports in Mississippi were along the way so I chose Picayune because I liked the name, then we landed briefly at the Monroe County AL airport. That bagged the second and third of the seven states I was missing. There's a lot to see and do in that area but we didn't take the time on this trip.
Each evening I do some rough planning of the next day's flights. I don't usually plan the stops unless we have a reason to stop at some particular place, but I do sketch out the general route. This keeps me from finding myself in a place where I have to make a big detour around a mountainous or prohibited flight area or some other obstruction, or backtrack. Looking to the east of New Orleans, I saw that a lot of planning was going to be necessary. This is a portion of the New Orleans sectional chart spanning from about Mobile AL to Panama City FL:
My hat's off to people who regularly fly in that area -- I found it nearly overwhelming. The place is packed with Restricted Areas, MOAs (Military Operations Areas), Alert Areas (“Areas depicted on aeronautical charts to inform nonparticipating pilots of areas that may contain a high volume of pilot training or an unusual type of aerial activity.”), and Special Military Activity Areas, overlapping sometimes three or four deep, at various altitudes. What a rat's nest! I frequently encounter and deal with these various areas, but never in anywhere near this concentration. While I can legally fly in all these except Restricted, risk increases and much greater care is required so I sure prefer not to.
So I spent a couple of hours the night before, plotting a route through without having to detour too far north while keeping out of all the special areas. It included several altitude changes to stay above or below some area. I did end up having to fly in an Alert Area for a while because of a low ceiling that prevented me from getting above it as planned. I didn't visually see any aircraft in the Alert Area, and my ADS-B showed only what was apparently helicopters flying at very low altitudes, so it wasn't a problem. I'd wanted to show Beth the beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise water I remembered from the time I spent along this coast, but flying within sight of the coast just wasn't possible. We'll have to fly here commercially some time and rent a car.
We made it to Perry-Foley Airport, FL that evening, relieved to be past the regulatory mess along the coast. The next day we proceeded to Punta Gorda to visit Beth's cousin Marilyn. Sun 'n Fun was going on, and I got a kick out of seeing on my ADS-B the miles long line of airplanes on the path to land there as we passed Lakeland. I regret not having the presence of mind to get a photo of the screen. I stayed west of the most of the traffic so didn't have any trouble because of it.
Punta Gorda is a very pleasant retirement community. Marilyn and her sons Dana and Robert were delightful hosts and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay and visit there. A cold front had been chasing us from New Orleans and it caught up while we were there. We were treated to downpours, gales, and some lightning and thunder, all from inside Marilyn's cozy house. It was short lived, though, and over by the time we were ready to leave.
We were impressed by just how much of that part of the country is swamp. This picture was taken just north of Punta Gorda:
and this is looking at the Okefenokee Swamp near the Florida-Georgia border:
We saw that swamps come in a variety of types with different appearances. Some looked like forests, but glimpses of sunlight reflecting off the water below the tree canopy as we flew along revealed them for what they were. Another surprise was that a very large area of land was devoted to tree farming. Here in the Pacific Northwest we consider ourselves to be at the center of the logging industry, but I wouldn't be surprised if more lumber comes from the Southeast than the Northwest. We saw swamps and tree farms -- and very little else -- all the way from Florida to North Carolina.
We'd had nice tailwinds nearly the whole way to Florida, but once we turned north, both the wind's and our directions changed. We had a headwind most of the way, and considerable turbulence. At one point I tried climbing some to search for a little smoother air. It was a little smoother, all right, at 4500 feet -- but the headwind was 40 knots. (That reduces my ground speed to about 54 MPH.) So I dropped back down to 2500 feet and had a 5 knot tailwind! For that, we could cinch up the belts and take it. But that sure explained the low level wind shear AIRMETs (meteorological notices to airmen) I'd been seeing.
We made it to Orangeburg, SC for the night, then proceeded north to Elizabeth City, NC where we stopped to visit our son-in-law Tom's mother (our grandchildren's other grandmother) Dot Dudley. The immediately previous North Carolina landing (Clinton-Sampson Co. to refuel) completed the last seven state landings of the 48.
States Where I've Now Landed My Airplane
We had a great time visiting Dot at Elizabeth City. It turned out that she does the sets for a local theater group. They were having a dress rehearsal of a coming play (The Fox on the Fairway), and we got to watch, meeting and chatting with the actors during the breaks. It was a very enjoyable surprise.
The next day we flew east to Kitty Hawk, our titular "destination". Kitty Hawk is on the Outer Banks, a group of offshore islands -- basically sand bars -- just a short flight from Elizabeth City. We landed at the First Flight Airport (KFFA) at the foot of Kill Devil Hill where the Wright Brothers launched gliders and did other testing, and a short distance from the site of their famous flight.
The monument at the top of Kill Devil Hill is huge. From the side its shape suggests an airplane vertical stabilizer but this picture is from the front:
Something new since we last visited many years ago is a life-size bronze sculpture of the first flight, with plaques telling about each of the people present. It's at the place where the first flight actually took place, just to the right of the hill as seen in the first picture.
A museum is a short distance away but was closed when we were there. There's a small pilot lounge but no FBO or other services. A North Carolina Department of Aviation employee was in the lounge doing some paperwork and we chatted a bit. He applied the "official" stamp to my working flight log
and to Beth's journal.
Here's an overview photo of the area taken as we were leaving, looking northwest back toward the mainland:
The circular road is around Kill Devil Hill, the airport is on the far side, the sculpture is in the grassy area on the near side, and the museum is farther from the hill on the side opposite the sculpture.
After leaving Kitty Hawk, we flew south along the Outer Banks for a while. They're very scenic.
The Bortons whom we planned on visiting in northern NC wouldn't be home for another day. We'd initially planned on flying on south to Okracoke on the Outer Banks, but it was getting along in the afternoon and we wanted to spend the night closer to their place. So we eventually turned around and went back north, then west to the mainland. The nice NC Department of Aviation fellow at the KFFA pilot lounge had recommended Edenton (NC) for a place to stay. We were in the vicinity when it was time to stop for the evening, so we landed there where we got a courtesy car. Edenton turned out to be a really interesting and historic place, founded in the early 1700s and extensively restored. This is the B&B where we stayed. I apologize for degrading the picture by being in it.
At breakfast we met a couple from Rhode Island who were both pilots and had been flying around the country in their amphibious Lake airplane. They shared the same philosophy about flying and travel that we did, and we really enjoyed meeting and visiting with them.
Here's where it gets interesting. The next morning we planned to fly to Tuck Airport, VA, as it was closest to Beth's friend Pat's home in northern NC. The distance from Edenton to Tuck is 118 nm (136 statute miles), which would normally take about 1 hour and 20 minutes with no wind. Conditions were turbulent as they had been for several days, and we had a headwind. When we approached Tuck, the ASOS was reporting wind of 18 gusting to 29 (knots, which is 21 MPH with gusts to 33 MPH), variable from 270 to 330 degrees magnetic heading. A couple of minutes later the wind report was 22 gusting to 29 kt at 300 degrees. The runway was 01, so the wind was nominally 70 degrees to the side but highly variable in both speed and direction. (A runway is numbered according to its orientation, the number being the direction in tens of degrees of magnetic course you will fly when taking off or landing on it. So I would be flying at a magnetic course of 10 degrees when landing on runway 01, and the wind was coming from nominally 300 degrees, or 70 degrees to the left of straight ahead. A single physical runway is considered to be two "runways" with each end having its own number. The other "runway" at this airport -- the other end of the same physical runway -- is 19, 180 degrees from 01. If I had chosen it for landing, the wind would have been coming from the rear as well as the side. A headwind reduces your speed relative to the ground, reducing the amount of runway needed for either takeoff or landing, so is highly desirable. Even a small tailwind component can dramatically increase the amount of runway required.)
Now, I've landed my plane over 2500 times without bending any metal. I can't remember the last time I did a go-around (an aborted landing where you apply full power and climb back out instead of landing) except for practice. I'm not claiming in any way that there's anything good about not doing go-arounds. It's a vital procedure to know and should always be done whenever there's a doubt about the ability to land safely. But it's just been a long time since I've encountered conditions where I wasn't confident I could land. For example, Here's a landing I made a few years ago and was perfectly comfortable doing it -- the runway is just 1800 x 20 feet. I've landed many times with very squirrely winds along the Oregon coast, and made several landings with a 23 kt direct but steady crosswind. (The Cessna 150 has a "demonstrated" crosswind capability of 15 kt.) I've found that very often, the wind is less just above the ground, so even though the approach might be gnarly, the plane can be safely set down at the last moment.
But I definitely was not sure about this one. I mentally prepared myself for a go-around, and noted that the trees weren't very high and were some distance to the sides of the runway so if I got blown to the side (which it turns out I was), I wouldn't hit anything as long as I had a little altitude.
This shows the initial crab I had to establish on final to fly in the direction of the runway:
It's highly undesirable to land a plane like mine in a crab, that is, with the airplane pointed at an angle relative to its direction of movement. The side load on the fixed landing gear can collapse it. Even if the gear doesn't collapse, it would difficult to maintain control and keep the plane on the runway after touchdown. Although these are seldom harmful to the occupants, it generally results in major or total damage to the aircraft. My preferred method of crosswind landing is to begin the final final in a crab as shown in the photo, then transition into a wing-low slip (where the airplane is yawed with the rudder so it's pointing straight, then also rolled in the opposite direction with the ailerons to make it fly straight ahead. When properly done, the plane is tilted with the upwind wing being lower than the other) during final so it's straight and stable before I cross the threshold. (Other people have other favored methods.) I was barely able to straighten it out by pushing the rudder pedal to the floor, but did manage to get it straight. At least for a little while. The next photos show some of the positions the plane assumed in spite of my best efforts to keep it over the runway. (These are all from a GoPro camera mounted on the inside of the windscreen. You better believe I wasn't fooling around with a camera while this was going on! Neither was Beth. . .)
Here's where I got blown completely off to the side. This happened twice.
I just couldn't do it -- I couldn't adequately control the airplane. So I initiated a go-around. But after a few seconds of thought while I was climbing out, I realized that I had been so far away from having been able to land that it was pointless and unnecessarily risky to actually go around and try again.
So I looked for other airports with more favorably oriented runways. All the nearby ones had single runways oriented nearly the same as Tuck, some even at fully 90 degrees to the wind. Apparently the prevailing wind in the area is at about a right angle from what it was that day. After some searching of my chart, I came across Danville Regional Airport (VA), 25 nm away, with a secondary runway 31, "asphalt, in poor condition". I had no trouble at all landing there, and "poor" asphalt was way better than the other alternative if I couldn't have found a suitable runway -- a dirt road. (That would have been completely safe and almost certainly uneventful -- but greatly inconvenient.)
I normally would have burned about 8 gallons of fuel getting from Edenton to Tuck -- I ended up using 14.2 by the time I landed. The fuel truck at Edenton was having a problem and delivered fuel very, very slowly but I waited for my plane to be topped up before leaving for the predicted 8 gallon flight. Once again, I'm glad I did! I had 8.7 gallons remaining when I landed at Danville, so I could have gone considerably farther afield if necessary to find a suitable airport. (The plane uses about 6 gallons per hour.) I always, always, carry extra fuel. It gives me so many more options when things go south or just don't work out as planned.
That's the only time -- so far -- that I've been unable to land my plane. I'm sure there will be more, but the first is always special.
We called Pat, explaining that the plane was at Danville until the wind went down. It turned out that Danville was nearly as close to their house as Tuck, so she and her husband Dennis gladly came and got us. We had a very nice visit, and the wind was calm when we left two days later.
That was the last visit we had planned. We'd landed in the seven remaining states and visited Kitty Hawk. We were nearing the end of our three week anticipated trip duration, so it was time to head home. Of the possible routes back, we'd flown over most of them before so there wasn't much incentive to go back by any route except the most direct one. Among the few routes through the Rockies, I-80 across Wyoming was closest to the great circle route. So I basically drew a line approximating the great circle route from where we were in Virginia to Wyoming. Only another 2000 nm (2300 statute miles) to go!
We actually had a moderate tail wind most of the way back! I know this defies Murphy's Law and other rules, since we'd had a strong tail wind on the way east. But who was I to argue?
The only stop on the way back we intentionally chose (except those close to home) was Kearney, NE. We'd been pinned down there for a few days by weather on our Maine trip and had stumbled across a coffee shop with a surprising connection to our home city of Portland. (The Chapman Swifts Coffee Shop, named for a popular annual event where a huge number of migrating swifts stop for a few days to roost in a large unused chimney at Portland's Chapman Elementary School. Each evening, a huge "cyclone" of swifts forms and descends into the chimney. The owners of the shop are from Portland.) This picture was taken in Kearney on our Maine trip.
Kearney was on our way so we stopped there, got a courtesy car, drove into town, and got coffee and a scone. The owners weren't there this time but we left our greetings.
The entire trip back was uneventful except for one event. We'd stayed overnight at Scottsbluff NE and got off a little late in the morning, intending to make a fuel and rest stop at Rock Springs WY. A cold front was approaching from the west and we could see some squalls starting to form on both sides of our path, but straight ahead there were only some fair weather cumulus clouds. At 245 nm, we expected it to take a little under three hours.
A little less than half way to Rock Springs, the benign clouds began towering very quickly, forming cells that started dumping rain with occasional lightning. I'd seen this happen before in this part of the country, but not quite as fast. It was like someone had suddenly pulled a curtain in front of us. The squall line didn't look too deep, so I thought I might be able to fly around it to the other side and continue to Rock Springs. But almost immediately it became obvious that this approach wasn't going to work -- the squall line was getting wider faster than I could fly, and I wasn't sure we wouldn't find more on the other side, effectively trapping us between squall lines. Also, cells were rapidly forming on both sides of us and beginning to dump rain, so it took only seconds to decide to get somewhere else and on the ground.
I should mention that although I get really focused when something like this happens, it wasn't frightening and we were never really in danger. We had plenty of extra fuel so we could go back the way we came or otherwise find an airport. If we got trapped and couldn't make it to an airport, I would have had no trouble landing safely on one of the numerous dirt roads or otherwise flat and nearly vegetation-free terrain. Yes it would be inconvenient, but we'd be perfectly ok.
Laramie was a bit back the way we had come, and so far there were no storm cells in that direction so I headed directly there. After we had gone part way toward Laramie, I did a 360 degree turn to capture the weather with the windscreen mounted GoPro. This is what it looked like in the direction we had been traveling:
Laramie was still free of any storms but surrounded by the same innocent looking cumulus clouds we had just seen rapidly turn into something els:
So we landed with no problem but immediately tied the plane down. Just a few minutes after we did, though, this is what we saw looking back at where we had just come from. . .
This immediately became one of my favorite photographs since it graphically illustrates one of my fundamental flying philosophies:
It's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air then in the air wishing you were on the ground!
Laramie was surrounded by similar storms all day although very little rain actually fell in town. We got up the next morning to 25 degrees F and lightly snowing -- "cold" fronts are appropriately named! The ceiling was pretty low but up to around 3000 feet by the time we left. We saw a solid line of storms -- surely snow -- to the south of our path all the way to Rock Springs but the weather slowly improved. We made it to Nampa, ID that day, and home the next.
Thanks for traveling along. Hope you've enjoyed it!
-- Roy Lewallen