Flight Day #25
August 2 to August 3, 2010
On Sunday afternoon it was clear that AirVenture was going to end. No matter how much I enjoyed being there, and no matter how much I wanted to spend more time looking at airplanes and talking with the fans of The Flight, I could not stop the inevitable.
I enjoyed spending the time with Scott Evans, our manager of Airport Operations. He is a fan who wanted to volunteer in some way, and ended up finding himself in a key role on the team. During one of our meetings, I asked everyone to envision Hope One sitting on the tarmac in Honolulu with a flower lei around her propeller. This exercise was to ensure that we all had the same vision...and that it would come true. After that, I went around the group and asked what each team member's dream was. Scott's dream was to go to Oshkosh. So, it was particularly fantastic to see him there, soaking up the moments, engaging in conversations, and gaining more knowledge of aircraft along the way.
I also enjoyed getting to know the Remos team better. They have a great bunch of new executives who are dedicated to making the company successful. Michele and I had a few opportunities to solidify those relationships and to make sure that we were all on the same page with The Flight. After all, when they came to their positions, The Flight was already under way, and there really hasn't been an opportunity to meet in one place, since the term "one place" and this flight have been very few instances. I particularly enjoyed talking with old friends who now seem more like family in every way. Even as I write this, I miss them.
I also miss my other friends who I was able to cross paths with once again. We have a great group of partners who have supplied the technology in Hope One, and those who have helped to promote The Flight. It is amazing to me how I feel so connected with them all. Truly the aviation world is a close knit and tight community.
Most of all, I enjoyed meeting the many...and I have to emphasize MANY fans. From all around the world, they know "The Flight for the Human Spirit" and "Hope One." Most of them only read the posts and articles on the internet, but don't participate in commenting, but they all enjoy our interactions with each other. There are some who know every detail of this mission, down to the specifics of each flight leg. For instance, I would be talking about a particular flight, and they would say things such as "Yeah, that was Flight Day #8," or "That was on Leg #23." I was utterly amazed!
Many of them came to see and experience Hope One. I stood back and watched as numerous fans rubbed "The Flight for the Human Spirit" logo on the side of the fuselage, or the "Hope One" name on the cowling. Truly this is a flight like no other where it is impacting the depth of souls sometimes in profound ways. Some fans just needed a moment with that little airplane as they lightly touched the propeller, or rubbed the pilot's seat. They took a photo, tucked a commemorative postcard in their bag or their pocket, and quietly walked away and blended into the crowd. I said to Mike from EAA radio one afternoon, "It's amazing what you can do with a life, and a little airplane." Truly I will never forget those experiences that each touched my heart in a profound way.
After a fun night of food, drinks, and a game of "Apples to Apples" with our Remos family, we left on Monday morning to head back to the airport and fly to Denton. Michele dropped me off and drove to Dubuque, IA where we had rented the car while I met with the pilot and the photographers who were going to do an air to air shoot of Hope One for EAA's magazine. After a briefing on how the flight would go, we checked the weather again which just twelve hours ago was supposed to be clear and calm from Wisconsin to Texas, but now was overcast and would be bringing rain to Dubuque.
We took off from Wittman Regional as a "flight of two" which simply meant that we would be flying together from take-off and departing the air space. After about ten minutes of flight we found a small patch of sunshine, or at least brighter skies and the photo plane took the lead.
I have to say that these guys were professionals in every way. They had photographed hundreds of planes in flight and knew how to guide me through the skies in order to get the shots that they needed. Once I was positioned off of the left wing of the Cessna, I could see the photographer leaning out of a hole in the aircraft, snapping shots at every opportunity. Over the radio the pilot would say various commands such as, "Come up twenty feet, now move over to your right ten feet," followed by "Now go down ten feet, and move left five feet." It was a great experience to fly formation in this way. They watched lighting, angles, and made sure that the shoot was complete before they had me do one last move of peeling off to the left and continuing onward in my journey.
"I'll see you from points beyond," I said as I set my course to Dubuque and climbed to a safe cruising altitude below the cloud deck.
Seeing Dubuque was a great experience once again. It is a nice setting along the Mississippi, and the airport approach from the north has some neat little hills that are very scenic. I commented through the headset that this was my sixth time to cross the Mississippi River for The Flight. I took one last look over my left shoulder knowing that it would be the final time to see it as my journey would soon take me to points much further west.
The touch down was very easy and welcome. I had been watching a storm brewing just to the west of Dubuque since before take-off in Oshkosh. The briefer had warned me about it, and it was certainly very obvious on the radar. There was no question that it would be raining within the hour, so I knew that we would be grounded here for a bit and probably wouldn't make Denton as we had originally hoped for. That's how flying is though: you stay flexible and ready to alter your plans at a moment's notice. It's a unique part of the overall experience.
As I brought the nose wheel of Hope One down, she rolled about thirty feet and I noticed that it was becoming unusually bumpy. With 102 airport landings on The Flight, I have experienced some bumpy runways, but this one really seemed worse. I even commented on it for the video. Within seconds I realized that it wasn't the runway...but another flat front tire! I pushed the pedal left and right a little to feel out the overall condition, then pulled back on the stick and added throttle to keep the weight off of the tire as much as possible. The taxiway off of the runway led me directly to the tower, so I asked them to verify the condition of the tire. As I got closer the controller had me stop at the next intersection and brought out the crew who aired me up enough to get it to the maintenance shop.
I'm not sure if they were too busy, or if there was a lack of interest but when they found out that they didn't have a tube in stock the activity around Hope One stopped. After sitting for a while and drying off Hope One from the rain shower, then sitting a while longer...I sought out the mechanic to enlist his help in somehow getting us back up into the sky. I couldn't help but think about that if this were a world record attempt, the minutes would be very, very precious. Never the less, with a little prodding...the wheel was off, the flat was fixed, and we were on our way toward Central Missouri.
The plan was to fly as far as we could and hopefully make Rogers, AR where we would have a new tire and tube installed, switch out the loaner GPS, and have Hope One looked at for her big journey to Alaska and back. The time was now past four, and making a Rogers would be probably an hour short. The winds didn't help as they measured thirty knots from the right front quarter...this kept our ground speed at about 85. The ETA on the GPS seemed to always show five hours and twenty minutes no matter how far we flew. I kept smiling every time I looked at it knowing that we didn't have five hours and twenty minutes of daylight...or fuel.
As time progressed, I spoke with Flight Following and informed them that we were going to set our course for Columbia, MO. This was one of our first day destinations and I was looking forward to seeing our friends at Central Missouri once again. I called them from about twenty minutes out and told them that we were coming, that we would be spending the night with them, and that we needed a car.
After landing we found out that there was a motorcycle festival going on and that all of the hotels were full. "Why didn't they let us know BEFORE we landed?" It took Michele and I about ten seconds to decide to fly onward to Jefferson City, which was only about fifteen minutes away. This would become the shortest leg of The Flight.
Jefferson City looked peaceful, and really felt like home when we saw the State Capital Building rise up on the horizon. "Welcome to Jefferson City," the controller said in the headset as we taxied up to the FBO. Ahhhhhhhhhh, I do have a home in Central Missouri, and it is right here!
The next day we spent some time at Jefferson City Flying Service finding out more about the ice cream that everyone seems to remember when you mention flying into Jefferson City. This FBO does it right in every way to welcome new visitors and to bring the local aviation community together. As you know if you have been following The Flight, there are only a handful of FBOs that I recommend across the country and Jefferson City Flying Service is one of them.
It felt good to taxi up to the Remos facility in Rogers. The flight had been easy and smooth. The air was clean, although it was predicted to be the hottest day of the year in Missouri, and it was HOT! We cruised at 8,500 feet in the cloudless sky and enjoyed temperatures of around 77 degrees. As we passed over Springfield, MO I thought about how my son and daughter would be there tomorrow as they were going to drive up for a family wedding.
Nick at Remos put on a new front tire and tube, then looked over Hope One to make sure that she would be ready to fly onward to the rest of the lower forty eight and Alaska beginning next week. He is a great guy who really strives to make sure that Hope One is mechanically sound in every way.
After saying Good-bye to our Remos family, we took to the sky for the last leg that would take a little over three hours. As the earlier flight was, this was a text book flight in every way. The Rotax engine sounded good; the sky was a little hazy, but very clear; and it was great to cross the Red River and fly back into Texas once again.
As we were cleared to land in Denton, I experienced yet a new event in my aviation life...the tower closed. The controller's voice was steady as she read a text that announced who was in the pattern, that the airspace was converting to "Class E" and we were to self announce our intentions. This was an interesting experience that I would have a hard time doing as a controller. I've always been one to stay late at the office, and I guess that I wouldn't make a good controller as I would continue to stay just to make sure that all of the "kids" are safe back home..(I refer to everyone as my "kids").
So, now is the time to prepare for the final push. I have until September the 25th to finish the lower 48 and Alaska. On that date, I'll be speaking at the large Air Show in Lake Havasu, AZ and can't miss that appointment. Since returning for this brief stop, the time has been spent with updating the route, calculating the Canada stops, and meeting the photographers for the large magazine photo shoot. Hope One was dirty from her journey through the Midwest but is nice and shiny now.
Looking back at Flight Day 25, it was the first true test for the upcoming world record attempts next summer. We tested the Spider Tracks satellite tracking system with a different mode, and I flew longer legs and kept the flying strategy aimed at distance rather than stops. The flat tire would have ruined the attempt, as would have the weather over Iowa. This mission is teaching me much about patience and resilience, both of which are perfect traits to prepare me for the next 8,000 miles that loom to the west just over the horizon.
Approximate Miles flown: 14,930
Approximate Trip Hours flown: 178.5