The author... and friend

It's curious how pilots "bond" with their airplanes. I remember the first time I saw an AA5 tied down at Santa Monica (SMO)...it had 3 flat tires and approximately 1/4 inch of dust and grime on all exterior surfaces. It had not flown in 7 years...and was up for sale.

Undaunted...and armed with a ferry permit, we began our quest to prove the airplane safe to fly. Inspection panels were removed, all fuel and lubricants drained...hoses, belts, spark plugs and filters replaced. Then we "flushed" the tanks and reservoirs again. The cylinders were bore scooped and a compression check indicated we had reason to expect "life" from the engine...if given the opportunity. The interior was faded beyond a normal "service life" from the Southern California sun...but that would all be changed anyway. The engine was cranked...and started as though it had only run a few hours before...not a problem... it seemed.

At this point I decided that it would be only prudent to wash it, if for no more reason than that I might get 3 mph increased airspeed for the effort. A couple of linemen brought some shop towels, hooked up a garden hose...and the three of us began washing off the grime. To my surprise...the "grime" turned white... as the oxidized paint seemed to flow off the surface as easily as though it were a child's water based paint. During the "wash job", my self confidence ebbed...as I overheard an onlooker say, "Who's the nut that's going to fly that thing?"

Again undaunted, I continued the project...motivated by the site of the Los Angeles basin the night before, as I had flown in from Minneapolis. The overriding thought was..."There's no place to land in an emergency". Then I pondered if it would be possible to land on a freeway...among the thousands of cars.

After a couple of prolonged run-up periods, we decided for another test. This time I am not certain if whether the test was for the airplane...or my confidence. I made a phone call to the SNA control tower and explained my "plan" to them. I wanted to take my steed out on the runway and make a "high speed taxi". If I happened to leave the ground...it would only be incidental. I wanted them to know that my aborted takeoff was intentional.

All seemed to function well on the "high speed taxi"...and as thought possible, I did briefly lift off of the runway surface.

I taxied back to the departure end of the runway...and this time explained to the tower that I wanted to make a series of "touch and goes"...in a TIGHT...CLOSE IN pattern. I remember thinking that, by this time, the reason required no explanation. All went well in the "flight test"...so the only thing left to do was top off the fuel tanks, perform one more "preflight"...and sign the papers on behalf of the new buyer.

I departed SNA westbound...and intentionally flew to the beach. I knew the airplane was ultimately destined to the east coast...and I wanted to be able to say that I had flown "solo"...from coast to coast. I started a left turn, back over the airport and into the LA smog. I was comforted by the handheld GPS, which I had mounted on the yoke. I was headed east...and how long I might stay airborne was not "cast in stone".

I elected to take the "southern route" across Palm Springs, then to the Deer Valley airport at Phoenix for my first fuel stop. The days activities had eaten up much of the daylight hours...and the ferry permit forbade IFR and nighttime operations. I checked the GPS "Sunrise/Sunset" calendar... and it looked like I would not get much further than Tucson on the first day.

I spent the night in a hotel at the Tucson airport...studying the terrain and the options. By this time, I had taken the AA5 to 11,500 feet...and my confidence in the steed was growing. There was a low pressure system in the Rockies however...with thunderstorms expected through much of New Mexico and Colorado the next day. I elected to continue my eastbound track. I delayed my departure the next day in an effort to assure VFR visibility, once airborne.

Again airborne the following day...and skirted the ridges east of Tucson as I kept two thoughts in mind. The first was the ever present search for a landing sight, if needed...and how incredibly scenic the view was. I thought..."What a wonderful experience"...but no one to share it with. I assume that other "ferry pilots" have experienced the same feelings.

The next stop was at Deming, New Mexico...for fuel and a visit to one of the last of a dying breed of Flight Service Stations. The young FSS specialist on duty was clearly looking forward to "life in the big city". The Deming surface temperature was up to near 85 degrees at departure time. The field elevation and "density altitude" performance were a test of the AA5's will to fly.

I turned back eastbound... headed for Midland, Texas. The visibility in the mountains must have been at LEAST 100 miles or more. As I began to approach Midland...I became aware of "deteriorating" visibility...almost with concern... until I realized I still easily had 25 to 30 miles flight visibility.

I grabbed some fuel and a generous sized Texas cheeseburger at the terminal restaurant in Midland...and directed the GPS to make a straight line for McAlister, Oklahoma. The thunderstorms were beginning to spread from Colorado into the western plains of Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. The next was going to be "interesting" as I started north to Minnesota.

I arrived at McAlister, just as the sun was kissing the horizon...just like the GPS had said it would. I got the aircraft refueled and tied down...so as to be ready for an early morning departure. I walked over to the McAlister AFSS and made a brief visit in an effort to asses both the validity of deviating as far east as I had...and to contemplate my strategy for the following day. The FBO had given me the keys to a huge white Continental "tank" which I drove to a nearby motel...and again spent the night studying sectionals...as I listened to the Weather Channel". Yes...the next day would be "interesting" indeed.

I departed the McAlister airport about 8 am the next morning to the sounds of "VFR flight not recommended" on the radio. I respected the FSS specialist's intent...but it was clear to me that I could easily make it to Columbia, Missouri...as long as the forecast improvement was accurate.

The forecast was "right on"...and at least this time, I could appreciate the insight of the guys in the NWS forecast offices.

My stop at Columbia was for a deliberate purpose...in that I knew there was also an AFSS on the field...and most importantly, I could assess the "radar situation". The stop at Columbia established that I could at least make it to Des Moines...if not further.

Approaching Des Moines, it was clear that I could continue even further. My plans were tempered by a need for a fuel and "physiological demands" stop at Ames, Iowa.

I approached Ames from the southeast, circled over the football stadium...and pondered the darkening sky to the north. My phone call to Fort Dodge AFSS was fraught with the sounds of "VFR flight not recommended" once again...as I struggled to get the "rest of the story" and "information I can use" from the voice on the other end of the phone.

I felt as though I could continue north...but with the frustration of not being able to see the radar myself, the problems seemed to be exacerbated by a complicating decision making process. If only I could see the radar...I could base a decision on facts. I could decide to "cancel" for the day...knowing I was doing so for a good reason...and not a bureaucracy choked information pipeline on the telephone.

I elected to go...put placed some restrictions on what was the "bottom line". Part of the decision was based on thorough knowledge of the terrain, the availability of GPS derived information...and good old Interstate 35...with an airport alongside, almost every 10 miles or so.

As I approached Mason City, the visibility was reduced to 5 to 7 miles in light rain. Low level turbulence was becoming a nuisance...but there was enough "brightening" on the horizon to suggest it was OK to continue north.

I made a call to Minneapolis Flight Watch on 122.0 as I passed over Mason City at 1000 AGL. I recognized the voice on the radio...and knew the AFSS specialist on the frequency personally. My decision to continue was bolstered in the thought that I would be able to "communicate"...and get the "information I can use" from this familiar voice.

Again... my concern became elevated as I once more heard the familiar phrase..."VFR flight not recommended". I explained my in-flight conditions. It was about 3 PM (local time) ...I had a 1500 to 2000 foot ceiling...and about 7 miles of visibility. It did indeed start to look dark to the northwest. I explained to the specialist that I had an "unlimited fuel budget" and was willing to deviate as far and as much as necessary.

I was aware that, in all likelihood, there was reason to believe that I could turn northeast and approach Minneapolis via Wisconsin. My request for further information were met with nothing more than "VFR flight not recommended" and the rhetorical reading of a convective segmet. (You've been there?)

I was then driven to state over the radio..."Let's pretend that you are sitting in the right seat of this airplane...and you want to survive to see supper tonight...with the radar information you have at hand...What route would you suggest?" The response on 122.0 was..."VFR flight not recommended, contact radio on 123.6". Further calls on 122.0 went unanswered...even though I was within 8 to 10 miles of the EFAS radio outlet.

At this point...I began to contemplate that...yes, it might be possible to make it to Minneapolis. What is making THIS venture dangerous to me at this time...is a lack of information. I can not continue this flight safely...because I do not have enough information to base a decision on.

I was angry at a system that could not, or would not... for legal or other reasons, give me the information I needed. I was also aware of the fact of a deteriorating presence of "professionalism" in flight service stations. (The EFAS specialist I was dealing with routinely brought a portable word processor to work...and would sit on position for hours, writing on end. Many of the other specialist were annoyed by this presence...but the "unconfronting" style of management had allowed this to happen...and seemed unwilling to stop it).

In this knowledge...I found myself "less than comforted" by the thought that..."Is the reason I am being repeatedly told "VFR flight not recommended" in reality... a tool which allows inattentiveness to duty to be covered up in a cloud of poorly motivated individual performance?"

I can only answer with the thought that..."When it is my life that is at stake, I can be profoundly aware of the lack of performance of "the system" and... that good reasoning would dictate..."the system" should morally be capable of delivering the information I needed".

According to my log book, this incident occurred as I was flying N26770 on a 1.2 hour flight from Ames Iowa which terminated (safely) at Owatonna, Minnesota...October 2, 1994.

Many people have asked me..."Why did you create this website?"

My Dad started flying about 1920. Most of his early flying involved barnstorming around Texas and Louisiana, operating off of East Beach in Galveston, Texas. He worked as a "crop duster" for Curtis-Wright and it is believed that he received the 75th "letter of authorization" from the CAA which certified him to fly "ANY HEAVIER THAN AIR" aircraft. In the 1930's he flew for "Air Activities of Texas" at what is now William P. Hobby airport in Houston (HOU) and later as a CPT squadron commander / instructor at Corsicana, Texas during WW II. "Air Activities of Texas" went on to become "Trans Texas Airlines" which became "Texas International Airlines" which eventually purchased Continental Airlines...and adopted the "Continental" name.

It is understandable then that I spent much of my youth hanging around airports...engrained with a love of airplanes and fascination with flying that shaped my career path. My initial "professional" flying was spent in the crowded flight deck of Navy P2 "Neptunes" and later P3 Orions. I have worked for the FAA in Air Traffic Control since 1970, in Air Route Traffic Control Centers, Control Towers and Flight Service Stations. I hold a Commercial SEL with Instrument Rating. Most of my flying has been in the form of ferrying aircraft...which has taken me from Seattle to Atlanta, Los Angeles to New York and Minneapolis to Houston... many times over. Through work, I have flown with virtually every U.S. based major air carrier, riding the jump seats in DC9, DC10, B727, B737, B747, B757 (and more) on countless occasions.

When my oldest son was about 6 years old...he said he wanted to be an astronaut. He recently earned a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Minnesota, graduating summa cum laude. He is now working at Lockheed-Martin on the design of the next generation space shuttle...the RLV. What's next! One thing for sure...Grandpa would be extremely proud...(and so is Dad).

Like many who may utilize this page, I have an unspoken love and interest in airplanes and airplane people...you probably know what I am talking about.

My other interests include a fascination with severe thunderstorms and tropical weather. I grew up in and around Galveston, Texas...and I have lived in many areas which have relatively frequent incidence of severe weather...including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, South Dakota and Minnesota... and so far have been able to get within close viewing distance of 7 tornadoes. My access to information through HAM RADIO ( WA5NNO) and computers has permitted relatively safe access to such phenomena. I've been a "storm chaser" before I knew what it was called...

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