Cross country flight
story by Steve Thomas (5-1-00).
Click here for photos of Steve's machine.
Here is my story of the cross country flight from Greenville,Illinois to Dexter,
Kentucky and back to Greenville.
The planning that I did before attempting the flights really paid off. My original
plans to fly from home to Greenville didn't work out due to North winds and fierce
storms. The day before I drove to Greenville we had a hail storm here that dumped
about an inch thick blanket of marble sized hail all over the place. So, I loaded up
Purple Haze and drove up there.
After Ed Neff arrived we took a flight side by side around Greenville. That was
really nice. His beautiful Buckeye and Purple Haze flew at about the same speed as
we dropped down low and flew over the local lake just North of town. After we
landed and were shooting the bull with Roy and Bob, a severe thunder storm moved
in and wrecked the chances for any further flying that day. The storms went on into
the night and at 8:00 in the morning the tail end of the nasty looking clouds were
moving out to the East, so I prepared Purple Haze for the flight to Dexter, Kentucky.
At 9:00 it was partly cloudy and still very wet from the rain. I took off and headed
for Mount Vernon, Illinois 45 miles to the SE. I was expecting a North wind at 5-10
mph, and thought that it might speed me up a little. I was wrong. I found myself
flying at 20 mph into a headwind. The wind was ENE and holding me back. I only
had 45 miles to fly and knew that I could make it, even at 20 mph. I climbed up for
safety and to try and gain some speed. At 2500' agl I was able to make 23-25 mph.
This leg of the cross country took me across the middle of Carlyle Lake which claims
to be the largest lake in Illinois. It was beautiful when I flew over it, and there was
only 1 boat on it that I could see, due to the stormy weather.
As I flew Eastward I was chasing those departing black clouds that dumped on us
the day before. I monitored the radio all the way listening for other aircraft and the
weather stations. I was praying that those clouds would not do an about face and slap
me! When I passed the Centralia Airport I notified the area air traffic that I was in
the area since I was only a couple of miles from the end of the runway at 2500' agl.
Between my GPS and the map that I created of the route, I knew exactly where I was
all along the route. Then the major landmarks confirmed it for me, like crossing the
Interstate and the cities and towns.
As I approached Mount Vernon the wind was a steady 8 mph from the NE. I tried
to raise the airport to notify them that I was entering the pattern on a 45 from the
NW, but I could get no response. I saw a GA plane pass in front of me already in the
pattern, but I couldn't raise him either. Hmm, I knew something wasn't right with
this picture so I dropped down below the GA pattern altitude and did a good visual
check for other planes, then I entered the downwind leg. The plane that passed in
front of me a few minutes ago was now on his final. After he touched down, I turned
left base for runway 5, then left again for a final approach.
The grass was immaculate between the runway and taxiway, and nice and short, so
I set down at the end of the runway in the grass. I tried to communicate with the
Unicom again now that I was on the ground, but the radio wouldn't work at all now.
I gave it up for now, and began packing up to go in for some fuel for the plane and
lunch for me.
About the time I got the line socks on here comes a golf cart with 2 guys in it out
to greet me. I explained that my radio wasn't working. They just wanted make sure
that I was O.K. and that I hadn't run out of fuel before I could get on down the
runway. I told them that I was just fine and would be up to the terminal in a few
minutes for some gas. I finished packing up and taxied in. As I approached the fuel
center there were 5 other aircraft in the process of refueling, and we were all
controlled by a flag man. When I got close the flag man pointed the flags at me and
then a spot on the ground next to another plane already waiting. I pulled up and
stopped with my engine idling while he flagged another plane into a holding spot.
He let a plane leave the holding pattern, and then flagged me in to the fuel truck.
This was all a first time experience for me. After I refueled and went in to pay the bill,
the gal at the desk was all smiles and asked me what kind of cookies I liked, oatmeal
or chocolate chip. I said chocolate chip, and she went in the back and brought me
out a bag of fresh Otis Spunkmeyer cookies and gave them to me for landing there. I
don't think that they have had a PPC there before, and they loved it! I asked if I
could taxi to the restaurant and leave my plane on the tarmac. The manager said yes,
please do, the restaurant has requested that they park some planes out there for the
customers to look at while they eat, but there were none there.
I filled in my log book for that leg of the flight and called it an hour and 45
minutes but it was really a little under a 2 hour flight and 47 miles. The restaurant
was excellent! It had a buffet with catfish, BBQ pork, chicken, salad and all of the
trimmings. I was a good boy and only ate one plate of food since I knew that the next
leg was bound to be bumpy as it was the middle of the day and those nasty looking
black clouds were still lingering about.
Actually, the line between the low pressure system moving East and the high
pressure moving in from the NW was right along my flight path. Before I took off I
tried my radio and it was working now, so I notified the Unicom and taxied out to
the grass. When I fired up the engine for takeoff, the radio was dead again. I didn't
get upset, and I didn't want to waste time messing with it at that point either. I made
a good visual check for traffic first, then took off and immediately turned left turns
to depart the pattern and head South to my next stop, 50 miles away. I tried the radio
again after I was back on course and leveled off at 3000' agl. It worked again!
I monitored the weather channels as I getting concerned about the black, swirling
clouds moving across my flight path right in front of me, and the big turbulence that
I was getting from them. My cart was twisting from side to side under the canopy as I
continued on my journey. A little later it added a rocking motion to the twist for
really fun ride! I was working my butt off to keep on course. Without touching the
throttle I was experiencing climb rates up to 700' per minute, and descents of the
same. Were we having fun yet? You betcha! An hour and a half and 50 miles from
Mount Vernon I arrived at my clearing in the woods for a refueling stop.
Things got a little hairy here. I had to land between trees that were about 150'
apart and the wind was howling over them at 10-15 mph dumping dirty air onto my
landing zone. The lower that I got to the surface, the wilder the ride was. Then when I
dropped down to treetop level to enter the clearing, I was already turned around
facing the wind, and found it to be blowing from about 30 degrees off the centerline
of my strip. Now I knew that I had to make a somewhat cross wind landing into the
dirty swirling air onto the narrow strip. I approached about 30' above the trees and
then cut power as soon as I was over the clearing to drop quickly, then I powered
back up to slow the descent at about 30' agl. I was having to push left rudder hard,
then right rudder hard, and some of both at the same time to counter the twisting
that the cart was trying to do in the dirty air coming over the trees to my right.
I was twisting so bad that I was looking directly at the trees on one side of the strip
one second and then the ones on the other side the next. Working throttle and flare I
was able to set it down in the middle of the ridge and actually dropped the chute
behind the cart. Whew! I was glad to be on the ground. I threw on the line socks to
keep the chute from inflating while I refueled and checked out my radio.
One of the neighbors came up to the field on his 4 wheeler because he saw me
coming in. He helped me out by holding the front wheel up while I got under the
plane and checked my fuses because the radio was dead again. That was it, a blown
fuse that was making intermittent contact. I didn't have a spare, but he did. He
graciously went down the hill and returned with a replacement and a spare to take
with me! He even hauled my gas from the garage at the house, out to the plane for
me on the 4 wheeler. I had a 2 liter of soda pop stashed in the house refrigerator
when I sent the fuel up there, and I refilled my drink bottle while I was there.
Now I was ready to takeoff for the final and longest leg of the flight. It was 65
miles and half of it was over unfriendly terrain, Shawnee National Forest and major
rivers. I checked the weather forecasts good because it looked like one of those black
clouds could open up and rain on me at any time. It was not suppose to rain, and the
high pressure was predicted to continue to build and push the clouds to the East. The
winds were gusting around at 10-15 from the NNE, and I knew that I might have
trouble getting out of the clearing and climbing over he trees.
I never moved Purple Haze from the spot that I landed on, but opened the chute
inverted, said thanks and good bye to the neighbor, and took off right down the
center of the ridge between the trees. At liftoff I was a rocking chair, and at first
wasn't sure if I was going up or down as I fought my way through the dirty air.
Finally I cleared the tree tops and hit the wind head on. I felt some definite climb at
that time and after a few hundred feet turned downwind and got on course for home.
I had to turn 5900 rpm's downwind in order to maintain a steady 200' per minute
climb rate, but I was cruising at over 40 mph. At 3000'agl I reduced throttle a little to
only climb at 100 feet per minute as I was getting into more dense woods over the
North end of the Forest. I continued to climb until I hit 4500' agl. and leveled off,
still turning 5400 rpm's. When I flew over the heart of the Forest it looked like a
pretty green blanket below me, but I knew it was really huge trees.
Before I got to the Ohio River at Eddyville, Kentucky the terrain changed back to
large expanses of bottom farm land, and any anxiety that I had dissipated. I checked
out Paducah, Kentucky and Metropolis, Illinois (home of Superman), from 4500'
above southern Illinois. The Ohio made a big bend through this section and I crossed
it at the southern tip of the bend, into Kentucky. The Tennessee River joined the
Ohio just below me and to my right. It was a beautiful picture.
I was back on familiar turf now ad began bleeding off altitude slowly until I was
back to 2000' agl. I could see Kentucky Lake along my left side as I continued on
home. Landing at my home field was a real pleasure after the last stop. That leg only
took an hour and 45 minutes. Total fling time from Greenville was just over 5 hours
and I traveled 169 statute miles including flying the patterns and taxiing.
I spent the next few hours refueling the PPC and getting some more fuel over to
my Mother's house in Benton, KY so she could deliver the fuel to the house in New
Burnside, IL for me. Everyone that I know, and those that I met along the way also,
were very helpful and supportive of my flight and I really appreciated it. I was worn
out from fighting the gusty winds and thermals all afternoon, but I felt great inside
having made it all the way with no incidents, and the scenery was very nice too.
On day 2 I awoke at 6:00 and checked the weather forecasts for each of my
destination cities. The forecast was still calling for a 5-10 mph SE wind all the way! As
I preflighted the plane and warmed up the engine, I checked out the windsock and
windmill and there wasn't even a whisp of a breeze. It was dead calm. Both still
pointed in a North direction from yesterday. I setup at the South end of my field and
took off on a direct heading for my landing field in Southern Illinois at 7:20.
As soon as I cleared the electric lines and could take my eyes off of them, I glanced
at the GPS to find to my surprise that I was already going 40.8 mph in extremely
smooth air. I set the throttle to climb slowly for about 8 miles, until I was at 3,000'
agl. I was now making 44-45 mph, and it was so smooth that I refer to it as a "Magic
Carpet Ride". It felt wonderful after the rough stuff yesterday.
On the long climb I used the line trimmers to hold right rudder for me to
compensate for the torque. My leg appreciated that first thing in the morning. I
crossed the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers and began another slow climb to 4500' agl to
fly over the Forest again. I was feeling so good in the bright sunshine and steady air
that I fired up a CD and listened to some Jeff Beck as I went over the Forest.
I arrived at New Burnside at 8:45 and landed at 8:50 for an hour and a half flight.
The landing today was a snap, and my fuel arrived just as I was touching down. As I
was refueling the plane I was also preflighting, and found a broken exhaust spring.
Even though I just replaced all of them about 10 hours ago, I planned for this
scenario and had an extra set under the seat along with safety wire and pliers.
The wind was getting stronger now and a little gusty, so I taxied back up the strip a
little ways so I could clear the trees, and took off. Once again it was a little struggle
getting through the dirty air coming over the trees, but not nearly as bad as the day
before. Once I cleared the trees I turned North and waved at the folks on the ground
as I headed for Mount Vernon. I climbed slowly back up to 2500' agl and then the air
was smooth again and I was cruising at 45 mph.
The flight was uneventful and pure pleasure. I tuned into the airport frequency
when I was about 15 miles out and heard a GA plane coming in from behind me. I
alerted him that I was there and also heading for the airport. He later saw me and
flew by me on his way in. This time I could communicate with the Unicom and
everything went by the numbers, just like they are suppose to.
I landed and refueled, then I parked in front of the restaurant again and went in.
The place was packed with people after going to church. One elderly lady came over
to my table and asked if that craft outside was mine. She asked if it flies and couldn't
really understand how it worked, even though I tried to explain it to her. As I was
eating I overheard people at a few tables discussing the funny looking craft outside,
but no one had a clue!
On the way out I told the owner that I would ask for permission from the Unicom
to take off in front of the restaurant windows so the folks could see it, and then
maybe understand it better. Unicom granted permission since my radio was working,
and they only requested that I keep traffic advised as to my position on the airport
since there was inbound traffic.
Takeoff was perfect and without seeing their faces, I could imagine the looks and
smiles from within the restaurant as I turned away and climbed out of sight. This day
was going great and I was digging it! Now on my final leg for Greenville, the wind was
not pushing me very much as it was from my side and I was cut back to a 30-33 mph
speed. At Carlyle Lake I was at 3,000' looking down on an island in the middle with
boats pulled up to it's shore and people playing in the shallow water.
I couldn't resist the temptation to make a low pass around them and cut the engine
to idle while I spiraled down to about 50' above the lake. Then I circled the island
taking photos of the people waving at me. I waved back and climbed back up and
continued on to Greenville.
When I was about 6 miles out from landing I called the Greenville Unicom and
told them that Purple Haze was returning from the cross country flight and that I was
10-12 minutes away. Unicom responded with a wind report and told me that there
wasn't any PPC's in the air at that time.
There was a plane behind me headed in to do some touch and goes and two on the
runway ready to take off. One took off as I was approaching, but the other wasn't
ready yet, so I advised that I would do a holding pattern of circles until he departed.
He took off and then I landed in the grass beside where the welcoming committee was
setup to greet me.
Ed Neff radioed me as I was landing to guide me to the right spot. The landing was
good and the chute went right down behind the cart as pretty as you please. After
that there was a lot of hand shaking and congratulations, a few photos and then I
packed up and went to the hangar.
This leg of the flight was an hour and a half, making a total of 4 hours and 15
minutes of in flight time from home, and it was 170 miles. That made the entire trip
339 miles and 9 and a quarter hours long, plus stops. All of the gang that was still at
the fly in signed an Easy Flight T-shirt and Roy presented it to me for completing the
Folks, I'm hooked! I love this cross country flying. Now we need to push for the
Sport Pilot License so we can carry more fuel and make safer long distance flights!
Thanks for taking the time to read about my first cross country flight, a weekend that
I will never forget!
Dexter, Kentucky SR-7