(You may listen to the story below, read it – if you can – or emerse yourself completely by listening and reading along…)
In the early 60s (of the last century) my parents bought a little vacation retreat in Spain some 80 kilometers down the coast from Barcelona. My dad really wanted it partially because it was sold as an investment to make money. Looking back, it might have been the leading edge of the wave of today’s timeshares. Mom thought it was a scam and had written off the FIVE-THOUSAND Marks (!) – a huge investment for my parents at that time when the monthly mortgage for their house was one hundred and twenty-seven marks.
But it turned out to be real, and my parents got themselves a ‘bungalow’ 1700 km away from home. That was quite a trip at a time when only Germany had its Autobahn, but there were no other freeways in France and Spain on the way to ‘Torredembarra’ to speak of.
I spend quality time there on several occasions – I considered it my second home. Took my first big love there right after we met and took her there shortly before she dumped me.
Then I took my next big love, occasionally she was a bit jealous because she was not the first one there with me, but it all turned out OK because the last ever trip to Spain, before we left Europe altogether for a new adventure in the new world, was with her as my wife. It was a surprise visit to my parents who now spend several months at a time in a better climate than the one in the middle of Germany.
My wife and I had gotten caught up in a cult in the good old US of A. My entanglement only lasted about a year, but it cost me my marriage and the poor wife is still in there as far as I know. Escaping the cult, with my tail between my legs, I went home to my parents – at least I wanted to, but when I was just breaking all the bridges with the cult behind me I received a letter (yes, that was a thing) from my parents, that they were about to get on the way to Spain.
So, no going back to my parents! The alternative was to go to the parents-in-law, who still loved me and whom I still loved, and who were probably were not quite aware of the circumstances that had developed in California.
Just getting out of a cult, finances were rather tight, but to my credit, I have to say that I never was one of those cult members who immediately gave everything to the guru. I still had my Ford LTD station wagon, safely (or so I thought) parked in the public parking of the cult, and I had maintained my own bank account with some green-bucks. Still, I got the cheapest flight to Europe. $225 on People Express to Amsterdam. All went well getting into Shiphol, but I had not considered that there would be a problem to rent a car to cross the border from Holland to Germany. The only viable solution I found was to take a Lufthansa flight from Shiphol to Hannover, about 330 km for nearly the same price as the flight from LA to Amsterdam.
In Hannover, I could rent a car and so I finally arrived at my in-laws, disillusioned by the cult, with many broken dreams, without my wife, and a really bad case of athletes foot from the cult’s community showers.
During the three weeks it took me to bring back my feet to good health, I built myself up emotionally, started to make plans for the future, and got ready to finally visit my parents.
In Bielefeld, I got on the train to Spain – on the Train to Spain – hmm, that rhymes!
Flying was not really an option, as at that time – the later part of the 80s – cheap city-to-city flights had not been invented, and Lufthansa to Barcelona would have strained my resources too much. So, it was two days of rocking and shaking trains, only sometimes with a seat all for myself, but also sometimes curling up on my suitcase in the gangway connection between two cars, in an attempt to get some shut-eye.
After many different trains at many different railway stations, I finally got off at the train station in Torredembarra, Spain. I invested a few Pesetas for a taxi ride to my parents’ bungalow. I only knew how to get there but did not know any address, so I had to tell the driver, left here, then right, then left again, and so on. I really never knew the official address of the house, but it had a number – later photos indicated that it was something like 35 II, and the street something like ‘Clara del Sol’. But my Spanish was good enough for ‘a la izquierda’ and ‘a la derecha’.
It was quite some surprise – they imagined me in California, in fact, had sent a letter there a few weeks ago, and waiting for an answer, and there this guy gets out of a cab in front of their house in a little cul-de-sac.
And that should be my last time in Spain in that little bungalow. Eventually, I made it back to California and rebuild my life, something that might deserve a few other stories.
A few years after these events, my parents sold the little house but some good memories stayed with me. With the advent of Google Maps and street view, I tried a few times to re-trace my way from the train station to our little sanctuary, but there were so many changes that I did not recognize the area anymore and just could not find that little cul-de-sac.
Until – yesterday! A little village a bit off the coast, and as such mostly left alone by tourists in the initial waves of German vacationers, had been our place of choice for shopping for groceries and wine. Pobla de Montornes itself was also unrecognizable for me on Street View, but the road connecting Pobla and Torredembarra was there and not likely changed during the last forty years, so I – virtually – drove this road from Pobla down towards the coast. I knew that I had to take a turn left to get to our little street, but all the streets going left looked unfamiliar, and I had tried in the past to just follow them but always had ended up in completely unfamiliar territory.
Again – until yesterday! I must have dismissed that left turn-off previously, but following it this time, things looked more familiar. And – suddenly – I stood in front of ‘our bungalow’. Sure, a garage had been added, the fence had been upgraded, the street number had changed, and vegetation was totally different, but it was undoubtedly ‘our house’.
The Google car even caught an older couple in the yard, which could have been my parents, but aren’t. Should they have been reborn, they would be much younger, and I don’t think they would go back to the place that made them work really hard initially.
In order to never ever lose that location, I put it on the internet, because nothing ever gets lost on the internet.
A Youtube video by Niko’s Wings of a night approach and landing at Chicago’s O’Hare reminded me that I had done a similar stunt a bit further west at LAX.
If you have no first-hand experience with the navigation of the airways you will not know that landing at one of those big airports like O’Hare is virtually impossible for a private pilot with one fan in front.
You sometimes get routed through a Bravo airspace (the highly protected space around major airports) but to enter, you have to get explicit permission in the form of a clearance like “Piper Warrior N8300L cleared to enter Bravo airspace.” But landing at the airport that this Bravo airspace protects, you don’t’ even think about it – – – normally.
But maybe I am not normal. So, in the 90s, I was playing in the airspace west of Burbank – my home airport, one late night, probably after 1 am. The radio was quiet most of the time and suddenly the idea hit me – why not shoot a practice approach into LAX, just 20-30 miles to the South-East.
So I tuned into LAX approach (now SoCal approach) – “LAX approach, PA28 N8300L, request!” I might have woken up the controller but he came back shortly “N8300L, LAX approach, go ahead.”
I gathered all my courage and asked for a practice-approach into LAX. Unfortunately, the answer was that no practice approaches are permitted at LAX. But – – – you can have a full stop landing. Wow – that was even better! For all you non-flying peeps, a practice-approach is the pretense to land at an airport as if there were clouds so that you have to land only using your instruments. Then, when you are close enough to ensure a safe landing, you give full power and get out of there – often turning around, flying another approach – that’s why it’s called ‘practice’ approach.
Now, really landing at LAX with my Piper Warrior – that would be something to tell the grandchildren about, many, many years later.
So, yes, Sir – I’ll take that approach and landing at LAX!
I got my clearance into the Bravo airspace and radar vectors to the ILS Runway 24R. (ILS stands for Instrument Landing System – a radio signal coming from the beginning of the runway that guides us down to the landing zone vertically and horizontally.)
And then I flew like a young god – holding my assigned altitude within 50 feet and pegged my directional gyro exactly where the controller had told me. I intercepted the ILS and slid down towards 24R.
Then it was time to switch from approach control to tower. Just saying “Los Angeles tower, Cherokee 8300L with you for 24R” grew some serious hair on my chest.
But I did not get to complete my landing at LAX after all. Tower told me that I should finish my approach and then fly a missed approach. That was the friendly way of giving me my practice approach without violating their rule that there are no practice approaches at LAX. It might have been a bit of a loss for me but, on the other hand, I might have owed LAX a landing fee.
I was handed over the approach control again which guided me out of the Bravo airspace and shortly I landed at my home base Burbank, tied down and went home a hero.
Somehow the film Water Time by Allan Weisbecker made it onto my hard disk and it was well worth watching albeit frustrating.
Frustrating because it confirmed my own experience with my fellow human’s acceptance of new facts that violate their ready-made conceptions – namely none, zero, nada, zilch.
But I never heard such honest statements as “No, I don’t change my mind – whatever the evidence might be!” What I personally get most of the time is rejection or attempts to question the validity of evidence or fact.
Over the last years it has become quite evident to me that the root of all evil is government. For the simple fact that they claim for themselves to be above and beyond any morality. We teach our kids that taking things away from other kids is stealing and we should not do that. Yet when the tax collector calls it tax and does the same thing – it somehow is something other than stealing – but it’s not!
This is such an obvious truth but try to explain this to somebody who has paid taxes for all of his life and could not admit that this is morally wrong – simply because he would have to admit that he was wrong for all of his life.
It appears that to admit being mistaken is very difficult for many and it is easier to insist to have been right all along.
One fine winter up in the mountains…
(isn’t it amazing that there are, in that densely populated Southern California, still places where boys can go out by themselves and explore – and make friends with goats – and stare at them?)
Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much. I asked him what was wrong, He said, ‘Nothing.’ I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly, and kept driving. I cant explain his behavior I don’t know why he didn’t say, ‘I love you, too.’ When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent. Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep – I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.
Thanks to the power of the Piratebay I was able to watch the new Doctor Who episode (season six, episode two) only hours after it aired in Great Britain. Part of this two-parter was filmed here in the US of A. After the show, I looked up Glen Canyon Dam because I had a feeling that I knew something about it.
And sure enough, I found out that I had flown over it quite a few years ago on my big adventure flying around the western part of the United States (cut short by some Utahian weather.)
As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I had been writing a flying blog before there even were blogs and so I thought this is a good opportunity to revisit that old story and put it into a proper blog.
Here we go…
The Big Adventure
This one flight was supposed to be the biggest I had ever done. I had been up all the Pacific coast from Burbank to Seattle, but this one should go from home sweet home in Burbank around the Grand Canyon up through the Rockies all the way to the Canadian border, back to the Pacific Coast and then the rest of the trip that I already knew – down the coast to come home a hero.
It did not quite work out that way, but it became a big memory nonetheless.
The flight was planned to be together with Griselda, a very good friend who was to come over from Germany for it. I was the designated pilot and she had to be the co-pilot in training.
I intended not to disappoint the trust she just had to put into my flying abilities and so I really got into thorough planning for the flight. It was clear that I needed some more survival kit than the average California flier has with him or her – the credit card, thus I invested in a real survival kit. I also needed chocks and ropes for tie-downs because there were some very desolate airstrips on our agenda. The idea of rolling up in a sleeping bag under the wing of trusty 08L on a grass strip in nowhereland made chills go up and down my spine. That would be an adventure!
Naturally, I learned everything I could get my hands on about mountain flying, but the uncertainty kept hanging around if I would be able to handle whatever would come our way. As with everything in flying you have to experience it firsthand before you know you can handle it. But at least I got all the theoretical education to have the best cards possible. Playing them would show me if I understood the game.
Griselda’s arrival date came and the first day I tried her acceptance for air work. I was happy. She would be a good co-pilot. She enjoyed being up there with the elements just as I did and seemed to have an inborn feel for yoke and rudder.
The next day was the “Beginning of the Great Adventure.”We were up with the sun, which was very unusual, at least for me, and 08L was loaded with so much gear as she has probably never seen before.
The first leg would lead us east across the Colorado River into Arizona to Sedona, the Red Rock Country.
We get clearance from Burbank for the ‘Golden State’ departure, climb out to the northwest, and are released to our own navigation after leaving three thousand feet. This whole area is very familiar to me and I feel so at home that I do not need any navigation equipment but my eyes for this part of the flight. We fly towards and over the deserted airport of Agua Dulce. Already at over six thousand feet, the few planes left down there are the little toys that I played with as a kid.
To be honest, I am still a kid and I still play with my plane, the toy just became a bit bigger. The only thing I have to be careful with is to look more serious about this flying business. If you are a grown-up, you are not supposed to play. You use the plane to save time, to arrive faster, and to avoid traffic jams. Right! So why then do I fly for a burger to the Elephant Bar in Santa Barbara? I guess if I think hard about it I will find an adult reason. But not now.
As we come, still climbing…
…over the mountain ridge and into the Mojave Desert we encounter an air mountain. You don’t know what that is? Are you really a pilot? OK, maybe you can’t know that – maybe I just invented that for my passengers. It’s one of these very steep, invisible, slopes upward, where you have to pitch up the nose and try with all available power to make it to the top and not lose all your speed and slide back down again. Certainly, your airspeed will bleed off but fortunately, you will just barely make it to the top, and with great relief, you slide down the other side of the air mountain after a moment of light heart and stomach. On the way down you gain speed again and might have to follow some gorges that require you to bank the plane left and right and left briskly, but eventually, you can level off at about the same altitude you started at before encountering this terrible air mountain. [Editor: this was written for an audience of pilots who know that there are no air-mountains and this is just an excuse to play roller coaster with your passenger.]
Your heart will go fast for all the fun you had, but you look at your passenger with a serious expression, wipe the sweat from your forehead and assure him or her that we made it and that it was not that bad.
So I am a naughty child, but please, I’m not so bad that I do this with a victim, excuse me, a passenger, who might really get scared. With Griselda, I could definitely do it, seemed she enjoyed this game as much as I did.
Now it is time to tune in some navigation equipment. We have all these neat things aboard to play with so we better use them. It’s Hector VOR first, then Goffs. We climb up to eleven and a half thousand feet and leave behind some bumpiness that developed over the desert. From this height, we can already see the Colorado River ahead, and how it cuts through the dead land leaving a band of green life crawling through the brown rugged wilderness.
Yet this stays soon behind, we tune into the next VORTAC, I believe it is EED, and we enter the land of the baby Grand Canyons. They really look like it! Really, if you don’t believe me, go there and take a look yourself!
Griselda has the yoke now most of the time. She sure has the time of her life. I can share her joy. There is nothing better than leaving the ego home, in the garage, together with the car, and just enjoying the happiness of a friend.
Finally, we tune into the Drake VOR, the last point before we have to trust our eyes only to find the destination. I might cheat a bit because I know that Sedona is thirty-four miles from the Drake VOR on the 063 radial, but hey, as a pilot you learn to always have an alternative. I have been to Sedona once before and I try to remember the topology and how all this looked the first time but I can’t really tell, so OK, I will cheat a little. And finally, there it is. I recognize the high mesa, the big valley that looks like a huge sinkhole leaving the surrounding sheer cliffs of red rock that gave the country its name. And from the bottom of this empty pit rises an island that refused to go under with the rest of the country, and on top of it the Sedona airport.
Dial in now the Unicom frequency of 122.8 and see if somebody is home to give us a salute. But instead of the more appropriate “Yippee, we made it all the way from Burbank, California and we are so glad that we are here safely”, I have to bury the child for a little while and announce us as, “Cherokee 08L, five miles west, airport advisories please”. One last check on the maps. The wind is from the southwest, so we use runway 21 with left traffic, well setup in the pattern, nicely coming down, a landing I can be proud of, taxi to the tie-downs, shutdown radios, engine, electric …… Wonderful Silence!
We made the first leg, and for me, this feeling of accomplishment after a long flight never seems to wear off, even after doing it so often already.
We had planned to stay just a day and then continue around the northeast corner of the Grand Canyon and north into Utah, but then it was so beautiful and Red Rock country gave us so much to see and experience that we decided to stay an extra day. This should become only the first delay on this trip with more to come.
The area south of the Grand Canyon is more or less a desert. And my experience in the little desert at my front porch – Mojave desert – had taught me to get up early to beat the violently rising air, once it gets hot in the afternoon. So the plan was to get up with or even before the sun on the day we had to say goodbye to Sedona. But having this built-in morning tiredness, I did not quite manage to do so. Sitting comfortably down for breakfast at the coffee shop overlooking the Sedona airport, we justified our failure to get up early with a firm “One has to get enough sleep to be able to handle all possible difficulties that come our way and it’s also important to have a good meal before going up!”
Armed with that, we finally got up in the air at about eleven, and yes, the air already had started on its way up and down and up. In other words, I was to fight turbulence for all this leg. For me, this is mostly only uncomfortable during the first half hour into a flight. After that the body, who is the one screaming “I don’t want to die” either gives up or learns that the danger is not as eminent as it believed. I still have to work hard to keep the pointy part of the plane forward and the dirty part down after these first thirty to forty minutes but at least nobody is dramatizing that death is unavoidable, sudden, and very painful. I was amazed by Griselda’s attitude towards this kicking around. She seemed to actually enjoy it. And the bad boy that I am, I kept her ignorant about the fact that I probably would not know how to properly react should we get kicked inverted. But it did not happen and after I got used to the permanent jolting I also started to enjoy the trip.
After takeoff, we circled the big red rocks…
… in the Sedona valley that looks like forgotten teeth in the mouth of a Greek grandfather. I mean they look much more impressive than that but the form reminded me (and I try to be a bit poetic here – so bear with me please). Now we are heading north northeast toward the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon. VOR receiver 1 is tuned to Page (PGA, 117.6), and for the first time in my flying career, my finger uses a CG chart to follow the flight path. Sectionals are just too cumbersome for all these long stretches of flight.
It is old wisdom that each coin has two sides: the one is this relentless fight with the winds but the other side is the magnificent visibility. For an hour or more we can see the big chasm that the Colorado River dug over millions of years. And ahead, too far to estimate the immense ridges of the Rocky Mountains. Do we really want to get into the middle of that? But that will be tomorrow. For now, things get interesting as the numbers on the DME grow smaller and smaller and we can see the Colorado where he rests…
…before he has to continue with his task to saw the earth into two. As we fly over the dam we see that man has helped him to extend his nap…
… by building this wall where he can lean on before he throws himself into depth. [Editor: This is the dam in the Doctor Who episode 2, season 6 where Rory gets shot – or not.]
From this vista point, we have a breathtaking view into and along the first part of Colorado’s journey toward the Hoover Dam where he will be able to rest again.
Our journey also goes on, we are turning west and head to our next navigation point, St. George. This is a new state for me, I have never been to Utah before. Either the turbulence has diminished somewhat or my acceptance of them grew bigger, but I can enjoy the landscape we cross much more. To our left are side valleys that strive to reach big brother Grand Canyon, and to our right looming rugged mountains that make us look so small sitting behind our propeller with the intention to conquer them. No, not defeat them, just have a little competition.
Our destination for today lies straight north, but this is the first concession we have to make to this one big mountain – we have to go around him, he will not let us climb straight over him. But we do not mind, the trip is the adventure, not the arrival.
Nearly arriving at St. George, we consider interrupting our journey but the tanks are still half full and we are challenged by the big valley that opens to the north and which we decide to follow on our way into the northern states. Without any experience in flying in these big mountains that are everywhere, we really have to trust our navigation equipment. Once we have turned 08L’s nose in the right direction the view again agrees with what we expected to see from looking at the map.
So we follow the valley northbound, tuning in Cedar City VOR and then Milford. 08L, always her nose up a bit, working her way through the rising terrain. We will not be able to make it to Salt Lake City with the remaining fuel, but with a feeling of accomplishment from our first encounter with the Rocky Mountains, we finally tune in to the Delta, Utah VOR, and decide to land there, give 08L to eat and also feed us and finish the flight for today.
How could we know that we would get to know Delta, Utah very well?
Finding the airport is no problem at all. It lies in the middle of a huge valley, flat as a board, checkered with fields, but surrounded by high mountains. Just two thousand feet above ground we can see our destination for miles. The field is completely deserted, the owner of the local crop duster business doubles as the local FBO and we call him to come back from town to help us with food for 08L. We hitch a ride with him into town and realize only then how lucky we were that this town actually has a hotel and that this hotel even has rooms for us. With the feeling of pride for getting here – Columbus could not have felt better – we go for Dinner and do not think too much of tomorrow’s flight.
We only know it will go north, past Salt Lake City and well into Idaho.
As I wake up the next morning, ready for more mountain flying, the day on the other side of the curtains looks suspiciously dark. Crawling out of bed and peeking out of the window into a very cloudy sky, it slowly trickles into my still sleepy mind that the weather in the mountains in fact changes very fast – just as I had learned in all my theoretical studies about mountain flying.
OK, so yesterday it was the clearest weather I ever saw, today the clouds hang definitely low, but it should also change back to the real weather quickly! But flight service can not confirm my hopes. It looks as if this weather will stay with us for a while.
I don’t actually consider going IFR. We are in an area where the numbers along the lines of the low altitude IFR charts [Editor: this is the minimum altitude that you have to fly when on these airways] are bigger than the numbers in the handbook after the entry for service ceiling [Editor: the altitude the plane can actually reach before the air gets too thin]. Drilling our way through the gray masses into the blue and into freedom is not an option.
There is a family restaurant just outside the hotel which does not know that it will become our headquarter, and there, over breakfast, Griselda and I discuss our options. There are not that many. But first, we should get a car and check out the area. It’s cloudy, but the weather beneath them is quite decent. And Delta, Utah even has a rental car company. Unfortunately, they are out of cars – tomorrow one is expected back.
Happy people that we are, we enjoy MTV, talk about the good old days, and have all the time in the world to write to our loved-ones left at home. We are still certain that it will be just a day that we can relax and it will do us good.
Isn’t that strange? The times when you trust the weather forecast, you should not have, now I didn’t trust it but I should’ve. The next day looks pretty much the same. At least around noon, we get our car and thus some mobility. The first trip is out to see how trusty 08L is doing. Under the cloud deck, it’s pretty good flying weather, so we go and check out the area from the bird’s view to get an overview. Griselda does a take-off nearly without assistance. She really has a feel for flying.
Finally, the next day promises that we can continue, only the calendar opposes this idea. It does not look as if we can still make it up to the Canadian border. We change plans and decide to go more into the general direction of ‘back’ but stop at my friend Ron’s place in the Sierra around the corner of Mount Whitney. We leave friendly Delta, Utah with still quite a bit of clouds around,
but it’s dissipating and I get to show Griselda how neat it is to get to the same altitude…
… of the clouds and then just drill a hole into them.
Soon we leave the last clouds behind us and point the nose toward Las Vegas. Still around some mountains, but the general direction is the City of Blinking Lights. The trip back seems to be a lot shorter than the way up here. A bit over two and a half hours bring Griselda and her pilot into Las Vegas North Terminal for some food for trusty 08L and the people traveling with her.
This is the first airport where I see a self-service gas station for aviation fuel. It’s pretty cheap, under 1.80, [Editor: those were the days…] but we get the idea that, as we go up into the restaurant and have a crew prepare and serve our lunch, so we could also have some crew help our 08L to get fed. I am still wondering how she would have handled the self-service all by herself.
After lunch, we call Ron up in Badger. Yes, he is there and we are welcome, just buzz the house and we pick you up at Jerry’s airstrip. Jerry is a great guy. I met him a couple of years back when I was still in my primary training. A native Badger and retired army pilot, Barney, had been happy to have a pilot, even if it was only a prospective one, whom he could show around and introduce him to the people in the area who had something to do with flying. Jerry was one of them. He was over seventy and lived up there in the woods with his wife Lucy. The one item he was most proud of was the wooden propeller on his ’49 Bonanza, which he still regularly flies out of his 2200-foot private airstrip at 4000 feet elevation.
This was the airstrip Griselda and I would go into. But first, we had to find our way over the Sierra Nevada. These are high mountains! From Vegas, we have trusty 08L’s nose up into the sky all the time. Finally, we reach about 12000 feet and there just isn’t any more altitude to gain. It’s pretty hot and density-altitude is probably a lot higher. We can’t quite make it along the straight route to Porterville. A pretty big guy is in the way. The sectional gives his height away with far over 12000. Respectful as we are, we bid him hello and fly around.
Once we have crossed the Eastern ridge of the Sierra, the highest part, we can start to let down. On the way down we have to dodge some very beautiful clouds that try to rise over the ridges of the Sierra to bring some rain to the desert hidden behind. But experience tells that they will not succeed. On the other hand, this failure brings gorgeous green valleys in the higher up-sloping part of the Sierra on the western side of the ridge.
Eventually, we intersect the one radial beaming out of Porterville North that will bring us right to Jerry’s airstrip. But before we get there, we go down some more and make our low pass over Ron’s place. This reminds me so much of the old barnstormer stories that I can nearly feel the wind blowing into my face in the open cockpit. But only nearly, good young 08L is not really drafty. Climbing back up to 5000 again and see that we find the airstrip now. It’s not that easy. Finally, we make it out, turn base and final and see this unbelievably small airstrip over the nose.
Past experience discloses that trusty 08L will fit on it but from up here it sure does not look like it. And true, as we get closer, this little strip of flatness appears more and more as a place where our 08L can come to a well-deserved rest. Soon we are close enough…
… power is cut and airspeed reduced as much as possible. It is not the best landing but we all get down nicely, in other words in one piece, Griselda is thrilled by the adrenaline rush, and soon we tie down our trusty girl for the night. Certainly, we have to take a photo of World Traveler Griselda leaving the plane before Ron comes and picks us up.
With all this feeling of being on top of everything after the survival of the bigger part of the trip, this World Traveler has to show off how she would have looked as the Ace Pilot in her Sopwith Camel.
We have a great day at Ron’s Badger Inn. The weather is as it should have been while we were stranded in Delta, Utah, but what’s the complaint, we enjoy it now.
The next day will bring this world trip to an end. After a good brunch, Ron drives us back to Jerry’s airstrip and we first have a chat with him, Lucy, and some friends of theirs who came up with a beautifully restored Piper Cub, this old nobility of general aviation. I first get dependable 08L from the place where she slept for the night to the beginning of the airstrip which coincides with Jerry’s yard. We turn her around to point down the runway, and I, trying to be the nice guy, waste a bit of this already short strip in order not to sandblast the Cub behind me. We wave goodbye, full throttle and down we go the strip, faster and faster.
Only not quite fast enough when we nearly reach the end of the runway. But that’s not a problem for such an accomplished pilot as I am now. The runway is on top of a pretty high ridge and at the end of the runway, the terrain falls off steeply for several hundred feet. I can use that! With less than sixty knots one jump over the edge and nose down into the chasm! Not really that dramatic, only to gain speed through the dive. Getting the speed up to seventy, seventy-five and start climbing. No problem.
Only the crowd that had us waved goodbye, had a different perspective. They looked down the runway. Trusty 08L reached the end and disappeared. Ron told me later that all of them started to breathe again when we reappeared after our dive, flying over the strip, happy 08L rocks her wings and we follow the Dry Creek down to Woodlake, navigate to Porterville, get some gas there and embark on the last leg, climbing to over ten thousand feet to get over the Grape Vine, then slide down all the way from the Gorman VOR into the home port Burbank.
It feels much more like HOME now, and there is the urge to tell approach and the tower controller about our trip. But no, we have to be grown-ups, the excitement has to be put on the back burner and we announce our arrival with a simple
Burbank Approach, Cherokee 08L, Magic Mountain out of six thousand, landing Burbank with Information Xray.
Last year I took my son out to Death Valley for a day – and night – he loves to be in hotels! We stopped in Stovepipe Wells for the night and continued on to Furnace Creek the next day. This trip was done on the ground but it still reminded me immensely of a research mission the custodian of the Logs of JD Flora and I conducted many years ago. I reported about that mission on the web in something that today would be called a blog. The pages are still there but hidden in the deep crevices of the internet, so that I though I dig this all out and present it here again – on a real blog.
Here we go…
What!? You don’t know who J.D. Flora is? I would say that you better find out. Otherwise this story will not make very much sense. I will wait here until you are back …….
So, now you know our hero. You also know or will find out that Dr. Joachim Steingrubner, the lucky person who found the logs of J.D. Flora and I went onto a mission to follow the tracks of our hero.
From the logs we learned about J.D.’s one flight to Tehachapi, Mountain Valley. There, on his heading of 10 degrees at a distance of 12 miles he encountered the unexplainable – at least for us. Will we ever find out what happened?
On another flight J.D. Flora, or Jetty, how he is now sometimes called by his fans, made a flight to Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek, again with unexplainable but steamy events happening.
Dr. Steingrubner as the historian and chronist as well as the researcher of the J.D. Flora logs decided that a mission was in order to follow the trails of the subject of his research. I was to participate in this project as the pilot in command. The interested reader can follow the trail on a World Aeronautical Chart.
World Aeronautical Chart
On a fine sunny morning we met at the Pilot’s Co-Op at Burbank airport, ready to follow the trails of J.D. Flora.
Dr. Steingrubner had the appropriate excerpts from The Logs so that we could review it for our first leg. From the IRC communication between SFYNX Remate Agent 3 and J.D. we learned:
SFYNX-RA3> From your recent e-mail I conclude that you want to SFYNX-RA3> go flying today or tomorrow morning. How about going to SFYNX-RA3> Tehachapi for a snack ? JDF> It's quite a humble, but healthy cuisine they got there, but I'll JDF> consider this. Any reason for this ? SFYNX-RA3> Of course. SFYNX-RA3> From Tehachapi, if you fly heading zero-one-zero SFYNX-RA3> degrees for 12.5 nautical miles, you'll see a small SFYNX-RA3> landing strip in the desert between two small hills. SFYNX-RA3> Cross the runway East to West abeam and fly SFYNX-RA3> an approach of one-seven-zero degrees, land and SFYNX-RA3> taste the space over there for some time.... JDF> Will see... so, but what's the purpose ??
That should be not a big problem. The only unusual aspect is that the charts really do not show any landing strip in the area in question. We know that J.D. in fact found and landed on the indicated airstrip, but unfortunately no progress has been done in decoding the time lock so that we still don’t know what really happened and how J.D. returned. We only know that he survived, so we were in good spirits.
Preflight, engine start, clearance (Golden State Departure like usual), and off we were into the blue yonder. Climbing up to 4000 first to get over the mountains just East of the Newhall pass. Getting the nose up some more lining up for Agua Dulce, giving a mental wave to one of my very first ‘other’ airports during primary training.
East of Newhall Pass
Climbing out more towards the north east to clear those peaks and catch a nice glance at the San Gabriel Mountains to our right. After we clear those mountains we see the huge Palmdale Airport off to our right.
San Gabriel Mountains
Big, but mostly useless for me because it’s an Airforce installation. But only ‘mostly’ useless because during my instrument training that was a good place to practice approaches.
I guess these guys in the tower and on approach were pretty bored and probably glad for any Angelino pilot who came by and needed their help. My instructor at this time, Wyn Selwyn – wonder what he is doing now – answered my question of what would happen if I would actually touch down there with: They would nicely invite you in, offer you a cup of coffee and then give you this half foot stack of forms to fill out. He should know – he was a pilot in the army.
Then turning north getting into the real desert that can be really green if it gets some water as for example from the California Aquaeduct. After that a straight loran course to Tehachapi, Mountain Valley.
Our plan was leave out the landing in Mountain Valley and to cross it and head straight to the mystery target 12.5 miles zero-one-zero. But it was late enough to justify an early lunch so we dropped down and had some chili and banana bread watching some gliders being helped up into the sky by these sky tractors – boy, do they really look like tough tractors.
Then looking north into the area where there should be this mysterious air strip.
Taxi down to the end of the runway, full power and a practice for soft field takeoff. It’s not really soft, but more oiled gravel – still, you don’t really like to do this for long if you are the one who has to pay for the maintenance. Liftoff, and a quick rocking of the wings abeam the glider flight school to say thanks.
We set the loran to all zero on leaving the airport and head zero-one-zero. When the readout shown 12.5 miles the view confirms what the maps had told us. Still, we circled in bigger and bigger circles but could not make out anything that is or might have been an air strip.
Somebody really has to decode this googledigoog in the logs one of these days.
So it was off then to our second target. Stovepipe Wells. We passed California City and did not have to maneuver too hard through this narrow corridor because we got a clearance to enter the MOA and could fly straight towards our goal. Closing in on Death Valley we passed something that surely looked like salt lakes but we were not sure if they really were and we also did not want to stop there to taste.
Soon we enter Death Valley, fly up the western valley north hound and then around the bend crossing Stovepipe Wells to take a look at the place of JD’s steamy adventure. Nothing really to see down there except a few parked planes. And as it’s better to get some fuel for the flight back we turn south heading for Furnace Creek.
Shortly after that we turn final and ten minutes later trusty 08L is tied down in the strong wind and we are picked up by a courtesy van and taken to the resort where we hope to find a trace of JD Flora.
Final Furnace Creek
Tied Down at Furnace Creek
In the lobby we talk to an old woman who remembers this nice man who gave her such a generous tip and she also recalls the cabin where he stayed and she kept particularly neat for him. She wants to know what happened to this real gentleman, but we have to tell her that we actually are the ones looking for information.
Furnace Creek Lobby
Cabin where JD stayed at Furnace Creek
She asks us to say hi to him when we find him and keep his promise to stay longer the next day and she wonders if the nice lady, who had missed him by just one hour, ever managed to meet him. There! Now we know something that JD did not – hmm…
08L has the biggest trouble climbing in this hot weather even though – and this was a first – her altimeter was well below zero before takeoff. But we manage to get over these ranges south of Death Valley and as soon as we can reach what’s now Joshua Approach we ask for and get a clearance through the MOA and head straight back towards Burbank. We cross Rosamont Airport and shortly thereafter admire the big runways and markings at Edwards Air Force Base – the alternate for the space shuttles to land when the weather is not good enough for them in Florida.
Markings at Edwards Air Force Base
Things start to look very familiar again now and soon we start to let down and are in our close home territory.
“Burbank Approach, Cherokee 08L, over Agua Dulce, eight thousand five hundred, landing Burbank with Information Zulu.”
Digging through ‘things’ I have collected over the year, asking myself which should be thrown out because I have not touched or needed them in years, I ran into some papers that certainly meet the characteristic of not being touched, but which I nevertheless don’t want to toss out. Just scanning and keeping for later is certainly a way out of that dilemma, but with these artifacts, I want to go one step further and put it out on the web because I can imagine that there are others besides me who might enjoy this.
So, here it is…
The following advertisement appeared in several aviation publications in 1987
The only reason I have this ad is, that Lucy, mentioned in this ad, gave it to me personally. In other words, I can answer the question “Who’s Lucy?”
Together with this ad, Lucy also gave me an excerpt from the advertised book. These are the pages that I did not want to discard…
Not all of the dealings at Luscombe Airplane Corporation in 1939 were of a serious business nature. July saw the culmination in marriage of a romance that had started nearly a year before. Lucy Rago, a local girl from the West Trenton area, was an office girl hired in 1935. In September of 1938, a young male customer flew into West Trenton with his distributor to take delivery of a new “50” only to find that his plane was still under construction. Because he was low on money from the trip and couldn’t afford to just wait, Jerry Coigny was hired to work on his own airplane. The office area was off-limits to the factory floor staff, but Jerry was more than just an employee; he was a customer, thus allowed to wander through the office area at will. This afforded Jerry and Lucy much contact with one another; enough to fall in love during the two weeks Jerry worked on his aircraft.
After Jerry left the West Trenton area, he and Lucy corresponded daily. As Jerry was racing and barnstorming in his little Luscombe, much of the news his letters contained concerned the performance of his airplane. When Lucy thought something pertinent to the further development of Model 50s, she would carefully cover the personal messages with masking tape and take the letter to higher management. Almost before her back was turned to leave the room, the tape would be off and the personal sections read.
Occasionally, Jerry would write a letter to Don Luscombe himself, who at this time was still president, always adding, “Tell Lucy hello”. Don used copies of some of these letters in sales literature. Occasionally when a customer wrote the company concerning this literature, the P.S. “Who’s Lucy?” would be included.
The Christmas following their meeting, December 25, 1938, Keith Funk, another Luscombe employee, knocked on the door of the Rago household bearing a gift. Jerry had sent Lucy’s Christmas present to the factory, an engagement ring. Lucy later said that the gift made Funk the “greatest Santa Claus in the world as far as I was concerned!”
More letters carried the young lovers through June when Jerry sent news of the sale of his first, well-used Luscombe. The official telegram arrived on June 9, 1939, Jerry Coigny’s deposit and order for a new Luscombe Model 8A was confirmed. The little plane became known as the “Honeymoon Special”, which was stamped on the firewall. When the order was written, Lucy was jestingly listed as extra equipment. After that, customers would jokingly request an “extra” like companion, wife, or girlfriend.
Jerry arrived on July 1, bearing gifts for Lucy’s family. Because of conflict between the families of the couple concerning their wedding ceremony, Jerry and Lucy decided to elope. The other girls at the office helped Lucy smuggle her personal belongings into the factory where they were stashed until the proper moment.
July 12 finally arrived. The little Luscombe 65 horsepower airplane was loaded with Lucy’s belongings and decorated with signs, crepe paper, and old shoes.
J. H. Torrens, current President of Luscombe, gave a farewell speech and presented the couple with a Lear Radio. Lucy’s co-workers provided her with the necessary “something old, something borrowed, something blue”, and off they flew.
A short flight took them to Doylestown, Pennsylvania where they were married in a short civil ceremony. Another flight took them to Wings Field in Ambler, Pennsylvania where Don Luscombe and his wife picked them up and drove them to their estate at Gwynedd Valley. The honeymooners stayed the night with the Luscombes’ and left the next morning for Grants Pass, Oregon, where Jerry had established a fixed-base operation and flying school.
Thus far the story of Jerry and Lucy (all images from the Jerry and Lucy Coigny collection). Maybe the book is still available and if you are interested in the Luscombe story, try the address in the above ad.
Just as a little glance into the past, here are the prices and the equipment list for these aircraft types as in the story above. This was mailed out to dealers and prospective customers shortly after Lucy and Jerry got married:
FLY-AWAY FACTORY, TRENTON, NEW JERSEY AUGUST 1, 1939 LUSCOMBE “50” (Continental A-50 Engine) — $1895.00 LUSCOMBE “65” (Continental A-65 Engine) — $1975.00 LUSCOMBE “65” SEAPLANE (F.A.w.) — $3170.00
STANDARD EQUIPMENT INCLUDES
Single Ignition Engine
17 1/2 Inch Tires
Fully Enclosed Tunnel Type Cowling
Carburetor Heater with Hot and Cold Air Control
Two Full Size Doors
Dual Controls (Stick)
Oleo Landing Gear
Oil Pressure Gauge
Oil Temperature Gauge
Imitation Leather Upholstery (Seat Cushions)
Individual Quick Fastening Safety Belts
First Aid Kit
Quart Pyrene Fire Extinguisher
Five Cubic Foot Baggage Compartment
Upholstery, in attractive leatherette, on both doors, with pocket in each door
Upholstery in same material on forward cabin walls
Rubber heel mats on cabin floor
Now, you might wonder, how do I, your friendly author, fit into this story. Here is what happened:
A few years after the book in the above ad had been published I started my flight training. During a visit to a friend who had a little motel in Badger, close to the southern part of the Sequoia National Park, I met a local who took interest in me and my flying because he had been a pilot during the war. He took me on a visiting spree around the area to meet local pilots.
One of them had the most amazing private airstrip: Hangar on top of a hill, the short 1000 foot steep runway down the hill. Gravity helped to gain enough speed to get to minimum take-off speed at the bottom of the hill. On landing – the other way around – gravity helped again, this time to slow the plane touching down at the base of the hill, racing up the hill and coming to a stop in front of the hangar. Until now I have no idea what would happen if a plane would run out of momentum during the climb up the hill because the hill was definitely too steep for an airplane under propeller power only.
Another local pilot was Jerry Coigny – yes, the same as in the story above. He had a more traditional airstrip if you can call it that – It started at the edge of a bluff and ended in his backyard. The similarity was that again, independent of wind, you took off in the opposite direction as you landed. The backyard was just big enough to turn a small airplane around. No, not just one turn. You pulled into a tight 90 degree left turn a little bit up an incline, pulled back power and gave full right rudder, and let the plane roll backward in a right turn (you know that light aircraft don’t have reverse, do you?) Then full power and left rudder to complete the 180. On my first visit, I did not really know all that, but Jerry taught me later. He was a retired airline pilot and was still flying his 49 Bonanza (with a wooden propeller!) in and out of his airstrip located at about 4000 feet elevation. He showed us around his estate and was very fond of his restored antique cars.
I finished my flight training a few months later, started to collect flight hours and experience, and ended up buying a 1983 Piper warrior. A sales brochure of the warrior was one other item that I could have thrown out but fortunately not, so I can share it here.
At about 4 or 5 hundred hours, I felt able enough to take on bush-flying. I got in touch with Jerry, he gave me the exact coordinates of his property which I could plug into my Loran (GPS had been too expensive for me then) and I got on the way. I buzzed my friend’s motel first so they could drive up to Jerry and Lucy’s house (the very Lucy that eloped with Jerry decades ago) to pick me up and then pressed on to find that bush pilot’s dream runway. I was used to runways like Burbank so, a strip consisting of only two narrow rungs in the grass just wide enough for my wheels was quite a change.
This is also where I learned how to turn around at the end of the runway – in Jerry’s backyard.
Over the years I flew into Jerry and Lucy’s airstrip a few times and it was always a different restored antique car that we or I were picked up in from the tie-down area in the middle of the strip. The last time I was there, Jerry had unfortunately passed away. This is when Lucy gave me the story I told above. Now I don’t know how the story ends – if the airstrip is still there and even if Lucy is still wandering amongst us – probably not because it’s way more than 10 years ago that I was up there last and Lucy was already old then.
Often, when a couple is together so long and happy, the partner left behind often follows rather soon so that they can have new adventures together. If they are together again in the everlasting hunting grounds then I am sure that they fly around in a Luscombe, Bonanza, or maybe in some cute little white space yacht.
Dad, it must be about forty years ago that you tried to let us participate in your experience of reading the “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. This was, I believe, your first venture into the world of spiritual awakening.
And I did not understand – and laughed.
Sure, I have the excuse that I was young, but I am an old soul and should have understood if I would have just listened.
I also know that I have used you. I remember that one time when I wanted to have a stand for my slide projector but was too lazy to build it myself. I had a clear vision of what and how I wanted it to be. But I came to you pretending ignorance and asked your advise. Then steered you so that you came to exactly what I wanted. You were so happy that I took your advise that you then built it for me. I know you had the feeling that you needed to show me your worth, but I used that shamelessly and I can’t say that I am proud of succeeding.
When I used my control then, I was cocky about my abilities but I promise that has changed radically.
Now I see that it was you who allowed me to grow up without worries. That gave me the opportunity to develop the ability to manipulate and control. I sure hope that this was not the only ability that I developed. I am grateful for that opportunity – – now.
Now I am reading Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi” myself and I finally understand why you were eager to share your feelings with us.
Time is of no significance – so, finally, I can listen to you and tell you what 40 years ago I was not able to do – – – COOL!