Monday, October 05, 2009

Bringing Home 08Romeo

Thursday Day 1

Our adventure starts on Thursday October 1st as we prepare to drop of Maggie and Rudder for boarding. We have our airline ticket/boarding passes ready and our bags are packed. I crammed in my mini laptop for flight planning, my electronic goodies to include the Zaon XRX PCAS and the Garmin 496. My brother provided the ride to Philly for this trip, it saved some $$ and we could leave on our schedule not the shuttle van.

Philadelphia was busy but we got pretty close to the curb and unloaded, no bags to check we were doing carry on only. I dreaded the TSA check but I knew it had to be done. We took the escalator upstairs and proceeded to moo through the line like cattle. Actually there was no line and we got to scoot to the baggage check and walk through the magical door. Mary went through no problems; yours truly on the other hand was directed to the sound proof booth. Ok Johnny, tell Gary what he won today….well….. Gary has won a no expense paid trip to a hand search and some stranger who can go through all his packed bags and flight gear. It wasn’t too bad and after the wand and hand search they let me roll, no bag check, we were headed to the gate. I guess we had maybe an hour or so to wait so together we decided to find some breakfast. Mary had the Monte Cristo sandwich special and I had a bagel with cheese and bacon.
When the agent arrived at the desk I checked in to see if I could get two seats together since my original ticket purchased was screwed up by me. Long story short I booked the wrong date, I had to eat the charge per ticket change and the new more expensive ticket price since it was now less than seven days prior to the flight. UGhhhhh….I was sick that day, all day, I hate wasting money. The agent got us squared away since a nice lady gave up her seat next to me and was rewarded with a seat in row two versus row eleven. Mary and I both thanked her as we boarded the flight.

We taxied out a bit behind schedule and departed on the start of our journey to bring Julie (08Romeo) home. It was a nice flight at thirty six thousand and smooth all the way until outside of Houston. We landed into a cross wind as I watched our crab angle out the window, nice job captain. We made our way through the airport and to the ground transportation area. In order to pick up a rental car we had to board a bus that shuttled everyone to/from the airport and designated rental facility. The building was pretty big and all the big names were there. Mary and I had decided on Enterprise and in a few minutes the paper work was complete. Our ride for the day would be a brand new white Chevy Impala; Mary wanted the GMC SUV sitting close by for an additional $10 a day. We passed and stayed with the impala. Onward to Palestine!

Our trip North to Palestine would take just over two hours. The countryside was flat with plenty of grazing area for cattle. We saw cattle ranches up and down each side of the highway along with homes of every design. Some places really nice and elaborate and others small salt boxes. The speed limit was 70 day and 65 nights, first time I ever saw one of those signs that I can remember. We barely saw 70, traffic was rolling along around 80, and we followed along (wink). Once off the big road, exit 178 off of Rt. 45 we made our way along Rt. 79 towards Palestine passing through small towns along the way. We passed through Buffalo, Oakwood and Tucker before getting to the South Loop 256. From this point it was a right turn and a short hop to the Hampton.

We checked in at the desk and asked about a good place to eat. The recommendation was to eat at the Amore Italian Restaurant in down town, so we headed out. No, we didn’t unpack we were hungry and wanted to eat first since it was now around 4pm and we last had a bite to eat around 9am. On the way to the restaurant I dug out my phone to check messages, Bo had called to see if we were going to make it up to McKinney , there was no way today. He did suggest a good place to eat called the Cotton Patch; we had the place in sight. Mary and I each ordered a steak dinner but first gulped down cool refreshments. We ordered an appetizer, steak cut fries covered in cheese and bacon, and we must have been a sight as we cleared half the large plate in very short order. Dinner arrived and we enjoyed a relaxing meal. Too full to have dessert we ordered it to go and each took back to the hotel a peach cobbler for me and a raspberry cobbler for my Bride. I finally caught up with Emery, the owner of 08R and we went through some documents and the weekend plan of attack. When we finished up I had to drag myself to the elevator, I was tired. Mary and I crawled into bed and I honestly can say I have no clue what was on TV because I passed out.

Friday DAY 2

We started out with a continental breakfast at the hotel. I then headed to the FedEx service center to send out the “original” bill of sale, Emery had sent a fax. Ken Johnson at BOA got the ok to release funding on my call based on the fax copy but needed at least a tracking number of the original that was on its way. It all worked out. Mary went back upstairs to give her back some additional rest since we were scheduled for a noon checkout. I found my way to KPSN and nosed around the place, nice airport and terminal. I sat back and watched a movie with the guy working, hoping to meet up with Emery but he was still in surgery. I gave up waiting and went back to meet up with my Bride for our check out. We loaded up the rental car and decided to look for lunch. As we were driving around Emery called and said to meet him at the airport in twenty five minutes, lunch was put on hold. I changed course and headed to Enterprise so I could return the car and get us a ride to the airport. The folks at enterprise were friendly and had us on our way. We were making a left off the main highway and heading down a country two lane road towards the airport. Just a mile or two to go and a car two in front of us decides to make a left, we all come to a quick stop and for some reason my passenger side didn’t have a break pedal, although I really tried. As we came to a halt a pickup truck was closing in on us, I spotted it in my side mirror and hollered hang on we’re going to take a hit! The truck dart to the right, thankfully missing us, cut across the shoulder and into the grass area and never flinched or touched the brakes for that matter, or so it seemed. Holy crap! We almost bought the farm! There’s more to this story but for now we’ll just fast forward.

Mary and I unloaded the bags and waited in the Terminal for Emery. He had pulled his Baron out for the trip to McKinney, what a time saver. He topped off tanks and completed his pre-flight while I loaded our bags on board. Mary climbed in the back and I took the right seat, our first ride in a twin. We screamed on out headed for T31 Aero Country. I was watching the Garmin 430 and his back up 300XL click off the ground speed as we passed 180 kts. This was really nice. Plenty of leg room front and back and great speed to boot. Maybe ten minutes in to our trip Emery motions to me with a head nod to look back at Mary, I asked, is she asleep? Well she wasn’t as I immediately took a slap to the back of my head. Yikes. I think they set me up. We continued on every one laughing but me. I was checking out the scenery when I noticed some blue streaks on the right wing. Uh…Emery we have a problem, we’re venting fuel on the right side. He gave it a look and I kept watch as he banked right and turned us back to Palestine. Once back on the ground he reset the cap and we cleaned up the fuel stain on the wing. Let’s try this again! Our next attempt was successful, we were soon letting down for T31, Aero Country. We taxied in and parked up at Aeromark, the folks who did my prebuy. We went over all the info and got all the logs updated then I paid the bill. Emery paid for the VFR cert and the oil change.

We climbed in so I could knock out a few landings and get familiar with the plane. My first take off was fine but my climb out was a bit steep. I heard some stall horn sounding so I lowered the nose and cruise climbed at the book speed of 80 knots. Much better as 08Romeo did her thing. I came around for landing number one keeping the same thought process as the Archer 90-80-70 for speed on downwind base and final. I pulled the throttle to 1500 at midfield keeping the pattern tight and on final was still a bit high. I went full throttle and climbed out deciding to go missed. Hmmm…..not the best start but I got that out of the way. Went out towards a practice area since I now had a new problem to deal with, a headset cord was tangled in the flap handle. It was now Emery’s airplane as I worked to resolve the problem. I asked for slow flight so I could put in a notch of flaps, this solved the tangled mess and we were back in action. Remember, the key is to “fly the plane”. We split the duties and moved on, good outcome.

Next time around was a nice landing followed by a good climb out with no stall horn. Winds shifted so I went out away from the field so I could reposition. Another good landing, maybe a tad fast had us rolling out to clear the runway. Emery said ok, drop me off and have at it, remember gentle inputs and cruise climb. Got it, and off I went. As I was turning short final Bo came on the radio and asked if I could make the midfield turn off, Thanks I said, no pressure. I brought 08Romeo in and made the midfield turnoff, yeah I had that big grin on my mug.

The time to make a go-no decision was at hand. I really wanted to launch and start heading home but as Bo stated you won’t be out of Texas before night fall. We decided to stay. Bo and Sandra invited us to dinner and gave us some options for places to stay. We ended up having dinner at the SaltGrass Steakhouse, what a nice place. I ordered the 12oz Certified Angus Beef Ribeye, Sandra had the Certified Angus Beef Center Cut Top Sirloin and Mary and Bo had the Prime Rib, end cut. Great food and service shared with friends, it made for a very nice night. As we sat there I could not help but wonder what all happened over the last few days to get to this point. All I do know is that relaxing and having dinner with friends made all the stress melt away, Mary and I both needed that. After dinner we headed to the Hampton inn for the evening. Plans were made for an 8am meet up for breakfast. We both were dead tired, I’m not sure if we even turned the TV on I woke up Saturday morning.

Saturday DAY 3

Our wake up call was for 7am leaving plenty of time to get showered and downstairs to the lobby in order to meet Bo and Sandra at 8am. At ten of eight the phone rang, our breakfast partners were here and ready to go. Great timing, as we were just heading out the door and making the final sweep through the room. It was a gorgeous day in Texas and I knew it would be a great day to fly. We loaded up our bags and headed to Mimis Café for some morning eats. The food was perfect, I had a cheese omelet Mary had eggs with a pumpkin pancake, Sandra had an omelet and Bo ordered French toast. We left Mimis Café needing to recheck the weight and balance. I started up 08Romeo and taxied to the fuel pumps, the ladies took the SUV down and Bo road right seat. It didn’t take long for Bo to ask why I taxi left of center. I was caught; it’s just something I always do since I started. I know better and should always align the taxi line right between my legs, thanks for pointing that out Bo.

Bo said that he gets a fuel discount for keeping his aircraft here so he used his credit card for the purchase. I was going to use my visa so I said I have a check or need to run for more cash, he said we’ll do the check. Ok, that works for me and so I pulled out the ground cable and hose then got to fueling. We chatted about this and that, and a man came up with his child looking at the plane. As I finished we talked his young son into checking out the inside, he agreed. One thing led to another and Bo mentioned you best be getting on if you want to make WV by night. He was right so we said our goodbyes and headed off.

Thanks Sandra & Bo for the great video!!

We are about to fly the longest leg of our short three year flying career as we planned for a first stop at KHZD, Huntingdon, TN. This would be a gas, nature and go stop. I taxied up to the pump and got the go go juice flowing. When I reached into my back pocket for my wallet and opened it for my credit card I notice I still had the check intended for Bo’s fuel purchase. I was so embarrassed! I called to give Bo a heads up and being the perfect gentleman he said don’t worry I didn’t see how many gallons we put in anyway. I said I would mail a check out ASAP, he insisted on waiting until he got the bill. I felt like such a dope.

After I explained to Mary what I did she just looked at me, obviously we were both tired and not thinking straight. We loaded back up and departed for our final stop of the day WV62, Windwood Resort in Davies, West Virginia. The ride had been smooth until maybe twenty minutes prior to our fuel stop at HZD. There was an airmet for moderate turbulence but it was noted as higher altitudes. We continued on as I constantly looked at our ground speed and recalculated our arrival time in my head. It looked like we would be at WV62 right after the 7:05 pm sunset. I crossed Cooper Knob and into the Cannan Valley less than a few miles from our destination. I made a pass a bit lower then my 5,500 en route altitude and did not see the field. I was still on with ATC and asked that they stay with me so I could make another pass. If I didn’t have a visual I would cross the next mountain Balckbird Knob and pass over Jordon Run into W99, Petersburg, Grant County Airport. I just wanted extra eyes with me and ATC agreed. ATC asked if I would like vectors to WV62 and I agreed. We were turned to a 050 heading then left again to 035 degrees. There she is, almost entering the downwind for runway two four. It sure looked small from my view. I cleared with ATC and thanked him for his extra effort then switched to the CTAF at Windwood. I heard the POA pilots that were waiting for us. I had called in on the CTAF from 40 plus miles out just to say we’re inbound and I think I gave a guess on my time. Obviously they heard me and were at the ready for my landing attempt. I pulled the power to 1500 rpm and added a second notch of flaps. I had the pine trees on my mind as I turned final looking for a place to chop and drop. I cleared the trees and heard land at the gray house, the gray house, then another voice, chop it chop it. I was clear of the tress adding the last notch of flaps and pulling the power all together. We were riding it in, steady, wow it’s dark down here, nose up, rudder, nose up, hold it off, hold it off…stall horn screaming kerplunk on the mains and almost instantly followed by the nose gear making contact, we were in. Short lived joy as I crossed the gravel patch and it sounded like the wheels came off with a bang. I rolled out to the end turn around and back taxied for the ramp. Doc. Bruce stood on a runway light that was not illuminated to protect me from striking it and I followed the many folks marshalling us in. Man it’s great to have friends looking out for you!

I shut down and tried to catch my breath. This was only my 4th landing in the new plane and it was dark with the added narrow runway 40’ and large obstacle, 50-70 foot pine trees. Mary climbed out and the group of pilots there to help hustled our bags in and helped me park/tie down. I was dead beat and relieved to be on the ground.

The group had waited for dinner to start so we made that the first order of business. When I got to the lodge Mary already had the room key and a few guys carried our bags in, thanks so much to all of you that helped get us in for the night. Dinner was fantastic, chicken alfredo tasted perfect and so did the two large sweet teas. After dinner we headed upstairs to hang out and hangar fly. Mary paired off with Doc. Bruce’s bride and they seemed to have a nice time. I was chatty Kathy with the guys until I just ran out of gas. I called it a night and turned in. Ted was scheduled for a 6:30 departure and I wanted to see him of. It was lights off and I think I was asleep before the bulb went off…..yeah I was beat.

Sunday DAY 4
I was up at 5am and headed out to see if Ted was leaving. I just missed him as I watched him walking down the grass path towards his plane out on the ramp. It was chilly out so he had to warm up before the run up. Adam was the next one to poke his head out to see ted off followed by Rob. We hung out listening to Ted’s twin rumble through the valley, sweet music to us pilots but to the guy in the house behind Ted’s Aztec, I’m not so sure. Adam grabbed his handheld to ask what he was waiting on and sure enough, as Adam stated, he was waiting for a release. Finally he turned on the strobes and taxied out to runway two four. Power up and the twin engines came to life; Cloud Nine was on another mission.

I hung out and chatted with Rob for a bit then went back to the room. I crawled back in bed and figured I would get up and shower to make this sore body feel better. I was up and out early, working on my flight plan. By the time breakfast rolled around (plan was for 9am eats) Mary had wandered out to join us. I had a cheese omelet and I really could not tell you what anyone else had around me, I was hungry and a bit out in space. Prior to breakfast I called to let my family know we would be heading home in an hour or so and should be in, in less than two hours. My phone call also alerted me of some tragic news. One of the kids I coached for three years was killed in a tragic auto accident along with his father who helped out every practice and took over my coaches spot this season when I went in for hip surgery and his Mom, this year’s team Mom. One survivor, the 16 yr old daughter is recovering in the hospital. I was devastated, there are no words, there is nothing that I can even think about to make sense of it all. I could not shake the thought of not seeing this happy go lucky 12 year old and his father out on the field again, not hearing his voice or listening to his corny jokes and class clown infectious laughter and antics. I still had to fly home but my mind was two hours east on the baseball field reliving all the things he did to make me laugh and love the game we shared.

At this point I needed to take a deep breath and move forward. I had to get us home despite the sickness I felt inside my gut. I added this to my blog because it is so important, for many reasons. One being the importance of life and being happy, leaving it all on the field and letting the people around know how much they really mean to you. Second, the need to be professional in my duties as a pilot to fly Mary and I home safely. I dropped the ball on number two, I should have asked for help from the many friends and pilots that were staying at the resort. I didn’t, I decided to conduct my preflight and continue. I finished up and climbed aboard to get 08Romeo started so she could warm up the oil. I watched Rob and Lee preflight, Gary and Adam too. I was ready to roll for my run up when I heard someone on the radio tell me my left wing was still tied down. He untied 08R, I thanked him and rolled from the ramp.

Thanks Bryon for the video departing WV62!!

The run up was fine as I went through the checklist, now concerned I may miss something else. Everything was good so I announced on CTAF and launched for W99, our fuel stop. Rob was off number two and Gary number three. I radioed on the air to air that crossing the ridge line was really bumpy, hang on to your hats! Mary and I rode it out and started an immediate descent to W99. The AFD and Flight guide noted a right traffic pattern for runway 31, so that’s what I did. Winds were right down the runway and a bit gusty but 08Romeo did just fine. I taxied to the pumps and once shut down got the fuel going. Rob taxied in behind me and helped me tug the Sundowner out of the way so he could fuel 09L. I also missed one of my fuel caps but thanks to Rob got it squared away. We all finished up and taxied out for the ride home. Rob was number one Gary number two and Mary and I followed in our new girl. When I was ready to announce departing three one I noticed on my last checks I didn’t have my seat belt on….UGhhhh. Mary helped me buckle up and we were off. Once in the air I needed to take a few minutes to get my head out of my butt as my Bride said. I had to push it all out and focus on flying the plane. I guess if there is a moral to this story it’s don’t be afraid to ask for help, always be safe.

The remainder of the flight was uneventful and I ended the adventure with a very nice landing at Wilmington. We taxied to our new tie down location and secured 08Romeo. It took a while to unload all the boxes of books and manuals but we got her cleaned out and tucked in for the night. Our new bird served us well and we owe her a good cleaning and wax, as soon as we get some rest.
Thanks to all our friends in Texas and the POA fly in bunch at Windwood resort, you all make flying that much more fun for Mary and I. I can’t wait until the next gathering!!


Steve said...

I'm so sorry to hear the terrible news, but I'm also glad you were able to focus on the task at hand and make it home safely. That aside, what an adventure! I really wish I had been able to meet all you guys over there in WV. As I posted on Rob's blog... next year!

AdamB said...

What an adventure Gary. 08R looks like an awesome ride, and I can't wait to see it up close. Congrats again guys.

Sorry to hear of the tragic loss, very sad. Glad you were able to stay focused on the task at hand, but can understand your distraction.
They'll be in our thoughts.

Unknown said...

Nice read Gary, I was coaching a group of 13 yr olds at that time in travel baseball. I understand.

Eddie Smith

Gary said...


Thanks. As much as we, as coaches, try to shape these players into young men and women by teaching and setting the example the kids seem to teach us. The simple things we loose as adults, it's a game, it's all about having fun all come back when surrounded by the kids.