Ultralight Trip 6-7-2002
Calhoun County (Port Lavaca)
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Follow the story in this left-side frame, and click on the links to see the pictures on the right.

After I looked at the few pictures I took from my trip to Port Lavaca, I wondered it they were worthy of a story on Texas-Flyer.com. My brother -- who has had his wings clipped by an engine out for quite some time -- commented that "not every trip you take will be a grand adventure, but each one is still interesting."

So, I've decided to post the story. It isn't any kind of adventure; just a nice, long day of flying -- with a bonus of meeting a really nice fellow ultralight pilot. I normally like to show lots of photos, but unfortunately my camera battery went dead just as I was crossing Espiritu Santo Bay.

Although Friday is normally a work day for me, this Friday I was expecting Tom Duncan to being flying his Quicksilver from George West, Texas, to Winnie, Texas. As-the-crow-flies, that's 245 miles, quite a trip for a low-time Quicksilver pilot! But he was going to be smart and follow roads, and land often for fuel, etc. Chances are, that trip will be more along the lines of almost 300 miles when he finally tallies it up.

But, as chance would have it, the trip had to be delayed. I called him and said, "Hey, I've taken the day off anyway, so let's meet halfway and, er, meet!" Like so many ultralight-pilot friends, they are "Internet friends" and I haven't actually met them in person. Besides, it was a good excuse to take advantage of a nice flying day!

Tom left quite a bit earlier from George West than I did from Angleton, but my plane is faster so I knew I could make pretty good time. I also had a slight tail wind -- which meant he had a head wind -- which gave me even more of an advantage.

(The destination airport is officially "Calhoun County Airport" but many people call it the "Port Lavaca Airport" because that's where it is. Forgive me if I interchange them.)

The direct route from my home airport, Bailes, to Port Lavaca was "overland" and Bay City was right on the way. I've been to Bay City a couple of times, so that was familiar territory.

The air was calm, early in the morning, and I kept climbing so that by the time I reached Bay City, I was over 2000 feet. This was a good opportunity to get a good overall photo of the airport. I also got a good birds-eye view of the hangars. (You can see... not much activity on a Friday morning!)

After my overflight, I was now in new territory. I knew that somewhere southwest of Bay City was the South Texas Nuclear Power Plant. I also knew I needed to keep clear of it. Since I was headed in a southwesterly direction, I figured I'd see it pretty soon, and I did. At the closest, I was around 6 miles away. During the 9/11/2001 attacks and subsequent shutdown of airspaces, there was a 10-mile (radius) no-fly zone around nuclear power plants. So, I was a little closer than I wanted to be, but my track was consistent and (I hoped) non-threatening.

Immediately to my right was a nice view of all the powerline towers coming from the power plant, parading off into the distance.

I soon spotted what I thought was an interesting railroad trestle crossing a river, the Tres Palcios River, I believe. I was happily snapping pictures as I usually do, but it was shortly after the trestle that I noticed my "low battery" signal. Yikes! I realized I needed to conserve power, so the frequency and number of photos decreased radically at this point.

The topology continued to be coastal plains, with lots of low areas, and there were fewer farms than I thought there might be. Before long I was passing the northern tip of Carancahau Bay, with Lavaca Bay just starting to appear in the far distance.

The cloud base had been steadily ascending during this time, so I had stopped trying to keep above it and was down near my "normal" flight level, about 700 feet. The air was much bumpier here compared to the smooth air above the clouds, but it was still early in the morning and the thermals weren't too active... yet!

Soon I was paralleling Highway 35 and I could see that it crossed Lavaca Bay (that's Port Lavaca on the other side, and Point Comfort on the far left of the photo). I knew it would not be wise to cross the Bay: too much water, and no place to land if I had an engine-out. (Plus, with the haze and no foreknowledge of the area, I didn't know how congested the other side might be.) So rather than continue my parallel path, I veered northwest a bit, and skirted the very northern shoreline of Lavaca Bay. Eventually, I turned southwest again and started looking for Calhoun County Airport.

Like Bay City and Hallettsville, Calhoun County isn't very big and was hard to spot until I was within 2 miles. The radio had been busy with two general aviaiton (g.a.) type planes -- e.g. Cessna's, Piper's, Cherokee's -- announcing their arrival just minutes before. I watched as one approached and landed, then announced my intentions to follow suit.

Only a few moments after my announcement, I heard Tom on the radio, saying he was going to land on the turf runway at Calhoun. Heck, I didn't even know they had one! The maps for the airport didn't show it, so I was more than a little puzzled.

I made a short final and flew down the 5000 foot runway until I was just short of the taxiway, then landed, applied the brakes a bit, then turned off the runway. This technique gets me off these really long runways faster than if I landed "on the numbers" and taxied.

As I pulled into the tie-down area, I looked up and saw Tom approaching the turf runway... I think I saw Tom before I realized that it was a turf runway he was above. But his approach was too high -- which he realized about the same time I did -- and he announced an overfly, and that he'd go around to land on the big runway.

And that he did, and quickly taxied into the tie-down area, where I took this shot. His Quicksilver was very similar to the one I used to own, except he had a bigger engine, but an older airframe. In balance, it was virtually the same, so I had fond memories while looking over his craft.

I had my spare 6-gallon gas can already filled with mogas, so I quickly poured in the oil and refueled. While doing so, Tom and I got to know each other a little better. He's a big guy, but very affable, with a pleasant personality. It was easy to see his quiet enthusiasm for ultralight flying. We both knew that our visit had to be short -- the thermals were building and getting stronger every moment -- so we chatted incessantly even as we attended to our refueling chores.

Here's a photo of him filling my 6-gallon can up with avgas for his plane. (Oil can be mixed in after the "raw" gas is poured into the tank, but it's better if it's already mixed, so he was using my gas can to premix the oil.)

The airport had a small office -- here's the front door -- which has a soft drink machine, some free cookies, and a restroom. There were 4 or 5 g.a. planes in the tie-down area when we arrived, so it seemed a bit busier than either Bay City or Hallettsville. The people running the office were very nice, and we chatted with them for a few minutes. The lady -- I didn't get her name -- took this photo of Tom and I on the tarmac.

Time to part ways, we shook and saddled up. I wanted to get a photo of him in flight, so I let him take off first, and I followed a minute later. The air was very turbulent upon take-off. Tom later told me his drive belt slipped a bit on take off and he had to dip the nose to recover. The belt dug back in and didn't give him any problems after that, but he had a "special moment" there!

I tried to parallel him, but the turbulence was making it tough. He was gaining altitude quicker than I was, too, which wasn't helping. My PTT (push-to-talk) switch was acting up so I couldn't call him and ask him to be a good model. So, I grabbed a quick shot and then turned south.

I had decided to exploit my favorite attribute about flying along the beach: no bumps! So, by turning south, I'd not only get down to the coastline, but I'd get to see the old Matagorda Island Airport as well as the Matagorda Lighthouse.

Unfortunately, my camera battery was kaput by this point. (Refer to this map.) So there aren't any photos, but I flew down past Indianola, then around Port O'Conner and paralleled the Intracoastal Waterway until it was safe to hop across Espiritu Santo Bay to Matagorda Island. I saw the old airfield off to the right, then circled around to get a close look at the lighthouse. It's seemed very short, very small. If I make the trip to Brownsville, I'll be sure to take a picture then.

I then hopped across to Decros Point -- the very southwestern tip of Matagorda Peninsula -- and continued up the Peninsula into now familiar territory. I saw Pierce Field, then the abandoned airport, and all the other landmarks I have seen before. I flew a lot higher than I normally do only to get a different viewpoint.

When I finally passed Freeport and turned inland for my final leg back to Bailes, the thermals and turbulence reminded me once again why I took the longer route home.

My trip to Port Lavaca was about 83 miles, and took about 1 hour 20 minutes. The trip back, via the Matagorda Lighthouse, was about 142 miles, and took 2 hours 16 minutes (62 mph average).


-- Robert




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