Ultralight Trip 9-06-2003
Mustang Beach
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Follow the story in this left-side frame, and click on the links to see the pictures on the right.

It has been a busy, but pleasant summer in Houston and surrounds, and September arrived with little change in that good streak of good weather. The group of flyers at Bailes had talked about planning a big trip to Mustang Island, flying with several other groups in the SE Texas area, but I just couldn't wait. So I fired up my brother, Rick and John Reilly and persuaded them to make the long trek down the coastline to Mustang Island.

If you've followed along on my earlier trips, and if you glance at the map to the right, you'll see that most of the territory had been covered on several other trips. It was that last little bit past the Matagorda Lighthouse that I hadn't yet covered. But this would be the day!

I got an early start, with wheels up around 6am, and on my entry into the airspace around Bailes, I was greeted by Pastor Dave, flying along in his Quicksilver. A quick landing, handshakes all around, and we were off. On the way to the coast, I noticed a ferryboat, sitting up a river several miles from the coast. I guessed it was being mothballed. As we approached the Gulf waters, I took advantage of the early morning lighting to get this silhouette of Rick in his Buccaneer.

Soon we were paralleling the beach, approaching a familiar grouping of houses in the Sargent Beach area, near Caney Creek. Ahead and below me, flocks of brown pelican fly just above the water and dive for their morning meal.

The wind is warm, the familiar landscape passes by, I keep watch for my flying buddies and, soon enough, I see Pierce Field in the distance. Its long, concrete runway beckons me... it's there to be used and it misses the days during World War II when the plodding bombers would practice their touch-n-go's. But we have another destination, today.

I was flying over the salt grass to get a better shot of Pierce, so to my left, now, is Rick, flying over the Colorado River jetty. The water is already looking bluer and cleaner. The backflow from the Gulf Stream usually carries sandy water up toward Freeport and Galveston, but this far south it starts to clear up. Looking to my right, I can easily see across the narrow width of Matagorda peninsula, to the calmer waters of Matagorda Bay with Port O'Conner in the distance. It seems many people are out enjoying the Bay on this pleasant Saturday morning.

We're close to passing over from the peninsula to the island. We approach the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and see the black, decapitated body of the old Matagorda Lighthouse. You'll forgive me if I take a lot of photos of it, as I don't get down here too often! Click here for some history about the lighthouse.

A bit further down the island and we see the buildings that mark one of the rarely used runways within the Refuge. I'm not sure if it's used at all, but from a distance it seemed to be in good condition.

Below me in the water are thousands of white jellyfish. A recent storm seems to have blown them into the area. They have been spotted as far as 7 miles inland! Today they are almost a carpet. Up ahead on the beach is a long-forgotten derelict of a boat. And then, some activity on the beach, with heavy-equipment and a truck. Probably Refuge personnel doing some work. Off to my left, out a few miles, one of the many oil or natural gas rigs, sitting steadily in the shallow water.

Soon we come across two boats, doing some kind of shallow water work, but we could not figure out what they were up to. Being much busier than I thought we would be, we find yet another derelict on the beach. It's a sad sight.

Our destination is approaching... I've fallen a bit behind -- taking pictures, of course! -- and I get a bonus... this shot of the three ultralight flyers: Jim, John and Rick in the air in front of me! To the right, ahead, is the wildlife refuge airport; but it, too, is out of bounds for us. It has a very nice runway.

Another mile or two and Matagorda Island has given way to St. Joseph Island. In the distance I see the Aransas Pass Light Station. Click here for an external link to a web page about the lighthouse.

Seeing the lighthouse meant we were approaching Aransas Pass, and right on the other side is Mustang Island and the town of Port Aransas. The channel that goes out to the west is Corpus Christi channel. As I pass over the North Jetty, I start to wonder where the airport is. On the radio I hear my flying buddies start to announce their approach, and as I watch them my eye is lead to the airport. Soon enough I find myself lining up for approach. If you look closely, you'll see that Jim, John and Rick are already on the runway, or taxiing.

On my approach, I take a quick shot to my right, looking back the way we came, over the town of Port Aransas. A breezy touchdown and soon enough I'm parking next to Rick's Buccaneer, John's RANS S-12XL, and Jim's Challenger. We had been told that the FBO building would have information on how to get a trolley into town, so we could have some lunch. But based on the times posted, we had just missed the trolley and would have to wait another 30-45 minutes. So, casting an eye around we spotted a nearby eatery... so we trotted across the sandy and cactus strewn landscape for lunch.

With our bellies full, it was time to feed our flying beasts, but the fuel pump at Mustang Beach Airport would not cooperate. We consulted our map and saw that McCampbell Airport had fuel... just a short hope across Redfish Bay. As I cross over Corpus Christi Channel I take this shot to show that the water in Texas can be beautiful!

Ingleside is below me and to my right are two Navy ships being worked on. At the top of that photo, partially obscured by my sponson, is the Aransas Pass airport. Two miles north of Ingleside, just outside the congested area is McCampbell Airport. It's big, and has such a big taxiway that it looks like two parallel runways. The runway is almost a mile long, so we land near the center to avoid a lengthy taxi time.

We refuel ... cross the broad expanse of Redfish Bay, and now we're headed back, following the same route as before. The beach is now on our left. Jim flies low to inspect one of the derelict boats. And, again, we see the boat and platform, doing something unknown.

The Matagorda Lighthouse appears as a lonely sentinel among the grassy dunes... One last look through my telephoto lens and I can just pick out --on the right -- the cemetery where many of the former lighthouse keepers are laid to rest. Soon we see Pierce Field again -- I catch Jim flying over it -- easy to pick out among the green grass surrounding it.

A bit further down the beach, John decides to break off and fly to Bay City to refuel. Jim decides to follow him but, before he does, he takes this shot of me flying over a boat just off the beach. Rick and I had a lot further to go than Jim or John, so we flew along the beach a little further then headed north toward IWS.

About 45 minutes later, as I flew past Sugarland Airport, I grabbed this shot of downtown Houston, showing the Galleria area on the left, and the Greenway Plaza area just below downtown. As a bonus, I got lucky enough to spot my house during my approach to West Houston. It's pretty hard to pick it out so I was happy I got this opportunity.

Total distance: 454 miles, and over 7 hours in the air. Whew! What a great trip!

-- Robert




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