Ultralight Trip 10-04-2003
We've had an unusually pleasant run of days in the southeast Texas range for the last week or so, and Saturday was no exception. The day started with no clouds, pleasant temps, and no breeze.
The EAA Chapter 347 email list was alight with postings, "What're we gonna do, where're we gonna go..." since everyone knew it would be a nice day to fly. It's never difficult to jump in the plane and just fly around... after all, that's what it's all about. But sometimes its fun to have a challenge, a quest, a goal. For this flight, my mind was made up for me when my youngest son was packing to go on his first Boy Scout wilderness campout. When I dropped him off Friday afternoon, I said, "Don't be surprised if you see some planes flyover." I winked at him with a smile.
It was easy to say we'd flyover, but I honestly didn't know if we'd be able to find them. There was only one way to find out, though, so, off we went. To entice any of the other pilots thinking about making the long trek, I first suggested lunch at Brenham.
In case you don't know, Brenham airport has a very nice "diner" right on the airport grounds, sharing the same building with the FBO. The waitresses dress up in 50's poodle skirts, and there's a rock-n-roll theme. I like to sit outside, and watch the planes come and go.
Jim -- with his Challenger newly fixed -- and Russell, in his SkyBoy, decided to join me in my quest... and, more importantly, for lunch. Rick wanted to go, but he was under the weather and didn't want to stray too far from home.
Jim and Russell flew from Bailes, and I took off from West Houston. On the way, I saw this unusually shaped pond... and a farmer trying to get every last scrap of hay from this tree-filled plot of land. Forty-two minutes after I left West Houston,, around 11:10am, , I arrived at Brenham, grabbed a table outside, and sipped on a Coke until they arrived. After lunch we reviewed our plan and decided to fly to Fayette Regional, first, to refuel. After that, we would have plenty of fuel for the aerial search.
There always seem to be interesting aircraft at Brenham... on this trip, I saw a stunning Velocity... and I'll also count Russell's SkyBoy!
On the short hop to Fayette Regional Airport, we passed Round Top, Texas. I spotted a cemetery: a type of landmark I realized I should have been taking note of before.
This time of year, there is usually something going on at Round Top, and today was no exception. There was an antique fair and something else I never figured out. But it looked like a lot of people were having a great deal of fun!
Soon after that I caught two tractors hard at work.
In the distance to my left is the Fayetteville Power Plant. The waters of Lake Fayette, heated by the power plant, provide year-round fishing and record catches, according to the locals.
Soon enough, Fayette Regional appears and we're on the ground. The airport is a lot busier than the last time I was here, in April 2003. First Russell refuels, then me, then Jim refuels his Challenger, and people swarm around our planes, taking pictures and kids asking to sit in the pilots seat. Turns out that the first Saturday of the month is kind of a local fly-in/open house, so they have lots of visitors.
Before long, we huddle, agree on some safety protocols for flying around looking for the wilderness campsite, then we saddle up and head on out. It didn't take long for me to discover that, in the midst of the gawkers looking at our aircraft, my pitot tube has been pushed to the side. In more practical terms: my airspeed indicator is not reading correctly. This isn't terrible, but I was about to go looking for a campsite, at relatively low altitudes, and it would be a bad thing to have too low an airspeed at a critical moment.
I radio'd Jim and asked for a calculated headwind (his airspeed indicator versus his GPS (ground speed) indicator). It's only a couple of mph different, so I decide that as long as I keep my ground speed (via GPS) above 60mph, then I'll be fine. That will give me more than 15 mph buffer zone, which should be plenty (for my plane).
As we got closer to the point that we had set into our GPSes, I got more and more worried that we wouldn't be able to find them. Ahead of us were rolling hills, covered with trees. I was almost right on top of my GPS waypoint, looking around, feeling that it was hopeless, when suddenly I see a clearing with some cars and tents... I found it! It was less than 1 mile off my estimated waypoint. I announced my find to Russell and Jim via the radio.
Almost immediately, though, I realized there wasn't a soul in sight. The clearing and campground were empty. I circled around again, to take another picture. Less than 30 seconds later, Jim announced that he had found the group, about 100 yards east of the clearing, gathered under a tree.
Like many times when I'm taking photos from my plane, I have to decide if I'm taking the photo, or am I going to actually LOOK at what's there. Most of the time, I take the photo. Until I got home and looked at the (rather blurry) image I took, I didn't realize that, there was Cameron, waving at me!
I found out later that he told the Scoutmasters, "that's my dad!" but they thought he was just kidding around. When I picked him up, I took a print of the aerial photos... I think they believed that. Hee hee hee.
I took another shot of the group, then did another pass by the campsite where I took yet another photo, but one in which you can see both the campground and the group under the tree.
Ok, we had hassled them enough and decided to head on back to our respective airports. I radio'd Jim and Russell that I was going to go back to Fayette Regional just long enough to fix my pitot tube. Jim had been having trouble with his radio... Russell could hear him, but Jim couldn't hear Russell. I acted as relay long enough for them to agree to fly directly back to Bailes, and we parted ways.
I made a very quick stop at Fayette, just landing, taxiing back to the hold short line, set my brake, hopped out and fixed the pitot tube, hopped back in, and took off. Quick and easy.
On my way back to West Houston, I again passed by the power plant and lake, but this time from 3700 feet... a stunning sight! I was trying to get above the clouds, but they were deceptively high, and eventually I gave up. Besides, it was pretty cool up there and, by being lower, I could take more pictures.
I saw many fields with amazing geometric displays... I think the farmers simply have a blast figuring out how to make it more dramatic. Or maybe it's just accidental. Either way, it's a joy!
The major theme unfolding below me seemed to be hay collection... here's a farmer using the old-fashioned square bales. Meanwhile, in a nearby field, this farmer is creating the newer round bales of hay. Here is a huge field, with an hourglass shaped pond in the middle, and two rows of bales stretching out on either side.
This one struck me as being both odd and whimsical... trees in a circle in the middle of a field. (Being eight, it could also be described as an octagon.) This next field is a rectangle in a rectangle, but with kind of a tail.
It's hard to see him, but there's a tractor in this large field of hay, but how else to describe it but "corn rows."
This truck and tractor are working side-by-side in the shadow of a white grain elevator near Katy.
Here's an overhead perspective of another cemetery.
Getting closer to the city, here are some "corn rows" of yellow buses.
About this time, I'm starting to parallel Interstate 10, and I look off to my right to see the massive Katy Mills Mall.
My final geometric pattern is Rhodes Stadium, in Katy, which shows off it's striped parking lot as much as it's oval shaped grounds and rectangular field.
Whew! This last leg was tough, with a lot of turbulence, but having those interesting things to look at made it easier. Total distance covered was 225 miles, and in the air for 3 hours 36 minutes.
Upon reflection, it seemed unlikely we would be able to fly 90 miles or more in a given direction and find a group of campers out in the wild, so it's even more amazing that it was so easy.
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And, to read other exciting stories of my flights around Texas, go to: