Ultralight Trip 3-23-2002
Roger's Place, near Seguin
A friend of mine, Tom, spends occasional weekends helping build a replica of a Fokker D.VII in a place near Seguin, TX, a place I simply called "Rogers Place". Tom and I thought it would be kinda cool for me to fly over there to visit, so I started planning my longest cross-country trip yet. From Angleton, TX to Seguin, TX is about 149 miles, as the crow-flies, so about 300 miles round-trip. My longest trip before this was only about 110 miles.
Using various tools (Streets & Trips, AeroPlanner, and -- of course -- the sectionals) I carefully planned my route, my waypoints, landmarks, and my refueling stop. The overview map should be on the right side; if not, click here.
One of the biggest questions in my mind was: what kind of landing spot was there awaiting me at the end of the trip? I could never quite get out of Tom the kind of runway that was at Rogers Place, but I knew they flew planes out of it, so it had to be okay for my ultralight. When the planning was finished, what I ended up with was two sectionals with the flight path noted, and a piece of paper with every landmark detailed, and every enroute airport noted (with radio frequencies, elevation, etc.). These documents were placed in a kneeboard for easy access while flying.
I also spent hours studying the weather for the weekend and, finally, on Friday night, decided it was going to a splendid Saturday, and that I was "good to go."
After the drive down to Angleton, I took my time to make sure everything was just right, and that I didn't forget anything. I finally hopped into the plane at 8:30am, as planned, and turned the key. All I heard was a little grinding noise... the battery was, well, not quite dead. Ugh. All that planning, and now this.
After a few minutes of making sure that is the problem, I decided to jump-start my battery using my car battery. I pull my car around, hooked up the jumper cables, made sure the brake was set, and... vrooooooommmmm! it started right up! Whew! First time I've ever done that! I knew the battery would charge as I flew, so I wasn't too worried about it. (I also figured out how the battery got low, but I won't embarrass myself further.) Time of departure: 8:45am.
My GPS and radio intercom are independently driven by internal batteries, but I've augmented them by having the planes battery drive them, too. But I'm using a temporary connection to power them, and when I jump-started the battery, I had disconnected that temporary connection. It wasn't until I was 10 minutes into my flight when I noticed I couldn't hear my radio. It was then I realized I hadn't reconnected them to the planes' battery, and that the internal battery in my intercom must be dead. Worse, though, is I knew the GPS was running off its internal battery, and they may not last the trip. (Yes, I had LOTS of spare batteries with me, but I didn't relish having to change them while in-flight.) So, I knew there was an airport (Lackey) at mile 39, right on the way and about 10 more miles from where I was at that moment, that I could land, reconnect the wires, and be off again, without much delay. But, just as I had decided to do this, I looked over and... there was an airport!
Well, it was a runway, hard-surfaced, and a hangar, but not much else. There were no numbers on the runway, and it looked pretty dilapidated. Furthering that impression were the cattle that were grazing at one end of the runway. There was also some kind of general-aviation type aircraft sitting out, near the hangar, and it was surrounded by 5 cows. This "airport" was not on the sectional. It became the "Mystery Airport" in my mind. (*see postscript at the bottom of this story for the "solution" to the mystery airport) It looked ideal for what I wanted to do.
I made a quick decision: go for it! I made a quick approach and landed. I hopped out, reconnected the wires, then hopped back in and took off. The entire process took maybe 2 minutes, and including landing AND taking off, I hardly used up 1/3rd of the runway.
So, I was back in the air, happy that I didn't have to worry about the batteries in the GPS and intercom.
And, as planned, about 10 more miles later was Lackey Airport.
These photos (and the others below) may give you some idea about how hazy and smokey the morning was. But, it was actually a lot worse... I've doctored these photos to make them clearer, but, for example, the above picture of Lackey Airport looked like this before being doctored to make them clearer.
So you can see a dramatic difference, and truly how smokey and hazy it was.
I had a pretty good tail wind, and frankly I like flying low, so I just kept between 500 and 800 feet AGL so I could see a bit better through the haze. The next landmark was Wharton, by the banks of the Colorado River:
Only a minute later, to my port side, was Wharton Regional Airport, fairly large by small-town-Texas standards. I kept well clear of it, so this picture only shows it at a distance
As you may already be able to tell, this part of Texas is mostly farmland, with a few forests thrown in for good measure. Being a farmer is a very lonely profession, and you have to admire them their fortitude. One of my favorite types of photos is the "tractor in a field"... On almost every trip, I see one. On this trip, I saw many.
You can also see that farmers try their best to maximize their fields as much as possible, often to the detriment of the living space around their farmhouses.
And here is an image which conveys another Texas reality... the ever present oilfield... look near the top right corner and you'll see a small patch taken out of a field, where a "Christmas Tree" is directing oil into the storage tanks. In some parts of Texas, this is a very common sight.
... and even more farmland... for you beer fans, these fields are near Shiner, Texas, the home of Shiner Beer. I'm sure that the hops, barley and other ingredients are grown in these fields...
One hour and thirty-five minutes after I left Angleton (including my quick detour to the Mystery Airport), I arrive at the Hallettsville Airport (34R). As you can see, there's not much there to speak of, save one thing I need: an automated gas pump.
The gas pump took a credit card... you dispensed what fuel you needed, and it charged you. Amazing technology, eh?
After I added the avgas to the plane, I then poured in the appropriate amount of oil, and sloshed it around by moving the wing.
The "Comfort Station" was a good idea... except that the door was padlocked. Oh well.
I had taken along a very small footstool that I intended to use to help me in my refueling task (the fuel cap is on top of the wing). At my home hanger I have a nice, large ladder. I didn't want to have to worry about how I was going to manage refueling by myself when I got to Hallettsville. As it turns out, there is a ladder there at the refueling station at Hallettsville! So I didn't really need it (yet I was still glad I had it). So, Hallettsville gets a grade from me of a B+... it would have been an A+ except for the locked Comfort Station, and the fact that I had to walk 50 yards to a dumpster just to throw away my empty oil bottle.
Back in the air again, I had about 58 miles to go before I reached Rogers Place. The next visual landmark was the town of Shiner, Texas.
The haze is still around (even though the pictures at Hallettsville, from the ground, made it look pretty nice) and some clouds are starting to appear. You can see the shadow of one on Shiner, above. I don't know if you can tell, but the terrain is gradually changing from being paper-flat to slightly hilly.
What I haven't mentioned yet is that it turned out to be a VERY breezy day, with strong gusts among the strong thermals. Winds increased up to 25mph, which was way more than predicted. I still had a tail wind heading West, but I knew it'd be a much longer trip back.
Next was the town of Gonzales... and somewhere in that picture is the small Gonzales airport (T20) but I never could figure out where it was... and I next passed over the beautiful San Marcos River... the photo doesn't do it justice, as the water was fairly blue, unusual for a river in Texas (most are muddy brown), but much of the San Marcos is fed by springs.
I apologize for these poor pictures... the gusts and thermals were so bad, I had a hard time taking pictures, and an even harder time getting the plane to move out of the way!
After crossing over Interstate-10, I only had 3 miles to go... and, finally, here it was, Rogers Place.
As you can see, it's one huge field, and no discernible runway. I circled the field twice to try and figure out where I should be landing. Eventually, I simply touched down just to the right of where the windsock is, alongside that lighter-colored grass strip. The field was fairly smooth. I taxied over to the building on the left, where Tom and some others were waiting.
Here is a photo of my plane next to the workshop.
Rather than just a single project, the building on the left -- the workshop -- contained a large number of antique aircraft in various states of construction (rather, re-construction). Here are several photos I took of the aircraft and other vehicles in the building on the right.
Thomas-Morse S4C "Scout"
Tom knew what each one was (which impressed me, but then he could always do that!). Regarding the "Scout" above, Tom reports:
The Scout was supposed to be America's indigenous design WWI fighter. Thomas-Morse hired an ex-Sopwith designer and gave him a clean sheet of paper. His creation was too far behind the curve to be competitive in combat. US flyers flew British or French fighter aircraft in combat and Thomas-Morse Scouts served stateside as advanced trainers. There were enough of them around that they frequently showed up in Hollywood movies in the 20's and 30's when someone needed WWI fighters.
Here Tom is showing me a Nash Quad. It had four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering... used as an early farm truck. It also looks like it used candles to drive the headlamps!
Ford Model-T Army Ambulance
Bleriot XI. "A replica of the English Channel aircraft. Very difficult to fly due to the slow speeds and highly cambered airfoil." Tom mentioned that there was only a few miles-per-hour difference between stall speed and cruise!
Pietenpol Air Camper - powered by a Ford Model "A" engine. Possibly, a 1934 design.
Another Model T ambulance
So, you're starting to see that I got a lot more than I bargained for. This was an entire museum! Out back, someone had donated a fleet of old trucks, but they were in pretty bad shape.
Tom poses in front of one of the better specimens.
Some of these old trucks had wheels that were made of both iron and WOOD!
I couldn't help thinking that once, a long time ago, this was someone's pride and joy.
And an old "GMC" logo on the grill.
Ok, enough of the back-40.... we're now back in the workshop... sitting next to the wing that Tom is working on (which is behind where I'm standing to take this next picture), is "an airplane being built by another volunteer named Vern Hatch. This fuselage is a replica of a Curtiss "Canuck", a Canadian-built Curtiss Jenny, though there are a lot of little detail differences between the two. Vern has the wings and tail surfaces covered and about 95% of the fuselage systems installed. His big hold-up is waiting for Roger to finish overhauling the Curtiss OX-5 engine which will power the airplane. They hope to have this aircraft flying in time for this year's Air Fair in late May."
And here's Tom, standing in front of the wing that he's been working on for about 3,000 years...
Tom says, "This is the one piece top wing... about 30 feet in span."
Yep, Tom, that was r-e-a-l exciting, wasn't it? Okay, back to sight-seeing... (Ha, ha, just kidding (not really)... but you have to have tons and tons of patience to work on these kinds of projects. I'm not sure if I'm proud of him, or just think he's crazy... probably a bit of both. Here's a litte more info on the plane he's working on: "The airplane I am working on is a replica Fokker D.VII. This was a German WWI fighter generally regarded as one of the best fighters to come out of WWI. We won't have an original Mercedes engine to power the bird, we are going to use a US engine called a Ranger. To date, we have completed (save for covering), the top and bottom wings, tail surfaces, and about 70% of the fuselage and it's systems, excluding the engine. We have an engine, but we have not started the rebuild."
More sight-seeing: here is a World War I observation balloon basket...
...and, finally, I get a look inside the back room of the workshop, with -- as you can see -- lots of propellers, wing assemblies, etc.
And there were lots of different kinds of engines sitting around, like this rotary engine. The cylinders (surround by the cooling fins) actually rotate around the crank. "Rotary engines were extremely odd motors, but saw extensive duty early on because they offered the highest power to weight ratio of any aircraft engine up through WWI. Rotary engines have the crankshaft stationary and the entire engine revolves around it! The propellor is solidly bolted to the crankcase. It's pretty amazing to watch one run...."
What I didn't take pictures of would fill a large photo album!
Here are some notes with more information about Roger and his place.
After some kind hospitality on the part of Roger, an abbreviated lunch, and a little hangar flying with the others that were helping out, I decided it was time to head home. I knew I'd be fighting a headwind, so I knew it would take much longer to get home. Plus, being in the afternoon, the thermals would be even worse.
I refueled from my own 5-gallon tank, and, with a brief wave of thanks, I took off heading East, heading back to Hallettsville.
I crossed Interstate 10 again...
...and one hour, seventeen minutes later, I approach my refueling station at Hallettsville.
On my first visit to Hallettsville, there was no one around and not a plane in the sky. On this return visit, after I had finished refueling, a Cessna landed and came around for some gas. I pulled my plane out of the way and finished putting the oil in. They came over for a chat while I munched on a Snickers bar and drank some water.
On the way to Hallettsville, I tried to get above the turbulence, but it was still bumpy and laborious at 3,000 feet. So, since I prefer flying low, and there wasn't much difference, I decided to stay at about 700 feet AGL on the rest of the way back. Flying low means there are interesting things to see:
...a grass fire...
...a "rocking horse" oil well bisecting a field...
...another farmer toiling in the fields...
...and an interesting highway interchange...
Finally, eight hours and twenty-one minutes after I left Bailes, I get back to my home field. My brother is there to record my return...
...and if you're REALLY bored (like he must have been!), then here's a short video (an .AVI file) of my taxiing that he took: click here Time of arrival: 5:15pm.
Overall, the trip consisted of four legs -- none of which were further than the distance I had covered before on other excursions. However, due to the strong headwind on my return, the time in the air was the longest I have yet experienced. I learned one thing for sure: Buy a headset that doesn't press on your ears.... oooooOOOOOUUUUCCCCHHHHHH!
There were times on the return trip when the headwinds were 25mph! But most of the time they were only (only!) 10-15 mph. It's a little depressing to be going 70mph but only showing a ground speed on the GPS of 45 mph. That makes for a long trip!
Here are the statistics of the trip:
For detailed statistics on the trip, click here.
Things I'm really glad I took along.
Given a slightly better day (less gusty/thermal-ly/hazy), and a headset that doesn't squash the ears, I can easily see that doing 300 miles per day is about the best I could hope for. On an extraordinary day, I might be able to get in 400 miles, but I'm not sure my legs or butt will be very happy about it. Yes, I know I did 323 miles on a less-than-"better day", but my ears paid the price, and it wasn't as much fun as it would have been. But I'm glad I did it, and I'll do it (or something like it) again someday... probably someday soon.
Mystery Airport -- SOLVED!
Near the bottom right, you'll see my home airport, Bailes. The black line that goes out of Bailes, to the
NW, then turns WNW and goes right over Lackey airport, that is my intended track. However,
the dashed light-red line indicates my actual track. I went much further north when I left Bailes than I thought
I would. The red arrow points to a closed airport (the magenta circle with the X through it). This, I'm 99.9% sure,
is the mystery airport. I remember the stacks being right there, too, so that's got to be it. I was much further
north than I realized, and I was (when seeing the mystery airport) much further west than I thought. When I glanced
at the sectional while in flight, looking to see what airport it might be, I thought I was somewhere around the
"08" symbol (in the middle of the sectional) and I thought I was nearer the track (the black line), so
from that perspective, I thought there was no airport around. I'm actually relieved that it's indicated on the
sectional. As an ultralight, even closed airports are good to know about! But ya gotta watch out for cattle on
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