Wharton for 4

November 23, 2002

It was a sparkling Saturday morning, cool but not too cold, and a good number of the Bailes crew were at the hangar. Gabe, a fairly new ultralight pilot who flies a red Hawk, asked to tag along with Jim and me, and John Riley even volunteered to fly in the same airspace! So, four of us ventured out on a trip to Wharton Municipal Airport.

Neither Gabe nor John likes to fly too far afield, but they seemed up to a bit of a cross-country and, after all, the weather was beautiful!

The general plan was to fly past the Mystery Airport, do a touch-n-go at Lackey, then fly into Wharton and check out the pilots lounge. And, that is pretty much what we did!

Shortly after take-off from Bailes, I spot a field with interesting designs.

After a few minutes, we all managed to gather up together and I radio to Gabe to get closer for a few pictures. Unfortunately, the sun is behind him so the part of his plane that I was shooting was in shadow. Plus, being a fairly new pilot, he was reluctant to get very close — I don’t blame him! — so these are the best I could manage under the circumstances.  As you may have noticed, he slipped by me as we were flying along… that’s something I’ve always noticed about those Hawks: they are fast little airplanes!

Shortly, we are passing by the prison farm, with freshly plowed fields.

Off to the north is Smithers Lake with the coal power plant and its ever-present cloud of steam. You can easily see it was a beautiful day!

As we pass by the San Bernard River, I take this shot of John Riley in his RANS S12-XL.

And here’s Jim as he passes near some ponds.

Before long we’re passing close to the Mystery Airport at Newgulf… I’m pretty high so I get a good look at it coming, and going. The local scuttlebutt says that it’s going to re-open soon, and will no longer be a mystery!

By this time, I’m up at about 2000 feet, but John Riley stays low, passing close by some power lines.

The Mystery Airport is easy to spot because it’s right by these old smokestacks.

Before long, we dip to the southeast a bit and nearly miss Lackey Airport. Its runway is so narrow, you really have to know what you’re looking for. One by one, we call out our pattern and each do a touch-n-go down the narrow strip.

We’re now only a few miles from Wharton, and I spot a couple of tractors in a field — big suprise, eh? But this image is pretty dramatic.

As I pass them, I can’t stop myself from another shot.

From an ultralighter’s perspective, Wharton has a huge runway, about 5000 feet long, and almost wide enough to land on it sideways!

Again, we followed the proper protocol, called the pattern and we each did our landings. I had been coming in last, to take pictures, but Gabe got behind me. So, when I finally stopped, I was able to hop out real quick and get this shot of him greasing the landing at Wharton.

Gabe taxis in and shuts down…

…and all four of our planes are lined up nice and neat in front of the office. The airport manager takes a look and says, “Hey, are we havin’ a fly-in and nobody told me?” We had a good laugh over that, and he said he was happy to see us. Very friendly folks.

We stretched our legs, drank a little coffee, checked out the pilots lounge, then gathered for a little group photo.

Then I couldn’t resist taking yet another photo of my lovely little RANS.

We decided not to go straight back but to head for Bay City Airport. John Riley took off way ahead of everyone else, but soon enough we were all in the air. We followed the Colorado River part of the way there. I spotted a canal that is fed from the river, by way of a set of pumps.

Obviously the river is low and the canal looked mostly empty. Only a few hundred yards downstream was this small dam, probably there to keep the pipes in the water when the pumps are running.

Farmers fields flanked us on both sides where I got a look at this massive display of hay.

Sometimes it just seems like they go to a lot of effort to make their fields very attractive, just for me! 😉

And I surely appreciate it! I waved as I passed this farmer, floating on a sea of black soil.

I landed 4th at Bay City… John Riley was already ready to leave, so I simply turned around and took off again. As I was in my takeoff ascent, I managed to snap pictures of Gabe and Jim taxiing, and John was still parked next to a GA plane. It was kind of like computer lingo: I was LIFO (last in, first out) and John was FILO (first in, last out).

Gabe quickly caught up and I got this nice silhouette — yes, that’s the Gulf of Mexico in the distance behind him — and another as he, again, pulled away from my slower S12-XL. He’s going to have to find that airbrake if he wants to fly with us!

We pass the San Bernard River again…

…looking much larger than on our northerly pass, and I make the bold decision to fly over Brazoria County Airport. Usually, we give it a wide berth, but I knew I would be fine as long as I stayed high enough and announced my intentions. I was so intent on looking around, I forgot to get a photo!

Soon enough, we see Bailes, but at a different angle than we’re used to.

I land first, but stay down at the far end while Jim lands behind me, something I jokingly call LAHL, Land And Hold Long.

What a pleasant trip that was! 2:04 in the air, 130 miles covered.

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