Ferrying a Challenger

August 12, 2006

Rick Roberts called me up to tell me that he’d bought a Challenger II…

…and asked if I’d accompany him on the ferry flight to a hangar he’s renting at Dry Creek Airport. Rick is one of the many people trained by John Wall in a Challenger II, and he found a good deal on one.

So, I get up at 3:30am on Saturday morning and jump into Rick’s truck by 4am. By 7am, we arrive somewhere out in the middle of nowhere — southeast of Temple, Texas.

I do a thorough inspection of the plane and then a quick flight to check things out.

The runway is only about 700 feet long and one-up I don’t have any problem with the distance. I go out and do a quick stall to ensure the arc labels on the air speed indicator are correct… they are. Stall is somewhere around 38mph. I fly back to the runway and land in about 400 feet.

Rick and I were a little uneasy about the take off with both of our bigger-than-FAA-sized bodies in the Challenger, but the plane has great brakes so I just held it in place until I had full run-up, and the short-field takeoff procedure worked well. It’s now about 7:40am, much later than we had hoped we’d get off. The wind is surprisingly blustery for this time of day, so the Challenger was a handful for most of the trip.

The Challenger II’s panel is well-equipped for an ultralight, and when you add in the radio, Rick’s GPS (on the left) and my GPS (on the right), things are a bit crowded…

…but still workable. You might be able to see that, at that moment, we were going about 78mph. The Challenger, with it’s wheel pants and other accessories, is surprisingly aerodynamic. So, once we got level, if we didn’t watch things closely, it would sometime zoom up to 90mph in the blink of an eye. I knew I had to keep that in check!

The instrument in the middle is the tachometer, and we found that for most of the flight, to maintain altitude, we had to keep the RPMs around 5600-5800, which is pretty normal for a Rotax 503.

Rick wanted me to fly in the front seat because he felt he wasn’t quite ready for PIC (pilot in command) duties. I did the take-offs and landings throughout the trip, but he did most of the flying. Unfortunately, I’m a bit taller than the other guy he was flying with, and he’s a bit shorter than me, so he had a tough time looking over my shoulders at the panel. He had a choice: left side and see the airspeed, or right side and see the altimeter. I fly the plane for the first 15 minutes to get a good feel for it, then turned it over to him. I knew from the short time that if he maintained altitude, that the RPMs would take care of themselves. For the most part, that worked out quite well. Occasionally, we’d enter a thermal and the dynamics would change, but I’d alter the engine RPMs a little bit to make sure we didn’t get into trouble. That routine worked quite well… or, at least, Rick never complained much about it. He did an excellent job in blustery conditions. The Challenger handled the thermals fairly well, and it no doubt helped that we were weighted down with two big guys.

I started to really enjoy having someone else do the flying. That gave me the opportunity to really look around and take some good pictures. The area around our origin…

…is slightly rolling hills, groups of trees and many open fields. It stayed that way throughout most of the trip. Also prevalent throughout the first 1/3rd of the trip were the oil wells. (See below.) The standard oil well installation seems to be a large rectangular area cleared flat, a rocking-horse (the pump), and storage tanks. Often you’d see them in unusual places, such as the one in the middle of an orchard. Another one — at the top of the picture — is pretty standard, but I took the photo because of the odd “E” berms that someone created.

There were quite a few rivers we crossed on the trip. The first one I took note of is Elm Creek, just north of Cameron, Texas.

It looked more like a river, to me. It emptied into Little River which, further east, then emptied into the Brazos River.

We overflew several large irrigation systems, like this one, which is really just one-quarter of a circle.

And, of course, irrigation meant farming, and farming meant… tractors! Yes, there are many tractor shots in this trip, to make up for the dearth of them in my last couple of stories!

The land looks pretty flat from 700 feet, but this farmer has to work around a creek as well as a swale. You can also see the arcs that indicate an irrigation system.

Here you can see a bigger swath that the irrigation systems make in their sweeps.

Two more tractors… a busy Saturday morning.

The Little River, with trees and other debris.

Designs in the dirt.

At last I see an irrigation system at work. Apparently they pump water from a canal.

Travel time, at this point, has been about an hour. The fuel gauge on the Challenger moves around too much to be very useful, so Rick says he can visually check the tank. I wanted to make sure we had enough fuel to make it, but Rick reports about half a tank has been used up. That would imply 5 gallons per hour, which means we may not make Dry Creek without refueling.

Our original plan would get us to Dry Creek easily, but we encountered an usually strong headwind. So, I told Rick that we probably ought to refuel, just to be safe. We were fairly close, already, to Navasota Municipal Airport, so we diverted. The first leg is 1.4 hours, 82 miles.

As we were refueling, a Bonanza came in. When the two pilots got out it became apparent that one is an instructor, the other a student. After a moment of listening to the instructor, I realized I knew him! It’s Terry Sonday, my first private pilot instructor who taught me tailwheel maneuvers. What a small world!

We soon finished refueling … Rick pauses for a photo…

… and we’re off again. The concrete runway makes it a breeze to take off, and the wind is actually a bit calmer by now. We’re relieved.

Often things we see, which may have a sign attached which makes sense of something on the ground, can look very odd from the air. Very out of context, here’s a statue of a giraffe that we spotted.

This tractor photo (at first glance, the tractor is hard to spot) would seem to imply that the farmer is taking a lunch break. Maybe he’ll take a swim, too!

Here is an interesting pattern in a field.

Many times, photos of things just cannot do them justice. Here is a plain, simple field. To my eye, though, there were a remarkable variation and range of greens in this field that compelled me to take the shot. But, the image simply isn’t the same as seeing it with the Mark 1 EyeBall.

YATS: Yet Another Tractor Shot. They were very busy, today!

Two more unusual field patterns.

This house has some very unusual features: the first is, it is huge… next, it has what looked like an underground garage… and then I counted six air-conditioner units. Very unusual, but also in poor shape.

We passed over another unusual house, but this is was in tip-top shape, and has a Texas lone star for a patio.

From a distance, we spotted a long line of cars on a fairly small road. As we approached, we saw a fire engine. Closer still, we saw that a serious wreck has occurred.

We are now getting closer to Dry Creek, and there are several residential neighborhoods in the area. Many of them have retention ponds, and they try to put their best face on, considering what their purpose is. This one has a very nice star pattern to the fountain.

Finally we see Dry Creek Airport and enter the pattern. From this angle, it’s hard to make out that there is a runway there. It’s surrounded by homes and neighborhoods.

As we make our final approach, I look at the wind sock and see that the wind is coming right down the runway. A few seconds later, we come in, smooth as silk. I love their turf runway! We taxi about half-way down the runway and turn in to Rick’s new hangar. The Challenger is home! Rick is excited that it’s there… it means he’ll be able to fly it more often!

Here’s the overall map, again.

First leg: 82 miles, 1.4 hours. Second leg: 40.3 miles, 0.7 hours… ground speed average of around 58mph. Our IAS was usually around 70mph.

Total time in the air was 2.1 hours. If we were using up 5 gallons per hour, we definitely would not have made it without the stop at Navasota. But a quick estimate seemed to show more of a 4 gph rate of burn. Regardless, I was happy to have made the stop at Navasota. Safety first!

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