Log -2 Louisiana

08/22/08

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March 9, 2005
ASL-IER-2LO
Marshall, Texas to Natichoches, LA to Alexandria (Pineville) LA

Our morning in Marshall dawns with no wind and a light but steady rain.  Flight service predicts rain ending soon and clear skies with wind.  By 8 am the rain has stopped here but it is still continuing across my route. The weather briefer is confident it will move off by 10 am so we wait.  By 10 the rain has cleared all across my route having been pushed out by strong winds.  As we sit in the motorhome parked next to the runway we are continually rocked by gusts well over 20 knots.  Stations along my course report winds from 14 to 26 knots.  It is similar to the winds I flew in yesterday but neither flying or driving the motorhome are really enjoyable in those conditions so by 1 pm we call it a day and decide to see the sights of Marshall, TX.

March 10 dawns with perfect blue skies, warm temperatures and only a gentle breeze.  It is the kind of day just made for flying a small gyroplane.  Dee leaves me at the airport and I wait a bit for the temperature to climb.  It should be beautiful all day so there is no rush to get airborne.  After some minor maintenance I'm off at 10:30.   The last few days have been stressful flying with the winds and heavily wooded swamps below me.  Today I decide to follow some roads that go in my general direction.  Who cares if I fly an extra 20 miles out of my way- flying is the point of this trip and the days just don't get any prettier than this.  One road I pick looks as good as a runway with a miles long straightaway.  An emergency landing here would be no problem, in fact I have to resist the temptation to drop down and do a touch and go just for the hell of it. 

After two hours of soaking up the sunshine and beautiful views I glide into Natichoches, LA.  The landing is so smooth I can barely discern the moment the wheels touch down.  My bladder is screaming and so I take the first turn off shut down the gyro and duck behind the fuel tank for several minutes.  With my tank empty I'm ready to deal with filling the gyro's tank.  The self service pump is not working so I get back in the gyro and taxi to the other end of the airport where the FBO is.  FBO stands for Fixed Base Operator and these are the people who sell gas, run the airport and provide all sorts of services to pilots. 

I park next to a brand spanking new Italian Piaggo corporate 10 passenger twin engine turbo prop plane.  It is the first one I've ever seen and its pointed nose looks like a rocket ship.  It is a canard with tiny wings in front and the bigger wings in back and the propellers are in back so its a pusher prop just like my gyro.  The plane has only 40 hours on it and is on its first business flight.  I'm invited inside for a tour and I reciprocate showing them my gyro.  One of the pilots is from the Dominican Republic to which I had previously sailed in my sailboat so we trade stories about his wonderful island home.  In good corporate style they had a full tray of catered food which they shared with me.  Such are the joys of just dropping into small town airports.  

The next leg to Alexandria is also along the road.  Lots of power lines and towers keep me at 500 feet AGL (Above Ground Level) but where the road is lined by pastures instead of forests I drop down to 20 feet off the deck and fly along amazing the farmers.  In a few spots I turn tight turns swoop here and there just for sheer joy of it.  At Alexandria's Pineville airport I see Dee and the motorhome already there waiting alongside the runway.  Unfortunately my landing  here is rough --I flared about a foot above the runway and dropped down hard-  damn will I ever master this machine? 

I taxi over and park the gyro right next to the motorhome.  Except for the second landing  it has been a nearly perfect day of flying-- WOW I'm so lucky to be doing this!!

March 10, 2005
2LO- OPL-L38
Alexandria to Opelousas to Gonzales, Louisiana
For the Louisiana fly-in put on by the Region 20 chapter of the Popular Rotorcraft Association.

It's a beautiful morning here but there is rain reported from a cold front just ahead of us near Baton Rouge so I delay my departure for awhile allowing the front to move off into the Gulf of Mexico.  By the time I depart the wind is blowing about 18 knots from the North and predicted to get stronger as the day progresses.  Fortunately it will be mostly a tailwind for me.  The departure is another good one with the wind nearly aligned with the north-south runway.  I've decided to follow the interstate south then a smaller road cutting across the huge Atchafalaya Basin swamp. 

The tailwind is helping me along at about 75 knots but after awhile I reduce my speed so the wind gusts won't be quite so violent and I won't have to wrestle so hard to keep the gyro pointing where I want to go.  My landing at Opelousas is another smooth one made easier with the strong wind coming straight down the runway.  The local who fills my gas tank is full of interesting information and I would love to stay and chat awhile but he informs me the wind is 22 knots and supposed to pick up even more so I don't waste much time.  He gives me some good advice on crossing the Atchaflaya and cutting south of Baton Rouge then I'm off again. 

Crossing the swamp I fly high over the road as he has recommended.  I'm going east with the now 30 knot northerly wind hitting me sideways and the trip is very uncomfortable.  After half an hour my arm is nearly cramped from fighting the stick so much.  The Mississippi River is just ahead and that will certainly mark a milestone of my trip across the country.  Since the days of Lewis and Clark it has been both the physical and psychological line dividing east and west.  It's much too windy to even think about getting out the camera so I guess I'll have to content myself with pictures when I cross it again in a few months heading back west. 

Suddenly about 2 miles before the river I seem to go thru a shear zone where the winds die right off so I grab the camera and snap a few shots of the river, some barges and a floating casino. All morning I've been flying in these strong northerly winds now up ahead Baton Rouge is reporting winds from the Southwest.  That explains the shear zone. 

From here it is only a few miles more to the gyro fly-in gathering at South Louisiana regional airport.  I'm a day early and as I circle the airport to check the windsock direction I see only one other gyro. The wind sock shows  a strong and gusty wind shifting direction about 30 degrees every few seconds.  Today is the strongest and gustiest winds I've yet flown in and I'm a bit concerned about my landing but fortunately this concern translates into increased concentration and a nearly perfect touchdown.  The winds have made for a rough day and I'm very glad to climb out of the cockpit.      

The weekend fly-in proves to be a huge success.  They were only expecting a dozen people or so but word of Rudy Graffeo's jambalaya has spread.  There are 14 gyros and over 50 people including arrivals from Texas, Florida and Arkansas plus Dee and me from Colorado.                          

 

After a week canoeing the Bayous, bicycling backroads, listening to Cajun music, walking the French Quarter and trying every restaurant in South Louisiana we are ready to move on again.  Back in Gonzales Rudy Graffeo shows up just in time to help me with a 50 hour service on my gyro.  His machine is similar to mine and his help is invaluable.  After the servicing I spend some time doing touch n go's and Dee and I take a scenic flight along the Mississippi River.  We'll depart early tomorrow.

 

 

March 21, 2005
L38- ASD- 5R2
Gonzales to Slidell, Louisiana and then Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Normally I like to fly early in the morning when conditions are the smoothest but we are forced to wait again here as the fog is so thick we can't see the runway 100 yards away.  By 11 am the heat of the day has burned off the fog and we have a window before the predicted 35 to 45 knot winds this afternoon.  After getting Dee set-up with the motorhome and Jeep I jump in the gyro and take off. 
Most of the land underneath me is swampy so I continue to follow highways.  The day is heavily overcast but so far not too windy as I proceed Northwards around Lake Ponchatrain.  This is the warmest day I've had and it is a pleasure not to wear a ski hat and gloves.  I twist and turn banking the gyro above a back road weaving alongside a bayou up to Slidell where I touchdown gently and taxi to the fuel pumps. 
As usual all the locals come over to gawk at my strange flying machine.  
"I guess you don't get many gyro planes around here," I say.
The fuel man replies "we have one just like it in the hangar". 
And sure enough inside is a recently completed RAF 2000 gyro.  It looks like it has been very well made with good attention to detail and the addition of a horizontal stabilizer.  He tells me the owner has not flown it yet and so far has had only a few hours of instruction by a pilot in Alabama about a 4 hour drive away.  Currently one of the biggest challenges for gyro pilots is finding an instructor as there are so few of them in the country most people have to drive hundreds of miles for a lesson.  

While I'm chatting on the ground in Slidell the wind begins to pick-up and I decide it's time to move.  From here I fly over the interstate and try to find an altitude that is not too bumpy with the building winds.  About 300 feet above the ground seems best and I'm cruising along when looking down I see Dee in the motorhome directly beneath me.  I'm not sure she has seen me so I decide to fly alongside her at about 50 feet but with this 20 knot headwind I can't catch up to her and have to content myself with a few pictures.   

A few minutes later I'm talking with Gulfport Approach control who handles the airspace for the International Airport here and nearby Kessler Air Force Base.  They give me clearance to fly at 400' AGL above the Interstate, then alert me to a giant Military C-130 cargo plane crossing my path.  With me at 400 feet I doubt there is a conflict but a moment later I realize the runway he is landing on is right next to the Interstate I'm flying over and in fact the C-130 will be at my exact altitude as he prepares to land.  The wake turbulence from his engines could flip me upside down so I slow down  to make sure 3 minutes pass before I fly through his wake.  No sooner do I slow down than the tower alerts me to a second C-130 who will cross right behind me for landing also.   Since I can't slow down without interfering with the second C-130 I climb a bit as I know the wake turbulence will descend and hopefully I'll be above it.  All goes well but I feel like a squirrel trying to cross a highway filled with semi trucks. 

I'm grateful that Ocean Springs is close as the building winds make flying lots of work.  Soon my GPS tells me I'm only 2 miles from the runway and yet I still can't see it. Finally I see the runway nestled right next to the trees.  This is certainly one of the smallest airports  I've ever seen with 60' pine trees right alongside the runway on the east side and houses very close by on the west.  I fly over and see the windsock flicking back and forth from NE to SE.  The runway runs north-south.  I decide to land to the South and line up for landing.  At 80 feet up my approach is fine but at 40 feet everything seems to go to hell.  Above the trees the wind is over 20 knots but in the lee of the trees it is only about 10-12 knots but seems to switch direction constantly as it tumbles into the clearing below the trees.  I suddenly don't like the looks of this so I cram in full power and climb out again.  My second try is a repeat of the first and I do another go around with my frustration mounting.  The folks on the ground alert me to a spot near one house where the wind seems to be ballooning me on each approach.  I thank them and try a new strategy.  I decide to keep my speed up until touchdown and land on the small section of grass next to the runway.  In a few minutes I'm on the ground but there was nothing pretty about my touch down. 
Later we watch a Mooney airplane touch down and just where I had a problem he bounces back into the air, gets control again and re-lands farther down the runway.  The windsock, the flags and the weather station which are placed at 3 different places along the runway all show different directions and different wind speeds. 

March 24, 2005
5R2- 5R7- BFM
Ocean Springs, Mississippi to Bayou La Batre, Alabama to Mobile, Alabama

In the FBO at Opelousas I had read an article in the Southern Aviator newspaper about Roy E. Ray airport in Bayou La Batre.  The airport was described as what the county airport used to be like in the 1930's with a well maintained grass runway and lots of old time tail-dragger planes.  After landing you would first be greeted by the resident hound dog and later by the old codgers rocking on the front porch in the sunshine.  It sounded like just the kind of place I needed to visit.   I climbed out from Ocean Springs and began following the highway cut through the swamps and woods.  In moments I was on the radio co-coordinating positions with other aircraft inbound to Trent Lott International airport which serves nearby Pascagoula.  As I fly along I'm singing Jimmy Buffett's song Pascagoula Run and each time I get to the chorus I swing the aircraft into a steep bank just for the hell of it, then continue flying along tapping the control stick in rhythm to the music in my head.  It seems almost as soon I as cross the border to Alabama the land starts to dry out and the swamps and trees are replaced by open fields which are much more fun and interesting to fly over.  As I come over the airport all is quiet so I fly down to see the windsock showing another direct cross wind.  It seems every runway in this part of the world runs North-South and the wind is always blowing from either the East or West.   The crosswind is not strong and I could certainly handle it but I also see a short east west taxi-way so I continue circling then drop in over the hangars and houses to land on the taxi-way into the wind.  It's fun to land on grass again but the taxi-way is a bit rougher than I had imagined it would be.  My visit is just as the newspaper described it, with all the locals owning houses surrounding the airfield.  Each house has a hangar and they all fly in and taxi to their front door.  It's a fairly quiet weekday but on the weekends everyone is out flying and tinkering with their aircraft and there are hundreds of entertaining stories to hear.  Several of the residents own and fly aerobatic planes and are in high demand during the airshow season though on any spring Sunday they can be seen practicing their routines right overhead.  After a wonderful visit and some advice for flying area around Mobile I'm ready to get airborne again.
My original training in gyroplanes was done in Australia from a grass strip  so this makes me feel right at home.  Downunder in Oz it was standard procedure to chase the kangaroos off the runway before take-off or landing but I figure I can skip that item on the take-off checklist here in Alabama.  As I climb out I roll into a tight turn so I can fly over and wave to my hosts who are watching with big smiles on their faces. 
It is a short flight to Mobile so I tune in to get the airport information shortly after take-off.  After listening to the automated voice tell me the wind conditions and active runway I switch to the tower frequency and am greeted by a wall of static.  I fiddle with the radio and my headsets and it actually seems to get worse.  I can hardly hear anything.  Downtown Mobile has non-stop jet traffic coming in and out from United Airlines, regional air carriers, Military jets along with Fed Ex, DHL, and corporate jet service so there is no way I can fly into their airspace unless I can clearly understand the tower instructions.  I spend 10 uncomfortable minutes flying in circles trying to control the stick with my knees while I change batteries in my headsets and try a backup portable radio.  Nothing seems to help and all the while the aircraft is blundering around the sky like a drunken sailor staggering home from shore leave.    Finally I call the tower and tell them I am inbound for landing and also having radio problems.  They route me in line with the other traffic and I'm on my way.  Half way in they realize that my speed of 60 knots does not fit in very well with the other planes going 120-250 knots so they send me off to the North on a momentary detour then eventually clear me in to land on runway 14.  When I am on short final just a minute before touchdown the controller realizes the jet he has cleared in behind me is catching me too quickly and a hazardous condition is developing.  He asks me to sidestep off the runway and land on a partially closed taxiway instead.  This is actually better for me as the taxiway is more aligned with the wind but it is rather unusual and with the still screeching noise in my headsets I have to ask him to repeat and clarify so I am sure I heard correctly.  I am a bit worried he thinks I am a helicopter and can land anywhere but decide if the open part of the taxiway is too short I will just keep flying past it and do a go around.  He verifies the instruction so I turn 45 degrees left and touchdown on the taxi way while immediately behind me a Federal Express jet lands on runway 14.    

This is a big airport with fancy services and a golf cart with a big follow-me sign greets me and leads me across the ramp to the transient parking area.  The attendant from the Downtown Air FBO says my gyro looks like a mosquito and keeps asking me where the rest of it is.  He is worried that parking me on the ramp with all the big jet engines blasting past may be dangerous so he kindly offers to put it in their hangar overnight for no charge.  I am grateful for his kindnesses and accept readily.  In a few minutes Dee is here to pick me up and we head into Mobile to visit the museums and see the decommissioned Navy Battleship Alabama which is here on display.  Seeing the ship up close and going inside the magazine of its 16" guns is an awesome sight.  These guns can throw a 2500 lb. shell up to 21 miles.  

March 25, 2005
BFM- 12J- 54J
Mobile, Alabama- Brewton, Alabama- De Funiak Springs, FL
 

Fog and overcast so I spend some time trying to figure out my radio noise problem.  I find that while thrashing around trying to fix it I'd caused a short in my headsets which in fact had made it worse so I fix that.  My overall radio noise is louder than it used to be but I eventually determine that something in my electrical system seems to cause noise only on the frequency the tower here uses.  It's beyond my limited abilities so I retire to the friendly atmosphere of the lounge at the Downtown Air FBO.   Inside I munch their complimentary fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and swap stories with other pilots waiting for the weather to clear.  My first destination today is Brewton, Alabama where gyro CFI Dofin Fritts is based.  Dofin had given me a gyro ride at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin airshow in 1997 and that had helped get me hooked on gyros, though it took 8 more years before I started flying my own.
 

By 11:30 I'm airborne following the highway bridge over the top end of Mobile Bay.  From here I zig zag to stay over different roads nearly all the way to my destination.  The last 3 miles are over swamps and woods and across a river then the giant 3 runway configuration of Brewton comes into view.  This is the kind of airport you want on a windy day because with 3 runways you always have a way to eliminate crosswind landings.  Today though the wind is very light and almost any runway would work.  I select 24 and pull the power to glide in for a near perfect landing. 
Dofin shows me a hangar full of RAF gyroplanes owned by students he is training or helping with builder assist projects.   We talk gyros for awhile- I learn a few things from someone who has been involved in gyros a long time and Dofin and his mechanic Jerry get a chance to look over my machine which is identical to one they are preparing to help build.  After  fueling up I taxi-out and take-off circling the airport once before heading south to meet Dee at De Funiak Springs, Florida. 
The air is still calm and the gyro virtually flys itself as I continue to follow thin roads cut through the forests.  I am traversing airspace used by nearby Eglin Air Force base for jet training and while it is legal to fly here I do so at my own risk so I constantly scan the sky for high speed jet traffic.  At one point a large 4 engine military propjet diverts to fly over me then turns back to its original course. I wonder if it was the pilot's curiosity or if the controller had asked them to identify the tiny blip on his radar screen. 
It only takes me an hour to reach my destination and as I fly over I see the motorhome parked beside the runway and Dee coming out with a camera to record my arrival.  I consider using the dirt runway into the wind but it looks a bit sandy so I elect to deal with the light crosswind and land on the paved runway 27.  A few minutes after I'm parked the airport operators come out with lots of questions about the gyro.  The office manager Leah, is really smitten (with the gyro) and takes lots of pictures and even stays to help me do some minor maintenance on the rotor head.  We'll leave the gyro here for a few days while we take the motorhome to the white sandy beaches of Destin, Florida only 30 miles away. 

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