March 9, 2005
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
Alexandria to Opelousas to Gonzales, Louisiana
For the Louisiana fly-in put on by the Region 20 chapter of the Popular
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
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
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.