Sept 8, 2005
North Platte, Nebraska to Julesburg, Colorado to Sydney, Nebraska to
We get stuck in North Platte another day waiting on
weather. This has been a discouraging week as every morning when I
look at the satellite picture it seems the only rain has been exactly in my
area. Ninety percent of the country has had glorious weather but the
rain has followed us day by day across Nebraska and now towards Wyoming.
When I finally leave North Platte it is in calm
winds and my flight south towards my home state of Colorado is pleasant and
Here in the arid west where there are only 12
inches of rain per year the only way to grow crops is to irrigate and the
most effective way to do that is with a long sprinkler pipe that is mounted
in the center of a field and which revolves in a big circle.
All across the midwest the fields covered nearly
every inch of ground right up to the roads and were all perfect rectangles,
while here they are all circles and the corners of each field are left dry
and barren. Often the farm houses would be put on these otherwise
unusable corners of the land.
I learned to fly in Denver and most of the airports
of eastern Colorado are familiar to me because as a student and novice pilot
I gained experience on the flat plains of Colorado before venturing
westwards into the high mountains. Today I'll just touch into Colorado
at Julesburg before turning back northwards to Sydney, Nebraska.
The runway at Julesburg is also used for drag
racing on weekends but flight service has assured me today it is an airport.
I come in low over the field checking the condition of the runway then land
on runway 13 and taxi over to the deserted hangar area. There is no
one in sight and not much to see here so I quickly get airborne again for
Sydney is a popular destination for Denver area
pilots because of the nearby Cabella's headquarters store which has a huge
collection of mounted animal trophies and nature dioramas. As I land
the lineman who guides me to a parking spot asks if I want the Cabella's
courtesy van to come get me. I'm just here for fuel today so after a
quick fill-up I take-off for Wyoming.
As I get into Wyoming it begins to live up to its
reputation and the wind begins to blow rippling the grass beneath me like an
ocean wave and making the gyro yaw this way and that. In the next week
I will be crossing the Continental Divide and so today I climb to 6,000 feet
just to see how my gyro will perform when I really need it. The climb
rate is sluggish but with today's high temperatures the 6,000 feet is
equivalent to 7,200 feet which is as high as I will need to go.
When I land at Guernsey Dee is already on the
Sept 9, 2005
Guernsey to New Castle, Wyoming to Belle Fouche, South Dakota to Bowman,
My climb out from Guernsey is pathetic. The
airport is at 4,400 feet elevation and with the morning already quite warm
the gyro is barely getting airborne. I am northbound but spend the
first few minutes of the flight going out of my way to avoid higher terrain
to the west. As usual I am scanning the gauges every minute or so when
I notice my engine water temperature gauge is down below the green arc and
is vibrating. My first instinct is to look below me for emergency
landing spots of which there are plenty. I then consult my GPS and see
that returning to Guernsey is 30 miles while my destination is over 70 miles
away. I reason that if it is really a problem it won't last 30
miles or 70 miles so I might as well continue on my way. I watch
it very closely for several minutes and its motion never changes convincing
me it is most likely a loose wire that is only getting an intermittent or
partial signal. This comforts me greatly until 10 minutes later
when I realize with a jolt that if the engine were to overheat I would not
even know it until it seized up solid. To make matters worse this is
the hardest I have yet pushed my engine with the high altitude, hot
temperatures and high power settings.
It is with relief that I land at New Castle,
Wyoming to find that as suspected it was a partially loose wire. When
the FBO operator comes over to see the gyro I am prepared for the usual
questions about what it is but instead he recognizes exactly which model it
is and tells me there is one like it based there at the field. He
informs me the owner has just put it on a trailer this week and will
soon be driving to the big gyro fly-in at El Mirage, California. We
too hope to make that fly-in so hopefully we will meet out there.
The wind are still not strong so I decide to detour
to see Devil's Tower made famous by Spielberg's movie "Close Encounters of
the Third Kind," and then it is on to Belle Fouche, South Dakota. As I
descend towards Belle Fouche I have the west wind behind me and I see 90
knots ground speed on my GPS- my fastest so far.
At Belle Fouche as at New Castle I am able to land
on the grass runway and then I taxi up to the FBO where I am treated to
fresh baked donuts and cupcakes to top off the sandwich Dee has packed for
me. The couple running the FBO have recently moved here from Durango,
Colorado and are full of stories of flying in Colorado and Alaska where they
spend their summers.
From here to Bowman, North Dakota the land is
rugged and dry. By now the temperature is up to 96 degrees and the
both the gyro and I are laboring in the heat. The moment I land
it feels like the moisture is sucked out of my body, nevertheless I still
prefer the West's dry heat to the soggy humidity of the south.
This is the first time on the entire trip where
Dee's motorhome road and my flying route went different directions, so
tonight I am staying in a motel with plans to meet her tomorrow in Montana.
I am not on my own for long though as I get a friendly small town welcome
from Max running the airport here and he quickly offers me the overnight use
of the airport van.