September 10, 2005
BPP- BHK- MLS- 6U7
Bowman, North Dakota to Baker, Miles City and Hysham, Montana
I drive the courtesy van back to the airport and quickly get the gyro
ready for flight. The wind is already up over 15 knots even though it's
only 7:15 in the morning. I'm expecting to fly through some light rain
somewhere between here and our destination at Billings where I will rejoin
My climb out here is not too bad as the field elevation is only 2,958 and
the morning air is still cool. However once I have climbed up a few
hundred feet and headed on my way I see my speed over the ground is a paltry
40 knots due to the building westerly winds.
Some days flying is like being as free as a bird and I swoop and dive at
will and other days it is like a chess game with constantly changing
Today it's chess again. My first planned stop is Miles City 103
miles away and at this speed I am in danger of running out of fuel before I
can get there, so before I have gone a dozen miles I am already
recalculating my options. Baker, Montana is only a slight
detour so I check my book to see if they sell fuel there--yes so that's OK.
But wait there is another problem- the winds are 20+ knots from slightly
south of west and the runway at Baker runs NW to SE which will be a problem.
In my gyro I can usually find a way to land into the wind on a short taxiway
or part of the parking ramp, but for takeoff I'll need to use the regular
I snap a few early morning pictures on my way to Baker then fly over the
runway looking for the best spot to land. The short taxiway is more
aligned with the wind than the runway so that would be preferable but then I
see the parking ramp is deserted and I come in low and jog around a hanger
then face into the wind and set down gently on the ramp. No one is
about as I refuel then taxi back out.
In strong cross winds I've found my best bet is to make sure to hold the
gyro onto the ground until I have plenty of airspeed so once I break ground
I can climb quickly away from the runway but I know I'll have my hands full
here. The wind is 20 knots and is 60 degrees off of the runway angle.
My rotors come up to speed quickly in the strong winds but I need an
extended take-off roll to get enough speed. When my speed hits 70
knots I let the gyro lift off the ground then I turn it into the wind so I
am crabbing sideways but still flying over the runway which is the normal
procedure. Unfortunately the gyro climbs about 10 feet then starts to
settle back towards the runway. If I were to touch down now with the
gyro going sideways it would roll over for sure. I am just able to
keep it above the runway and milk the airspeed up until she is flying.
Even after the immediate danger is over I'm still only climbing at about
200' per minute. This is one of the scariest take-offs I've ever had.
Belatedly I realize that I would have been better to fly directly into the
wind immediately after take-off. If I settled back to the ground it
would have been in the dirt and weeds off of the side of the runway but at
least I would have been going straight ahead and not risked rolling over. Whew, what a close call.
I fly on over very remote and deserted countryside for a few dozen miles
then see what looks like a fog bank ahead. I think it must be rain but
as I near I see it is a wall of haze caused by a forest fire to the North.
As soon as I am in it the visibility drops to under 2 miles and I taste the
smoke in my mouth. I fly along like this for another dozen miles
seeing very little.
The ranches are few and far between in these parts so as I pass them I
mark them on my GPS. If I had to land in the middle of nowhere help
might be 10 miles away but at least I would know which way to walk.
After flying in the smoke and reduced visibility for 15 minutes I decide
to detour a few miles away to where a road parallels my route. Seeing
the road and cars below provides some comfort and makes me feel less remote.
Eventually the smoke thins out and shortly after I cross the Powder River
I'm in clear air again. Miles City is up ahead and it is going to be a
repeat of Baker with no runway facing into the wind. Again though I
find a taxiway facing directly west so I set down on that just as two fire
fighting tanker planes take-off to dump slurry on the fire North of us.
My call to flight service informs me of rain all
along my route to Billings so when Dee and I speak we agree to meet later
this afternoon in Hysham, Montana a little tiny whistle stop of a town that
happens to have a small gravel runway nearby. The pretty lady running
the airport helps me roll my gyro in out of the rain then gives me the keys
to the airport car and directions to a local restaurant for lunch.
Later while waiting out the rain she tells me all about small town living in
eastern Montana. By midafternoon the rain has moved on so I launch
westwards over the Montana prairie.
I see the small little used runway at Hysham and
decide I better fly over it and check its condition. I'm surprised to
see it has been recently paved and Dee is below waving to me with both arms
raised overhead. I land easily and taxi the gyro right up next to the
motorhome. There are only 2 airplanes based here and they are stored
in open sided sheds, while our closest neighbors for the night are the
cattle grazing just over the fence from where the motorhome and gyro are
parked. When we go for a sunset walk down the runway we can just
barely see lights twinkling in the town a few miles away.
September 11, 2005
Hysham to Laurel to Livingston to Bozeman, Montana
There is more rain expected today but we are
determined to get to Bozeman where we plan to rendezvous with friends from
Colorado who are up here on a fly fishing trip. I depart Hysham waving
to Dee as I go overhead and then I fly along the beautiful valley of the
Up ahead is the first of two high passes I must get
over so I am a bit concerned and the scattered rain showers ahead don't
provide much comfort. In addition I find several factors conspiring
Since there is less oxygen at higher altitude
airplane engines have a fuel mixture control so you can send less fuel to
the engine as you climb. This keeps the fuel and oxygen ratio the same
as at sea level. Cars do this automatically with fuel injection.
However my gyro engine is carbureted and I have no fuel control so the
engine is getting much more fuel than it needs or can use. In addition
since I am at high altitude and the engine needs more horsepower I have been
running at nearly full throttle just to keep airborne. As if these two
factors were not enough the west wind blowing against me has often slowed me
to 35 knots over the ground. Normally I can plan 120 miles between
fuel stops and still have plenty of reserve but now I must plan on refueling
every 80 miles.
I make brief fuel stops at the airports in Laurel
Montana outside Billings and again at Livingston. Jimmy Buffett is my
favorite singer and his song "Livingston Saturday Night" is running through
my head as I take-off and begin climbing up to Bozeman Pass at 6,002 feet.
I want to go over the pass with at least 800 feet clearance and more if I
can manage it.
As I near the pass I go through several light rain
showers which add more drama to the climb for me, but soon I am over 7,500
feet and can comfortably enjoy the scenery around me. Since I normally
fly only a few hundred feet in the air this perspective of several thousand
feet above the terrain is a definite change of pace.
As soon as I pop through the pass I see the town of
Bozeman laid out below me. This is a towered airport so I call in and
report my position. Small aircraft are normally told to approach from
the side and then line up with the runway when about 1 mile from the runway
end but today the tower operator treats me like a big jet and tells me to
make a straight in approach from about 7 miles away. A jet going 3 or
4 miles a minute would only spend a minute or two on the approach and I am
sure she has no idea that it will take me nearly 10 minutes to get to the
airport. Nevertheless it is not crowded today so I just keep flying
down the approach and finally touchdown using up about 20 feet of the 9,000
foot long runway.
September 12, 2005
Bozeman to Three Forks to Deer Lodge, Montana
When we awaken this morning it is 39 degrees and
overcast. The sky looks menacing but flight service reports the clouds
are 7,000 above ground so at least we can get over the nearby mountains even
if the rain to our north prevents us from getting all the way to Missoula,
our planned destination. So far on the trip I have never used the
doors on the gyro but today I finally breakdown and put the doors on for
warmth. The doors should also streamline the gyro making it fly faster
in this high altitude and the cold air will also help.
Aircraft are affected by something called density
altitude. This is the effect of the temperature on the air density.
A runway at 4,500 feet elevation is said to be normal density altitude when
the temperature is 45 degrees. But if the temperature goes up to 96 degrees
like I had just 2 days ago in North Dakota that same runway would be the
equivalent of a runway at 7,700 feet, however today with the temperature at
39 degrees the aircraft will fly better because it will think it is at only
We have a host of friends to see us off from the
Bozeman airport so I make my climb out right over their heads so they can
take pictures. With a 9,000 foot runway I have room to spare.
Because of my high fuel consumption I decide to
stop at an airport 30 miles away and fill up so I will have plenty to get me
over the mountains and down to lower terrain. On the way I will pass
Butte, Montana but since it is at 5,500 feet I would rather not have to land
and take-off again from such a high altitude airport.
After so many hours flying with the wind and engine
noise today's flight with the doors on is positively civilized. I feel as if
I should be sipping tea with my pinkie raised. The gyro flies better
this way and I'm warm and toasty in just a light sweatshirt.
I land on the grass runway at Three Forks and taxi
up for fuel. The fuel operator gives me some advice about the route
ahead over the Continental Divide and a few minutes later I'm off.
There is more bad weather near Missoula but at least the next section looks
I start climbing immediately after leaving Three
Forks and am soon at over 6,500 feet. The terrain is rugged and the
mountains on both sides are very dramatic as they begin to close in on me as
I get closer to the Continental Divide. At one point I fly over some
greenery below and experience sinking air and quickly loose 300 feet even
though I am at full power. I go into a shallow bank to get over the
brown baked earth of a shallow hill and there I find a rising column of air
that I ride up to 7,200 feet where I feel more secure.
I take several pictures then the camera tells me
the memory card is full. I'm momentarily disappointed but then
realize that NOT taking pictures will be perfectly fine. After 30
years as a documentary cameraman I actually relish the fact that I cannot
take pictures and am free to just experience the moment.
Unbeknownst to me Dee is on the highway directly
below me. It is one of only 2 or 3 times we have actually seen each
other underway and now she spots me just as we both near the top of the
North American continent. With no wind against me I am going about 60
miles an hour and Dee in the motorhome is laboring up the hill at a slower
speed so she sees me fly on ahead of her while she pumps her fist in the air
and cheers us both on.
Moments later we come into the dramatic valley
where Butte, Montana sits and we transit on past it to cross the high plains
towards Anaconda and our meeting spot at Deer Lodge. To my left a
solid wall of clouds are moving in my direction and half an hour after I've
landed the calm has been replaced by cold gusty winds and the beginnings of
a rainstorm. Flight Service confirms that we are in for a day and a
half of bad weather so we abandon our plans of Missoula and instead look
forward to exploring tiny Deer Lodge.
The airport here is too small to have anyone
running it full time but I call Ron Kelly the Deer Lodge bank President and
a local pilot who immediately comes out to the airport and offers me space
inside his hangar as long as we are here.
September 14, 2005
Deer Lodge to Missoula to Shoshone, Montana to Kellogg, Idaho
Our day and a half in Deer Lodge has been
thoroughly enjoyable and we are refreshed and ready to move on. The
morning dawns with heavy low clouds but unlike yesterday today there is
space between the tops of the mountains and the bottoms of the clouds so I
should be able to fly over the passes and get to lower terrain in Idaho.
As I ready to depart Ron comes out to see us off
and provides a bit of local advice about the route ahead. At his
suggestion I decide not to fly over the rough mountains to Thompson's Falls
for fuel and instead to meet Dee at a small airport where I can land but
which does not sell fuel. It is an extra burden on Dee but she readily
agrees if it will make my flight safer and easier. Flying over
the Midwest it is easy to point the aircraft in any direction and go where
you want but here in the mountains local advice about which valleys to
follow and where to fly is invaluable.
The first leg of the flight to Missoula is downhill
and easy going with calm winds. It is cold outside but I am warm and
toasty here with the doors on the gyro. When I get in sight of the
Missoula airport I call the tower and request landing permission. At
first they do not hear me but as I get closer my radio reception improves
and I'm cleared in to land. In no time I'm down and taxiing over to
one of the two FBO's here.
The FBO heard "gyrocopter" and thought "helicopter"
and so when I arrived there was a large group of soldiers watching me taxi
up. It seems they were inside waiting for a Blackhawk helicopter and
the FBO operator thought I was their ride. Maybe they thought the
machine shrunk in the spin cycle.
After a quick lunch in the terminal restaurant I'm
airborne again to meet Dee for fuel at Mineral County airport. This
airport had been closed to civilian traffic for much of the late summer
because it was being used as a fire fighting base to battle several nearby
forest fires, but now it is open again so I swoop in to check the windsock
and wave to Dee down below, then slam the gyro into a tight turn and come in
for what turns into a bouncy landing.
As I fuel up Dee chats with the only other person
at the airport. She tells me inside his hangar he was building a plane
that looked like a miniature stealth bomber. I spend a few minutes putting some
super glue on a tiny crack that has developed in my fiberglass rudder, then
taxi out and fly away.
From here I have a very long climb up to the next
high pass. The gyro does not want to climb and for 15 minutes I am at
full power and barely going up at all. Then what has been a calm day
suddenly turns very windy and the gyro bucks and heaves in the very strong
gusts. The doors provide warmth but they also make the gyro more
susceptible to gusty winds.
I am flying up a narrow canyon and on both sides of
me the mountains tower several thousands of feet overhead. For about
10 miles the winds push me around then gradually subside and the gyro
becomes more stable. I'm still having trouble climbing so I decide
that instead of flying up the middle of the canyon I will fly close to the
canyon walls and see if I can get some lift from rising air currents.
This is a little scary but it works immediately and up I go.
Eventually I get so much updraft that I climb far higher than I need and end
up reducing power and moving the stick forward to descend.
I cross the pass easily at 6,800' and now have a
long descent to the airport in Idaho that is at only 2,200'. No sooner
have I landed than the airport manager and his son come out to see the gyro
and a minute later Dee pulls up in the motorhome. We park the gyro and
motorhome side by side on the empty ramp then pull out the BBQ and enjoy the