Oshkosh and GTO Bound...and Beyond! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Robert Wilkie   
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 10:04

Well that time has come again. Flight plans have been filed, the plane preflighted and fueled, and Bob Yarmey is on board. Time to light the fires. Onward to Oshkosh 2011… and beyond!

We are flying N8255J (“Juliet”), an updated 1980 Piper Dakota equipped with a Garmin 530 WAAS and S-Tec 55X autopilot, along with other assorted goodies.

The takeoff from KFRG was on a beautiful VFR day (July 27, 2011), and it was uneventful. ATC guidance on the first day was great. After a smooth flight coasting to the Beach Boys and the always-great Frank Sinatra, Bob landed at KTYS.

Perhaps you’re thinking we were too busy rushing out to notice we were flying away from Oshkosh. This was part of the planned adventure.

Bob and I stayed overnight in the Maryville, Tennessee, home of my long-time friend, Marion. As Bob got acquainted with Marion over a home-cooked meal, Marion started to realize just what “and beyond” might mean. Dinner finished and plates cleared, we reviewed the next day’s flight. Tired and with full bellies, we retired to our respective beds with visions of flying planes in our heads.

Morning arrived, and after some coffee and a weather briefing, we were off to KTYS, courtesy of Marion’s next door neighbor. Juliet was preflighted, gassed, and loaded.

The initial takeoff was smooth, and the climb to altitude was accomplished quickly. After being lulled to sleep by the mellow tones of Frank Sinatra, Marion’s head was gently resting on the back passenger window.

But wait, what did Bob spy out the windshield? The advertised storm sweeping down from Canada toward Oshkosh and us! The satellite weather confirmed our observation. A quick call to ATC granted us permission to deviate around a line of rapidly moving thunderstorms.

We managed to land at Kentland, Indiana, our third alternate airport. Landing between the cornfields, we pulled up in front of the FBO and scrambled out of the plane. Once inside, we safely watched the storm front bearing down. It now occurred to us that the plane should be tied down. The FBO operator graciously provided me with some tie-down rope. (Memo to self: pick up some rope at The Home Depot). Once again inside, watching the rain, we met another couple also on the way to Oshkosh. By now, the initial storm front had passed, and we were listening to the gentle sound of rain with sun on the horizon. The ringing of the telephone shattered our contemplative silence. It was ATC making sure we were okay. (Thanks guys! Second memo to self: close out your flight plan).

The following flight to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, was uneventful. Greeting us on arrival was Dan Weiler, our host for Gateway to Oshkosh (GTO). This year, we made sure to arrive for the pre-celebration festivities.

Dan and his staff (does one’s family count as staff?) could not have been more organized and gracious. Special thanks should be given to his wife, Amy, for doing the cooking for the Saturday picnic and Sunday brunch. It was simply delicious. The weather cooperated, and a good time was had by all. Old friends updated each other, and new friendships were started. It was a great start to Monday’s opening.

Sunday, with the excitement starting to build, we all attended a great seminar on aircraft reupholstering. Unfortunately, I did not win the raffle for new floor mats. After the seminar, the group reconvened at the Stevens Point airport for lunch (again, compliments to Amy) and to look at the various aircraft we were flying.

An ominous sign greeted me when I approached N8255J. Oil was dripping onto the wheel pant from the engine. Not something any pilot likes to see. Fortunately, with the help of the airport manager and local mechanics, we rectified the problem. The problem was due to a dented pushrod cover. According to the local mechanic, this is a common occurrence. So, pilots, check those pushrod covers, and replace them before failure.

Monday arrived with glorious sunshine. Excitement and anticipation were running high as we boarded the buses for the trip to Oshkosh. Comments were flowing from the front to the back and from side to side. Slowing down to a crawl, and finally a stop, we could see the exit. This was it; we were almost there. You could feel the excitement willing us forward.

Suddenly, we were propelled forward as though the bus had the power of flight. But, alas, it was a short flight. We were rear-ended by a truck. Special thanks to Rusty MacSwords, who immediately sprang into action to make sure there were no serious injuries.

By this time, the traffic jam stretched for miles. State and local police arrived to lend their assistance. One of our group members was dispatched to a hospital for precautionary measures, as was the driver of the truck. As the police investigation wound down, Dan directed us onto our second bus, and we were off.

Walking down the main strip at Oshkosh, our heads were on swivels. The sights and sounds of the world’s greatest airshow were set to be indelibly written in our minds. Finally, as the sun set, the concert began. What could be better than songs and planes? We trudged back to the bus to recount our stories, eagerly waiting for the next day.

On Tuesday, my nephew joined us for his second trip to Oshkosh. In his last trip, we mailed home 40 pounds of magazines, books, and assorted give-aways. Little did I realize we were to exceed that total. Wednesday was to be our last day at Oshkosh. We bid adieus to old and new friends and departed on Thursday for our next stop – Rapid City, South Dakota.

The flight from Stevens Point to Rapid City was uneventful. The scenery was never boring; each mile brought new sites to exclaim over. Approaching Rapid City, we could see another thunderstorm, but, fortunately, the track was away from the airport. As the tower vectored us to landing, we were instructed to avoid landing at the Air Force base next door, as they don’t take kindly to uninvited guests dropping in.

The people at the FBO could not have been more helpful with car rental and hotel reservations. At one point, I had to retrieve a forgotten item from the plane. Walking back to the FBO, I spied a gentleman in a dark suit with an ear radio; I thought this was interesting. Soon, the gate opened, and six or seven SUVs with blackened windows rolled through, along with an equal number of state police cars. I remarked to the lineman standing next to me, “Do you think they have enough bullets?” I initially thought it was the state attorney general. I later learned it was the United States attorney general, who was in town to attend conferences.

Arriving at our hotel, the downtown Marriott, we freshened up and proceeded to dinner. As it happened, the town was celebrating some anniversary. Walking slowly, we listened to street musicians, and, after looking at various concessions, we arrived back at our car. We were off to the next stop, the reason for being here.

Mount Rushmore, a great American treasure, greeted us as we pulled into the parking lot. After a brief rain shower, we entered the park strolling through the avenue of flags. As we waited for the nighttime illumination to begin, we struck up a conversation with a group of senior ladies from Boston. For 2011, their annual trip brought them here. The jokes were flying fast and furious, but we all quieted down when the ranger took center state. We were not disappointed by the awe-inspiring show. Upbeat, we returned to our hotel to rest up for the next leg.

Sunshine greeted us as we took off and flew over the monument. Wagging our wings in respect, we turned south to our next destination, Moab, Utah. Once again, the scenery presented by the mountains and valley was awe-inspiring.

Landing at Moab, the FBO could not have been more helpful. Our original plan was to proceed to fly to the Grand Canyon and stay overnight. After finding that they were out of an area map, as that air space is akin to flying the Hudson corridor, we, as wise pilots, changed direction.

After our flight planning, we took off south over the canyon lands. This is some of the most rugged and beautiful landscape you will see. Picking up the Colorado River, we followed the serpentine route south to Lake Mead. Flying over the lake, we lost count of the number of houseboats and pleasure craft moving about in the blue water.

Turning left at the end of Lake Mead, we flew on to Albuquerque New Mexico. Family was there, and we were greeted with hugs and kisses. It is amazing how much Native American land there is in Albuquerque. The Tamaya Resort and Spa, where we stayed, was built on tribal lands. Although we had a golf course, there was no casino. The hotel next door did sport a casino, however.

That night, Mother Nature put on a tremendous lightning storm that was spectacular. We went to sleep with the sounds of thunder. After a wonderful breakfast, during which we were serenaded by a member of the tribe playing a series of haunting melodies on different flutes, we hopped into a car.

Driving through the Sandia Mountains to Santa Fe, we marveled at how dry everything was. The only green spots were the resorts. Even the mighty Rio Grande was but an ankle-deep trickle. Arriving in Santa Fe in time for the weekend street fair, we waded into the crowds to view historic Santa Fe.

Returning back to home base, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family. That night was our last night there. The next morning brought clear weather for our departure east, sans my nephew.

Flying over some bleak and desolate country, we marveled at houses that were positioned in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, with the music cranked up, the miles quickly passed. Lunchtime brought us to Branson, Missouri. The FBO provided us with a courtesy car to explore downtown and have some lunch. Well, all courtesy cars are not created equal. This one operated with duct-taped mirrors and bald tires. I wasn’t sure it would make it back to the airport.

Full fuel and full bellies, we proceeded to McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee. Evening found us still flying. We rolled into Knoxville around 10:00 p.m., and we were picked up Marion’s good neighbor.

We fell blissfully into bed that night after a very long flight. Morning again brought bright sunshine and a home-cooked breakfast. The good neighbor appeared once again for the ride to the airport. Hugs and goodbyes finished, we took off on the last leg home to Farmingdale,New York.

We picked up flight following, which took us to Philadelphia before we were terminated; squawking 1200, we continued northeast. Approaching Kennedy airspace, we looked for a transition. The tower immediately shot back, “Busy right now; call back in half an hour.” We knew we were home. Ducking under Kennedy airspace, we proceeded to KFRG. Landing was uneventful, and, soon, N8255J was put to bed for a well-earned rest.

As Bob left, I was filled with a sense of gratitude that general aviation provided me the opportunity to fly this great country with family and friends.

As I sit finishing this story, it is now some four months since Oshkosh. Sure, I have gone flying since, but I have a lifetime of memories. I think of all the friends, new and old, from the trip. I think of friends missed and hope that next year we will meet again. Yes, I am planning for Oshkosh 2012 and beyond! (Although The Bahamas in March might be interesting. Are you listening, Marion and Bob?)