I've always dreamed of flying my own aircraft to Oshkosh (EAA Airventure) and this year I got the chance. What an incredible trip, definitely one I'll remember the rest of my life!
Part of any big trip is spending a little flying time with the family the week before you head out. My kids all love going with Daddy to Cavanaugh Bay (Priest Lake, ID) for breakfast. This grass strip is one of the prettiest around and Isaac always has a ball looking at all the planes.
An early morning departure from my home field provides a beautiful start to a long trip. North Idaho is filled with mountains and lakes. Below me are a couple of nice back-country strips and in the distance you can see Lake Coeur d'Alene.
This is the Idaho/Montana border at Mullin Pass and also the ski area where I first learned to ski, Lookout Pass. Weather tends to pile up in these mountains and Mullin has historically been an obstacle for many a pilot.
Western Montana is filled with mountains and those that enjoy the backcountry never run out of playgrounds.
Here's what things look like if you try to fly direct. It's still early in the morning but the clouds are starting to form. The rule of thumb is that you never fly after 11:00 AM in this kind of terrain. Normally on a XC I try to fly about a 90% direct and miss the big stuff and as I get closer I realize these guys are in the 10% that I avoid.
As I poke my nose into them I divert north through this valley. Even though it's early in the day a light plane like mine really starts to feel the turbulence building and I'm supposed to be on vacation and not worried about what's ahead. Big tires allow lots of options for landings but definitely not in these rocks.
Ahh, now this is more like it, lots of landing spots down there, sure wish I could stay and play!
I took a gamble and stopped for gas at a little town in eastern Wyoming. Well wouldn't you know it, no gas. So I headed direct again and sure enough, the "direct to" button popped up these chunks of Wyoming granite. To say they were spectacular was an understatement and to give you some perspective on their size.... I was flying at 12,000 feet. These are the heart of the Big Horn mountains and are as beautiful as any I've seen.
I flew down to Douglas, WY where I did some evening flying with my buddy Joel in his S-7 (I wasn't crazy enough to dodge thunderstorms in my plane not knowing the local area). He knew all the nooks and crannies and we had a ball exploring and visiting friends.
The next morning I kept it at 20'AGL and flew about an hour and a half to visit my folks in Pine Ridge, SD where my mom works as a Trust Officer for the tribe there. I've never been to South Dakota before so we just had to see all the attractions.
My father has Alzheimer's and has to regularly go the Veterans Administration hospital in Hot Springs. What a beautiful place and a real tribute to our veterans.
My family loves timberframe construction and I was pleasantly surprised to see it used throughout the buildings on the hospital campus.
We also spent quite a bit of time at Crazy Horse. Now that is one big carving they're blasting!
For some perspective... Mt. Rushmore could fit in just the head and hair.
On the way to Mt. Rushmore we ran across some firefighters doing their thing with those crazy contraptions that beat the air into submission. But if it flies I just have to stop and watch!
And the tourist shot...
My folks had a great time showing me what I've only seen in books and pictures. This really is an incredible monument.
But enough of this tourist stuff... we've got more tourist stuff to do... Oshkosh!
The same thunderstorms that were causing the fires at Rushmore were causing me fits trying to dodge them. Here I've made it to the Missouri River and the end of the line for this leg. The front was leading me east though it was too slow to allow much progress.
The good thing is that the only real obstacle out here are the really big towers. There's plenty of those.
After getting a little lunch and fuel I hook up with a couple of friendly California fellows who were also stuck behind the storms. We head as far east as we can get for the night and when we land in Mitchell, SD I couldn't have bought better taildragger insurance in the form of my big 29" tires. The wind was howling and I opted to land in the plowed field next to the runway. The less-than-50' landing was no problem but I was skidding a little sideways trying to taxi so that made it interesting.
I finally got her tied down and I felt much better, that was until I looked over at my new friends Marion and Jan trying to hold down their Cessna. They had flown ahead and scouted and by the time they got back the wind had picked up even more.
Here's Jan standing guard on the nose while we tie down the tail. Kind of like South Dakota Cessna Team Roping.
But we had it easy! Further east they were getting pummeled with nasty thunderstorms, hail, and tornado warnings.
Ahh, the serenity of a pleasant morning flight across the Minnesota countryside. What a change from the day before!
Jan and Marion's speeds were a little higher than mine but we did manage to do a little formation flying. Unfortunately when we got to Oshkosh they had closed the field to GA parking but were letting in experimentals and ultralights. I never did see the fellows again but I'm sure we'll meet again... that's the Oshkosh Pilgrim way.
I chose to go the grass runway ultralight route. The UL guys always seem to have the most fun and I also wanted to park with part of the new light-sport aircraft crowd. Despite being a little worried about the procedure (there's no radio contact, you just fly the pattern) things were going pretty well until I got behind a helicopter that decided to stop, turn around, and fly towards me on base leg. I swung around him and dropped in on the nice grass runway where a bunch of friends helped push my plane clear and tie it down. I had made it... Mecca-kosh!
In the mornings I attended the UL briefings even though I elected not to fly the pattern while at the show. There were several accidents and things were just crazy enough that I didn't feel like mixing it up 1400 miles from home.
The UL area had some great planes including this little 3-winged cutie. Of course I just liked it because of all the VGs I thought I could sell him for all those wings.
Now that's a nose job. The Safari folks are definitely branching out from the Baby Belle look.
Here's how to takeoff, fly, and land at 22 mph without even having to put down your latte. If you like it low and <very> slow then a powered parachute is your ticket. Just make sure you like to get up early to fly because wind is not your friend with these rigs.
Now this is more like it! Here's what happens when an Idaho Sasquatch S-7 grows up!
I've been following Byron Root's Sherpa progress for a while now- you can't see any of my inspiration here can you?
Of course the star of the show was SpaceShipOne. I'm not a big fan of composite planes but I've got to hand it to Burt and the gang for pulling off one big coup for the experimental aircraft scene. Way to go guys! Oh, by the way, they used VGs to help them get to space (too bad they didn't use mine, I could have saved them some money!).
Glacier Girl was also a big hit... the P-38 is my favorite warbird. But who doesn't love P-38s (well, besides some Germans)?
Dick Keyt and his Polen Special just keep winning the races... and it's almost a 40 year old plane! And aluminum to boot! Just goes to show what you can do by paying attention to the small aerodynamic details (and using a BIG engine in a small plane).
Who can resist a pretty shot of a bluebird day and the shrine to experimental aviation.
My buddy Joel is building three of these monsters. If we think he's crazy in a 100hp Courier wait until he straps himself into this 255hp Turbine Smith Cub!
Between turbines (like Innodyn and Helicycle) and the new diesels I think the days of 100LL are quickly numbered. On the ground I fly a torquey turbo diesel wagon that seats 5 plus the dog and luggage and still gets 50 mpg. Couple that with biodiesel technology and high fuel prices and gas is really getting a black eye.
Here's another bush monster. I love the idea of slats but from talking to a lot of bush pilots and missionary pilots I'm told that they get you slow but you are at such a high angle of attack that you can't see over the nose to bring it in short. Plus no slatted aircraft that I know of (like Storchs, Helios, 701s, etc) has won at the Alaska short field competition. It's just tough to beat a light Cub type plane when it comes to getting in and out of tight places.
Now the gear on the other hand... I've recently flown in a Turbine Porter with the long oleos on the gear and man, what a smooth landing! As they say "there's no replacement for displacement" and that long travel really lets you drop it in.
But who needs to get in short when you can just fly nonstop.... around the world nonstop! Another Rutan success- great job!
Who's this crazy guy landing his Courier at the ultralight strip! It must be Joel and this time he's not even being followed by black helicopters (that's a joke, they're not all black).
Joel flew all night just so he could be seen parked next to me at Oshkosh. Actually it was because I told him there were some hot gals at the Exxon booth he could ask to the Pig Roast.
Hmm, why is everybody always looking at my big tires? I always get nervous when they do that to my size 14 feet.
Oops, a really embarrassing place for something like this to happen...
I had to get back to the family in Idaho and it was my father's birthday so I said goodbye to Oshkosh and headed out for South Dakota. Normally when I've come to Oshkosh I've flown commercial to Minneapolis and drove over so this time it was neat to see the beautiful lush farms from the air.
Before my father got really sick he and I took a trip out to Oshkosh together. He had always wanted to be a pilot and use to go up in planes some but he seemed to be too busy working to get his pilots certificate (that's one of the reasons I try to combine flying with work as much as possible I guess).
While growing up Dad would talk about Oshkosh so from a young age I've wanted to go. After I graduated from college I got an engineering job I was able to finally take him. Our trip out together was very special and every time I go to Oshkosh I'll definitely remember it.
On a tip from Joel I landed at this airport and taxied close to this gas station. Not only was it the cheapest gas of the entire trip but it let me stretch my legs some while I shuttled my gas can. Plus if I wanted to fly low I could have visited the Harley dealership!
Next time I fly to Oshkosh I'll do some homework and find more places like this. My engine doesn't do well on a strict 100LL diet so any time I can find auto fuel I'll take it.
I made it in to South Dakota in time to go out to dinner with my folks for Dad's 79th birthday and then took off early in the morning for home. As soon as I made it up into Wyoming and towards Montana the mountains started to show again. Yeeaa! I is a mountain boy... them plains is nice to visit but I ain't wantin' to live there!
Wyoming is full of some really incredible canyons and riverbeds.
These are some nice gorges north of the Big Horns in NE Wyoming. Definitely more exploring potential down there and worth a trip back.
This is high country though, here I'm at 10,500' and those plateaus aren't that far below me.
You can tell I was getting anxious to get home... I took fewer pictures as I went through Montana. These are some of the last mountains before I headed over the pass and back into North Idaho.
Wow, what a great trip! About 34 hours of fun flying in some really spectactular areas. We live in a big world- get out there and explore it!