Travels with Rocky - Monday, 24 June 1996

Rocky the Luscombe

Today I left Manchester, NH (MHT) for Texas. After four days the weather had finally cleared. I'd been staying with a friend while waiting for the weather to lift, and the waiting was frustrating. If I'd known it would take so long I would have left last Wednesday. Of course, I might have then spent four days in Hudson, NY at some expense!

Since Manchester is a security-access field I had planned to get on to the general aviation ramp through a local flight school named Saflite. They were closed when I arrived, so I went through Wings, a pilot shop at the other end of the ramp. I dropped off my stuff at the gate and went down to get Rocky. Rocky is a 1946 Luscombe 8A, registered N71983. I've owned him, with a friend, for four or five years, and had a blast flying around New Hampshire.

Now it was time to take Rocky home, to Texas. I'd moved down in September the year before, so hadn't flown Rocky for nine months. When I came up to NH to collect him, I'd done a couple of hours to re-familiarize myself and found that everything still seemed familiar. One change I had made at his last annual was to have the canvas luggage bin installed, since I'd need it for the trip.

Once I'd preflighted Rocky and moved him to the gate at Wings, I started to load my stuff. My big duffel fits the luggage compartment perfectly, but it's a major pain loading it past the folding seat back. I wrestled it in, heaving and tugging. Without thinking, I had packed the spare radio in the duffel, which I regretted later in the flight!

After preflighting and loading up, off we went. The first leg was to Hudson, NY, Columbia County Airport (1B1). This flight was nice and smooth, with low, very scattered clouds at 2,500, and an overcast about 11,000. Some occasional turbulence, but not much. It was a good start to the trip, letting Rocky and me get settled in and used to each other and to the travelling.

What with the overcast and the fact that Columbia County is in a valley, it wasn't as easy to find as some airports. The handheld GPS proved quite handy here. I landed and taxied over to the FBO for fuel. Swinging Rocky around to face away from the fuel pumps, I turned off the ignition to kill the engine. I heard a weird moaning noise as it spun down, something Rocky had never done before. The noise continued after the engine stopped, and I realized that it was the noon whistle! Since the weather briefer was showing some nasty weather between Hudson and Elmira (ELM), my next stop, I decided to grab lunch while waiting on the weather. Rocky took 9 gallons of fuel for the 1.7 hour flight.

I walked down to the north end of the runway where a small golf course has a restaurant. Fairly slow service, but decent food, not too expensive. It started to rain while I ate. On the way to the restaurant, I stopped and checked out a Beech 18 parked on the ramp.

After eating, I walked back through a light shower, stopping to secure Rocky against the weather. I'd tied him down and chocked him, but had forgotten the vent and pitot caps. I added those, and checked the security of the tiedowns. Back at the FBO, I explored their hangar. It held a properly eclectic mix of airplanes: a King Air on jackstands with its gear legs gone, a Fairchild 24, radial engine (a Super Scarab), in good shape except for the panel. A Stearman, restored, with a cold-weather hood for the crankcase. An AT-6 with an extended exhaust pipe. I always feel better about a hangar that's got some classic or unusual airplanes in it. It makes the place seem more friendly, somehow.

A re-check of the weather showed nothing major out to Elmira, so I plotted the next leg and launched. As I announced for takeoff I noticed that the radio's battery indicator wasn't lighting. A quick experiment on the AWOS frequency told me that the PTT was working, so apparently I had a low battery. The spare radio was still in the duffel bag in the luggage compartment where I couldn't get to it. I took off anyway. Rocky's been a NORDO plane most of his life and I knew he wouldn't be upset by it.

Taking off to the south, I ended up south of my intended course and it took me about 15 minutes to get properly oriented. The GPS was a great help here as a cross-check, showing the course deviation nicely. I ended up flying over some mountains I had planned to go around before I got back on course, but the clouds were high enough that it wasn't a problem. Once I was back on course, things went fairly smoothly up to Oneonta, NY (N66). Rocky showed a bit out of trim, wanting to turn left, so that I would be off course in a few seconds if I let my attention drift.

At Oneonta I had passed north of most of the mountains, so I turned southwest toward Elmira. I also started running into some light rain around this area. The visibility stayed good, though, at about ten miles, and the ceiling stayed up, so I continued. About this time I remembered that Elmira is a controlled field, and my radio might not work. Just in case, I needed an alternate. The only thing available was an uncontrolled field just south of Binghamton, NY.

I used a little bit of my battery to check the Binghamton ATIS, and it reported VFR conditions. I continued on toward Elmira, planning to check the Elmira ATIS and turn back if conditions were bad. Despite the almost constant light rain, the ceiling and visibility stayed decent along my route. The Elmira ATIS was very weak (I could barely receive it, which made me even more worried about my batteries) and an hour old. It hadn't been updated at the usual time! I finally gave up on it and called the tower when I was ten miles out. The reply was loud and clear, so my radio wasn't in as bad a shape as I had feared.

The tower operator seemed a bit befuddled by my popping up like that, so he finally decided to call my Luscombe a 'Lufkin". The fact that Rocky is a primary target, so he couldn't get a transponder return, seemed to compound his confusion. Worse, I had apparently arrived at turnover time, because I heard him brief his shift replacement on the air. All told, it seemed a most unprofessional performance. The replacement did much better. She cleared me to land straight-in on runway 24. As I left the active, I called ground and asked for taxi instructions to an FBO, just before I noticed the large red letters "FBO" on the front of the building I was heading for. That was indeed the place to go! Once I was down and had taken care of Rocky, I went in to check the weather for my next leg. Northwestern Pennsylvania was chock full of thunderstorms, so Elmira became my overnight stop. Rocky took 10.5 gallons for 2.2 hours on this leg.

Roger Ritter
930 Days End Rd.
Wimberley, TX 78676
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