Travels with Rocky - Thursday, 27 June 1996

Rocky the Luscombe

The Days Inn offered a doughnuts and juice breakfast, so I dropped in for that in the morning. After calling for a weather brief I called the cab company. The driver answered on a cellular phone and said he'd be about twenty-five minutes since he was some distance away. When the cab showed up, it was the same driver as I'd gotten yesterday. It turns out that he's the only driver they have, on call twenty-four hours a day. He said the other drivers quit because there were too many weird people around taking cab rides!

As we drove to the airport he said that he was delayed because his last fare had tried to jump out without paying. He'd caught him, but dealing with that and the police took some time. At the airport I moved Rocky over to the fuel pumps and filled him with fuel and oil. That finished off yet another quart, so I bought one from the FBO. After filing a flight plan for Arkadelphia, I started up and taxied out for takeoff.

While I was preflighting I'd noticed a crop duster who was using the active runway downwind since it got him closer to his fill truck. After I finished my runup check I carefully checked traffic, especially looking for the duster. Seeing nobody, I announced, back-taxied on 25, and took off. As I climbed through 200 feet I saw the duster returning, so I turned left off the runway heading to make room for him, then settled on course and climbed to my cruise altitude.

Once more I realized that this part of Arkansas has damned few landmarks to go by. This area was better than yesterday, though, and I found enough to steer by that the GPS was more of a luxury than a necessity. The clouds were fairly low, so I stayed at about 2500 feet as I headed around the southeast side of the Little Rock Class C. Just south of the city are a pair of huge antennae, rising to 2000 feet. I split the difference and went between them, but they sure looked close! Keeping track of my course with occasional landmarks and the GPS I raised Arkadelphia (M89) right on schedule.

After arranging for fuel I went in to close my flight plan and discovered that the airport is essentially run by the local college, Henderson State University. The weather briefing said that the low clouds would continue, but that Texarkana was reporting a 3000 scattered layer, and Tyler (my next stop) was low VFR but improving. I was a bit suspicious of the forecast since the winds aloft didn't match what I was seeing. I didn't mind, though, since I was seeing a bit of tailwind and the forecast was for a direct headwind! As I was figuring the nav info for this leg, I noticed a young woman also working up a flight. Turned out we were going the same way, at least at first, so I asked her to keep an eye out and not run over me (Rocky isn't fast). She laughed and promised to do that.

As I left Arkadelphia I climbed to 3500 feet to try to get into cooler air. After only fifteen miles I had to descend to 2500 feet to stay out of the clouds. Visibility stayed good, so I continued onward. After another ten miles or so I had to go down to 1500 feet to stay out of the clouds. That was getting a bit low, so I dialed up the Texarkana(TXK) ATIS to see what conditions were like there. They were still reporting a ceiling over 3000 feet, and I had both good visibility below the clouds and a couple of nearby airports for boltholes, so I decided to continue.

Ten miles out of TXK I was able to climb back to 2000 feet, but that wasn't high enough to keep me out of their airspace. I called them up and got permission to transition through their space at 2000. Just as I arrived at the airport they had a commuter airliner and a Learjet ready to depart, both with a right turnout to the north. I told the tower I'd remain south of the field to remain clear of them, and watched them take off and rapidly leave me behind.

Wright Patman Lake southwest of town makes for a good landmark, but I mis-identified an arm of the lake and confused myself for a few minutes. After that came a large empty stretch with few landmarks, but as I got closer to Tyler a few good checkpoints appeared. As luck would have it I was flying through an area where three different sectionals meet, so I was busy juggling charts and folding paper for a while. The cloud cover was continually lifting throughout this leg, so I soon found myself back at 3500.

At Tyler (TYR) I was cleared for a straight-in on runway 22, and cleared for a right turn on Golf taxiway. I taxied right past it, not realizing that it came diagonally into the intersection of two runways. The tower corrected me, and I turned to back-taxi 22 to Golf and then to parking. As I came off the runway I found two golf carts ahead of me, each with a pretty girl waving flags to attract my attention. I mentally flipped a coin and headed left, which turned out to be a good choice. I ended up at Tyler Aero, who took good care of me (between greeting the King Airs with a red carpet).

I took a lunch break here, walking over to the air terminal cafe. Here I had a quick burger and fries, with a side order of beans, sitting at the windows overlooking the ramp and watching airplanes. Decent food, quite reasonably priced for an airport terminal cafe. After lunch I walked back over to the FBO and got the weather brief for my next leg. After I figured out my times, I started talking with the owner and found out that her husband is from Wimberley, where I live! They'd both like to move back there, and told the staff that if they won the lottery the FBO was theirs! They helped clear up a problem with one of my credit cards, and then gave me a bouquet of yellow roses as I was leaving. Tyler is famous in Texas for roses, and I thought this was a nice touch.

Since the winds were calm I departed on runway 17, heading for Hearne, Texas (T72). After a couple of turns to dodge arriving traffic (another King Air -- that made four while I was at Tyler) I settled on course and climbed to 3500 feet. It wasn't much cooler there than on the ground, but it helped a little. This leg was marked mainly by scattered cumulus and occasional light turbulence. Visibility stayed at about 10 miles, and good checkpoints were once again hard to come by.

As I got closer to Hearne the wind was starting to pick up a bit. Aloft it was fairly neutral, giving neither a headwind nor tailwind, but on the ground it was up to 10 knots, fortunately right down the runway. I landed nicely, marvelling at the amount of grass growing on the cracked pavement, and once again taxied over to the fuel pumps. After refueling, Rocky also took the last of another bottle of oil. That would give him enough for the last leg of the trip, so I didn't open my last bottle.

A nice Champ was parked in the open hangar right next to the pumps, and its owner told me that they had recently mowed and marked a grass strip between the taxiway and the runway. The FBO owner asked how much I'd take for Rocky, but he's not for sale. Selling him would be like selling a favorite dog! The Champ owner mentioned that everyone seemed to want to buy a taildragger nowadays, but few of the taildragger owners wanted to sell.

I taxied out and took the grass for departure. Not very smooth, but not bad. As usual, better than the pavement from Rocky's point of view. I was able to use a standard IFR departure, following the railroad tracks southwest from the airport. The first checkpoint was a railroad intersection, where another track crossed mine at a right angle. That was easy to find!

The clouds were no longer a problem, but the winds continued to increase as I flew onward. I cut southeast of Austin, using San Marcos as a checkpoint. Once again I demonstrated to myself how easy it is to confuse roads from the air. It's sometimes not easy to distinguish two-lane highways from each other, especially when one of them is not on the chart! At San Marcos I turned a bit more south and headed down the last fourteen miles to New Braunfels (3R5), Rocky's new home. Their ASOS had just come on line and was working well. The winds were 140 at 14, so I descended northeast of the field and set up for runway 13.

The landing was OK, but nothing to write home about (so why am I telling you :-), and as I was rolling out I got buzzed by a Cessna 310 who made a high-speed pass down the runway. I thought he hadn't announced on the CTAF, but later discovered I'd entered the wrong frequency on my radio. I didn't see him as I turned final, so hopefully he was still far enough out that I didn't cut him off! If I'd known he was there I could have back-taxied for 50 feet or so and cleared the runway much more quickly than I did rather than taxiing down to the next intersection. He came back and landed, and tied down a couple of spaces down from where I tied down for the night.

As I was settling Rocky into his tiedown, Chachi (my spouse) and Tricia (a long-time friend) arrived to pick me up. They helped tie him down and carry my stuff to the car. I was perfectly happy to let someone else drive after the day of flying.

The next day I came out and arranged for a covered tiedown, and also arranged for a mechanic to check out the excessive oil usage. It turned out to be about what I'd expected, only more so. I figured that he had stuck rings on a piston -- it turned out to be two pistons worth of stuck rings, and a third with a leaky valve! That put him in the shop for a week. His tiedown spot is on the sunny side of the hangar, but the woman I rented the spot from likes Luscombes, so she's promised me first dibs on a shady-side spot when one opens up!

Rocky's now settled into his new home, and I'm looking forward to going out and exploring the area with him. I'll be able to fly over my house now :-) Previously I was flying from an airport too far away for that. Total time for the trip was 22.7 hours in the air, spread over four days. Maybe 100 gallons of gas, and way too much oil, but he never missed a beat despite the engine problems he developed. I like this airplane!

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Roger Ritter
930 Days End Rd.
Wimberley, TX 78676
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