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Magnificent country, a mid air rescue, and biplane heaven

We never did learn the story of the F86 jet parked at Hettinger, North Dakota but we are convinced it’s got a ghost. We camped near by it and heard unidentifiable noises emanating from it in the dark. Not a hint of wind, maybe one of it’s pilots from the past was pre flighting for a ghost flight.

We awoke to the sound of crop dusters again, heading out for their morning spraying. A crystal clear day for as far as we could see. We packed up, Chrissy said a fond farewell to Uncle Buck the Buick, and we headed into the rising morning sun. We crossed the mighty Missouri and our first stop was Gettysburg, South Dakota which, much to our delight, offered a grass runway. We spied a deer when we turned final, munching happily in the middle of a corn field. A strapping farm boy sold us gas, bid us a good trip and off we went again. We elected to climb above a scattered layer of puffy clouds and cruised along at 9500 feet. It was chilly and Chrissy and I zipped up tight. It was a two hour flight, and after an hour and a half I couldn’t stand it anymore. Jerry told me on the radio that his outside air temperature read 34 degrees. I decided to turn up the heat and headed down to lower altitudes and warmer temperatures. Upon entering the pattern for Madison, South Dakota I was thrilled to see another grass runway. Taxiing up, there was the typical conglomeration of crop dusters on the ramp. Chris, the mechanic on the field made us feel so welcomed, and let us borrow a courtesy car. We found ourselves driving to the local diner in a Crown Victoria that served in the past as a police car. It still had a spot light. When we returned to the airport, Chris had a reporter from the local paper out. We visited briefly, and posed for some pictures. We were anxious to make more miles while it was daylight and nice weather so we bid farewell, waggled our wings on takeoff and once again took up a south easterly heading.

We had lost some time going to eat in Madison so I was anxious to make tracks on our next fuel stop in Algona, Iowa. We knew we were in the Midwest proper when the landscape consisted of pancake flat, tidy section lined plots of green crops, brown crops, dirt county roads and farm towns replete with water towers. I kept thinking of the conversation I had last summer with Richard Bach about barnstorming in the Midwest. He told me that the color of a field implied it’s crop. Don’t land on green ones, they’re a crop. Look for the brown, mowed hayfields. And choose one with a road and a gate so customers can get to your “runway” I wondered if barnstorming would still be doable today, and looking at the landscape today, I would be willing to bet that it is.

Once again, we found the now typical airport lay out in Algona. A paved runway and a grass runway surrounded by corn fields with crop dusters on the ramp. We made a quick stop for fuel as shadows grew long. I hustled Jerry, Chrissy, and myself along so that we could make one more leg before sundown. A nearly full moon was rising, the sky was turning to velvet and the world took on a rose colored hue in the setting sun. climbing out of the pattern, I started looking around the cockpit for my phone. As I patted my pockets, checked my purse and flight bag I could feel my anxiety level growing. No phone! I queried Chrissy, and she responded that she had given it to me on the ground. With a sinking feeling, I looked out at the lower left wing. Unbelievably, I spied my pink phone, sitting on end braced against the base of the flying wires! We were 1500 feet in the air, going 60 miles an hour, and my phone was riding (very precariously) on the wing! When I directed Chrissy’s attention to it, she was as aghast and stunned as I. It was clear that immediate action was needed lest the phone fall into an Iowan corn field, so I reduced the power to eliminate some (not all!) of the prop blast, instructed Chrissy to keep a firm grip on the airplane at all times and tried to hold the airplane as steady as possible. Chrissy loosened her belt, lifted up off her seat and reached out and snagged my wavering pink iPhone. We were so relieved and in shock at what just took place! A phone, left on the wing, retrieved in the air. We howled with laughter.

We were still 45 minutes from our intended destination when I noticed on the chart an open circle airport symbol just to the south of our course. An open circle symbol means a grass runway, and this one was near a little town. It could be a great place to camp I thought. Jerry was game, so we deviated to find biplane heaven. A gorgeous grass municipal runway set in the corn, with a biplane parked near a little hangar. We swooped in for a swoop to land on it’s smooth, soft surface with happy hearts. Now we were really doing the sort of flying we love! A group of nice folks greeted us and not ready yo stop flying, I took one young man up fir his first small airplane ride. He loved it and so did I. We enjoyed a nice dinner in the hangar of a young man who keeps his Aeronca Champ on the field. We shared the last of the pink shoebox brownies and read them the story, Overboard. Such gracious, hospitable people. Ackley, Iowa. A slice of biplane heaven.

11 responses »

  1. WOW! I was waiting for my “bedtime” story — and you sure didn’t disappoint with this one! No we have a new wing walking act to talk about! I’m sure Jerry was eyeing all this with cautious amusement! Glad all is well and that you found some more slices of heaven!

    Will we get to see you tomorrow…?? Here’s hoping!!! Have fun… and don’t forget your phone!!

  2. Stephen Lindberg

    Great story about the phone. Think about Broadhead on the way back. It is Pietenpol central. Everybody there is an antiquer. Staining my deck and wishing I was flying across the country.

  3. Larry Southwick

    Just read the article about your venture in the PT Leader and then went online to read your blog. Very interesting. Have a great and safe trip.

  4. Unlike Susan, your stories are morning wake ups for Sophia and me…and what a way to wake up today! I imagined you would have a wonderful journey filled with wonderful people and am so glad you are sharing it with us all as you go! Hoping to see you coming over the levee today!

  5. Christine MacLachlan

    Summer and Chrissy – I’m loving your blogs – and I forwarded the link to Pete who needs some home entertainment while he’s in the UAE. Just a thought about brown fields … they may have been mowed and tilled and have big “speedbumps”! Love you guys … here’s hoping for you warm blue skies and gentle tailwinds.

  6. I was having much trouble with my FB account and unable to log on. I was not online since Wed. afternoon so I see I’ve been missing out on this adventure! I can’t believe the phone was still on the wing. Reminds me of a coffee mug I left on the roof of the taxi cab I was driving. Up and down hills, around some corners and a few stop and goes around Port Townsend. When I went to reach for my mug and saw that it was gone I knew I’d never even be able to find it to pick up the pieces and give it a proper burial. But I stopped anyway and lo and behold! I couldn’t believe that mug o’ mine was still riding along on the rooftop!

    I agree with Susan on her wing walking comment. That was my first thought too! You two ladies are making some sweet memories to last a lifetime and longer! Legendary!

  7. Awesome… I dig your spark for Life. Keep it up Lady.

  8. What a neat trip – wish I was flying my “Rudolph” with you all (pink Aeronca L-16A). Take care of yourselves and if you are looking for a nice grass strip in Illinois check out Dwight (KDTG) south of Chicago. Owners are sweethearts – borrow their pick-up to hit the town and check out the 2 original Route 66 gas stations. Have a great flight!

  9. Maybe the “Ghost” in the F-86 is Jackie Cochran ? —1st Woman to be inducted into The Aviation Hall of Fame. I can picture her watching over you Girls ! We are ALL thoroughly enjoying your 2011-Space Odyssey. THANKS !


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