Although 1992 was to be my final year flying the Red Turbo-Baron, I was still getting maximum joy from the experience.
A grand view of the Grand Canyon
Even unfavorable conditions can lead to favorable flights. The destination in January was the big annual craft show in San Diego. And the wind was from the west. The Red Baron was fastest at high altitude. So are winds. Usually the airspeed gain was enough to offset the higher headwinds at those altitudes. But not this time – they were more than 100 mph – right on the nose.
My plan was to fly low and avoid the worst headwinds. In most of the country low meant about 1,000 feet. Ground speed would be about 200 mph – not too shabby.
Traveling west from the Rockies, civilization became sparse and I was able to fly closer to the ground – and into even less headwind. This presented a wonderful opportunity. A slight deviation to the right would take me across the Colorado Plateau and the Grand Canyon.
As I blazed across the dead flat plateau at more than 200 mph, the crisp, clear January air left me feeling as if I could see the Pacific Ocean.
Then with no warning, and like Wile E. Coyote running past the cliff’s edge, I gasped for air as I looked around and realized the ground was gone. The Colorado River at the base of the canyon was more than a mile down.
Unable to resist temptation, I dropped down a few feet and flew below the rim of the canyon for a while. Surreal. The journey was only a few minutes, but the vision still lives in my mind.
More and more I found that flying was much more fun when shared. Dave Gherman, the publisher of Craft, Model & Hobby, a trade magazine that we frequently collaborated with, lived in Monmouth, New Jersey. After wrapping up one of our meetings, I invited him to lunch in Atlantic City, just thirty minutes south on the Jersey shore (pronounced show-ah – two syllables and no “r”).
The twenty minute ride south stretched to an hour as we savored a view neither Dave nor I had seen from above. Lunch was great and the casinos did what they do best – they left us entertained but a little poorer.
Although I could never make any claim to being an expert, crafts permeated my life from a very early age until Marie and I sold our business when I was 65. During that time we knew real crafters, designers, painters, cross-stitchers and many others. As nice a bunch of people as I could ask for.
A special memory was a visit to an advertiser in Allentown, Pennsylvania – Binney & Smith. As we toured their facility, we wanted to stop and play with Silly Putty and all kinds of other clay and art products. Then we walked into the Crayola factory and the scent overwhelmed us. We were transported back to childhood. First we pictured the original eight colors – then ever larger boxes – all the way up to 64. But the same Crayola smell every time we opened a new box.
The race is on
Question: “How can you identify a pilot in a room full of people?”
Answer: “Do nothing. The pilot will make sure you know.”
I’m afraid we pilots are a proud lot. And as much as I’d like to claim humility, I’m every bit as bad as the rest.
Early on, as a newly minted pilot, I just blurted it out, then basked in the inevitable attention that ensued.
As I matured, I found ways to lure someone else into asking, “Are you a pilot?” The result was the same. I shamelessly monopolized the conversation – all the while smugly priding myself for not being boastful.
Finally I tried to be grown up. In a group of people, I tested how long I could go without driving the conversation to me and my airplanes. Sometimes I was so successful that I went home never having blown my horn. Boohoo.
My favorite brag was that door to door I could beat airline travel – even on a trip to California.
It really was unfair. Although I couldn’t touch the speed of jetliners, I could beat them by hours on the ground: No airport traffic jams. Brief loading time – it doesn’t take long to seat two or three people. No endless taxiing behind a long line of jet giants, all scheduled to take off at the same time. And this was before TSA security checks.
After touchdown was another story. No time wasted behind 80 passengers wrestling with stowed luggage. Or waiting for a cab or rental car. At most airports the time from the wheels touching the ground until leaving the airport is an hour. The only place I’ve known it to be faster is here in Northwest Arkansas (XNA), and even here it’s thirty minutes. For a real laugh I raise the subject of checked bags.
Flying myself on the other hand, I was on my way out of the airport in just a few minutes. And I usually landed at a close-in airport – not the new modern jetport in another county or even another state.
Sometimes when I get on a roll, I start to brag about flight times. The Red Baron had some serious speed for a prop plane:
Palwaukee to Washington, DC – 2 hrs 6 min (589 miles) 280 mph
San Diego to Palwaukee – 5 hrs 30 min (1719 miles) 313 mph
Houston to Palwaukee – 3 hrs 24 min (953 miles) 282 mph
And this without burning jet fuel!
Only possible on Fly By Knight
7 cities with meetings in each:
- Day 1: Leave home. Dinner with Craig Zimmerman of Zim’s Craft Supplies in Salt Lake City
- Day 2-3: Conference with wholesale magazine distributors in San Francisco
- Day 4: Tour of Duncan Enterprises with Larry Duncan and dinner at his home in Fresno
- Day 5: TV shoot with Aleene in Solvang, California
- Day 6: Dinner with Marie’s Aunt Elaine in Burbank
- Day 7: Dinner with Richard Koff in Santa Fe
- Day 8: Back home
Route: SLC, SFO, FAT, IZA, BUR, SAF, SLN, PWK
4,026 miles in 8 days
Time to move on
For nearly five years I’d been loving the speed of the Turbo-Baron – a Beechcraft Baron beefed up to test the much larger engines that would be used on the pressurized Duke. All the while, I was thinking, “I’m feeding Duke engines, why am I not enjoying Duke comfort?”
Rarely does one make out on airplane buying and selling, but I sold the Red Baron for 10% more than I paid for it. And had the joy of five years and 600 hours of flying to boot. (Hours on a plane are a measure of age, like miles on a car.)
A buyer agreed to the price. He and his son flew up from Tennessee to pick it up. Money and paper changed hands and they prepared to leave – the buyer in the plane he arrived in and his son in the one that had given me so much joy over the past five years.
Although I don’t cry over airplanes, I was wallowing in the knowledge that this would be the last time I would see N55RA fire up and take off. My reverie was shattered when I noticed thewas not hanging down. I had preflighted that elevator a hundred times. It was heavy. Yikes! He had the controls locked and would crash within minutes after takeoff.
Throwing caution to the winds, I raced around to the front of the plane and flashed some made up sign language. He fixed the problem and off they went.
Goodby Snoopy. Now where can I find a nice Duke?
My Pilot Logbook
Several people have told me they liked the images of my logbook. Here’s what 1992 looks like:
* * *
New types: None
New ratings: None
Total flying time to date: 1,549 hours
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