Flying the Baron


Baron N4801J arrived at my hangar in early May. By the end of the month, I learned to fly this new bird and made two long cross country trips. I could manage all the dials and switches and, when things were routine, was quite comfortable flying it.

Much like when Dad had the Bonanza, I flew whenever the opportunity arose. Over the next year and a half, I averaged two trips a month and totaled 175 hours – including nine trips to Des Moines to visit Scott and three to Orlando where my folks then lived.

Trip planning hacks I learned

From Chicago to Orlando was beyond the non-stop range of the Baron … and the pilot. Rest stops in light planes aren’t much different than those on a road trip – except a bit more planning is required. Initially, I chose to stop in major cities. Their airports had the best of runways, navaids and ATC facilities. Often there would be more than one FBO where I could buy fuel and tend to other needs – much like truck stops at highway exits.

Stop at the small towns. As I gained experience, I realized that almost every town in the U.S. has an airport. And, as you might suspect, a very hospitable one. At smaller airports everything was simpler. Traffic and taxiing could be as much as 20-30 minutes faster when airliners weren’t in the way. Filling the fuel tanks cost as much as a dollar a gallon less – a big savings when the Baron needed more than a hundred gallons.

Another big plus at smaller airports was the staff. As I rolled up to the gas pump, it wasn’t unusual for the owner to come out and pump the gas himself. (In the 20th century it was rarely a herself.) While chatting, he might ask if I wanted to borrow his car to run into town to get a sandwich. Often he’d even recognize me on subsequent visits.

The 60/40 rule. At first, in selecting the location for a fuel stop, I’d pick a location close to the midpoint of the flight. Then I discovered that if I made the first leg longer, when I took off again, it felt like I was almost there.

Memorable times

Upended household. Memorial Day Weekend 1985 was shaping up to be quite a time for our family. Our year-round household had settled nicely into life with Marie and me and three of our kids: Lainie (17), Eddie (13) and Jeff (5). Near the end of May I flew out to Des Moines and brought Scott home from Drake University for the summer. And after high school graduation in Boulder, Susan was coming to live with us until she left for college in the fall. Finally, we were all to be joined by yet-to-be born Annie, who was taking her merry time coming out.

Two days before Susan’s graduation, at a regularly scheduled OB visit, Marie discovered she was already in labor. Annie debuted at oh-dark-hundred Friday morning. When I left the hospital, I had just enough time to run home, grab a few hours sleep; then quickly pack a suitcase, grab my flight bag, and stop to see my girls on the way to the airport where I took off for Boulder. 

Susan’s graduation was everything I could hope for. We celebrated, had lunch, then packed her worldly possessions into the plane for the flight back to Palwaukee. 

We spent Sunday rearranging our house to accommodate our new family. In four days our four bedroom house went from ample space for three kids to not so ample room for six – including three-day-old Annie. Fortunately when Marie and Annie came home Monday, the kids’ complaints about living arrangements were overshadowed by the excitement of welcoming their new sibling.

Marie traps herself. Marie has always been very close to her cousins and one of them, Janet, lives five hours away in Cleveland. But it’s only an hour and twenty minutes in my plane. 

One especially beautiful day in October, I mentioned that if she ever wanted to fly to Cleveland with me, this would be the perfect time.

“Hmmm,” she pondered. “I’m not sure. Janet might not even be free.” Then she set the trap. She called Janet to see if it was a possibility. Janet’s excitement vibrated phone lines from Cleveland to Chicago. There was no backing out. To seal the deal, Marie then called Aunt Mary, Janet’s mother. Her excitement was no less.

As anxious as Marie might have been, not a bone in her body would allow her to disappoint not just one, but two very dear loved ones. We were going.

Jeff’s access to the third row was through the baggage door.

Saturday arrived. We loaded the plane for the outing: Mary and me in the front seats, Marie and Annie in the second row, and Jeff climbing through the baggage door into the third row. Off we went. About half way there, Marie pointed to a few wisps of clouds about a hundred miles off to the side of our course that I might have missed. Chuckling to myself, I calmly reassured her there was no danger.

I can’t help but believe that Marie set the trap to ensure that she wouldn’t change her mind. I love her for that.

An expensive acquisition. Hal Carstens, a good friend and competitor in the magazine business, concluded that he no longer wanted to publish his craft magazine but didn’t want to disappoint his subscribers. Would we fulfill their subscriptions with Crafts ‘n Things, our magazine? The simplest way to close the deal was for me to fly out to his office, sign papers, and pick up the necessary records at his office. 

The nearest airport was Andover Aeroflex, a sleepy little airport in upstate New Jersey that was only a few minutes from his office. It was perfect, but for one detail: The runway, although adequate, was shorter than any I had ever used. I carefully computed the requirements, added a 50% safety margin, and still had room to spare. I decided to go.

Andover Aeroflex nestled between two lakes.

As I approached the airport, I followed all the procedures with which I was very familiar. I made the radio calls on the CTAF, announcing my presence to any other planes that might be listening. There weren’t any. I circled the airfield to check the windsock and look for traffic. There wasn’t any. Then I entered the standard traffic pattern and prepared to land. Everything was cool until I turned onto final approach. Then my mind went into overtime:

The far end of the runway looks frightfully close. 

All the numbers compute. Remember, I’ve done this many times before. 

OMG, the far end of that runway looks close. 

OK. Touch down. 

That end is closing fast. 

On the brakes.

Too hard.

Airplanes are made to fly. Big highway tires don’t help the airplane fly – small tires do. At seventy miles an hour it’s pretty easy to lock the brakes and burn a hole in one. And I did. 

The plane skidded off the runway and came to a stop as I took out a runway light. 


Hal met me at the airport, bought me a drink, and teased me mercilessly. We did our business and he took me to Newark so I could fly home on American. 

As much as I loved the Baron, I decided that I needed to fly something simpler for a while.

Total flying time to date: 592 hours

New Types: None

New Ratings: None

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