Living in southwestern South Dakota has some distinct advantages... also some disadvantages such as being around 760 miles from Oshkosh. My wife, Linda, and I had decided last year to fly our recently built Challenger II to Oshkosh along with three other Challenger pilots. Sunday’s departure day from our Rapid City home arrived with overcast skies and occasional rain throughout the day.
We were to fly to Colome in south central SD and spend the night with a friend, Chan Shippy, a retired farmer who has a single place Challenger. We would then depart Chan’s farm at first light Monday morning and, upon arrival at Wisconsin Dells, WI, meet the other two Challengers from Norfolk, NE. All of us had planned on two days of playing tourist at "The Dells", flying on to Oshkosh for two or maybe three days depending on weather, then returning home. A weather day for before and after our trip had been plugged into our schedule for good measure. I had decided on a go-no-go time of 4 o'clock that afternoon to allow for travel to Chan's place, some visitation upon arrival, and an early bedtime.
Four o'clock arrived with light rain showers and no sign of letting up, so I sent an e-mail to Chan saying I would not be departing as planned due to the weather. We now planned on flying out at first light Monday morning, meeting him at his place, then continuing on that morning. I finished packing the plane's belly bag with our tent, a sleeping bag and ground pads, a couple of pillows, and our clothes so we could just get in and go when the time came. Linda would sit on the other sleeping bag, carry our toiletries, and I would sit on our towels draped across my seat and seatback.
About 5:30 the rain started easing up and by 6pm it had cleared off with blue sky showing nicely. I called the Huron Flight Service Station who said it had also cleared off at Kadoka where we would be refueling at their truck stop just off of I-90. Winner, SD located about 10 miles northwest of Colome, still had some low clouds but the briefer said they would be gone by the time we arrived at Kadoka.
I called Chan to see how his weather was and he said it had stopped raining. Quickly checking my GPS, I found that we would arrive about 15 minutes after sunset if we were airborne by 7pm and the winds held true. I told him if he didn't hear from us within 45 minutes, we were on our way. I ran to the house where Linda, having seen me running, asked rather concerned, "What's wrong???" I said, "Get your stuff, we're going." We scurried around getting last minute things and pulled the plane out of the hangar at 6:40.
We locked up the house and called relatives to let them know we were leaving after all. The little Rotax fired up with anticipation and we strapped in. She was warmed up in short order and we taxied out to our paved country road via our neighbor's driveway since we were too heavy for our 1000‘ strip with 35' obstacles at each end. With our strip being within Rapid City Regional Airport’s class D airspace, I have to call them anytime I'm coming to or going from our place.
I pressed the mike switch... "Rapid City tower, Experimental 142JL Hayward Place request entry into Class D with southerly departure from Class D". They called back, "Experimental 142JL, entry into Class D approved, report exiting Class D airspace". I replied, "Roger, entry into Class D approved, thank you, 142JL."
As we waited for a couple of cars to pass by, the strange looks on the driver's faces told us they didn‘t have a clue. We taxied onto the road giving full power as we lined up on the "centerline". Our 985 pounds lifted off crisply in the light wind and we turned south to skirt along the south side of Rapid's Class D airspace. The leg to Kadoka was routine with gorgeous views of the Badlands and, with a nice tailwind, we were there in about an hour.
After landing on an old missile site access road that parallels the interstate just east of Exit 152, we taxied over to the Kadoka truck stop and took on 5.3 gallons of fuel. A couple of rubberneckers came over to ask questions and take pictures. That’s just got to be our favorite refueling stop! Departing Kadoka, we turned southeast toward Chan's farm with the GPS now showing our arrival at 12 minutes after sunset. The tailwinds were even better to the southeast and our ETA held true. I love my GPS!
Chan was glad to see us and we had a bite to eat but didn't stay up much later before getting to bed since we had decided to get off by 6 o'clock the next morning which meant waking up about 5am. All the weather had moved out by morning so we downed some toast and orange juice, checked over the planes, cranked up, and were on our way. Our first stop was Tyndall, SD where Chan's lady friend, Gert Zwanziger had gas waiting for us at a private strip north of town. We visited a bit, gassed up, and departed for Sheldon, IA.
Sheldon was a really nice stop and we were off again in less than 30 minutes. As we climbed thru 1500 feet AGL, I shut off my auxillary fuel pump. A moment later the engine lost some power. Linda announced her concern with a predictable expletive as I switched the pump back on. Everything came back to life so, deciding to check it again, I turned the pump back off and lost some power again. Turning it back on and, thinking maybe it was a climb attitude problem, I tried turning it off while it straight and level. That proved not to be the problem as it tried to die again.
Linda definitely wanted to know what the heck I was doing and why! I explained that I was trying to determine what was causing the apparent fuel starvation and she stayed nervously quiet. I found I could reduce power below about 5900 rpm and things were okay. This still gave us a cruise of 68 to 70 mph which wasn't bad so we continued on but I was ready with the auxillary pump if needed.
The 12 mph tailwinds were holding nicely for us and we made Forest City, IA near lunch time. The FBO offered us their courtesy van which we used to find the local Subway restaurant and lunch. Returning to the airport, we fueled up then taxied out for departure. Climbing out from Forest City we headed for Decorah, IA. We leveled out and reduced power to cruise, so I switched off the main pump and climbed to altitude on the auxillary pump without any problems. I figured my main fuel filter had picked up some dirt and told Linda I'd replace it at Oshkosh which I did.
Decorah found us with a slight crosswind but landing was uneventful. Fueling up with our typical 5 to 6 gallons of fuel, we departed for Wisconsin Dells, WI. Approaching the majestic Mississippi River, we climbed up almost instinctively then gradually let back down on the other side as we headed on toward the Dells. Five o'clock saw our arrival at Baraboo Airport just outside of the Dells where the manager told us we could park our planes and pitch our tents over by some hangars.
The other two Challenger guys, J.D. Stewart (who runs the Challenger e-mail list) and Curt Heggemeyer, along with a motor home driven by two other Norfolk (student) UL'ers, Bryan Reed and Ray Olson, were already parked there. We set up our tents then took the motor home into town for supper. We returned to the airport about 8:15 and relaxed. Shortly after dark, we witnessed the slow rising of a beautiful yellow moon just over the trees and, from our vantage point, seemingly guarding our Challengers as it hung over them.
It was a splendid sight so we snapped a few pictures, sat around shooting the breeze for an hour or so, and turned in for the night. I got a chuckle out of Linda when we snuggled down in the sleeping bags and bag pads on the ground. She looked at me with this slight frown on her face and said, "You know, we've had a really nice camper for 2 years now and here I am in a tent, sleeping on the ground again!" I smilingly agreed and gave her a hug goodnight.
Tuesday morning found us up and ready to play tourist. After fixing breakfast, we headed into the Dells for some fun. We thought it was a bit cool for the water parks so decided to hit the go-kart tracks. Digging into our wallets for $35 each gave us access to a whole day‘s worth of fun! The park held a dozen or so go-kart tracks as well as 4 roller coasters and, being the middle of the week, the lines were short which was really nice.
On the first track we drove, everyone (except me) was being polite to Linda. HOWEVER, Linda wasn't into returning the favor as she was bent on having her own brand of fun. Although the signs said "No Bumping" she decided they didn't really mean that as long as the employees didn't catch you doing it. Also, if one of us tried to pass her, she would weave back and forth so we couldn't. If she was somewhere out of the employee's sight, you didn't want to be near her or she'd whack you good with her kart!
After we had finished that track, I told the guys that she used to race at the Black Hills Speedway back in Rapid City many, many years ago. Don't you know they decided right then that she could fend for herself and the competition was on!! Needless to say, we had a terrific time the whole day! The roller coasters were okay but we had so much more fun with the go-karts. We left at the 8pm closing time with big smiles on our faces and hungry for something to eat. We had supper at a huge pizza place, stopped by a Dairy Queen for dessert, and went back to the airport where we relaxed while telling our tales of competition all over again.
Wednesday was for the water parks. It was a fun time but not as much fun as the go-karts. We had decided to quit by 4 o'clock so we'd have time to depart Baraboo by 6pm for the short flight to Oshkosh. A quick call to the Red Barn at Oshkosh to leave a message for announcer Frank "Woof" Beagle, completed our departure preparation. Frank who also owns (and teaches in) a Challenger wanted to know our group’s arrival time so he could announce us to the crowd. We said we should arrive at the field about 7pm.
The flight on to Oshkosh was nice with the four of us in a loose formation. We made the ultralight entry point in 45 minutes and headed north to enter their pattern. What a sight! There were all sorts of aircraft in the pattern from powered parachutes, to trikes and fixed wing. Linda was pretty nervous with all the aircraft around us but decided to keep reasonably quiet after my saying I'd have to unplug her headset if she couldn't be "less vocal"!
Arriving at 7:03, we made a fly-by and got back in the UL traffic pattern. It was my first time flying in and I'd been told that if they weren't waving any red flags at me to go ahead and land. We were all waved off on our first try due to departing aircraft. Coming back around, Linda and I were number 3 in our group with Chan in the number 4 slot. The first two were waved off again due to departures so they had to go around once more. As I rounded the trees and turned onto final, I could see the flag guys at the approach end of the runway. Their flags were down so I kicked in aileron and full rudder dropping into a pretty good slip.
Their flags stayed down even though I saw a departing trike pulling up from the middle of the runway so I kept on slipping. My heart skipped a beat as I realized we were sinking way too fast because I had forgotten about our extra weight and our speed was a bit slower than it should have been. We were really dropping now! MAN!!! Now I've done it! I shoved in full power just knowing we were going to land hard but we didn't.
Mr. Rotax responded and it timed out just right because we rounded out under power, barely greasing it on which made me feel really thankful. Whew!!! I sure didn't want to bust a landing or our plane in front of a few hundred folks! We taxied off the field and over to a ground crew who marshalled us to an entry gate then had us shut down. He remarked about our having chosen the busiest evening for our arrival.
We were given a parking spot over near the Challenger tent and some other Challengers. We pushed the plane over to our spot, tied it down, looked at each other with a big grin and did a high five together! Eeeehaaaaa!!!! we did it! We really DID it!!!!! Bryan and Ray had the motor home parked over in a private campground near the Red Barn. We found them and pitched our tent on the site then proceeded to enjoy Oshkosh for the next 2 days. The airshows were terrific and the WWII tribute on Friday afternoon after the airshow was especially impressive.
We attended the Challenger forum Friday morning which was especially nice in that we got to meet some of the guys from the Challenger e-mail list who's names I knew but had never met. I also found some of my EAA Chapter 39’s guys and gals at their campsite Friday afternoon and visited for a while. I was really glad to have found them as we were becoming so packed with the publications we had and the souvenirs we'd bought, that we were really hurting for space. They offered to take our sleeping bags, pads, and tent back with them which really helped us out.
Saturday morning's weather was looking not so good. The powered parachutes were flying but the remainder of the flying was finally canceled about 9am due to the winds picking up and occasional light rain coming down. We had planned on getting out by 7 o'clock but that wasn't to be. Checking the weather radar about 10 o‘clock, we finally saw a hole opening up over toward Baraboo and Decorah. The briefer said it should stay open so we decided to go. I let the other guys know that Chan, Linda and I were heading back since the weather was opening up a bit and Sunday’s forecast was worse yet. They said they hadn't made up their mind about leaving.
Chan and I fueled up, got an okay from the line boss to go, and pushed the planes over to the line since no powered taxiing is allowed in the ultralight area. The preflight went well so we got in with a crowd looking on. Runup was good and a windy, southeasterly departure found us heading up into an overcast sky. As we turned westerly, a 15 to 20 mph headwind component reared it's ugly head.
Due to traffic, we stayed around 300' AGL until we were about 10 miles out then climbed up a bit. A half-hour later we heard the other 2 planes in our group getting airborne. I was really glad they had decided to head back after all knowing it was a tough call for them since they would miss Saturday's terrific air show but none of us wanted to chance the weather.
Approaching the Dells, we could see all the tourist activities from river tours to the water and go-kart parks. Reedsburg, IA was another 10 miles away and the first of eight stops on our return trip to Rapid City. We landed, refueled, walked across the highway for a bite to eat, then took-off again, heading for Decorah. A strong, 20 mph direct crosswind greeted us there but the Challengers took it in stride.
Parked at the fuel pump were a couple of Kitfox planes carrying their owners back to Colorado from Oshkosh. We visited with one of them for a bit after refueling, paid for our fuel, and were getting ready to depart when we heard the unmistakable sound of two stroke engines. Our stragglers had caught up with us so we waited for them to land and see what direction they might go from Decorah. As it turned out, we split up anyway as they were heading farther south than we were.
The headwinds stayed pretty constant giving us ground speeds in the neighborhood of 47 to 50 mph. The turbulence was light but constant as we cruised across the lush green Iowa countryside with it's rolling hills. We initially maintained our altitude of around 800 feet AGL due to clouds but were finally able to climb up to about 1500 AGL trying to find some smoother air. We finally got out of the overcast and cloudy weather about a third the way across Iowa, arriving at Forest City only to find no one around anywhere.
Egad!!! We hadn't even considered or thought about small airports being closed on the weekend. We called the phone numbers listed in the pilots’ lounge but none answered. Geez! now what to do. I got to thinking and told Linda that I thought we should find their courtesy van, go buy a fuel can, and make however many trips it took into town and back to get gas for us. She didn't think that was a good idea but Chan said, "What are we waiting for?" I found the van's hangar unlocked with keys in the van so opened the hangar and drove the van out.
Linda stayed with the planes while Chan and I went to town. We found a Pamida store, bought the largest plastic fuel container they had which was blue, held 5 gallons, and was labeled 'Kerosene'. It took 3 trips into town to get our fuel but we got it along with a 2 hour delay in our trip. Leaving the blue container behind for the use of their van, we took off once more. The leg to Sheldon was 111 miles and the headwinds had not changed a bit so we settled in for the ride.
About 30 minutes later we decided to try and get out of the winds if we could. We dropped down to around 50 to 70 feet AGL gaining about 8 mph with the lesser wind close to the ground. Flying along the rural Iowa countryside and it‘s rather straight highways at that altitude not only gave us a magnificent view of the lush green fields, but the sparse traffic on their rural highways provided an emergency landing strip should we ever need it.
Occasionally our westbound road would end at a north/south road. We would simply fly over to another section line, pick up another east/west road, and continue on... wonderful! As we flew along, we would occasionally encounter a small town of 6 to 8 blocks in size with a park somewhere on its outskirts and folks playing ball or something. They would wave excitedly as we flew by and we would happily wave back.
A couple of times we flew by a farmhouse with the occupants out in the yard enjoying the nice afternoon. It felt so neat at that moment waving back to them as they waved to us. It made me want to circle around and land for a short visit with them. I just knew they had to be wondering who we were, where we were going and where we had been. The remaining 60 miles or so to Sheldon were flown like that and was one of the most enjoyable flights I've ever taken.
We arrived at the Sheldon airport just as the last sliver of the sun's golden light was dropping below the horizon. We climbed up to pattern altitude, called our intentions on the radio and entered the traffic pattern with no one in sight. As I turned final, I told Linda I was going to cut the engine and dead stick it in. As she asked, "Why?", the engine went silent and we became a glider. I told her I just wanted to land quietly with the wonderfully serene sunset setting before us. A short but gentle 'squeak, squeak' signaled our arrival on the ground once more. I restarted the Rotax and taxied over to the fuel pumps. Linda said, "Please don't do that again."
No one was around but a phone call soon remedied that. We sort of hated getting anyone out late like that but didn't really want to try it at 5 o'clock the next morning. We refueled and were offered the use of a vehicle to go into town for a bite to eat which we gladly accepted. Full bellies told us it was time to return to the airport and crash on the couches and chairs in the pilots' lounge which had been offered to us for the night.
Five o'clock came early and we wiped the morning dew off the windshields, untied the planes and did our preflights. The Vari-EZ homebuilt we had tied down alongside was still bowing to the east in the crisp morning air as we departed the flight line for the runway. Tyndall was next in our sights as we rose up into the cool morning air. The multi-hued, green countryside was gorgeous with thin fingers of fog laying in among some of the draws and low lying areas. An occasional pickup truck on a road signaled the start of the day for those earthbound and our headwinds had slowed to 5 to 10 mph.
We made Tyndall where Chan's lady friend, Gert, was once more waiting for us with fuel. We fed the planes and Gert fed us.... what a deal!!! She took us to her home where she fixed a wonderful breakfast for us. Ten o'clock rolled around and Chan said he would stay behind to "help Gert clean things up"... yeah, RIGHT! Naturally, Linda couldn't resist the opportunity to give him a bad time about that comment. Hey, retired folks gotta have a life, too!
They took us back out to the airstrip where we departed leaving Chan to fend for himself. Flying on to Chan's place the winds remained about the same. The green countryside gave way to brown as we crossed the Missouri River. Arriving at Chan's farm, we refueled, took a nature break, and departed, heading northwest to my favorite refueling place... Kadoka's truck stop.
The Badlands with it's craggy landscape was intimidating to a degree yet quite
beautiful. We kept a reasonable altitude and enjoyed them as we cruised along. Kadoka's truck stop with it's giant American flag waving in the breeze finally came into view making a nice windsock for us as well. Sweeping down over I-90 for a landing on the old access road, we had a nearly broadside 15 mph crosswind. As we setup on our final approach, I noticed a small westbound car that slowed down over on the interstate, took the exit ramp ahead, and stopped at the stop sign.
We landed, taxied down to the sideroad where they crossed on over and
back onto the interstate. They had apparently been waiting to see what we were doing. We waited for a semi to pass in front of us then taxied on over to the pumps where a group of about a dozen Sturgis-bound motorcyclists were waiting and watching as we taxied in. Sturgis, SD is to motorcycles what Oshkosh is to aircraft. Wanting to "break the ice", I shut down and got out saying, "You guys have Sturgis, we have Oshkosh!"
A couple of smiles told me some of them knew what I was talking about. About half of them came over to visit with us and ask questions... lots of fun. Two of them had friends who had been to Oshkosh before and one had an uncle who had been there. One of the ladies couldn't believe we'd actually flown to Wisconsin in "that little thing". We fueled up and departed with 4 or 5 bikers taking pictures and movies as we taxied out. We took off, punched in ’Home’ on the GPS and climbed up to about 1500' AGL. Did I mention I love my GPS? The remainder of our trip was uneventful with us touching down at our strip at 2:35 Sunday afternoon.
Our trip had taken 8 days, covered 1530.2 miles according to the GPS, and taken almost 24 flight hours... 11.2 going, 12.7 coming back. This did not include ground time spent at each stop. Yep... we were tired but happy. We shut down, got out, put the plane away, made the appropriate phone calls to friends and family, unloaded a few things, and walked into our home crashing for about 3 hours. It was a great trip and one I would not want to repeat again anytime soon, but... hmmm.... maybe next year.