Flight to Quad City's
20th Anniversary Celebration
By: Jim Hayward
Twenty years ago, the Challenger ultralight aircraft was born. Late this past spring, a movement started on the FlyChallenger e-mail list to have a fly-in sponsored by Quad Cities Ultralight, manufacturer of the Challenger kits.
September 20/21 was set aside for the event so I contacted the four Challenger owners I knew of in South Dakota, plus two in Nebraska and one in Wyoming. I thought it would be neat if a local (to me) group made the trip to the Quad Cities area together. Linda and I made our plans to depart on Thursday, the 18th, spend the night with my friend Chan, at Colome, SD, and fly on the next day. We would meet the rest of our group along the way.
As luck would have it, Linda wasn't able to fly out with me when the time came due to her mom having knee replacement surgery scheduled for the 19th. However, she insisted I go ahead and she would drive down as soon as she could.
I installed the belly bag for clothes, tent, and a sleeping bag, loaded up a 6 gallon fuel jug in the back seat "just in case", and took off for Chan's place. My favorite fuel stop at Kadoka found me taxiing up to the pumps with a sheriff's car and a Kadoka police car parked at the restaurant. I pulled up to a pump island, shut down, and started fueling up. Five or six minutes had passed when I noticed a uniformed man walking toward me. Oh boy!! Wonder what he's gonna say? :-)
He walked over with a friendly face and asked, "Where did you come from?"
"Rapid City," I said.
"No", he said, "I mean, where did you land?"
I pointed over toward the interstate, "On that gravel road over there by the interstate."
He pointed over toward the airport and said, "Oh, I thought you came under the interstate. The airport's over there".
"Yeah," I said, "but they don't have any gas over there."
He kinda grinned and said, "That's what the sheriff said."
He asked about the plane and we chatted a bit, then he told me to have a nice trip. I finished refueling, secured everything and taxied back out to the gravel road. I departed and took up my southeast heading for the 102 mile leg to Chan's place.
With the help of a nice tailwind, I arrived about a half hour before sunset and buzzed his house so he'd know I was there. He was waiting by his hangar when I taxied up.
He asked, "You want to park inside or outside?"
"Inside would be great!" I said.
We put it in a building near his hangar then visited for a bit and went in the house. Gert, Chan's wife, was glad to see me and had a really terrific supper waiting for us. I was ready for bed by 9:30 but, since it was getting pretty cool out, I decided to hook up the plane's heater hoses before turning in.
A good night's sleep found me ready to go the next morning when my 6 o'clock alarm sounded. Gert fixed us a great breakfast and we went out in the early morning darkness to find frosty grass and cold temps. I was really glad I'd put the heater hoses back in for our early morning flight. We did our preflights and were airborne by 7 o'clock.
The planes seemed to enjoy the crisp morning air as they clawed for altitude. Chan and his single place climbed better than mine, but I caught up with him in short order. Our next stop was Yankton to meet Brad and Jill Stiefvater from Salem, SD. The air was silky smooth and a nice tailwind helped push us over the 120 miles of brown hills and foggy draws quite nicely.
We arrived to find Brad and Jill waiting patiently. We visited a bit, refueled the planes, emptied ourselves, and cranked up our engines for a departure to Sac City, IA, about 128 miles southeast. We'd been airborne about 10 minutes when our radio chatter was interrupted with a call from one of the Nebraska boys asking where we were.
JD Stewart, Debby (his fiancée), and Curt Heggemeyer had already departed Norfolk, NE for Carroll, Iowa. JD, a Challenger dealer and instructor, had sold his Challenger earlier this year and bought a Titan Tornado kit. It's a slick cruiser (about 110 mph) and we agreed to let him come along but it was up to him to stay with us. :-) They decided to meet us at Sac City, IA, which was a minor diversion for them.
The Sac City stop was cool as the manager had never seen planes like ours. She really made a big deal over them, taking pictures and getting information about them to put up in her lobby. Anyway, we arrived and in due time, refueled, and were off as a group, still being pushed along with a very nice 23 mph tailwind.
Grinnell, IA was our next stop, not only for fuel but for some food as well. We made good time over the 123 miles, landed, refueled and borrowed their courtesy car, for the trip into town. A Kentucky Fried Chicken was spotted and we pulled in there.
Arriving back at Grinnell's airport, we got into our planes and started the engines. Brad was having trouble getting his started so we shut down to help. He had a pull starter instead of electric and it just wasn't getting the job done. The engine seemed to be flooding since the plugs were wet when removed. Over the next four hours we dried plugs, changed plugs, checked the ignition system, and anything else we could think of.
It was getting late and Brad spoke up, "You guys go on ahead. I'll keep working on it and catch up tomorrow if necessary."
Everyone was looking around and I chimed in, "Yeah, you guys go on. I can stay and help Brad."
Brad said, "You sure??"
"Yeah," I said, "Linda won't be there tonight anyway. I'll cancel our motel reservations since that needs to happen before 6 o'clock so they don't charge us."
Jill, Brad's wife, came in with me to cancel. I was getting the phone numbers from information when I heard a two-stroke start up. I looked at Jill, "They got it running!!"
"No," she said, "that's either Chan or Curt."
"Oh yeah…" I said dejectedly. The La Quinta motel answered and I explained that we would not be arriving due to engine problems but would be there for Saturday night. The clerk told me that it would be no problem.
I had no sooner hung up the phone than Debby came running in. "DON'T CANCEL!! DON'T CANCEL!!!" she yelled out of breath! "Brad got it running!" I called the motel back and cancelled our cancellation.
Well, as soon as Brad's plane was running, JD, Chan, and Curt fired up and took off for Erie since it was already near 6 o'clock and sunset was a little after 7 o'clock, which would make it pretty close for Chan and Curt with their ultralights. JD had the speed so he didn't worry at all about it. Brad and I were both "N" numbered so weren't affected by the rule requiring ultralights to be on the ground a half hour after sunset.
We knew it was going to be close for us but we both had night flight experience even though it had been a while…. a very long while…. and never with 2-stroke engines. Getting off about 6:15, we figured that the 138 miles would find us there well after sunset.
Since Grinnell is right along I-80, our flight path paralleled it all the way to Davenport. The fly-in was actually at Erie Park, IL which is about 25 miles northeast of Moline, one of the Quad Cities, and almost due east of our track. Our tailwinds were still holding and we were making good time.
Brad had noticed on our previous leg that he was burning quite a bit more fuel than the rest of us. The others were well ahead of Brad and he was ahead of me since my engine hadn't yet warmed up when he departed. I finally caught up with him about 20 minutes west of Davenport. We were cruising along enjoying the sights when my radio broke the silence…
"Jim, how much fuel do you have?" It was Brad.
"Oh, about 3 gallons", I replied, "we're about a half hour out."
He said, "I'm not sure I'll have enough to make it to Erie."
I asked him, "You want to land somewhere and transfer some fuel? I have this 6 gallon jug here. We can find a road easy enough and do it."
A pause… "I'll think about it."
A few minutes passed and Brad called me again. "I think I need to get some fuel from you."
"Okay", I said, "We'll set down somewhere and do it."
"Where?" he asked.
"How 'bout that airport over there…. about 3 o'clock?" It was Davenport's airport just north of the city and about 5 miles south of us.
"Okay", he said, "Lets go."
I banked off to the right, got their unicom frequency off my sectional and called but there was no answer. Dusk was upon us as the sun had set about 15 minutes before. I set up for landing and Brad followed me down. We turned off on a taxiway and stopped. I keyed my mike…. "Don't shut it down!"
He said, "Don't worry, I won't!!"
I shut down and got my fuel jug out, took it over, and we dumped about 4 gallons in while Jill scrunched forward as much as she could to let Brad get at the fuel tank behind her seat.
Putting the jug back in my plane, I secured things and cranked 'er up. We taxied back out, called the active, and took off into the brightly lit darkness. The metro area lights bordering the clear dark sky, accented occasionally with red tower lights, were simply gorgeous as we climbed for altitude. We departed northward but gradually turned east towards Erie as we climbed.
Approaching the Mississippi River, I got on the radio, "How are you doing, Brad?"
"I'm doing okay, Jim."
"How's Jill?" I felt like she might not be very comfortable with our evening flight.
"She's doing okay, too. You can take the lead if you want to, I'll follow you in."
"No problem.", I said.
We talked about night flying a bit and he was comfortable with it so we pressed on. My little ICOM broke the silence again when we heard someone calling us. It was Curt who had already landed with the others at Erie just before their deadline. He said, "I'm sure glad to hear you guys."
"We're glad to be heard!" I told him jokingly. "We had to get Brad some fuel."
Curt said they were lining up a bunch of vehicles along the runway with their lights shining east across the runway. Erie is basically an ultralight flight park and therefore not lighted. He radioed back, "Can you see a bonfire burning?"
"Nope, not yet, we're about 14 miles out." I replied. "I do see a row of small red lights like they may be cars, but there's a tower near them in the middle."
He came back, "That tower is about a mile east of the field." Suddenly I saw one of the red lights flashing. I keyed my mike…"One of the lights just started flashing in the middle of the row."
He said, "They just turned on a 4-way."
"Terrific! Now I know where y'all are for sure!" Within a few moments, all the lights were flashing. What a great sight!
The engines purred along and we flew on starting to let down. I got on the radio, "Curt, we'll be coming in from the south. Are there any water towers or anything else like that around the field down that way?"
"Nothing," he said, "it's a clear approach for you guys and it's a 2000 foot' strip."
"Okay, thanks." I said, "Brad, I'm gonna start letting down."
"Okay, I'm about a quarter mile behind you."
I started down, gradually cutting back to about 4600 rpm and flew on. I finally saw their bonfire and pressed on, turning about a mile out for the final approach. The headlights playing across the grass strip looked really good as we flew closer and closer. About a quarter mile out I flipped on my landing lights, adjusted power to 3300 rpm, and continued descending.
Closer I got as I slowed to 50 mph… closer… almost there… in the lights, 40 mph, chop the power…. flare, float a bit.… touchdown and roll out. I saw another set of flashing lights quite a ways down the strip. It was a plane placed to indicate the end of the strip. Suddenly, some flashing lights turned on about halfway between me and the end of the runway. It was a truck waiting to guide Brad and me to a parking place.
We followed it, parked, and shut down. Brad and I got out to congratulations on our safe arrivals while Jill got out and kissed the ground. Everyone was talking and some tie downs were brought over if we needed. I called Linda to tell her we'd made it okay. She wasn't too thrilled about our landing scenario but was really glad to hear from me. She was feeling sad that she was still so far away.
They had burgers, brats, and hot dogs down by the bonfire at the end of the runway, so we got in a truck and rode down there. About 11:00, a shuttle took us to Moline where I called Linda to let her know we were at the motel. She had finally departed Rapid about 6 pm and was about a half hour from Sioux Falls where she would spend the night.
She hit the road about 4 o'clock Saturday morning, arriving at Erie about 7 hours later. She was a bit tired but glad to be there with us. Jill and Debbie were really glad to see her and they went off on their own for a while. The rest of us were enjoying all the planes.
Some folks were flying but most were just visiting. Frank Beagle (Oshkosh ultralight field announcer) was there as MC and it was just a great time. Brad and Curt had smoke systems on their planes and put on a show for the crowd about 10 am. At the time, there were about 40 Challengers, 50 cars, and a dozen or so motor homes and campers, all with their hordes of people.
Several powered parachutes came in with some trikes. Various Cessna's and Pipers showed up, a Beech V-tail, some Kitfoxes, an Aerolite, and a couple of gyrocopters. By the end of the weekend, there were 58 Challengers registered, not to mention all the other aircraft. They gave out caps and tee shirts for the Challenger pilots that flew in, awards for the best looking, the oldest, the highest hours, the cleanest, the dirtiest, and the farthest flown (to the fly-in) Challengers. I got the one for farthest flown at 703 miles. I was pretty tickled about that!
About 2 pm, Brad and Curt were going to put on another "smoke show" along with JD and his Titan. Door prizes were still being drawn while Brad was trying to get his plane started. He was again having trouble with it.
Frank Beagle was giving Brad a bad time over the mike about it from time to time. This particular prize was for an electric starter kit and…. yep!… Brad's ticket was called!!!
Everyone was just clapping and yelling loudly. Brad was jumping around with his hands up in the air in joyous victory and wouldn't you know it… on his next pull, the engine started! … go figure!
They did another show and Curt dropped a roll of toilet paper for JD to cut with his Titan. JD got several passes and cuts in with a couple of prop hits that made the paper look like it just exploded. It was a fun show.
Linda's foster brother, Chuck, took a 20 minute drive over from Clinton, IA with his wife, Starla, and their grandkids. We hadn't seen them for a year or so, so we had a real treat with him doing that. I gave Devon, the 5 year old, a ride, which he really seemed to enjoy. The first thing he spotted after we were up was a combine working a field. We flew around about 15 minutes then returned.
I parked and asked Chuck if he wanted to go. Now Chuck is a 250 pound guy with a proud "shed" on him to boot. He never thought he would be able to go with me due to his size. I wouldn't take him out in Rapid due to my little strip, and he didn't seem to want to go off the road there either.
He looked at me and said, "Really?"
"Yep, I've got plenty of runway here." I replied with a grin.
He looked over at Starla with this big grin, walked over to the plane and packed himself in. We cranked up and taxied out. While it did take about a third of the runway to get off, once we were up, the plane performed just fine. Chuck really enjoyed the flight and scenery. We did a fly-by then flew a bit more before returning.
I also gave a ride to Andrew's wife Kris. Andrew drove down for Brad's Memorial Day Fly-in back in May of this year. She enjoyed the flight as well and thought the planes were pretty neat… at least until JD took her up in his Titan! Now Andrew might be looking at having to get a Titan!!
JD and Curt wanted to sleep in Sunday morning but Brad, Chan, and I had decided to leave early, like about 6:30, since there was weather coming in from the west. We wanted to at least get to Grinnell if we could. It was about 7:15 when we finally broke ground.
Linda later said she felt like crying when we left. She drove over to Chuck's to spend the morning with them and the grandkids.
We had terrible headwinds giving us a ground speed of about 48 to 50 mph. About an hour and a half into the flight, Brad called saying he was running low on fuel and wouldn't make Grinnell without refueling. We started looking for a hay field to set down in. Brad called one out but I never saw it so we kept on going.
I spotted a nice looking field and told Brad I'd check it out. I dropped down and did a touch & go. The ground seemed to claw at me and I really had to work to get back off as it was pretty soft.
"Well, that one won't work, Brad." I radioed back.
We flew on and I spotted a nice looking gravel road, so I circled around and did a touch & go on it.
"That'll work if it's okay with you, Brad."
"That's fine with me." he said. He circled around to set up for it. I landed behind him, shut down and got my fuel jug out. As I was taking the jug over, a minivan came up over the rise behind us and stopped. I put the jug down and went over to them. It was a guy with his wife and two little kids on their way to church.
"No problems here," I said, "we just need to transfer some gas."
He smiled and got out saying, "Mind if we look at your plane?"
"Nope, go right ahead."
He couldn't believe where we were from and where we'd been. Brad kept his engine running and we put most of the fuel in his tank. With everything back in my plane, I started the engine once again and we took off. I circled around and made a pass near the minivan as they waved to us.
We made Grinnell about 9:15, landed, and put the planes in a hangar since the wind was blowing pretty good. I felt the first of many raindrops as I got mine inside. About a half hour later it was raining fairly steady. I called Chuck's place and talked to Linda who said she'd be leaving by 1 o'clock.
I hung up with Linda and found Chan and Brad looking at the weather radar on the internet. It told us we were gonna be there at least a few hours. We were tempted to leave when the skies cleared up some, but the internet showed stuff coming in behind the clearing, so we stayed put.
We were outside wistfully looking at the skies when we heard some unmistakable engine sounds. It was JD and Curt. They'd gotten stuck at Iowa City for a while but made it on across when the weather broke there. JD had to give us a bad time about his getting to sleep in, our leaving so early, and now here we all were back together again.
I called Linda a couple of times during the day to see how she was doing. Would you believe she caught up with us about 3 o'clock that afternoon! She pulled in and parked, got out saying, "Here I am trying to take a vacation and you people just keep horning in!!" We all laughed and went back inside.
Jill decided to ride back with Linda to keep her company, which meant she could stay at their house instead of Sioux Falls, and then make it on to Rapid on Monday with a shorter 4 hour drive home. It would work out really nice for Brad too, since he wouldn't burn as much fuel. The girls left and we settled in for the duration. Six o'clock came and they had to close the airport terminal so we decided to get motel rooms, pizza, and call it a night.
Sunrise found us enjoying a Continental breakfast then walking back across the road to the airport. Broken clouds were becoming more common. Brad's engine started without problems and we departed about 8:15 heading northwest for Boone, IA .
Boone was one of our alternate airports and about 61 miles away. Headwinds kept our ground speeds down around 45 mph which was pretty sucky. We refueled at Boone and headed on to Le Mars, IA. Chan was going to head to Yankton but decided to stay with us to Le Mars. We skirted a couple of light rain showers about half way to Le Mars, getting a little wet in the meantime, and landed at there with a 29 mph crosswind about 40 degrees off the nose. Mother Nature just has to keep things interesting sometimes.
With fueling finished, we said goodbye to Chan who headed on to Tyndall, just west of Yankton, where he would meet his wife at a private strip there to refuel. Brad and I flew on to Salem and Brad's home strip. About 18 miles from his strip, Brad radioed that he needed fuel so we landed at a friend's farm strip, transferred fuel and went on.
Jill was really happy to see us arrive and had sandwiches waiting for me. I refueled and called Linda to tell her that I was at Brad's. I told her I should be at Kadoka around 7:30 to 8:00 o'clock and would call her then.
I said my good-byes and took off, heading for my Reliance fuel stop. Brad called on the radio, "Hey Jim, thanks for everything, I sure appreciate it."
"No problem, Brad, I had a great time! We'll see ya later."
"Jim, you got a copy on me?" It was Chan.
"Sure do, Chan."
"I'm just about a mile from home."
"Okay, Chan, glad you made it. Tell Gert thanks for everything."
"I will. Talk to ya later…."
"Yep, we'll see ya…"
On I flew, climbing to 3500 feet, looking for less wind. It wasn't happening as it was still holding me back to about 50 mph. Approaching Chamberlain, my ground speed had picked up to about 56 mph. I got to thinking that it would be around 7 o'clock when I hit Reliance and my luck would be that the Amoco station there just might be closed.
Having about 2.5 gallons of fuel showing and knowing that Chamberlain had a credit card pump, I elected to divert there for gas. I refueled while watching someone fly a radio control model there then departed for Kadoka. Figuring it would be dark when I got there, I decided I would land at the airport, refuel out of my jug, then go on to Rapid.
As the sun disappeared below the horizon, the sunset gave me a splendid view from my 4000 foot perch. Winds had slowed a bit so my ground speed was now about 60 mph. On I flew as the western sky got darker and darker. The evening sights were just wonderful with spotted lights of ranches here and there, and the various towns in the distances.
I drifted on over closer to I-90 in case I had an emergency but that little Rotax just kept purring along and I felt quite comfortable flying with it. As I approached Murdo, I noticed that the winds had dropped to nothing.
Belvidere breezed along under me and I could see the Kadoka airport beacon flashing not far away. I also noted that I now had an 8 mph tailwind… sweet!
I started a gradual descent staying just north of the interstate. As I approached abeam the field's beacon, I clicked my mike 3 times on their frequency which turned on the airport's runway lights. What a nice sight for this ol' guy!
I turned onto a base leg over the interstate, then onto final, and landed. It wasn't the nicely floating, kiss-the-earth landing I was used to but solid with no bounce. I knew at that moment that I wasn't going any farther because I was tired. I taxied around looking for the exit, which was hard to find as the field needed to be mowed somewhat. I finally found it and taxied over to the parking area and a set of tiedowns by a hangar. I shut down and just sat there a moment in the quiet, thinking of what a great experience this trip had been.
I got out and called Linda who was pretty emotional because she hadn't heard from me. It was 8 o'clock on the nose and she had called both the Sundowner motel (where I stay) and the Conoco truck stop about 7:30 looking for me. She was pretty frantic, which made me feel pretty bad that I hadn't called her while I was at Chamberlain.
I told her I'd be staying in Kadoka as I was pretty tired and just didn't want to go on. It would work out anyway as I was supposed to meet a tower crew at my PBS transmitter site the next morning. The guy who was to drive out with me from Rapid could just pick me up at the motel and we would go on down to the transmitter site at Long Valley. I hung up with Linda and called Lee Jarman's house. Lee owns the Sundowner.
"Lee, this is Jim from Rapid."
"Yeah! What's going on??" he asked.
"Can you come get me at the airport?" I said.
"What the hell are you doing over there? You know what time it is?"
I said, "Yeah I know. I'm on my way back to Rapid from a fly-in down by Davenport, but I'm too tired to go on. I have to meet a tower crew at Long Valley in the morning anyway so thought I might as well just stay here tonight."
"Oh, give me about 10 minutes to get things tied down."
"Okay." He said.
With the light of the rotating beacon shining intermittently for me, I fished through my storage compartment for the tie down ropes…. gotta pack a flashlight next trip! I finished securing the plane just as Lee drove up. He came over to help me with anything he could. We visited a bit then he took me to the motel.
Linda called just after 10 pm on her way home from work and we talked a bit. I was pretty tired and feeling really glad I didn't try going on. She could tell I was sleepy so we said goodnight. I called Brad to let him know where I was. He thanked me, and I hung up, then turned out the lights.
The next day, I worked with the tower crew and, after checking the weather, decided I needed to get the plane back that afternoon as Wednesday's winds would be even worse. I really didn't want to leave the plane tied down in the forecast 40 mph winds.
The tower crew was about done with the first of 10 day's work so my work partner brought me back to Kadoka where I refueled with my jug and took off for home. I had 20 mph headwinds again but they weren't what they were forecast to be at Rapid… 18 instead of 25 was really nice.
Son Jeremie was there waiting in case I needed help due to the wind. We put the plane away and visited a bit. I did some e-mail then headed back to Kadoka in my work truck. I'd had a long but great flying trip with a group of guys and gals that made flying a ton of fun!
The next day I found out there were a total of 58 Challengers at the fly-in along with all the other "riff-raft" aircraft. What a great tribute to this little plane! I'm so glad that I went, not only with a group, but also to see some of the folks from the e-mail list and put faces to their names. It was really GREAT!!!