The Great Cross Country 2002
By: Russ Hauser

Steve Bensinger, a friend of mine living in Southern Michigan, had purchased a home and hangar at South Lakeland Airport and wanted to fly his Aventura II down here rather than disassemble and trailer it. He wasn't eager to fly all the way down here alone and was delighted when I offered to accompany him in my Challenger that had been for sale and hangared in Michigan. He needed to be in Lakeland for the property's closing on Feb. 28 which was not the best time of the year to be planning a long distance flight. Steve's girlfriend, Sue, my wife Patti, and a friend of mine, Jon Jacobs, would be ground crew following along in a motorhome, PT Cruiser and a minivan.

Patti and I drove up to Michigan on Feb. 19th so I could have a couple of days to get the Challenger ready. It had sat in the hangar for a year with only a few hours of use. I put the cabin heater back on and resealed the doors as well as checking over everything else. On the 18th I flew 38 miles over to Clinton, Michigan, to see Steve and all went well with the Challenger.

We had planned to begin the cross country on the morning of the 21st. I got out to the field about an hour before sunrise and discovered a broken connection on the CB Radio which Jon fixed. Southern Michigan had had a bad ice storm the week before then warmed up, melting the ice and thawing the upper few inches of ground. As I taxied out onto the runway the nose gear strut failed when I taxied into really soft ground that I didn't see. It took Jon and I until noon to replace the entire assembly so it was decided to delay our start until the next day.

I took off at 7:25 AM on the 22nd and met Steve in the air near Hudson, MI, and we continued on across Indiana to Auburn, Elwood, Mt. Comfort, Bedford, and Mt. Vernon, landing at a private strip owned by Mark Smith. We stayed in a nearby motel and left for Russellville, KY the following morning, at 10:07 AM. Our other stops this day were at McMinnville, TN; Rome and Carrollton, GA, where we stayed the night. We took-off again at 10:30 the morning of the 24th continuing on to Thomaston, Cordele, and Quitman, GA. We passed Live Oak, FL and Flying Ten, another private field near Gainesville, where we stopped again because we ran out of daylight. Getting a late start on the 25th, we stopped at Hernando County Airport in Spring Hill, FL, and arrived at Lakeland around 2:30 in the afternoon.

We really lucked out on the weather which was great all the way. We should have been further west going thru Southern Tennessee and Northern Georgia because of the "hostile terrain" around Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain. All in all, a great flight and I feel lucky I not only had the opportunity to do it, but to do it with the support of my wife, Patti.

The following are some notes from Steve: "Misc. Ramblings"

-Mt. Comfort and Mt. Vernon in Indiana? The highest thing I saw was a highway overpass!

-I would NOT recommend our route through Kentucky and Tennessee. Maybe those mountains and forests don't look like much to out-west flyers, but for us, used to Michigan and Ohio flying, it made for maximum nervosity.

-We were treated VERY well by everyone at every stop we made. Everyone thought it was cool that we were flying that far in our little planes. The worst part about each stop (other than paying aviation fuel prices $19 for 7 gallons of gas!) was trying to shake off the Airport Geezers who wanted to talk all afternoon.

-At one airport (can't remember which, now) we thought Russ was going to get eaten by a Bonanza. There was a fair amount of traffic, but we joined right in and I made all the radio calls for the "flight of two Ultralights." We were already well established on final and I was about to touch down when a Bonanza came out of nowhere and announced he was on final. Russ was still behind me, so I called the Bonanza to make sure he knew about the two Ultralights on final... no response. By the time I was on the ground and Russ was about ready to land, I finally I heard the Bonanza call for a go-around because, "there's too much traffic."

-At Brooks County airport in Quitman, GA, the FBO was closed on Sunday. A guy who was working on his Cub let us borrow his pickup to go in to town after gas. He just told us, "have someone stay with the truck, b'cause of my guns are in there." Trusting soul.....

-Is it any coincidence that the three best places we landed at (including my new home airport) were the only ones that were grass strips?

-The worst airport for traffic was Hernando County. The wind was almost straight down runway 21, so we came in from the North, overflew the runway, entered downwind, and landed on 21. Just as we were overflying it, a Cessna took off on 27. While we were getting fuel, everyone was taking off on 9. In the meantime, the wind switched around to 27. Everyone just kept taking off and landing on 9. One guy was doing an ILS approach for 9 and another guy cut him off. There was a Vari-Eze buzzing around in circles about a mile off the end of runway 9. While we were taxiing out, one guy was doing a touch and go on 9 while another took off on 21. I decided we'd better do what everyone else was doing, so we taxied all the way to the end of 9, and waited for traffic to clear... and waited... and waited. It was about 10 minutes before we found a hole, and it was "git 'n go" with a downwind takeoff and a guy on base. I don't think we'll be going back there anytime soon.

-Weather at departure point: 18 degrees F, light snow flurries.

-Weather at destination: 70 degrees F, sunshine.

-Total air miles traveled = 1170

-Total flying time = 20.45 hours.

Russ Hauser
March 2002