During my last two flights I noticed a shift in the frame as the wing started to load up. I did post flight inspections both times and inspected the main spar by lifting the front wheel and eyeballing the frame from the bottom. This time I was launching at Shell Creek for the first time since returning from the road trip and the shift was a noticeable shrug. Once up, I decided that whatever it was ... probably wouldn't reappear until I landed, so I put it out of my mind and enjoyed a nice long flight. The landing was uneventful.
Back at the house I the post flight exposed the problem. The main spar is made up of two one inch square tubes. From the bottom they looked fine but from the side I could see a crack. I took off the seat and discovered that both tubes were cracked on the top and both sides. With a little pressure I could make the cracks open slightly. When I lifted the front wheel and rocked it up and down I could see that there was very little holding the rig together. Conceivably, if it didn't collapse during take off, the spar could have let go with me on the breakaway side, only connected to the wing and motor by the seat belt. I suppose its possible I could have stayed with the rig and landed but more likely, I would have fallen through the seat belt, completing my last flight. Wow! It was obvious that the cracks had been there for awhile but I hadn't seen it.
It probably started when I had the crash at Bubba's. The trike came down hard and bent the frame downward, behind the seat. I didn't worry about it at the time. Actually I liked the new configuration because it moved the prop wash slightly upward and lowered the seat and center of gravity. I joked that it was more like the geometry of the trike buggy. Well... the top of the tube is were it crimped the tubing and thats naturally where the crack would form. The side cracks probably opened up recently. At least I hadn't noticed them and I think I would have.
It took Mike Lange no time to repair the spar.
While I was at it I balanced the prop and installed some bullet proof line keepers. I also raised the seat about 5 inches and padded it with 2 inches of memory foam.
Two and a half hours out of Conway I saw the glass pyramid that I remember from previous visits. I pulled off the highway and turned onto Bass Pro Shop Drive. Huh? It turns out that, "The Great American Pyramid has been sold and is now a Mega Store. The tourist welcome center is next door so I stopped and got my bearings.
After getting a city map, I drove to Beale St and found a parking place. Sunday morning is a quiet time on Beale St. There were just a few tourists window gazing and enjoying a beautiful day. I went to the Memphis Jazz Museum and was sorely disappointed when I discovered that it was a privately owned exhibit with a poor selection of exhibits. "The stuff I saw at the welcoming center was better than this." After an hour of wandering i heard some jazz and strolled into BB Kings nightclub where a trio and singer were performing.
An hour later and full of BBQ ribs I walked into the sunshine to find the truck and hit the road. Birmingham Alabama was a good place to spend the night. The next morning I got up early and drove to Punta Gorda.
The drive from Woodward to Conway was 450 miles. I checked into another Indian operated Motel. The area looked a little sketchy and I was worried about the rig. Fortunately I was able to back the truck right up to my door and there was a super market just across the street for dinner. I'd selected this hotel because it was just a few blocks from the municipal airport.
The next morning I was out and rolling an hour before first light. I planned to launch as soon as I could see my boots on the pegs. Following the GPS, I arrived at the airport in 8 minutes ... but ... it wasn't there! Instead it was a pile of rubble and muddy pits. I got on the internet and found that there was a brand new airport a few miles out of town. Back on the road.
The Dennis Cantrell Field is a gorgeous new airport. When I arrived there was nobody around. I unloaded the rig and waited. I was beginning to think that there wasn't going to be anyone to ask permission so I started the motor to warm it up. That woke em up. A fellow came out of the formerly locked terminal and he quickly gave me a thumbs up.
I rolled around to the back of the terminal and laid out the Eden III. Perhaps it was the smooth tarmac that allowed the lines to be sucked into the prop. Maybe I missed something during lay out. Whatever it was, the Eden III was out of the game with all the B and C mains on the left side damaged. I was bummed but smiled at my spectator and said... "Time for Plan B" but I also said as I was laying out the Apco, if that happens again, my trip is over. This launch was flawless. I flew around the area for about an hour and landed on the apron behind the terminal. This was the first time I had flown the Apco since Albuquerque. I found it hard to reach the tip steering toggles and the brakes felt stiffer than I remembered. It should have been a very comfortable flight but it just didn't feel right. When I landed there were a couple of new guys watching and I don't think they had ever seen a PPG, they might not have even seen a PPC. We chatted for awhile and the first guy I talk to told me that he really enjoyed watching and said I was welcome back any time. I don't know who he was but I'm beginning to think he was the airport manager. Thanks Conway!
The trip from Colorado Springs was long and without much scenery. I arrived "Nightmare in the Country", just as the sun was setting. I was hoping to fly the event but the wind was howling. Kenton was very busy getting things ready. He has 100 actors employed as Zombies Vampires and other scary monsters. It is a first class production that sports 6 separate feature rides and fills his entire property.
Another piano man who's life has taken a radical turn in another direction. After the show closed at midnight we dragged into Kenton's house and crashed. The next morning we went out for breakfast and I hit the road.
I spent the next 4 days bopping around Denver to catch up with friends.
After I saw Dawn off I drove to Highlands Ranch where I spent the afternoon with Rex Mangurian. Rex was working on his Falcon and still in the glow of MV. Rex and I got to know each other in the early 80's when I was a Factory Rep in the bicycle business. He has changed very little over the years, still into the outdoor toys and the vices we grew up with. I thought I had a great garage but Rex has me beat. Two big Motor cycles and a trick little trike that gimbals... and lots and lots of stuff. Rex gave me a mason jar out of his garden and I hit the road.
We had a great time talking about the fly-in and whats next.
From Rex I drove to Colfax where I had dinner with the old gang: Wes Brown, Scott Murphy, Alan Epstein, and Vince Ulliberry. We have been buddies through thick and thin. Starting as kids at summer Camp through long and mostly good careers. We have share adventures that have created a bond that most people will never understand. That evening I stayed with Stefania. We watched a little TV and went to bed.
The next morning I did a little shopping and hooked up with my old sailing buddy, Ray Satter. We had lunch at a little cafe in the hood that specializes in exotic meats. I had a venison sausage sandwich to die for. After lunch he took me to a secret underground garage that I had never hear about. It was filled with vintage and exotic cars. Ferrari's, Bugatti's, old Packards, it was quiet a display. I had Ray drive me over to Marshall Luke's shop which was my next stop. I just thought that those two should meet and I was right. Turns out, they had meet years earlier when Marshall was suffering a frivolus law suit. Ray was the attorney for the complainant and even though they were on opposite sides, they connected over their common interests. When I knocked on the door and Marshall opened it up the first person he saw was Ray. The look on his face was priceless. The three of us spent an hour together looking at his projects and enjoying the moment. Later back at Rays house he gave me a couple keepsakes from his father Charlie Satter. An old ships ladder that had been repurposed into an ornamental wall hanging and a beautiful brass port light that must have weighed 30 pounds. A sailing scene painted by Charlie's wife Murkie was behind the glass.
The rest of the afternoon I spent with my old friends Will and Sofia who have kept a shop on West Hampden for many years. We had a great time catching up and reliving the good ol days. That night Stefania and I mad plans for her visit to Florida and went to bed early.
Friday morning we got up early and I drove to Bailey to visit my Mom who is staying with my sister Lousia and her husband John. It was a pleasure to be greeted with a smile by everybody. I guess time does heal all things. Mom was looking good and was in good spirits. Her memory isn't so good but she knows who we are and still surprises me with the things that she remembers.
Danny Hart lives only a couple of miles away on the other side of the highway. Danny is another old friend. I have known him since he was 8 years old and a camper at Camp Chief Ouray. Later he worked for me as a buyer and piano technician. A few years ago he bought 40 acres of beautiful countryside and installed a world class Frisbee Golf Course. Last weekend he had a Frisbee Tournament with 60 odd players and lots and lots of party. Ron Jolly and his trio were the nightly entertainment. We sat on his back porch and told each other about our events. Danny also gave me a mason jar from his garden...I was getting a lot of local produce to bring back home.
From Danny's house I drove out to Stapleton when I hooked up with Arnie Poppenberg who is 85 years young. Arnie remembers me from when I was a baby. He was a Factory Rep to my Grandfather and Father. In the 70's he worked for my dad as a salesman when I was going to Regis and working at the store. When I had my bicycle accident, Arnie was the guy who took me to an athletic club and helped me to get back into the game. Still going strong Arnie has a beautiful little place filled with moments of the good old days. We shared a meal and he promised to come visit in the spring.
Leaving my oldest living piano friend, I headed to Lakewood where I caught up with Tom Jensen. Tom's checkered past includes; being the conductor of the Colorado Ballet, hosting several talk radio shows on KNUS and KOA and for the last 20 years he has been the driving force behind Colorado Symphony's Tiny Tots Program. A confirmed bachelor since I have known him, Tom has recently married. They kept both houses and split their time between his old Batchor's pad in Brooks Towers and her Mansion in Lakewood.
From there I drove out to Parker where Marcia Renzi was throwing a birthday party for her husband Phil. The whole family was there including Marcia's sisters from California. We had a great time catching up and enjoying Phil's Birthday Cake. At nine o-clock I jumped in the truck and drove to Colorado Springs where I spent the night at Jerry Kerrs house.
Jerry and his wife Cathy have a lovely home on the southside not far from Meadowlake Airpark. Jerry and I have shared the skies since 2007, lots of Fly-Ins and lots of airtime. One of the smartest pilots I know Jerry is the epitome of the Man's Man. His career includes: Marine sniper, Head of Dallas SWAT, Dallas Helicopter pilot and Manitou Springs Detective. As a retirement job he signed on to month long stints on the fantail of mega tankers, picking off Somali pirates. The amazing thing is that while this guy can be a stone cold killer he is also the sweetest country gentleman that I know.
The plan was to get up early and catch a flight in the morning. So we watched a little Fox and tried to make sense of the presidential race.
Jerry has been fighting stage 4 Cancer for several years and despite it being inoperable he is still fighting and flying. As it turned out the winds wire too high to fly in the morning so I saddled up and hit the road.
We spent the night in Moab watching the Presidential Debate between Trump and Clinton. The next morning I hooked up with my old friend Bill Groff. Forty years ago he and his brother Robin were the wild men of Moab. Thirty years ago he was running "The Rim" , Moabs first and premier cyclery. And Moab transformed from a sad remnant from the Uranium boom into the Mecca of Mountain Biking. Today he is a respected city elder running for office. Who would have thunk it? His son is running the bike shop and Bill splitts his time between Aviation, Hunting, Politics and who knows what else.
Truth is .... he is still the same Ol Bill. One of the good guys. A guy who always bought a few bike parts when I stopped by. The last time we had seen each other was hunting Elk at the Grand Hotel in Peance Creek just before the turn of the century. Good friends last forever.
We missed the turn off for the longer scenic route back to Denver. It was a blessing in disguise because we got to Denver in time to drop the rig at John Sieb's house and meet up with the girls for dinner at Luigi's. I didn't say much. Memories of family dinners past occupied my mind. It didn't matter because Olivia was the life of the party with stories from her honeymoon. I sat and wondered when my little girls turned into the lovely women I was dining with.
We spent the night at the stunning new Marriot hotel at DIA.
The next morning I walked Dawn to security and called valet for the cab.
The air was a little sketchy but that didn't keep the "Young Bucks" from jumping into the sky. I hung at the apron and enjoyed the show. It was my ninth Gathering at Monument Valley and my last as the organizer. Slowly the skies cleared. Mo Sheldon set up for some tandem rides and pilots were launching for one last flight.
Dawn and I said our good byes, cleaned out the Casita and went to the Lodge for lunch. Scott Laws, the Operations Manager joined us and we had a pleasant hour debriefing and planning for future gatherings. Barbara, the Restaurant Manger also stopped by and I thanked her for last nights Banquet.
At 2:00 we were gassed and ready to go. We stopped at the Forest Gump turn off and took the obligatory photo. On the way to Moab I thought about Gatherings past and wondered if I would ever see my personal Holy Grail again. I thought back to the first time I'd come to Monument Valley more than a decade ago. It was May and the reservation was teeming with life, the wild flowers were blooming, and the arroyos were scoured clean. I remembered going down to the airstrip and setting up to launch west across the runway. My first cross country around Mitchell Butte and to the entrance of the part. The next morning when I flew deep into the park, circling the three sisters and spiraling down on The Hub that is the center of this sacred place. I thought of the solo flights that could have ended badly if I'd gone down without someone to retrieve me and the guys who had been injured and even died. Most of all I remembered the magic evening flights with the rocks a brilliant orange from the setting sun and the wings of my friends looking like butterflies playing in a rock garden. I'd been lucky, many dozens of flights without a hitch. Time to move on.
Morning Flight 90 minutes. Low and slow in the desert North and approaching Eagle Mesa.
Dawn flew the Delta with Larry. Nice long flight.
The most notable event of the day was late in the morning when Icarus Racers Byron Leisek and Miroslav came in on their 1000 mile journey from Montana to Las Vegas. Byron radioed from about 20 minutes out and was hoping for some pilots to be airborne to accompany him in. Unfortunately, most had left the field and those who were there weren't inclined to launch. Never the less Byron came in and gave us a short macro show before landing. Myroslav arrived about 10 minutes later.
I cannot speak highly enough about the guys who are taking this challenge. Flying over terrain that would make recovery very difficult. Flying around weather that would ground most of us. Carrying the extra weight of camping gear and two stroke oil. Id love to do some long cross country flights but I don't think I would attempt anything quite this adventurous.
After lunch we toured the park
Afternoon flight 50 minutes
Banquet came off well with Celebration of John Fetz Life and viewing of Ryan Southwell's film
First flight was one and a half hours mildly bumpy. I repeated yesterday's flight and climbed to 9800 ft MSL to take in the whole scene. There was a lot of activity at the field. I could see Russ Bateman and his son ripping it up and groups of two and three launching and heading off to the East. It was shaping up to be a typical MV morning, light winds from the south east building as the sun rose.
I picked up Dawn at the Albuquerque Airport at 10:00. It was a beautiful day and drive to Monument Valley. This was the first time I'd driven in from the South. We spotted Ship Rock from miles away, it took 20 minutes to get there and as we passed it I began to see the Monuments.
After checking in I headed down to the field and launched my first flight of the new Gathering. It wasn't an especially long flight and I didn't go for altitude. It was enough to to fly out over the desert and circle back behind the campground, probably 40 minutes. That night we ate at the restaurant then chilled at the casita. Our accommodations this year are super. It's called the hill house and it sits on the Southern wall of the canyon overlooking the entire area. It's not one of the brand new casitas but it's prime real estate.