Friday, June 26, 2009

Going Home: 21Y Returns to Lock Haven

Aviation has some of the most stunningly generous people you'll ever find. An opportunity to fly to the Sentimental Journey Piper fly-in in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, was presented to me. Unfortunately, my savings account was fairly exhausted from three weeks of having 21Y in Mankato, and I hadn't heard back on any of my job applications, so I turned the offer down reluctantly. A week or so later, Steve pulled me aside for a "serious moment." Somehow, some way, who and how shall remain unbeknownst to me, someone had come forward with a monetary donation to cover my expenses for the trip.

There are not words to effectively convey the emotions that come from receiving such a gift. It seems inexplicable that someone should feel so motivated as to make this opportunity a reality. When I think about it, each time I marvel at the generosity of this anonymous person. What makes me worthy of this gift?

I may never know. But I do know that I accepted it with the understanding that in the future I will help others be exposed to aviation, and help them to achieve their dreams and further their experience.

There's too many happenings to possibly include in one post, so here's the trip out.

We planned to be wheels up by 7:00 Monday (June 15th) in order to clear the area affected by a presidential TFR around Chicago. That meant Steve and I were meeting at the airport at 6:15 to load up the two Cubs and Sharon would meet us around 6:30.


We both ran a little late, and then packing the airplanes took longer than expected (I ended up carrying Sharon's bag in the front seat of 21Y after it became clear it wouldn't fit in the Cub Steve and Sharon were taking). As such, we left about ten minutes late but made good time and cleared the affected area with time to spare--thankfully saving us a half hour or so.

You're supposed to have tailwinds from west to east at this latitude. However, my luck struck again and we were bucking 15-20 knot headwinds the whole way. That made for a long day of flying into the sun, with the last 2.5 hour leg offering up some steady bumps. The entire day amounted to about 7.5 hours of flying to our overnight stop in New Castle, Pennsylvania, where we visited with a friend of Steve and Sharon's. Lack of sleep, lack of food, squinting all day, and several hours of getting bounced around produced one of the most horrendous headaches I've ever suffered. I spent most of the night hiding from light and sound but was recovered by the end of the night.

The next day we finished up the last leg to Lock Haven--21Y's home! Call me a sap if you want, but they don't call it Sentimental Journey for nothing. Sitting on the grass, surveying a field of Cubs, one couldn't help but soak in the history of the place. The constant drone of Cubs taking to the air and returning, combined with the sound of trains rolling by the railyard where they used to deliver engines, was strikingly emotional. 71 years after her birth, 21Y had returned home. She had a different tail, a new style skylight, and a different N-number, but she was home. The ground where we camped and flew from was where she took her first baby steps as an airplane. It was the site of test flights, triumphs, tragedies, hellos and goodbyes. It was abuzz with activity, and now, it is eerily silent. Ghosts linger in the form of the original Piper factory, now a warehouse facility (but still with the overhead fuselage rail transport system in place), Piper hangars, now used as maintenance and FBO facilities, a mostly empty railyard, houses, and of course, former Piper employees.

A clear day where we could see Chicago!

Cubs and airliners--Chicago's a busy place!

Cargo Cub--21Y hauling Sharon's bag as well as my cushion, pillow, overnight bag, tie downs, chocks, oil, paper towels, maps, GPS, spare headsets and intercom, handheld radio, and a veritable pantry of snacks stored on the hat shelf!

The two Cubs on the ground at our first fuel stop in Goshen, Indiana. A very long leg at 3.5 hours! There was an adorable beagle in the FBO named Trenton.

En route to our next stop in Tiffin, Ohio.

On the ground at Tiffin. Had a wonderful chat and visit with some people who had restored a few L-4s and were in the process of finishing up another beautiful L-4. Also met a very friendly standard poodle.

At some point in time, Piper Bear, my only traveling companion, appeared as though he had given up. Thankfully he did not fall completely as I had bungee-corded him in place.

The Goodyear blimp hangar in Akron, Ohio.

The definition of loneliness: alone in an airplane (I was unable to spot Steve and Sharon in the other Cub at this point in time) surrounded by nothing but trees and hills. Every time I looked down at that rather forbidding terrain, I subconsciously eased back on the stick.

You can see some of the summer haze that is apparently quite common in that area. It was the first time I had seen it and it certainly made me uneasy. The cloud cover was mostly overcast, and I couldn't detect where the haze ended and the clouds began. Since there is basically nowhere to go if you have to dodge weather in a hurry, I was slightly uncomfortable. It was an excellent experience to have under my belt, with Steve and Sharon watching over me from behind.

Finally made it and set up camp! Within minutes of my landing and parking, my airplane neighbors came over to offer to help me set up the tent!

There are many parts of the trip I didn't capture--seeing a C-47 parked on the ramp in Lansing, Illinois, as we flew past, Steve wandering south as he attempted to troubleshoot his new GPS, the embarrassing groundspeeds (once as low as 57 mph), massive towers in Ohio, and the New Castle, PA, airport (the only one without a dog!). It was such an amazing experience, it's difficult to sum it up adequately. It was, bluntly, one hell of an experience, especially in an airplane with a dishonest compass. Over the less-populated areas of Pennsylvania with no roads for reference, I would get misled by the direction of the ridges, using them as east/west indicators. It was a good idea in theory, except the ridges don't run directly east/west (or even close), so I would find myself continually and unintentionally drifting off course. I learned about my personal weather minimums and the importance of good guidance. I also learned that the intersection of dehydration, exhaustion, squinting, and hunger is not a pleasant place to be.

All in all, an incredibly fun, worthwhile trip. More later!


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