By Rich Altendorf
10-Nov.-20: NC13072, 4V4-47Y and return, 2.3 X/C Bill to Perham.
Tuesday, November 10, 2020: It was a casual conversation my Waco partner, Bill O’Keefe, and I were having as I returned him to Pelican Rapids, MN, after he had delivered his Great Lakes to my shop for a look over. Our conversation focused on taking our 1933 Waco Continental 670 biplane on a long cross country trip someday. It was a clear, warm afternoon.
On the solo flight home, my thoughts turned towards the weather. A small taste of winter had come and gone, and an unusually warm day was on the horizon. The old Waco just rumbled along toward home. I tried to think of a further destination.
My son, Mark, who was retired from the United States Marine Corps, and his wife, Chrystal, live in Fredericksburg, VA. Why not visit there? It had been a long time between visits!
That night, while watching Jimmy Stewart cross the Atlantic in the movie “The Spirit of St. Louis,” I plotted out a course. Northwood SE around Chicago; ESE to Fredericksburg. About 1,300 miles, three gas stops, one night each way, and a good forecast! Bill had borrowed me his iPad and I had all seven sectionals.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020: I kissed my wife goodbye, grabbed a change of clothes, a bottle of water, a box of cinnamon granola bars, and headed for the airport.
The Flight Service Station (FSS) reported a high pressure would follow me all the way. Clear, warm, and a tail wind with a 7-10 window. The only derogatory remark from the briefer was about how nice it was for old guys to be out flying. Apparently, I bracketed my age when I told him I wrote my private test at the old FSS at Grand Forks International Airport (GFK), upstairs with 360 degree observation windows. I topped everything off, threw a couple of extra gallons of oil in the back, and headed southeast.
I was past Fargo, ND, before I had the GPS up and running. Not bad, just a little off the magenta line. 3500 MSL, 105 IAS, 118 GS, clear and smooth. Life is good. Had a granola bar.
Mankato, MN (MKT), came up as a good stop for gas. 33 gal. and 2 qts. Added to the ship gave me my fuel and oil burn check. A few streaks on the windscreen were normal for three hours. Let’s go.
Back on the magenta line, 3500 MSL, 105 IAS, 100 GS, clear and smooth. Next stop, Platteville, WI (PVB). Had another granola bar. Platteville was a quick turn, topped off with enough fuel to last until dark. Back on the magenta line. 3500 MSL, 105 IAS, 98 GS, clear and smooth. I’m in no hurry, anyway.
It was about the time I reached the 30 mile veil around Chicago that my preflight plan went astray. The screen I’d been following turned gray, announcing a dead battery. I quickly realized that all seven of my sectionals were in the back, and none had so much as a course line drawn in! That moment I knew I wasn’t lost, but I darn sure didn’t know where I was. Desperate minutes passed finding the bag. Bill had said something about spare batteries! Find the cord! Which one? Which end goes in? Light. It’s on! There again was the magenta guide, just in time to skirt the Chicago veil. I was humbled by the fact that all my trusty maps were sitting neglected in the back, but I found solace in the fact that I overcame this technological problem.
The little box showed 85 GS until I rounded the veil. With the shadows growing longer now and with a stiff tailwind, I headed east. Mishawaka, IN (3C1), was within reach, and a Waco Club friend of mine had offered to put me up if I ever came by.
I touched down on a smooth grass strip with the sun just on the horizon. After surprising Jon Nace, a well known Waco guy, with a phone call, I serviced the ship while he drove over. I parked in the grass next to his hangar. We spent a couple hours talking about his Waco parts.
He showed me a bunk and fridge and said goodbye. I dined on a granola bar and a couple of Bavarian Ales from his fridge, while I plotted lines on the remaining charts. 500 miles to go. I slept like a baby.
Thursday, November 13, 2020: The sky was full of stars when I left the hangar. The old ship sat patiently in the grass waiting for me. Not a cloud in the sky. One more gas stop and I’ll be there.
The sunrise was awesome. I was glad I’d cleaned the oil off the windscreen. 3500 MSL, 105IAS, 122 GS, clear and smooth. This is fun. I think I’ll have a granola bar.
As my finger followed along the more familiar pencil mark, I noticed my path crossed over Wynkoop Airport (6G4), the location of the National Waco Club Fly-In. It was a good place for gas, so I stopped. Wynkoop Airport was built around 1918. I touched down on their grass and taxied back toward the hangars.
A sad sight greeted me. A storm had come through earlier, and the last original building had collapsed. Several wrecked aircraft lay about. The remaining hangar and fuel tank was right out of the 1930’s. A time capsule. Brain Wynkoop was the third generation owner and not quite as old as my Waco. As I serviced the ship, we talked about Wacos, life as an airport bum and the weather. His parting comment was that strong upper level west winds usually meant that the weather would sock in. Or maybe his bones just ached. I’m not sure. I thanked him and headed southeast. 250 miles to go. 3500 MSL, 105IAS, 122 GS, clear and smooth.
The terrain began to change now. Farmland, which had become increasingly more populated as I went east was disappearing, turning into an endless series of low, tree covered hills. The Appalachian Mountains began to appear on the horizon.
The Mississippi, Ohio, and Shenandoah Rivers were the most impressive sights to see. I thought about the early settlers and Grant and Lee duking it out; history I couldn’t imagine at home.
The Appalachians were here. Tops at 5500 MSL. I crossed at 5700, smooth as glass. What a view!
My destination was in sight now. Stafford Co. Airport (RMN), Fredericksburg, VA. My halfway point of the trip, and the Continental 670 hasn’t missed a beat.
My son, Mark, and his wife, Chrystal, met me at the airport. We tied the ship down and headed to their home. I had only told them yesterday I was coming and to tell the truth, we were all kind of amazed.
The rest of the day was spent fooling around, barbecuing the best steaks I’ve ever tasted, and talking til the wee hours of the morning. I trundled off to bed in a very fine mood, but with Mr. Wynkoop’s dire weather prediction on my mind.
Friday, November 13, 2020: After watching the National Weather channel at breakfast, common sense and fear told me it was already time to go home. Growing up around airports as well as myself, Mark knew it had to be. Chrystal set me up with sandwiches and lemonade as I laid out my charts and plotted a return course. No more granola bars! The FSS gave me a good forecast to start out. Reluctantly, we all headed for the airport. A little after 1 p.m., with the Waco full of gas and oil, I fired it up and headed west. My reluctance disappeared as soon as my wheels left the ground. Flying is just too much fun.
Airborne again and climbing towards the Appalachians, 100IAS, 95 GS, clear and smooth. The mountains, foothills, and rivers were just as inspiring on the way home. Coal mines, barges, riverboats, and industry were amazing. Half a hoagie and some lemonade hit the spot.
East of the Appalachians, being back over flatter farmland was comforting but I never doubted the old Continental once. She just rumbled along 5500 MSL, 105IAS, 95-100 GS, clear and smooth.
A quick stop at Newark, OH (VTA), and I was off again. As the shadows stretched out, I skirted past Columbus, OH, and decided to stop at Maryville, OH (MRT). Only 350 miles out. The forecast weather was bad after Sunday at home and wind might be a problem along the way.