Aug 222010

Ever since I started my business some 28 years ago, working on Saturdays has been part of the regimen (not to mention evenings). But, if I don’t have a deadline and the weather is not pouring rain or 30+ winds I will take off during the flying season to catch some air on Saturday morning. Today was such a day. I got up about 6 (that’s sleeping in because I usually get up at 5 for a sunrise takeoff) and headed out to my field. I had already loaded all my gear and only had to stop at the gas station to grab 5 gallons to bring with me. I fueled up and did a pre-flight and popped into the air. Destination: “Stearman Field (aka: Benton Airpark).

Derby, Kansas - just south of Wichita and about 2 miles east of my home field

Because I fly an ultralight I am not supposed to fly over “congested” areas. Derby, Kansas is the bedroom community just south of Wichita and to the east of my hangar at Selby Field. There used to be a really nice grass field named Hamilton Field on the outskirts of Derby but the developers offered the family more than they could refuse (and I think the city government was not wanting it there any more…) and so now it is gone.

The Beechcraft facility in the distance with Wichita seen near the horizon

Another interesting feature here in The Air Capitol is the number of aircraft manufacturing companies and their airfields. In the picture above I am skirting the Beechcraft factory airspace to the SE (it’s still Beech to me – not Raytheon or Hawker…) on my way to Stearman Field.

Stearman Field from about 800' and 1 mile SW

I was having to shoot my little pocket camera into the sun as I entered into the Stearman Field pattern and so the photo above is a little washed out but you get the idea. The airfield is in the center of the shot. There are two parallel runways – one grass and one asphalt. The hard surface one has recently been pretty much doubled in length and can handle small and medium size bizjets and – as you will see – planes as substantial in size as the venerable DC-3. From this direction at the “lower right” of the runways you can see all the lots being offered for homesites. There are already a few built.

Stearman Field Office, Restaurant and FBO facilities. Note the DC-3.

Besides my Quicksilver and I, there was a Cessna in the area, but other than that, I was the only one in the pattern so I quickly grabbed the shot above as I entered the downwind leg. The house at the extreme bottom left of the shot has a hangar wherein resides a well kept Stearman Biplane. From here you can also see the improvements they have made to the apron and run-up area at the north end of the field.

Back in the eighties I rented a “T” hangar at Benton so I “used to be” quite familiar with it. But that was then and this is now. The latest owners have put Benton (whoops, I mean Stearman Field) into an “upscale” mode after lengthening the runway and adding a considerable amount of HangarHomes and Lots-To-Build. They have also added a nice restaurant with an aviation theme. It is becoming one of the premier aviation themed neighborhoods in the country.

The Stearman Field sign with the office, my MXL and a DC-3 in the background

After I landed I taxied across the active and parked on the grass next to the office and restaurant. There was a lot of action quite typical for a Saturday morning at Stearman Field.

Joe O'neal poses with a Stearman biplane and the tail of a vintage DC-3

Another bonus to Saturday morning fun flights are the buddies you usually run into at the various fields. Today my friend Joe O’neal walked out to meet me as I de-planed. He had just finished breakfast at the bistro with his son. They had flown up from Cook Field in his son’s Cessna 150. It is a fine specimen of that famous type and I really blew it by not getting a picture of it. Next time I will.

One of the Stearman biplanes kept at Stearman Field

The Benton "Whirlybird"

I am horribly remiss for not remembering this gentleman’s name but he has a fine collection of vehicles. Some of them are whimsical like his Whirlibird and some are dutifully restored antiques. He was at one time a part owner of the Benton Airpark, but while he still lives on the field, no longer participates in ownership today.

DC-3 next to the Restaurant

This Classic DC-3 has been hanging out here at Benton for a couple of weeks since about the end of the Oshkosh Show. I don’t know much about it but have heard they are giving rides for a price. It is really fine to be able to get up close and look at these marvelous machines – particularly the huge radial engines. You cannot believe how many rivets were used to build these until you get up close. Also the hand crafting of various skin parts like the cowl pieces and the filets near the tail really amaze me. It is very impressive.

You can only have so much of a good thing so after about an hour at Stearman Field I saddled up and headed over to one of my all-time favorite spots on the planet – The GliderPort – aka Wichita Airpark. The GliderPort is only about 5 miles from Benton, pretty much half way between Benton and Jabara Airport.

The GliderPort seen from about 1.5 miles NE at about 600'. Wichita is on the horizon

The GliderPort from about 600'

If the thermals are popping you will see 1 to 3 sailplanes in the area around the GliderPort so you must keep your eyes peeled when approaching the field. Actually there are two landing areas, both grass, with the primary being to the west and the secondary east. For years I hangared at the GliderPort when it was owned by McMaster and his wife. Finally I sold my old yellow MX and was without wings for a number of years while our children went through school. But during that time, since the G-Port is only about 6 minutes from my house I would visit it as much as twice a week. Steve Ewing used to have his Quicksilver dealership and training business there and different clubs would have their meetings there. It was always a great place for grassroots aviation.

The GliderPort Hangars as seen from the SE standing on the runway

Interestingly, the GliderPort is still a wellspring of Grass Roots Aviation. There are two businesses on the field catering to ultralight enthusiasts. Doug Bryant sells the Mosquito Helicopter and has space in the south side of the far hangar. You always see a few helicopters in and out of that hangar. Then in the north section of the far hangar is the BeLite company which manufactures the Belite line of ultralights.

When I dropped in Saturday morning none of those folks were around. But I did see glider enthusiast Neal Pfeiffer.

Neal Pfeiffer's paint room

Neal has some space in the southeast corner of the north hangar. He is rebuilding a glider that was damaged inside a trailer that was involved in a car wreck.

Neal commences covering an elevator

Neal’s glider is made primarily of wood so all the broken sections had to be carefully cut out and then spliced back together. This is the type of aircraft work one saw at the beginning of powered flight as all planes then were made of wood and fabric. It is high on the craftsmanship side of the scale. I was very impressed at how smooth Neal had made the splices. You could not feel the joint with your finger.

I said goodbye to Neal and check the fuel level in my MXL. Since I had a good amount left I decided to shoot on over to Alley Field in Douglas, Kansas.

Augusta Airport as seen from the SE at 1,000'

On the way to Douglas I passed to the West of Augusta Municipal Airport. It is a nice hard surface strip and I stop there once in a while but not today. They also have a Robinson Helicopter dealership and training business there named Schreib-Air.

I landed at Alley Field in Douglas, Kansas. Lawrence Alley, the owner, was working in the shop changing the battery of  a transponder and then had to go downtown. As he was getting ready to leave my buddy Jim Adams pulled up.

Jim Adams takes in some shade from the 90º+ sun at Alley Field

Jim has enormous experience in the aviation field and has a million good stories. Earlier this spring, Lawrence Alley was given a birthday party by his family and they invited aviators to drop in for the celebration. I had just put my MXL through an annual and was on my first cross country flight. When I landed I did a post flight inspection and was not pleased to see that 4 of the 5 belts on my reduction drive had “rolled over”.

Drive belts rolled over

This was not a good situation for me although Lawrence was gracious enough to let me pull my plane into one of his hangars and borrow the use of his tools. I have a fair bit of mechanical ability but this problem had me stumped. At first, since the belts had just been changed I made the assumption they must have been the wrong size. In the final analysis that proved to be incorrect. It is too long a story to relate right now but suffice to say I have it solved finally.

Anyway, Big Jim broke away from the festivities and helped me analyze the problem and a remedy for it. We were able to get the belts all back into the pulley and the bearing straightened up after some considerable effort. I then made a test flight around the pattern and examined them and the repair held. I really appreciate Jim’s help. Without him I would have had to leave my plane at the field and hook a ride back home and then come back later in the week to try to fix the issue.

Here are a few more pictures from Lawrence Alley’s birthday party while I am at it.

Lawrence and his "war buddy" go fly the Cub

Lawrence Alley and Family

Anyway, after Jim and I discussed the State of Aviation and the World for a while I had to hit the air again. My fuel situation looked great so I charted a course for Cherokee Strip on the outskirts of Udall, Kansas.

My MXL sitting on the edge of Cherokee Strip facing one of the hangars

The MXL as seen from the West side of Cherokee Strip

There was no one around at Cherokee so after walking around a little bit I performed my quick “lookaround” at the plane, put on my helmet and took to the air again headed back to Selby Airfield.

This leg of the trip put me back into a headwind again so my groundspeed was back down to about 30 mph. By now it was about 1 in the afternoon and the thermal activity was pronounced. This additional time gave me the opportunity to shoot one last shot to show you the view from south of Derby, Kansas looking north.

K-15 Highway in the foreground looking north toward Derby and McConnell AFB and then Wichita

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!

Brian FitzGerald