Oct 232010

A Dawn Patrol of One

It was a Saturday with Friday night weather reports encouraging. I got up about 5 am to do a little editing on the Flight Blog and then left for Selby Aerodrome for a sunrise takeoff. Destination: Beaumont Airport & Café in the heart of Kansas’ Flint Hills.

Butler Airpark

As I have found to be the case the last few weeks, even though the temperature on the ground might be in the low 60’s at sunrise, if the wind is from the south it will be about 10 degrees warmer at 800 – 1200 feet AGL. Today fit that pattern perfectly. I fly when it gets fairly cold but because I wear big ski gloves I can’t manipulate my little pocket camera with them on. That means having to take them off and put them back on a lot – not an easy task sitting out in the wind like I do in my MXL. Today I just left them off and I estimate the temperature was about 72º – just perfect.


Because I was heading pretty much into the rising sun I was having a little trouble making out landmarks. I wanted to cross Butler County Airpark so I could see how Chuck Gantzer’s project was taking shape. I knew it had to be close due to the bearing I was able to draw off Douglass, Kansas which was front and to the right of my position. Suddenly Gantzer’s big HangarHouse popped into my vision. I grabbed my cam and snapped the shot above. His is the big dome-like building toward the top and in the center of the picture.

Rock quarry near Augusta, Kansas

On various occasions over the years I have flown pretty low over this quarry. It was off my path today but I liked the way the sun lit up the rock walls on the south side.

This morning’s “Nice Spread” from Flight Level 12 (1200′ AGL) shooting SE

I have admired this hacienda for a while and thought I would show it to you. It is on the highway just north of Douglass, Kansas. Although I didn’t get in close enough to do it justice what they have is a a retro-red barn house surrounded by farm ground. From the highway it looks like it might even be a store but I see no evidence of commercial activity. I think it is just a big house with style.

Early morning sun on the prairie

This is the kind of thing ground-pounders don’t realize they are part of. I was a little slow on the trigger and wanted to get the shot from a little more to the right. But anyway, what caught my eye was the way the sun was causing the light green foliage in the field at the center of the photo. It really lit up like neon. Very nice.

Hay bales left outside

I noticed all these hay bales packed away in the corner of this “hedgerowed” field. I am not a farmer but I try to learn about the things they do. I was under the impression you had to keep hay bales under cover so they don’t get all soggy and develop mildew and disintegrate. Every once in a while, though, I will see a bunch of them in a field like this just seeming to go to waste. I figure after investing the time and money to bale them all up you would want to sell them and not leave them out like this. Maybe someone who knows about these things will post a comment and give me some Hay Econ 101.

Art shot with hidden value

I was liking the way the sun reflected off the ponds to the east. Also if you look real hard you will see some of the 100 wind generators on the horizon. They are just south of Beaumont, Kansas.

This morning’s #1 Farmstead

Here is today’s “Farmstead of the Day”. I really like the way it is nestled between the hedgerows with the tilled land in front of their home and buildings. Very nice.

A valley in the Flint Hills

Even though it was rather hazy I think you can see this interesting formation. Cutting across the shot from top right to middle left is a valley. Now granted this is not the Grand Canyon but from my altitude at Flight Level 12 I could definitely make out a valley in what most people would perceive as Flat Land. I’m betting there is an underground stream there.

Beaumont, Kansas from 1200′ AGL shooting from the WSW

I got to Beaumont in a fairly quick measure. Since my GPS has died I don’t have a groundspeed reading but from experience I could tell I was getting a pretty good quartering tailwind. This is OK to a point. I was expecting a south wind which would pretty much even out on my east and west journey. What was shaping up, though, was more of a southwest breeze and it was apparently more powerful than the forecast had guestimated. More on that later.

A Cessna near the famous Beaumont Water Tower

As I slipped into the pattern, taxied to the restaurant and shut down it was apparent the wind was in the 20 to 25 range. I carry tie downs and stakes in a backpack I have attached to the back of my seat. I looked around for a rock that would function as a hammer. Finding one I plunked the stakes into the ground and secured the tail so the plane would still be there after I ate my breakfast. As I was mounting the stairs to the Restaurant and Hotel I snapped off the shot above of these guys just getting out of their Cessna. Most people don’t dare to take shots into the sun. I dare.

Joe and Lois Osman of Wellington, Kansas

As I was paying my bill for my English Muffins and coffee Joe Osman and his wife Lois asked me if I was the guy flying the ultralight. I said I was and we began talking about airplanes and such. Joe and Lois had just flown up from Wellington, Kansas which is about 15 miles south of my airfield. Sometimes I fly down there for a place to go. The airfield is nice but there is no restaurant and it is a bit out of town so usually nobody is around. Anyway Joe really knows a lot about flying and has done some bush piloting in Alaska and whatnot.

The Osman’s and their 1947 C-140

They are the third owners of this fine Cessna 140. I have always admired the lines of these venerable birds. If I get an “N” numbered airplane it will be either a 140 like this or the slightly newer Cessna 150. I did all my pilot training in 150’s.

Joe is a trucker who owns his own rig. I really enjoyed talking with both of them.

The welcoming committee

Lois got a chance to fellowship with the town dogs. These two pooches make it over to the field about half the time I go to Beaumont and always are very pleasant.

The Osman C-140 in the distance  just after takeoff

I wanted to put the C-140 between the water tower and the signs but I basically had to shoot blind. My little pocket cam has one of those horrible screens for a viewfinder instead of an eyepiece. They are virtually worthless for sighting a frame in daylight (hmmm that’s when most people take pictures…) but that is about all you can get for a camera that fits in your pocket. Not too bad actually when you take everything else into consideration.

The Osmans head east

After takeoff Joe made a right turn and then circled over the landing strip and headed east. I figured this warranted a picture of them above the Beaumont Hotel and Restaurant.

The trip back to Selby Aerodrome – Float Like a Butterfly

As I said earlier the wind had developed into quite a breeze as I headed TO Beaumont. So now after finishing breakfast and seeing the Osmans off I would be heading directly into that gale.

Over the years I have had many occasions to see an interesting aviation phenomenon. I have asked a number of people if they have ever see this but so far nobody else has noticed it. What I am referring to is the butterfly’s ability to fly against the wind. I bring this up because I think it is particularly pertinent to the slow airspeeds I travel at (typical cruise speed 38 – 42 mph). In the few instances I have seen this amazing feat what I noticed about the butterfly technique was one of the things that has led me to call ultralight flying “Surfing on the Air” or “Sky Surfing”. Butterflies are able to make headway in fairly stiff wind because they “bob and weave” through it. Air in motion is not “monolithic”. By this I mean it does not all travel at the same velocity. I envision it as “tubes” of higher velocity pushing past slower moving air. It is the horizontal equivalent of a dust devil or a thermal.

Anyway, if you utilize this knowledge you can travel into the wind with less energy expenditure by allowing the aircraft to “flit like a butterfly” through it. Another technique is to stay closer to the ground which is a perfect plan out in the Flint Hills where there are grand stretches of prairie with no one around but you and the occasional small herd of cattle.

The Beaumont Windmill Field from Flight Level 2 shooting south

A closer look at the windmills

Next to the two farther windmills toward the center of the shot you can see a crew at the base of the windmill on the left. I don’t know what they were doing but about every 5th time I fly to Beaumont someone is working on these devices. I was told by a local rancher they cost $1.9M each. I have not done any checking of that figure so maybe someone else can comment.

An old house in complete disrepair

Flight Level .75

After leaving the vicinity of the Wind Generators I decided to maximize my Butterfly Technique and combine it with the slower boundary air closer to ground. Since I was way out in the prairie I dropped down to Flight Level .75. In Ultralight Flying that would be 75 feet AGL. Actually that was an average. I let the plane flutter between about 125′ and 25′ but mostly stayed about 75′ or so. I really like it down here but can’t do it that much closer to my field because there are too many farmsteads and you don’t want to be buzzing them.

I passed by this old homestead that had been made of stone and concrete. It was pretty well gutted out but I suspect it is at least 100 years old.

The stone home closer


Although you don’t have to worry about buzzing a house out here in the Flint Hills, you do have to be careful about spooking herds. I stayed about 1/4 mile away from this one. Although it is hard to make out, these are buffalo. As long as I can remember one always gets an admonishment from park service types that these are to be called “North American Bison”. I really don’t get the point of that. Everyone (except zoo and park folks) calls them buffalo and agree that they are not pointing at an ostrich. We know what a buffalo is and like to call them that. These are buffalo.

A small dam

I just took this shot to show a small dam that is fairly typical back here. I think this one actually provides water for a homestead to the right of the picture you see here although the house is about a mile away. I’m flying at about 30′ here.

Cattle under the wing

I shot this to illustrate the point I made earlier about cattle herds. I came up over a rise and noticed this herd in front of me so I went to the left of them so as not to spook them.

Interesting topography

If you look closely you will see another earthen dam near the top of the shot forming the boundary of the lake. I liked the way this body of water was formed and the shape of it. You can really see what the stone is like below the surface from this and the next shot.

Another angle of the pond and dam

Subsurface rock breaks out

I have seen this effect a number of times out here in the Flint Hills but from 600 to 1200 feet the picture doesn’t make the point like it does from here at 75′ AGL. As best I can tell the layer of rock below the surface has become exposed due to the slow deterioration of the soil around the edge of this mound. It almost looks like the site of an ancient fortified village in Europe. That little pile of rocks in the center of the shot is man-made but I cannot surmise to what purpose.

The approach to Cook Field

As I got closer to Rose Hill, Kansas I decided I would make a stop at nearby Cook Field. As you can see, the haciendas are starting to crop up so I pulled up gradually to 600′ AGL (as in this shot) to a final 1200′ AGL for entry into the Cook Field pattern. On Saturday one needs to be “heads-up” when landing at Cook because when conditions are right you will see a lot of jumpers there.


Sure enough, after I landed on the grass runway and taxied over to one of the hanger areas, chutes started dropping out of the sky. I couldn’t get my camera started up fast enough to catch this guy touching down but you can see him on the ground. I think he tripped after landing and was having trouble killing his chute. He finally got it to stop flying after a minute or so.

Backup time

After taking a couple of shot of the first landing I looked off to the south and was able to see a guy shed his primary chute. Again, since I had put it away in my pocket, it took me a while to fire my pocket cam up so this is about a minute after the event. Also, the camera does not have a tele lens so I couldn’t give you a tighter view. To the left you can see his primary chute and to the right you can see him following it to the ground. I didn’t hang around to find out what the issue was but at the moment I looked up he was cutting it loose and I got the impression he had a “partial” because some of his lines were tangled.


After leaving Cook Field I saw this event about 5 miles to the west. They had an interesting train-like conveyance parked in front of the house. I figure it was a wedding and the train was to take them on a ride in the country. On the other hand, there has been a growth industry lately in Fall Events combining pumpkin stuff with crop mazes and craft sales all around the region so it might have been one of those, too.

A Memorable Flight

Even though I have taken many flights to Beaumont I will remember this one as the first time I tried the Butterfly Method in the Flint Hills. It worked out good for a number of reasons and I’ll be doing that more in the future – Next Summer.

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!

Brian FitzGerald