Apr 162011

Friday, the 8th of April I had a long-awaited opportunity to get out to Selby Aerodrome. My buddy Don Forse said he would be available to help me fix the tail strobe on my plane which has been inop for about 2 years. (I said he would “help” me fix it but it was more like me staying out of the way while the maestro made music…).

We got together around 3pm and put an hour or two into the job and it was a success. During that time, fellow Hangar Mate Wayne Clevenger showed up to fly his Airbike. Wayne hadn’t flown his plane for about 6 months and it would not start. Since I also have an inverted engine installation I knew what the problem was and the solution. Problem: Oil in the plugs. Solution: pull out the plugs, dry them off, put them back in and start the motor.

Don offers encouraging support

Since I had just bought a new Casio pocket camera at the Ultimate Electronics “Going-Out-Of-Business Sale” I naturally had to document this “event”.

A "plugs eye" view of the situation

I like this shot because Wayne seems to bring such dignity to the menial job of turning a plug out of a motor.

Anyway, the weather was idyllic and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get the new flying season underway. After Wayne successfully started his Rotax, the three of us grabbed some air.

Wayne's bird pauses after a few circuits around the field. Brian's MXL+ awaits the command to fly.

It really was nice. The temperature was about 78 and there was virtually no wind.

Wayne enters the active

I got up first and then snapped this shot of Wayne. I was out of sync. After I became airborne I wanted to get a good air-to-air of both Wayne and Don but since I didn’t tell them my idea previously there was no coordination and no memorable pix.

This antenna is my "west side marker" for Selby Aerodrome

I left the area and headed west. I was thinking about going over to Rucker Field but then something else caught my eye.

A picturesque Kansas Farmstead

This shot here was the genesis of one of the scenes from my music video “Lil Prop / Big Prop” that appears in my movie “UFM2”. I really like the way the silo looks in relation to the houses. Everything looks better a little later when the crops are higher. So this is not the best shot of this compound but I took it anyway. These folks know me pretty well and came out to wave at me after I made this pass.

I know you might think the clouds are starting to look a little “iffy” now but really the wind was still nil and the air temperature was still about 78º. It was great.

Then I turned back to the south and saw this:

Roiling Thunderheads over Wellington, Kansas

Wellington, Kansas is about 35 miles south of Wichita. It has a nice airport that I drop into on occasion. Although the cloud picture above seems close it was a little bit north of Wellington. That made it about 30 miles away. It had just manifested during the time I was concentrating on taking the picture of the farmstead previous to this shot. There was a lot of movement inside this cell.

I decided to head back to the base.

About three minutes later I was hit with some radical turbulence accompanied by an instant drop in air temperature that I would estimate to be 20º!

This chain of events further encouraged me to get back to the base. I increased power and dropped down from about 700′ to 300′.

Another storm cell manifests over Rose Hill, Kansas

Even though it was rockin’ and rollin’ I couldn’t help but take this picture in front of me as I headed back to Selby. This cell was heading from the south to go over Rose Hill, Kansas. It would later prove to be destructive…

Also in this shot near the far right of the picture is Selby Field so you can see how close I was getting. The air was very active but there was no rain. I really was mostly concerned about getting caught in the rain. I don’t think my propeller would handle it real well. Also when flying out in the open like I do, rain hits your body with the feeling like someone is out front of your plane tossing handfuls of BB’s at you.

As I approached the field the windsock was gyrating quickly from side to side about 45º. It was still mostly from the south but seemed to be gusting from the east and even the west at moments. I landed as close to the open hangar door as I could and was appreciative of Don and Wayne coming out to be ready to grab my wings in case the gusting wind might want to turn my plane over on the ground.

I taxied right into the hangar and shut the engine down.

The guys had been standing in the hangar door when I arrived so their field of view was to the East. I beckoned them to come out and see the cell I just dodged that was coming up from Wellington.

We come out to look at the storm cell

As you can see in the shot above, my plane was just barely in the hangar. The shot is not that great because I was just getting ready to move out farther to take a better one when we heard a loud CRASH! The best I could describe it as would be the sound of 50 monkeys all at once smashing a big piece of aluminum with ball peen hammers. The sound was wide, loud and seemed to come from within the hangar. All three of us said “What was that?” in unison.

About 10 seconds later we hear another one and I start running inside to see what is happening. I’m thinking the wind is causing something to fall off the high storage racks inside the hangar and maybe hitting the airplanes…

I am about to enter the building when Don Forse yells out “Hail!” and suddenly it all made sense. Instantly we are inundated with an intense crashing, blast of sound so loud I had to put my earplugs back in. At first you couldn’t see the hail because it was coming from the west. Then it started dancing all over the airfield. After inserting my earplugs and moving my plane so the other guys could bring their vehicles in the hangar, I snapped the following pictures:

Don Forse also inserts earplugs as hail even bounces into the hangar

At first they were about grape sized

Then we started getting some egg-sized hail

Don shows a good specimen

The moral of the story?

It is better to be inside the hangar watching the sky fall than up in the air wishing you were…

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!

Brian FitzGerald

  One Response to “Flying Before The Hailstorm – A Story With A Moral • by Brian FitzGerald”

  1. Man are you lucky, that was close! Wind and hail that we had would have perforated then ripped your wings off! Glad you got back inside when you did.

    Paul Fiebich