Jul 112012

Early Morning Departure

There are a number of reasons to get up early when heading to a Fly-In. If they are serving breakfast, you want to get there before they stop serving. If the winds are expected to pick up as the day progresses, you want to get to “the show” earlier. And, if it is July in Kansas, you want to get there before the sun heats the meeting place to a level exceeding the “pleasantness quotient”.

All of these reasons had my alarm clock waking me at 5:15 am to get going. Below is what Casa FitzGerald looked like at about 5:40 am that day.

Leaving home before sunrise

After weeks of incessant wind, the air turned relatively calm Friday afternoon and promised to be light and variable for the Saturday Fly-In. What wind there was to be would be coming out of the South so I intended to get a tailwind on my Northerly trip to Newton City/County Airport which is due East from Newton, Kansas about a mile from Highway I-135.

On the final stretch driving to my field, Selby Aerodrome, I had the windows open. It was about 78 degrees out and there was no wind. As I stopped at one of the 4-way stop intersections on this route, I noticed a rich, sweet smell filling the air. It was so strong you would think you were standing outside a candy factory but it was completely different from that aroma. Since I was “out in the country” my “factory thesis” was not gaining any mental traction when it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t a bakery or factory at all. It was ripening corn. I was in a hurry to get to my plane but I snapped this shot below so you could see the beautiful crop next to the road just before sunrise. It was about 7 feet tall.

Tall Corn

Before opening the hangar door I noticed the sun had just slipped above the horizon so I grabbed the shot below. In the foreground is another horse stabling operation that set up a couple of years ago adjacent to our airfield. The horses there and the ones in the Selby Stables don’t seem to care much about our noisy airplanes.

The sun now above the horizon

I had already fueled up and pre-flighted my MXL the previous afternoon so I was ready to roll. Nonetheless I still made a quick circuit around the craft and checked the controls before throttling up and entering the sky.

The Ninnescah River weaving past the sleeping town of Mulvane, Kansas seen in the distance

In most places, the Ninnescah River is no more than a foot deep this time of year.

The Ninnescah River from 1,000′ AGL

I just love those weathermen when they are right. The prediction was for light surface winds from the South Southwest. This was true but the bonus for me that morning was that this same wind was a smooth 20+ mph tailwind boost for me on my trip. I kept my aircraft airspeed at a fuel conserving 40 mph.  So, you can see in the shot below I was getting an extra 25 mph “For Free!” (as all neophyte advertising copywriters like to say…).

Since I was getting a good tailwind at 1,000 feet I decided it would be better at 1,500 or 2,000 feet and let the plane slowly climb. The air was a pleasant 78 degrees and as smooth as my long-haired Chihuahua’s honey blond fur coat.

One thing you must contend with when the wind is low on a warm morning like this is lots of humidity in the air. This limits visibility. You can see the haze evident in the shots all day.

The Wichita, Kansas Skyline from 1500′ AGL looking West Northwest

A Small Golf Course

I have seen the golf course above a few times but don’t know its name. It is a few miles South of HWY 54 (Kellogg Ave.) and appears to be private. Below I spied some new construction. I didn’t get a good confirmation on Google Earth as to its name so I’m just suggesting it might be a school.

NOTE: My friend Matt Bolocca wrote to tell me the building shown below is McAuliffe K-8 Academy. Thanks, Matt!

This may be Prairie Creek Elementary School This is McAuliffe K-8 Academy

Below you can see the huge tent of one of the big fireworks retailers that spring up every 4th of July. Although the 4th was over, this one on the North side of HWY 54 was still in place.

A Large Fireworks Operation

Below you see HWY 54 / Kellogg Avenue stretching off in the distance under my left wing. It separates Wichita, Kansas North and South.

Below is where Debra and I live… It would take too much time to place it in the photo. Suffice to say we are pretty much aligned with Jabara Airport’s runway off the South end a mile or so.

The House where Bevin and Jack grew up

As I continued in a Northerly manner I saw The Gliderport off my Port Bow. It is between Stearman Airport and Jabara Airport. There is a lot of Soaring activity there pretty much year around. On my trip back from the Fly-In you will see evidence of said activity.

The Two Hangars of The Wichita Airpark / The Gliderport

Even in the haze you can see how well this field of non-irrigated corn is growing Northeast of Wichita, Kansas

Newly plowed, dark soil

I really like the flying qualities of my Quicksilver MXL but one thing that doesn’t work so good becomes evident after about 20 minutes in the air. With the fairing pod I have on the nose there is no place to rest your legs. The position you have to put your legs in order to rest your feet on the Rudder Pedals requires you to hold your knees “in the air”. This gets tiresome after a while. Another design that puts similar strain on your inside leg muscles is the Airbike. One day I noticed Paul Fiebich (aka: The Airbike Ace) getting into his Airbike seat. After he settled into the seat he put a strap around his legs similar to what you see in the picture below. I realized immediately what it was for. I mentioned my need to my lovely wife Debra and she said what I described sounded like a Luggage Strap. Sure enough, I went there and found one at Dillards. It works great.

The Re-Purposed Luggage Strap

As I flew along admiring the countryside I noticed a large wheat field wherein the farmer had left a Lone Tree – probably an Oak.

The Solitary Tree

A picturesque farm on the prairie

Newton, Kansas through the haze from about 2,000′ AGL looking Northwest

Newton City/County Airport – Same as above

As I entered I only saw one other plane in the pattern. The traffic was surprisingly light at this time (7:50 am) in the morning. In the next half hour many more planes would land.

The Fly-In tie down area straight ahead

The Newton Airport Fly-In was sponsored by Chapter 88 of the EAA. They always do a superlative job of administering it. Each plane is met by a smiling reception – in this case it is Mr. and Mrs. Hart. Larry sold me my MXL a few years back and now owns a RANS. They give you a plaque for attending and a bottle of water. Breakfast was only $5 and tasted great.

The Harts

One of the planes we have in our hangar at Selby Farm Field is a Hi-Max owned by Joe O’neil. His son Ashley just bought this Skyhawk and flew it to the show. Ashley and his son Hunter had to leave early to go to a family event so I asked them to pose for this shot before they hit the road.

Ashley and Hunter O’neil with their Cessna 172B

Another good reason to arrive at a Fly-In early is to get a good spot at the Tie-Downs. As you can see below, the officials thought it fitting that I should be parked next to a Learjet.

The Learjet and The Near Jet

A very impressive Cessna Caravan on Floats

It sits high enough I could stand under the fuselage

A Long EZ

I had been at the field for a while and did not see my buddy Captain Doug Moler. He had told me he would be flying over in one of his four airplanes – The Airbike. Suddenly I heard its familiar whine toward the South and took the picture below of him flying by the review area.

Doug Moler and Airbike

A GEORGE-SMITH Miniplane owned by the late Tommy George that will be heading to the Liberal Air Museum

A Patriotic Super Cub

Ronnie Thompson’s 1946 J-3 Cub

This Bede BD-5B is owned by the Newton City/County Airport

A good turn out for breakfast

Steve Cannaby of Nu-Tek Instruments of Augusta, Kansas brought his F-15 (the front part of it anyway…)

A Powered Parachute makes a pass

After deciding to finally land, Captain Doug Moler poses next to his Airbike as Fly-In visitors admire this flying machine

CHRISTINE TOEVS brought her brand-new Aurora Butterfly gyrocopter

A frequent sight at area Fly-Ins, Gerry Sibley came in his 1941 BT-13A. Only the truly fortunate Young Eagle will get the rare opportunity to take to the sky in this bird.


A Cessna C-195 leaving early

A beautifully painted 1952 C-195B owned by RANDALL HUCKINS of Wichita, KS


A very special arrival at the Fly-In is pictured below. Everyone who knows anything about aviation knows the name Burt Rutan. Among the many and varied designs he has produced over the years was the 1993 winner of the CAFE Challenge called The Model 81 Catbird. You can read about it HERE.

Scaled Composites employee Jim Reed piloted The Catbird to Newton. With him is Ms. McAnarney of Medicine Lodge.

Reed will be attempting to break some new CAFE records later this summer.

Civil Air Patrol members look on

Below you can see the “Bird” in it’s final “button down” stage as it taxis away. The short time I had to examine it was very revealing as to the great attention paid to minimize drag. Minimizing drag is by far the most effective way to increase overall performance in any aircraft.

A Bi-plane Fly-By

Susan Erlenwein and Harry Clayton came to the Fly-In to represent their Soaring Club – Wichita Soaring Association

The Jayhawk CAF Squadron’s CESSNA UC-78 BAMBOO BOMBER

Kevin Moler checks out David Blanton’s THORP T-18

A Civil Air Patrol contingent from Salina, Kansas arrived with their Cessna 182R

David Wiebe’s 1997 SWICK CLIP WING with its distinctive paint job

Donald Blecha’s 1946 Aeronca 11AC

A Wichita Eagle photographer patiently awaits the right moment on the flight line

Ron Black’s beautiful 1946 415-C Ercoupe

Sleek and Shiny – Dale Gregory’s 2007 Sonex

Years ago my son Jack and I were driving by Jabara Airfield and saw a sign advertising Young Eagle rides. Jack was 11 years old. He asked if he could get a ride and I said “sure”. There were a number of pilots with their airplanes giving rides to youngsters. I wanted something special for Jack so I arranged for him to get a ride in the AcroSport II seen below. It was owned and flown by Steve Manweiler – and still is.

Jack was so impressed with the ride that he colored some pictures of it and did a write-up. You can see these items HERE. Since that time Jack has graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and has been commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant.

Dave Blanton’s Breezy

Jimmie Smith’s 1998 RV-6

Dave Blanton’s Curtiss Robin circa 1928

As is customary this time of year the heat became extreme on the black tie-down apron after about 11 am. The ambient air temperature topped out that day around 105 degrees so you can figure the temperature emanating from the black asphalt was much higher. I had arrived at 7:50 am so around 11 am it was time to grab some cooler air aloft. I took off to make a few passes at the field and take a flight around Newton.

The Fly-In from about 300′ AGL shooting South Southwest

I decided to fly around the city of Newton, Kansas to grab some photos and to remind those who were interested that there was a Fly-In happening at their airport.


West of Newton I passed over a golf course. Newton has quite an active railroad center. Not too many years ago they had passenger service there. A couple of times our Boy Scout Troop 405 used it to travel to Philmont Ranch for camping. Anyway, it was interesting to see in the shot below that one of the rail lines cut the golf course in half and they had put a tunnel under the track for the golf carts to cross over to the other holes.

One of the nicely kept holes from 1,000 AGL – Those dots on the green are golfers

At the Northwest side of town I saw an interesting facility. It looked to me like they make reinforced concrete members for bridges and such. Google Earth didn’t have anything on it but that’s what I think it is.

Bethel College is on the Northwest side of town.


To the West of Bethel College is a “notch” where there is no city. Ultralights are prohibited from flying over “congested areas”. While definitively vague, we can be sure that means “don’t fly over a city”. This “notch” allowed me to get in a little closer to take the next three shots.

This is my favorite of the set

I then broke off and headed North on HWY 50 tracking a long tank train. I actually overtook him so he was probably only going about 20 mph. I shot the picture below as the train passed this rather large junk yard isolated out in the country.

A little farther North is the community of Walton, Kansas. I have passed by it a hundred times by car on the way to Junction City, Abilene or Manhattan but this was the first time I had seen it from the air. It just goes to show how useful aerial reconnaissance is because I never noticed the big sand arenas in the foreground. I’m not sure what they are for but I am guessing the are for drying out sand before selling it.

A closer look at the sandy enclosures

Walton, Kansas from the South at about 600′ AGL

After swinging around Newton and checking out the environs North of it I decided to enter the pattern of Newton Airport again. Below is what it looked like from a little South of Walton. As you can see, the haze had not abated all day.

When I got back I wandered around a bit to grab a few more pictures of the going’s on before I headed back to my home port. The awards on this table caught my eye. Doug Moler told me that Ron Blum made the propeller trophies. If he makes some more of those next year I will have to enter one of the contests and get one. I like ’em!

After landing I was really parched. I walked over to the concession stand and bought a couple of Sprites. An event like this is successful because of the volunteers. I congratulated these two sisters named Amy Rickert and Montana Heim for their diligence in helping to “make it happen” on a very hot day. It turned out this was a “Mother/Daughter” team and Mom was quite pleased at my error.

Ron Black, retired from NIAR had a great selection of radio controlled planes. He was representing the Newton Area Radio Control Club (NARCC). He gave me one of their brochures and I can tell you they have a very impressive facility with a paved runway and more. He also owns the Ercoupe I pictured earlier in this article.

As I was getting ready to leave I decided to wait so I could get this picture of the 2nd “Candy Drop” of the day. At this point it had actually become a little “cooler” because we were being shaded by some massive cumulus clouds that were passing through. It dropped from about 115 degrees on the asphalt to a brisk 105…

Nonetheless it was about 1:30 pm and I had been at the Fly-In since before 8 am. It was time to leave. As I approached my plane the two guys below were looking at it. Naturally I took the opportunity to answer any questions they had about my plane and Ultralight Flying in general. I didn’t get their names because I gave them some of my business cards and called upon them to send me an email so I would have their names to put in this story. Suffice to say, they did not do this and so they will remain nameless on The Flight Blog…

I told them I would perform a demonstration for them of the two things the MXL does best. 1. It gets off the ground quicker than about any plane on the field and 2. It can perform a neat, seemingly vertical climb to about 125 feet in a flash. I did both of these things and then came back around to make a farewell pass. They were waving enthusiastically so I believe the flight demo impressed them.

Once airborne I was happy to find that the South wind which had given me a 20+ mph boost in the morning had become nil. All I had to deal with on the way home was a lot of thermal activity. I stayed down at about 200′, though, to make sure I avoided any headwind that might be lurking up higher on the trip home.

These folks had a large selection of tractors and a good harvest of square-baled hay

As I approached the lake seen below I saw a guy out having fun on a Sea-Doo. If you have ever driven one, you know one of the fun things to do on them is to make “water wheelies” and “donuts”. This guys was doing all that and more. Naturally, though, this meant I had to show him how we do that in the air. The timing was perfect because just as I came parallel with him he was pulling up to the dock to take a break. At that moment I pulled into a hard right 720 degree turn and then reversed it for another 360 to the left. The air was so still I could smell my exhaust on the 2nd circuit of my first circle. I ended the manuver with a steep pullup and pushover. It was “Aircraft Salutes Watercraft”. We all waved and I continued South.

Jabara Airport from 1,000′ AGL Northeast

Beech Airfield is in the distance

As I was passing near The Gliderport I saw some guys getting ready to hook up a sailplane for a tow so I swooped down over them and waved. After I passed by I started climbing so as to get to 1,000’+ AGL for my pass over Kellogg/HWY 56. As I scanned the sky for traffic I suddenly picked up the tow plane and glider pulling up on my left. They passed in front of me like I was standing still – because in relative airspeed I was. The lift was so strong at that point that I am sure these guys could have stayed up for hours if they wanted to.

I continued South re-tracing the path in reverse that I flew earlier that morning.

Good Times Gone By

Unfortunately I end this post on a sad note. The picture below features an airport named Hamilton Field. Well, actually it used to be about where the dirt section extends from the asphalt road near the bottom right of the picture. This area is on the East side of Derby, Kansas. All the local flyers used to drop in to Hamilton all the time. A number of Ultralight and Light Plane owners kept their airplanes there, too. The owner, Mr. Hamilton, would always be around and would like to talk about airplanes. Late in life he developed emphysema and became more limited in his mobility. He could not get around the airport as much as in earlier times. Nonetheless, he would always sit out on his farmhouse veranda and wave at you to come over after landing. I would always taxi up to his yard, dismount and hang out for a while.

Mr. Hamilton finally passed away and his family was encouraged by the city to sell the airport to developers.  There are sites on the web that still think it exists. Here & Here. Unfortunately Hamilton Field lives now but in the memories of we aviators.

A Sad Sight

When I came around the South end of Derby, I looked in the distance and my spirit was lifted – The Hangar Door Was Open! Hangarmate Bill Bailey had been working on his Taylorcraft and had the big door open. Thus I could taxi right into the hangar entrance before shutting off the engine. After I de-planed, Bailey and I hung out for a while discussing the Newton Fly-In and various other things. After a while I pushed the MXL into its stall, cleaned up my area and went home.

It was a great day for a Fly-In. The Newton Fly-In was a lot of fun.

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™

Brian FitzGerald