Feb 092013

Two For The Price Of One (Double Free)

For this installment of Sky Surfing, you get a “Two Fer” Bonus.

I was able to engage in two Winter Flights in the last two weeks and decided to put them into one post. One flight was purposely short – the “Shakedown Flight” on 26 Jan 13. It was the “proof of reliability” after completing my engine and drive train re-build. The other was a Spur-Of-The-Moment Flight on 2 Feb 13. They were on consecutive Saturdays and quite enjoyable.


I like the term “Shakedown Flight”. While basically a “Test Flight”,  Shakedown is more evocative. If you meditate on the term, your mind will better focus on the task at hand. Sure, guys will do a “Shakedown Drive” to test out their car after changing the shocks or something but a “Shakedown Flight” is an order of magnitude more intense. If the work was not properly done AND preceded by two or three time, close inspection, “walk-arounds”, one might just endure the literal “shaking down” of parts during the test flight. Shedding parts in the air can be hazardous to a rear mounted propeller like the one I have on the Quicksilver.

Notwithstanding the best of pre-flight walk-arounds, it is still advisable to keep a Shakedown short, to forgo wild, crankin’ and bankin’, to land after a few circuits of the area, to shut ‘er down and then to engage in some careful look-see to inventory that everything remained where it should be.

The actual Shakedown went fine with regard to the comparative pre- and post- flight parts count. It was “The Southern Triangle” flight that testified to the importance of “Pre-Flighting”. I will discuss that later…

Visibility Excellent! That is Mulvane, Kansas about 5 miles due East of my position just below the horizon on the left edge of the shot. I am at 600′ AGL.

Just after taking the picture of Mulvane I point the camera Southwest and we see the Kansas Star Casino.

Mainly the casino was gratuitous. I took the picture in that direction so you could see the major front coming in. It was moving fairly rapidly and I knew it would be over my area within a half hour to forty-five minutes from takeoff time.

Ducks on the Water

As I headed over to the West side of Mulvane, I saw this flock of ducks settled in the sandpit shown above. Moments later they all took to wing.

The Mighty Ninnescah

The E. 119th Street Bridge over the Ninnescah River

…Not Right Now

This photo has two purposes. Every few years the Ninnescah River fills up to the limit of its banks. As seen in the photo above, though, it is about as low as it gets. Things have been dry around here for the last two years and the river reflects that situation. I also shot this picture to show the bridge. It figured in a movie I produced in ’09 called “UFM2“. A major segment of this documentary is a music video called “Lil Prop / Big Prop”. I positioned my buddy and cameraman Jeff Johnson on this bridge to catch some scenes of me bobbin’ and weavin’ low over the river in my Quicksilver. It looked really nice. I will be releasing “Lil Prop” on the web in the next few months and will announce to my mailing list.

The nearly dry Ninnescah looking North from 600′ AGL

Attractive Homestead

A Farm A Mile West of the Ninnescah

Even though the scene is a bit bleak at the moment, I have always found the farm above attractive to look at. I think the “round top” silos have a lot to do with it. Over the last few years I have given the family that lives there a couple of 8 x 10 aerials of their place so they could see how it looks.

Practical Tactical – “Frog Holler Paintball Field

I have been meaning to try this out for DECADES but have never got around to it. Below you will see a series of photos of the “goin’-ist paintball range” around the area – maybe anywhere in the country. Only about a mile from Selby Aerodrome, I rarely have flown over “The Holler” when it isn’t Rockin’ and Rollin’. These guys are dedicated! I have seen teams hustling, maneuvering and crawling through the grass in 105 degree heat during the Summer. They have a little town, wooded areas, big tire areas, fortified positions, all that stuff. It is a major facility. I need to try this.

Approaching Frog Holler Looking East – The Ninnescah is on its Eastern edge

Frog Holler from 500′ AGL still looking East

Passing outside the Southern Edge of The Holler from 600′ AGL

In the final shot of Frog Holler above, you can see three different teams gathered for planning or de-briefing.

Incoming Weather Front

5 Minutes to Overcast – Looking South Southwest from 500′ AGL

Above you can see a picture of the approaching front about five minutes before I landed. It was a mild front with no wind or rain. The Shakedown Flight was complete and it was time to land anyway. I let gravity pull me gently back down to earth.

Perfect Timing

Pilot of Mystery – Photo Courtesy Don Forse

Smiling Eyes! – Photo Courtesy Don Forse

Just as I was entering the downwind leg my buddy Don Forse arrived and opened the hangar door. I taxied right in and killed the motor. Naturally I asked Don to document the occasion. He took the two photos above. We tried one with, and one without, the flash. I like both of them for different reasons and put them in here.

(Note: At the beginning of this post I alluded to a the wisdom of Pre-Flighting apropos The Southern Triangle Flight. Here is the gist of it.
Because I had just completed a major engine and drive train overhaul, naturally the main area of the plane I examined before takeoff was (duhhhh) the engine and drive train area. After doing that, I am proud to say, I did not neglect the rest of the pre-flight. In doing so, I noticed a bolt in the empennage that had worked its way loose. This particular bolt was one of eight that face each other at the hinged area between the elevator and the horizontal stabilizer. It is remotely possible that one of these bolts “if” it slid far enough out could lock the elevator in a “hard up” position. I would have taken a picture but frankly when I saw it I stopped thinking about anything else, got my tools out of the hangar and tightened it up. I also checked the other 7 bolts and put thread locker on all of them before taking off. This bolt situation is a known issue and easy to discover but you won’t see it if you don’t look. Flying Quicksilvers since the 1980’s, this was the first time one of these bolts worked loose. I will take a picture the next time I am at the field so you can see what I am talking about.)

Pre-Flight Vindication Photos

As Noted above, I have shot some pix of the area of interest to show you. This should be of particular interest to Quicksilver pilots or those who know one.

From this wide shot of the empennage you can see the 2″ space between the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator.

This is looking from aft at the actual “frame” bolt that worked loose. As you can see I have tightened it down and applied torque seal to it. There are 4 like this on the elevator and 4 on the horizontal stabilizer.

This is the same area again shot from the port side but closer so you can see how one of the elevator frame bolts could slide forward and lock the elevator in a down position.

The Southern Triangle

When I don’t have anywhere particular to go but want to fly the area, I have a circuit I call “The Southern Triangle”. It starts at my home field, Selby Aerodrome, and includes two legs: Cherokee Strip in Udall, Kansas and Alley Field in Douglass, Kansas. Whichever one I go to first is dependent on the prevailing wind at the moment of departure. On this particular day the wind above 300′ AGL was 15 mph from the Northwest. Since Cherokee Strip is Southeast of my field I elected to make that the first leg of the trip. I generally prefer to end a Fun Flight with a tailwind but having chosen The Southern Triangle as a route, that would not be possible. At least this way I would have a solid tailwind on one leg and a quartering headwind on the second leg. Not bad.

2 “Ways”: K-15 Highway and The Ninnescah River(way)

To get to Cherokee Strip I cut across The Ultralight Corridor on the Northeast side of Mulvane, Kansas. Doing this gives me almost a straight bead there from my field. I took the picture above because I liked the sunlight glinting off the water and also the interesting juxtaposition of the two “Ways” in the shot: A Highway on the left and a Waterway on the right.

Cherokee Strip Welcoming Committee

Rick Gerrard and Buddy

Not My Buddy (but that’s OK)

Normally I make a pass at Cherokee Strip Residential Airfield to see if anyone is “out and about” before I decide to land. I have a number of friends who either live at Cherokee or hangar their planes there. Sometimes, if I don’t see any action, I’ll land anyway and knock on the door to see if Tommy Randall is working in his shop. Tommy has Ranco Custom Products at the Northeast end of the field.

This day as I approached Cherokee I saw a vehicle stop on the east side access road. I could tell the driver was trying to figure who was circling the field. It looked like Rick Gerrard‘s truck. He then headed toward his home which is on the South end of the field. I continued in the pattern and landed. After taxiing up to Rick’s house I shut down and emerged from my Quicksilver. That’s when I met Buddy. Buddy is a Pit Bull. He loves Rick. He did not much care for me. Trying to impress him that I was the famous Sky Surfer failed. Until Rick got closer and was able to introduce us, I stayed outside Buddy’s circle of influence (the chain radius). Even after our formal introduction Buddy remained suspicious of me. Rick told me that he had rescued Buddy after finding him abandoned by a renter who had moved away. I have two house dogs of which I am quite fond but they are in an entirely different league from Rick’s dog. Buddy is the kind of dog you want in a rural area, though. I appreciate the fact that he did not hold me in high esteem. It is his job to be suspicious. In his mind: Rick Good – Stranger Bad.

The Hangar

Rick Gerrard and his Apache Sport

I had never been in Rick’s hangar before so I asked Buddy’s permission to look inside. Buddy said OK. That’s when I spied the attractive yellow trike you see above. It is Rick’s North Wing Apache Sport – very nice! I had seen it a couple of years back when Rick landed at Selby Aerodrome.

HKS 700 and 4 Blade PowerFin


Of great significance is the HKS powerplant hung off the back of the Apache. The HKS is a 4 Stroke made in Japan. My most recent Sky Surfing post went into infinitesimal detail regarding the overhaul of my Rotax 2 Stroke Motor. Without going back into that, I would just offer you some relative comparisons between the two powerplants. Namely the HKS 4 Stroke has over 3 times longer TBO (Time Between Overhaul) than the Rotax and for similar horsepower output burns less than half as much fuel. And, you don’t have to mix oil into the gas. It is a really sweet machine. It is slightly heavier than the Rotax and costs considerably more, though. Both Rick and I are believers in the PowerFin Propeller. I have two blades and he uses four.

Gerrard’s Cherokee Strip Airport Home & Hangar

Time To Go

I had not taken an establishing photo when I arrived so on my way out I asked Rick to pose while I took the one seen above. Don’t let the “forced perspective” of the shot fool you. The brush to the left in the foreground is actually only about 12″ tall but since I was on the “down side” of the hill when I took the picture it appears huge. Rick keeps the yard well mowed.

The Sky Surfer Sporting Full Winter Regalia – Photo Courtesy Rick Gerrard

Naturally I can’t go anywhere without proving I was there. (When I worked in TV News, we used to say “If there are no pictures – it didn’t happen”.) I got Rick to snap the one seen above. You can see I am dressed in my complete Winter Flying Apparel. It was a bit of an overkill because by the time I got to Udall the temperature had risen to the mid 40’s and was heading higher. That’s OK, though, because I MUCH rather be too warm when flying than too cold. It’s a drag to be up there shivering.

Leg 2: Alley Field

Pilot Pointe Estates, Kansas

Pilot Pointe

As the crow flies, it is only 11.5 miles from Cherokee Strip to Alley Field. On the way, I always make a low pass down the runway of Pilot Pointe Estates which is another Kansas Residential Airstrip Community. After doing that, this time, I circled back to take the picture above. What is not apparent in the photo is the cliff at the bottom of the picture next to the railroad track. I remember a Fly-In here over 20 years ago. It was the longest flight I had taken at that time in my Quicksilver MX. My Wife Debra drove out bringing my Daughter Bevin and Son Jack. I have pictures of them sitting in the shade under the wing of the MX. I won trophies for the Bomb Drop and Spot Landing contests that day. I remember every time I made a pass down the field I was a bit leery as the ground dropped suddenly at the end of the runway. That spot is not where you want to experience an engine failure. Back then, flying with a Cuyuna engine, dead-sticking was a very real possibility.

On To Alley Field

Alley Field – Next To The Water Tower

Just after taking the photo of Pilot Pointe I shot the one above. I was cruising at about 500′ looking North. You can see Highway 77 which cuts through Douglass, Kansas on the North/South axis. Lawrence Alley’s Airfield is on the East edge of town next to the water tower. It has “The Home of the Douglass Bulldogs” emblazoned on it.

 What Is Fun?

A Motorcyclist Cruising South On Hwy 77

Biker Schmiker (this is going to catch me some heat)

All pilots believe The Act of Flying is the most significant endeavor in the Entire History of Mankind. Everything else pales by comparison. The saying goes, “It’s not that flying is so important; it’s just that everything else is trivial in comparison to it.” Hold that concept in your mind…

For the last 40 years or more our culture has been bombarded with the myth that bikers are the “free spirits” of America. Every year we have to hear about two wheelers going to Sturgis, South Dakota. Documentaries have been made comparing bikers to The Riders of The Old West. There was a movie with John Travolta and others called “Wild Hogs” based on the phenomenon of YUPPIE Suburban Bikers.

I took the picture above because here is what my alter ego, The Sky Surfer, sees: He sees a two wheeled vehicle traversing the exact same path as any number of “Soccer Moms” on their way to pick up kids after practice. He sees a vehicle chained to a two dimensional plane, restricted to a narrow ribbon of hard surface material. If this material deviates in various ways from the ideal (pot holes or deep cracks), said motorcycle can depart this restrictive ribbon with unpredictable results. Sky Surfer sees a machine with minimal control under the best of conditions (think sand, ice, rain). He sees a guy at the mercy of Tom, Dick and Harriet suddenly stopping in front of him, suddenly pulling out in front of him, suddenly changing lanes without warning… Essentially strangers constantly put him into grief he didn’t cause. If that’s not enough for you, there are 18 Wheeler Induced Cyclonic Wind Gusts, Pebbles Randomly Intercepted By The Face and June Bugs. The Sky Surfer could continue but believes he has sufficiently painted his portrait (cartoon?).

For these and other reasons, whenever The Sky Surfer is out Dancing The Skies in nearly Absolute Freedom, able to move effortlessly in all 3 dimensions at the flick of a wrist or the nudge of a toe, he is completely underwhelmed by the whole Biker Ethos. Sky Surfer Rubs Elbows with Eagles! Biker is stuck in a traffic jam next to a One Lung Hybrid with a “Save The Whales” bumper sticker on it. From his Supreme Vantage Point, The Sky Surfer, King of His Environment, surveys thousands of square miles of God’s Good Earth arrayed below him while far beneath him The Biker is tagging along behind an 18 Wheeler for the past 39 miles along an endlessly winding road staring at Frito Poster because “The Trucker” has no respect for him and won’t let him pass.

Because of these things, whenever The Sky Surfer deigns to cast his glance down from his angelic post to view a Biker slugging along below, his thought only thought is: “Loser. He thinks he’s having fun? He knows nothing about fun! Flying is the only fun thing”.

Crash & Burn

At least that was The Sky Surfer’s Position until recently upon hearing my deepest thoughts on this matter for the 99th time, my Beautiful Wife Debra made a telling observation. She said, “Well, if they think they are having fun – They Are”. ZANG! With that one pity line, The Mighty Sky Surfer was completely, utterly and abysmally confounded. The logic was piercing. His balloon popped, his Icarus wings singed, The Surfer Psyche figuratively went into an inverted spin death spiral and plunged to the earth – ego completely deflated.

On To Alley Field

Alley Field

 Telephoto Is Useful

With the better camera I bought last Summer I am able to have some luck getting telephoto pictures. The Telephoto Lens is a “must have” tool in the cameraman’s trick bag. Even though it functions pretty good on this camera, I still need a fairly stable platform in order to get a sharp image. I can only speed up the shutter so much to counter when my Ultralight is bucking in turbulence. This day the shot turned out good. I was about two miles South and 800′ AGL when it was taken.

Alley Field

Lawrence Alley at the door of his new hangar.

After I de-planed I learned that Lawrence had just finished showing his Brother’s Chevy to a prospective buyer who had driven out from Kansas City to look at it. I believe he told me it only has 44,000 miles. The engine starts right up and there is no rust on it. If you are looking for a classic like this, give him a call. I think it is a 1953.

Lawrence and the Chevy inside his Aviation-Memorabilia-Filled Hangar

The interior is in good shape

NOTE: After reading the initial post, Flight Blog Reader and Contributor Don DeWhit had this to say:
Read both articles and enjoyed them as usual.  The visit to Lawrence Alley’s hangar, however, really brought back a few memories.  It was his pristine Chevy that did it. I would have identified it as a 1954 model 210.  That car may have cost as little as $2,000 when new.  I’ve only had one flight so far this year.  Looking forward to better (warmer & less windy) flying weather.

Time To Go

Lawrence has a nice collection of airplane models in the hangar. He had a new Wildcat model to show me but I forgot to take a picture of it to show you. He always has something new going on and is an excellent host. He told me his Annual Birthday Fly-In is approaching soon and that I was invited. I will post the date and time as soon as it is confirmed. After hanging out with Lawrence for about a half hour, I headed back to my home base.

The Final Leg

Douglass, Kansas from 200′ AGL Looking Northwest

Tree Row Runnin’

As I mentioned earlier, there was a quartering headwind to contend with on the way home. It wasn’t that big a deal but I like to fly low sometimes out in the countryside anyway. Above you can see I dropped down to about 150′ AGL. At this altitude the headwind diminished to about 5 mph. The Big Bonus on this leg of The Southern Triangle was the four white tail bucks I saw lounging together in a field not far from the spot you see above. I couldn’t get the camera ready in time to show them to you but 4 young ones were standing together. After I surprised them they headed into a tree row and spread out blending into their surroundings. I continued West.

A Classic Round Milk House South of Derby, Kansas

Hangarmate Don Forse checking the engine on his Titan Tornado

The Same But Different

When I landed at the field this time, again Don Forse was there. As at the end of The Shakedown Flight, Don had just arrived and was sitting in his truck listening to the radio. We opened the hangar door and I pulled my Quicksilver in the barn. Don was checking an issue with his ignition system. His plane looked good in the sunshine so I took the photo above.

This circuit around the sun, Kansas has had a relatively Warm Winter. If that continues and with my Quicksilver back together and running better than ever, I am wondering if I just might have to make a WINTER Adventure Flight. I have plenty of venues charted out already. Maybe I’ll start “The Ultralight Flying Season 2013” early!

I’ll keep you posted.

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™

Brian FitzGerald


  4 Responses to “Shakedown and The Southern Triangle – Brian FitzGerald”

  1. Hi Brian:

    Read both articles and enjoyed them as usual. The visit to Lawrence Alley’s hangar, however, really brought back a few memories. It was his pristine Chevy that did it. I would have identified it as a 1954 model 210. That car may have cost as little as $2,000 when new. I’ve only had one flight so far this year. Looking forward to better (warmer & less windy) flying weather.


    • Dear Don,
      I’m glad you liked the stories. The weather was not conducive to a flight this weekend so I have been grounded. I will insert your comment regarding the Chevy into the story. Lawrence wasn’t 100% on the year and model because he doesn’t own it.
      BTW. If you want to fly up to his Birthday Party I know he would appreciate it. It is always a fine event (weather permitting). Last year it was rained out.
      I’ll be alerting my email list as the date approaches.
      Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™
      Brian FitzGerald

  2. Loved it all pal….thanks for including me…S