A Tale of Two “Wings & Wheels” Fly-Ins by Brian FitzGerald
Strother Field “Wings & Wheels”
The day started off mostly overcast with intermittent breaks for the sun to burst through. We had been having a lot of rain in Kansas the preceding weeks and in keeping with that the forecast for that Saturday indicated the possibility of more rain. Frankly, I have never understood what a “30% chance” of rain means. But, that was the best they could offer. My general operating principle when presented with an inconclusive weather report is to go to the airfield and look at the sky. If conditions “Look OK”, it is not prohibitively windy and there is no indication of lightning, I take to the air. That Saturday morning my simplistic criteria were met so I lifted from earth heading South Southeast for Strother Field.
Almost Harvest Time
Two weeks earlier I had taken a flight to Caldwell, Kansas “smack dab” in the middle of Sumner County, The Wheat Capital of the World (You can see that story HERE). I was awestruck at the beauty of the endless green wheat that blanketed the prairie. Now, only a couple of weeks later wheat in the region had already turned yellow and was getting close to harvest time. I took a few pictures to show the change.
Even though there was a headwind at 500′ AGL of only 8 miles per hour, I dropped down to Ultralight Flight Level 75 where the wind was nil. There I could make relatively good speed (38 mph airspeed) while keeping the engine turning at a leisurely 4300-4500 RPM. It saves gas, and besides, the plane doesn’t like to fly much faster than 60 anyway. The closer you approach that max speed the more energy it takes to push it through the air.
I looked ahead and saw an interesting phenomenon for this part of the country – A HILL. It’s no secret that this is The Flatlands but a rare rise in the ground is more obvious than in other parts of the country. You can see what I am talking about at the horizon. When I got closer the “mountainous mound” was more apparent “panoramically” but my camera lens captured it better from a distance with this shot.
Earlier I showed a “High Point” South of Haysville. Here as I pass again over the winding Arkansas River you can see this “rise” but closer now. Because I now see there are two antennae on it, I am further impressed with my topographical accumen. Whenever possible, radio and TV tower engineers build where the ground is higher.
Better Living Through Chemistry
Years ago, DuPont used the tagline in their advertising “Better Living Through Chemistry“. With the rise in The West of the anti-science “Greens”, DuPont decided to go with the flow and not incite the wrath of these modern day Luddites and so changed their memorable signature line. I thought of it, though, as I approached the scene below. Like it or not, chemicals play a large part in the success of American Agriculture and its ability to feed the world.
At the moment I am pondering The Miracle of Kansas’ Agricultural Bounty, I found where all the Breakfast Cereal comes from.
Passing near a wooded grove, bright colors attract my eye. Many times in Sky Surfing Stories I show pictures of meticulously kept troves of old cars in orderly patterns generally only visible from the air. Below we see just part of a large repository of old junkers. This owner does not prefer the linear matrix approach to storage. Cars are spread randomly under the trees all over the site.
Strother Summons Me Hither
Even at low altitude, having flown to Strother Field a number of times, I knew I was approaching it when I saw the familiar outlines of its buildings ahead.
The wind is from the South so I will be landing to the
North (a Sky Surfing Eagle Eye Award goes to Brother John Rogers of Wichita, Kansas for catching this mistake) South. Strother is a “left pattern” airfield so I will climb to 1,000′ AGL, cross the field at center and then enter the Downwind Leg. Non fliers interested in learning about aircraft landing patterns can read an interesting description HERE. There was no traffic in sight so I took the photo series seen next.
Sailplanes On Display
Every year The Strother Field Fly-In and Classic Car Show is dedicated to the memory of professional aviator Melvin Current who passed away in 2007. After arriving and tying down my plane I wandered about to see what was going on on the flight line. I saw this good looking dog taking his master for a walk and stopped to talk (to the man…). He turned out to be Brian Current the Son of Melvin. He told me a little about the family aviation business and how honored he and his family are to have their Dad recognized for his years of service to the Aviation Community. Melvin is missed by all who knew him.
The Wheels Part of the Soiree
I really think the wedding of “Wings and Wheels” is a match made in American hobby heaven. I noticed “W & W” events popping up around the country a few years back and I think they will continue to thrive. I enjoy looking at Classics, Hot Rods and Kustom Kars and all the pilots I know like them, too.
I met the Blatchford Brothers and looked at a couple of their nice “rides”. As soon as they figure how to each drive more than one car or truck at a time, they’ll be showing up with more of their vehicles…
Inside Taking A Break
Fantastic Summer Opportunity
Six identical Cessna 172’s left the field that morning on the first leg of the Discover Flying Challenge 2013 (read more about it HERE). Piloted by six aviation students chosen from a large group of applicants, these six planes will be touring the country all summer giving rides and promoting aviation. What a blast!
Folks Came From Near And Far
Folks were interested in the tour and gathered around the planes talking with the pilots and the Cessna officials. I noticed the two guys shown below and struck up a conversation. From their accents my lightning fast mind told me they were not from Winfield. Actually they were not even from this hemisphere.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF)
A welcome sight at many a Fly-In and Airshow around the region is the CAF. Called The Jayhawk Wing, this group is headquartered at Westport Airport in Wichita, Kansas. They have a Fairchild PT-23, a Cessna Bobcat, and and SNJ-4. They are a dedicated bunch and put a lot of time and effort into showing these interesting aircraft and providing rides.
The Military Vehicle Preservation Association
“Life is like a box of chocolates”, said Forrest, “You never know what you are going to get.” Wisdom from The Gumpster and true of The Sixth Annual Wings and Wheels. At a couple of Strother gatherings in previous years, the Military Vehicle Club was out in full force. Sometimes they even had enough troops to man a traffic stop. This “W & W”, though, Cessna took center stage while most of the militaria aficionados stayed home. Fortunately, though, Dave Billings arrived with his 1942 Ford Built Jeep complete with trailer and rifle holder. Dave has done his homework on this rig and it is very interesting to behold. I am very impressed with his attention to detail toward this classic of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Overcast Is Good For Some Things
Overcast skies make for “flat photography”. Outdoor photography in overcast conditions lack highlights to give definition to the pictures. The good thing about the overcast sky that day, though, was the way it kept the tie-down area “liveable”. I remember more than one Fly-In at Strother (and other fields) when the sky was clear in June and it was blistering hot on the blacktop. That Saturday was quite pleasant.
Time To Egress
Things wound down about Noon so I checked the gas and pre-flighted the MXL and was about to pull the start rope when a familiar face appeared over my shoulder. It was Tommy Randall and his buddy Doyle Burgin. They had arrived a little late for the Fly-In after driving over from Udall, Kansas. Tommy is a good buddy of mine who lives on Cherokee (Air) Strip just outside of Udall. He was featured in my “Shortcut Story” earlier this flying season. I “stopped the start” and Tom introduced me to Doyle. They could see everybody was leaving so they had decided to go over to Maggie Morris’ River Rock Ranch, a rural retreat designed to teach “at risk” youth better life strategies. I had flown over it before to take aerial photos of it after meeting Maggie at Tommy’s place a couple of years ago (story HERE). Tommy suggested I detour to The Ranch before heading home and land in the field on the North 40.
The Sky Surfer, always up for a new adventure said, “Great Idea”, took to the sky, put Strother in the rear mirror and set course for this youth prairie haven.
A Sad Sight
The welcome rains this Spring have been a mixed blessing as they are often carried along in Kansas by high winds and storm activity. This is a good example of why the overcast conditions I spoke of earlier do not help photography. Regardless of the lack of contrast, I think you can still see how the South Wind damaged this wheat. It looks like a river coursing through the field. My understanding is that when wheat is bent down like this, it doesn’t come back up and cannot be harvested.
River Rock Ranch
The wind was out of the South, as was my approach, so I swung past The Ranch and then turned back into the wind to get a look at the meadow on The North 40. They had told me it was pretty flat although the prairie grass was about 12 to 18 inches high. The main problem for my plane is surface rocks. The clearance below the axle is only about 6 inches. I made a couple of passes to see what the terrain looked like. While doing this the thought occurred that since the place is called “River Rock Ranch” all the rocks must be down in the gulley and not on the field. That guess was correct. The landing surface was smooth.
Even before arriving at River Rock Ranch I could see a “situation” building to the South. Kansas weather is quite dynamic. One is best advised to keep an eye on the skies. We talked for a short spell out on the glorious meadow and then I bid adieu. I could not allow myself to be caught on the ground or in the air if hail started falling or a “lightning filled” thunderstorm suddenly overtook me.
The Uncommon In The Common
There are plenty of pleasant abodes out in the countryside of Kansas and the one below is no exception. I could never run out of interesting examples to portray. While the shot below IS a good example of Kansas Country Living, that is not why I took the shot. Something “out of place” in this bucolic setting caught my attention. If it doesn’t jump out at you in the wide shot, I have included a tele/closeup shot after it.
America Still Moves By Rail
Below is the track that in the previous picture was going down and to the left. It is heading Southwest. I think it is connected to the line going through Wellington, Kansas. I featured that part of track in a previous story showing the repairing machines and what they do with these new track ties. You can see it HERE.
Destination In Sight
Even though the sky was darkening behind me, everything looked idyllic to the North. What the photo doesn’t reveal is the turbulence I was flying in. It was getting pretty rough – a herald of the oncoming storm – and it was time for me to put the steed in the stable.
When it gets turbulent, my MXL behaves like a bucking bronco. The key is to let it “buck” without fighting it while at the same time directing it where you want. I debated whether to include the shot below because the shutter was too slow and the jarring movements of the plane made it “smear”. Nonetheless, I included it so you could see the position of the windsock. It was swinging wildly from Southwest to Southeast. At this moment it was swung all the way West.
The 6th Annual Stearman Field Fly-In
On the following weekend (22 June 13), I attended The Stearman Field Fly-In at Benton, Kansas. Due to a combination of events I did not fly to it, though. I had a maintenance issue on my Quicksilver that I had worked on until 9:30 pm the previous evening. By the time I finished it was pretty dark in the hangar and I did not want to rush a flight the next morning until going over the repair in better light. Also, it looked to be a very windy day with wind from the South. The previous year’s Stearman Field Fly-In (story HERE) had similar conditions and with a 30 mph headwind it took me forever to get home after the event. Either one of these issues could have been overcome but due to the combination of them I decided to drive over and check Stearman Field Fly-In as a “ground-pounder”.
“That They Might Fly Again – Part 3“
The main reason I was going to the event, though, was to see my buddy Victor Riffel and to give him a copy of the latest installment of my series on Vintage Airplanes – “That They Might Fly Again – Part 3“. Victor is one of the interviewees in the movie and we talk about his Stearman BiPlane. Victor and his family live on the Stearman Field runway. He has his two airplanes in a hangar adjacent to his house. After parking my car at the airfield, I looked over and saw Vic moving his Stearman out. I walked over to say hi.
Back in the 1980’s when I began flying Ultralights, I hangared my plane for a while in the “T-Hangars” that were prevalent at the field then. Then it was Benton Airport. Although he has subsequently sold his ownership position, Victor and some partners bought the airfield renamed it “Stearman Field”. Although the name is famous around the world for the plane it represents, another reason I suspect for the new name was to reflect the preponderance of these venerable machines hangared there now. As Vic and I were talking on his driveway, a couple of Stearmans were in the pattern giving rides, passing over our heads continually.
Touring In Style
Victor was busy getting his stuff ready for display so I told him I was going to look around the action across the street. He insisted I use his Golf Cart. I decided that would make it easy for me to traverse the mile long runway to show what Stearman Field is like these days.
A Stroll Down The Taxiway At Stearman Field
There is always a lot of action at Stearman Field through the week and particularly on Saturdays but because this was the Annual Fly-In, it was particularly busy that day. I had to be alert to catch some of it on camera. Airshow goers will recognize the “high performer” seen below.
A special embellishment to the Fly-In was the appearance of several of Nu-Tek Simulation’s airplanes. President Steve Cannaby and I have been friends for over twenty years. Quite the entrepreneur, Steve keeps a lot of balls in the air. In addition to his aircraft instrument company Nu-Tek Aircraft Instruments, he also has Nu-Tek Simulations. They brought a number of simulators to Benton that day.
Justin has done an amazing job interlocking the controls and instruments to a computer program for the simulation of flights into and around known airports. The audio is good, too.
After Victor finished setting up his aircraft and jeep display he walked over to the tie down area where I ran into him. Figuratively anyway, because I wasn’t driving the golf cart at that moment. Vic knows I like Vintage Cars almost as much as I like Vintage Airplanes. He asked if I wanted to join him for a ride back down the runway to see something very special. Brian said “Yes” and we headed over to the Hangar Home of Eric Sorenson.
Some “Garage Tales” Are True
All have heard tales of The Classic Car owned by “The Older Lady” who only drove it to Church once a week and always kept it protected in a garage, made sure the oil was changed every six months, etc. This is that car. It has very few miles, still runs well and is in near showroom shape.
This car also verifies the other “Garage Talk Conversation Staple” that goes under the heading, “They don’t make ’em like they used to…”. A casual glance at the original paint of this machine verifies that notion. You can judge the quality of it in the reflection of the fender in the photo above. Hearing the passenger door open and close was the auto equivalent of listening to a Stradivarius Violin. It was that fine. Eric has a valuable relic from a bygone era.
After saying goodbye to Eric, Victor dropped me off at my car and I left Benton. Next year I’ll fly in to The Stearman Field Fly-In but as the event subtitle suggests, it is OK to arrive at a Wings & Wheels by air or land.
See you next time.
Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™