Sep 062013

Once A Year

The saying is to the effect “Such and such will happen when pigs fly. Well, I can tell you “it” happens once a year and I was there! The Annual “When Pigs Fly” event in McPherson, Kansas.

Ever since the McPherson Chamber of Commerce started this event over a decade ago I have wanted to attend. During that time any number of unremembered exigencies conspired to keep me away. Finally, Saturday 24 Aug 2013, I made it. It was a lot of fun, I met some great folks and was treated to a tour of the town by Jet Pilot Gary Roper.

Hangar mate Paul Fiebich – The Airbike Ace

Early Start

It is my habit to leave on Fun Flight Missions before or just at sunrise. All season I have not seen anyone else in the hangar at that time. Rounding the corner to the hangar door that Saturday I was impressed to see The Airbike Ace had beat me to the field and was even to the point of engine start. Paul was heading to the McPherson event also and wanted to get going early. Even though the conditions were not propitious for photography, I shot the picture above as a testimony to the earliness of his departure.

Paul was going around Wichita to the East to join up with Belite Founder James Wiebe who was going to fly his latest creation – the “UltraCub” – to the event. I had planned to fly around town the West side. Even though akin to a “Race of Turtles”Fiebich having gotten the jump on me naturally put me in “hurry-up mode” to do my best to beat the two man flight to McPherson

Airbike dust was still in the air when I rolled the Quicksilver out.

Riding The Wave

Checking the weather the night before I knew the prevailing wind would be from the South. Since McPherson, Kansas is North Northwest of Wichita this would reverse my normal Fun Flight Strategy of flying into and under the wind on the way out and riding the wind home. I would make good time heading to the show but it would be a slow journey home. The forecast of 9 mph from the South Southeast was accurate for people on the ground. Winds aloft were quite higher, though, as I found once I climbed to about 600′ AGL

The Sunrise as seen through my back window.

Wind And Haze

I took the picture above after descending in order to get out of the wind.  The extreme haze in the air contributed to the pleasant coloration of the sunrise. I also like the way the camera caught the propeller arc. Anyway, before heading North I needed to circumvent the traffic control area of Mid Continent Airport. Rucker Airfield is a private residential airport on the Southwest edge of this control zone, so I use it as my marker. That morning the wind from the South was strong enough at 1,000′ AGL that it was an impediment even to my crosswind progress. After passing over the habitated areas South of Haysville, I dropped down to a low level over the farm fields until I could make my turn North and “catch the wave”.

Cat Claw Mimosa? Western Ironweed? Wild Alfalfa? The Hangars at Rucker Field are in the distance.

The Hangars At Rucker Field

Prairie Wildflowers

As I approached Rucker Field I passed over a great expanse of the purple flowers you see in the two previous photos. It was still a little too dark to get a perfect shot but I think you get the idea.

Turning North, the Rising Sun makes for another interesting color study under my right wing. This was from 600′ AGL as I climbed to “catch the wave”.

Surf’s Up!

Earlier I alluded to the stronger winds aloft. They were MUCH stronger than I would have guessed. During the flight to McPherson my tailwind averaged 32 mph. The Sky Surfer loves a boost like this even if it is “on the way out” but it would likely mean a very slow return to base that afternoon…

Holding an airspeed of 38 mph, the ground speed reading of 72 mph means I was getting a 34 mph tailwind boost at that moment.

Colwich, Kansas was the first small town on my path.

East of Colwich is this Westar Electric generation plant. Steam rises from heat exchangers.

Colwich also has a large “Antennae Farm” East Northeast of it. These are Broadcast TV antennas. KAKE’s antenna is 1016′ high.


A bog is a wetland area I associate with Ireland and Scotland. As I passed Burrton, Kansas I saw this area Northeast of it I had not been familiar with. It didn’t look like it was resultant from the heavy rain we have been experiencing all Summer prior to this flight. I asked my Buddy Gary Foster who farms 30 miles West of here and he said this area is always wet. I took the next few shots from 1,500′ AGL. They give you a look at the area even though the haze attenuated them somewhat. On the trip home I flew much lower over this area so you will be able to see it better then.

How about that?! Straight down from 1,500′ AGL at a small cabin on a lake.

This is Pete’s Puddle. It is a recreation spot and they also raise catfish here.

After leaving the bog area I saw this “curved” harvesting method I have never seen before.

High Humidity

This is why most all my shots have been to the West. With the thick haze in the air, shooting into the Sun is a waste of time. I did continuously scan that direction, though, for air traffic. I also had my wingtip strobe lights on.

Haze. From 1,500′ AGL looking East Northeast.

To the North I knew it was McPherson because of the Oil Refinery on its Southwest side. It still wasn’t very visible even though this picture was taken only 5 miles out. The airfield is barely visible to the West (left) of town.

I climbed to 1,800′ AGL before entering the traffic pattern which at McPherson is a “West Pattern”. While scanning for traffic I took this picture to once again show the extent of the haze that morning.

 The Airplanes

I know a lot of guys come to Fly-Ins early in the morning, eat breakfast and then leave. So, as soon as I landed I took pictures of most of the planes that were there.

A Fairly New Aviat A-1B

An RV-6

A Stearman

A Rans S6ES

The Belite ULTRACub

Fiebich’s Airbike with the ULTRACub. By the way, in The Great Turtle Race, I won!

A 1971 Cessna 310Q

The Pulsar

I recognized this homebuilt right away. It is a Pulsar. A number of years ago I did a movie I call “Take a Look at the Pulsar”. My Son Jack and I spent 2 days in Lawrence, Kansas interviewing pilot/builders of the Pulsar during their annual Builder’s Meeting. I have plans to put the movie on My YouTube Channel in the future. Below you can see the tail of my Quicksilver. I take so many pictures of it, I spared you seeing yet another of it on the ramp.

Owner Dave Glaves posing with his Pulsar XP. It has a Rotax 912ULS motor and he has had it for 5 years and likes it a lot.

A Rutan Long-EZ from Shawnee, Kansas

Seen One Of These Before?

I doubt it. This is a “one of a kind” called The Piranha. It is one of 7 made in 1966 to interest the U.S. Air Force in a small, close air support aircraft. The other 6 are gone. An interesting discussion of it from 2007 is HERE.

A Rans S6S

Paul Fiebich in front of his Airbike smiling even though I beat him in the race he didn’t know we were having.

Great Breakfast And Lunch

An unexpected benefit, the organizers of the event provided a Free Breakfast and Lunch to pilots. I had a great time sharing that breakfast and company with Dale Weinhold and Jim Homolka of Ellsworth, Kansas. We talked about airplanes, trucks and life in general. Dale keeps his Cessna looking really nice.

Dale Weinhold and Jim Homolka in front of Dale’s 172

Cars, Too!

“When Pigs Fly” is a BarBQ Contest, Airplane Fly-In, Parachute Jump, Helicopter RidesCar Show, Tractor Pull, Horse Exhibition and more. While I was talking to Gary Roper, The Wichita Model A Club entered the scene so I shot pictures of them as they drove by.

Rare Studebaker

I also met Don Steuber of McPherson. Don is retired from the McPherson Refinery and has lived in McPherson since 1956. Even though Studebaker went out of business in 1963, they issued some 1964 model cars. Don has one and it looks great and still drives fine.

Don Steuber & 1964 Studebaker GT Hawk

Gary Roper – Professional Pilot

Early in the report I told you I met Gary Roper at the Fly-In. Actually he was the first person I spoke to after landing. He was standing near his Model A and I asked him to pose for a shot. Because the sun was glaring into the camera too much we took two pictures. In the ensuing conversation I also learned he is a corporate pilot stationed at McPherson Field. I told him what I was doing and he told me to let him know when I was ready and he or his Daughter Cynthia would give me a ride around town so I could photograph some of the sights. That’s what we did.

Powerhouse On The Prairie

Initially I was struck with the “Powerhouse” subtitle to this piece because of all the activity I witnessed when Gary and I pulled up to the corner of Kansas Avenue and Main Street. Action! It was a Saturday morning and the place was bustling. All the parking places were taken. People were in the breakfast spots and cars were backed up at the stop lights. It was by far the most business/retail activity I have seen in any of the smaller towns I have visited this Flying Season. By the same token, I must note that McPherson has 13,000 people, while most of the towns I visit are about 1/4 to 1/3 that size.

After thinking about it  I decided what I was reacting to was a “small town atmosphere” with “big town energy”. I discovered that one of the keys to its general prosperity is just that: Energy. McPherson County (McPherson Board of Public Utilities) provides electricity to its residents at a much lower cost than anywhere else in the State of Kansas. So, now I see that my use of “Powerhouse” was apt in more ways than one.

The Furniture Store of Kansas

The first place I asked Gary to stop is a client of mine, The Furniture Store of Kansas (TFSOK). They were not open yet that morning or I would have asked Randy Hoffman to step out front for a photo op. In a couple of months it will be a decade that I have had the great fortune to do Television Advertising for these fine folks. From their start – selling used furniture in a one room storefront – to now retailing the biggest names in furniture – Randy and Lori Hoffman have made TFSOK the Furniture Powerhouse of the region. Their fleet of trucks course throughout the state making deliveries every day. Let it be known that The American Dream is Alive and Well in McPherson, Kansas!

McPherson Board of Public Utilities. When I first saw it, I took this picture just because I liked the way the building looked. Little did I know it would figure large in my story line

McPherson County Courthouse is famous throughout the land. The stonework is magnificent.

The Center of Downtown McPherson – Kansas at Main – looking Northeast

It was a busy Saturday morning.

Kansas @ Main Looking Southwest

Nice Brickwork. This strikes me as being from the Art Deco Period.

A brick building with lots of character. I appreciate the way the builders turned ordinary columns into artistic works.

There is much to like about this corner building.

Because I was shooting into the sun, the camera was hard pressed to deliver the vibrancy of these color schemes. I have not checked to see if Downtown McPherson has a covenant for paint and building ornament. Regardless, I commend them as to how the different businesses have adopted paint schemes and ornamentation that is at once complimentary to the whole, while at the same time maintaining each business’ individuality. This contributes greatly to the quality of the McPherson downtown area appeal.

The tall windows and crown work contribute to the elegance of this building.

The McPherson Opera House Company

In the small towns I visit, the stone and brick buildings that capture my attention are the result of much money, time and dedication. In most cases, these elements are brought to bear by the buildings’ owners. In other cases, it is the local government with the assent of the people who undertake the burden of keeping these classics presentable for others to enjoy. In the case of The McPherson Opera House, it is a dedicated ensemble of volunteers laser focused on maintaining this Prairie Jewel to the state of perfection it is. While my mission is to take external pictures, I have seen photos of the inside of The Opera House and it is no less magnificent. You can peruse their website HERE.

Once again, the sun was not in the best position for all the angles I took but regardless, the edifice is well served by this next series of shots.

An iconic product logo that has withstood the Test of Time decorates the North Side of The Opera House.

The McPherson Opera House Main Street Side And Entrance

The South Side Entrance

 Over One Hundred Years Old

I can imagine people in Europe and Asia roll their eyes at this, but here in America buildings of this age (West of the Original Colonies anyway) are a rarity.

Shared Tastes

As we moved about the downtown area I asked Gary if he could think of some nice older homes and Church Buildings I could photograph. He laughed a little bit because as it turns out, he and his wife Karen very much prize this type of architecture also. We didn’t have much time but we were able to get a good representative sample of what McPherson has to offer in that genre.

Notice the two “stacked” windows! Also, the intricate paintwork in the eaves.

Silver Buckle Drill Team

I would have liked to see the Silver Buckle Equestrian Drill Team perform but they started while Gary and I were running around town taking the previous pictures. Regardless, as we approached I saw them in the distance and asked Gary to stop his pickup so I could jump out and do my best with the telephoto lens to photograph them leaving the field. The following are the results.

The Final Maneuver

The wind was just under 20 mph from the South. They had to hold tight on the flags.


Pilot Time

Rather than becoming tedious so as to rate one over another, suffice to say not only do I appreciate fine old architecture, I love looking at airplanes.  Gary had given me a great tour of some of McPherson’s sights and it was time for us to return to the airfield. Since we had talked a bit about his Aviation Career, I asked if he wouldn’t mind showing me his “ride”. He was most happy to oblige.

Gary Roper and his 1979 C-182Q

We took a couple shots of this handsome Cessna so you could see the gold striping and “N” number. I also wanted a shot with Gary wearing his signature straw hat.

The McPherson Airport Terminal Office

The Pilot Lounge

Even though she was very busy with the show, we grabbed Gary’s Daughter Cynthia (Peterson) for a photo op next to this nice display she made featuring key events in her Dad’s Flying Career.

After that we strolled over to another hangar to look at Gary’s pristine 1947 Cessna 140.

Then as if on cue, Fellow Pilot and Wife Karen walked up just in time for a portrait with Gary in front of the distinctive McPherson Logo on the side of the terminal building.


Finally it was early afternoon. The tailwind that was so beneficial to my flight that morning would now be my adversary for the flight home. After filling my gas tank to the brim, I pre-flighted the plane and with the help of airport manager Tom Chandler eased the MXL loose of its moorings. It was windy enough that I asked Tom to hold my windward wing until I was in the plane and taxiing into the wind. In that breeze Takeoff was quick.

McPherson From The Air

Because it had been so hazy upon my arrival that morning, I did not have any aerials of the town. In order to accomplish this, as I left the airport I circled North and then around the East side of McPherson before heading South to Selby Aerodrome. That series is next.

Just after takeoff I turned downwind and shot this out my back window so you can see the proximity of the Refinery to the airport.

This shows the tie down area better. Most of the planes had already left. The windsock is straight out.

Northwest McPherson From 1,000′ AGL Looking Northeast

The Center of McPherson From 1,000′ AGL Looking East Southeast

Same As Above But A Wide Shot

Telephoto Of Main Street – 1,000′ AGL Looking Southeast

A Nice Housing Addition On The North Side Of Town

This is as much of the city I could squeeze into my wide angle lens from the position I was on the Northeast side. We are looking South Southwest from 1,200′ AGL.

A Long Shot With The Downtown Area Backgrounded By The Airstrip – 1,200′ AGL Looking Southwest

Football Practice

Looks like they have the Cheerleaders or Marching Band out, too!

Hwy 56 Heading West Through Town

Back To The Bogs

In the morning I had passed over this unusual wetland area at higher altitude. Now battling the fairly strong headwind I was flying lower to try to get under it. Naturally I took some more pictures of the area. This is about 7 miles Southeast of Buhler, Kansas.

Looking Southeast From 100′ AGL

Ahead I saw some white cattle fellowshipping with a large flock of cranes.

As I continued I came upon some dark cattle and deviated to the right to go around them. The birds took flight.

I dropped down to 30′ AGL to test the wind there. It was 20 and gusting.

After finally passing over the wetlands, farming activity resumed. I liked the look of their grouping of storage bins.

 Plogging Along

Ultralight Flying is not about speed, it’s about being airborne – Flying. The destinations are interesting and I enjoy them but unlike some see it, the flying part is not “time wasted between destinations”. I love being in the air.  Nonetheless, flying into a substantial headwind over time poses the potential of fuel starvation prior to destination arrival. After a couple of hours I was under that pressure. Good thing that “Momma Didn’t Raise No Fool” because I had brought my pony tank of extra gas strapped behind the seat. The only challenge was to find a suitable landing spot in order to transfer it to the main tank.

The Arkansas River 23 Miles Southeast of Hutchinson, Kansas

 A Suitable Spot

So what is a “suitable spot” for landing. Normally it is any clear, flat spot where the surface can be seen. The main concern is not to hit large rocks hidden in tall grass that also might be hiding deep ruts or animal holes. On this day, though, because of the high wind there was another requirement. I needed a “wind shade” to protect my plane from the breeze once I stepped out of it. Ultralights are so light they can tip over or motivate independently across the ground without the pilot when propelled by a wind gust. To avoid that, I taxi to the downwind side of a tree row after landing. Fortunately, in this area finding a flat field with a tree row was no problem.

As a demonstration of this principle in practice, I took the next series of shots to show you the perfect field I found.

The Field Is Fallow

The Windbreak

What is not obvious from the pictures is how hot it was. It was over 90 degrees and because I was so wise as to position myself out of the wind, it felt much hotter than that.

Since I have not been seen near enough in this report, I set up the cam on timer. After 4 times trying to get the shot I wanted, maintaining the smile became a real effort.

This was growing in the hedgerow. Note the Ladybug.

I also saw this little guy scurrying around on the ground. It took about 6 tries to get this picture because he was moving so fast. After I chased him about 20 yards he got tired and slowed down. I figure that was the human equivalent of him running about 5 miles.

The Journey Continues

After adding 2 gallons of fuel to the tank I was ready to continue. I taxied downwind, turned and lept into the air. Because I was entering a more populated area and because it was so hot down low, I flew a little higher during this final stretch.

This huge building caught my attention. I didn’t see any activity, though, so I am not sure what they would be raising in it.

A Radio Beacon Northwest Of Wichita

I always like a well-contoured field.

After crossing Highway 54 I looked East and saw this. It is still a bit hazy through the telephoto but it gives you a view of the Wichita Skyline from 2 miles East of Goddard, Kansas. I was at 1,500′ AGL.

Another Nice Contouring Job

It’s All About The Air

An interesting thing about airplanes not always apparent to non-pilots is that once an airplane is a millimeter above the ground it has nothing to do with it. By that I mean an airplane’s relationship to the ground is purely incidental once it is airborne. Since that still might sound cryptic to you, here is the gist of it.

That neat 34 mph tail wind that pushed me up to McPherson that morning combined with my Ultralight’s 38 mph airspeed yielded a ground speed of 72 mph when heading North. Coming back to my home airport into the South Wind that afternoon, though, produced the negative result of that equation. As you can see in the photo below, my GPS was reading only 20.9 mph over the ground at that instant. That is pretty much how fast (slow?) the entire trip back from McPherson was. So, a trip one can normally make in under an hour by car that day took me almost 3 hours by air. But, it was still great fun!

Another Sky Surfing Benefit! I am providing this Corn Maze Cheat Sheet for you. You just have to figure out where the maze is…

 Field In Sight

Selby Aerodrome With I-135 In The Foreground – From 1,200′ AGL Looking East

Crossing Over Selby Aerodrome & Stables From 900′ AGL Looking East

The Sky Surfer’s Quicksilver Parked Safely Out Of The Wind

When Pigs And Surfer’s Fly

Even though the trip required me to break my basic Fun Flight Rule, flying home in a headwind was not that horrible. It was the only way I was going to get to McPherson’s “When Pigs Fly” event and I am very happy I was able to make it there finally. Perhaps I will get up there next year, too.

I highly recommend the McPherson Event. Next Summer go check it out. Airplanes, Classic Cars, Award Winning BarBQ, Homemade Ice Cream, Horse Show, Tractor Pull, Live Music – Something for Everyone.

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™

Brian FitzGerald – Wichita