Oct 082014

How Does This Work?

A question from a young lady in Severy (whom you will meet later) gave me the inspiration for this opening to the story. Actually, her question was, “Why did you decide to fly to Severy?”. In retrospect, I hear variations of that question often when I make my Sky Surfing Safaris to different small towns in Kansas and Oklahoma. So… The short answer is: Maps. I study maps for points of interest. Below you see a section of The Sky Surfer’s working Sky Safari map. It is constantly updated. White lines are completed trips; Yellow line paths are planned for the future. Having lived in this area for about 33 years, there are tons of towns the names of which I am familiar but the acquaintance with which I am not. That in itself is good enough reason to visit a place. In addition, some towns are famous for something and that makes them “flight worthy”. Regardless of their “star power”, every place I visit is interesting. I am never bored.

©Google 2014

Google Earth

Ok. “Maps” was the short answer. Here is the long answer.

Google Earth Satellite Maps are a particular favorite because they have various overlays one can apply. Most people in this Digital Age are familiar with the satellite views available on the web. With Google Earth you can also add overlays to show roads, national parks, airports – you name it.

Also, being able to see “photographically” the airport and town I am considering is of enormous benefit. Every single Sky Safari thus far has been to an airport I have never visited prior to that time. Non-Aviators might find this surprising but sometimes it is hard to find an airport. It is much easier when you have “seen” one and its relationship to the nearby town from space.

Other Considerations

Another particularly excellent feature of Google Earth is the software’s ability to figure distances easily.  I have to keep within an approximate 100 mile radius from my home field. That is the max distance I can fly on my gas tank. Also, I prefer towns with airports adjacent to them and on top of that it is preferred if that airport has gas available. Some towns even have “Courtesy Cars” that you can use to drive from the airport into town. That is very much appreciated.

Amenities are always nice but on occasion, I will fly to a town with no gas available on the field and No Courtesy Car – sometimes that means there isn’t even an airfield! In that case, I make contact in the town by phone and start searching for someone who knows of a field upon which I can land. My flight to Yates Center, Kansas was like that. Sometimes I will call the town Library and sometimes I will call City Hall. I just keep following leads until I get a place to land. It is an interesting process. That is what I did in planning my trip to Severy.

Folks Are Helpful

I’ve never had anyone outright refuse my request to land. Most are very interested in my quest and are very happy to help. The main challenge is to get them to understand that I am flying a “Butterfly” not a “Hawk”. The field requirements for my Quicksilver are so minimal that even most pilots are surprised. I can land and take off in distances most planes would never consider. The ideal “non-dedicated” landing field in this region is a mown hay field. They are the closest to a typical grass runway that you will find and so my basic line of inquiry is, “Do you know a hay field near town I can land on?”. The folks at Severy City Hall were very helpful. For starters they suggested I call Allan Stuber who is a pilot with his own runway four miles Northwest of town.

I called Allan and he was very pleasant. He said he could think of a few fields adjacent to the town and gave me Steve Signer’s name and phone number. Steve works at the service station across from the Co-op and Allan said he would know everybody. He did.

Mr. Steve Signer at the Service Station desk.

Last Minute

A problem I had introduced into the equation was that I didn’t select Severy until the day before the flight. An important criterion I use for selecting “Safari Towns” is the expected prevalent wind direction for the day of the flight (more about that HERE). This generally doesn’t become apparent until one or two days before the flight. Even though I had decided on it much earlier, I fooled around and waited until Friday Afternoon to find a landing field at Severy. As you might expect, most people were not waiting at their phone for me to call. I could not reach the first three people Steve suggested. Each time, I would call Steve back to tell him the “lead” he had given me was not home. He would take a moment and think of another person. Finally Rick Batson answered the phone. Rick was quite pleasant and eager to help. He said he had a hay field on the Northeast edge of town and said I was welcome to land there. He did preface his permission by making me to promise I wouldn’t crash, though. I promised I wouldn’t crash and we had a deal.

So, after about an hour and a half of last minute research, The Sky Surfer had a new port of adventure at which to dock. Next stop: Severy, Kansas!

Southwest Boulevard / K-15 heading South into Mulvane, Kansas from 600′ AGL

A Different Breed

Only a couple of miles Northeast of Mulvane I saw the white cattle below. They weren’t quite as white as shown in the photo. The brightness of the early morning sun accentuated their “whiteness” but they were definitely not the usual breeds I see in my travels.

White Cattle

A few minutes East of Derby, Kansas, this looks like a nice place to live!

Besides being attractive to look at, I always keep track of the hay fields I pass over in case I need to make an “unscheduled landing”.

Keeping with that theme, here is another hay field right after mowing. The farmer will let it lay in the sun long enough to dry it properly before putting it into bales. If it is too moist it will rot. I was looking East from about 300′ AGL.

A perfect deer hunting spot.


A number of years ago I was enthralled with the arm of mathematics called “fractals”. Fractals can be used to make never ending patterns that are useful in graphics programs to replicate the seemingly random patterns in nature. They are good for generating clouds and trees and grass, etc. While not a perfect example, the sand bar below that has a hook on the end of it is typical of a basic fractal drawing.

I think this is Stony Creek.

It’s Great To Have A Sunny Day, But…

One thing about making a Daybreak Safari is that any destination East of my home field puts the Sun directly in my eyes. I have tried a number of methods to deal with the glare (tinted goggles, a baseball cap, etc.) but mostly I fly with one hand over my eyes as a shade.

Photographic Challenge

The morning of the Severy Flight featured a high altitude cirrus cloud layer that exacerbated the “sun in the face” issue – particularly for my cameras. As the Sun beamed through this layer, the effect was of a massive, brilliant white mass shining down rather than a single point of brightness (The Sun). This is difficult enough to look toward with one’s eyes but cameras are particularly affected by it. This is why most of the previous shots look so “flat” and lack contrast in the sky. Even though these pix were not “up to par”, I decided to use them anyway to give you a look at the first leg of the trip.

180 Degree Plus Panoramic

The following three photos were taken in quick sequence to show you the magnificence of The Flint Hills. This is an area seven to ten miles Southwest of Beaumont, Kansas. You’ll have to “stitch” them together in your mind…

Directly East and directly into the glaring Sun, we see the 100 Wind Turbine Field South of Beaumont, Kansas. I am at 300′ AGL.

The view looking South

…and North.

Soon thereafter I came upon Lake Clymer which is just 2.7 miles West Northwest of Latham, Kansas.

Abrupt Topographical Change

The Windmill Farm South of Beaumont is on a relatively high ridge. As soon as I passed this massive “field of props” the scene changed dramatically. It is an area reminiscent of the “Wild West” movies of my youth. Absolutely fantastic!

More Flint Hills beauty looking South from 300′ AGL.

And, again to the North Northeast.

A solo hay barn out by its lonesome.

Severy In Sight

So. Severy is smack dab in the middle of God’s Country. Just as the GPS predicted, it is right in front of me after about an hour and a half of flight time. By this time in the morning, the air has become quite turbulent. It is pitching me around pretty good making it difficult to shoot pictures. This is not enough to stop The Sky Surfer. Even though the Sun was still glaring into the camera lens, I attempted a few wide shots of Severy approaching from the West at 800′ AGL. You won’t see any of them. They were just too washed out. To make up for this loss I took some that were much better after “pounding the ground” during my short visit. They turned out much better. They will be later in the report.

Frank Bills Trucking

Because I understood that my Landing Field Benefactor Rick Batson and his Wife Debby own Frank Bills Trucking, I made a special effort to take some aerials of it for them. It never hurts to get a different perspective on your business…

Frank Bills Trucking on the West Side of Severy, Kansas looking South from 600′ AGL.

Same as above but looking Northwest.

Thermals were beating me around but I grabbed this shot of Severy from the South before I went in search of my landing field.

Time To Land

The air was very active by now but I hadn’t achieved the shot I wanted to show my landing field in relation to the town. I had to make a couple of 360’s to line up the shot but finally got one I think set the scene for you pretty well. It is below. Because the wind was kicking up on the surface by now, after landing, I parked my plane behind the grove of trees you see at the corner of the field. This tree group protected the Quicksilver quite well.

Entering Down Wind to Severy International

Severy Welcome Wagon

It was a Saturday morning. Depending on the weather, people in the country generally have work to do on a Saturday. But, if something unusual is happening a person can take a break. Rick Batson had given me permission to land on his hay field and said his Daughter and Son-in-Law might show up. When I circled to set up for landing I noticed a bronze colored pickup approach the landing field from the direction of town. I figured it had to be the Baumgartels and it was.

A Kansas Klassic

Years ago I wrote a commercial for a Country Western Night Club that had declared itself to be “Real Country”. My visual scenario was to show a real cowboy, coming off the real range (The Flint Hills), leaving a real ranch/farm house (white board with a full porch) in a real cowboy pickup. I queried a number of folks who I figured “oughta know” to determine what a genuine cowboy truck would be and three out of three answered the same way: “A Flatbed, Dually with a Headache Rack”. Although the Baumgartel truck doesn’t have duallies, it fits the bill in all other regards. This was my Welcome Wagon.

L to R: Justin, Brock and Amber Baumgartel

Brock wanted to climb into the saddle. His boots don’t reach the stirrups yet…

El Patron Arrives

About 10 minutes after I arrived and got introduced to the Baumgartels, my landing field sponsor Rick Batson arrived in his pickup. As we will see later in the story, he was busy at work but his Daughter had told him they saw me land and he dropped by to say Hi before getting back to the grindstone.

Rick Batson with the MXL on his hay field / temporary landing strip.

 Time To Tour

Now that everyone had met the stranger from the sky, it was time to get back to work. Rick had hay to cut. Justin, Amber and Brock had errands to run after which they were going fishing. The Sky Surfer was going to walk the streets of Severy.

Even though my landing field was on the edge of town, Justin insisted on giving me a ride.

Water Makes The Difference

Out here on the plains (and everywhere else for that matter) people need water to live. At first glance it wouldn’t seem like it but the photo shows two water sources. The obvious one is the water tower with the town name on it. The not obvious water source is behind the orange fence and concrete blocks. What you are seeing is a recent discovery of a water well that dates back to the founding of Severy (originally called Gould) was found at the intersection of Main and Kansas Streets. Until they decide what to do with it, the barricade you see encircles it to keep cars from getting stuck in the hole.

High Water & Low Water

This home retains its early stone porch and chimney with everything else updated while still retaining charm from a hundred years ago.

Flowers Exotic

As I walked the streets of Severy, I was amazed at the sight of these statuesque flowers standing isolated in an empty lot. I had never seen any like them in Kansas.  They are about 24 inches tall. That they could reach this height with the winds we have in this region surprises me. As I continued to walk Severy, I learned more about these beauties.

Nearby another passel stood gossiping at the foot of a tree.

This house was very attractive but I could not get a shot of it due to the tall fence. As a “fallback”, the flower garden at curb side will give you a sense of it.

The builders of this Baptist Church building get The Surfer’s Creative Gold Star Award for incorporating some of the limestone prevalent in this area as Christ Crosses embedded in the exterior of the wall.

I don’t know how small a town has to be for it to NOT have a U.S. Post Office, but apparently with 259 people, Severy is still big enough.

It looks like The Masons built the building now the home of G.W. Meats back in 1886.

I appreciate the stone walls and the brick facades shown here.

Severy’s High School and Grade School used to be at this corner.

Across from where the Schools used to be is the Co-Op which seems to be thriving. I witnessed a significant amount of activity that Saturday.

Talk About Hospitality…

Across from the Co-Op is the Service Station. That is where Steve Signer (whom I introduced to you earlier) works. After landing and walking about the residential area on the South side of town, I decided to look for Steve who had been my first telephone contact in Severy. The two pictures I have in this report of Steve might give a wrong impression. He wasn’t at the desk when I found him but was out in the garage working on a tire. After I introduced myself, he suggested we go inside where it was air conditioned. As I was taking a break and had a bona fide Severy resident with me I pulled out my notepad to inscribe matters of interest I knew would evolve from our conversation. That’s when I discovered that my pen had left my pocket during the aerial transition from Selby to Severy. I asked Steve if I could borrow a pen to write a couple of things down. He did me one better and said he would give me one of the Co-Op pens to keep. Excellent!

Before I started taking notes, though, a customer came in and Steve had to break away. While he attended to that, I dug a quart sized Mountain Dew from the Co-Op’s display refrigerator. It was hovering under 100 degrees that day and I hadn’t had anything to drink all day. That’s my excuse because I started drinking it before I paid for it. I can’t remember ever doing something that before but, man, I was parched. As soon as Steve finished with his customer I plopped my half full Dew on the counter with my credit card. Steve says, “We don’t take ’em”. Great… And I didn’t have any cash. Steve says, “No big thing. It’s on the house”.

Steve Signer at the Severy Co-Op Service Desk.

 Refreshed And Ready To Roll

I thanked Steve for his hospitality while mentally chastising myself for not keeping a spare $20 in my wallet. A customer rolled up with a flat tire that was off the rim. Steve had to get back to work so I said Goodbye and continued my tour of Severy.

I like when masons fit all the stones together to form a wall.

Another fine, stone building.

Houses like these remind me of Oz.

The Cornett’s have their own Tornado Alarm.

We Meet Again

Wandering around the Northwest part of town I see yet another passel of the special flowers again. Again, growing without any appearance of cultivation, they seem to spring from the ground.

More of the statuesque beauties.

Naked Ladies

As I came around the house you see above I saw Paul Wade. While I was taking pictures of the flowers in their yard his Wife Jean who was mowing the grass pulled up to him motioning in my direction. They were a ways off so I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I’m sure she was a bit disconcerted that a stranger was taking pictures of their house. I made my way to that side of the property and introduced myself to Paul. He told me he had been born in Piedmont which is exactly West of Severy 7.5 miles. A few years ago he had retired from 33 years at Boeing working the turret lathe and the grinders. I checked out Piedmont on the map and it is even smaller than Severy.

Seein’s how Paul had some of these eye-catching flowers in his yard I figured he would know what they are. He said they are Naked Ladies. I looked them up and they are also called Belladonna Lilies or Belladonna Amaryllis and they grow wild in these parts.

Always A Craftsman

I know a lot of guys who work in the Aircraft Manufacturing Business. Even though the industry has tried to incorporate Henry Ford’s “assembly line” techniques, a good bit of airplane building is still a craftsman-oriented process. I always liked that Beechcraft  called their craftsmenBeechcrafters. One thing that sets a craftsman apart from a mere “worker” is active ingenuity, an on-going desire to improve things and having personal satisfaction from building objects. Craftsmen don’t have to be “managed” into doing good work but you have to give them some “space” in which to create.

The picture below exhibits this genius to me embodied in the barrel you see at the corner of the house. Water being scarce at times on the plains, it is wise to conserve it. So, Paul designed a rainwater reclamation system to water the lawn. The barrel stores overflow. From the looks of his grass it must work pretty well.

Paul Wade, his house, his rainwater reclamation system and Jean still mowing…

This stone house is also an office for an oil company.

We just can’t get enough of those Sunflowers in Kansas!

I like this Yard Collage featuring so many Symbols of The Great Plains.

Lunch Time

As they dropped me off in town, I had told Justin and Amber I would take them to lunch if they wanted to later. After circumnavigating Severy on foot for a couple of hours I    b to see what verdict they had reached. They said the timing was perfect and they would come get me. I described the road I was on and they were there in minutes. Yes. Severy has cell service. They said if I wouldn’t mind, though, they needed to take lunch out to Rick where he was working in the field.

Salesmen around Wichita say they are“out in the field” when in reality they are making sales calls around town. Rick really works in the field…

We drove about 10 miles Northeast to Fall River Lake.

Strange Omission

As you can tell by my reports, I take pictures of about everything you can imagine. Even then I only use about half of what I take “in the field”. Out near Fall River Lake we ate at a place called Tri-Corner Restaurant. I  had an absolutely superb burger and house fries there. It is also where we picked up Rick’s lunch. Unfortunately you are not going to see the Tri-Corner because my pictures of it have vanished. Nonetheless, you can see its Facebook page HERE.

After eating at Tri-Corner, we tracked Rick down.

As we pulled up, Rick’s partner drove by in his John Deere hauling a “wheel rake” behind him. This device funnels a wide swath of hay laying on the ground into a long stack so the “baler” can pick it up more efficiently.

Amber and Brock jumped out of the pickup and ran over to Rick. Here you can see both of the big rigs. The wheel rake kept working but Rick shut his motor down to clear the air filter of his John Deere. He also stopped for a moment to get lunch and say “Hi”.

Rick opens the door to the tractor’s air filter. It was hot that day and I’m sure he didn’t want to risk overheating the engine.

Justin lends a hand. This rig is brand new. Very impressive.

While everyone was attending to the air filter cleanout, Brock jumped into the cab.

I knew Rick didn’t have much time but I got him to pose for one “Man & Machine” shot before we headed back to Severy. Cutting hay is all about timing and when it is “time”, you gotta get it done.

One More Stop

On the way back to Severy I asked if there might be anything I had missed. Justin and Amber asked if I went to Brody’s Park. I said I saw a park but before taking a picture of it, my attention was diverted by the Senior Center and other buildings on the other side of Kansas Avenue. They told me The Park was named in remembrance of young Brody Hurt who had died of cancer. I asked if we could detour back into town to get a shot of the park before they dropped me off at my airplane. While writing this story I found many references to Brody’s Park on The Web. A product of the community wanting to assuage the family’s loss of their young boy, this park has become a favorite meeting place for many in the ensuing years.

 Not The Norm

Although it was quite windy that day I did not tie down the Quicksilver. This is completely out of character for me. I have seen these Ultralights flip up on a wing or even upside down from a wind gust. After landing, though, I had a high confidence level that the wind would maintain its Southwesterly direction throughout the day. The trees I parked the airplane next to provided a perfect wind block. By the time the Baumgartel’s dropped me off it was mid afternoon. The wind was gusting and hot.

One More Task To Complete

Now that the clouds had opened up, the sun was providing better lighting than when I arrived that morning. I decided to shoot some more aerials of Severy before I departed the scene.

Looking West Southwest from about 150′ AGL, here is Severy’s town center. Brody’s Park is to the right and behind the Water Tower.

Embarrassing Disclosure

While reviewing these pictures I notice a large attractive building in the general downtown area with a new red roof.  While touring the town I completely missed it. I checked and it is The Severy United Methodist Church. I should have seen it when I took the pictures of the School Markers but the tall trees blocked The Church from my view at that time. Then I headed in another direction and proceeded to not see it from the ground…

Severy from about 200′ AGL looking West Northwest. The red roof of the Methodist Church is clearly visible in this photo.

One more shot of Frank N. Bills Trucking as seen from the Southeast at 400′ AGL.

Back On The Plains

I would be fighting a Southerly headwind of 22 gusting to 29 mph all the way home. So, after gaining the altitude to shoot the pictures of Severy I dropped down to between 10′ and  50′ above the ground (AGL). In this “boundary layer”, the wind’s force is mitigated and I could make better progress.

Looking West from about 30′ AGL. This is the Heart of Kansas’ Flint Hills.

Approaching the ridge containing 100 wind generators South of Beaumont, Kansas, I saw these beautiful red flowers. Even though the air was very turbulent, I was able to grab this shot from about 20′ AGL.

A UGO Is Spotted

Approaching the Wind Farm area from the East, I saw an Unknown Ground Object. I can’t figure what it is. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Like three intertwined circles, this UGO is probably a landing spot for Extraterrestrial Vehicles. The four posts at each point of the compass are obviously antennae using an unknown electromagnetic frequency.

Just as I crossed over a ridge these horses cooling their hooves came into view. I snapped the shot off my right wing through the flying cables because I couldn’t afford the gas to circle around and get a better shot.

Tank Top Off

I brought a couple of extra gallons of fuel behind the seat in case the headwind conspired to keep me from returning to base. After fighting the headwind for over an hour this appeared to be a likely outcome. So, I dropped into a mowed hayfield to pour the extra gas in the tank. It’s a good thing I did this because I’m sure I would have been calling my Dear Wife Debra to bring me some gas if I hadn’t. The picture below was shot facing Southwest. The wind was directly from the South. It was so windy at this point in the day that when I climbed out of the seat after landing, the plane started rolling North with the wind. I had to quickly turn it “tail into the wind” for better stability and haul it behind the “wind shadow” these scrub trees afforded.

You can tell how hard the wind was blowing by examining the branches at the top of the green trees. They are tilted to the North.

Stowaway Discovered

After the short stop in the hay field to increase my usable fuel, I took to the air again. With the turbulence, it was like riding a bucking bronco most of the way back. While “working the waves” back to Selby I noticed a curious site on one of my Movie Camera Mounts. It was a grasshopper hanging on against the 50 mph wind. He was trying to fathom what on earth he had gotten himself into. For about 10 minutes he slowly worked his way around the camera mount determining his best egress route. After he determined he could make it, he let go and flew to the ground.

Top Secret “Forse” Mounts

I have mentioned a couple of times that the Severy Trip included 6 Movie Cameras mounted on the plane. Some of the camera positions utilize what I call “Forse Mounts” named in honor of Ace Airplane Buddy Don Forse. When he is not flying, Don’s day job is as a trouble-shooter tech in the experimental department of Cessna Aircraft. This winter I embarked on the plan to install 5 to 7 cameras on my Quicksilver. I had been having much trouble eliminating the high frequency vibration affecting the cameras. Between the 2,o00 to 6,000 rpm engine vibration, the 2,300 or so rpm drumbeat of the propeller and the aerodynamic buffeting, it is quite an art to stabilize a camera on an Ultralight – even at only 40 miles per hour. Mounting 1 camera is bad enough but putting 6 cams around the plane magnifies the frustration by that number… I had tried a number of fixtures designed to eliminate these obstacles over the last 5 years. None was completely satisfying. I had been discussing this with Don when one day he had an interesting idea. I decided to employ it and it seems to work the best of anything thus far. Because this technique is Top Secret the Forse Mounts featuring the stowaway cricket are obscured.

PROMO: The Sky Surfer’s YouTube Channel

I’m thinking I don’t promote this enough but in addition to The Flite Blog™, I have a YouTube Channel with loads of movies I have produced over the years. If you have not been to it yet, click HERE and become a subscriber. That way you will be informed when the new 6 Camera Sky Surfing Movies go on line. They will put you on the Quicksilver with me.

Mr. Grasshopper considers his predicament at 300′ AGL. Airspeed 48 mph.

A closeup just before he bailed out.

An Eventful Non-Event

It was one of the more “physical” flights I had flown in quite a while. Buddies around here will vouch that I fly in “active air”. I like the challenge of negotiating the air currents and find it quite enjoyable. “Working the wind” and conserving fuel at the same time makes it even more interesting. Additionally, this flight served as a reminder to bring water when it is hot.

One of my favorite movies is Flight of the Phoenix and I was thinking about it that day. If you have never seen it, it is the story of a crew that crashed a C-119 in the Sahara. There is much more to the plot but suffice to say, they had very little water between them. Sitting out in the 100 degree, 45 mph wind for a couple of hours really dried me out. One result of this is that after a while I couldn’t even breathe through my nose anymore. I had to fly with my mouth open which made it all worse. My tongue was as dry as an old leather shoe. Even though it wasn’t as dramatic as being stuck in the desert or marooned on a desert island, it was interesting to be “stuck” in the air, passing over creeks and ponds but unable to drink the water below. More than once I strongly considered landing next to a creek to get a drink. My concern for running out of fuel overrode that desire, though. When you get real thirsty, your mind continuously thinks about water.

Anyway, the final leg of the flight from East of Douglass, Kansas to Selby I have crossed so many times while Sky Surfing – I didn’t take many more pictures. Well, just these last two which follow the movie line I just ran down to you…

A reminder of the Sahara Desert (Southwest Butler Quarry)

…and this reminder (The Ninnescah River) of the cool well water I would drink after landing.

No Complaints

Upon editing this piece I realize I may be giving the impression my return trip from Severy was some kind of hassle (a Surf Talk synonym for “bummer”). Nothing could be farther from the truth! As my Buddy Lynn Bebermeyer says, “Every flight is different” – A Basic Truth Of Life if I ever heard one.

Besides, any flight that ends so you can push the airplane back into the hangar is a great flight! God willing, I hope to bring you many more here on The Flite Blog™.

Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™

Brian FitzGerald – The Sky Surfer