J.W. French, whose barnstorming messages I've been posting in a willy nilly fashion over the last few weeks, completed his mission to fly to all 48 lower states when he arrived in South Dakota Friday night. Today he was to launch for Sky Harbor airport in Minnesota and he's expressed interest in taking me up on my invitation to spend a night in the Twin Cities on Monday.
One of these days, I will write a missive on why I'm not in a local EAA chapter in the Twin Cities. Suffice it to say, my attempts to stir up some interest in Mr. French and join us to greet him has been met with a general shrug of the collective EAA chapters shoulders in these parts. Is it all of aviation or is it just Minnesota that isn't excited by a chance to hear about his exploits?
"There was a time when people in an entire town would turn out to greet a barnstomer," I said to my wife this morning. "Now, even pilots don't give a rip." It's pretty sad, and -- frankly -- a little embarrassing to me and the Twin Cities. Think of it: This guy started out this summer down in Florida, went around the Gulf, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, up through California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and all along the way he met members of EAA chapters who were thrilled to have him.
Up here? Not much of anything. Shameful. We talk about how we can stir up an interest in general aviation among the non-pilots, and we can't even light a spark among the pilots.
In any case, I've let him know it's up to him whether he wants to spend the evening with the likes of the Collins family. Just in case, I cleaned the hangar and moved the project off to the side. So at least something good will come of this...
Oh, by the way, here's Mr. French's latest e-mail:
Friday morning Bob Little from Chapter 344 was at the airport to see me off for Billings, Mt. I was really looking forward to this leg of the trip, because this would be the last of dealing with the "Big Rocks." I elected to go south out of Helena to Bozeman, MT and follow the interstsate to Billings. There really big rocks to deal with in the pass east of Bozeman, and was glad to get that behind me.
The ceiling and visibility were great and the air was calm most of the way, with the exception of going through the pass were light chop prevailed. Billings tower cleared be for a long final to runway 11 left, so I again had to use my negotiating skills to get a 45 degree entry to to right downwind for 11, but the tower was cooperative. I was directed to Dave Standish's hangar on the west end of the field and stopped at the Chapter 57 and introduced myself to a member there. Dave's brother, Mark was there to meet me shortly and the knife-and-fork lodge was opened in due and ancient form.
That evening we visited the Chapter 57 hangar and I met Pat Kinney, the local middle school science teacher who mentored the young ladies who recovered a famous Pietenpol, and received recognition for there efforts that included an educational camp at EAA headquarters. Their project received a lot of good press. One of the young ladies is now building a Pietenpol Sky Camper. Other project in the chapter hangar include at Dorme Bathturb, a Stitts Playboy, a Starduster II, and restoration of a Culver Cadet. This chapter is really active in involving young people in aviation.
Mark Standish and his brother Dave have completed and are flying a Lancair IV. During my daily call to my wife, Vicky, we wished each other happy 10th anniversary.
Saturday July 19th, Mark saw me off on the way to mission completion. My plan for the day was to land at Bowman, ND for fuel to claim the 47th state for the Sam Burgess Memorial Junket and then spend the night at Mobridge, SD for mission accomplished.
I had not lost one day of flying since I left Ft. Myers, FL on June 15th, and success was just in sight. As soon as the XM weather came up on my Garmin 396 there were the Big Nasties to the north of Billings. I scrolled out along my intended line of flight and by deviating to the south and going on a straight line to Bowman I could stay out of the thunderstorms and rain. I had a front row seat for the fireworks to the north of me but I had a clear shot to Bowman.
After refueling at Bowman, ND I scrolled ahead on the XM weather on the GPS and found that Mobridge,SD was still on the edge of thunderstorm and shower activity and was still IFR. Maybe today wouldn't be the day I got to claim the 48th state. By the time I was 40 miles out from Mobridge the conditions went VFR and ceiling and visibility were not an issue when I got there, but there was a 20-knot wind right down the runway. The 48th state for the Sam Burgess Memorial Junket was now an accomplished fact.
Virgil, the airport manager, had me refueled in short order. He made arrangement at a local motel, handed me the keys to the courtesy car and told me where the best food in town was served. I'm not really a fan of fish, but the fresh-caught walleye pike there was outstanding. About 7:00 p.m. Virgil called me at the motel to tell me that he hoped I didn't mind, but he had gone back to the airport and put the Acro Sport in his hangar because it looked like the thunderstorm activity was coming back during the night and there might be hail in it.
Hello, Castle and Cooke, you could certainly take lessons from Virgil. What a great guy. In the morning it was off to Alexandria, MN. Now the pressure was off, because the mission was complete. Well, not exactly, Alexandria was in and out of IFR, and just on the edge of thundershowers when I left Mobridge, SD, and by the time I got to Britton, SD I elected to land and get fuel and wait the weather out. Finally I launched for Alexandria and watched it drift in and out of IFR conditions on the XM weather of my GPS. When I got about 10 miles out it was touch and go, but it opened up enough to get in. The stiff cross wind that the ASOS was reporting was really pretty much down the runway, and everything worked out alright.
Dan Barber was there to meet me and directed me to his hangar. That evening about 15 members of Chapter 702 were there at Dan's hangar for a cookout. Dan has a Stearman, an Aviat Husky and a Cirrus in his hangar, and the other members of the chapter had some interesting airplanes. Dan told me later that only two of the members there didn't own tailwheel airplanes, so it was really my kind of crowd.
After we ate they asked me to share my recollections of the life and times of Sam Burgess and the trip I had made in his memory. Sunday morning 7/20 found the ceiling just above the top of my socks, and it is now 2 PM and we are still waiting in Dan's hangar so I can make the the one hour trip to Sky Harbor (1MN8) south of Minneapolis, MN and RON with Chuck Doyle.
There are now big holes in the overcast so I should be able to leave soon.
You can also follow along on Mr. French's odyssey on the EAA site.