Monday, September 3, 2012

A visit to bluff country

I'd always heard about Rushford's little airport in the southeast corner of Minnesota, and have wanted to visit there. But up until recently, I didn't have an airplane with which to do it. Now, of course, I do so it was next up on the list of places to visit (after Madeline Island) while continuing to make adjustments to N614EF (I'm installing and bonding leg fairings at the moment).

So yesterday, MPR colleague Elizabeth Stawicki and I headed out in search of the little airport that sits on the top of a bluff. This is bluff country, where the small cities sit down in the canyon. From the air, it's not hard at all to see why a flash flood five years ago last month killed about a dozen (if I recall correctly) in the cities below.

The good news came right off the bat. Requesting flight following, Minneapolis Departure reported they could, indeed, see my Mode C transmission, and the transponder was reporting the correct altitude. That's quite a relief as the trip to Madeline Island, you may recall, featured an inoperative Mode C. The Garmin 327 automatically switches to ALT on a runway roll, but I've taken to manually recycling it during the runup to see if that changes things, and perhaps it did.

The down side, so far, is that I don't have -- and don't want -- a VOR receiver since VOR stations are being phased out and I navigate by charts and GPS. In many locations, you transmit to Flight Service on a particular frequency and listen back on a VOR frequency. That's antiquated. So I couldn't use the frequencies Departure gave me to open my flight plan and they said they couldn't do it, even though they have in the past. Whatever, we did without the flight plan since we were in communication with ATC via flight following anyway, with the exception of a 10 mile patch north of Rochester where Minneapolis Center -- at least on the frequency we were given -- can't pick us up and we can't hear them.

Eventually we got some scratchy and intermittent communication which was not understandable, but I indicated we couldn't receive and we'd try again in a few minutes.

A few minutes later, Center called us asking us how we were reading. Good service, right there.

There was no traffic to report but it's always nice knowing someone's keeping an eye out for us. Center cut us loose about 12 miles north of Rushford when they lost radar contact but, no matter, there was no traffic out yesterday and the runway was ahead of us.

An upwind entry and a pattern approach put us on Runway 16 with a slight left crosswind, but the RV-7A doesn't care too much about crosswinds and we landed fine and taxied back up to the little prefab house that constitutes the terminal.

And what a great spot it is. There's a spacious living room...

... and den...

But the big payoff was the fully stocked kitchen.

There was plenty of frozen burgers and buns in the freezer if we wanted to use the grills -- we didn't -- but there was also ice cream in there and tons of root beer for making root beer floats. Just leave the 50 cents in the can. Want to drive into town? The keys to the courtesy car are on top of the fridge.

But the day was gorgeous, why drive anywhere, what with a beautiful view, a huge deck, the ear-splitting quiet, and a root beer float to consume while watching tons of hummingbirds show off their crosswind technique?

Nearby, there's a farm. Soybeans are planted right up to the runway.

And best of all: Avgas is "only" $5.25 a gallon -- certainly the cheapest I've seen around lately. So we filled up.

Rushford is home base, by the way, for Steve Russell, who flies his powered parachute around these parts and provides some of the gorgeous videos, which I occasionally feature on the day job -- writing NewsCut for Minnesota Public Radio.

Elizabeth bought me a Rushford Aviation T-shirt -- $20, just put it in the can with the rest of the honor money -- which I'll wear with great affection for a great spot.

I'll be back.


  1. This is the first I've read of VORs being phased out. Do you have a source where that came from? I knew NDBs were being phased out, but I'd find it very alarming if VORs were.

    The last I heard, the FAA had no plans to phase out VORs because they were the only piece of navigation equipment left in modern avionics besides GPS. The problem being that GPS has and does fail on occasion in places. I'd personally never fly a plane with only GPS in a situation where IFR might be required. And a VOR receiver is required to fly an ILS approach, which at many airports still gives the lowest minimums.


  2. Mostly eliminated by 2020:

    BTW, great video. Keep up the trip logs Bob, I need the encouragement (trimming and fitting canopy...)

  3. Thanks for visiting Rushford via air! We are very proud of the airport, and have big plans to make it more accessible to more than small planes. Hopefully, this added 'traffic' will help our economic development efforts.

    Had you gone into town, you'd have been treated to awesome food (!) and stuff to see. Come back and see us again!

    And to all of your readers and listeners, 'come on down to Rushford!'

    /s/ Carolyn Dunham, Airport Commissioner

  4. I swung by Rushford yesterday, and it's every bit the jewel you described. The crew car was OTS (according to a note someone had left; I didn't try it myself), but it's a great little spot. I flew low and (relatively) slow over the valleys on my way down from MIC and loved the pastoral views.