We finally left Paine at 10:30, after getting our VOR's checked by our mechanic, Joe. This was done, since the VOR at PAE was unuseable below 10000 ft, and the weather was definitely IFR, so we needed the VORs tested. We were in the clouds almost immediately at 300' Shortly after that I noticed the transponder wasn't working, and so did Seattle Center. They vectored me all over the place, and finally let me continue on to Spokane. The controllers were really interested in where I was since the transponder was not working. I had to make numerous position reports.
The ILS approach to Spokane was down to about 800 ft, but could have been lower, the ceiling was just 800 ft above the end of the runway. The secretary at the local FBO recommended a restaurant a few miles away, and we used the loaner car to get there. While waiting for the weather to improve, We talked to a retired airline pilot who was going over performance charts of a small twin, he had a checkride later that day. He mentioned how strange it was to fly a plane by yourself when you were used to having 2 other people in the cockpit, for the past 20 years. He also had some fatherly advice about not flying into an area of thunderstorms especially in the plains states. He listed not only the obvious flight danger, but the danger of hailstones inches in diameter, and what they can do to the wings of a light plane, parked out in the open. The weather did not improve so we ended up getting a hotel room for the night.
The next morning the weather was a little better, and the thunderstorms were supposed to be east of our route to Haver. About 30 minutes from Missoula, Seattle Center broadcast a Sigmet for level 3 thunderstorms from Great Falls north, there was no way we could get around these, since we were in the clouds. I asked the controller if I could change my destination to Missoula, due to the weather. We were cleared for the ILS approach into Missoula.
We tried to get the transponder fixed at the local avionics shop, but the repairmen hadn't even seen a transponder as old as ours for years, and did not have the manuals and hookups for the transponder. The repairman did say they had a shop in Billings that could definitely fix it. We had lunch at the airport restaurant, which was filled with lots of smoke jumpers and a few military personnel. The weather did not improve all day. We stayed at a hotel for the night.
The next morning I was worried about getting out of Missoula IFR. The climb rate of a fully loaded Navion at the the height of Missoula airport is not good enough for the IFR departure procedures. I asked a pilot of a jet how he would handle this dilemma. He listed procedures, like going out backwards on the ILS, or the VOR approaches, but these would not work, again the climb rate... The jet pilot pointed out that anything authorized by the tower, or approach control to get on an airway would work. He also said "I have not had to worry about climb rate for a long time, I just point and go..." We fueled up, and tried to leave, but the mag check failed. The EGT showed that right mag. cylinder #2 was not firing. After getting the fouled plug cleaned, we were rolling. I decided to tell the tower I wished to enter a hold over the VOR until I reached 9000 ft. The tower told me to standby and cleared me to climb out on a radial, and back to the VOR then direct. I ripped out the VFR map, and saw that even with the small climb rate I had, I would be in a valley, and in no danger of running into any mountains, so I accepted the clearance. The weather was much better, and we arrived at Billings without incident.
The temperature was in the 90s and we heard the good news that the avionics shop could fix the transponder, and did just before the shop closed. While the transponder was getting fixed, we walked to the main terminal, had lunch, and visited the Flight service station in the main building, to find out what the weather was like to Bismark.
We made it to Bismark after a long day and slept for about 9 hours that night. After brunch we took off for Eau Claire, and made it with time to spare to try and reach Oshkosh. Unfortunatly the weather at Oshkosh was IFR for the 1/2 hour window we had to get into Oshkosh.
At Eau Claire there were about 50 attack copters from the Air National Gard landing, refueling, and taking off. We did talk to several of them. The FBO was really makning money on fuel sales that day. Wealso ran into a couple of old pilots there who had just flown down from alaska in a Cessina 182, and were trying to get someplace east of Oshkosh. These two characters were determined to get out that night, but the weather would not cooperate for them either, so we saw them early the next morning.
There was a real old timer 65ish? at Eau Claire who was actually going to be in the airshow at Oshkosh on Monday. He asked me to get into his homebuilt beautiful biplane, so he could handprop it. I hesitated, having never done this before, and a former student of his grabbed the honor of starting this wonderful biplane. We left Eau Claire sunday under MVFR and managed to work around large sections of IFR/rain, using the ADF and occasionally the VOR at fairly low altitudes. We got to within 30 nm of Oshkosh, before running into an IFR section we could not get over, or under, or around. The IFR weather was beginning to close in, and I ducked into a small airport at Waupaca. I used the NDB to find the airport, and had to enter a "modified" 45 entry to the downwind consisting of a tight spiral to TPA, to avoid the IFR conditions enchroaching on the airfield.
We spent many hours eating candybars, chips, and dried apricots waiting for the weather to clear, and then for Oshkosh to open, after the airshow. The planes started to come into the airport in large numbers, all turned back from Oshkosh. There were a couple of pilots from California, who had left around the same time as we did, and had very similar problems getting to Oshkosh. It was quite an uplift to hear we weren't the only ones faced with bad weather, and getting stuck following a cold front that would not move, and all the thunderstorms that went along with this cold front. Then there were some tall middle aged Canadians, who still had their hiking boots on, in the 80 degree heat. One of them told me about a night landing they made at a small airport. They were buzzing the treetops at no more than 200' they kept circling, and circling the airport in almost total darkness, finally someone who happened to be at the airport turned on the runway lights, and they landed. They later found out the landing lights were keyed to the Unicom frequency and they could have turned them on themselves. The guy at the airport had hollered at them after they got down, and told them how lucky they were to be alive. Seems there was a 400ft smokestack near the airport, and it was just dumb luck they didn't hit it. Then the Canadians got phylisophical, talking about life, death and flying. There were a couple of guys, Ed, and Pete who had left from Renton, on friday two days after we left Everett, and they had caught up to us. They were flying a small Tri-Pacer, with a cruise speed of only 100 mph, and primitive instrumentation compared to us, AND THEY CAUGHT US! The weather is definitely a deciding factor in flying. These guys used highways for navigation, since their VOR reciever only worked once in a while, and they had no ADF. After waiting for the Oshkosh airshow to finish, we learned that the airport was closed due to soggy ground preventing taxiing. We decided to fly back to Stevens Point to stay for the night. The Canadians had left an hour earlier, having given up on getting to Oshkosh for the day. We took off for Stevens Point pretty close to sundown, after the last possible hope for getting to Oshkosh had gone. It was supposed to be VFR weather, but the temperature/dewpoint spread was small, and as soon as I was up in the air, I could tell the visibility was decreasing, still VFR but decreasing. I pushed the plane to full throttle to get to Stevens Point before the visibility was too low. 7 miles out I finally powered backto 18" and I entered a 4 mile final once Dave pointed out the runway, still going quite fast I descended 200 ft below the traffic pattern altitude, and entered a steep climb to drop the speed to 100mph, dropped the gear, and dumped the flaps, we landed o.k.
While taxiing all over the field trying to find a tiedown that was not under a foot of water, someone on Unicom told us we could just park in the grass next to the tiedowns. Then we heard a familiar voice call up, and request us to leave our lights on. At first I thought someone was asking me to turn off my lights, due to the blinding factor. It was Pete and Ed in their Tri-Pacer, they were inbound and did not have the airport in sight. They asked me again to leave my lights on, so I turned on everything in the plane. They eventually saw the runway, landed, and parked next to us. We called a hotel in town and got a room. Pete, and Ed rode in with us, and we all had dinner together at the motel, with comedeans doing their thing in the diner/nightclub. Pete and Ed went back to the airport, to camp under their plane. The next morning there were several planes waiting to get into Oshkosh but the parking was saturated. Finally Dave and I decided now, or never and took off to get sequenced to land at Oshkosh. The airport closed to landings, due to general parking saturation, 7 planes before we would have landed. We pressed on, since we were in a showplane. There were 2 light twins in front of us, we were supposed to be doing 100mph single file, but everyone in front of us just kept slowing down, the 2 twins were doing S turns, I stayed behind them, waiting to get in, but these guys just kept getting closer, and closer. I finally broke off, went all the way back out to the initial reporting point, and identified myself as "Showplane 91768" I had heard the Tri-Pacer, which was behind us, get in as a showplane, while we were backtracking to get into line again. It worked, I was cleared to land. They had us landing on the taxiway, same as last year, except, this year I was asked to land short, and stop prior to the first taxiway, if possible. I said I would try, dumped the rest of the flaps, and made it with room to spare. We were FINALLY at Oshkosh, and it was great.
We left after the airshow on Tuesday, to go to Central Wisconsin. About 20 miles out I heard a large twin reporting taking off headed directly towards us. There were also numerous aircraft in the area, so I slowed to 100 mph, dropped the gear, and turned on the landing lights.
We landed and I had froglegs, 6 big ones, for dinner. We spent the night and took off the next morning. But while trying to start the engine, the power suddenly went dead after a few minutes of cranking. I opened the battery compartment, and was greeted by a billow of stinking smoke. I jumped out of the plane, and told Dave to do the same. After the smoke settled down, we had a mechanic look at the battery, and charge it back up. Seems the terminals were dirty, and or loose enough to create an area of arcing, and then a non-conducting oxidized layer. After cleaning the contacts with a fully charged battery, we were on our way. After 4.5 hours we were approaching Devils Lake, the weather was good VFR, and I wanted to see what the performance of the plane with the power off. So at 10000 ft. after having the power at 18" for 2 minuites, over the airport I pulled the power all the way off, and pulled the prop all the way back. The plane descended at about 700 ft/min, at 75 mph, but it required almost full left rudder, not a good stable position to be in at slow speeds. If we had to make a left turn of any bank at all we would have run out of rudder control. At 80 mph, with the gear down it was a much more stable approach although the descent rate went up to 1000 ft/min. I tried an approach to the runway, but got anxious and dumped some flaps a little early. If this was an actual emergency I would have landed a little short of the runway. I blame the suprise 28 knot winds a little bit, but I still shouldn't have dropped the flaps until I was worried about landing too far down the runway. The reason I was so far out was I was descending straight and level to get an accurate descent reading, and misjuged the 1/2 point to turn back. Anyway the ground was flat all over the place so it would not have mattered.
After landing we took the courtesy car into town to have lunch. After getting back I called Flight Service, and found the weather was supposed to be a chance of thunderstorms, but good VFR, so I decided to take off and deviate around the thunderstorms. As soon as I was above 2000 AGL I started trying to call Center, they did not hear me. I relayed through Flight service, transmitting on 122.1, and listening on the VOR, all of this time I was trying to climb up to our assigned altitude on a very hot day. I still could not reach Center, but continued to pass information through the Flight service. Meanwhile, we were headed towards some pretty nasty weather, and no way around it. I had already requested a deviation to the south for weather, and faced with the dubious communication chain to center, which I was told by flight service could be done from VOR to VOR, as soon as I started to enter the clouds, I called Flight service while executing a steep bank 180 with a large descent to get back to where I knew there was VFR weather, and the airport directly behind me, and cancelled my IFR there was far too much wrong with this picture. By the time I was done talking with Flight service, I was in VFR conditions, and flight service said They, and the Center agreed with my decision to bailout. On the ground we watched as thunder and lightning, and winds gusting to 30 mph, and rain coming down sideways went by. Some of the ag pilots and owners at the airport called up their buddies, who reported hail in town. Guess we made the right decision. Later that day, the skies cleared, and we were off. I had filed a VFR flightplan to Williston, but I was getting hungry, and it was getting late, and I was not current for night flight. Instead I called flight service told them I was changing my destination to Minot, and started my descent. Minot asked me if I had the airport in sight. I had what appeared to be the runway lights in in sight, and after having the tower turn up the runway lights I called airport in sight, and landed. There was a biplane doing acrobatics just north of the airport, quite a show in the rapidly fading light.
We ate dinner at a MacDonalds. I went back for seconds. I was going to do some night flying and did not want to be hungry. I went out and preflighted the plane using a flashlight, it had been a while since I had done that. After getting out the Jeppsen chart of Minot airport I was ready to go do 3 full stop night landings. The tower had closed, and all I had to do was taxi to runway 26 and get on with it. Well I got lost and spent about 15 minuites taxiing around trying to find it, and worrying about someone coming out and telling me to get off the taxiways, and trying to keep the runway lights on by keying the mike. Eventually I found the runway and while doing my runup I heard, and saw a commercial carrier jet coming in on a crossing runway, and announced myself holding short at the end of runway 26. Sure enough after the jet landed he announced clear the active, and I was off. I turned crosswind and checked my orientation with the runway. The runway had dissapeared the lights were so directional that you could only see them in a narrow cone around the centerline, at least at traffic pattern altitude. I turned about where I figured downwind was, and continued on. I started picking out brighter lights that were about where the approach end of the runway should be. I flew just past these turned onto what I hoped was base and started picking out the runway. The first landing was not smooth I flared a bit too low. Good thing the Navion has good solid struts. It was then obvious why there is a 3 full stop landing at night in the last 90 day rule before carrying passengers. All the time I was in the pattern the sky in the distance was lighting up with lightning. I knew I would not be flying anywhere that night. The other 2 landings were much better and on landing the 3rd time I started my taxi back to parking. The runway lights were not responding to my transmissions on the ground, and I had to hunt around for the taxiway with my landing lights. After parking and climbing out. I noticed I had been sweating. When I got back to the airport around midnight, there was a bat flying around the airport terminal. I am not kidding. There was a flight line mechanic who finally bonked the bat with a broom, and knocked it out, or killed it. The next morning after getting the weather I filed IFR to Great Falls and took off. About 40 miles from Havre, Mont. We started to run into up and down drafts in excess of 500 ft/min, some up to 1000 ft/min. The sky was clear, and the controller cleared us for everything above the minimum altitude (5500 ft) We only deviated a few hundred feet on the worst of the downdrafts. And around Havre, we started to pick up moderate turbulence as well. Our airspeed varied from 90 mph (best climb) to 165 mph, with full power at the 90 mph rate, and very low power at the 165 mph end. It was a bumpy ride all the way to the ground at Great Falls. It felt as if I had been in a fight. I relaxed had some coffee, and we ate lunch.
After eating lunch and visiting the Flight Service Station I filed IFR to Paine Field/Everett, and we had the smoothest flight of all. Once due to my fatigue I thought my VOR had died, but quickly regained my concentration, so the total freak out time was only a minuite or so. I had flown for about 7 hours since that morning by then, nothing out of the ordinary happened, until we had completed our descent to around 3000ft about 20 miles east of Paine field. The controller asked me to call the airport in sight, and I suprised him by responding immediately. The plane is stationed at Paine, so I knew where to look.
We landed after flying 9 hours in one day. I was exausted, and happy to be home. I am sure my passenger was too. I think I will have to go again next year.Tim Corrie N91768