Sunday, June 16, 2013

Aloft and away...and Warbirds!

Saturday morning, I dropped my dear mother off at the airport for her trip home. For some reason, she didn't care for a Cessna ride back to Michigan. Just as well though, because the weather's not looking at all conducive for a return flight over any of the next few days. However, Saturday's weather was great, and in the process of planning an intended Michigan flight, I found out about an event a couple of flying hours away that warranted a trip. So...

Off we go, on a heading of 335 degrees.

Half the fun of going somewhere is the trip itself. You never know what you'll see below you. Like here, in Berkley Springs, WV. It's the world's largest reel-to-reel tape player!
Or maybe it's just a water treatment plant. But it got my attention.

And then there's the Sideling Hill cut where I-68 chops through the mountain ridge just west of Hancock, MD.

Windmills galore northwest of Bedford, PA.

And the airport at Johnstown, PA, named after that slug John Murtha, unindicted conspirator from the ABSCAM scandal and basher of US Marines in Iraq. He's also famous for abusing his power in Congress to steer hundreds of millions of dollars to this formerly tiny airport that no one was using.
It is a nice airport, but almost no one uses it while the entire country gets taxed to pay for it, including a subsidy for every one of the few people who do use it.

But their Air Traffic Controllers were nice as they picked me up and gave me flight following all the way to my destination, which came in handy as the airspace around my destination was full on this day. They were giving me constant warnings of other aircraft in my immediate vicinity, none of which I could actually spot. At one time, there were four others within four miles of me and I couldn't see any of them. So I just turned on all my flashy blinky stuff, hoping that they could see me, and then I shed some altitude since they were all in the 4,000-6,000 foot range. My destination pattern altitude was 2,400 feet, so a drop to 3,000 gave me a little more separation from the others.

So I flew past this neat man-made lake...

And I joined the busy pattern at Indiana County, PA's Jimmy Stewart Airport.
I was actually in the pattern with a T-6 Texan and a Stearman bi-plane. How cool is that?

There were others too, though. The airport was hosting an open house and everyone was flying in or flying around.

I came around, lined up nice despite a stiff crosswind breeze, and slid in for a nice landing...or at least a nice one until I passed an opening between the hangars where the breeze was funneling through. The wind caught me in my flare and I dropped down onto one wheel and started skidding for the field lights before I got it straightened out with an application of power that brought the nose around and took me past the turn-off point as a bonus. And naturally, there were only a couple hundred plane-watchers sitting there along the runway to watch me land like a complete prat. I taxied back in from the far turn-off and since the guy in the orange STAFF shirt wasn't giving me any direction at all, I just coasted down to the end of a row of airplanes and parked myself on the grass. Then I walked back past all of the plane watchers, trying not to make eye contact after that landing.

But then a Pitts biplane came down and the same wind caught him. He bounced half way down the field and the audience broke out with fresh chuckles and snide comments; I was apparently forgotten. (But I can only imagine how they sounded when I screeched past all kittywumpus.) Then a T-6 made a less-than-stellar landing and I started to feel better. It wasn't just me. And the hell with these people; I still flew in here. Most of them likely didn't.
So I walked on, head held high, and went to see the planes.

There was this fantastic T-6.
And this one was the one fling around, offering rides.

There was a B-25 here, too.
It was an "H" model, with the 75mm gun up front in addition to six .50 machine guns.

There was a C-46.
There was some Eastern-Bloc L-29 jet action.

And the one that I came to see--The Boeing PT-17 Stearman.
They were selling rides on this one. I came to give that a whack because I'm kinda toying with the idea of buying one and I wanted to see if I could handle it's rudder pedals. I told them that I'd love to pay for a ride ($$$!) but only if I could try my hand at maneuvering it both on the ground and in the air. Not surprisingly, they weren't terribly keen on the idea at first, and when they saw the steel foot, it was pretty much: "Have a nice day and enjoy the rest of the displays." Oh well. Can't blame a guy for trying. (The B-25 guys wouldn't let me fly theirs, either. But no harm in asking, right?)

But then I found this one.
It's much nicer than the other one. (Osh Kosh award winner, 2012) And it's owners, Mike and Andy, spent a ton of time talking to me about Stearmans, including the one that I'm mulling. Turns out they know it and give it a thumbs up. And they let me get up close and personal with this one.

Front cockpit:

Rear cockpit:

Nifty gas gauge.

Yeah, I'm thinking I can learn to fly this.

There were other "normal" planes here, too.

A Decathalon:

An Ercoupe:

A Piper Cub:

I saw planes, ate way too much delicious and unhealthy carnival-type food, and then I went inside the FBO and they graciously loaned me this nice truck so that I could go into town for a bit.
Being a pilot has it's perks at times, and the use of airport crew vehicles is sometimes one of them.

I drove into downtown Indiana to make a pilgrimage to this place:
I mean, who doesn't love Jimmy Stewart? And this is his home town.

All too soon though, it was time to go. So I thanked the nice airport people for the use of their truck, did a quick pre-flight, and lined up to take off.

Going back, I could have just reversed my course up, but the day was too nice. I knew where I was, and I knew where home was, so I just set out to explore. Here's a nuke plant.
Here's a nifty river valley that just begs to be flown through. (Over, actually. I did not run the canyon, tempting as it was.)

Johnstown, PA from the west.

And a really nice-looking golf course. Miss ya, Pop.

I flew back over mountain ridges, farms, towns and forests and just had a ball.
Finally I got back home, and because the tower was closed and the field empty, my landing was perfect. (Sigh...someday there will be a witness to one of those.)

It was a great day. I went to bed tired but happy.


  1. Devil Angel on ML's shoulder:
    "Buy the Stearman. You know you want to. It's not that much money and besides, you're still young and will earn many missions more. Go on, buy it."

    Good Angel on ML's other shoulder:
    "Buy the Stearman. You know you want to. It's not that much money and besides, you're still young and will earn many missions more. Go on, buy it."

    Hey, it's unanimous! And besides, I want a ride!!!!

  2. What Six said!

    Great story, great photos.

  3. What Six and the Sarge said.

    I wouldn't mind a ride, either ... just sayin'.

  4. Those are some beautiful birds. Sounds like an awesome day, all around.

    If you get the Stearman, and plan on doing aerobatics, get a bit more horsepower. The project I bought years ago had the Lycoming 680-13 engine, it was FINE.

  5. What everyone else said!

  6. Anonymous6:21 PM

    Great pictures.
    I want to see the Jimmy Stewart Museum

  7. @Brigid: This one's got the 450 Horsepower powerplant.

  8. That's great, sorry I missed that trip with ya!

  9. Looks like an awesome day - great photos too!

    "I've never heard Harvey say a word against Akron."

    - Elwood P. Dowd

    Beech 18, B-17, B-24 pilot, and one of the greatest film actors ever - Jimmy Stewart's really was a wonderful life.

  10. Great Pics my friend. I envy you being able to do what you love to do.

    My dad was a private pilot and I have vague memories of him taking me up in his little Piper from the Sussex, NJ airport back in the late 40's.

    I'm restricted (at 71 years old + plus no money) to flying "Microsoft Flight Simulator.

  11. @ NFO: Apparently they do this every year. I just found out about it a couple of days prior by chance. So next year...

  12. Great Stearman for sale in Stuart Florida at a very good price.
    Call Gary Snodgrass at772 349 3461 for details.