Part 2 by Jeff & Kathy Davis aka Coyote & Roadrunner

"The Motley Crew" at Greely, ColoradoDay One: Florence, Oregon to Sacramento, California. 4.1 hours

The air was smooth as silk, over the valleys and tree covered slopes of Western Oregon, and it was soon obvious to both of us that we’d made the right decision to go.

I’ll always remember the look on Kathie’s face, a smile that confirmed we were sharing a great adventure, a sort of joy and exuberance tempered by a certain level of trepidation. We didn’t need to say anything, just the look at each other that said….”Here we go”.

This leap was one of the first times in my adult life that I had the courage to say,” let’s go for it”, no pre-planning of motels and such, we will just trust that things will be okay when we get there and if not, we would camp out at the FBO. This was not my nature. I am a “plan of action” freak, so even this little step of faith was not without some stretching of my trust levels.

To the South of us somewhere Kojak (Royson) and Tex (Jerry) were busy finishing up their plans to meet us the next day at Mather. At least that is what I imagined. In reality, Tex and Kojak were probably each enjoying a margarita poolside somewhere. Hey…they were Californian’s…laid back in all they do, right?

The first leg took us over the Siskiyou mountains with their ridges reaching near our 8500’ cruising elevation. We got a spectacular view of the northwest slopes of Mount Shasta growing ever closer in the distance. Shasta is a beautiful spectacle from the air. It looms high above the surrounding terrain giving it even more majesty than many of the taller mountains of the Rockies, just by virtue of the clear vertical altitude it has over the surrounding countryside. Soon after passing Shasta and it’s many lakes, we began our decent into Redding, CA (RDD). Wow, could this leg really be so quick. A mere 2.8 hours since departure and we are heading down. Redding is a neat airport located at the extreme north end of the Sacramento Valley and where all the high ground gives way to the lower terrain.

Upon landing at Redding, we taxied up to the self-service pumps to top off our tanks. From here, we would not refuel in MHR, as we wanted the weight advantage on our route over the Sierra’s on Monday. The FBO was very friendly meeting us with ice-cold bottled water (it was HOT here after leaving our 50 degree fog bank in Florence). After a short break to walk off some of the adrenalin rush from the first leg, we launched again to the south and Sacramento, another 1.3 hours away.

This leg of the trip too was uneventful and the continuous drone of the faithful Lycoming O-320 added to our elation as we looked over the vastness of the agriculture below us and the long string of earth-bound types on Interstate 5 below.

I was quite nervous about landing at Mather as my experience with larger and busier airports was minimal. Landing at Mather turned out to be a non-event as all the serious traffic was further North at Sacramento’s two major airports. Mather is a former military base, and it was quite amazing to see all the “heavy metal” on the ramp, including a giant Russian Cargo jet. The biggest surprise of the day was taxiing up to the Corporate oriented Trajen FBO. First, a guy runs out with all but the red carpet to help us get parked and tied down, then a ride on his golf cart to the FBO, which looked like the lobby of a posh office building. While we were there, arranging for a ride to the motel, a Gulfstream taxied in and they actually did roll out a real red carpet for them.…go figure. I’d never experienced this level of service before, and all this without ordering any fuel.

Since we were a day early, we arranged for a ride to our modest but comfortable motel. Sacramento is a big place, and it seemed like the part we were in was a long way from nowhere. We set on foot to find a place to eat, shop and sight-see. As it turns out, we really were a long way from nowhere, there was basically nothing of any consequence in this part of town. We stopped a talk to some firemen out washing their trucks, and when asking about shopping or a good restaurant, they shrugged their shoulders and said…”you can’t get there from here on foot”. So our first night out turned out quiet and uneventful. We turned in early with expectations of meeting Royson and Jerry the next day.

In the Late morning and early afternoon, we had lunch and found a Wal-Mart, where I was able to acquire some sandals. It was obvious we weren’t in Oregon any more, and open shoes seemed like just the ticket for tramping the hot pavement. During the day I talked with Royson on the phone a couple times, and soon realized the scheduled 4 p.m. arrival of our squadron mates was rapidly slipping backwards. This should have told me something right there, but I didn’t yet realize that I was operating in “Dad” mode. I wasn’t yet familiar with the Dad mode concept, something I would become much more familiar with in the days ahead.

Rather than getting a ride back to the airport, we decided to get some fresh air and use up some of our extra time by walking. This is how I learned that even sandals need a break in period. It was in the high 80’s to low 90’s and our little trek turned out to be several miles long. As a former military facility the roads leading to Mather field were a confusing maze. By the time we finally reached the FBO at about 5 pm my dogs were yowlin’! We brought my handheld radio expecting to hear the 150’s calling downwind by then, but the ETA came and went with no sign of Kojak and Tex.

By 6:00 I was getting a little anxious and starting to understand how the FSS folks must feel when a flight plan doesn’t get closed. At 6:30 I called Royson’s cell phone, with no luck than called club headquarters and reached Lori. She cheerfully reassured me that Royson had gotten out late “as usual” and don’t worry, he would be there.

Around 7:00 p.m., the FBO asked if I would choose another piece of ramp to pace on, as a rut in the Asphalt could mess with Bizjet parking. Then, I heard what I was waiting for, “Cessna 9YX flight of two cleared to land”. Instantly, all my self-imposed anxiety was gone, as Kathie (who calmly read magazines in the air-conditioned FBO) joined me to watch the arrival of our friends. It was a great treat to see Royson’s polished plane and Jerry’s sporty tail-dragging Aerobat taxi up next to the Acme Flying Machine. I imagined that this, in a very small way, was what the bomber pilots felt in Europe as they expectantly waited for their late arriving comrades to return from a mission. I felt a genuine excitement as I realized that our odyssey was genuine, and about to begin in earnest. After hugs and hellos we returned to the cool of the FBO’s air-conditioned facility, and placed our fuel orders.

We caught a ride to the hotel, and ate at the restaurant next door enjoying the evening as the “Cessna Three” (originally called California three, and soon to be called the Cessna Five) got acquainted with each other. We put in our shuttle and wake up orders for 7:00 a.m. the next morning determined to be off the ground by 8:00 a.m.

Day Three: Sacramento, California to Evanston, Wyoming 6.4 hours

Another beautiful California morning dawned, and I was up way before I needed to for our 7:00 a.m. shuttle. There I was, a 40 something old guy, feeling more like 5 year old kid on the first day of kindergarten. I was pumped, scared, anxious and every emotion in between. It’s funny how doing something you perceive as risky can sharpen all your senses. I can vividly remember the sounds bugs were making and how the air smells in Sacramento in the still morning.

Our shuttle arrived a few minutes late, but not enough that I became a nervous wreck. I remember in the van ride mentioning how this morning had gone great to Royson. That we would get off on time and all was well with the world. Royson, in his “laid back Kojak” style said something to the effect of, “don’t worry, it will be the last morning we leave on time.” Say what! What did that mean? I kind of chuckled, thinking surely he was pulling my leg. After all, it was with great precision that I had laid out our stops, departure times, arrivals and all. This would all be messed up if we didn’t leave on time….wouldn’t it? But, I didn’t say anything, perhaps distracted by our arrival at the FBO. As we did our pre-flights and prepared for departure, Royson graciously offered me a whole bunch of headsets to try out. “We are going to test these out on our trip and then I will write an article reviewing them when we get back”. The already packed out luggage compartment of the AFM received a few more additions. I felt pretty confident that the 150 hp available in my over-powered bird was up to the task of being the SUV as required.

Before start-up we met and discussed frequencies, procedures and the formation flying we would be doing. This leg would take us from MHR to RNO (Reno-Tahoe) as we crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where we would get fuel. The departure was uneventful, except my not understanding that I was cleared for take-off with Jerry and Royson. It was decided that I would always depart last since I had the ability to play catch up a bit better. Mather tower assured me that I was cleared to go, and would I please get off their airport as another Bizjet was inbound for the same runway….Oh, okay, I’m outa here.

This first climb-out was absolutely exhilarating. Kathie and her fighter-pilot 20-10 vision picked out Kojak and Tex as they were already formed up. We closed up the distance, much more slowly than I would have imagined, and then settled into our right echelon post. This was when I first learned about things to come. The 150/150 is a bit heavier airplane, especially with the 40 gallons of fuel on board, and thus, to fly with the stock 100 HP birds, some “unusual attitudes” were required. It didn’t occurred to me to drop a bit of flaps so I had to pull the throttle back to 2,100 to keep my position. Kathie complained that it felt as though we were constantly climbing (which we weren’t) or about to stall (nope). Early in the trip I started some good natured ribbing with the group about picking up the pace a bit, but this back-fired nearly from the start. A term I had never heard before was soon ringing in my headset: “Oh My! Somebody call the WAAAAAMMMbulance!” Okay….so they out kidded me this time… but it set the tone for good natured verbal sparring all the way to Clinton .

I had never been into Class C airspace before and I was amazed at the efficiency of ATC and the tower at RNO. Royson handled the communications, and we were squawking only one code with Tex and us on standby. They cleared us to land on the parallel runways. WOW…Blue Angels…here I come. We taxied to the FBO and again found ourselves parked amongst heavy metal. Hmmm, sure didn’t use much fuel this leg. What’s wrong with this airplane? It isn’t using any Avgas. I took a look at my O-320 operating info and realized that I was burning just 5-6 gallons per hour at this reduced rpm instead of the 8-9 gallons I was used to. Way cool, we weren’t covering ground as quickly as I would like, but the price was right.

As we walked out to mount up, Royson noticed that his nose wheel strut was under inflated. We enlisted a line boy with a nitrogen cart to pump it up, but they overdid the filling on the first attempt, resulting in an immediate full extension. Silverlining definitely looked like a California low-rider with the front end hydraulically jacked to the sky. That’s some pretty high pressure in that cylinder boys! After several attempts, Royson settled on “a little extra” setting (He explained that the strut had been leaking lately, but only at higher altitudes.) Silverlining’s extra “wheelie” attitude on the ground amused me to no end, and provided fodder for “C150 Lowrider” jokes and “Yo!!! Kojak, where’s your fuzzy dice” comments.

Departure from RNO was where I got my first real scare of the trip, causing me to wonder if I should really have attempted a formation flight after all. The high density altitude accentuated the power to weight differences in our airplanes. Add to that, my desire not to mess up with the controllers here as I had at MHR, and a potential disaster in the making loomed. As before, Tex began his roll as soon as Kojak broke ground, and I did the same. What I had not counted on was that I quickly overtook both aircraft, despite throttle reductions. With high terrain to the South and East, I soon lost visual of the two other planes, and began to get anxious. Knowing that I was both behind and below, I nosed over the AFM and kept level turning down-wind to the North as I knew they would be climbing out more to the Northeast. I was genuinely concerned, making air-to-air radio calls to see if they could see me, which they couldn’t. As it turned out my tactic was successful, I lifted a wing and Kathie was finally able to spot the other two airplanes in perfect formation about 2 miles to the East of us. I decided to avoid deep breathing and sweaty palms in the future by never again losing sight of my formation.

This leg took us to Elko, Nevada (EKO) roughly following Interstate 80. Soon we were well into the deserts of Nevada with all three birds were droning away happily on course and only a bit behind time. Or at least we thought.

Kojak: “Guy’s, I think I have a problem. I have a surging in my engine, that I can’t figure out”. Tex: “Have you tried your mags? How about carb heat in case it’s ice?” Coyote: “Kojak, I am going to pull up a bit closer and look for fluids leaking

Kojak: “It’s really strange, guys, if I take off my headset, I can’t hear it anymore, but as soon as I put them on, the surging is there. I think I am going to make a precautionary landing.” (We were just passing over the remote Battle Mountain, NV airport) Tex: “Any airspeed loss? Gauges?” Coyote: “Kojak, can’t see any oil or fuel…by the way, when did you last clean the belly of that thing.” Kojak: “ Hold it guys, I think I have figured it out.” Tension was thick as we awaited the verdict. After a few minutes, Kojak came back with a sheepish chuckle and said “It’s my gum guy’s”. Gum???!!?? Royson went on to explain how his chewing gum was causing a problem with the unfamiliar ANR headset he was trying out. Apparently the movement of his jaw while chewing would slightly pull the ear seals loose from his head causing a surge in engine sound. When he got worried and started concentrating, he stopped chewing and the surging sound stopped, then he would relax, start chewing, and it returned. Of course when he took off his headset to listen, no more surging.

I’m not kidding, we were all laughing so hard, it was hard to see through the tears, so we all pulled a bit further away and guffawed over that the rest of the trip. From then on departures often were followed by some quip like: “Kojak, checklist item…stow chewing gum before take-off”. The arrival at EKO was smooth and uneventful, in spite of rising heat and rapidly increasing density altitude.

After potty breaks, soda, snacks and refueling, it was time for our last leg of the day. This portion would take us over SLC Class Bravo airspace then into EVW Evanston, WY for our Remain Over Night (RON). I had called ahead and reserved the crew car at Evanston. Never having departed under these hi density altitude conditions before, I was amazed how much runway we needed to break ground. Full fuel tanks made it even tougher for the AFM, but we all made it back into the sky safely. Our journey ahead took us through a narrow corridor surrounded by restricted airspace and over the Bonneville Salt Flats, then up and over the daunting Wasatch Mountains.

Our standard operating procedure was for our intrepid leader to handle communications in controlled airspace. As we approached Salt Lake City Kojak hooked up with ATC for our “flight of three” clearance through their class Bravo airspace. All was going smoothly until it was time for a frequency change. Somehow Royson missed the call, so ATC was unable to raise him on the new frequency. Unsure what to do, I jumped in as the new communication link, while Kojak continued to set our course. Being the radio man for a flight of three in class bravo airspace was an awkward and unfamiliar role, especially since I had no way to “steer” us and had little option but to follow my silent leader who was squawking our assigned transponder code.

I kept hoping for Royson to say something (I didn’t want to make an inappropriate comment on the ATC frequency) but he never did, so we didn’t get a chance to discuss it until we returned to our private air to air channel after leaving SLC controlled airspace.

“Hey, you were doing fine, so I just let you handle it!” While I acted annoyed, I really felt rather proud to receive the compliment. We were growing into a cohesive team.

We’d climbed to 10,500 MSL to get over the ridgeline as we left SLC behind and began tracking I-84 into the high country. As EVW creeped onto the edge of my GPS screen we started our “descent” to the airport. I use quotes because the field elevation at Evanston is 7,163 feet! EVW sits above the town on a plateau and is truly a high elevation airport. As I entered downwind, last in line again, I relied on old habits and set my mixture to full rich. Turning from base to final it became evident that the 30 knot wind down the runway was going to take some power. I’ll never forget what happened next. As I looked down on the streets of Evanston below I pushed in the throttle, and the engine promptly quit. Of course the natural response is to undo whatever caused the problem, and I was relieved when I pulled out the throttle and the engine came back to life at idle. Well short of the runway, I remembered we were running very high, very hot, and very rich. I pulled the mixture out to the cruise setting and added throttle and was rewarded with a reassuring surge of restored power. The touchdown was slow, and the taxi long and uphill, but it gave me time for the heart to quit beating so fast. Good thing both Kathie and I say a prayer before every flight.

I am convinced that the small voice reminding me “MIXTURE DUMMY” was my over-worked Guardian Angel.

Evanston is a great little airport. Star West Aviation provided us with a crew car that was so hopelessly decrepit that we immediately adopted it as the official mascot of our ragtag Airforce. The 4 door sedan had what Tex optimistically described as “ejection seats”, and the front bumper was held in place with bailing wire. In spite of appearances it efficiently took us into town to look for the cheapest motel we could find.

I was our custom cruiser’s designated driver, with Roadrunner occupying the copilot seat, and Tex and Kojak in the jump seats. As we pulled into each motel parking lot, one of the backseat guys would jump out and charge inside for lodging details. On one particular foray, Tex was a bit quick on the door latch just as I spotted a convenient parking spot immediately to our right.

The combination of my sharp turn and Tex’s open door, nearly succeeded in launching Jerry half-way across the parking lot... and the auspicious notoriety of becoming our fist casualty of the trip.

After this, my driving received a suitable amount of criticism, yet they always made me drive. Go figure! Somewhere in here we found a little restaurant that served up huge portions of food and Pepsi products. This prompted a big debate over the merits of Pepsi (Coyote and Roadrunners soft drink of choice) or Coke (which Tex apparently owns stock in). The debate and bantering went on throughout the meal and was light-hearted fun for all. I’m still surprised that Jerry’s tail-dragger was not appropriately painted in official Red and White Coke livery.

We finally came across the local Super 8 motel with three available rooms at a reasonable price. While we were checking in, we had a twilight zone experience. The clerk had become quite busy handling our check in and neglected to answer the phone which was ringing nearly continuously.

Out of annoyance or maybe just for a joke, Royson reached across the counter and answered the phone “Super 8 . [long pause, ] This is Royson. [pause] Yeah, we are just checking in now and should be on schedule in the morning. [pause]. Okay, see you tomorrow”. [hangs up the phone]

All of us, including the clerk and desk manager, looked on dumb-founded as Royson casually went back to checking in as if nothing had happened. When it was clear he didn’t intend to explain further I finally asked, “What was that all about?”. And Royson says, “Oh, that was Gordon Ellis in Cheyenne. He didn’t know where we were, so he was simply calling all the motels in Evanston to see if we made it ok and if we were on schedule for tomorrow.” Alrighty then. I’ve seen some strange things in my life, (mostly in California) but this was a jaw-dropping, head-shaking occurrence that Royson treated as if it happens every day. Well…maybe for Royson it does.

Day Four: Evanston, Wyoming to Columbus, Nebraska. 8.0 hours

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear when I rolled out of bed at 5:30 am. (keep in mind that this was 4:30 am in my native time zone.) I was pumped and ready for the next phase of our trip which was take us across Wyoming and some very high terrain, and on into the lower real estate of Northern Colorado where would pick up the other two members of our flight, Tinman (Gordon) and Old Timer (Joel) who would be waiting for us a bit after noon.

Royson’s prediction that departure times would slip behind schedule came to pass as I paced the halls trying to see where everyone was. The day was warming, and I was a bit concerned about the density altitudes, having never flown out of this high of an airport before. At 7:00 a.m., I am having another of my anxiety attacks, and Kojak makes an appearance followed a bit later Tex. They can tell I am ready to get going, and Kojak quips, “just chill out a bit….DAD”.

Dad? Now wait a minute, I wasn’t the oldest in the group! Ok, maybe not the youngest, but…not the oldest. It was a mistake to show my angst over this title as it did not go unnoticed by either of my buddies, and my “sub” call-sign for the balance of the trip was “Dad”. Eventually even Tinman and Old-timer started calling me “Dad” (though each had at least a couple of years on me).

All this teasing did at least teach me a lesson about functioning in a bit more laid-back fashion with VFR flying. I don’t know how many flights I’ve cancelled over the years because I was sticking to a time frame that really didn’t make any difference in the overall scheme of things.

We made it to the airport around 8 a.m., and fueled all three birds with the two stock aircraft taking partial loads and me deciding to top off the AFM. By the time we departed, the density altitude was already over 9,000 feet so we were all prepared for a long take off roll, and discussed our abort procedures accordingly. As it was, all three planes made it off, and we made good use of the thermals and updrafts in the ridgelines to boost us up to the 10,000 feet or so we needed for a safe passage to our first fuel stop at Rawlins, WY (RWL).

During one of these climbs to the lofty heights, Kojak decided to try and get to 12,000. We clawed for altitude in the thin air, but the 100 horsepower airplanes ran out of climb around 11,500. We cruised this way over miles of empty Western Wyoming for quite some time when we picked up someone on the radio quoting what seemed to be….Shakespeare?!. I had briefed Kathie on some of the symptoms of Hypoxia so that we could keep an eye on each other, but Shakespeare? A quick check revealed that it was Jerry, who soon broke into full song as well, and was either hypoxic or just moved to performance by the magnificence of the view. Tex is an professional actor among other talents and so he was probably just helping to pass the time, but Kojak took his musical performance as a clue that perhaps it was time to begin dropping down into thicker air in preparation for our Rawlings fuel stop.

The arrival at Rawlins was uneventful, except for all manner of complaints from Tex as his tailwheel bumped and banged along the rough taxiway. This was not unnoticed by my better half, who is quick to refresh my memory ever since whenever I’m tempted by the lure of a jaunty taildragger. The FBO was very accommodating, offering their car if we wanted to get lunch in town (we elected to wait until Greeley). We refueled and departed uneventfully, accompanied by some colorful observations about the need for taxiway refurbishment from our Coca Cola fueled taildragger jockey.

Since leaving Sacramento we'd flown over nothing but high density altitudes, but after our short stop at Rawlins, we were cheered to see the terrain finally beginning to slope downhill towards the Midwest. We picked up some extra speed as we dropped down for our next stop in Greeley, CO (GXY).

Since most of our trip was spent communicating on air-to-air frequencies, it was not a surprise, but a treat no less, to hear Gordon Ellis (Tinman) pop onto our frequency as we approached Greeley. He apparently heard our rag-tag Airforce chattering and correctly assumed it would be us. Tinman arrived at Greeley just ahead of us, where “Old-timer” (Joel Kiester) had arrived earlier and was eagerly awaiting with his dachshund co-pilot Fury. (According to Joel, Fury rests quietly during most of the flight, but always jumps up on the hat shelf to observe the final approach and keep a diligent eye out for traffic. ) Fury was genuinely curious about each airplane and crewmember and absolutely a delight to be around. Fury and the AFM became fast friends, eventually posing for an official portrait that became the cover picture for the fly-in on the club website.

By this time our “breaks” from formation to in-line for the pattern was getting pretty sharp and the three of us had grown quite comfortable with our positions. How would this work out with five airplanes? On landing at Greeley, the folks at Harris Jet Center treated us like true VIP’s. They parked our three birds in formation with Tinman and Old-timer's, completing our five-plane squadron. The FBO efficiently fueled our aircraft, and took group photos of us that they proudly display on their website to this day. We had lunch at the airport cafĂ©, which reopened for a late lunch to accommodate us. After a light lunch and brief squadron meeting we departed for our next destination, North Platte, Nebraska (LBF).

It was at this point that we discovered we had an Keebler elf in our midst, tasked with leaving gifts in our airplanes. As we began to saddle up, the original three all found peanut butter cracker packages awaiting in our planes. Huh? It didn’t take long to discover that Tinman brought a full case of snacks and he secretly planted some in each of our airplanes. I know we all partook because our radio calls were showed clear evidence of the ingestion of peanut butter crackers. What a treat, and what fun new friends we were discovering!

Our departure from Greeley was made with a new sense of anticipation. Now the full “squadron was formed”, and the Cessna 5’s progress were being tracked with anticipation by club members via the Internet.

Our formation was again flown in a V with Kojak in the lead, Tinman left echelon, Old-timer at right echelon, Tex in left trail on Tinman’s 7 o’clock, Roadrunner & Coyote in right trail on Old-timer’s 5 o’clock. We kept the formation fairly loose during cruise, occasionally forming up tight for photo ops.

We spent a bit of time talking about how we would enter the patterns also. As Coyote and Roadrunner we were “tail-end Charlie” the process went something like this:

Kojak: “Okay, let’s break into landing formation”

Coyote: “Coyote breaking right (followed by an S-turn for spacing to the right)”

Tex: “Tex breaking left”

Tinman: “Tinman turning to trail Kojak”

Old-timer: “Old-timer, following Tinman”

Tex: “ Tex turning right, to follow Old-timer” and finally

Coyote: “ Coyote behind Tex”.

It all worked quite slick, and I got a slight adrenaline surge every time. With practice we got better and better and required less effort to pull it off. After the break we would naturally fall into single file trail, and simply played follow the leader to touch down in a normal pattern.

Just as we were getting comfortable in our adventure, Tex made a radio call that sent a chill down my spine. “I’ve got Carb Ice and Carb Heat isn’t clearing it”. It soon became evident that Jerry’s Aerobat was unable to make full power and he dropped out of position, losing altitude.

Ironically, Jerry’s airplane was the only one equipped with a carb ice detector. During susceptible moments when his carb ice light came on he had warned us all to proactively apply carb heat, but now his was the first carb to succumb.

My Lycoming equipped bird seemed impervious to carb ice with not a single incident in 3 years of ownership, but perhaps the good Lord was just kind to me. After a quick consultation, it was decided that I would drop out of formation to stay with Tex since I had a GPS and had already dialed in the nearest airport in case a precautionary landing was required. I began right hand 360 to lose ground and form up on Tex while the others steamed on toward North Platte.

Tex, Roadrunner and I felt quite alone above the flat plains of Nebraska as we contemplated the possibility of him being forced to make an off-field landing. At least there were miles of flat fields below us, and his tailwheel might prevent the traditional nose over landing.

We droned on, trading altitude for forward progress towards a real airport when Tex’s carb heat finally got ahead of his ice machine, and his O-200 coughed back to full power. We all breathed a deep sigh of relief and resumed on course toward LBF. Since his tail-dragger and my 150HP bird were the fastest of the five, we were able to catch up with our squadron just before our landing at North Platte. The service from Trego-Dugan Aviation, and the break after an exceptionally long day of flying were great. I argued that we stop for the night, but Royson was ready to press on to Columbus. I was not current for night flight, and was concerned that darkness would beat us there. Complicating the situation were some ominous thunderclouds on the path ahead.

We checked out the weather radar, and I was reassured by the presence of numerous diversion airports along the way, so I agreed to launch. As we climbed back into our trusty steeds, there was a sense of crispness that we all felt and….wait, no, that’s crunchiness. Oh... I sat on the more peanut butter crackers left by our Keebler elf. Kathie laughed so hard, I thought we would have to delay our departure to recover.

The nice thing about this leg of the trip is that we all anticipated a good nights rest at Columbus with no need to rise early the next day since we would be just three and half hours away from Clinton.

As we got closer to Columbus it became obvious we would be arriving quite close to a large thunderstorm. It was twilight, and the lightening illuminated the cloud tops with an absolutely stunning display of the power these awesome creations held. It was as if it had parked itself right over Columbus daring us to come on in for a look.

With darkness looming and a desire to get his flock safely into shelter, Kojak introduced us to his “Patented Momma I’m Late for Dinner” approach. I’ve also heard this referred to as the crowbar approach (as in throw a crowbar out the window and then beat it to the ground). While not the gentle 200 fpm descent we had discussed, it did have the effect of getting us to our destination in a big hurry.

As we arrived, the last remnants of light were fading. It was a huge relief when I touched down with enough light remaining to see the runway. The tarmac was very wet from the storm that had passed through just minutes before. As we taxied up to the Avcraft FBO, the owner and his wife were waiting to help us tie down. They explained that they had been sure no one else would be landing tonight, and were headed home in their van when they saw five sets of landing lights approaching. When they heard our radio calls on their handheld and realized five Cessna 150’s were coming in on the tail of the thunderstorm, they were overcome by curiosity and headed back the airport to see for themselves.

These folks were very kind, making a call for a motel, and giving us their personal mini-van to use for the night while they took the rundown courtesy car (did it ever start? Seemed it had battery problems, but they said…don’t worry, go relax). “Dad” was volunteered to drive again. They must think us Oregonians are great drivers.

Relax we did. We found a nice motel, great restaurant and settled in for a deep sleep with plans to meet later the next morning for breakfast. What a day. We started at an airport with an elevation of 7,163’ just after 8 a.m. Over 10 hours and 6.4 hours of flight time later, touched down only 3.5 hours short of our destination at an elevation of 1444’. We were becoming more relaxed with our formation flying, and all were carrying the excitement of the five-plane formation arrival at CWI the next day. Wonder if anyone would be there to notice?

Columbus, Nebraska to Clinton, IA
3.5 hours Flight Time

We all slept in and missed dawn altogether. By the time we “scrambled” to the airport it was a clear and bright beautiful sunny Midwestern day. There was a slight haze from high humidity, but it didn’t dampen our visibility enough to jeopardize our take-off departure for Clinton.

You could sense among all of the members our group that this was the big arrival day. We talked at breakfast formulating our formation arrival and forward planning for the fly-in itself. Kojak reported that he had talked to Rex, who was making preparations for the event and our arrival. Rex said the club forum was abuzz with questions on how the flight of the “Cessna Five” was progressing. Forum members were sharing in our excitement getting regular progress reports from Rex.

At the FBO, we arrived to find our aircraft fueled and ready. Kojak was checking the weather as we all loaded our gear preparing for our departure. Shortly after our arrival at the airport all was ready and we launched in our now rehearsed formation ritual joining up to the East of the airport enroute for Grinnell, IA, our last stop before Clinton.

At Grinnell Aviation, we were once again treated to a wonderful sense of hospitality and a first rate facility, both modern and clean. Our planes were turned around quickly as we all took a break, drank a soda (Arrrrggghhh, they only had Coke products, Tex wins that round) and discussed the arrival.

We spent a lot of time discussing our arrival at Clinton, hoping we could somehow display an appropriate celebration without compromising safety. We decided we would form up in our best V formation and make a 500’ pass over both runways before breaking into single file for landing.

Off again, and soon we were all joining up just a little tighter and flying just a little sharper as we prepared for our arrival at Clinton, only an hour away.

As we approached, Kojak had the honors of making the radio call, “Clinton Unicom, Cessna Flight of Five inbound landing Clinton…”. The response from Rex was “Welcome to Clinton, Cessna Five”. I felt like an Astronaut….this ”one small step” no less a proud accomplishment for Kathie and I.

As Kojak relayed our intentions for a two-pass formation fly by, we all tightened up our formation. This was a bit more uncomfortable though we had briefed how important it was to maintain our distance and focus on the aircraft each was joined up on. Roadrunner was responsible for the photo ops and also an extra set of eyes, as we lined up for runway 14. We were not even sure if anyone was there to watch, but we made our pass on 14 at 500’ above the runway, Roadrunner reported several people and a couple of Cessna 150’s apparently on the ramp.

Next we gingerly made a wide left downwind turn for Runway 21. We extended a mile or two allowing the outside aircraft to tighten in again, and then it was down Runway 21. While the radios were generally quiet except for formation comment, it was a warm and fuzzy feeling when after passing the runway Kojak announced, the now ever remembered…

“Okay, let’s break into landing formation” ……

All arrived safe and sound. The days afterward were a busy buzz of fly-in activity, shared with about 60 club members who flew in from near and far.

As the fly-in wound down on Sunday the Cessna Five had to bid each other fond farewell. Kojak went on to Oshkosh in formation with Mark Loetscher. Tex went back to California via his namesake home state. Only Tinman, Old-timer and Fury kept each other company on the way home to Wyoming. Kathie and I flew home to Oregon unaccompanied, and I can tell you the flight legs home seemed much longer without the company of our friends.

It has been four years since that first fly-in at Clinton. The members of the Cessna Five have stayed in touch, and we all have fond memories of our adventure. Roadrunner in her "crafty" style made a memory scrap book that was sent to each of the pilots. Every summer I pull out our scrapbook and refresh my fond memories of that remarkable journey.


Kojak, Old-timer and Tinman have remained faithful and returned to Clinton every year. Tex was able to realize his lifelong dream of flying for the airlines, though he was furloughed for a couple of years after 911. Sadly, he had to sell his taildragger in the interim to make ends meet, though he was eventually able to secure a position with a regional airline. My banking career moved us again, and I wasn't able return to Clinton for three years. I got "fourseatitis" and sold the AFM in order to buy a 1974 Cessna Cardinal I named "RedBird". In 2004 I flew Redbird to the Clinton fly-in from Oregon in a single long day, up high with oxygen, (no Shakespeare for Moi!) It was a wonderful and challenging flight, but short of the panache and spontaneity I had with my friends in 2001. (Lonely too because Roadrunner couldn't accompany me this time. )

The Clinton Fly-In has matured, the enthusiasm grows and multiplies each and every year as new comers and old anticipate this gathering of Eagles. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience the Clinton fly-in as I have. Will you be coming this year?

Jeff Davis
Hermiston, Oregon

The Cessna 150-152 Club and Cessna 150-152 Fly-In Foundation are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. Chicago, Illinois

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