by Jeff & Kathy Davis aka Coyote & Roadrunner
I purchased my 1972 Cessna 150L in August of 2000. The unique little two-seater was not on my list of desired airplanes, but I must admit it was love at first sight when I happened upon it only 20 miles from where I was living in Reedsport, Oregon. The airplane was a bit special for it’s type, and highly modified from the way it left the factory floor in Kansas in the 1970’s.
I had received my pilot’s license in 1983, flew for a couple of years, then left flying due to tight budgets, lack of good rental airplanes, and the demands of my career and young family. The bug never left though, it was just artificially suppressed for a few years.
I have been a pilot at heart since I was 3 years old and nearly took my first solo flight in my dad’s J-3 Cub. On that occasion I was instructed to help get her started by shoving in the little black knob at the appropriate time while Dad hand propped the airplane. Family and friends recall with hilarity my dad hanging onto the strut, feet dragging, while trying to reach in and shut down the engine. I can only imagine how close this escapade came to real catastrophe.
Finally in 1999, I started flying again and it all came back quickly. In January of 2000 we moved to the Oregon Coastal community of Reedsport. There’s no airport in Reedsport, so I traveled 20 miles to North Bend (OTH) where I rented and trained in constant coastal crosswinds. Then I found MY airplane 20 miles North at Florence, OR (6S2).
N5367Q was very low time for an airplane normally associated with training duties (2,700 hours total time since new) My review of the log books showed it had actually only spent the first couple of years as a trainer. At the end of her training career at first overhaul, she was upgraded with a 150 horsepower Lycoming engine. Later 67Q got long-range fuel tanks, a short take-off and landing kit and further refinements, including newer radios and GPS.
When I first saw her she was nestled behind an ultra-light in the hangar at Florence, where the owner, Larry had kept her for many years. The airplane had not flown much for a variety of reasons, and still had original paint and interior, but she was a beautiful thing to me….my first airplane. Even my wife, Kathie, got in the spirit of things, as we had recently moved 8 hours driving time from our children and grandchild. (Since our kids were still living in our original home, I joked that we were a case of PARENTS running away from home). The airplane made weekend visits to see kin practical again.
The salt laced coastal winds at Florence get pretty harsh so Larry graciously continued to rent us the hangar on the condition that his ultra-light moved to the front when he was in town (he spent much of the year at his winter home in San Diego).
Larry’s hangar was ripe with aviation lore. A carpeted area in a corner with windows had a large table, chairs, television, and well stocked refrigerator. The walls were peppered with photographs of Larry socializing with Burt Reynolds and other Hollywood celebs. I never asked Larry about the pictures, but it sure made for some good conversation when my friends dropped by for hangar talk.
During that first season of ownership I happened upon the Cessna 150-152 club based in California. I signed up for the club online forum and was one of less than a dozen founding members. Upon my entering the group, the posts to the forum went up exponentially as when it came to airplane ownership, I was like a four year-old…why…why…why. In the forum I got a lot of patient help from Charles Hanna, Mike Arman, and Rex Brandt, these guys guided me to a much better understanding of my airplane and how to best handle numerous bugs that had cropped up from her years of disuse. Back then, no one could say “search the archives” as there were no archives ...
This is where the Clinton Fly-in was born. During a typical discussion of the day’s particular issues, Rex would invariably throw in “well if you just fly it back to Clinton, I will take care of that for you.” This seemed to always be his response to my exasperation when some repair exceeded my abilities.
Rex Brandt is a salesman, that’s for sure. He was always trying to generate business by inviting club members to “Fly on over to Clinton” to have him work on their airplanes. After one these “just bring it over…” forum exchanges both myself and James Bond (yes, his real name) responded along the lines of “Rex, if you don’t quit offering, one of these days we are all going to descend on CWI and you are buying the BBQ and beer”.
That’s all it was, an idle threat made in jest. The seed of an idea that grew into an annual tradition. The details of how it blossomed after that are still a bit foggy to me, but I recall that in the early winter of 2000 Royson and Rex began dreaming of a mass exodus of “Cessna 150’s and 152’s” converging on Clinton, Iowa in the summer of 2001, the weekend before Oshkosh.
As plans for the fly-in came together, the forum was buzzing with ideas for activities, support and sponsorships. A few members began planning cross country formation flights and I was immediately interested in participating. I had originally hoped to be a military pilot, but couldn’t meet the eyesight requirements, and ended up working on the flight deck of aircraft carriers for four years instead. I couldn’t help but stare in awe as aircraft returned from missions in tight formation, breaking into the landing pattern just as I had now learned to do; upwind, crosswind (the break), downwind, base and final. But as a 120 hour private pilot was I really capable of flying in formation?
I wanted to know more, and got my chance to try it out sooner than I expected. I hosted a “Pre-Clinton” fly-in at Florence and was surprised when Royson agreed to fly his 150 up from California to participate. Several members showed up and we had a ball talking and consuming burgers and dogs in my hangar, though I don’t recall much in the way of Clinton planning.
After lunch, three or four of us decided to do some group sightseeing along the beautiful Oregon coastline. Our gaggle was pretty loose, but it was an excellent primer in the communication required. As Royson led us up the coast over the Haceta Head lighthouse, all I could think was “this is a lot harder than it looks!”. The view was spectacular, our airplanes seemingly linked together in the sky, floating over the Pacific. As much attention as it require, I was hooked, and couldn’t wait to do it again.
At the end of the day, as pilots left for home, my appetite for the coming summer trek to Clinton was stronger than ever. Still, it seemed like an awfully long way. I had never flown more than 300 miles in any one direction before. The journey from Florence, Oregon to Clinton, Iowa would entail nearly 3,000 miles round trip, and landing at more than a dozen unfamiliar airports. My emotions were poised between exhilaration and anxiety. I am by nature cautious and conservative, so the Clinton trip was way outside of my comfort zone. But thanks to the encouragement of my wife and new Cessna 150-152 club friends I began eagerly planning for the trip.
Sometime between the Florence fly-in and Clinton, we decided that “call-signs” would be appropriate. Cool! I had grand ideas of names like “Maverick” or “Hawk”. In my mind, images of leather helmets and silk scarves mixed with dark shades and oxygen masks. This was going to be something exciting indeed!
I had to explain my plans to the other employee’s at my bank job, and sponsored a contest to help choose the perfect call sign. A banker acting like Lindberg doesn’t stay secret for long in a small community like Reedsport, Oregon. It was soon proposed that both my wife Kathie and I should have separate call-signs. I began to realize that my visions of Top Gun machismo would not be forthcoming when only comical suggestions were offered, including “Big Momma” for my five foot one, ninety five pound bride.
We were relieved when someone came up with “Coyote and Roadrunner”. A side benefit of the these were that our beloved airplane finally had a name too, the “Acme Flying Machine” or AFM for short. I haven’t had much opportunity to use “Coyote” outside my Clinton trip, but our 150/150 has been known as the AFM ever since.
As the launch date approached, the idea of a group fly out from various points began to gel. In the end, the hopes of a Northwest contingent quickly evaporated into only a group from California and Kathie and I. We evaluated several routes to Clinton and decided to stage at Sacramento’s Mather (MHR) field, travel a route approximating Interstate 80, and pick up others wanting to fly in a group along the way.
Since Royson was busy planning the fly-in, I volunteered to take on our formation flight planning chores. Now, you must understand that personalities began to come into play here a bit. Royson is a pretty laid back individual. Maybe it’s a California thing, but the mental picture of Royson with a sucker in his mouth and relaxed style did not require much of a leap to understand his chosen call-sign of “Kojak”. Royson has a speed with which he approaches everything and whatever it was…it wasn’t fast enough for me. While I have mellowed a bit as a result of my interaction with Royson during this event, I have a tendency to be rather…well….intense. There are times and places for everything, and I intend to make them all. Roadrunner had to remind me numerous times that I was on vacation and to relax a bit….we just didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time.
From that perspective you can imagine what my flight plan was like. Meticulous, to the minute, with each stop carefully planned for fuel and RON’s (remain over nights) to eliminate any questions of what would be available when we got there. NO SURPRISES was my theme and driving focus. Over the next several weeks, we finally arrived at a plan we all felt pretty good about.
Unfortunately, participants for the group flight were dwindling as the departure date approached. There were many reasons why folks opted out, but perhaps the most telling factor was the distance that we would be covering. From our departure point in Oregon the trip was over 1,400 miles ONE WAY. This was a long trip in a Cessna 150, but the remaining five committed (or should have been committed) members were excited and anticipating the trip.
The roster shaped up like this; Jeff (Coyote) and Kathie (Roadrunner) would depart Florence and arrive at Mather Field (MHR) by Sunday in the early afternoon. Sometime that afternoon, Jerry Adair (Tex) and Royson (Kojak) would arrive. Our plan called for an early morning departure from MHR with a refueling stop at Reno-Tahoe (RNO), then Elko, NV (EKO) before over-flying Salt Lake City (SLC) for our first RON at Evanston, WY (EVW). My logic was that by refueling at Elko, NV (EKO), we would have plenty of time to burn off fuel and climb over the Wasatch Mountains, then have the cool of the morning for departing the high elevation EVW on Tuesday. From there, our flight of three would land and refuel at Rawlings, Wyoming (RWL) on a Southeastern course that would take us to Greeley , CO (GXY) to pickup two more 150’s piloted by Joel Kiester (Old-timer) and Gordon Ellis (Tinman). Then we would turn East again to land at North Platte, NE (LBF) to fuel and ultimately RON at Columbus, NE (OLU). This second day promised to be a challenging test of our endurance and planning.
Day three would see a fuel stop at Grinnell, IA (GGI) and our group/formation fly-over and arrival at Clinton (CWI) on Wednesday where we would begin preparations for the fly-in. An aggressive schedule of 17.9 hours flying time in the two and one-half days in route, then a weekend of activity and fun. Keep in mind that in addition to that 17.9 hours was another 4.1 for us to rendezvous in Sacramento for a total of 22 logged hours.
Before departing, I had my personal work cut out for me. As my airplane was coming up for annual the week after my return, I tackled a very thorough pre-flight on it the two weeks before departure. This included an oil change, washing and waxing (have to look pretty for the prom you know) and packing the wheel bearings, which in turn turned up a brake lining desperately in need of replacement. It all came down to the wire as I finished bolting everything back together the Friday night before departure weekend while Kathie finished up the packing (this was a two week trip for us that included my sister’s wedding in Fallon, NV on the return trip). Now…how much baggage can we take?
I had been intently watching the weather during the preceding couple of weeks with some concern. The Oregon Coast has a very nasty habit of generating fog during the nicest weather and this looked to be the case for our planned departure on July 14, 2001. We both agreed that if we got a window on Saturday, we should take it, as Sunday and Monday both looked questionable. We reasoned that better to get off the coast and to the more predictable interior, at the risk of an extra night in a motel room, than be grounded and miss the group flight. Saturday morning loomed with low ceilings and fog, but I proceeded with the taxi test anyway to finish up the work of the night before, as Kathie stayed warm in the car (It can get quite chilly on the Oregon Coast even in July). As I completed the taxi tests, we moved inside our “comfy” rented hangar to discuss last minute details, watch a bit of television and wait out the weather. Within a couple of hours, hope was breaking through in the form of an occasional glimpse of the blue that waited a mere few hundred feet above. By noon we felt we had good enough weather to launch and finished loading our luggage into the AFM.
Among my banker friends I’m considered somewhat of a risk taker, I ride a motorcycle to work and get my kicks from flying airplanes instead of golf. Ok, so it‘s not free-climbing El Capitan, but it’s definitely a step up from couch potato. I must have an adrenaline junkie somewhere inside, In the Navy I loved the exhilaration of working the flight deck. Most my buddies scurried to safer jobs below deck after their mandatory six month stint, but I stayed in the action all four years, even volunteering for more hazardous night duty on the flight deck.
In spite of all this I tend to be a worrier by nature. I have admit that I had a mixture of strong emotions getting ready to depart for Clinton. This was my very first long cross-country in any airplane, and the AFM had not been asked to deliver anything like this in the decades before I purchased her. My stomach was a combination of butterflies and a few vultures. I was elated, yet apprehensive. I never admitted it to Kathie, but I distinctly remember sitting at the end of the runway during the run-up quite ready to say…”OK, let’s just go home!”
So there I was, an excitement loving worrier, at least until I commit, and then I can relax and enjoy the challenge. At least “I know how I is” so after our customary prayer for safe travels, I taxied onto runway 15 and shoved the little black knob to the wall. As we lifted off the tarmac I felt my spirits begin to soar, and recalled a favorite song by the Christian group 4 Him:
“Give me my wings, I’m ready to fly away, leaving the things of this world behind”
Continued in PART 2