by Ed 'Uncle Eddie' Figuli

Ed's Distinctive Taildragger over the Clinton 2004 Scavenger Hunt RouteJust about every summer vacation involves the question:  “Where is Jean?”.  Jean is my youngest sister and is married to Major Jeff Anderson of the US Army.  Every three or four years Jean and the family pack up and move from one fort to another.  Jeff is currently enrolled in Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and will be reassigned in the spring of next year.  So the destination of this year’s flight is going to be Sherman Army Air Field.  The 2004 Clinton Fly-in was scheduled at just the right time for my summer visit to Jean and the family.

As the days got closer I realized that the weather wasn’t going to be the biggest obstacle to the flight. With Pennsylvania considered to be a swing state in the next election there have been numerous pop up temporary flight restrictions from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and all points in between.  The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association does a fantastic job of notifying pilots of upcoming TFRs.  The latest email didn’t look good for a planned departure date of July 12, 2004.  President Bush was scheduled to make numerous visits to the area and it was possible that Slatington might be shut down.  So… Saturday July 10,  sort of spur of the moment, I decided to launch as soon as possible after checking weather.  I used  to plan out a route that would allow me to get gas at airports with 24 hour pumps.  I had already packed the plane with all the essentials except for my clothes, so it was a matter of packing the carryons and getting to Slatington.  The weather was forecast to be VFR with isolated thunderstorms across northern Illinois.  Not a problem.  12pm came and I was airborne from Slatington.

The Longaberger Basket HeadquartersThe first three stops were uneventful.  Cessna N5353Q purred along to Rostraver, PA; Newark, OH (home of Longaberger Baskets and the home office that is built like a basket); and then to Hendricks County Airport on the west side of Indianapolis, IN.  From there to Pittsfield, IL was a line of thunderstorms that was going to either push me north or south.

A quick call to Flight Service reaffirmed what I saw and the briefer advised pushing south.  This took me to Litchfield, IL.  Now… I’m off my plan and the AOPA Flight Directory that I carry for times like this is sitting in my truck along with something else that I forgot.  I’ll find out what this is in about two hours.  On my way to Litchfield I called ahead to see if anyone was home to get gas.  Another inbound pilot told me that getting gas wouldn’t be a problem.  He could help me out.  Gotta love the Midwest.  After tanking up and consulting the AFD for Missouri I decided to head to Mexico.  The airnav website also assured that gas was available 24/7.  At around 8pm I arrived in Mexico and no gas.  The pumps were torn up and no fuel was available.  Another peek at the AFD and Booneville, MS came up as a good stop.  As I’m taxiing out to the runway I turn on my landing light and it decides not to light up.  Ok… its getting dark and I really should have the landing light.  So… I taxi back to the ramp… get out the trusty Leatherman tool and proceed to take apart the cowling.  After the upper cowl is off I figure its time to get that spare light out of the back.  Sitting next to the AOPA Airport Directory on the back seat of my Explorer in the hanger at Slatington Airport in Pennsylvania is the spare light.  I can see it plain as day but without it I can’t see much without it after 8:30pm.  So… no landing light, unfamiliar airports, at night… time to quit while I’m ahead.  About the time I get the tail tied down a police cruiser pulls up and asks how things are going.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m not here for the excitement or the gas so he offers a ride to a nearby mom and pop hotel.  Yeah… I had a tent but the Navy made me soft.  Clean sheets, air conditioning and a shower.  Life is good. 

The next morning the hotel manager gave me a hop to the airport and I launched for Booneville.  After a quick pit stop it was another hour or so to Fort Leavenworth’s Sherman Army Airfield.  The strip is a joint use field.  There isn’t much there in the way of Army traffic but I was sort of hoping to find an Apache or Blackhawk driver to trade rides with.  What is unique is that the strip is within the limits of the Fort.   The reunion with Jean and the boys was great. 

L19 Fly-In Pilots at Keokuk IowaDuring my  stay at Jean's I ordered a new landing light from Aircraft Spruce. On July 22 it was time to head to Clinton for the club fly-in.  I launched around 8 am with one stop planned at Ottumwa, Iowa.  I had hoped to get a picture of a water tower or sign that I could give to a friend who is a HUGE fan of M*A*S*H.  Unfortunately weather kept me to the south and I ended up in Keokuk, Iowa in the extreme southeast corner of the state. 

On approach into Keokuk I started to notice that this wasn’t going to be a normal fuel stop.  It was the annual L-19/O-1 Birddog Fly-In.  The friendly folks at Lindner Aviation fueled the plane and hooked me up with a lunch ticket.  There were some interesting stories flying around from pilots who owned planes that they flew in actual combat.  It was just the sort of entertainment one could hope for when waiting for the weather in the Quad Cities area to push out.  The planes and people were fascinating.  If I didn’t own a 150 I know what I would want.  The planes are beefy and look like they are fun to fly.

After about two hours of waiting the weather was decent enough to head north.  I flew along the Mississippi for a while and took in the sights.  The first call to Clinton was greeted by the Air Boss for the weekend, Steve Mayotte.  I MADE IT!!!  In 2002 I had dropped in for about two hours on my way to Oshkosh and now that I’ve been to both Clinton and Air Venture I would take Clinton any day. 

To describe the weekend in words… awesome, flying, humbling, and people.

It was awesome.  To see a field of the most popular trainers ever built parked wingtip-to-wingtip was impressive.  This wasn’t the typical flight line of trainers from the 1970’s.  These planes are personally owned and flown.  There is pride in ownership that you can’t get from renting.  Every plane shined at Clinton.  Each plane had a great story to tell. 

It was flying.  Twelve Cessna 150’s lined up like a bomber queue waiting for the air boss to direct the chaos.  Touch and goes, short field take offs, bottle drops, egg deliveries, and of course my favorite, the scavenger hunt. 

It was humbling.  I had thought I was pretty good at landing.  Then someone decides that I have to land between a couple of lines.  And there are going to be judges.  Can this get any tougher?  My first attempt came up short as I cut the power just a fraction of a second to soon.  I tried a wheel landing the second attempt and the Air Boss threw in a touch and go.  It had been a while since I tried a wheel landing and quickly found out that practice does make perfect.  The touch and go must have been pretty impressive as the spring steel gear put me back even higher up the air and the 150hp engine roared to life to keep me from doing the wrong thing and try to save a botched landing.  I figure I have nothing to lose on the third and final landing so it is time to keep it short.  At least I got it in between the lines.  A landing you can walk away from is a good landing.  Any landing where you can use the plane again is a GREAT landing.  Kudos to those who could nail the three wire each time.  I am impressed. 

Woodstock 2004 Landing Contest ApproachIt was educational.  I learned about packaging eggs, keeping polished aluminum clean, nosewheel strut maintenance (not that it does me much good anymore), there is riverboat gambling along the Mississippi, and lots of little hints and tips. 

It was people.  Lori and Royson deserve many thanks for putting together a great Fly-In.  Keeping things moving smoothly takes a lot of work and dedication and they shined.  As did Steve Mayotte.  Getting a Lear Jet into Clinton during the spot landing contests was the most impressive feat of flying and Air Bossing I saw all weekend.  Thanks to Jeff Davis for putting the “Over Easy” egg on target.  I hope I didn’t scare you with the Schnecksville Air National Guard Bomb Delivery Technique.  The scavenger hunt was the most fun event of the weekend.  Nate Phelan and I flew back and forth between Sabula and Maquoketa twice before we found the B-2 Bomber.  Before we found it every chicken coop, pig sty, and cow pen looked like a B-2.  Then we found the red digital sign in DeWitt and of course found the price of gas and diesel.  How were we to know all they were looking for were the letters “BP”?  The banquette was fun as well.  For the record I did sit in David Letterman’s chair and the taping was on May 2, 1999.  The guest was Tom Brokaw. 

The trip back to Slatington on Sunday was uneventful.  Stops at Starke County, IN; Sandusky, OH; and Dubois, PA were quick turnarounds and I made pretty good time getting across each state.  The welcome sight of the Lehigh Water gap was a sure sign of home.  After a quick flyby of the house and a perfect wheel landing at Slatington I was home.  Now it is back to the grind and trying to figure out a way to get off from work next year for the 2005 Fly In. 

Ed Figuli
Schnecksville, PA

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