Flying for FlyQuest (Part 2 of 3)

Guillermo and I spent the night in a La Quinta in Madison and met the next morning for its complimentary breakfast before heading out for the FlyQuest shop over at Hunstville International. I was looking forward to meeting Russell Lewey for the first time as we plugged in the destination into the iPhone and started toward the airport. The iPhone GPS decided that the shortest route was one that took us into a cargo gate; we were staring at a TSA shack we knew we weren’t going to get past when we figured it out. I turned us around and headed us toward the main gate to the airport when Russell called, and he confirmed I was now headed the right way and told us how to get there. A few minutes later, we had wound our way past the main terminal and found the FlyQuest shop, which was collocated with a new flight school, Revolution Aviation.

Inside the door, we met Russell and the manager of the flight school, Chris Burns. Russell led us back to the simulator. It is a 6 degree of freedom motion base simulator by Precision Flight. Russell told us they had acquired it as a prototype, even though the company now had them in production. Saying it was ready go, he opened the rear door and we stepped up into the cab. Guillermo went first; he was going to fly left seat as the pilot in command. I dropped into the right seat to find that only the left had the controls; but since the worst that could happen was we could crash the sim, I was okay with it. Russell was at the instructor’s station which was outside the cab; we talked back and forth via headset. We were sitting on the long runway, i.e., the twelve thousand feet of runway 36 Left in a simulated Cessna 172. Since Guillermo had only flown airplanes with a Rotax engine, I talked him through the start up sequence. The engine sprang to life. No takeoff checks necessary; we pushed the throttle forward and the airplane followed. We rotated at about 50 knots, and we were off!

We continued pressing north, climbing to 6500. Once there, we leveled off and then I told Guillermo to hold his altitude and pull the throttle to idle. We got slower, and slower, and slower, creeping up on a stall.

“Keep it going….keep it going!” I urged. “All the way into the stall!”

The stall horn started going off. We felt the airplane shudder.

“Keep the stick back. NOW! FULL LEFT RUDDER!”

The nose dropped, the airplane rolled and whipped to the left, corkscrewing the nose straight down. I noted what the ground looked like and what was directly “up” as we twiseted left and around.

“One…two….three! Neutral stick! Right rudder!”

The airplane came to an abrupt stop, fishtailing a little back and forth as Guillermo figured out how much rudder he needed.

“Look at your airspeed! We’re really FAST; start pulling back on the stick but NOT TOO FAST!”

The nose came up fairly quickly. Guillermo stopped it at the horizon.

“Power back on,” I said. “Take us to cruise!”

“Nice job, “ I continued.

“Let’s do that again!” Guillermo exclaimed.

And we did! Spin after spin, some right, some left; and one that started left, went flat, bobbed, and broke right as Guillermo danced on the rudders, reversing them to see what it would do.

With only a few minutes to go, I broke off the spin training and Russell reset us into the pattern for Cullman, a small airport south of HSV. We made three practice runs, working to get consistent stabilized approaches and, hopefully, a simulated landing. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there; Guillermo had a tendency to hang high so getting to a landing could only be done if one was a Kamikaze. That was something we were going to have to fix in the real world. The hour of time we had paid for was up.

We chatted for a few minutes about the session, confirmed the schedule for the rest of the day, and then left while Russell took a young man back to the simulator. Guillermo went back to our rental car, made our way out of the airport to I-565 East, flying down the highway to Exit 15, the exit to the US Space and Rocket Center. At the top of the exit, I turned right toward the Center and immediately left to take us down to Aviation Challenge. Left turn, right turn, and one hill and down another until the road was intersected by a fence separating us from the sharp, finned form of the F-14 Tomcat standing beyond.

After parking the car, we made our way through the gate at the sidewalk, and I walked Guillermo around my F-14 as he photographed her using his phone.
A picture of the F-14 as she sits at Aviation Challenge.

When I had known the Tomcat in our youth, she had been the Navy’s premiere fighter/interceptor, launching off carrier decks, intercepting real bogies inbound toward the task force as it sailed over the world’s oceans; shooting missiles at drones; rolling in for simulated kills against everything from A-4’s to F-4’s, F-5’s, other F-14’s and even Omani Jaguar’s; and jinking away from simulated missiles. She was quiet now, standing there kneeled for the catapult with her wings swept back, something you’d never really see. She looked in really good shape. Very little dirt covered her paint still shiny from the refresh we had given her a year before. I didn’t think she would look that good. The only thing I noticed untoward was a single bird’s nest stuffed into a wheel well. You had to admire a bird that could pull that off since we had closed up most of the Tomcat’s landing gear doors to try to keep the critters out. It was just another lesson on how resilient and resourceful life really is.

To see the rest of Aviation Challenge, Guillermo and I walked around the building used for classes, simulations, and bunk rooms to the stands, hoists, and aircraft hulls positioned in the water egress training area. I explained the purpose of the the “helo dunker” (a helicopter version of the Dilbert Dunker) and the water slide (parachute harness egress training) before taking him to a nearby F-4 whose history included a MIG kill during the Vietnam War. Next we visited a Navy A-7, an Air Force F-111 and F-16, a Navy Seasprite helicopter, a T-38, and a MIG-17 before making our way back past the F-14, said goodbye, and returned to our car in the parking lot.

After a lunch at Chick-Fil-A, we returned to our hotel for a break and to get ready for the afternoon. I was really looking forward to delivering a presentation on Aircraft Systems to FlyQuest students from Mae Jemison High School. Afterwards, we were going to let the kids go out to the CTSW to see and touch an actual aircraft, though you gotta’ be careful they don’t touch too much…!

For a little “show”, I put on what I call my “Fancy Bag”, a royal blue and Navy blue flight suit styled somewhat like a uniform from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It sports a set of gold NFO wings on the left chest, a Flight Design CTSW patch I designed and had made on the right one, a 1000 Hour Tomcat patch on the left shoulder, and another CTSW-centric patch on the right. I combined that with a black and red “VF-51 Tomcat Project” ball cap whose logo I also designed, and then met Guillermo downstairs in the La Quinta where we were staying before driving back out to Huntsville Executive. When we arrived, Russell was already there with his wife Diane and set up in the airport’s conference room. After we all met each other, Russell and I chatted about how I was going to present; I had brought a MacBook Pro I was going to use if needed but Russell had one ready. I practiced with the pointer/slide controller, making sure I knew how to make my slideshow work as we heard the school bus containing my audience pull up in front of the building.

The kids and their advisers piled out of the bus and into the room, filling it with noise and activity. Russell had mentioned it was an unusual class in that the students were mostly female. They were also mostly African-American and from Mae Jemison High Schoo. Many if not all of its members were from the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) there. While I was ex-Navy, I had been in Army JROTC while at Opelika High School few hundred miles south; in addition to an interest in aviation, I had some Alabama high school experiences in common with them.

Russell had a big bag of candy at the top of the table, motivation to keep the young crowd engaged and motivated. I sat down in chairs along the side of the long table that formed the center of the room as the kids filled it in on all sides except for the very front where Russell stood. Russell reminded them what we were her to cover and tossed candy to the students who successfully answered his questions. He introduced me and I moved to the front of the room, told the kids a little bit about myself, and then proceeded into the presentation.

Edward Tufte makes his living talking about how using PowerPoint makes people stupid; and though I had practiced with the material, I quickly learned that when you are talking to kids, that’s close to the truth. A more accurate description of what happens is the kids find it BORING, no matter how enthusiastic the presenter is. And I was. Russell jumped in to rescue me with candy and a Jeopardy game show approach that kept things alive until we had covered the parts of an airplane and what they do. Then, the adult advisors and Russell led the group outside onto the ramp, stressing how important it was to both stay together and pay attention to taxiing airplanes.

Out at the CTSW, we split the kids into two groups with Russell taking one and me the other.
Russell Lewey and his kids at the CTSW.

We opened the aircraft’s doors to let the kids see inside the cockpit, and I started at the nose of the aircraft showing the kids the aircraft systems we had just discussed, going down the aircraft’s left side as Russell and his group started at the tail and went up the right.
Yours truly with my group of kids at the front of the aircraft;

The kids were surprised the airplane was so small and to learn that it had an emergency parachute that lower could it to the ground. Even as small as it was, I pointed out, Guillermo and I could take off from KMDQ and be in Houston only 6 hours later while costing only 30 gallons of gas.

For many of these kids, it was the first time they had been that close to any airplane. One young woman was shocked to discover she didn’t need an academic degree to become a civilian pilot; it just took learning the skills and passing written and flight tests. I could see her wheels turning as she pondered the possibilities she might not have known were there.
One of the students looking into the cockpit of the CTSW.

After a little over a half hour out at the airplane, we gathered as a group just outside the FBO and Russell’s and the teachers took photos of us all. Then, we returned into the building while the kids piled back onto their bus.

I spent a few minutes thanking Russell for rescuing me and discussing how to approach kids in that age group. Russell felt I had done fine, though I wasn’t sure of that since I had seen a kid or two nodding off. Nothing like coming in from out of town and leaving with a reputation intact. I usually put at least twice that many adults asleep….

That evening, Guillermo, Russell, Matt Zwack, and I met at a local restaurant Russell had suggested named “1892 East”. (See It was a great little place with good food and ambiance. Matt was a friend of mine, a fellow volunteer on the Tomcat Project as well as a fellow pilot and aerospace engineer, and a colleague in manned space flight. We all listened as Russell shared with us many of his experiences as an Air Force B-52 and instructor pilot. We talked about Flyquest since Matt was coming to talk to the same kids in a few weeks to share his experiences as an aerospace engineer. We were joined briefly by Ed Steward, the Director of Exhibits at USSRC, who couldn’t join us for dinner but take a few minutes to say “hello” and let us talk about the Tomcat as well as the other space related projects I was curious about. For dinner, I had a pan roasted North Carolina stuffed trout, with fingerling potatoes, and broccoli. Nothing like a good dinner to top off the evening talking with good men and fellow pilots. A great way to top off a very satisfying day.

Flying for FlyQuest (Part 1 of 3)

One of my great passions right now is to inspire kids to get involved with aviation and space. I’ve done quite a few Young Eagle flights, and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s dedication to that program is the prime reason I stay a member since I’m not building an airplane and don’t have any immediate plans to do so. I’ve looked into getting involved with other programs in Houston; but, so far, having found anything I could participate in as a Light Sport instructor. As I’ve said before in this blog, the aviation education community is missing opportunities to get and keep kids engaged by not getting them into their Light Sport rating vice soloing them as Private Pilot students and then dropping them off. I’m working on getting an Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) rating to see what doors it might open; and I’m always looking for more opportunities to engage youth with aviation and space in some way. Sadly, the opportunities in Houston seem a bit limited, even though it’s Space City.

For about a two-year period, I was the volunteer leader of a team restoring a F-14A on display at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I was shuffling from my Rocket City to the other in the CTSW, flying into Huntsville Executive Airport because of their great hospitality and absence of landing fees. The particular F-14 we were working on had been in my fighter squadron, the Screaming Eagles of VF-51, and I had flown in her 28 times as a Radar Intercept Officer (26 times in VF-51 and twice in VF-124), mostly while we were on an “around-the-world cruise” aboard the USS Carl Vinson in 1983. While I was in Huntsville on one of my trips, I learned about FlyQuest, an educational non-profit whose goal was to bring kids into the aviation fold and enhance STEM (Science, technology, and math) education. They conducted programs that engaged homeschoolers, middle school, and high schoolers and sponsored or participated in local events. I don’t remember now how I first heard about the; but, as I looked into them, I thought that what they were doing was the best thing since sliced bread, and I wanted in. My first attempt to engage with them was during a Women In Aviation event; one of the volunteers on the Tomcat team, Clarissa, and I planned to attend to encourage anyone interested to join us on the Tomcat team. I printed up brochures and flyers and Clarissa made a large and wonderful photo collage. I planned to fly the CTSW up not only as personal transportation but to throw in with a Young Eagle rally being conducted by EAA Chapter 190 in conjunction with the event. Unfortunately, snow and ice clobbered the runway at KMDQ on day before the event when I needed to fly in; and despite several conversations with the FBO on the phone, I couldn’t get any solid estimates for when the runway would be usable. Runways at KHSV were in use, but there were still NOTAMS about ice on the taxiways. Staring at those conditions, I just couldn’t see committing to that trip in the CT and the prospect of a 13 hour drive solo one way wasn’t attractive either, so I backed out.

I tried later to meet up with them at an AOPA fly-in up in Tennessee; but weather once again became an issue and I couldn’t figure out a good plan to work around it. I didn’t see an opportunity to get engaged with them again until the summer of 2016 when they asked for volunteers to teach classes in an aviation summer camp. I signed up to teach a class in aerodynamics and was really looking forward to it, especially after discovering some issues with material they had borrowed from a Rod Machado text that I wanted to correct (See my blog about “Only One Form of Lift”). But, sometimes, life has its own plans; my mother-in-law’s health started rapidly deteriorating and my wife was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of bladder cancer, and I wound up with more important priorities. A few months later, I learned they were going to hold some afternoon high school classes and inquired about teaching the aerodynamics class, but the aero class was taken and the classes that were open required me to move a doctor’s appointment that was ridiculously hard to get. I figured I was done. But Providence stepped in. A few weeks before that class, the doctor’s office called and asked me to reschedule; so, after checking with my wife about whether she was okay with the trip (and getting a “yes”), I immediately contacted FlyQuest’s Educational Director, Russell Lewey, and asked if there were still classes open and could I come up? He was happy to oblige. He had an aircraft systems class open that was being taught at KMDQ; and, if I flew up in the CTSW, the kids could go out and see the systems we were teaching them about. I signed up with glee! Now, all I needed was for the Gods of Weather to cooperate, as fickle as they are.

As the time approached, the Gods smiled, and it was looking like a flight in the CTSW was going to be possible. Connie would not be going with me, so I had an open seat in CT and a Light Sport student whose dream was and is to make the long cross-country from Houston to South Carolina. I invited him to accompany me. Guillermo was thrilled to go, so I told him to pick two legs of the four leg trip to flight plan and fly using only the Sectional (How archaic!); we would fly the other two legs using GPS and routes I already had put together. The overall plan would be to fly from Pearland (KLVJ) to McComb, Mississippi (KMCB) and from there to Huntsville Executive (KMDQ), about a six hour flight, and then return home using reverse legs a few days later.

Guillermo is an architect who does very detailed planning for a living, and his flight planning reflected it. I had never seen such details fleshed out of a flight plan since training in the Navy for low level missions. He did a very thorough, detailed job; but there were still some details to tweak and it would be difficult to sustain his approach once he was on the road. He had included reproductions of the sectionals cut and assembled into a booklet, great for handling in the cockpit but taking lots of printing and construction time, something you were not going to have sitting in an FBO and replanning your next leg due to weather. Additionally, he had used some Class D airfields as checkpoints, no sweat as long as you know you can fly over the top of them but something never guaranteed due to Light Sport rules (no overflight of a cloud layer that cuts off contact with the ground). I prefer to form plans that don’t have a high probability of being forced to change on the fly; so I pointed out to him that he would have to deviate or get permission to go through if the ceiling was lower than the top of the Class D. He moved his checkpoints to accommodate those comments, and I deemed us ready to go.

On the Tuesday morning of September 20th, we manned up under clear but hazy skies. The weather brief had said we’d have 10 miles visibility, but the haze and blazing morning sun cut effective visibility down to about half that once we were in the air. The winds were out of the east and would get higher the closer to Alabama we got, but we had something less than a ten knot headwind when we took off and headed east. I performed the takeoff on runway 14, climbed us out toward the southeast, then east, and leveled us off at 1500 feet AGL. I gave the airplane to Guillermo. Flying his flight plan, he cut us across Galveston Bay; and once we moved from under the 2000 foot floor to the 4000 foot Class B floor, he climbed us up to 3500 feet and leveled us off, heading us northeast toward Beaumont. Since were dependent on the sectional for navigation, I pressed Guillermo frequently to show me where we were, and he did an admirable job of putting us right where we needed to be and was always on top of it. His preflight prep really paid off.

ATIS broadcasts for Beaumont were still calling it clear; but as we pressed to the north of it while traveling east, I noticed an thickening band of clouds ahead at our altitude. It was a layer of cumulus clouds with bases right where we were and tops two thousand feet higher. While they weren’t impossible to get over, their coverage was going to make it difficult to wind our way through them, and I wasn’t ready to try to climb over them until I understood conditions beyond. The Lake Charles ATIS was also calling “clear”; but we could see clouds down to the coast and continuing east, and there were much larger build ups over the Gulf to our south. I pulled in the latest report for McComb using XM Satellite weather on our GPS display; it was saying the airport was clear with at least six miles viz. METARS only give you the conditions at the airport and only hint at what might be beyond, but I still felt there was a good chance what we were seeing would not last. It was a safer bet to go low, so I told Guillermo to drop down to three thousand and fly there.
The view at 3000 with Guillermo flying to McComb

The clouds plagued us until we were passing Lafayette and then cleared out as I had hoped. The rest of the flight to McComb was in the clear with almost no clouds at all and only light chop that increased a bit as we approached the airport. Guillermo performed the descent to the forty-five degree entry for left traffic on runway 33; I took over a couple of miles from the airport and flew the downwind to a landing.
The McComb Mississippi(KMCB)FBO

After fueling up and taking a bathroom and snack break, we manned up and departed northeast. Optimal winds were still a thirty-five hundred, so I leveled us there and then let the autopilot fly the GPS course. Guillermo was content to rest and look around.
“Otto” Flying toward KMCB.

However, as we approached Alabama, the turbulence began to increase until I couldn’t stand the dives and climbs the autopilot was doing and I took over for the rest of the trip. The closer we got to Huntsville, the more headwinds and turbulence increased. I was throttled up to handle the headwinds; and, at about an hour out of Huntsville near Jefferson County, I was having trouble telling visually how much fuel we had left. While I knew by fuel burn and time we probably had enough to get there without landing (and that when you’re bouncing around, fuel can appear to hide in the wings), I decided to land at Walker County to check it out. (Frankly, I get curious about airports I often fly over and my curiosity makes me want to land just to check them out.) I aborted the flight as we flew past Waklker County airport, teardropping into a left downwind for runway 9, and then performing a flaps up landing with the windsock standing out to the right as I taxied over to the fuel pumps to shut down. Once the airplane was stopped, not rocking, and level on thee ground, I could see we did have the fuel to get there with some reserve; but it only made sense to add some more fuel to increase our margin. We did, got back in, and taxied back out.

I let myself get faked out on the takeoff. I taxied out to 9 again as the ASOS was reporting calm and a limp windsock confirmed it. We did our takeoff checks and, since the winds seemed to have died down, I dropped the flaps to 15 and started the takeoff roll, rotating at a calm wind speed of 42 knots. As soon as the nosewheel came off the ground, the airplane started hard drifting right; I countered with more left rudder and got us airborne inputting a hard left crab as we passed the windsock standing out to the right again. Lesson learned. With the flaps down at 15 and the nose in the air, the airplane’s ability to counter drift ain’t very good; keep it on the ground until a slightly higher speed and then pop her off like I know to do.
What a Flubbed Crosswind Takeoff at Walker County Looks Like!

After bouncing through the air for about another twenty minutes, I called Huntsville approach about 25 miles out. They surprised me by clearing me direct to KMDQ at 3500 feet. From where we were, that would mean a direct overflight of Huntsville International just slightly offset from the US Space and Rocket Center and its full-scale Saturn V mock-up. Acknowledging the call, I turned us on heading as the turbulence started kicking us for all it was worth. I slowed us down to Va (98 knots) to keep my airplane in one piece. Once, the airplane dropped so violently we were sure the earth had to have moved; without seatbelts, we would have smashed our heads into the ceiling. earhmoves
What it Looks Like When The Earth Moves While Flying

Holding on, we continued toward Huntsville Executive as I edged the course a few degrees west to make sure I didn’t knick a restricted area. I assumed it was “cold” since approach had said nothing to us, but I figured there was no reason to test it out.

We already had Huntsville Executive in sight. The winds were out of the north meaning a landing on runway three-six. We had a very gusty ten knots of crosswind as I aligned us with the runway centerline and visually picked up the VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator). I left the flaps up due to both the magnitude of the crosswind and its gustiness and came in a bit too fast, trying to get her settled down as we crossed the threshold. Trying too hard to get a smooth touchdown, I bobbled the airplane in pitch; on the third bobble, I had hit my personal safety criteria (three tries to get down), eaten up more runway than desired, so I cobbed the throttle to go around. I saw the linemen, who had come out on the ramp to show me where to park, throw their hands up in frustration as they heard the engine gun and saw me go. Nothing like the roar of the crowd..! And they weren’t even serving peanuts…

I flew a right downwind for three-six, making sure I got a good setup abeam, and then flew a right base and final to complete the landing with a solid thump. That was good enough. I taxied us down and off the runway and over to the parking spot where the linemen were waiting with our rental car, happy just to be where we needed to be safe and sound.shutdownkmdq
The CTSW shut down and empty at KMDQ. The FBO building can be seen out the right window.

Return from Missouri (Part 2)

From the author: I apologize for the delay and the disjointedness of posting this. I’ve been dealing with a family medical issue and thought I still needed to write the second half, knew it would take a while, had the AOPA issue jump up which I thought was quicker to deal with, and then realized this part was done and I just needed to post it.

There was sign next to the self-serve fuel pump I hadn’t seen before. It mentioned a “SUPERUNICOM” operating on the same frequency as the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), 122.8 for this airport. I had never seen or heard of it and, since I was focusing on getting the CT refueled, I didn’t take the time to read it. I fueled up for the next leg, and then met Connie inside the FBO. We sat down to a lunch of peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke while I pulled out the iPad and plotted a new course for our next leg.

Our next fueling stop was to be in Mount Pleasant, Texas. It’s an airfield we typically use as a fuel stop on the trip to Missouri and back from Houston. A single but very nice six thousand foot runway, great facilities, great people, and airplanes from the Commemorative Air Force. To get to it down the west side of the mountains, we still needed just a small jog further west, so I planned to fly southwest to Grove near Lake of the Cherokees before turning almost due south toward Texas.

The winds were strongly out of the southwest when we taxied out for takeoff on runway 19. Three clicks on the CTAF frequency (and not by us) triggered off an automated voice telling us the wind direction and velocity, our SUPERUNICOM at work. Once we were ready, I gunned her up the hill for 19 using no flaps because of the strong, gusty crosswinds, and we hit the top of the gradient about the same time I got to flying speed. We got airborne with a little hop before starting to climb away and turning right almost immediately. I climbed around the scattered clouds at speed driven again more by the oil temperature gauge than anything else. We leveled off a forty-five hundred feet for this leg; the winds were better there, the clouds were below us, and the ride was fairly smooth. To our left, the deck looked fairly solid, the cumulonimbus clouds were still there and quite tall, and I was very glad I had made the decision I did. As we flew over the ridgelines to the south we would have to cross, the clouds looked like they were lower than I had initially thought.

As we motored south past Sallisaw and Fort Smith under the clouds to our east, we saw a regional airliner cross several miles in front of us in a descending left turn. We watched him arc toward the cloud deck and then disappear beneath it as we moved toward skies that were turning milky. The visibility was dropping below us. At first, I thought it was mist; but there was a whiteness to it I couldn’t reconcile. As the puffy clouds moved past us below, one of them was as black as the side of a heavy thunderstorm, even though it was only a hundred feet tall and wide. Then, we were suddenly flying over a wildfire, the source of the white smoke that was filling the sky. There was no one or any equipment down there; it was burning in a solid east-west line. We pressed on south beyond it, and the sky quickly began to clear.

Soon, we were swinging past the snake-like curves of the Red River and entering our home state of Texas. We were still about thirty minutes away from Mount Pleasant, three hours flying time away from home, and a six to seven-hour drive if we were to switch to a car. It was just before two p.m. in the afternoon, the sun was blazing, and the clouds were building, fired up by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico still hundreds of miles away. The visibility was good but not unlimited; there seemed to be some haze in the distance. The cloud bases were moving up but they were also growing vertically; I knew there was a good chance that the next leg of the trip south toward Houston would have to be flown lower, both because of a slight change in heading and because of the building clouds. Both the NEXRAD satellite weather being displayed on our Garmin 496 and the view out the window said there were building cumulonimbus clouds just east of our route; once I got on the ground at Mount Pleasant, I’d take some time to recheck forecasts and take a more leisurely look at them for development and movement. With the long day, we could wait out any convective activity if needed; there was often a two to three hour window late in the day after the thunderstorms had died down when you could fly in, and that was just enough time to get to Houston from there. Since we were flying Light Sport rules, we would have to turn into a pumpkin shortly after sunset; if we couldn’t touch down at Pearland by then, Mount Pleasant would be our stop for the night.

We started picking up KOSA’s AWOS; winds were light and out of the south-southwest, meaning we would be heading for a straight in on runway 17. As we approached, I heard a Bonanza also coming in from the west; but he was much closer so I expected him to be on the ground by the time we got there. I slowly descended the airplane down to about two thousand feet AGL, and we bounced toward the city of Mount Pleasant which we could see through the haze. The confines of the airport and then the black strip of its runway slowly materialized, and I let down to the pattern altitude of 1400 feet to pick up the red and white lights of the 4 light PAPI. They were all white, so I pulled the power back and started slowing down to eighty knots so I could drop to fifteen degree flaps. There was just a little bit of gustiness in the winds, so I slowed down to sixty knots instead of a calm wind fifty-four and flew the glide slope on the PAPI using power until I made the runway and I touched her down.

Turning right onto taxiway Charlie, I called clear of the runway over the radio and headed us toward the FBO and the self-serve gas pumps to the north side. Pulling up to the pump, I went through the Shutdown checklist, pinning the BRS to keep it from being inadvertently fired, shutting down my electronics and then the engine before pulling the circuit breakers that act as a Master switch. We opened the doors and slid out, and Connie headed toward the FBO while I got out and headed to the pumps to get us gassed up before taking my break.

Unlike the day before when a low pressure system in the Gulf had pumped lines of thunderstorms up from the south, the cells I was seeing on the radar seemed to be moving very little and the coverage was isolated to small pockets we could fly around if needed. The forecasts were calling for a chance of thunderstorms until six p.m., but our route (for the moment) was clear. As Connie and I took another Coke and Cracker break, I told her it looked good for pressing on. We had the option of stopping for the night at Nacodoches if Houston got socked in; there was bed and breakfast there I was interested in checking out if the need arose. So, after getting refreshed and briefed, we climbed back into the CT and took off to the south.

The cloud bases were at about forty-five but the tops were up at about eight thousand and rising in the fiery sun, so I leveled off at thirty-five where it was about eighty degrees and infected with a bumpy ride. Turbulence usually forces me to hand fly the airplane especially with Connie aboard; I do a better job smoothing out the bumps than my simple autopilot which has no filters and climbs and dives like a Kamikaze in them. We flew south past Longview, Nacodoches, and Lufkin before driving just east of the large Class B ring surrounding Houston, watching the rain from numerous cells fall in misty sheets just east of us. I held our altitude until we were approaching the east side of Galveston Bay, before letting down to 2500 and finally 1500 feet to scoot under the floors of Houston’s Class B. Hugging the coastline on the north to give us some option other than ditching if we suffered an engine out, we made our way past La Porte and the restaurants at Kemah before turning west just south of Clear Lake. The familiar haunts of Johnson Space Center and Webster slid down our right side; we could see the large expanse of runways that are Ellington Field just beyond. I dialed in Pearland airport’s ASOS; the winds were favoring runway 14. We entered the pattern on a forty-five from the southeast, put the flaps down at fifteen on the downwind abeam, and landed, glad to be home.