Back Into the Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 18 (Final)

I awoke to the sound of an airplane roaring into the sky.  I could see that the sun was up.  When I heard a second airplane take off thirty seconds later, I felt like something was up and hopped out of bed to peer out the window. The sky immediately out the window was clear, occupied with only a few scattered clouds.  But to the south, I could see a solid, low layer of clouds slowly moving toward us.  If we wanted to get out before it arrived, we had to get up and go.

I awakened Connie and quickly explained to her what the situation was, and she agreed we needed to get going and hopped out of bed.  We both wanted to get home today if it was possible, and I felt there was a good chance that thunderstorms might make any afternoon arrival in Houston problematic.

So, while Connie was getting ready, I ran DUATS on the computer and got our weather and NOTAM briefing.  We would have scattered to broken clouds and scattered thunderstorms to contend with, and there were no NOTAMS that affected our flight.   I then hauled my bags down to the airplane and while at it performed a preflight.  Everything looked good except for the gas; we hadn’t taken on fuel the night before so that was one thing we still had to do.  Connie finally finished getting ready, so we grabbed her bag, checked the hotel room for anything left behind, checked out of the hotel, and made our way quickly to the airplane.  We strapped in, started up, and taxied over to the fuel pumps by the terminal where we got out and fueled up.  Once we were done, we hopped back in, started the airplane again, and ran through our pre-taxi and taxi prep steps.  We then taxied for runway one – four, stopping just before the hold-short to complete our run-up and takeoff checklist.

I called our departure over the radio as we taxied out onto the runway, and the little airplane rushed into the air as I pushed the throttle forward.  We turned out toward the east as soon as we could while also looking for a couple of radio towers to avoid, one northeast and one south of our position.    We climbed through some scattered clouds at about four thousand feet, and I took us up to fifty-five to level off above them.  The winds were in our face this morning, so after leveling off, we hit just a little over a hundred knots groundspeed.

Below us, the ground stayed green but leveled out more, filling with trees, as we would catch glimpses of it in between clouds.  We could see and hear the traffic flying from San Marcos as we crossed over its airport and then Lockhart Municipal beyond.  In front of us, we could see a couple of towering cumulus clouds slowly expanding upward like a marshmallow volcano, positioned close to our course but none directly on it, so at least I wasn’t going to have to divert around them.  But the clouds we were flying over were building upward (or lifting upward) as well.  To keep ourselves legal, I shoved the throttle to full and climbed us up to seventy-five hundred feet.   We kept pressing east toward Houston as the clouds also continued to bubble upwards.  About seventy miles out of Houston, I knew I was going to have to go up to ninety-five hundred feet and make a fairly hairy descent dodging the clouds while inside very busy Class B airspace or I was going to have to dive back down now and accept the bumpy ride that surely awaited.  I really did not like the idea of dealing with the Class B and possibility getting vectored to kingdom come, so I decided to take us down below the clouds now and motor in relatively low.

After informing Connie of what I needed to do, I found the biggest spot between clouds I could and rolled us into a high-speed dive.  I could push us up toward the one fifty knot Vne, but there was no need to do that. A one hundred twenty knot dive was letting us cartwheel down at between fifteen hundred and two thousand feet a minute.  The bases of the clouds were down around twenty-two hundred, so I pulled us out at fifteen hundred and put us back on course.  The clouds towered over us like roaming behemoths as I set the throttle back to fifty-two hundred, the Rotax’s equivalent of seventy-five percent power.

As I had expected, the ride was bumpy as we roared up on Robert R Wells Junior’s airport’s single runway.  We called our position, altitude, and direction of flight on the common traffic frequency but got no response and saw no one as we flashed on by.  The GPS switched to the next checkpoint, Eagle Lake airport, only ten miles away.  Happily, that airport used the same traffic frequency as Wells, meaning that we would hear any traffic calls for each airport as we approached either.

“Eagle Lake traffic, November Five-Four-Seven-Alpha Whiskey is ten miles to the west at fifteen hundred, traveling west to east, will be crossing over Eagle Lake.”

We got no response, and continued to press in.  But as we closed our distance to five miles, we heard a Cirrus call he was three miles out on the Eagle Lake GPS Runway 17 approach.  The hair on my neck stood up.  We would be crossing the airport almost perpendicular to each other.

I called our position again and also called “no joy” to let the Cirrus know we didn’t see him.  He responded that he had us on TCAS, which made him feel a lot better tha me since I still didn’t now exactly where he was.  As we approached the airport and crossed over it, both Connie and I were totally eyes out, but seeing nothing.  As the airport fell off behind us, we heard him call he was two miles out.  The odds of him hitting us just went down, though I didn’t relax completely until we were more than five miles away.

We continued blasting low across the green Texas flatlands toward Lane airport as we also could now see the environs of Houston crawling toward us.  We crossed over lane’s single black asphalt runway without seeing any other traffic, heading now for Houston Southwest airport, the last checkpoint before we got home.  But we could see a large, grey cloud parked over the field and the grey, straggling strands of rain pouring down on it.  With a pack of two thousand foot tall radio towers to the north of the place, I diverted us south, and we curled around the whole thing maybe a mile or so from it.  We could see the runway clearly through the rain.

We were back in home territory now.  The floor of the class B airspace above me was at three thousand feet but would drop to two before we got to Pearland, so staying down where I was made the only sense.  While I couldn’t see the airport specifically, the area where I knew it was and where the GPS was pointing us looked clear, though I could see a cell raining down just to the south and wasn’t sure which way it was moving.  Still, it looked good enough to press on in, so we followed the GPS across the city environs toward the CTSW’s new home.

Soon, I had the airport and its single runway in sight.  I called our approach over the common traffic frequency and told of our intent to cross mid-field for a landing on one-four.  We flew exactly that, rolling into a left bank to hit the downwind as we decelerated toward landing speed.  I lowered the flaps to fifteen, dropped my approach speed back to sixty knots, and turned base.  We landed about a third of the way down the runway, and I needed only a little braking to slow us down enough to turn off at the first exit, taxiway Bravo.

We taxied past the old familiar terminal building and down to the third row of hangars, turned right onto the short taxiway that led to ours, and then turned left to put the nose of the airplane just outside our hangar door.  We ran through the shutdown checklist, safing the BRS, shutting down avionics, and then stopping the motor with a “clunk!”  We were home!  We had safely made the longest cross-country I had ever done in a general aviation aircraft, and in a light-sport at that!  Since last Wednesday, we had covered fourteen hundred and fifty-two nautical miles, and we had gotten home just in time.  As I crawled out and swung the airplane around to push it back into our hangar, we heard a crack of lightning and felt the first cool gusts of wind from a nearing thunderstorm.  It was letting us know we were back in Houston once again.