I had the trip to the 1994 convention planned for at least six months prior to departure. I went through the Airport/Facility Directory looking for airports with 80 Octane along my proposed route. I had the lines drawn on the sectionals as direct as possible once I rounded the corner around Chicago. From northern Wisconsin, it’s not very convenient to go east. Lake Michigan is a formidable barrier for me as a single engine pilot. I wouldn’t even consider going over any of the Great Lakes! Lots of planning up to this point in time.
Then, disaster struck! Two weeks prior to my scheduled departure, I got the bad news. The annual inspection found an A. D. on the Bendix magnetos. The worst part was that calls to my list of suppliers showed the parts back-ordered since about May. It sure didn’t look like old NC4112N was going to make it this year, so I made alternate plans. Why not fly my 1947 Aeronca Super Chief to Baltimore? After all, it was a 1947, it was powered by a C-85 and it was built one month to the day after our 1947 Cessna 140 had been built! Close enough!
Departure day dawned beautiful at ALPHA HOTEL, my dad’s private strip near Webster, Wisconsin. Very light surface winds and clear skies! Lift off at 8:30 A.M. and the trip was under way. At 500 feet AGL, my GPS showed a ground speed of 107 MPH. Not bad for a 75 MPH airplane! Climb proceeded to 3500 MSL with groundspeed about the same as before.
I arrived at my first fuel stop, Winona, Minnesota at 9:50 A. M. with scattered clouds at about 2000 MSL. I took on 7.3 Gallons of 100LL as they didn’t have 80 Octane there. I departed Winona at 10:20 enroute to Boscobel, Wisconsin.
I arrived at Boscobel about an hour later to find a stiff west wind at about 20 MPH. Boscobel has one runway, 19/01. I opted to use 01 and made a nice controlled crash but hadn’t left any debris on the runway so everybody was happy. I found out how much fun strong, gusty crosswinds are in an Aeronca. I’d have much rather had my sure-footed Cessna with that wonderful spring-steel gear instead of mushy oleos! Live and learn my dad always said!
I departed Boscobel to the southeast enroute to the next check point/fuel stop. Dwight, Illinois was my longest leg so far — 181 statute miles. I climbed to 7500 MSL to try and take advantage of the forecast winds aloft. Good choice as groundspeed was up to 124 MPH. This leg was now well within the range of my main tank which holds 15 Gallons. I have an 8 Gallon Aux tank, but had never used it before and didn’t really want to unless necessary.
I approached Dwight and thought it sure would be nice that they had an east/west runway. I assumed the wind would be fairly close to what I had at Boscobel. Wrong answer my friend! I now had wind straight from the north at 25 MPH. I made a long pattern and a long final to allow myself time to get everything all worked out. It wasn’t going to work out. I couldn’t hold centerline with the right wing so low I thought it would scrape asphalt. Go around! Illinois is flat and open with green fields all over. Maybe I should take a farmer’s field instead of a sure wreck at the airport? As I approached the west end of the runway, low and behold, a sod runway looking piece of land, north/south. Long grass, but better than asphalt/pea rock! Thank you God for building that runway on such short notice! A deal’s a deal! Touch down at a groundspeed of 15 MPH or so. No wrecks today! A call to the FSS made the decision to stay at Dwight easy. Strong, gusty winds prevailed to my east. Better safe than sorry. 4.9 hours on the tach to this point.
Day two dawned nice again. Calm winds and clear skies. I departed Dwight for the Fulton County airport near Rochester, Indiana. After arriving and refueling at Fulton County, it was off to Lakefield, Ohio. Lakefield was an easy airport to find. It was located on large Grand Lake, the first real lake I had seen since leaving Illinois. Coming from the “Fishbowl of Wisconsin” area, where lakes are plentiful and provide for easy navigation, this type of terrain was alien to me and made navigation tougher. It was, of course, a piece of cake for the GPS to navigate!
Enroute from Lakefield to my intended stop at Harrison County airport near Cadiz, Ohio, I was again cruising along at 7500 MSL, VFR on top of the Broken clouds whose tops were at about 6000 MSL. I was closely monitoring my GPS since it was difficult to navigate by landmarks with the cloud layer blocking out about 90 percent of the view to the ground. Occasionally, a good check point appeared below the numerous holes. Then it happened! The GPS started squawking like a flock of geese. It suddenly lost its mind and didn’t know where we were. Fortunately, I was keeping close track of my progress and knew I was about 40 miles out of Coshocton, Ohio. I decided it would be in my best interest to get below the cloud deck and go to point to point navigation. Once I got below the clouds, I determined that I was at Coshocton without further incident. It was a bit breezy and I decided I had had enough excitement for one day, so I stayed overnight. The motel owner came out to the airport and picked me up. Very nice people in Coshocton!
Day three started out as a real bummer. I couldn’t see across the motel parking lot due to fog. Great, spend another day in Coschocton if it didn’t lift. Back in to watch the weather channel. Zanesville, Ohio was the closest reporting station and they said clear skies there. What gives? I found the motel sits low along a river. The motel owner gave me a ride back to the airport and as we drove up the hill to the terminal building, we broke out on top! The fog was only a small patch in the valley! Crank up that old C-85!
I departed Coshocton (Downing Airport) and took a short jaunt to the Greene County airport in Pennsylvania. I wanted fuel up to the gills before venturing out across the mountains! I flew direct to the Saint Thomas VOR then direct to Doersom Field at Gettysburg, PA. I had made it over the mountains at 7500 MSL with no bumps and great visibility! Not nearly as bad as I had expected mountain flying to be!
I departed Gettysburg and arrived at the Harford County airport after 14 hours in the air over the course of the trip. Touch down at 0W3 was 2:05 P. M. on Friday, September 30, 1994.
All that were there know how much fun we had at the convention so I won’t bore those people. For the ones who didn’t make it, WE HAD A BLAST!
Sunday rolled around and it was time to leave. A dreary day with some rain showers, but I didn’t hit any rain all the way back. I played tag with a group of 140’s who were going back to the midwest and I brought up the rear (remember, I was the slow guy at 75 MPH or so!). We met up again at Gettysburg and we all discussed how we were going to get back over the mountains as FSS was saying clear skies west but mountains obscured. We decided to stay under the cloud deck as visibility was good and nobody wanted to get trapped on top! I lost sight of the group after leaving Gettysburg enmasse. As I approached the mountains, I saw that the clouds were 400-500 feet above the peaks so I ended up splitting the difference and flew between the clouds and the peaks to keep myself clear of clouds in uncontrolled airspace.
I was very apprehensive as I approached the first line of mountains. Was I going to make it? I strayed off my planned course line and flew up the valley as I saw a lower peak a bit north. After I made the turn up-valley, I saw my groundspeed drop to 65 MPH. Not good, as this leg was about 150 miles. I sure didn’t want to be short of fuel in this territory. I flew along a highway through a bit of a pass at the Saint Thomas VOR, then directly followed an Interstate Highway to Somerset, PA and got more gas.
Greene County, PA. I saw them all lined up there and assumed they were having lunch. I decided not to stop since I had just filled up and wanted to make it as far as I could in the daylight. I have no electrics, so no night flying. I hope they weren’t waiting for me to show up and let them know I had made it through ok. If they were, thanks guys (and gals), you know who you are!
The rest of the trip provided great sunny weather and light winds. Total time in the air on the return trip was 16 hours, for a grand total of 30 hours. A long time in an old Chief!
Maybe next year I can finally get the 140 to a convention! Determination is defined as wanting to go somewhere or do something so bad, you’d fly an AERONCA to a CESSNA convention! 2,127 miles round trip!
This was a trip of firsts for me. First time VFR on top of the clouds. First time over any mountains. First time more than about 150 miles from home. It was fun and a good time for a 200 hour pilot! Would I do it again? Absolutely!
Scott A Littfin