Saturday, September 15, 2012


4 Mar 2012

Gday All,

I've toured over pretty much all of Australia in my Savannah,
and before that in a little Spectrum Beaver ultralight, with a tent under the wing.

Those travels are under 'Outback Adventures' at
I'd pretty much 'worn out' Australia, so there was nowhere new to go....

For some years I'd dreamt of flying the western USA, especially the high deserts.
I had thought of buying an LSA and getting an LSA license over there (my Australian license and 2400hrs experience aren't recognized there...), but not so easy.....
Turns out you must be a US citizen or a green card resident to register an aircraft there.....

Also, travelling around in such an aircraft and sleeping in a pup tent under the wing is okay for a couple of weeks, but for several months in all weather it would get a bit tiring.....
So I'd already started to dream of a transportable aircraft that I could tow in a trailer behind a camper van, and so have a good bed and an aircraft to fly locally.

Then at Oshkosh 2011 I spotted a little Kolb FireFly ultralight, and saw the answer!
A cute little ultralight with folding wings that would fit in a compact trailer.
And it complies with the Part 103 category, so no registration or license required.  
Just what I needed!
So planning started right then,
and this trip is the result!

Once I get an idea in my head of something I want to do, I can’t just sit around and dream about it, I have to get into action.  I’m retired, with no wife these days, so that’s a whole lot easier for me than it is for others, so I make the most of it.....  In November 2012 I found a suitable FireFly on Barnstormers.  It was in southern Mississippi, but friend Joe in northern Mississippi flew down in his Zenith 701 and inspected it and gave it the OK and arranged for it to be stored for me.  Next I wanted a light trailer, instead of one of the heavy car haulers, and I wouldn’t have time or facility to build one.  Then a friend in Las Vegas found me a derelict Airstream Argosy trailer in New Mexico, so I bought it sight unseen.  So I was now committed to the adventure, and to a long road trip as well.  Sometimes it’s an advantage to be so impulsive and get ahead of myself; if I’d thought more about all the hassles that such a project could involve I might have backed out.....

But just as well that I didn't back out.  I'm 73 already, so any time now I might start feeling old..... 
So these days I feel an urge to get as many adventures and memories as I can, while I can....
And I'm sure glad that I did this one!

So, in mid-March 2012 I found myself riding a Qantas 747 across the ocean, 
with excited anticipation, and some trepidation, 
of the adventure to come.....

John Gilpin

These are the roads that I drove, quite a road trip, approx 24,000 miles (40,000 km)

These are the airfields that I flew from, 48 airfields in 14 states.

View JG's Ultralight Walkabout USA in a larger map

As you can see, I covered a lot of the western USA.
And that's what I came to do......
And so glad that I did!
I've now got some great memories!


I've put this weblog together after finishing the trip, so I guess it's not really a blog as such.  
If I just left it as a blog, the time sequence would put the last flight at the top of the page..... 
But that didn't seem right, 
so I've faked the 'Published Dates' in the index on the right side of the page 
so that the first events appear at the top of the page, and later events follow on.  
So those dates aren't the true dates when I was at various places.  
The actual dates are in the upper left corner of each page.
And when you're scrolling through to the bottom of the page, 
you'll need to click on 'Older Posts' to get to the next posts.
Sounds confusing but it works OK.

.............................................................. aircraft is so small, and the mountains are so big......
At 10,000 ft near Albuquerque, NM.
Photo by Dennis Kirby, based Sandia Airpark.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mississippi River

I bought the aircraft in southern Mississippi,
the trailer in New Mexico,
converted the trailer in Baytown, TX and Greneda, MS.
More details on all that at the end of the story.

Apr 28, 2012
Flying from Helena, Arkansas.

The mighty Mississippi River.
Visions of Huckleberry Finn.
The flying adventure that I had dreamed about begins for real!
What a thrill!

Barge traffic on the river.

The levee bank that protects the countryside from flooding.


Right off topic, but I'll tell it anyhow...
A funny incident happened on an airfield while still in Mississippi.  
Probably best to leave that airfield nameless....

I was parked at a hangar a long way from the FBO, and needed to go to the toilet.  But I knew that if I went to the toilet near the manager's office, I'd get caught, and have to endure a long sermon as he felt the need to 'witness' all the experiences of his life.....  Sort of like getting hooked up in a blackberry patch, just can't get loose.....  No one around, so I decided to just go in the bush behind the hangar.  Carefully picked my way through the real blackberry bushes and found a clearing.  Was squatted down and just getting to the satisfying part of that exercise, when I realized that I had one foot on a fire ants nest!  Hundreds of them had already crawled up my pant leg before they all starting to sting at the same time!  So it was a mad scramble back through the blackberries, with my pants around my knees, and anyone will know that trying to hurry through blackberry bushes is painful and bloody....  Got out on the taxiway and stripped of my pants altogether, trying to keep the ants from getting to the really tender vital parts....  It would have made a really good 'Funniest Home Video', but luckily no one saw me do that frantic fire ant dance.....  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I-40 and Route 66

It was a l-o-n-g tedious drive across Arkansas, Oklahoma and north Texas, against blasting hot headwinds every step of the way.  No features that I wanted to fly over, and not flying weather even if I had wanted to.

 I depend on the radio for company when on the road, 
but this is the 'Bible Belt', and it was election year, 
so only Bible prophesy and electioneering.....
.....It was a really l-o-n-g way.....

Pushing against such a hot and strong headwind like that with a trailer in tow is a likely way to ruin an engine or automatic, so I pulled off the I-40 onto a side road looking for a place to rest.  I don't remember the name of the faded and run down settlement, but it turned out to be on part of the original Route 66.  Not one of those places promoted for Route 66 tourism these days, but definitely genuine.  Pulled into a bare and basic camp ground that hadn't changed since those days.  Thinking of all those poor desperate migrants in the 30's, pushing their way over that same road, against the same relentless wind, with suffering old vehicles loaded down with the whole family and  all possessions, and no money......   It must have been a very long and tedious and desperate trip for them, not the romantic image of Route 66 that we have today ......

These days the I-40 that replaces the old Route 66 is a fine fast interstate highway, with everyone rolling along in powerful vehicles in air conditioned comfort.  There sure are a lot of big trucks on the highway; sometimes they're almost head-to-tail, like a long train....  You can really feel that it's a vital flow of east-west commerce in this very dynamic country, quite impressive!

The choice of Airstream trailer really proved itself in these conditions.  It was light and streamlined and easy to tow, and very stable in any wind, even blasts from all the big trucks.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Sandia Airpark, Albequerque, NM

5 May, 2012

I stopped at Sandia Airpark because when I had posted the idea of this trip on the Kolb forum, Dennis Kirby immediately replied, offering assistance and hospitality.  This was the start of many such offers of welcome and assistance.

When I was off-loading the aircraft, one ramp slipped off the trailer and dumped the aircraft onto the ground on it's side .......hard......  The impact damaged the pod, broke the pod mountings, and broke the tailpost.....   It was going to need a good TIG welder to repair the pod mounts, and a lot of work to remove the fabric on the vertical stab to replace the tailpost, then re-cover and paint....a real problem, especially with no workshop.  While I was pondering the dilemma and feeling very depressed, Stacy and Candy arrived and listened to my sad story.  Stacy said, "...I have a complete machine shop in my hangar, bring it down there..."  And she does have a COMPLETE machine shop, and what's more she really knows how to use it all.  It was really fascinating to watch her assess the work to be done and make her plan.  She did a very fine job of TIG welding that thin wall tubing without damaging the adjoining fabric.  I patched the pod with some body putty and then she quickly set up a mini spray booth and did a re-paint job that's better than it was originally.  Then with her hydraulic press she very skilfully bent up a stainless steel doubler for the tailpost.  I know how difficult it is to get the radius and alignment just right for such a piece, and this one is just perfect.  Then of course she just had to polish it, and the result is beautiful, looks like it belonged there from new.  With that doubler bolted and riveted over the broken piece, it's now stronger than original.

A couple of days later I was having trouble taxiing straight, and realized that the wheel alignment was out.  When I bought the aircraft I had noticed that one landing gear leg was a bit bent, but willing to live with it.  Now I realized that that bend also put the wheel alignment out.  Just as I was measuring this and pondering what to do, Stacy taxied up in the Cessna 150 that she had completely overhauled and rebuilt firewall forward.  Once again she said, "...Bring it to the hangar..."  Then she chucked the leg in her lathe, and put a dial gauge on it.  Then multiple times back and forth to the press until it was true within a few thou.  Saved by Stacy once again!

Stacy starting work.

Candy and old farts from the airpark fascinated by it all.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Window Rock, Arizona

Lots more wind in New MexicoArizona and Utah 
It blasted on and on, week after week, with hardly a break.  
Locals said it blew a lot more and for longer than usual this year....
So lots of ‘ride-em cowboy’ flights in that little ultralight....

Now the procedure became one of picking a geographical or historical feature that I wanted to fly around, then looking at the sectional charts (1:500,000 scale same as VNC) to identify a suitable airfield nearby, and then heading there.  An iPad with AirNav installed was essential for finding small airfields by road.  The road GPS often doesn’t list small airfields, and even locals sometimes can’t give correct road directions to their airfield.  And with such a trailer in tow, can easily get stuck at the end of a narrow road with no way turn around....   

I always received open and friendly welcomes at every airfield where I showed up and asked if I could set up and fly from there.  Then there were many puzzled looks when they saw me pull in and park, then pull the back end off the trailer and roll it away, then unload the aircraft and unfold it, then hop in and fly away.  Many times I heard the comment, “...Hey, that’s really cool!...”

This was mid-summer and mostly in the desert, so pretty hot, and lots of rough thermals at mid-day, so of course the only sensible time to fly was early morning, and just before sundown.  This also gives the best light for photography.  So the routine was to drive through the heat of the day, then set up at the next destination late in the day, to be ready for a flight early the next morning.  Then pack it all up and away again.  Flew from 48 airfields in 14 states....

Flights were only about an hour each, due to the Part 103 limitation of only 5 gallons fuel, which was an endurance of about 1hr 40min.  With a cruise speed of 60 mph, an unexpected 20 mph headwind coming home can really mess up fuel planning, so need to keep a good reserve...  Of course the GPS was essential for judging ground speed, and avoiding restricted areas, and there’s some very serious military restricted areas out in that desert....  A little hand-held radio served well for working with traffic in circuit.


14 May 2012
Flying out of Window Rock, Arizona.

A monument to the Navajo code talkers.

Window Rock is the administrative center of the Navajo Nation.

These were the first rock formations that I saw on the trip.
As the trip went on the rocks got bigger and bigger
and more impressive.
There are a lot more photos of rocks to come......

A dust storm came roaring through.
Luckily the aircraft was in the trailer.
And that's a great advantage of travelling with a trailer/hangar.

Next morning, peaceful as you could wish for.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grand Canyon

16 May 2012

Flying from Cliff Dwellers airfield, near Marble Canyon, Arizona.

 There are too many flying restrictions over the main touristy part of the Grand Canyon, 
so I had to fly in from upstream outside the park.

The very start of the canyon.

Getting wider.
And wider and deeper.
The Grand Canyon proper.
I had to turn back at this point due to fuel range.

The bridges at Marble Canyon.

Set up on Cliff Dwellers airstrip.
Homemade wind indicator at Cliff Dwellers.

Click on 'Older Post' at bottom of the page to scroll to next page.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hurricane, Utah

19 May 2012

Flying from Hurricane, Utah.

Hurricane airfield and town.
Typical Mormon town,
with intensive agriculture on every bit of useable  land,
and four big Mormon churches in one street.
And everything very neat and tidy.

They have two playgrounds right near town.
This one wet.

And this one dry.
"...Go play in the sand pile..."

Entering Zion National Park.

This is as far as I could go safely..... 
Strange geology.

This a track for testing aircraft ejection seats.
They mount the seat on a rocket-powered sled and shoot it off the end,
then check the results at the bottom......
I'm told there was sometimes a monkey strapped in the seat.......
It'd be a great ride.....if the parachute worked.....

Flat roofed houses in this low rainfall country.
The 'Southwest' style of architecture.
20 May 2012
Annular eclipse of the sun.
I took off just before the eclipse and got this photo at maximum coverage.


One day at Hurricane airfield I noticed a Zenith 801 without slats.  I went over to visit, and he told me how well it goes with VGs instead of the original slats.  He was quite amazed to find out that I had manufactured the Stolspeed VGs he was using!

At Cascade, Idaho I also met a Super cub with my Stolspeed VGs on it.  Quite a buzz!

Click on 'Older Posts' to continuie.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mesquite, Nevada

21 May 2012

I had to get here because this was the closest town in Nevada where I could register the trailer properly.  I was running with a temporary registration from New Mexico, which had expired days ago, and the date of expiration was in big black letters on the label on the back of the trailer, so any highway patrolman could easily read it.....  Not a really serious offence, but didn't want to get stopped and have to answer a whole lot of who and where and why questions....  Needed to register it in Nevada, cause that's where the van was registered, and I had a mail forwarding address there that I used as a place of residence.....  There's lots of complications and suspicions that arise when you're footloose without a settled residential address......

Not flying here, way too windy.
A strange, interesting place to visit....

Hundreds of luxury retirement condos in the desert.
But many empty and selling real cheap these days.
Off course they have to find enough water for a golf course, eh....
I thought the best benefit of golf was the exercise, but they're not getting much here....

Another extravagant use of water at this casino.
The casino across the road is all boarded up since the recession....

The weather forecast said that Death Valley was experiencing a relatively cool spell, (just in the 90's) but would soon be up around 115F again.  I thought I'd missed my chance to fly there this summer, but this was an ideal opportunity, and it now wasn't very far away, so had to go there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Death Valley, lowest point in the USA.

27 May 2012

Flying from Furnace Creek, Death Valley,California.      

Death Valley was some of the very best flying experience I had on this trip!
Heard so much about it for so long, just had to have a look.
I just love that stark scenery.
Can't really see it the same from the ground.

First view of Death Valley

Lowest point in the USA, -282 ft.

Negative altitude.
Furnace Creek resort and airfield.
And of course golf course....
On my first flight from this airfield a very strong crosswind came up while I was away.
Too strong to land this light little tail dragger along the runway.
So I landed on the apron straight toward the hangar.

Note the circuit direction indicators at the windsock, indicating a right-hand circuit
They're really useful, why don't we use them in Australia??
Then had to tie down in the shelter of this barn.
Alluvial fans are the most noticeable feature of Death Valley.

This is a perfect alluvial fan.

A really large fan with the settlement of Stovepipe Wells.

Some very colorful pigments.

An up-market resort on the edge of the valley.
Furnace Creek camp ground.

The van was struggling already, and lots more steep passes ahead, so I left the trailer here and drove back to Las Vegas to have 4.11 gears installed in the differential.  That helped quite a bit, but 7% grades on the way to Lone Pine showed that it wasn't enough, needed more grunt up front.....