Posted November2015

Day 1

Well, for only the 2nd time in ~45 years of flying, I had to abandon an airplane and bum a ride home.

Got the holidays off, and it happened to coincide with some severe clear.  It's a bit nippy, but nice flying weather.  I lolly-gagged through the morning, and finally headed to the airport.

As I was getting ready to take off, a Maule did a go-around.  "Coyotes next to the runway," he explained.

A Bellanca called entering downwind.  I make the takeoff call, and rolled onto the runway.

"Watch the coyotes," called the Maule.

"Roger".  I powered up.  Saw they after I broke ground, dashing back into the brush well offset from the runway.  "Coyotes are still hanging around," I called.

The Bellanca called base.

I continued my climbout, and started heading towards my usual haunts.

Call on the radio.  "Are you OK?"


Continued my climb, but curved slightly back towards the airport.

"All aircraft, Auburn airport is CLOSED, aircraft on the runway."

Crap.  I dropped down a bit and curved back.  Sure enough, the Bellanca had landed gear-up.  My guess is he got distracted by all the coyote warnings.

So.  What next?  Obviously just couldn't circle the place until they cleared the runway...that could be hours.  I dropped in at the closest airport, and airpark about five miles away.

Pulled on on the apron near the office.  NOW what?  It was about 2:30, and sunset was a little after 4 PM.  I called my home airport office to get an answer, probably out with the accident.

The airport I was at was the base for one of my EAA chapters, and knew a couple of the members who lived on the airport.  Didn't have their numbers.  Asked at the airport office, and they gave me a couple.  One number was bad, no answer on the other.

The airport is about a 25 minute drive from my home...but my wife is out of town.  The next door neighbor I trade favors with is ALSO out of town.

I call my home airport again.  Get someone this time.  "We'll probably be clear in about an hour."  About 4 PM, just fifteen minutes or so prior to sunset.

Some problems, there.

First, it's likely to extend to sunset and beyond. Second, I don't have lights on my airplane. Third, I'm flying as a Sport Pilot, and am not LEGAL to fly at night. And, last, the only glasses I had with me were heavily tinted sunglasses.  Even if willing to waive points 2 & 3, the sunglasses would make it extremely difficult to do.

I was beginning to regret not shoe-horning the plane into the ~2000 feet left beyond the point where the Bellanca had stopped.  I saw that done  once when I witnessed a Stinson Reliant turning over on landing.  one of  the local flight school Warriors snuck in.

But... I fly a very distinctive airplane.  Unlike that anonymous Piper, EVERYONE would know it was me doing a fairly stupid stunt.

I was standing grumpy in the airport office, cogitating with no real success, waffling about going out and doing SOMETHING, or giving up and calling cab.

Five young men came into the office.  They wanted to learn to fly, and there is apparently a financial-aid program.  They picked up the applications, and started wandering around the airplanes.

The airport staffer shooed them away...they were not allowed loose on the airport grounds.

The usual instinct kicked him.  "C'mon guys...I'll show you MY airplane!"

At that point, the usual Fly Baby magic kicked in.  They were amazed one could buy an airplane for $10,000 or less.  That it ran on car gas. That it was covered in fabric.  That anybody could maintain it.

Cycled them through the cockpit in the usual way.  Photos were taken. Fabric was stroked.  Cylinders were stared at.

I sent them off happy, I think.

Karma came through.  The EAA friend who hadn't been home answered his phone.  His wife came over and drove me and another refugee back to the  home airport.

Now, tomorrow, I've got to try to chase down a ride back.

Day 2

So there I was, plane untied and rotated so the sun would melt the frost on the wings, nearly ripping out my jacket, shirt, and jeans pockets going, "Where the keys???!  WHERE ARE THE ^*&#ING KEYS!!!!?????"


Day started off well.  Last night, a neighbor offered to drive me the ~15 miles to the airport where Moonraker had it's little campout.  We agreed to get going about 1 PM on us about three hours before the sun would set.

Didn't sleep well last night.  That airport had had some vandalism problems, which 'Raker would of course be more sensitive to.  I was concerned about frost, too.  The area I tied down in still had frost when I'd left the airplane at about 4 PM that day.  I was going to have to make sure it got cleaned off.

I was also worried about showing up without my flight gear or the airplane keys.  The airport staffer had given me a garbage bag for my flight gear (helmet, goggles, scarf, gloves, facemask) and I had kept them in there.  I attached the airplane keys to my regular key ring with a twist-tie.

A bit before 1 PM, I locked the front door of my house, climbed in the car, and drove down the street a bit.  My neighbor followed me to my home airport, where I left the car and climbed in with him to go to where the plane was sitting.

Got there just fine.  He offered to hang around until the engine started.  Plane was intact, with most of the frost melted.  I untied it and rotated it around in the sun to get rid of the rest.  Reach for the keys to open the baggage compartment and store the cockpit cover....

No keys.  Anywhere.  We searched the parking lot, we checked my friend's car.  My airplane keys have a big hot pink key fob (souvenir from a Romance Writer's of America wife's a published romance author) so they HAD to show up if they'd just been set on the ground.

Went nuts for ten minutes trying to find them.  Considered backups...cutting the P-leads to make the mags hot, prying open the baggage compartment to if there was a spare set in the spare-parts bag.

Gave up, and had him drive me home.  Thought I knew where the backup set was.   I started walking to the front door, and there were the keys with the hot-pink fob.  Just sitting in the grass.  Apparently the twist tie had just come loose.

Got back to the airport about 2:15.  Stuck the keys in the ignition.  Wiped the rest of the frost of the wing.  Donned the scarf (wasn't intending to fly long, didn't need the face mask), climbed in, slid on the helmet, and fired up.  Fifteen minute trip back home.  Back in the home hangar...and off to Ace Hardware to get some spare keys made.

Ron Wanttaja

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