Monday, August 16, 2010

Second Day of Part VI of the Dare To Do Air Kansas Explorer Quest - Saturday, August 14, 2010

7:30AM - Its time for Day Two of our Kansas Explorer Club Quest Dare To Do Air, Part VI!  KE Explorer #4419 and myself, KE Explorer #8, arise and shine in the cool of an excellent morning in Elkhart, Kansas, and only a bit groggy from lack of sleep due to the noise of a certain party next door.

Parking lot, El Rancho Motel, Elkhart, Kansas.

Across the parking lot of the motel is Jim-N-I's Restaurant, which this Saturday morning was serving a breakfast buffet.  I pile my plate with biscuits & gravy, sausage, hashbrowns, and garnish the whole thing with nice strips of bacon.  I call it my Commodore Bacon Special, in honor of Erika Nelson of Lucas, Kansas, who was definitely here in spirit.

After filling ourselves to our heart's content we go out and tour downtown Elkhart before driving back to the Elkhart-Morton County Airport, where a stiff south wind greets us as we park the courtesy car. 

We wake the Citabria up from whatever dreams planes have and the Pilot pulls it over to the gas pump.  12.5 gallons of gas later at $4.18 a gallon the plane feels a lot better.  The Pilot goes over it and pronounces everything in working order and ready to go.  About then a local pilot shows up and after a few more minutes of chewing the fat it is finally time to get going on the trip back to Osborne. 

We take off at 8:55AM and first head west.  Why?  So we can go east.  Sheesh.  The stupid questions one gets sometimes . . . .

Actually there was a madness to our method.  Eight miles west of Elkhart we fly over a spot that can be said to be truly unique - The Three State Windmill, as pictured above.  Its right there in the northeast corner of the intersection; the small concrete square beneath the windmil being the most visible part that can be seen at the altitude this shot was taken.  This intersection is where Colorado (left), Kansas (right), and Oklahoma (bottom) meet. 

We fly back east and over Elkhart.  The county seat of Morton County, Elkhart has a vibrant downtown district, nice clean and well-kempt homes, and even a new-looking swimming pool. The local Chamber of Commerce owes me for that blatant plug.  This above photo of the city in itself is a triumph, as this is the third time we have tried to fly to here - the first time in September 2007 a thick cloud mass obscured all of Morton, Stevens, and Haskell Counties, and the next time severe weather prevented our coming altogether. 

9:20AM: The Elkhart-Morton County Airport covers an area of 346 acres at an elevation of 3,622 feet above mean sea level. It has two asphalt paved runways, each of which measure 4,900 by 60 feet.  The airport features eighteen hangars, six outdoor plane tie-downs, and a 24-hour automated weather service for all area air traffic.  In short, this is a typical Kansas public airport, though probably a bit better than the norm.  The road seen at the lower right in the above photo is the state line between Kansas and Oklahoma. 

Heading east the state of Oklahoma spreads out to our right.  This photograph is pretty much the same photographic opportunity there would be for the entire seventy miles we flew beside it. 

Approaching Liberal, Kansas, we see spread out below us the former Air Force base now known as Liberal Mid-Regional Airport.  We land at 10:05AM and proceed with obtaining two quarts of oil, taking a bathroom break, drinking the complementary lemonade, and entertaining two friendly dogs.  You know, all airports should have friendly dogs. 

The Pilot mutters oops! and Oh #$*#&$ as we takeoff again at 10:27AM.  I daren't ask.   Never have, in fact. 

Liberal is home to the Liberal Air Museum, Dorothy's House, and Seward Community College.  When the Pilot and I were last here in 1997 we drove through a seven-inch rainfall that flooded the streets and made life generally miserable for everyone.  Looking down on a much-drier city we learned in no uncertain terms what high school rules the roost in this region of the country. 

10:40AM - We pass northeast of Liberal and over the Cimarron River valley.  Here in 1939 the railroad built a bridge guaranteed not to wash away like its predecessors had.  The 1,268-feet long Mighty Samson of the Cimarron Railroad Bridge stands as a testament to the stubborness of Man against that irresistible force called Nature.  The bridge was recently named a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture.

10:41AM - we fly past the city of Kismet, Kansas.

10:45AM - We fly past the city of Plains, Kansas.  Plains may be small town, but it has a big attraction - it is noted for having the Widest Main Street in the United States, at 155 feet, five inches.  The street was recently a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs.

10:55AM - We circle around Meade, the county seat of Meade County and the home of the Dalton Gang Hideout and Museum.

Another shot of Meade, this time toward the downtown district.

This school in Meade will be a busy place as school starts up once again very shortly.

At 10:58AM we touch down at Meade Municipal Airport.  The Pilot did NOT one-hop the landing; at least that's his story and he's sticking to it.  As we land another plane is taxiing off, something new for the journey!  Over the radio comes the inquiry Do you need fuel?  We radio back No and the plane takes off, followed by another.  We are having a discussion over our next destinations when another planes lands - and its a Citabria also!  Believe me, the odds of two Citabrias sitting next two each other at a small public airport in southern Kansas are incalculable.  It is such a mesmerizing sight that I don't even think of taking a photo.  Sigh.  The two men from the other Citabria approach and ask about refueling.  I think the guy you need to talk to just took off, replies the Pilot.  Evidently they really need fuel, as they go in search to see whether or not there was a telephone number to call.  Sadly there is not one posted at the Meade airport.  Most Kansas airports are not attended (or even open) on the weekends, which makes the need for accessible 24-hour credit card refueling machines, accessible telephones, and especially posted contact numbers a must at all public airports in the state.

AT 11:16AM we take off from Meade and head ten miles northeast to Fowler, Kansas.

We circle over the Fowler Airport, which boasts a single 2,310-foot turf runway. 

We land at 11:30AM, the turf not bad at all and the Pilot doing a good job as well.  As we exit the plane we notice a horse staring over the fence at us.  He keeps staring too.  The entire time we are here he is staring, one eye on us at all times.  Where's that friendly dog?

This appears to be the Fowler Airport terminal/lounge.  We're not sure, and we're not keen on finding out.  We decide that there might be hornets inside - one never knows - and so we take off again at 11:45AM and head northeast.

Now, the Pilot had listed on our flight plan a landing at Wilroads Garden Airport, which was described as being a 2,630-foot public turf runway some three miles southeast of the Dodge City Regional Airport.  As we fly toward it the Pilot notices that the airport is not shown on his official map .  But other maps we have with us show the airport.  So we fly northeast, and circle around where the GPS states that the airport is to be.  But there is nothing there.  In time we discover that sometime between the fall of 2009 and today this airport closed.  

We fly on to the northeast and past the city of Offerle,Kansas.

At 12:33PM we circle Kinsley, Kansas, county seat of Edwards County.

We touch down at the Kinsley Municipal Airport at 12:36PM and notice a nice big sign welcoming all visitors.  And that was the last of the amenities to be found at this airport.  We look around, take a photo or two, and are not ashamed to admit that a bush received some nice watering.

We take off again at 12:50PM, following the flow of the Akansas River.  Even at an altitude of 4500 feet we could see that the river is bankfull and flowing well after all the recent rains in the area.

1:05PM - we fly past the city of Garfield, Kansas.

1:12PM - we circle over the city of Larned, Kansas. 

The Larned -Pawnee County Airport features a 4,202-foot concrete runway with two shorter turf runways.

We land at 1:15PM - nice one, Pilot! - The Pilot gets gas for the plane and then heads into the cool lounge.  The temperature outside: 94 degrees. 

Now this is one well-stocked Pilot's Fridge!  The jar at top right is where you leave the money on the honor system.

Ah!  Here is the simple solution for all those city officials worried about vandalism at their airports - an electronic key that opens only to the pilot emergency frequency.  Thank you, Larned!

We get ready to go and then look up to see clouds forming to the northwest.  This is not a good sign at this time of day - more often than not these clouds will form into thunderstorms in a hurry this time of year.  After much debate we decide to forego our last two scheduled stops of Great Bend and Ellinwood and fly straight on to Osborne, 79.9 nautical miles to the north-northeast.  Disappointing, but there is nothing for it.  So at 2PM we lift off one more time.

At 2:20PM we flyover the Barton County community of Olmitz, Kansas.

A closeup view of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Olmitz.

Three miles north of Olmitz is Kansas Highway 4, here seemingly passing on into infinity.

At 2:32PM we fly past the community of Milberger in southwestern Russell County.  Radke Implement in Milberger was founded in 1925 by Herman Radke.  Herman passed away in 2002, but Radke Implement continues and is still the place to go for all your implement needs.  Small town business at its best!

Just north of Milberger we Sky Dance with a rain squall.  A few sprinkles on the windshield but the PIlot evades the worst of it.

It was going to happen sometime, and at 2:41 PM we crossed back over our Day One journey at Russell.  Above is the Interstate 70 interchange on the south side of the city.

Aerial view of the Russell County Courthouse and other county buildings.

At 2:45PM Wilson Reservoir appears off to our right.

We pass on north into Osborne County.  One noted landmark in the southern part of the county is Tabletop Hill.

We also pass over the Grand Center Cemetery, where a number of my ancestors reside. 

On a hillside in southern Covert Township in September 1943 a B-24 Bomber crashed into the hillside ("O") during a thunderstorm, killing all eleven servicemen aboard.  In 2004 a memorial was unveiled ("X"), dedicated to these men who lost their lives in the service of their country.

Just a few miles to the northeast of the B-24 Bomber Memorial is Sand Mound, a local natural landmark that is one of the most visible eastern limits of the High Plains Physiographical Region.

Eight miles southeast of Osborne is some of the best fossil-hunting areas around.  The acres of exposed Blue Hill Shale have been a beckoning mecca for exploration since the earliest settlers in 1860s.

In this same area is Medicine Peak, surrounded by 85 acres of exposed Blue Hill Shale.  The landmark was revered by the region's Indians, hence the name.

AT 3:13PM we at last arrive back at Osborne.  We circle the city and finally touch down.  Nice job, Pilot.  We are back in one piece!  The official announcement comes over the cockpit intercom: Ladies and gentlemen, we ask that you replace all trays to their upright positions and as you exit through the right side door we thank you for flying Flyaway Airlines! 

We thus end Part VI of Dare To Do Air, having landed at fifteen new airports in two days, bringing our overall total to 52 Kansas public airports.  Just 88 to go!

First Day of Part VI of the Dare To Do Air Kansas Explorer Quest - Friday, August 13, 2010

   This past Thursday night David Readio, my friend of some 25 years, drove out from Colorado for a long-anticipated event: two days of once more flying around the state of Kansas landing at public airports.  This was Part VI of these series of trips, with Part I occurring in June 2006.  The whole thing began then as an Official Quest by two Kansas Explorers - Dave, KE #4419, and yours truly, KE #8 - with the idea to land at every public airport in the state, which at the present time stands at 140 airports.  We take off on these jaunts whenever we can and when the fickle Kansas weather allows it, and in spite of Dave's moving from Lawrence KS to Colorado in 2007.  To date we have landed at 37 Kansas public airports.
   Dave is the Pilot, the Captain of the Ship, the Master of His Domain.  His American Champion Citabria is certainly not the largest plane in the world by far and is in fact often used as an acrobatic plane.  At the moment he houses it in a hangar at the Osborne Municipal Airport, as this is way cheaper than in Colorado, plus he is still on the waiting list back there.
   I'm along for the ride functioning as the Official Photographer and Backseat Driver.  We arose Friday morning full of vim and vigor, anticipating landing at no less than ten airports before the end of the day.  Ten is the ultimate number of airports that Dave can do in a day when added to the stress of flying in between.  A quick Smoothie breakfast at Harvey's Coffee & Kitchen in downtown Osborne at 8:30AM and we arrive at the airport hangar at 9AM.
   And discovered that at some time within the past few several months the Kansas wind has blown the north hangar door off its railing.  This is a major problem, because there is no way to get the huge hangar doors open except to literally tear into one door to get to the other.  So we call the city office.  They suggest we call Barry Curry at his automobile business as he is in charge of the airport for the city.  We call, he asks why we called him, and tells us to call the city office as they have to take care of the problem, not him. 


So we call the city back and in a few minutes the City Superintendent comes out and inspects the problem.  He calls his office back and in a few more minutes a bucket truck and several city workers all arrive to tackle the problem.

By 10:15AM the door has been taken apart and the other door opened and the Citabria rolled out into the sunlight for the first time in a long, long time.  Minutely the Pilot goes over the plane and then climbs in.  Will it turn over?  Will there be any other variations of Murphy's Law cropping up.  No worries; after a few coughs the engine turns over loud and strong. 

Federal law dictates that the Pilot must the plane up and back down three times solo to get back in official standing with the Federal Avation Administration.  So I cool my heels while the Pilot flys around and has fun.  Then we call Barry Curry back in order to come out and supply us with gas, finally taking off at 11:21PM from Osborne Municipal.   Wish Osborne had a credit card machine on its gas pump like other Kansas airports do. 


The above photo is the Passenger's view of the cockpit.  We often get the question of just how much I can see from the Passenger seat, which is right behind the Pilot's.  Toss in the other three-feet square space behind my Passenger seat and you have been given the tour of the entire inside of the plane.   Should the Pilot have any physical problems and is unable for any reason to fly the plane, then this Passenger will soon be having physical problems of the ultimate kind as well.  

Aerial view of downtown Osborne, looking west along Main Street between Elm and Second Streets.  The white streak in the brick street is dust.  I kid you not.

Aerial view of the Osborne Municipal Airport taken from the southwest.  The airport was established here in 1943 when a B-17 Bomber crashlanded and a runway was built so that it could take off once more.

Our First Day itinerary has been only delayed and therefore is still intact - we plan to land first to Lucas, then Lincoln, Ellsworth, Russell, a long flight to Dodge City, Montezuma, Sublette, Satanta, Hugoton, and finally Elkhart in the southwestern corner of the state.  On the way we fly past numerous Kansas communities and other landmarks.  Our first town we cross over is Tipton, seen above, located in just over the county line from Osborne in Mitchell County.

Closeup view of St. Boniface Catholic Church, Tipton.

Venturing back onto the Osborne side of the county line, we pass over the very rural Union Cemetery.  Last time I was in it, the grass was two feet high and one had to use one's shoes to stamp it down in order to see the stones.

Also on the Osborne side a little further south is a location unique on the entire globe - The Geodetic Center of North America, or more properly titled the 1927 North American Datum.  From this point all deeds, maps, surveys, and other have been created since 1910.  In 1927 it also became the basis for such legal docs in Canada and Mexico, and with the later addition of the Central American countries it truly became the North American Datum.  Oh come on, don't tell me you can't see it! 

Heading on south we cross over the other county line into Russell County, where this field depicting a flock of birds caught my attention. 

At 11:50AM we fly over the city of Lucas, one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art.  Flying pigs, toilet bowls, the World's Largest Souvenir Travel Plate, genuine Kansas folk art - all aspects of the imagination are celebrated here. 

And in this photo we can look down at two of Lucas' fine attractions:  The always-fascinating Garden of Eden (at left) and The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things Travelling Roadside Attraction and Museum - Erika Nelson, Director (at upper right) .

Lucas's Municipal Airport sports a 2,904 foot-long asphalt runway and is noted among pilots for its proximity to the Highway 18 Cafe, open seven days a week and located just a uphill stroll from your plane.  We land at noon and join Connie Dougherty and other locals in digging into the Friday fried chicken special.  Connie is the Lucas Chamber of Commerce director and after stuffing our faces follows us back to the plane for a photo or two as part of newspaper story on us.  She laughs at the inglorious way I climb back into the Passenger's seat; my indignant ego is only slightly bruised as this is pretty well how anyone would have to get in.  And I did not get any better as the day continues.

Two south hangars, Lucas Airport.

Two north hangars, Lucas Airport.

Up a brief slope on the west side of the the Lucas Airport is the Highway 18 Cafe (behind the car), open seven days a week.

Looking north along the 2,904-foot long asphalt runway of the Lucas Airport.

Looking south along the 2,904-foot long asphalt runway of the Lucas Airport.

At 1:05PM we take off and head east, following Kansas Highway 18 toward our next destination.  At 1:17PM we pass close to two Lincoln County communities, Denmark (top) and Vesper (bottom).

Passing over the city of Lincoln's northwestern corner, where Kansas Highways 18 & 14 intersect at upper right.

Here is the view of the Lincoln Municipal Airport as seen from the south.

Lincoln's two runways are turf only; we elect to land on the 2,700-foot long passage. 

While there we take a moment to talk to one of the pilots stationed here.  After some talk he offers to show us a very rare treat indeed: a genuine 1935 Beechcraft 17 Staggerwing, Serial Number 30, one of only 13 know known to be in existence and one of a very few not sitting in some air museum.  The Kansas-built Staggerwing recently won a poll of pilots as not only being one of Most Favorite Kinds of Plane ever built, and is also considered by many to be The Most Beautifully Designed Plane Ever Built. 

We take off from Lincoln at 1:46PM and Head south, passing over the Lincoln County Wind Farm.

Our next destination is Ellsworth Municipal Airport.  We fly over the downtown district on our way to angling for a landing. 

No offense to Ellsworth, but it takes the cake as being the worst single highlight of the entire journey.  We land at 2:05 PM on the turf runway (not the asphalt one for once!) at Ellsworth Municipal with the official temperature being 104 degrees and gusting winds - both very bad things for any airplane and pilot.  I check an outdoor thermometer that was sitting in the sun and it reports a cheerful 116 degrees.  We last just 15 minutes before taking off and getting out of there.

Flying west we pass over small towns such as Wilson, shown here. 

And later at 2:46PM we travel over Dorrance, Kansas.

At 2:54PM we arrive at Russell.  Above is the ethanol/gluten plant on the northeastern edge of the city.

Aerial view of the city of Russell, Kansas.

The Russell Municipal Airport has a 5,000-foot concrete runway, big enough for the largest planes to set down at.

The Russell Municipal Airport Terminal.  We land at 2:57PM and the Pilot states that he is considering aborting the rest of the journey, as he is simply broiling from being exposed to the August Kansas sun for the past sixty miles. 

However, after an hour of relaxing in the terminal amid air conditioning, vending machines of badly-needed liquid refreshments, and a bathroom, the Pilot announces that he is ready to go on.  Here he checks the weather forecast for the region prior to leaving.

We gas up the Citabria and take off at 4:06PM, entering the longest planned leg of the entire journey - southwest from Russell to Dodge City.  At 4:30PM I take this photo of the bank of clouds rising up to the East, happily the opposite direction of where we are traveling.  At 4:41PM we pass over the community of Rush Center, cruising along at an altitude of 6,000 feet.  As we go we begin to notice less buildings, less towns, less anything to look down at.  Very frustrating for an Official Photographer.

At 5:15PM we pass by the Ford County community of Spearville and its adjoining windfarm. 

At 5:21PM we pass by Wright, Kansas.

And at last at 5:30PM we circle and land at Dodge City Regional Airport.  We have been taking our Backseat Driver duties seriously up to now and have commented from time to time on the quality of the Pilot's landings.  This time he gave himself a "B".  The most I will admit to is that this time I was less frightened than usual.   

Oh, had I mentioned that I am afraid of heights?  I have no trouble sitting in the plane and watching the take off and climb up with great interest, enjoying both the sensation and the views, and I generally have no problem looking out the windows at the ground thousands of feet below (unless I get morbid and dwell on somehow falling).  But as we are descending during any landing to near the heights of trees from the ground I suddenly close up into a ball and inspect minutely every fiber of the carpet on the floor of the plane until we have completely touched down.  Simply cannot bear to watch. 

That reminds me - I really have to get the Pilot to buy a new carpet.  Getting tired of looking at the same old blue one.

While inspecting the plane the Pilot discovers that he did not quite put one of the fuel caps on tight enough back at Russell and we have been streaming fuel behind us for the past hour and a half.  He is greatly embarrassed.  Luckily this happened while we are coming to Dodge City, so refueling is not a problem.

The terminal at Dodge City lets all visitors know that they have arrived at "The Cowboy Capital of the West".

Also at the Dodge Ctiy Airport is one of the Kansas locations for the National Weather Service Office and Radar.  Its chief meteorologist is Osborne County native Larry Ruthi! 

We had thought to eat at the Dodge City Airport, but surprisingly there is no restaurant there.  So we take off once more at 6:07PM and I take this aerial view of downtown Dodge City, Kansas.  At upper left is the Railroad Depot, built in 1896 and recently having undergone restoration.  When we drove around here back in 1997 we spent the better part of a day in search of a great steak place - after all, this was Dodge City!  But it was to no avail.  Should anyone know of such a place now please, feel free to share it!

As we pass over the western edge of Dodge City we see this curious complex.  A school, perhaps?  We later learn that this is the new Boot Hill Casino & Resort.  Hmmm, it might be wise of them to put in a landing strip next door . . . .

At 6:09PM we pass by Ensign, Kansas.

At 6:20PM we circle and land at Montezuma Municipal Airport in Gray County.  The Pilot gets a "D" for the landing here; not a good one by any measure.  Bad Pilot, frightening passengers like that.

The Montezuma runway is a 4,000-foot excellent asphalt strip.  So of course in this ground shot of the airport you can barely find it.  But it is really good, trust us.

This is a nice little airport.  There is a pilot's lounge here - to get in you must key in the universal pilot emergency code.  I've been sworn to secrecy not to reveal it; besides, I've already forgotten it.


We take off at 6:32PM and I manage this shot of Montezuma with the Gray County Wind Farm in the background.  This wind farm was the first built in the state of Kansas. 
Heading southwest and following U.S. Highway 56 and the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail, we pass over Copeland, Kansas. 

AT 6:56PM we land at the Sublette Flying Club, NOT the "Sublette Municipal Airport".  An impressive flying club, to say the least, to have created this nice an airport.   Hats off to Sublette! 

Not only is there 24-hour refueling available here via credit card, but the airport sits next to the Haskell County Sanitary Landfill.  Just one pleasant wonder after another.

At 7:08PM we take off from Sublette and at 7:22PM we land at the Satanta Municipal Airport.  Above is a shot of the city of Satanta, Kansas.

Aerial view of the Satanta Municipal Airport.

We land at Satanta Municipal and the Pilot gets a grade of "A-" for his landing, making up for other recent ones.  We step into and relax in the airport's new Bill Helton Memorial Pilot Building.  Only recently erected, it stands in memory of a local pilot and teacher who gave lessons for most of the Twentieth Century and was a legend in his own time.

We develop camera trouble here and the Pilot has to pull out his laptop computer to correct the problem and save every photo taken up to this point.  He pulls it off and once again displays his many techical skills from his day job of being an engineer.  Sorry, gals - he's scheduled to be taken off the market this fall. 

We depart Satanta Municipal at 7:57PM and ten minutes later pass close to the city of Moscow, Stevens County, Kansas.

At 8:23PM we circle over Hugoton, Kansas (above) and the Hugoton Municipal Airport (below).

We land at 8:25PM and can readily tell that the Pilot was getting tired; not a good landing.  There is an excellent Pilot's Lounge here.

Hugoton Municipal has a nice refueling setup, with 24-hour credit card service. 

Here is one last shot of the Citabria sitting on the runway of Hugoton Municipal in the dying rays of the sun.  We take off at 8:32 PM from Hugoton and head southwest, finally landing at 8:55PM at Elkhart-Morton County Airport.  How did the landing go here?  Well, this was the only time that the Pilot managed to mutter his first oops of the day - a word that passengers Definitely do not want to ever hear!  But we survived.  There is a courtesy car here; we find the keys and drive to the nearby El Rancho Motel and check in, managing to find a double-bed room still available this late at night.  Prior research on this journey revealed that on Friday evenings Jim-N-I's Restaurant here in  Elkhart has a Prime Rib or Smoked Chicken Special; unfortunately by the time we get our motel room the restaurant has closed.  So we walk down the street to the Pizza Hut and fill up on salad and a Large Super Supreme Pan Pizza with Extra Cheese.  Yum.  Then we walk back to the motel to settle in and watch a little TV and do a little Facebooking, for which we have to call the desk to get the code so that we can enjoy the motel's "free" Wi-Fi.  

That would be the end of Day One but for the party. 

Turns out our room is located right next to some ten or so Wyoming travelers who are enjoying their vacation to the limit.  They sit around at tables on a patio and talk, sing, drink from unknown tall green glass bottles of unknown content, and generally carry on until 4:01AM, when the last staggers back into their rooms.  We both sleep in fits and starts all night, being awakened occasionally by either a great uproar of laughter or a particularly furious exchange of heated opinions, or people just banging on room walls.  There's something for everyone in Elkhart!