720 Miles at 1,000 Feet

10 min read

And the winner is…

I belonged to a motorcycle club called the RATS (Rambunctious, Adventuresome, Two-Wheeled Scalawags) which bestows various awards to their members.  One of the more prestigious awards was called the “Iron Butt” to the member who logs the most miles during a single day/week/month/year.  As riders we eschew bucket seats, air conditioning and radio for saddles, sights, sounds and smells often missed by those driving the sedans, SUV’s, crossovers and pickup trucks with whom we share the road.

Flying a tube and fabric tail-dragger is the aeronautic equivalent to a motorcycle, especially an airplane like the Legend Cub.  Its simple systems along with doors and windows that can be opened in flight, allow pilot and passenger alike to be a part of the atmosphere surrounding the airplane, much like a motorcycle makes you feel a part of the road.

Since 1986, Sporty’s has awarded 32 lucky customers an airplane in its famous sweepstakes drawing. You have probably read by now that Sporty’s next sweepstakes airplane is a Legend Cub.  Additionally, Eastern Cincinnati Aviation, Sporty’s FBO, has signed on as an American Legend Aircraft distributor offering 100, 115 and 180 horsepower versions of the venerable Super Cub.  My assignment to pick up the sweepstakes Cub proved to be a great opportunity to tour the factory, grab some stick time in N452SP, and maybe qualify for Sporty’s version of the Iron Butt award.


Mr. Piper, Welcome to 2015

legend cub wingAmerican Legend Aircraft is located on the KSLR airport in Sulphur Springs, Texas.  Occupying a series of hangars near the south end of the field, American Legend manufactures LSA versions of the iconic Cub aircraft.  “We improved the Cub where we could and left alone the parts that were great already!” stated Darin Hart, American Legend’s head honcho.  Obvious improvements are the opening doors on both sides of the airframe, an electrical system which provides lights, avionics, and a starter (eliminating the need for hand propping).  The in-wing fuel tanks allow solo flight from either the front or back seat.  Less obvious are the improvements in the corrosion proofing and welding processes that may allow these respected airframes to last well into the next century just as their predecessors from Lock Haven made it from last century into this one.

tundra tiresAfter the tour and the obligatory paperwork, it was time to hop in 2SP with Darin for a few quick landing circuits.  2SP is equipped with 22 inch “Tundra Tires” that provide over two feet of propeller ground clearance and makes for a greater appreciation of that whole flying from the front seat thing.

For those who have not had the experience, traditionally Cubs had to be soloed from the rear seat to keep the airplane in weight and balance envelope.  This created a lack of forward visibility while taxiing requiring the pilot to do a series of “S” turns to clear the area ahead out of the side windows. 

From the front seat I had enough forward visibility to taxi straight ahead without having to turn.  Though it lacks a formal turf runway, KSLR does have a mowed area suitable for landing providing the natural habitat for taildraggers.  Four landings later (three on the grass, one on the pavement), I was declared ready to begin the 700 mile journey back to Sporty’s.  Navigation on the trip was going to be made easier by the introduction of ForeFlight displayed on a panel mounted iPad and Stratus ADS-B/GPS receiver.


cub panel

Eastbound and Down

With the east Texas sun to my back and both doors and windows open, I settled into a comfortable altitude of 2,000 feet MSL.  Lacking an autopilot, it is much easier to fly the Cub low allowing you to adjust pitch based on the terrain rather than watching the altimeter needles wind and unwind.  At 1,000 feet AGL, the only likely traffic is the model B1RD or perhaps one of the numerous crop dusters tending the Mississippi River bottoms cotton crops.  ForeFlight’s synthetic vision displayed towers I might encounter and the profile view informed me I might have to climb a little to make it over Arkansas’s Ozark “Mountains” (being from Kentucky, calling anything 2,000 feet tall a mountain seems a little ridiculous but I am sure that what people from Utah say about the hills of eastern Kentucky).

countryI had ADS-B coverage for the entire trip keeping me up-to-date on en-route weather and especially the winds at my destination.  I was comfortable in the taildragger but not yet ready to take on a stiff crosswind while landing on a paved runway with those big sticky tires. Two and a half hours later I was touching down in Conway Arkansas in the 100 degree heat of the late afternoon.  By now I was thinking about finding a place to spend the night and selected Union City, TN another 200 miles northeast.  A quick telephone call confirmed the availability of fuel, tie downs and a ride into town for a motel.  Soon the hills of Arkansas gave way to the river bottoms of the “Boot Heel” region of Missouri.  Cotton and other crops have been raised in this fertile soil for hundreds of years and offered a stark contrast to the forests over which I had just flown.  Union City came into sight just the other side of the Mississippi River.  After landing I fueled up and tied down for the night.


Rockin Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flew

land betwee lakesA check of the weather on day two revealed a previously stalled front in the upper Midwest had decided to start moving as a cold front to the southeast.  Southwest winds picking up ahead of the front would give me a welcome push I would need to beat some thunderstorms traveling towards the same airport that I was.  After departing Union City, my plan was to make it to Elizabethtown, Kentucky (same one as in the movie) for some fuel and lunch then on to Sporty’s at the Clermont County Airport (I69).  My flight path took me over Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in far western Kentucky.  Flying over “The Land Between the Lakes,” I spotted an eagle which I presumed was on a fishing trip to one of the lakes and major repairs being made to the US 68 bridge over Lake Barkley.

I was still enjoying the sights and smells of flying low (my option) and slow (no other option in the Cub) but more frequently checking the weather for Clermont.  Maybe if I skip the lunch in E-town I could still beat the rain heading for Sporty’s.  The front was announcing its arrival by providing a steady dose of turbulence and lowering ceilings.  Winds at nearby Fort Knox were from 270 at 20 which would marginally add to the excitement of my landing on runway 23 at Elizabethtown.

Sure enough, on final approach the windsock was extended indicating a right quartering crosswind.  Just like a tricycle geared airplane, the crosswind landing is the same.  Crab into the wind until the flair, then use the rudder to align the longitudinal axis with the runway and aileron to keep it over the center line.  However, touchdown is merely where the fun starts and you truly aren’t done flying until all the parts quit moving.  Judicious use of aileron, rudder and differential brakes kept me on the runway and taxiway to the ramp.  Before shut down a quick look at the weather on the iPad was indicating the weather was heading to I69 faster than I was, but just maybe…


Finding Victory in Defeat

flooded fieldAnother check of the weather departing Elizabeth after getting fuel, a Diet Mt. Dew and a Snickers bar for lunch indicated that Clermont County was still doable – to the northeast I continued.  Recent rains had caused the Kentucky River to flood and I felt sorry for all the farmer’s labor and capital that was now underwater, but I continued to be focused on my destination’s weather.

About 45 miles out, I was able to pick up the AWOS broadcast for I69 and the real time weather did not look good.  Ceilings were still acceptable, but now the winds were from 320 at 15 gusting to 25.  The crosswinds for Clermont County’s 4/22 runway was beyond my comfort level and I began to look for alternatives. Masters Acres, my wife’s and my little corner of Kentucky, is located just six miles south of the Fleming Mason Airport (KFGX).

Tuning in the AWOS at KFGX, I learned the winds were a stiff 25 knots, but directly aligned with runway 25.  A right turn and freshening winds took my groundspeed over 100 knots.  Pretty exciting for a Cub driver.  Soon enough, the long, wide runway at Fleming Mason came into sight and I set up for a left downwind to runway 25.  I turned base abeam the numbers realizing the strong headwinds would give me plenty of room to land as the FBO is located towards the southwestern end of the field.

After what seemed like a near vertical descent, I flared for a 3-point landing with more than half the 5,000 foot long runway remaining.  Due to the headwinds I estimate I touched down at about 10 to 15 MPH groundspeed and my ground roll was easily less than 100 feet.  (I’m thinking about signing up for Valdez next year – but only if they can guarantee a 25 knot wind straight down the runway). I taxied to the ramp with the satisfaction that comes from knowing the Cub was safely on the ground and I would spend the night in my own bed.


Angry Skies

cub in hangarMitch Coleman, the Airport Manager at FGX and RATS Head Cheese (High Exalted and Dedicated Chief Handler of Each and Every Sneaky Endeavor), met me on the ramp and offered a spot in the community hangar to shelter the Cub from the approaching thunderstorms.  I know hail does not have the same effect on fabric as it does on aluminum, but still agreed N452SP would be better off inside for the night.  A call back to the office at Clermont County confirmed what the radar was showing.  A pretty strong thunderstorm was in progress and I (and the Cub) was much better off at FGX.  The next morning the fog lifted to form another 1,200 foot ceiling but the winds were relatively calm.  A half hour later the Cub was parked in its hangar at I69 to be prepared for its next trip.

Another 520 miles to Oshkosh.  Flying a Legend Cub into AirVenture would be my next adventure and one I will cover in the future.


New Experience for an Old Pilot

I have spent hundreds of hours flying airplanes with autopilots, glass panels, air-conditioning – the works.  In such a bird you are pilot in command and have to alertly monitor the trip but the reality is the flight consists of: 1) Checking the weather and NOTAMS, 2) Planning your route, 3) Filing an IFR flight plan, 4) Taking off, 5) Pressing maybe three buttons, 6) Talking on the radio to controllers who keep us informed of traffic and flight conditions, 7) Programming an approach, 8) Pressing some more buttons, 9) Disconnecting the autopilot, 10) Landing, 11) Cancelling IFR, 12) Shut down.  Much as a motorcycle provides a different traveling experience than a car; the 9 hours spent in the Cub provided experience in a simpler kind of flying: 1) Wings – On, 2) Fuel – On, 3) Engine – On, 4) Take-off, 5) Fly, 6) Land.  I like it.