And the story resumes the morning of October 20. So I’d bought a plane. Escrow had closed the previous day and paperwork had been filed and payment made. So mine new coupe was waiting for Dennie and me to get it to its new home S50, or Auburn WA. The initial plan was simple. We looked to have a break in the weather and I would pilot the plane with Dennie looking over my shoulder keeping us safe. I’d get my BFR and my coupe check out all in one! I’d been studying the charts an particular the complexities of flying around in the L.A. basin.
My clever plan was simple. I’d snake myself around or under the controlled airspace until I found I-5 then fly IFR all the way home. That is “I follow roads”! That would have me leave the L.A. basin via Grapevine. I thought we’d make our first stop in Bakersfield to look the plane over. Check that the oil consumption was OK and from then I thought the first day we’d make somewhere at the Northern CA border. Around Redding maybe. At least to Red Bluff. An overnight there then over the mountains via the pass the I-5 goes through. Stop maybe around Medford to fuel up, then press on to somewhere around Portland. I thought that was a doable Friday. The Saturday morning we could easily make it to Auburn with a late morning arrival! WooHoo, pop some champagne and celebrate!! I’d be a legal pilot, I’d know my coupe and I would have an adventure for the record books!!
So I’d shared this with Dennie. While he agreed in principal he was more concerned with weather and felt there was a real possibility that icing would prevent us from getting from Redding to Medford. He favored a more eastern route that would put us through middle Nevada, middle Oregon and finally Washington on the Eastern side of the cascades. I wasn’t so fond of that route as I knew that area and knew there was high terrain and mountains almost all the way. No, I liked I-5. A 900 mile runway if something with the plane went wrong.
But OK, I was happy if Dennie liked that route. So I’d packed light, only a change of shirt and underwear in a backpack and I had my flight bag with a headset and charts. Dennie was similarly packed with just the minimum. I quick mention, on the trip down to LA we’d come to an understanding of his fees. He does this just because he loves to fly and we agreed on an embarrassingly low fee per day. Things were looking promising!
So Dennie and I waited on the curb at LAX Thursday morning and waited for Rodney to pick us up and get us to the Compton airport. Yes, my plane was straight out of Compton! Thug life!!
So Rodney got us to the hangar and there was my little bird! I’d already agreed with Dennie that he’d focus on checking out the plane to his satisfaction and I’d focus on collecting things like the logs and doing the last bit of business with the seller. Once Dennie was happy he’d take the plane up to be sure he was happy it would make it back up to Seattle. In the mean time I was discovering a pile of stuff that went with the plane. Soon Dennie was heading down the taxiway and the down the runway. Woo, there was my new bird in the air. She was a beauty! While he was flying around more and more stuff was being found and collected. About 30 minutes later Dennie was in the pattern and taxing back to the hangar. He had a smile on his face and I was contemplating the great adventure that we were about to embark on. Here is Dennie just before his first flight:
So soon Dennie was back on the ground it was time for us to load up the plan and head North! So I decided up front Dennie would be flying at a minimum the first leg. The L.A. basin is tricky! I have no ego at this point. I just want the plane home. So I start loading the plane with all the stuff that came with it. Soon the very small baggage compartment is full. Rodney is offering his advice to Dennie about how we should circle the airport for a specific period time before we should fly away including regular radio reports! Rodney is telling Dennie about how far he should let the take off roll go before he aborts. Rodney, you are my hero!! He was so worried something was going to go wrong!
So lets talk about the worry. Airplanes need to fly regularly to stay healthy. This wonderful little airplane had been sitting in this hangar unflown for nearly nine years. So there was no way of knowing just what might go wrong when we flew this plane. If this had been a plane that was flown daily when I came to collect it I could be comfortable assuming that it would continue to operate as expected. But we needed about ten hours to know if there were gremlins. So for the first few hours in this flight I felt we were very much test pilots. I am not sure I have much of the right stuff!
But just look at Dennie, he looks to be made of the right stuff!!! This trip would soon show he is!
OK, Dennie was good to go! I and everyone starts loading the plane up with all the stuff that came with it and after about 20 minutes we are ready to depart!
OK, snag number one. Although I thought the plane had an intercom we could not find a place for a second head set to plug in! After about 15 minutes we decided I would not have an active head set.
Then I found out there was no way the seat belt would fit me! OK, I am a meat and potato(e)s American! So we had to remove the seat and the seat belt and eventually had me buckled in! Another 20 minutes rolled by.
The airport gang lined up an we finally taxied down to start our adventure. Rodney, man I love him is having one last talk with Dennie. “So where is your abort point on your takeoff run?” WTF?? Are we Lindbergh flying to Paris? Man I must look fat!! But sure. I think Rodney had decided I must weight about 390 pounds!!! Anyways. We taxi down and line up for takeoff! I am sort of freaking out but I am ready! Dennie guns it and we are flying in 900 feet! Compton has 3500 feet of runway! We are flying!! I am scanning all the instruments. The engine instruments look awesome! The rate of climb varies from 500 feet a minute or higher. The airspeed indicator is wobbling around 100 MPH. Lets take a moment to discuss.
The Ercoupe is designed to fly on the wing and everything should happen around 70 MPH. If you want to climb do it at 70. If you want to land you do it at 70.
So the airspeed indicator is 70 years old. To register over 100 MPH it rolls around. I am looking at it and very encouraged, Even though the needle was wobbling I was seeing 100 MPH and I thought we were on our way. Dennie, not so much. He was pretty freaked out and pointed at some of the gauges and said we needed to land! So he kept in the pattern and turned final. We landed and taxied back to the hangar.
The airport gang at the hangar was puzzled and I got out of the plane. Dennie said he didn’t think we could have climbed enough to get over the terrain to get home. I did not see the same indications but I decided immediately it didn’t matter. I just wanted the plane back in my hangar in Auburn. I would have gladly hired Dennie to ferry the plane home on his own.
I did know though I needed to be there to deal with the airport gang. So wow, what to do? As soon as I got out of the plane I found the airport gang was agitated! In fact someone said they wanted to figure out how to shoot us down because I’d never payed for the plane!!??
So Dennie and I talked a bit and it was clear he was not comfortable with both of us flying back together. He didn’t think the plane “felt right” and we were overloaded. Sure, all I wanted was the plane home. So I took everything out of the plane’s baggage compartment and we agreed Dennie would fly it home. As he taxied out I asked him “last chance, are you sure?”. I don’t think he understood what I meant. What I meant is if he didn’t feel safe flying it home I’d be happy putting it on a trailer and driving it home. I think he thought I was making one last plea to take me with him. Not the case at all. So Dennie set out for Seattle! Here he was before he left:
So I go back into the hangar and Dennie taxies away. The hangar crowd has become quite hostile. While that is happening I am trying to get an airline ticket back to Seattle. So I am using my phone (which is nearly out of battery!) to buy an airline ticket. In the mean time the airport gang is telling me I must be some sort of cheat as the seller has never been paid! Gah! So I leave the Alaska airline site mid ticket purchase and call the escrow company. While I’m doing that I find Frank, the seller can’t remember how he asked to be paid! Luckily this was enough distraction for Dennie to taxi away! Soon I see my plane racing down the runway and heading away!! Fly Dennie, Fly!!!!
So I get the escrow company on the phone. Frank the seller had asked for a cashier’s check fed exed to him as payment, Since the sale had closed the day before the check was in route and I got a fed ex tracking number. I got the number and even let Frank’s friend talk to the escrow agent. We even called Fed Ex and confirmed the check had been delivered to Frank’s house. I went back to buying my ticket home. A couple of the airport gang came to tell me Dennie was going to treat us to a high speed low pass before he headed out.
I just finished confirming my ticket as I got to see my beautiful little plane buzz by! The airport gang said they clocked it at 115 MPH! So I watched as my beautiful little bird set off in the distance. Frank, the seller practically forced a beer in my hand and I set about putting all the stuff we’d taken out of the plane into my bags. Rodney started freaking out a bit as he was worried he couldn’t get to the airport in time to make my flight. Someone had told him it was almost two hours later than it was!
So there I was at LAX again boarding a flight for Seattle. Not too much to report. They had changed the gate for my flight and not announced it but I found out just in time to make the flight as they were closing the doors. I also realized that all the stuff that had been put in my plane for the flight back was easily 30 plus pounds as I hauled i through the airport.
So I was heading back to Seattle via Alaska Airlines and Dennie was flying my little bird via who knows! I was happy this was the right decision but I was clearly missing out on an adventure of my life.
As I hauled my bags through the airport it was clear we we over gross when we took off. But we were full fuel and that would burn off. The airport gang said we were in the air in less than a thousand feet and did not know why we’d come back and landed. I felt we were doing great! But Dennie was not comfortable with how he perceived the plane was flying. In the end we had decided for the first leg at least he was pilot in command. It was his call and not my place to second guess.
So I got home with no issues and soon I got a text from Dennie. He had made it to Bishop, CA and was safe and down for the night. He had chosen the Nevada route. He’d flown over the Mohave airplane boneyard and was having a great time!! Here is a picture of his early leg:
So I was home Thursday night. Dennie was in Bishop CA. with my new plane. There was no taxi in Bishop so he had to walk something like three miles to get to a motel! Yikes! He had never been in the desert so he wonder about snakes and all manner of desert creatures as he walked to town! He worried about Gila Monsters and was worried about mountains as I drifted to sleep that night. I’d caught desert creatures as a kid but I knew Dennie was heading for some unfriendly topology.
So summary. I probably took possession of my plane, I did fly IN it for about 15 minutes. I had every reason t believe it was on its way home. I did see it fly very well at gross or more. I made a note to find out why the airspeed indicator wobbled and decided I needed to buy an intercom. But progress.
As I write this I’d be lying if I didn’t admit regret missing out on this adventure. I was 6 months into the journey of buying a plane, a lifetime dream and as I write this I have not flown my own plane for even a moment and still haven’t flown more than 30 minutes as pilot in command in the last 17 years. I am not on track but I digress.
So day one. I have taken possession of my new plane and it is closer to my home! in the next entry I’ll share possibly the most difficult day in my life.