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Bill Berle's Excellent Adventure


This was originally an aviation newsgroup post (the now-infamous “rec.aviation.homebuilt“ newsgroup) from 1998. A great guy from the group named John Ousterhout offered to host it on his website. He named it “Bill Berle’s Excellent Adventure”, and asked me to also write some captions for the photos.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on your computer...

After a three day trip that became an eight day trip, hailstorms, headwinds, stuck exhaust valves, 115 degree heat, and some especially interesting moments involving reading road signs from an airplane at wingspan height, I have returned to California with my new (1946) airplane!

I purchased "121" near Kalamazoo, Michigan on the one day this month that had flyable weather. It is a yellow/maroon '46 Taylorcraft with an 85 HP engine, in solid but not showplane condition. I planned to fly it back to Los Angeles in a couple or three days, based on the STUPID assumption that this T-craft will go as fast as my other one did, and the incredibly STUPID assumption that there would not be too much trouble with headwinds.

The  grass strip at Schertz, Illinois where I landed for fuel. Note the  water puddles that gave me a good splash on landing.

                             






  

 Crossing the mighty Mississippi River West  of Pittsfield, Illinois.










I flew it the south route through Texas, but not before spending two days in Humidity, Missouri waiting for the storms to pass. An hour of this time was spent standing out in a midwest squall with hail pellets, desperately trying to hold the tail of the airplane down in 50KT gusts. Within one minute, I was soaked as if I took a shower with my clothes on, and had ice pellets inside my clothes.
 The airport in Sedalia, Missouri. This was taken the morning after I bodily held the airplane in that very spot for an hour in a driving squall line. The water puddles are leftover from the rain squall the previous day. Notice the duct tape patches over the holes in the cowling. When the airplane was converted to shielded ignition, clearance holes had to be cut in the cowl for the spark plugs. The holes let out too much badly needed cooling air for my taste, knowing I was going through the desert soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Don't hate me because I'm beautiful! This flattering self-portrait was taken somewhere over Missouri. So far, there strangely have been no phone calls or other solicitations from Gentleman's Quarterly to use this photo on their cover.


The next day I flew through headwinds that equaled one third of the cruising speed of the plane, bringing the 85 MPH cruise (due to a climb prop) down to 55-60 on the GPS. Three hundred mile, 3 hr. planned XC legs became two hour, 150 mile fuel stops. I landed at Independence, KS where the new Cessna 100 series airplanes are being built. For some strange reason, there were people standing on the roof of the building, desperately trying to paint out the "SPAM" logo that was proudly painted on in years past. I swear my little T-craft just gloated as it taxied by the rows of $140,000 172's.

 

 The Cessna Aircraft plant in Independence, Kansas. Folks, that's about 5 or 10 million dollars worth of brand new spam cans sitting there on the ramp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finally fought my way through Kansas, Oklahoma, and into the charming town of Childress, TX. There, I found that there were no taxicabs in town, and no way to get to a motel. After some serious bullshitting (far in excess of anything in this newsgroup), I got to town and back again at 5:30 AM the next day. To my surprise, the engine ran well on all THREE cylinders, with one having taken an early retirement. The local mechanic (who was also the town preacher in the next town I am told, and is building a Mazda rotary Lancair 4P) got there at 5 PM, after my spending the day trying to find the problem and cursing out the former owner on the phone. It was 113 degrees and humid. The mechanic found that I had a stuck exhaust valve, whereupon I almost cried, thinking that I would have to top that cylinder on the spot.

But I had run into perhaps the only airplane mechanic with a heart however, and he simply managed to fix the valve by removing and cleaning it and the valve guide, WITHOUT pulling the cylinder off the engine! You had to see it to believe it. This mechanic gave me a fantastic deal on his time and effort, and gave me some valuable advice as to how airplanes survive the Texas heat. I can't tell you what the magic solution was, because I don't want to incriminate somebody accidentally. By the way, they use a lot of STP, "THE RACER'S EDGE" in their CARS in Texas, and also they have a lot of faith that a "MARVEL MYSTERY" will heal the sick. Some things are just great products and they will get your ANTIQUE CAR home through unbelievable conditions and abusive temperatures. I'm a believer in these things now myself, as the good preacher's advice turned out to be the word of truth...

 

 The T-craft sits patiently at Childress,Texas airport. I had just landed, taxied up to the fuel pump, and found the airport abandoned. The WW2 vintage hangar was once used to repair the Beech AT-11 'Kansan' bombardier trainers that were based there. After a call to the number posted in the airport office window (Childress Police Department, may I help you?), the message was relayed to old Horace, who drove 35 miles back to the airport in his pickup and fueled me up.

 The next day I took off from Childress in calm air, which turned into a 45+ MPH headwind about 300 feet above the runway. Disgusted at seeing 37 MPH groundspeed on the GPS, I made the brilliant decision that if the winds were calm on the ground, that's where I should be flying. I flew over very desolate and unpopulated territory at wingspan height, averaging 55 MPH in the ground wind shear, but paid for it by having to use full deflection frequently to keep the airplane from hitting the ground or the power poles. There was one dirt road going from Childress to Matador, TX, and so it was down that road I flew. I had to turn away from the road (as per FAR's, of course) when a car came by, then force the plane back down into ground effect to get speed again.

 

 This was the 'safe' version of the low altitude cruise that got me through parts of Texas. It looks like about 50-100 feet AGL, which kept the effective headwinds down to about 25% of the cruising speed of the airplane. This is East of Lubbock, TX enroute from Floydada to Seminole. A couple of hours earlier I was at one third this height over unlandable open desert.

I had to refuel at Floydada TX, not before having to land on the grass infield at a 60 degree angle to the runway. Later I had learned that the local crop sprayplane, a 2000 pound turbine Air Tractor, had been grounded by the winds for safety.

 

 

 

 

The rest of the day, through Seminole TX and Carlsbad NM, was less stressful until I got to El Paso's West Texas Airport. A strong dust devil picked the T-craft up just before touchdown, and almost threw it into the sagebrush. I fought with it and got it back level, but by then it was six feet in the air, and slammed down stalled. Not the prettiest arrival I ever made.

 Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at over 8000 feet. This is about 35 miles East  of El Paso, outbound from Carlsbad Caverns Airport. I had climbed up to over 10,000 in thermals to cool the engine, but sinking air had taken away 2000 of it by the time I got to the peak.



 

 

 

 

Leaving the airport, I had to keep very low to stay under El Paso's class C airspace, and then all of a sudden fight to climb it up high enough to get through the mountains into Las Cruces, NM. The oil temperature was redlined, it was 115 plus degrees, thermal turbulence, and the plane was just not climbing. Did I mention that they have an almost religious faith in using STP in their ANTIQUE CARS in Texas??? By dolphining (glider technique) and an occasional circle in lift, I finally got to the mountain between El Paso and Las Cruces. I flew along the ridge's upwind face, gaining altitude and losing oil temp. The rest of the flight into Deming, NM was just very uncomfortable, which represented a significant upgrade.

In Deming, I had to go to Wal-Mart to get padded shoe insoles, because I had developed blisters on my feet where the rudder pedals were. I took off from Deming at dawn, and flew to Willcox, AZ, where I had bought an aircraft six years ago. From Willcox, I flew northwest, and to my pleasant surprise I got enough altitude to go through the mountains westward into the Tucson area, where I had to fly through the canyons to stay out of their Class C. Finally, I made it to Buckeye, AZ, which had one of those unattended credit card gas pumps.

The flight from Buckeye, AZ (west of Phoenix) to Blythe Airport inCalifornia was one of the top ten worst flights I ever had. I had more than one occasion of 90 degree banks against full opposite aileron, and once I got thrown out of the seat so hard that my head pushed the fabric off of one of the stringers above the cockpit. The headwinds were about 25, and the GPS read less than 50 more than once. The wind was so strong at Blythe that I had to land on a 200 foot section of 45 degree taxiway into the wind, which must have raised a few eyebrows in a Warrior when I flew right over it as it was waiting to taxi out on the runway. Although I had plenty of daylight left to reach Los Angeles, I called it a day because I could not take another three hours of that turbulence and wrestling. I felt like a wimp, but the truth was that after the whole experience to that point, I was genuinely not safe to fly again that day. That was rough on my ego, and even rougher to mention it here, but the point is that I am alive to mention it here. By the way, did I mention that if God were going to give the world an enema, he would put the tube in Blythe?

 

 The T-craft at Blythe, California after one of the top ten worst flights I ever had.  The turbulence and headwinds on the  way into Blythe from Arizona were severe (severe for a near-ultralight aircraft), and there were times that the airplane rolled 90 degrees against full aileron. The landing at Blythe was on a 200 foot section of taxiway at a 45 degree angle to both runways into a 25 knot wind. The aircraft could not be rotated to face the tiedown cables and had to be tied down at a 45 degree angle.

Anyway, yesterday at dawn, I took off from Blythe, flew to Banning CA, where the wind blows 24/7, indicating 40 MPH on the GPS, and landed in a big wind again. By big winds, I am referring to 20-30 kts, which is not much in a 182 or a Glasair. But it is 75% of flying speed in a Taylorcraft or a Cub.

 

 

 

 

 

 Desert Center airfield, between Blythe and  Palm Springs, California. I had flown over this place previously in another Taylorcraft  six years ago. This is the airfield built for General Patton's training facilities before he went out after Rommel in WW2. As I flew by, I shouted in my best George C. Scott voice 'Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Palm Springs, California. Some people would look at this photo and see a bunch of golf courses for snobby, hilarious idiots with white plaid polyester pants. I look at it and see a bunch of short grass strips for idiots with hilarious old airplanes covered with the same white polyester.


Finally, I made it back to Whiteman airport, this time without headwinds. But God threw cloud cover into the game to make my life miserable. I had to make a rather rude descent through a hole in the clouds to get down under Burbank's Class C airspace, only to find that the distance between the cloud bottoms and the building tops in La Canada and Tujunga was just exactly the minimum for VFR. Thank goodness I had brought along my Swiss Army knife with measuring scale to stick out the window into the clouds to verify the cloud clearance and legality of the maneuver :) It was just plain time to go home.

 

Anyway, this post is about as brief and on topic as anything else in the group, and I am certain that a mass depression has fallen over all of you in the absence of my presence in the newsgroup. So I am here to assure you all that I am indeed back, and that despite a heroic effort to prevent me from buying and returning with an airplane, I have beaten the forces of evil to rejoin this most honorable organization.

 Welcome home! After over a week away, and endless worries regarding our future together, the world's most spoiled dog reclaims possession of his wayward flyboy.  After knocking me down and administering a thorough licking, the dog and I are passed out on the floor for a well earned nap.