Lost Lambs–Chapter 2

We’re sitting in the library in my house. On the computer screen are a dozen snap-shots of the Plane Tales Plane. On the floor is an aluminum grid that looks like half a TV aerial. It was Adrian’s turtle-tracking antenna.

Well, how far could a tortoise possibly get in a week? I asked.

Lisa sighed, “They’re not tortoises. They’re turtles. They’re aquatic. They live in the water and swim either upstream or downstream.”

Huh. Aquatic turtles in the desert. Who knew?

“Well, that makes things easier,” said Rio. “We just have to fly up and down the river.” It’s true. We were lucky Adrian wasn’t studying bobcats or some other terrestrial creature that was free to–or inclined to–roam hither-tither across the face of the planet, because the transmitters his University had supplied him with sport a woefully short range. About a mile. Of course, I was hoping we might be able to do better from above.

But today’s meeting wasn’t really about turtle range and speed. We had met to answer one question and one question only: How the Sam Heck were we going to get Adrian’s critter-tracking gear attached to the Plane Tales Plane without damaging either?

Lisa’s first thought was to strap it to the top of the wing. I pointed out that changing the shape of an airfoil was likely to lead to one of those nasty stall, spin, crash, burn episodes, and she quickly decided she wanted no part of that.

We considered attaching the antenna to the landing gear, to the top of the cockpit, and to the bottom back of the fuselage. I squinted at another photo while Lisa and Rio munched on a King-sized Mr. Goodbar Lisa picked up while fueling up her truck on the way to our house. This would be easier, I muttered more to myself than to them, if we had the plane here with us.

“Well,” said Rio, “why don’t we just go down to the hangar?”

I groaned inwardly because it had been a long day, the airport is 45 minutes away, I was tired, plus I’d had a glass of wine with lunch–so getting in a little flight time was out. But as soon as Rio let the words out of his mouth, a childlike enthusiasm overtook both my child and my child-at-heart friend, and any resistance from me was futile.

Off we all went on a moment’s notice. (After finding sunglasses for Rio’s Nana, who came along for the ride.)

When we got to the Plane Tales Hangar, Rio had a new idea. Just place the antenna on top of the engine:


I actually liked this idea: No major impact on aerodynamics; out in front of the plane where the signal wouldn’t be blocked by the structure; located where we could keep an eye on it; plus it looked cool. But in the end there was no way to attach it in that spot without drilling holes in the Plane Tales Plane.

We also rejected attaching the antenna to the plane’s tail for the same reason, and due to the low wing, securing the antenna to the landing gear pretty much assured it would be ripped right off on the first landing.

We also learned at this point that the antenna is sometimes used horizontally and sometimes vertically.

Hmmmm…. Then, despite all our overly-complicated thinking, the solution was simple and only required six disposable Shop Towels and some electrical tape. The Telemetry Tracking Technician on the flight could simply hold the antenna out the window, holding it either horizontally on top:


Or vertically on the side:


The Shop Towels? That protects the paint from getting scratched. Only one question remained: Would the wind snatch the antenna out of the CoPilot’s hands, to be lost forever in the New Mexico wilderness?

A flying plane has two types of wind: The wind from moving through the airmass (in Tessie’s case around 100 mph) plus the wind thrown back from the spinning prop. And I honestly don’t know how much the two totals up to. Safe inside her fabulously designed cockpit with both doors open, the wind is no worse than you’d get riding a horse at a decent clip. But stick your hand out and BAM! The tornado-like gale snaps it back against the window frame behind you!

We needed to test our theory, and once again it was Rio who figured out how:


Yep, no problem holding the antenna while screaming down Route 66 at 85 miles per hour in Lisa’s white 1999 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab truck!

When the Tale Continues: Before we chase turtles in the wild, Lisa suggests a dress rehearsal.



Got this great magazine cover on eBay to add to our Hangar Art collection:


Who’s the babe? According to the inside cover of the July 1945 Erco employee’s magazine, “The lovely Martha Vickers, Warner Brothers’ actress, currently working in the Technicolor musical ‘The Time, The Place, and the Girl,’ matches her radiant beauty with that of the Ercoupe.”

They don’t write copy like that any more!

Lost Lambs–Chapter 1

Lisa’s son Adrian had lost his turtle Roberta, and Lisa was calling to ask if we could help find the missing reptile. Now, before you start reaching for your kleenex boxes while visions of a little boy crying for his lost pet dance in your heads, I should point out that Adrian is a full-grown man. And, as it turned out, he’d actually lost two turtles.

Leigh was missing, too.

But before you reach for the phone to call the Humane Society on this turtle-inept pet owner, you also need to know that, like his momma, Adrian is a field biologist. And you need to know that the missing turtles are wild Chelydra serpentinea who live in the Mora River about 60 nautical miles north of the Plane Tales Airport. Of course that’s easy for me to say now. At the time of the call things were much more muddled.

The conversation started off early in the morning and my brain wasn’t firing on all four cylinders yet. “Adrain’s lost two of his Chylydra serpentinea,” Lisa said, without preamble, in her normal overly-hyper way, “and I was calling to see if you and the Planes Tales Crew could help us find them.”

Uhhhh…. Have you ever had one of those phone calls when you haven’t had enough coffee, you missed the subject of the conversation, and you just flop abound on the metaphorical ground like a fish out of water? I couldn’t recall if Chylydra serpentinea was one of those designer night club drugs, or a break-a-way Czech Republic. And I couldn’t figure out how Adrian would be involved in either one. And in either case–in my book–he seemed well rid of the situation.

But as the one-sided early morning call went on, it was clear I’d have to fess up that I either missed what we were talking about, or never actually knew in the first place. Hold on, Lisa, I said, what’s a Chylydra serpentinea? Or at least I think I said something like that. There might also have been some colorful profanity in there somewhere, because it was early in the morning and that’s the way Lisa and I generally talk to each other.

“There’re snapping turtles,” said Lisa.

We have snapping turtles in New Mexico?

For this question I was rewarded with a long silence from my better creature-informed friend. Well, that’s OK. She may know animals better than I do, but I’m pretty up to speed on designer drugs and Czech Republics. Or if not those, at least airplanes.

Anyway, it turns out that Adrian is finishing up his Master’s Degree, and he’s been literally following seven snapping turtles using radio telemetry. This cohort of turtles, ranging in size from a quarter pound to 20 pounds each, have a radio transmitter epoxied to their shells and Adrian tromps around on the ground carrying this thing that looks like a 1960′s roof-top TV antenna to track their movements.

The problem was, he’d lost track of two of his study subjects and Lisa was calling in the Cavalry to help.

The Air Cavalry.

When the Tale Continues: To hell with how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood: How do you find a lost snapping turtle? From the air?