If all has gone according to plan, Rio and I are at the big airshow at Oshkosh this weekend. For today’s post, for the first time in print, is Rio’s report to his school on his summer vacation 2013, the year we bought the Plane Tales Plane. Rio, then eleven-years-old, traveled to California with me to co-pilot the new plane home. Things didn’t go exactly as planned. Here is the story through his eyes, as recorded by him at the time….
Chapter 1—The trip to LA
A guest post by Rio A. F. Dubois
We woke up early in the morning and started on our way from Denver. Me, my Dad, and my Grandma are going to Los Angles to pick up an airplane and ferry it back home. We drove and drove and drove and drove for hours and hours and hours through the breath-taking scenery of Colorado and then through the many faces of Utah. Then across small corners of Arizona and Nevada, ending up in Las Vegas. We had decided to spend the night in there, but the only rooms available were in casinos
“Casinos are much too noisy,” said Dad, “we would never get a restful night’s sleep.” We all agreed and we continued on our way. We planned to stop in Primm, Nevada, but that turned out to be the last batch of casinos before we hit the border. By this time we were all grumps, tired, and hungry.
We crossed the border and we got to Baker, California, but there wasn’t a decent hotel in sight. Continuing on through California, we hit Barstow, stopping at a 50’s-sytle all-night diner for a malt, but ended up with a shake. We finally stayed at a Hampton Inn there in Barstow.
In the morning we drove on to LA and in Redlands met Bobby, the pre-buy mechanic. Bobby let us in through the airport gates. It was time for him to go to lunch, so it gave us a chance to look at our airplane. When I first saw the plane it was without its frontal cowling on, so we could see the engine of the aircraft. The front of the plane looks sort of like a triangle and it has very long wings which sort of tilt up. It has a dual rudder tail, tricycle gear, and an old fashioned war-style canopy.
When Bobby returned he asked us if we would take his invoice to Professor Peterson, the plane’s previous owner. It took forever for Bobby to write his invoice, but once he was done we went on to Flabob airport.
In Flabob we met Professor Peterson and purchased the plane. Then the professor took us to the Flabob guest quarters. I opened the door and it was so hot I ran out before I could even see the place. I found a drinking spigot, but accidently turned the knob too hard. Water poured on my face and into my head.
Then the Professor took us out to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.
Chapter 2—The night in LA
After dinner my Dad and I explored the airport were we saw an old-fashioned DC-3 and probably one of the most shiniest Cessenas you’ve even seen. And it must not have been flown a lot, because somewhere on the plane it said “airport bum.”
We saw another Ercoupe, a lot like ours, but this one was painted black and yellow and said “Texas Bumble Bee.”
Flabob looks like one of those older military airports, in fact, I was expecting to see a giant B-17 flying out of one of those hangars.
The night at Flabob was not a pleasant one. The bed was a hard as sleeping on a wing. I gave up and moved to the couch. On the couch I lied awake feeling like the house was cold, ratty, and lifeless. I wondered if it bothered me that right outside the door was an airplane graveyard—a place filled with trashed up planes that hadn’t been flown for years—or if it was just the feeling of the place.
In the morning we moved to a hotel called the Ayres Hotel. The place was very nice, Mexican-themed, although after Flabob, even a box would have looked nice.
When Dad got back from his flight training he came back sweaty and covered with oil. Me and Grandma asked what happened. He changed his pants and old us. “When we got back down, the plane’s engine would not stop. My instructor said turn off the mixture, turn off the mixture, but the mixture would not budge for it had been wired shut. My instructor went to go get Bobby. We tied everything, eventually it came to cutting off the fuel shut off.”
Bobby quickly fixed the plane.
The instructor also said that the radio was weak. So we took it to an avionics shop, where the man tested the radio and the transponder. But during that time we forgot to turn off the master switch. And then Bobby said that after that repair we never did test the engine, so Bobby said lets test it now. But since the master switch was still on, the plane’s battery was dead.
Bobby removed the battery and put it in his charger for the night. Bobby and the radio man then pushed Dad and the plane back over to Bobby’s hanger like a go-cart.
Chapter 3—The takeoff day
The next morning we showed up before the sun had even arisen. It looked like LA was completely asleep. We opened up Bobby’s hangar and turned on the lights. Dad put the battery back in while grandma “supervised.” While Dad was putting in the battery I was trying to get his camera to work right. I tried every possible angle, but still, I couldn’t get the camera to work. But Dad figured out it was apparently in video mode. So instead of getting a great picture I got a video of grandma supervising Dad putting in the battery.
Then we fueled up the plane. After doing an engine test, we took off. It was a very nice view. We had the canopy closed. About ten minutes later, we opened the canopy to cool off. The wind rushing into the cockpit of the plane was awesome. It was quite a rush flying with an open canopy.
We landed in Twenty Nine Palms, the best landing we had ever done, and ate a nice breakfast bar at the airport.
After adding a quart of oil that we bought on the honor system at the unmanned airport, we took off and left for Lake Havasu. We were flying at first with our navigational instruments, but then the mountains got so high we could no longer read them on our VOR. So we had to do what was called “dead reckoning,” using maps. But we made it to Lake Havasu and had a fairly good landing.
It was very hot there. A nice gentleman brought us two bottles of water, while I was still trying to get out of the airplane. We fueled up the plane. It was so hot we scrambled into the plane like one of those old fashioned movies where they are rushing to get into the car to make their getaway.
We fired up the plane, but the engine went THUMP.
I left dad in the dust in the airplane, trying to get out a quickly as I could. The plane’s skin was so hot it was like touching hot rocks. I’m amazed I didn’t burn my hand. They told us it was 117 degrees that afternoon.
Then we waited hours in the mechanic shop. When the plane was fixed we took off.
The turbulence was so bad, we got bounced around like a basketball being dribbled. Our little Ercoupe could not take it anymore, we turned back before we could even make it out of Lake Havasu.
We stayed at a Hampton Inn, again, strangely. We got up in the dark and went the airport. It felt a little cooler, but it was still very hot.
We waited for civil twilight, and when it was time, the engine went THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP and did not start. I said to dad, “Did you remember to turn the key?” It turns out he had not. So the engine fired up. It was powerful roar. The sweetest sound in the world.
We took off and flew over London Bridge. That was kind of fun seeing it from the air.
On the trip south, I ate my first meal on an airplane, a sack breakfast from the Hampton Inn. It turned out to be less of a nightmare than I originally thought. It was a glass-calm morning and we seemed to be moving pretty fast. It was nice and cloudy over the sun, so it wasn’t very hot in the cockpit.
I was a little nervous about the fuel and kept asking dad, “How’s the fuel? How’s the fuel?” For some reason I felt nervous that we might run out of fuel. A lot of the time I kept staring at the belly tank float. Dad kept reading me off the fuel gauge, which seemed fine. But suddenly it started dropping.
Over Gila Bend, it seemed like our fuel was dropping like a rock. We circled Gila Bend airport to see if we could see fuel tanks. We could not, so we radioed one of the airplanes that was taking off. We could hear them, but they could not hear us. That’s when we found out that the radio was not working. The fuel was already too low, we had no other choice but to land in Gila Bend.
We came in high because there were two other planes waiting to take off and we couldn’t talk to them because the radio was dead. The first plane took off while we were lining up for landing and we worried the second plane would pull in front of us.
The landing was probably one of the worst ever. We hit the ground and thumbed back up again, then we hit the ground again. We even worried about the tires. It’s a good thing Ercoupes have such good shock absorbers. We were going pretty fast. I was a little worried we would run out of runway. Dad hit the brakes. My shoulder belt held me in place. In fact, if we had no belt at all on that landing I would have been flung out of the canopy.
Chapter 4—Abandon ship
It turned out there was no fuel at Gila Bend. We called the airport manager, who was quite grumpy because he said we woke him up. He said to talk to Jesus, the airport keeper. But we could not wake up Jesus.
We had decided this trip was beginning to become a nightmare and took a town car into Phoenix, and hopped on the next Southwestern flight home.