We flew low and hard. I’m using the Lindberg We here, as I was alone in the plane. Alone, but not alone, as I had the plane for company. Her retooled engine, overhauled carb, and newly flattened propeller combined to create a comforting roar that was oddly musical as she tore her way through the sky.
I had lifted off at dawn, Tessie springing into the air with renewed vigor, even with a full load of fuel, and I had to force her nose down to keep her low to the ground, as advised by our mechanic. The mission (beyond restocking our wine cabinet) was to “set” the rings in our new piston, and this is done by keeping the pressure in the cylinder high—a project made more challenging by flying out of an airport nearly a mile above sea level. In this case, altitude was the enemy.
The sun rose as I skimmed over mesas and canyons towards the Texas border, and about 45 minutes after takeoff I dropped off of the escarpment and down into the flatlands. From here through the Oklahoma panhandle, and into Kansas, you can forgive our ancestors for believing that the world was flat. Even from above, there is nothing about the great plains of the Midwest to suggest that they reside on a giant sphere. The land is a smooth, near-featureless expanse in all directions. A expanse that seems to go on forever.
Lower and lower we flew as the terrain slowly and steadily dropped in altitude beneath our wings. My main tasks were watching out for those pesky cell phone towers, and keeping track of my theoretical fuel consumption, based on ground speed. Ercoupes don’t have reliable gas gauges and there’s no real way in flight to check how much is in the wing tanks. I stayed on task, and resisted the urge to carve lazy circles in the winter air.
At one point, after refueling at Liberal, I spied a lake off to my left that appeared to be covered in snowballs, and could not resist the urge to investigate. As Tess and I approached, the snowballs exploded into a giant flock of Snow Geese, who wheeled and turned beneath us in formation flight to escape the roar of Tessie’s engine.
But all in all, it was what military pilots used to call a milk run. The same would not be true of the return trip. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I landed at Great Bend, the Centerline Aviation lineman greeted me with, “We haven’t seen you for a little while. Welcome back.” It wasn’t artifice. Next he asked if a minor mechanical problem we’d had when we last passed through had gotten resolved.
That’s the wonderful thing about aviation: It gives you an extended family.
After getting Tess gassed up and secured in the giant surplus B-29 hangar for the night, I headed into town to complete the other part of my mission: Restocking the wine rack.
At the Rosewood outlet the manager recognized me and we chatted for a time. As much as I love my Cooper Prophets, I’d been noticing that recently my pallet was sliding away from smoother Malbec-like wines to slightly sharper cabs. What followed was a wine tasting that left me wishing I had room for two cases of wine, not just one.
Seriously, I don’t think these people make a bad wine. Of course some I liked better than others. In the end I took home a mixed case made up of:
Coosa Pat, a Portuguese Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chicka Star Buck, a Bonorda Malbec.
Angel with a Gun, an Amarone.
Peponita Pop Top, a Pinot Noir.
And of course I got one more bottle of my beloved Cooper Prophets, the Nebbiolothat started all of this. Oh, and one bottle of a yummy chocolate raspberry desert wine (in a sexy skinny bottle) for Debs called Boo Koo Good Time. Remember, all these wines are named for race horses, which tend to have racier names than airplanes do.
I see many special occasions in my future.
Then I checked the weather, and turned in for the night, having no clue that the next day would be no milk run. Or even a wine run, for that matter. But I would be running from something, all right, before the first hour of the flight was over.
Next time, on Plane Tales: If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane, what does the weather in Kansas do?