Thursday, September 16, 2004

A new engine and a new home base

As I was accumulating minutes and hours on the 503, I was really enjoying the performance. No longer was I reluctant to get down low over fields because I knew it would take much less time to get back to cruising altitude when the fields ran out.

While dealing with the delays involved getting the 503 delivered and installed, I kept looking for a cheaper place to base my airplane. I finally found it in a city south of Montgomery, Alabama called Fort Deposit. The hangers there had gravel floors and were open on the front side, but they were only forty-five dollars per month and Fort Deposit was 17 miles closer! I just couldn't beat it. Not only that, there were two other ultralights based at Fort Deposit and I had always wanted to fly with other ultralight flyers. I had envisioned that Buck and I would fly together on weekends just like we used to fly R/C airplanes together. That was until he got into and accident and lost his nerve, and I'd been flying alone ever since.

I had just paid my rent at Little Texas when I found the hangar at Fort Deposit, so I was paying double rent for one month. Fort Deposit was 75 miles straight-line distance and I wasn't quite comfortable with the newly installed 503 to take on such a journey yet. I tried to fly every chance I could, but the weather or the wind didn't always cooperate. The end of August was approaching and I only had about 3 hours on the engine.

The third week of September, I left early from work with the intention of flying to Ft. Deposit before sunset. I got to the field and the wind was blowing, but not very hard. I pre-flighted the airplane and strapped in as normal. I took off towards the west with no surprises. As I passed 1000 feet mean sea-level (MSL as opposed to AGL, above ground level), I encountered a 20 mile-per-hour headwind. That might not sound like too much, but with a cruise speed of 38-40 MPH, it means your ground speed goes down to 18-20MPH. I flew for about 20 minutes and could still see the Little Texas airstrip at 1200' MSL altitude. Since I was flying over terrain that provided very few emergency landing strips, it was necessary to be that high, or even higher. The higher I went, the stronger the headwind became. I was looking at the big orange ball of the sun way too close to the horizon for me to be contemplating a flight of this length and I made the decision to turn around and go home. I had been in the air for 25 minutes and had only traveled 7.5 miles. As I turned toward home, the headwind became a tailwind and my groundspeed jumped to 60+ MPH. I was back home about 8 minutes! Looks like the weather for the weekend was looking good with favorable winds. I put the airplane up and reflected that it was probably a good thing that I didn't try to complete the trip that day. I really wasn't prepared like I should have been and it was more like a spur-of-the-moment type of planning. Little did I know how correct my reflections would be!


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