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September 20, 2007

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September 20
Cardinal Tour II

Crossing the southern frontier

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We had so much fun the first time out, we had to do it again.

Obvious, even to the casual observer: The airplane had a long cross-country flight next on the itinerary. We had the Cardinal out in Alva, Oklahoma, for its interior refurbishment, and we needed to bring it back to Griffin, Georgia, prior to AOPA Expo in Hartford for installation of the wheel pants before it goes on display at the show.

So we once again strung together key points on the map, identifying a good selection of general aviation airports and active pilot communities, and coordinated everyone's schedules for a three-day blast through the south central United States. And what a blast it was.

The pick-up
The nearest commercial air service to Alva is across the state line in Wichita, a two-hour drive away, but only a 45-minute flight in the Cardinal — another indication of how general aviation is especially important in so many rural areas. Field Project Manager Dan Gryder, of the AvNet, had been in Alva to coordinate the completion of the Cardinal interior at Aerodesigns and Vantage Plane Plastics. So after spending a couple of days in Alva helping to finish the airplane, he came up to Wichita to pick me up — having filed the Cardinal's first IFR flight plan to escape some scuzzy clouds in north central Oklahoma that morning.

After a few gallons of the blue stuff from Yingling Aviation at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, we took off for a 90-minute afternoon flight to Siloam Springs, Arkansas, our first official stop and overnight. The new interior was a hit with the folks at Yingling — they had just seen the raw airplane a few weeks earlier, so they could make a direct comparison. For me, the difference was clear — I forgot to turn on the active noise reduction on my Bose X headset, it was so much quieter than before.

Along our route, we crossed just south of Independence, Kansas, the home of Cessna's single-engine piston manufacturing facility — and the new home of the Mustang production line. It was a Saturday, and late afternoon, but I rocked the Cardinal's wings in case anyone who was working overtime at the plant happened to be watching.

As we got closer to northwest Arkansas, the layers of cloud behind a cold front to the east started to coalesce. Gryder had dialed up the unicom frequency at Siloam Springs just in time to hear Matt Younkin, of Younkin Airshows, heading back from a practice session in his American Champion Decathalon. Younkin said he'd meet us on the ground when we arrived — this turned out to be a fortuitous call.

Of course, we didn't hit rain until we were on a five-mile final, using the OBS feature on the Garmin GNS 430W to highlight the extended Runway 18 centerline. This came in handy, as it was one of those occasions when you spot the runway five miles out, but the visibility gets progressively worse as you approach the airport. By the time we touched down, it was raining pretty steadily in three-miles visibility. However, the AWOS stubbornly called it "800 few, 6,000 broken, visibility 8 miles," even after we landed. The country song that goes with this? "Oh, Your Lyin' AWOS."

Younkin had pulled his car — which looked like a souped-up hearse-onto the ramp where we could see him, and the hearse was our "Follow Me" tug leading us back to the hangar, which he had open and waiting for us. What a thrill — the Catch-A-Cardinal cozied up to the Beech 18 Mystery Ship along with Younkin's Decathalon while the rain pounded away outside.

Siloam hosts quite a bit of activity, as does northwest Arkansas in general. During our stay, I met several pilots and their well-cared-for aircraft, such as Dave Denton's 1951 Call Air, and the gorgeous new Velocity built and flown by Joe Barnett.

Skydive Skyranch
Gryder has been threatening to throw me out of an airplane for some time. To be fair, there have been plenty of times when I've wanted to give him the big shove too, especially after one of his jokes.

Actually, since I first started sitting on a parachute six years ago while flying formation in the Nanchang CJ(6 my husband and I used to own, I've known deep down that doing a real skydive was a great idea. Well, Gryder and Skydive Skyranch, the drop zone (DZ) operation at Siloam Springs, made that happen.

The Cardinal spent the night under a canopy in the Skydive Skyranch hangar, hosted by founder Wolf Grulkey. That beautiful evening featured a gourmet DZ dinner with Wolf's shrimp scampi and bluegrass music to follow, in a unique family-style atmosphere. The rain had stopped, and we savored the evening as the conversation drifted toward what was planned for the next morning.

First thing in the morning, strapped firmly to expert tandem instructor Christian Grill, I boarded the classic Cessna 182 jump plane and went up on my very first flight that would not culminate in a landing, in the airplane sense.

It was fantastic — and even more fun than expected. Many, many thanks to Christian, who I now consider a close, personal friend, and everyone at Skydive Skyranch. If you're sitting on a chute in an airplane, you need to do this. Just my two cents worth.

Gaston's
After saying goodbye to our friends at Siloam, we buckled into the Cardinal to head for our next stop, Gaston's White River Resort, for the airplane's first taste of grass. Many pilots within 200 miles of this north central Arkansas fishing and outdoor sports enclave have raved about the quality of the airstrip, accommodations, activities, and food — not to mention the beauty of the resort's location on the White River. Gryder wanted to go for the Sunday brunch buffet. Since he's an expert in this area, I figured we needed to check it out, in the interest of research. Gaston's representative Logan Thomas spent some time with us going over the airplane, trying to fully comprehend the scope of the project and how we had accomplished what we did in just a few short months.

What we found at Gaston's was another example of the great places pilots can go with more ease than the ground-bound. Landing to the southwest, on Runway 24 (and taking off on 6), helps to avoid the powerlines at the southwest end of the resort. And it allows you to roll out and park just a few yards from your reservation at the restaurant overlooking the river.

DeWitt Spain, Memphis
We pulled ourselves away from the dessert buffet grudgingly, but we had one more leg for the day — to General DeWitt Spain Airport, on the north side of Memphis. The cloud layer we'd flown under that morning dissipated the further east we flew, until we were under mostly clear skies for the last 100 miles over the Mississippi river basin. Rice paddies and long irrigation channels criss-crossed the country below, and we talked about how, millions of years ago, the area we flew over was a trough flooded by the Gulf of Mexico, as deep as 4,000 feet in places. Pilots get a unique perspective on so much — geography, history, geology — the list is long.

When I called in on a 45-degree entry to downwind at DeWitt Spain, local pilot Jeff Linebaugh called back on the radio — he was on the runway doing a brake test on a North American T-6. The Commemorative Air Force hangar was open and ready for the Cardinal, which had another celebrity night spent next to a Hawker Sea Fury, a Boeing Stearman, and the T-6. Morris Ray, chief flight instructor for Downtown Aviation, and a tailwheel and warbird training expert, hosted us. Look for a future feature on this incredible teacher and pilot.

We had a visit from a local television reporter and videographer, who interviewed me about the Cardinal project, and who Gryder took for a flight over Memphis. Another opportunity for a positive GA story made possible by the tour. We hoped to beat out the murder of the day and lead the news, but at least we gave one more reporter his first flight in a general aviation airplane, and some great footage — and concrete knowledge for future use.

On to Moontown
The next morning, the low scud had returned, so we filed IFR for our next destination, Moontown Airport, northeast of Huntsville, knowing clear weather lay just 50 miles east of Memphis.

On departure, I hand-flew the airplane on vectors to the north to stay clear of obstructions along the river, and to stay clear of the busy Memphis International corridors during the morning push. Then the S-Tec autopilot was engaged in GPSS mode to fly our course hands-off through the rest of the climb to our cruising altitude of 5,000 feet. This put us between layers and eastbound.

Moontown Airport has long been a haven for pilots who love grass strips and classic aircraft. Through the efforts of George Myers, AOPA members, and local EAA chapter pilots, the airport thrives. In fact, we landed just before lunch on a Monday in September, and Myers had put the word out such that about 40 pilots skipped work or household chores to come out and greet the Cardinal.

We made one low pass for a visiting local news crew, and then touched down on the smooth grass, which I think the Cardinal was growing fond of. We taxied up, and Rick Weldon, of Rinet Air Services, the local IA, uncowled the airplane so gathering pilots could get a closer look. After a burger and fellowship, we pressed on. We're only sorry we weren't there a few days later, for the annual Moontown Fly-In.

When in Rome
The Cardinal handled the takeoff from the 2,200-foot strip admirably (it's a little more than that, but 2,200 is what's on the sectional), with Gryder and I, all our luggage, and about half tanks (30 gallons) on board. And it was off to Rome, about 70 nm to the east-southeast.

We had a special treat on approach to Rome. As I called in on downwind, another airplane in the pattern called back and asked if we were the AOPA sweepstakes Cardinal. Yes, I replied, to the Tomahawk turning base ahead of us. "Oh good!" was the response. As it turned out, AOPA member Don Sipos had taken time off from work to fly over from Lawrenceville to see the Cardinal. In a later e-mail, Don called it a "perfect day," and it certainly was, from the standpoint of showing off the Cardinal to so many appreciative pilots. Mike Mathews, Rome's airport manager, also came out — he's a pilot working on his instrument rating, which is always music to my ears, since an active pilot acting as the airport manager has a unique understanding of airport concerns and issues.

The afternoon grew hot — we were definitely back in Georgia, and it was definitely not autumn yet — and we soon were on our way one step closer to Griffin.

Oh, Atlanta
As we slipped under the Class B into the Atlanta metro area, it felt like coming home. The Cardinal has spent significant time in Georgia during the refurbishment, but hadn't been in Griffin since we left for Oshkosh in July. We had one more stop — at Peachtree City's Falcon Field, where we knew a lot of local Atlanta pilots could stop by after work to see the airplane. And we weren't disappointed.

We entertained about 20 pilots over the course of an hour and a half, including A&P Truitt Harper, who did some work on the airplane earlier this year, and helped out with the trip to Sun 'n Fun Fly-In back in April. The new interior made it look like a different airplane had landed back in the state — very different from the one that had left just two months earlier.

With one final leg into Griffin, just before the sunset, we put the cap on another major work package, and another great cross-country trip. And two minor, but special milestones are on tap for the two weeks leading up to the Cardinal's next journey, up to AOPA Expo up in Hartford in early October. First, we'll change out the oil in the Lycoming; we have 50 hours on the airplane as of this trip, and we're ready to move from the break-in mineral oil to the multiviscosity oil we'll use for the next 50 hours. Then, we'll install the wheel pants and remaining fairings to cap off the Cardinal's looks and performance.

Julie K. Boatman E-mail the author at julie.boatman@aopa.org.

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