Flying to Oshkosh low and slow

Early in my career I worked for Piper Aircraft and had the opportunity to fly most of the planes in their product line. One of the most fun trips I had was ferrying a no radio Super Cub from Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, to El Paso, Texas. Crossing the country at low altitude and seeing the farms and fields, cities and rivers was pure delight.

Piper L-4
The L-4 is a lot of fun, but Oshkosh isn’t a short trip at Cub speeds.

Some years back I wanted to purchase an inexpensive plane I could fly just for fun and pleasure like I enjoyed ferrying the Super Cub. To satisfy that itch, I purchased a WWII Piper L-4 Cub. I now enjoy participating in local and regional airshows as part of the L Birds. Like many pilots, flying my plane to Oshkosh was on my bucket list, but work, cost, and time always seemed to say “not this year.”

So, in 2012 when the Cub Club announced the “Cubs To Oshkosh” in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Cub, that was it. I had to be part of that history. This is my story of that trip.

Getting ready, I had a wind-driven generator installed on the landing gear similar to where they were located in World War II. The generator charged a 12-volt motorcycle battery installed in the wing root, which in turn powered a handheld radio, an iPad with ForeFlight software and a Dual GPS unit. After some local trips to test the systems, all was ready to go.

Rick Winter by airplane
Ready for the big trip.

Homebase was at Kitty Hill airport, a small grass strip on the north side of Austin, Texas. I entered a flight plan into ForeFlight on my iPad direct to Hartford, Wisconsin. The majority of that route went over sparsely populated portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin. My stops enroute were thus dictated by winds and fuel. I choose airports as I went along basing the next stop as close to the direct route as l could considering the airport fuel availability and their runway orientation with the winds at the time.

Starting early on Wednesday, July 18th, I spent a long day wandering my way through Corsicana, Texas; Paris, Texas; Sallisaw, Oklahoma; and on to Boone County airport in Harrison, Arkansas, where I stopped for the night.

Brandon Morris at the “Fly Arkansas” FBO was very helpful and besides letting me use a courtesy car for the night volunteered to put my plane in a hangar for the night as well. The next morning, eager to continue the trip, I was faced with stiff 90-degree crosswinds and saw on the radar that a front was coming from the west bringing a line of rain. I saw it would pass fairly quickly and I should be able to go by noon. The only problem was the winds stayed strong and gusty from the west and the airports where I wished to land next all had north-south orientations.

Looking at the sectionals I saw an airport further north in Ava, Missouri, that had a westerly runway, but ForeFlight was saying it had no fuel or FBO. However, there was a number you could call. I called and talked to a pilot with planes on the field and he said although there was no avgas on the field there was a service station in town that had auto gas with no ethanol. My 65 hp engine is approved for auto gas so he said he would get a 5 gallon can of gas in town and meet me. I agreed and called him as I was taking off from Harrison with my ETA.

River under L-4 wing
Watching the country pass by under the wing is a great way to spend the day.

As I approached Ava, I saw a police car coming out to the airport and pulling out by the runway. I landed and pulled up in front of the hangars on the field and was met by the man I had talked to and by the local police who just wanted to see my plane. After chatting with the friendly folks of Ava, I received six gallons of auto gas, enough to get to the next stop, and they would not let me pay for it. They just thanked me for stopping and brightening their day.

Onward up through the Lake of the Ozarks area, passing by Branson, Missouri, and on to where I planned to stop for the night at Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi. Upon arriving at Hannibal, I found no one there, the fuel pumps were locked and thought, “now what?” I looked at the sectionals and saw that Quincy, Illinois, just across the Mississippi a short ways had fuel, FBOs, nearby motels and food. So I fired up my bird flew on to Quincy for the second night’s stay.

Friday was another beautiful day and my journey on to Hartford, Wisconsin, to join the “Cubs to Oshkosh” festivities prior to going to Oshkosh on Sunday with the mass fly-in. Flying over the heart of America farmland of Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin and seeing the patterns of corn fields, wheat fields and farms was spectacular.

Broken bungee
Well that will ruin the whole day.

Arriving at Hartford, I landed on runway 11 and, as I slowed down and pulled off into the grass, I heard a loud snap and my left wing dropped a couple feet. One of the two bungee cords on the left gear had broken. Thankfully, one cord stayed intact and I was able to pull into the parking area. Immediately I was surrounded by folks who had seen what happened. I couldn’t have had this happen in any better place in America. Within an hour and a half, I had four new, heavy duty bungee cords purchased at a nearby aviation store. One of the crew from Cub Club had a bungee cord tool to help with replacement and within another hour I was better than new. The people helping me were extremely generous and friendly.

The Cub Club hosted food and entertainment and displays for Friday and Saturday and were perfect hosts. More than 80 Cubs flew in from all over the country to be part of the 75th anniversary of the venerable Piper Cub.

Sunday, the moment we had waited for, the reason for the trip. We started at dawn and lined up on both sides of the runway. As soon as one plane lifted off, the next was released. Over 70 Cubs flew in trail up to Oshkosh. As the first plane was landing at Oshkosh the last ones were lifting off from Hartford.

Once at Oshkosh, I joined the warbirds and registered to fly with the L Birds in the airshow. As a first timer, I attended a training session learning the rules and procedures for the show. Then on Tuesday I flew with the L Birds, Trainers, etc. in the “BeeHive,” a true bucket list experience.

After the show in a debriefing session, several of us first timers were asked to group for a picture. Instead of a picture we were sprayed with water as our initiation into the show.

What a week! Flying over the country, meeting all the Cubs at Hartford and then getting to fly in the airshow. Fantastic.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *