You might as well know right off the bat that I don’t have a jet, never have, and it’s beginning to look like I never will. The funny thing is, though, there are places I wouldn’t be able to go to without them. I’m talking about the King Airs and Citations that are flying every day into small and medium sized towns to do business. And after these wonderful flying machines unload the engineers, accountants, and executives to go do their work, they load up with jet fuel. Some of these little airports such as Lone Rock, Wisconsin, or Bryan, Ohio, even have a jet or three based at the airport owned by local companies that couldn’t do business efficiently without them. And let’s not forget the jobs they bring to their communities. Without the income from selling jet fuel, many of the little airports I like to visit, and the FBOs based there, couldn’t survive financially. Most of them can’t make a living from single engine piston airplanes like my Aviat Husky that drop in to buy 35 gallons of avgas. So I say bless the jets. Because of you guys doing your thing, I can do mine.
What is my thing? I guess it began with an itch to go to inspiring places and take pictures. Honestly, maybe a lot of that itch was just wanting the freedom to go, period. Anyway, the first freedom machine I had was a second-hand Ford. It took me up in the mountains west of Denver to places of solitude and great beauty in less than an hour back in those high school days. The dream of being able to fly, the ultimate expression of freedom that had been in my head for as long as I could remember, remained just a dream for several more years. It finally happened, though, and it enabled my career in aviation and aerial photography to get off the ground. (Sorry for that, but “get off the ground” is marginally better than, “to develop,” or, the more familiar, “take off.”)
So what’s so hot about Lone Rock, Wisconsin, by the way? Well, it has an airport sitting near an interesting stretch of the Wisconsin River. The sand bar islands in the middle of the river look like little floating creatures in a field of blue. They caught my attention by accident one time when I was flying out to Idaho from Oshkosh after the EAA fly-in. I have been back a few times over the past few years to photograph them from my Super Cub earlier, and now the Husky from 500 to 1000 feet above the river. On this last part of its journey to the Mighty Mississippi, the river leisurely flows through a shallow valley with beautiful green fields on either side in the spring. The town of Spring Green where I stay during my photo trips is just 10 minutes from the airport by Enterprise rental car, and became prominent as a creative community when Frank Lloyd Wright built Taliesin, his world famous architecture school, there in 1911. If you are a Wright fan as I am, visiting Spring Green just to take a tour of Taliesin is well worth the trip.
But back to those sand bars. They form the most interesting shapes partly above and partly below the surface of the water. The sand bars change shape because of the current, and the varying depth of the river. For this kind of photography, an airplane like the Cub or Husky is ideal because they will fly so slow, and have windows that open on either side. However seductive it might be, a Hawker wouldn’t be the aircraft of choice for this job. And it is a job aside from being a great pleasure. Some of the pictures from these trips I have sold as prints to private collectors as well as for murals in a medical building in Dallas.
When I was taking the photographs for my DVD, “Flying Route 66,” (available from Sporty’s Pilot Shop should you be interested), I became increasingly aware while over the Oklahoma panhandle that the need for a pit stop had progressed fairly quickly from desirable to urgent. The tiny town of Hinton with its nice little airstrip was close. With the utmost of willpower and professionalism I managed to squeeze out a full pattern albeit a tight one from downwind, to base, to short final calling out my position on the Unicom frequency at each stage. There was no answer, of course, and I could see on downwind that this appeared to be primarily an ag strip. Perhaps you can imagine the muscular control I needed when on short final I was surprised to see one of Leland Snow’s lovely Air Tractors sticking its pointy nose my way from the opposite end of the field on a slightly longer final approach. Quick turnarounds to minimize ground time are routine for ag pilots, and landing downwind is a common practice if it means a shorter taxi to the chemical hopper for reloading. This pilot was not on the radio, but kindly transitioned to a standard pattern when he saw that I was not only first, but also landing on the runway indicated by the wind sock. As I ran, not walked, to the nearest convenience area I was thankful that there was a thriving ag business at this field, and that the PT-6 in the Air Tractor was lapping up jet fuel with great thirst. I waved a thank you to its pilot as I returned to my airplane at a more relaxed pace. As long as that ag operation is making money the airport will get its share, and still be there whenever anyone wants to visit Hinton. Multiply that by hundreds of smaller airports used by turbine aircraft for one purpose or another, and you realize how important they are to the infrastructure we all need to keep general aviation alive and well.
Some years ago at modest mid-western airport I was just taxiing into a tie-down spot when a sparkling sleek Learjet pulled up along side. “That’s a beautiful Cub,” the Lear pilot said over the Unicom frequency. “Thanks, and that’s quite a fantastic airplane you have,” I replied. “Yea, but I’d rather be sitting in yours,” he said. I thought to myself, if it weren’t for you, my friend, and airplanes like yours, this airport might have already fallen victim to the land developer’s bulldozer. Go jets!