2020: the year my son, Hunter, was going to join me for my annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for AirVenture. Well, that is what I thought…
I own a Van’s RV-7A that I absolutely love. It has enabled me to see and experience so many amazing things. I’ve flown it as far north as Nova Scotia, as far south as Florida, and as you will hear in this story, as far west as South Dakota.
My son has flown with me quite a few times. We’ve gone to the usual hundred dollar hamburger spots, the local EAA pancake breakfast fly-in, and flown to a few local airshows. We even did a day trip down to First Flight airport (FFA) in North Carolina to see where the Wright brothers first flew.
I’ve told my son many stories about Oshkosh and he was now old enough to experience it firsthand with me. So it was decided that the next flying trip with me would be to Oshkosh.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 hit and the virus had other plans. I was hoping that since AirVenture wasn’t until July, we would still be OK with our plan, so we marked it on the calendar and I requested the vacation days off from work. When we heard the news that AirVenture wasn’t happening, Hunter was really disappointed—and so was I.
But then we said, “Just because AirVenture has been canceled, doesn’t mean our father-and-son flying adventure has to be canceled also. We have the vacation days marked off and we have an airplane.” So we began planning our “non-Oshkosh” flying adventure.
We always wanted to visit Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands of South Dakota, so that became our main destination. I have a cousin who lives in Michigan and a sister who lives in Colorado, so I added those destinations to the journey also. A good buddy of mine told me about a really cool airport, called Poplar Grove, and said it is a must see… so that was added too! After a bunch of research and flight planning, we were ready to go.
We packed the plane up and departed Sky Manor airport (N40) at 8:30am on July 17. There was a 1500 foot overcast, so I filed an IFR flight plan to Jackson, Michigan (JXN), for lunch and then to our first destination, Zeeland, Michigan (Z98), to visit my cousin. He lives on a airpark and owns an RV-10 and a beautiful Highlander on floats that he built. After a great dinner, my cousin Skip took my son up in the Highlander for a sunset flight and a few landings on a local lake.
The next morning, we enjoyed a nice waffle, eggs, and bacon breakfast and were in the air by 10:15am. I filed and we flew over Lake Michigan to our first fuel stop in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, and then another in Huron, South Dakota. We then flew low through the Badlands, circled Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, and then landed at our destination, Custer, South Dakota (CUT).
The next day was jam packed! We rented a car and went to Mt. Rushmore, drove all the scenic drives through Custer State Park, did the long drive through Rapid City to check out the Badlands, and watched the sunset. Super cool place that everyone should go visit.
The next day we woke up at 6am sharp because we rented a Polaris R2R PRO XP Turbo UTV to go riding through the logging trails. What a blast!
Another great thing about having an airplane is that you can do things spontaneously that you normally couldn’t do because of time constraints and distance needed to travel. While eating lunch, my son and I were figuring out what to do next. I said “Devils tower National Monument is only a 30 minute flight from Custer.”
He said, “Let’s do it!” So we hopped in the plane and flew to Wyoming. We flew around Devils Tower and then landed in Hulett, Wyoming (W43). We took a taxi over to the Tower and walked around the whole monument. What an amazing site from the air and the ground. Something that would have taken us all day by car was accomplished with ease in my airplane.
On day six of our adventure, we departed for Colorado Springs (COS). We flew south along the Rockies, west of Denver. We had a nice visit with my sister and her family, and the next day we drove up Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Rockies at 14,115 ft. We then toured the Garden of Gods rock park and the surrounding area around Colorado Springs.
On day eight, it was time to start heading back east. This day’s destination was Poplar Grove (C77). This is an amazing airpark with a very active EAA chapter. My friend LD hosted us and showed us all around the airport and introduced us to a bunch of really cool pilots.
The next day we flew in a four-ship formation (RV-8, RV-7A, Cessna 195, and Waco) to Janesville, Wisconsin (JVL) for breakfast at Bessies. My son rode along in the RV-8 there and rode in the Waco and did some loops and rolls on the way back to Poplar Grove.
After a tour of the EAA building, where some volunteers were building a Curtiss Jenny, we were treated to an amazing history lesson of a beautiful Ryan PT-22. The owner, Tom, then gave Hunter and me a ride in her. It was the first time I was in an open cockpit airplane. There’s nothing like flying low and slow over the many soybean fields surrounding Poplar Grove with the wind blowing by and all the great smells of the evening while the sun slowly started to set. Another fantastic day. Poplar Grove is Aviation Heaven and every pilot needs to check this gem out.
Without the use of general aviation, this adventure would have never happened. In just 10 days, we flew around 25 hours and covered over 3200 miles. We saw so much of this great United States and experienced so many amazing things, but what I cherished the most was all the wonderful people we met along the way and the time I got to spend with my son.
This summer we are flying to AirVenture!