In early 2023, my wife Brenda and I bought an airpark lot at Aero Estates Airport (T25) in northeast Texas. Brenda had just finished her Sport pilot certificate in a 1945 hand-prop, Aeronca Champ and I have been flying a Sonex that I built since 2015. Living at an airpark has been a lifelong dream, and I am lucky to have a wife that loves aviation and was all for the idea. It was the community of like-minded, friendly aviation folks that truly sold us on the idea. From the moment I saw the place, I knew I was home, and on our first visit together, Brenda felt the same way.
The original plan was to move to Texas in late 2024 – a year after our new hangar home is built – but a rental house with a hangar on the airpark became available so we changed our plans and rented. We sold our home in Chicagoland and headed south in two cars with our dogs and important stuff. The movers took the rest.
On Tuesday September 5, I flew back to Chicagoland on American Airlines and a friend picked me up at Chicago O’Hare, and then dropped me off at our old home base of Bolingbrook’s Clow International Airport (1C5). My original plan was to leave Wednesday September 6, but a strong cold front passed through and was still in the area on Thursday morning. This front stalled over Texas and Arkansas, directly on my intended route of flight. I used the lost time to go over the Sonex and look into alternative routes to T25.
My Sonex is powered by a Jabiru 3300 engine that burns about six gallons per hour, and a 16 gallon fuel tank. I planned for legs that were 1.5 to 1.8 hours at most, intending to enjoy the trip and avoid the stress of arriving with minimum fuel at any of my stops. It was all about the adventure of flying my homebuilt airplane across the country, and enjoying the freedom we have to do so.
I finally left Clow on Thursday September 7 in the early afternoon, about 36 hours later than planned. I took off under a low (but legal) ceiling with much nicer conditions very close to the west of the airport. Originally I intended to fly southwest across Illinois and into Missouri, but the weather prevented that with conditions below my comfort level all the way into southern Illinois. Since I did not want to fly over the Ozarks in Arkansas, especially in marginal conditions, I needed to find a different route to Little Rock.
A bit of planning showed that Keokuk, Iowa (KEOK) had cheap fuel and the weather south of there was looking really good. The flight to KEOK took 1.7 hours and, aside from deviating around several small rain showers, it was a great start to the trip! I took a break in the FBO pilot lounge to get another briefing and verify my next destination, Rolla, Missouri (KVIH).
Beyond Rolla, en route to Arkansas, was the Mark Twain National Forest. I did not want to fly over that area with any concerns about fuel so Rolla was a logical stop. A short 1.3 hour flight took me to a friendly FBO with great facilities. I got another briefing and decided to fly one more leg which would get me to Walnut Ridge, Arkansas (KARG) with plenty of daylight remaining.
I climbed to 5,500’ after leaving Rolla and, as I crossed the Mark Twain National Forest, I saw a groundspeed rise to more than 160 mph. KARG was one of my original planned stops and my planning paid off well. The FBO let me rent an old hangar to house the Sonex and invited me to use the courtesy car. The camaraderie in aviation never ceases to amaze me. I made reservations at a hotel north of Walnut Ridge which was ironically directly across Highway 67 from another airport, Pocohontas Municipal (M70), which I had intended as an alternate to KARG. I ended the day with a delicious steak dinner at a local, family-owned restaurant that the hotel desk clerk recommended. After an inauspicious start, I was half way home!
I got up early on Friday intending to be in the air by 8 am. A friend who flies for an air carrier had texted me to let me know a line of strong storms were approaching from western Arkansas and my weather briefing confirmed it. A big ugly blob turned into a line of cells that redeveloped in a string all the way to Oklahoma. The FBO at KARG was awesome so I hung out and waited for the storms to dissipate.
The storm cells began to edge to the south, and I planned to fly down further and see what the weather permitted. Following a quick lunch, a 0.9 hour flight brought me to Carlisle, Arkansas (4M3) where I once again became one with the couch in the FBO lounge. By mid afternoon it was obvious that the ongoing storm development was going to continue to cross my route to T25. Once again, I used an airport courtesy car and made my way to a local hotel. That evening, I enjoyed some delicious homestyle meatloaf at “The Grumpy Rabbit” restaurant in Lonoke, Arkansas.
Saturday morning I got up early again, intending to make my fuel stop at the Mount Pleasant Regional Airport (KOSA) in Texas. My morning briefing showed some MVFR conditions and a couple of locations that were IFR along my route. It was hard to tell how far I would get. Stopping at KOSA would give me a 30 minute flight to T25, but I planned several alternatives on the way given the conditions. In keeping with the way the week had gone, my plans were changed by the weather. KOSA was IFR and it did not appear that it would clear by the time of my arrival.
I arrived at Carlisle right as the sun was rising and was treated to a spectacular sight as I preflighted my Sonex. The orange sun hung low in the fading mists and the airport was quiet and still. I launched into the cool morning air and turned on course. I found some slight restrictions to visibility, but none of concern. Even the few low clouds were dissipating as I climbed. I tuned in the Little Rock ATIS and took note of the conditions and then tuned to Little Rock approach just in case I needed their assistance.
One of my planned alternates was Hope Municipal Airport (M18), even with fuel prices higher than I liked. I did not want to get low on fuel and run into weather. Sure enough, as I flew southwest the ADS-B weather at KOSA was still reporting IFR. I decided to stop at M18, fuel up, and check the weather again. Hope Municipal appeared in the distance with no one on the CTAF. I entered the downwind to runway 04, and wondered if the runway was actually open. There were literally no visible markings as I entered the pattern. It was only on short final that I could see the numbers and as I touched down, I could not see much else in the way of markings.
I shut down at the self-serve pump and let my wife know where I was. After the required biological break, I got another briefing and found VFR ahead of me. At last! WingX showed me 1.1 hours from T25 and it was all I could to to contain my excitement. Focus, Robbie…focus.
I took off and headed southwest, keeping a close eye on conditions out the window and on my GRT Mini via ADS-B. As I approached the Texarkana Class D airspace, I gave them a call – it was the only time I used ATC on the trip. While I was above the airspace, I decided calling them was both polite and smart in case anything happened.
As I passed Texarkana, the visibility was probably 15 miles but fading a bit. As the minutes ticked by I started thinking through finding T25 from the air – even after conversations and looking at Google Maps, I knew it would not be easy to find. The day before I left, a fellow Sonex pilot took me for a golf cart ride adjacent to the runway and we discussed what I could expect. (Thank you Mark!)
Runway 9/27 is grass over old an old asphalt surface and has a slight downhill portion on runway 9, as well as some trees on the approach to runway 27. Since my old home base, Clow, had its own unique challenges and a constant crosswind, I did not find any of this to be a big deal. Runway 9 also has right traffic to remain clear of another runway to the north of the Airpark.
I focused on staying directly on the GPS course (yes, a true child of the magenta line!), and as I crossed Lake Palestine, I spotted the trademark red roof on the east end of the airport among the trees. I passed directly over our rental home to enter a right downwind for 9, making my calls on the CTAF and focusing on flying a good pattern at an unfamiliar field.
The landing as uneventful and as I rolled out I spotted my wife holding a welcome home sign and new neighbors waving by the runway. I covered over 770 nm, flew about 7.4 hours, and burned about 48 gallons of 100LL on the way. The weather challenged my planning and decision making, and what should have been a one-day trip, ended up taking much longer. But I made it home safely.
I built my Sonex in my garage. This trip was the first real cross country I had taken her on. She performed perfectly with no issues at all. Building her and flying her is truly a dream come true, and moving to the airpark is almost surreal. T25 truly feels like home, due in large part to what sold us on the place to begin with – the community. Next up – Brenda’s own long cross country in the Champ!