Critter’s Lodge Redux

Yesterday was the first day of my retirement, not counting the weekend since I would have had those two days off anyway. The morning weather was looking good and I was in the air by shortly after 8:00 AM. I decided to head up to Critter’s Lodge again. The big fly in starts Friday evening. It was a beautiful smooth flight but when I arrived the mower was STILL parked in the middle of the runway. This time I knew the frequency they plan to use during the fly in so I dialed that in and set up for a low approach just like before except I made radio calls. As I turned base leg I heard a familiar voice in the radio, “Hank, is that you?”. “Yeah Wendell, it’s me.”. He asked me how I was and I told him fine but I’d be doing a lot better if he could move the mower. He told me to just circle for a bit and he would.

AC_20130506_Dillard_runway_01He did and I was able to land on runway 24. Here you can see the runway and Niner-Zero parked off to the left side. It’s a beautiful site and it is really fun to land on a strip in the forest like this one where you descend below the trees on final approach. Wendell told me that they have not gotten any rain in a few weeks so they have been irrigating the runway and when the sprinklers are on they park the mower on the runway. Well, now I know!

AC_20130506_Dillards_other_RWYThe last time I flew out here and could not land on runway 6-24 I also made an attempt to land on the other runway. It looked pretty nice from the air except for some trees at the approach end. But, as I got closer on final approach I could see that there was a hill, a rather large one, at the other end so I broke off the landing and decided to head elsewhere. Looked a little dicey to me. Well,  I was telling Wendell about this after I landed and he said it was a good decision and he took me over to show me the other runway. They are only connected by a dirt path through the forest. Here is a view from the top of the “little” hill. Wendell uses the three white pipes as an alignment aid when landing since the runway has a “dog leg”. He really discourages use of this runway as some planes would not be able to out climb the hill if they have to do a go around. Such could easily be the case since the runway is short and there are trees on the approach end that have to be cleared. By the time a pilot figures out they won’t be down and stopped by the end of the runway they are still going to have to clear the hill if they abort the landing. I was just over the trees at the far end when I added power and aborted to avoid just such a situation.

AC_20130506_Dillard_runway_02After taking a look at the other runway we took the ATV back through the woods to the “far” end of runway 6-24 and here is a great view of the entire length. Really nice. There are camping sites in several clearings along both sides. Also some small ponds, toilets, showers and trails between the campsites so the runway can be kept clear of campers. There is even a small tower set up to handle “Air Traffic Control” duties this weekend. If the weather cooperates I hope to meet lots of nice people this weekend. Thanks for the tour Wendell!

AC_20130506_thru_trees_01After visiting with Wendell for a couple of hours I took off and headed for home but stopped at Scot’s ranch. It is directly on the route back to Coulter so how could I not stop? I taxied back to the end of the strip behind his house and took this picture while walking back to my airplane. By the time I got back to Coulter I had flown over two hours, all before noon.


I went back up again in the evening and flew low up the Brazos River valley to Hearne to shoot some landings. This is the view about a hour before sunset. The river has meandered across the valley for eons and left behind this flat fertile bottom land. A bit of the river is visible in the distance and the land is hilly beyond. It does not seem like much of a valley when you are on the ground but it is quite obvious from the air.


I then headed to Caldwell for a couple of landings and on the way back to Coulter I took this picture out of the overhead windshield. Just a few minutes before the sun set. The air was smooth as I descended into Coulter and I made a pretty decent landing. In total I flew over four hours on Monday. Not a bad way to start my retirement.


Caldwell Texas

I was able to fly several times last week. Both before and after work. One evening I even flew with my door open. The view was incredible and the wind was not bad at all. The temperature was 80 so it was very comfortable although a little unnerving to have nothing between me and the ground. The ground was very far away. This was my last week of work by the way. I officially retired on Friday and am looking forward to not having to sit in front of a computer screen while the weather is perfect for flying. I headed out to the airport early on Saturday morning and got in a quick flight before the winds kicked in. I was at my hangar working on my airplane when Margaret stopped by. She was hoping to fly to Huntsville, TX for a fly in. So was I but the winds were already stronger than forecast and they were forecast to be 15-22 knots of direct crosswind at Coulter’s only runway. Something was said regarding the more than occasional occurrence of unlimited ceilings and visibilities and sucky winds. I won’t repeat exactly what was said but you get my drift.

The next day, Sunday, was more promising and I was in the air by 8:00 in the morning. I headed over to my practice area and worked some more on ground reference maneuvers. Not sure what to do next, I headed over to Caldwell, TX to do some landings. Being only about a half hour drive from my home, Caldwell is not the sort of place you need an airplane to visit. But what the heck. I made an excellent landing. I was really pleased. I have been told that I’ll make 100 landings in my new airplane before I make a good one. What a surprise as this was only about my 70th landing and it was just what I am hoping to be able to do regularly, I would mention that I have made a couple other nice landings but that would be bragging.


I taxied up to the ramp to see what sort of service Caldwell airport provides for the itinerant aviator. Caldwell airport is fairly typical of hundreds of small town airports across the country. They provide tie downs for visiting aircraft and as I taxied by I realized that N90HS had never been tied down before so this was a first. There are steel loops at the top of the wing struts for just this purpose and there are ropes at the tie downs.

AC_20130505_Caldwell_terminal_bldgThere is a terminal building complete with bathrooms, a sofa, computer, wireless internet and a desk.





AC_20130505_Caldwell_airprt_refreshmentsThere are even refreshments for the thirsty pilot and crew. All nice an cold.







AC_20130505_Caldwell_courtesy_carA courtesy car if you want to go into town to eat or check into a hotel. I have seen some pretty dilapidated courtesy cars in my travels and this one is fairly nice. Looks like a good use for a ready to retire police cruiser.



AC_20130505_Caldwell_fuel_pumpsSelf service fuel at a fairly decent price.





AC_20130505_Caldwell_toilet_signAnd finally, this warning message. Which, by the way, was not at the fuel pumps but over the toilet in the men’s room. So, basically everything a pilot needs for a quick fuel stop or even a longer stay.  After checking out the airport and seeing not another soul the entire time, I climbed back into N90HS and took off. I headed back to Coulter and practiced some take offs and landings. We won’t talk about that but I am sure looking forward to getting past my first 100 landings.  The sun was getting higher and heating the earth and the resulting thermals were making the ride bumpy so I called it a morning and put her away.


I came back out in the evening and went flying again. Just flying around and enjoying the freedom it affords. I stayed up until just after the sun set and it was a beautiful evening. The  thermals of mid day were gone and the ride was smooth as silk.