Part Two - Low And Slow Across America
By Tony Vallillo
By the time that everything was in place to make the purchase of N112T possible, it was well into October of 1996. Summer was over, and so was the summer weather across a direct route from Independence Oregon to Connecticut. As I began the process of flight planning for the Silver Argosy, my first decision revolved around whether to fly at all!
Weather conditions across the northern tier of the USA can be quite harsh even in late October. This year we have seen that illustrated rather starkly; indeed, the flight would not have been possible at all during parts of October and November of 2014! 1996, while perhaps a bit less chilly in October than 2014 has been, was by no means a benign year up north. As I contemplated crossing the Cascades and the Rockies in a two place single engine very light airplane with no heater (that's right - neither Dave's Skooter nor mine has a heater; Thorp lived in southern California, and heaters are apparently less of a necessity out there!), I was also face to face with the fact that the "baggage" area of the T-211, which is a small shelf like area behind the seat backs, could accommodate little in the way of emergency equipment beyond a whistle and a signal mirror. The prospect of crossing a thousand miles of snow covered semi-wilderness without much more than a book of matches was not enticing. Neither were the altitudes that I would have to maintain in order to avoid the terrain, nor the temperatures I might encounter at those altitudes.
A considerable amount of snow had already fallen by late October all along the western reaches of the most direct great circle route (above), which would have involved a whole day of flying over areas with as much as five feet of snow on the ground, particularly in the mountains. This was long before I had joined CAP, but although I did not know then how difficult it is to spot a small airplane down in snow I had enough sense to realize that for reasons of safety, to say nothing of comfort, the northern route would be a risk, even following the Interstate highway. In addition to crossing two mountain ranges, the northern great circle route would involve crossing Lake Michigan in much colder weather than had existed when I did it in the summer, and a portion of the route actually lay in Canada. Cutting the corner into the territory of our neighbor to the north is a routine event in jet flying, but in a small airplane it would probably involve landing somewhere in Canada, if for no other reason than to accommodate the fact that a heater is not all the SkySkooter lacks - it also has no lav!
A slight modification to the northern route (above) would avoid the lake crossing and keep the flight entirely within the good 'ol US of A, but it would still mean days of flying in weather colder than I was willing to accept. I therefore began to cast about for an alternative.
One possible alternative would have been to ship the airplane by surface transportation rather than to fly it. I actually entertained this notion, at least to the point of inquiring of the owner how difficult it would be to have 112T shorn of her wings, the better to fit onto or into some sort of truck or other conveyance. It was not until I was assured that this would be difficult and costly in the extreme that I put the notion aside.
Another notion that I briefly entertained was to buy the airplane right away but leave it out in Oregon until late spring, when the climate along the direct route would be more manageable. This might have been possible, since the owner had nothing else going into his attached hangar (he had the sort of living arrangement that every pilot would kill for - a house with an attached hangar on an airport!). But he indicated that he would have to charge me rent for the hangar, a reasonable proposition under the circumstances. Careful analysis of the cost led me to cast this alternative aside as well - there is no justification (then or now) for inflating the cost of airplane ownership one iota.
So I would fly, and I would fly soon. Now it would come down to just where would I fly? Of course I already knew where I wanted the airplane to end up. I had been warned by the owner that this polished-aluminum airplane absolutely needed a hangar. If it were to be left outside for even a week, it would look like an old lawn chair. So I investigated the local Connecticut airports to see if, by chance, there was any hangar space available.
Hangar space availability is the second dirty secret of general aviation (the first, you may recall, is how ridiculously expensive it is!). Most airports that even have hangars for small planes (not all do) have waiting lists that are decades long to actually obtain a rental on one. In this sort of lottery, it matters not whether you can afford it; and so, in perhaps the only such instance in aviation, the rich and the not-quite-so-rich are on equal footing - first come first served. In no other field of human endeavor would such costly assets be housed outside, at the full mercy of the elements. We're talking about airplanes costing over half a million dollars sitting tied down outside in the rain and snow! I certainly don't recall the last time I saw a Lamborghini parked outside for months at a time, but that's how things are in aviation, at least in many places.
Fortunately for me the farther you go from a major metropolitan area, the greater the chance you will find hangar space available. And so it was that I stumbled upon a hangar that was available at the airport at Meriden Connecticut, around 45 minutes from our house. In aviation terms, this is close by. I immediately secured a lease and the Skooter had a dry place to roost when the time came. Thus the ultimate terminus of my Silver Argosy would be KMMK.