• Silver Argosy Part 2

    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.

    1. aikichris's Avatar
      aikichris -
      Another great article Tony! - I always read your posts straight through as soon as they come online!
      Hope to see more from you!
    1. ldk2002's Avatar
      ldk2002 -
      Thanks Tony,
      I going am try in FSX.
    1. gasman222's Avatar
      gasman222 -
      What a great adventure, Tony; and told so well, as always. You mix the technical and historical and whimsical in such a great way that we have to keep hitting the next page button. I asked you once about your camera, this was before the digital cameras, right? Still great pictures and maybe the first ever selfie!! Thanks for sharing your travels and adventures with us ground-pounders. And please, keep them coming!!
      Scott Sinclair
    1. Len Henning's Avatar
      Len Henning -
      Thanks Tony, for a great description of a truly memorable trip, in a classic airplane.
      It is reports such as yours, that inspires us Simmers to recreate your adventure.
      Having held a PPL, and now in retirement, I cant wait to start planning and flying your trip.
      I am sure you have many more experiences to relate.
      Please keep them coming.
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      These pictures were taken with a Kodak disposable camera, if memory serves. They were scanned and then cleaned up a bit in Photo Shop, but they fall short of modern digital photography, as you can tell by comparing the shots through the North Carolina stop with the one approaching the Hudson, which is a much more recent digital shot included to show what that part of the trip looked like. I pretty much was out of the photography business after Melanie disembarked, since I had to do all of the flying myself!

      As for the selfie, I have always believed that I invented that genre, since I have pictures taken that way (holding the camera in one hand at arm's length) dating back to around 1972, when I first started flying. Of course, I get no royalties for any of the billions of selfies taken every year these days!

      I, too, am in the process of re-flying the Silver Argosy in MSFS. I do a bit every now and then, and keep the latest leg saved so I can jump right in and resume. It certainly brings back the memories!
    1. flightman's Avatar
      flightman -
      Wonderful article Tony. Stories about GA flights don't normally interest me but you had me hooked from the first page. As for your excellent pre-digital photos, people forget that before multi-megapixel digital cameras, film resolution wasn't limited by a pixel count. Even a disposable camera could produce high definition images in bright conditions.
    1. dbauder's Avatar
      dbauder -
      Great article, thanks! It reminds me of a trip I got to fly back when I was a Flight Instructor in 1979. I picked up a brand new Piper Tomahawk in Lock Haven, PA and flew about thirty hours to Southern CA. I had no transponder, either, as it went dead the first day. Airspace restrictions were looser then and it was not as big a problem as it would have been on your trip.
      It was March and I had major headwinds. Some days, I'd fly sunrise to at least sunset. Others were spent sitting around waiting for weather to clear. Like you, I went south for weather considerations. Trip of a lifetime, though!
    1. gene172's Avatar
      gene172 -
      As always, I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles, Tony. This is one I will have to try in FS also. I look forward to hearing your presentation at FlightSimCon 15 this June.
      Gene W
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