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Four Days And Eighteen Hours Later: A Successful Flight Across The Northern U.S.

How Quick Thinking And Practice Made For A Positive Outcome

By Maria Morrison

I landed around 1630 CDT on Sunday at the World’s Busiest Airport.

Flash back four days. After departing my home of western Washington on Thursday morning in my PA18, I headed east, with no destination in mind aside from Oshkosh. My family departed not long after, but their T41 Mescalero quickly caught up with and pulled ahead of my smaller, lighter aircraft. After passing the Cascade Mountains, I was low on fuel in the right tank on which I was running.

Instead of switching once it got relatively low, I waited, hand on the fuel selector, for the moment when the tank ran dry and my engine faltered. Once I heard the Lycoming O235 cough and saw the prop slow, I switched to the left tank and noted the time. Knowing that I had flown for two hours and fifteen minutes, and that I filled both tanks equally, I could safely say that I could fly for another 2:15 before running out of fuel completely. For safety and legality, I would place my next fuel stop roughly an hour and a half away.

These calculations put me in the nontowered airport in Kalispell, Montana, just south of Glacier Park. As I was crossing the last ridge before coming into the valley, I made a call on the CTAF. Seeing as I had been talking with my family over the radio for the whole flight, I had no reason to suspect a problem. As I pushed the transmitter, my radio went black. It rebooted itself and I tried again, with the same results. Choosing not to devote any more of my time to the problem while so close to the airport, I landed without making any calls, being extra watchful for traffic. A text to my father explained why he wouldn’t be hearing any calls from me. On base, someone on the ground stated that the could hear my transmitter clicking, and I clicked out “SOS” in morse code.

On the ground, my radio was readjusted in its casing, and we attributed the loss of connection to the turbulence encountered over the mountains. That next day, I logged 9.7 hours, scheduling a fuel stop for a small town in North Dakota. My family, although not staying close to me, did meet me at each of my fuel stops. At the airport, the pump gave us $0.37 of fuel before stopping. A call and visit with the airport manager revealed that the pump had just quit. Running low on fuel, we used a gas can and a funnel to take some out of the T41 and put it into my Cub so I could get to the next closest airport.

That airport was south of our location, and right on the edge of a large thunderstorm at Bismarck. After landing in the grass perpendicular to the runway so I could make it in my taildragger with the gusting wind, we fueled in record time and just beat the storm.

When we stopped in Fargo for the night, we hired the local mechanic to build a bracket to keep the radio in its casing, which it had come out of again. That morning, instead of pressing on to Oshkosh on Saturday as we had tentatively planned, we stopped in Minnesota to allow for the storms moving over KOSH on Saturday.

On Sunday, we made our final leg to Oshkosh after a quick fuel stop. With my Garmin, an iPad equipped with ForeFlight, and my iPhone open to the 2016 NOTAM, I joined in with the hundred of other airplanes flying the approach over Ripon, Fisk, and into Oshkosh.

Nothing could have prepared me for the vast amount of airplanes in the sky when I began the approach. I had expected there to be an airplane here and there, travelling along at 1800 ft and 90 knots. Instead, I compare what I saw to the photos of bomber squadrons in WWII, with dozens of aircraft in no more than half a mile. Unlike B17s however, I wasn’t trying to fly formation with anyone else. I had to be looking all around me in order to see how the other pilots were moving, and try to keep myself from changing position so that others could predict my movements as well.

After landing on the yellow dot, I turned into the grass and onto a taxiway. Taxiing, while long and hot, provided a great way for me to see AirVenture as I never had before. Once I parked with the rest of the Warbirds and shut down, I sat for a moment, looking around me. I was surrounded by hundreds of others who had just completed similar journeys to mine and were made better pilots because of it. I know that without my previous training, I would not have been able to handle the situations I encountered as I did, and that, because of my trip, I am more confident in my abilities as a pilot.

(Images provided by the author)



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