July 11-25, 1986
The Florida trip with the Kindreds last year was so much fun, we decided to do a big two-week trip to the Northwest in a Piper Arrow.
July 11-12: Dancing with thunderstorms. We left Friday evening and had planned to spend the night in Peoria, Illinois. But a line of thunderstorms forced us to land in Indianapolis. The next morning we flew less than 200 miles before we were confronted by another line of thunderstorms. We attempted to fly south then north of it to find a break, but were unsuccessful. We flew closer to the edge of the storm system than we should have. We tried to beat the storms to Kankakee, Illinois. Rob flew an instrument approach (the ILS) to minimums with a tailwind. He stopped the airplane less than 500 feet short of construction equipment on the runway. We barely had time to run to the lobby before a severe thunderstorm unloaded.
An hour later the weather had moved through and we continued the rest of the day in good weather. Because of headwinds and a lackluster performance by the Arrow, it took us a grand total of ten hours to fly from Indianapolis to Rapid City, South Dakota. Liz wanted to see the famous 'Corn Palace' in Mitchell, South Dakota. But by the time we arrived, three hours behind schedule, it was closed. We were lucky to get gas.
Liz had never spent that many hours in an airplane in one day, and has vowed that she will never do it again. She still says, "I don't have to. You can't make me. You can't make me."
July 15: Slow climber. We had a great time in the Rapid City area for three days, but it was time to move on. The runway at Rapid City is 8,700 feet long. By the time we had flown the entire runway length, we were barely fifty feet off the ground. It was 90o and the airport altitude is 3,200 feet, so I attributed most of the poor performance to high-density altitude. Rob was more nervous about the airplane's performance. Because it would not climb very well, we had to fly north around the Black Hills toward our next destination of Cody, Wyoming.
After spending an hour gaining altitude, Rob decided he wanted to land and think about trying to fly over the next set of mountains. So at his insistence he landed at Gillette, Wyoming. We consulted some flight instructors and local pilots. They assured us that in calm weather it was no problem for a single engine airplane to fly through this area of the country. After convincing Rob, we continued toward Cody.
After a bathroom stop at Worland, we departed toward rising terrain. The airplane's climb performance had not improved. After Rob took off, I strongly suggested a quick right turn because the terrain was rising faster than we were.
July 16: Slow climbing again. The next day we took off from Cody, Wyoming. Guess what! My door was open. So we had to turn around, land at Cody, and shut the door. The Arrow's door cannot be closed in flight.
The second time I took off from Cody, I brought the gear up at Vx (best angle of climb) in ground effect. (Ground effect describes the fact that the plane gets more lift at lower airspeeds close to the ground.) Ideally the gear should not come up until the airplane is climbing and speed at least Vy (best rate of climb). Vy is about 10 knots faster than Vx. I brought the gear up early in an effort to reduce drag. The airplane started to sink back to the runway. Fortunately the airplane accelerated in ground effect, and it climbed without incident.
July 19: Frost in July. It was time to leave Yellowstone. Early that morning we found the airplane covered with frost! Only direct sunlight for an hour melted the frost. Once again, we were behind schedule.
July 22: Wind shift. We departed from Glacier National Park enroute to Havre, Montana. There was a slight tailwind, so we decided we would press on to Glasgow, Montana. That would divide the day's flight into two legs instead of three. Once we had committed to land at Glasgow, the wind shifted to a headwind. It took us nearly four hours to get there. We were concerned about running out of fuel, but in fact we had at least an hour of reserves when we landed. Glasgow, Montana is best remembered for its grasshopper plague. We could not walk without them crunching under our feet. I even hit one at 5,000 feet on the way out!
In the weeks following our trip, many flying club members complained that the Arrow did not seem to have the power that it should. At the club members' insistence the manager had the airplane flown to Columbus, where the engine had been overhauled. They discovered that an incorrect intake cam had been installed in the engine. It was not allowing enough fuel-air mixture to enter the cylinders. This significantly decreased the airplane's power.
The only clue from the cockpit was that the fuel flow leaned out at eight gallons per hour. The engine should normally burn nine to ten gallons per hours. We were very lucky that the weather was extremely calm for our trip. Fortunately I did not have the Arrow when I flew Delano McMann to South Carolina (April 9, 1986). I am almost certain the Arrow, with its faulty intake cam, would have never gotten out of that grass strip.