Long Legs Louise
By: Archie Woodworth
After I sold my previous airplane to a local flight school, I became a renter, until the day that my rental airplane’s engine quit on short final. I decided right then and there it was time to become an airplane owner again.
I looked around the local area for an airplane to buy, but couldn’t find one that wasn’t either “trashed or crashed.” So…I went on a “fishing trip”… I started by doing a registration search for all the Cessna 150’s in New York, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
I bought a $34 calling card and began calling Cessna 150 owners to see if they might be interested in selling their airplane. 1,000 minutes on the calling card later, still no luck … I got close a couple of times but didn’t find anyone seriously interested in selling … Over the course two weeks I talked with a real cross section of the flying community. There really are some different folks flying out there!!!
Finally, on the list of Michigan Owners I found this beautiful Aerobat, N9981G. She was located in Ludington, and owned by a retired United Captain. This guy retired as the “top dog”…the number one captain from United … really a great guy. I think that he had flown just about everything since the Wright brother’s started hanging engines on wings.
In July of 2002 a buddy flew me over to see her in person. We piled into his Piper Arrow and off to Ludington we went. After a quick “heart attack in a sack” lunch, we inspected the Aerobat, and took her for a flight around the patch. I was pleased, and wrote a check on the spot.
From Ludington, I proceeded southeasterly to St Clair County airport, on the eastern edge of Michigan. My plan was to file a flight plan and cross Canada direct to William-Sodus Airport (3G7) Not knowing the exact fuel burn, I was somewhat anxious to get N9981G in the air and pointed home on the last leg. The procedure to over fly Canada, at the time, was to file a flight plan and then initiate it prior to take off. With the FP filed and the tanks topped off, I tried to open the FP. This had to be accomplished through a series of radio transmissions and automated phone dialing systems.
It quickly became obvious that the lowest bidder won the government contract for that “automated” flight plan filing system. Exasperating doesn’t even come close to describing the experience. Finally, I was cleared to proceed into Canada. To increase the tension just a little more…I wasn’t familiar with the particular transponder in this plane. I entered in the code given to me and was not sure the transponder was working…. no flashing green light…Turns out the dimmer was turned down…(hate to admit that I didn’t figure that out until the next day). Anyway, there was no way I was going over the river (Canadian/US border) without knowing the TX was functioning. A really helpful Canadian controller confirmed that the TX was in fact “alive and well” so homeward bound I went.
At well under a hundred mph ground speed, it took more than a little time to cross Canada. As I proceeded past Toronto, I was “handed-off” several times to different controllers. Great fun trying to catch your new call sign amongst all the Toronto Pearson “chatter”.
Twilight was setting in as I flew over Niagara Falls and back into the US of A.…What a beautiful sight … the water, the spray, and sun setting in the west. N9981G was getting closer to her new home…just about an hour away.
With it getting dark, I decide it’s time to switch on some lights. I switched on the nav/beacon lights and immediately the over voltage light flashes… then the amp meter goes to full scale. I know right away what’s wrong – the Delco-Remy voltage regulator points are stuck and now the alternator is trying to boil the battery dry. I switched on the landing light, adding a little more load to the system, and life was good again…at least for a while.
I asked for and was granted a lower altitude and started a descent. Just to the west of Rochester I canceled my flight plan and changed frequencies to remain clear of Rochester’s class “Charlie” airspace.
At 20 miles out the electrical system decides its has had enough. The Radio light and cabin light started doing that Disco light-flashing thing. In the interest of not frying the “appliances” and with flashlights out and ready, I made the decision to shut everything down with the exception of the nav lights. While powering down the electrical load, I reach for the handheld and notify Rochester of the problem and my intentions to continue on to 3G7.
Then it occurs to me … it’s nighttime, no transponder and I have to have to fly within about 3 statute miles of a nuclear power plant. It felt way too soon after 911 to be doing a nighttime “flyby” with no TX. Needless to say the “pucker factor” was kinda high as I passed the nuke facility hoping the whole time that no one had his or her finger on a launch button. At this point I am on a really long “final” for runway 10 at 3G7.
Oh one other thing, did I mention fuel? Well, I knew what the POH says about fuel burn, and had planned my flight accordingly. However there should have been a disclaimer in the POH that the fuel burn was calculated by the Marketing Department. By now, I had been watching for some time, the fuel gauge needles moving ever closer to the “Economy” marks on the gauges. I had been sucking fuel out of the tanks for what seemed like a very long time. As the minutes ticked by I got increasingly interested in getting N9981G on the ground. The section of the trip from St Clair County to 3G7 was one long leg. After landing safely with the engine still running smooth I thought it fitting to honor my new ride for her endurance. Since my bride Louise has been supportive of my flying habit for 25+ years, (Thank–you sweetheart!!!), I christened N9981G, (the other “Hot Chick” in my life) Long Legs Louise.
The next morning I sumped the tanks and found plenty of fuel remaining. I obviously should have put more faith in Louise and my wristwatch instead the fuel gauges.