Thursday, April 01, 2010

Where The Water Meets The Shore...

In the past, my columns such as this one have been termed “confession time.” And time dictates that this top-secret memory now be released.

During the summer of 1957 I completed the requirements to become a private pilot. A portion of those requirements called for several hours of solo cross-country flying. This meant that I needed to fly from one town to another town and land at an airport other than the one I left.

So for several weeks, I flew out of Jefferson County Airport located across the highway from Nederland to places such as Lafayette, Kirbyville, Houston, and Galveston. My favorite outing included flying over to Hobby Airport in Houston and then down to the Galveston airport and returning to Jefferson County. I was required to have my logbook signed by someone at each stop to verify the flight.

OK, now for the confession. One sunny morning I rented a green Champion Tri-Traveler from Van’s Flying service at Jefferson County Airport. This plane was very comfortable. It carried a 90 horsepower engine and cruised about 85 mph. I took off and headed toward Houston. Assisting me in my navigation was U.S. highway 90, the Old Spanish Trail. Of course this was before I-10 was anywhere around.

I was flying into a headwind of some 15 mph which meant that my actual groundspeed was only 60 mph. The cars on highway 90 were outrunning me. I preferred flying the more powerful Cessna 172 but it was more expensive to rent so the Tri-Traveler met my needs just fine.

I landed at Hobby Airport. They had an area near the terminal where light aircraft could park (tie down). I went into the control tower to get my logbook signed. After a cup of coffee, I took off and headed down to Galveston. I landed, got the log signed then headed back toward Beaumont. This is where things went a little awry.

The shoreline was beautiful and also served as a reliable navigation tool. My altitude was 1000 feet. There is an interesting phenomenon about the shoreline. Where the water meets the shore, a wall of rough air is created. So when you fly down the beach you need to stay more over the water or more to the land side. That rough air wall in a light airplane feels like riding down a bumpy road in an old car with no shock absorbers.

Just beyond the Gilchrist area I spotted some girls apparently enjoying a beach party. I did a 180 (turned around) and adjusted my altitude to 5 feet and flew toward those girls. Of course I pulled up before I reached them but they scattered in all directions. That was fun so I did it again. This time as I headed at them, a ripple of rough air caused my wheels to bounce off the ground. This startled me so I regained flight altitude and headed on to Jefferson County Airport.

I landed and taxied to the gasoline pump. Van was standing at the pump waiting on me. He told me someone reported that a green airplane with three wheels buzzed a beach party. Then Van asked why there was sand and grass blades in the tire treads. I shrugged and said, “Did they get the registration number of the plane?” Van said that they did not.

Then I told Van, “The weather was beautiful and so were the girls. It was a great day for flying.”

Van’s face showed a slight grin as he said, “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.” But his eyes glared as though to say, “Don’t ever do that again.”

So I never again tried such a foolish and dangerous stunt. No one should.

Winston Hamby


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