Runway Dance

Posted to the Fly Baby mailing list in August 2001

Weather around Seattle lately has been gorgeous; warm, almost hot, and not much wind.  Hasn't rained for a quite a bit...not unusual for August, but coupled with a shortage of rain earlier this year, it's making me brush the cobwebs away from the hose and sprinkler in attempt to get the grass to green up a bit.

Took Moonraker out on Saturday, going to an open house at a small private airport up North.  Fog in the morning, but it cleared up by 11 or so, leaving a rather thick haze everywhere.

In any case, a gorgeous day to fly.  I headed North, using the recently-installed Spawn of Satan (aka portable GPS) to keep the blunt end of Moonraker pointed towards my destination.

It actually wasn't pointed directly at the airport.  This private strip isn't listed in my state guide, but its close enough to another airport that I figured I'd just fly up and turn left at the proper time.

Found the airport just fine.  It's at a beautiful location; atop a bluff on a peninsula into the Straits of San Juan de Fuca, the wide waterway leading from the Pacific Ocean to Puget Sound.  I monitored 122.9 on the way in and got the landing direction.  Not much traffic.

The runway was a bit unusual.  It was a half-mile long and paved, but surprisingly narrow, probably only 25 feet or so.  The difference in aspect ratio threw me off a bit, and I found out later that there was usually a downdraft at the approach end.  Anyway, got a bit slow and bounced it a bit. Fortunately, I'd replaced my G-Meter with the Fun Meter a couple of weeks ago, and it wasn't complaining. :-)

Anyway, I taxied in to the line.  There were a batch of RVs there, mostly of the Blackjack Squadron, a local formation-flying group.  Other than an Mustang II under construction, I was the only non-RV homebuilt there.  There were several classics, a Yak, and a Coast Guard Aerospatiale helicopter.

Don't know if it was Moonraker's charm or just luck, but they parked me right in front, by the registration tent.  Soon I was surrounded by folks asking questions about the airplane.

The show was a nice, friendly small-airport fly-in.   After the questions died down, I got myself a hot dog and looked at the stuff up for sale at the silent auction.

A turbine whine caught my attention.  The Coast Guard helicopter was starting up.  Someone said, "They're going to demonstrate how they lift a person from the ground."  Soon the orange-and-white 'copter lifted off and moved smoothly toward the North.  One of the Coasties, in flight suit and blue helmet, moved off across the paved runway to stand in the parallel grass runway.

The copter had actually ducked down behind the bluff.  We could track it by sound, circling around the airport on the seaward side.  Then it popped up at the south part of the airport.

The Coastie pulled a canister from his pocket.  There was a muffled pop, and thick orange smoke started roiling from the smoke canister.  "Oooooooo," went the crowd.

Then the Coastie starting acting funny.  He started doing a little shuffling dance.

"Hey," said the guy next to me.  "The grass is on fire."

Sure enough, we could see flames tickling around the guy's feet.  The smoke canister had apparently ejected some hot material.  The low orange flames eased slowly outward into a larger circle, as the Coastie stamped and stamped faster.  Meanwhile, the 5,000 SHP blower hovered closer.

Pretty soon we were all pelting across the pavement, joining in the Runway Dance.  We kicked and stomped, while frantically trying to wave back the approaching copter.  The flames weren't high, but they seemed to just keep spreading outward.  Finally, one of the guys from the display of the local Volunteer Fire Department showed up with an extinguisher from the truck.  Took all of about fifteen seconds, with the proper tools.

The fire out, the crowd swooped back across the runway, leaving the copter to pick up its red-faced crewman.

All in all, a nice day.  A little flying, a little food, a little dancing...

Ron Wanttaja

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