The Noon Patrol

A while back, I mentioned that a fellow Fly Baby owner knew someone else with a Fly Baby, and he wanted to get together and try a three-ship formation. "I don't like to get up early, though," said Chris. Which agrees with me...I like to arise at the crack o' noon myself.

Last weekend I flew Moonraker up to Arlington to drop off some pictures. As I was wiggling out of the cockpit, Chris came trotting up. "Hey, Ross is out flying. Meet me back at the hangar, and we'll go up to look for 'im."

After taking care of my business, I taxied over. Chris has one of the nicest Fly Babies around; he won the best-wood trophy at Arlington several years back. I taxied up to his plane and got out. We talked for a minute or two, then a familiar little Continental rattle was heard.

Sure enough, around the corner came a Fly Baby. Now, I've mentioned that I don't like Moonraker's cream and green paint job. It's very well applied, but just doesn't have much Pizzazz.

Now, ROSS's Fly Baby has pizzazz. Yellow and orange, it was, with faired-in gear legs and fat yellow wheel pants. Ross squirmed out. "I just flew up to Abbotsford," he said. "Geeze, I'm cold."

No wonder. Though the day was moderately mild, about 60 degrees or so, I had learned through sad experience that one needs lots of clothes for any duration flight. For the 45 minutes to Arlington, I'd worn a flannel shirt, wool sweater, and leather gloves, helmet and jacket, and depended on the heater to keep my jeans-clad lower body warm. I hadn't regretted any of it.

Ross...well, he had a jacket and stocking cap on. That ain't enough, boys and girls.

Anyway, he decided he wasn't too cold for a few minute's formation flying, but he needed some fuel and food, first. He ate Chris' hamburger while Chris got his plane ready. Then I propped Ross and climbed into Moonraker, and all three of us taxied over to the gas pumps. It looked pretty cool there, with all three airplanes lined up.

Ross took off to shoot some touch-and-goes while Chris and I got ready. I took off from the pavement, while Chris followed from the adjacent grass runway. I flew a wide pattern and Chris cut me off to join up.

But then, no sign of Ross. We cruised five miles south and tried to call him on the radio. "Yeebb Hoooob MMRRdddp," came the response. Radio trouble.

"Chris, let's circle here. Ross, we're circling south of Marysville."

"Yeeepob gooorrr sooorrb weeeppp."

So Chris and I started chasing each other's tails. It's kind of cool to look back over your shoulder and see another plane trying to close in on your tail. But no sign of Ross.

"Ross, where are you at," called Chris.

"Myyrrp obbbbr qlllppry."

"Got 'im!" shouted Chris. "See 'im, Ron?"

"No joy... go ahead, I'll form on you."

As I completed my turn, I caught sight of the yellow speck heading south.

Chris and I poured on the throttle, catching up a few minutes later. They joined up...and I whipped out my camera. A pretty cloudy day, but one picture didn't turn out too bad:

Anyway, the Noon Patrol kept the Huns from Snohomish for a few minutes, then I had to head home to keep an appointment.

Two hours of flying, about nine gallons of gas. It's gotta be illegal to have so much fun so cheap....

The Noon Patrol Rides Again

The weather phenomenon known as El Nino is responsible for worldwide losses in the millions of dollars. However, it's does seem to have one positive side: It apparently brings unseasonably dry weather in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of the usual clouds and drizzle, Washington State has been basking under clear skies and warm sunshine.

Last Saturday, our EAA Chapter had scheduled a Fly Out to Bayview Airport, about eighty miles north of my Fly Baby's home base. Bayview is just a few miles from Arlington Airport, where the two Fly Babies I talked about in my last "Noon Patrol" postings are based. Friday night, I called Chris, suggesting that he and Ross meet me at Bayview. He eagerly agreed, especially when I told him that I'd be bringing a FOURTH airplane to join our formation.

Moonraker's next-door hangar neighbor is one of the rare Story Specials. I've mentioned the Story before; it is the father of the Fly Baby, having a welded steel-tube fuselage and gear instead of being all-wood like the Fly Baby. The Flying Club that owns the Story (which, since the airplane is Serial #2, calls itself the "Second Story Club") has been in continual operation for forty years.

Anyway, I'd talked to Don, the newest member of the Story Club, and we'd agreed to meet at the airport Saturday morning for the flight North.

Clear night skies in fall or winter Washington usually bring dense morning fog, but El Nino took care of that, as well. A Saturday morning call to the FSS warned that the temperature-dew point spread was fairly low...but that most of the local airports were reporting visibilities in the 30-75 mile range.

I'll take it.

I arrived at the airport a bit later. All around the airport, friends were untying airplanes and wiping off plexiglass. Don had the Story almost ready to go. I preflighted Moonraker, then spread a map on the Story's red-and-black wing. Neither Don nor myself had been into Bayview before, though I'd flown past it once or twice. I recommended that we fly up Puget Sound rather than take the roundabout land route. "We can skirt the coast almost all the way," I told Don. "There's just these two areas where we have to fly between islands." Since he hadn't flown formation before, we agreed that I'd lead and he'd find a comfortable spacing.

We'd both flown open cockpits long enough to know how to dress. I wore a flannel shirt and wool sweater under my leather jacket, with the usual silk scarf and leather gloves and helmet. Don dressed similarly. We blasted off and headed west, skirting under an arm of the Seattle Class B airspace.

As I turned out of the pattern, I got an inkling of how the day would go. "Cessna XXXX is over the ridgeline, entering the pattern for 34 at Auburn."

"Cessna, Fly Baby 848 is over the ridge, outbound, and have you in sight. We're clear, but there's another experimental a quarter mile behind me."


"Grumman XXX is ALSO just crossing over the ridge..where is that Fly Baby at?"

Good weather + Weekends = Trouble in the pattern. It's an age-old equation, one proven (but not solved) over and over that day.

We got ourselves sort out, slipped past the Class B, and climbed out over Puget Sound.

The day was just utterly gorgeous. Clear sky, no wind, just a bit of haze. Ferryboats drew wrinkles across the mirror-smooth waters of the Sound. Moonraker purred along, not a bump, not a jiggle. I could have been sitting in the hangar with my eyes closed.

Don seemed to lag coming out of Auburn, and I kept the throttle back until he caught up. He took up a position at my 4 O'clock. The Story seemed to be painted across the backdrop of the Cascade range. Don held his position like a veteran, not too close, but not so far that I felt that I had to jiggle the throttle to help him catch up.

We'd agreed to use 122.75 to keep in touch. "Story 38 November, Fly Baby 848, how do you read?"

Nothing. Were we on different frequencies? Who knows. He just kept following, and I kept bombing along. No sea chanteys today...I've been on a Gilbert and Sullivan kick lately...

"In enterprise of martial kind when there was any fighting
He led his regiment from behind, he found it less exciting
But when away his regiment ran his place was at the fore-Oh,
That celebrated cultivated adorated nobleman the Duke of Plaza-Toro!"
The Continental sang harmony as the container ships and sailboats passed below. I scanned the surface intently as we drew abreast of Bremerton. A pod of Orcas had been feeding in one of the small bays near there, and I hoped to see them. No luck, though. The Story dropped back a bit as we passed. Afterwards, Don said he, too, had been looking for the whales.

Warm air wrapped my legs from Moonraker's heater, counterpointed by cool feathers of slipstream tickling my cheeks. Fragments of a conversation on 122.75, from a couple of people I know... "What are you showing, Claude?" "About a hundred and seventy-two knots." "Yeah, I'm indicating about one-seventy-eight."

One hundred and seventy-eight knots. Some quick mental arithmetic. Two hundred MPH, about. I glanced at Moonraker's airspeed. The needle strained toward the 100 MPH mark like an eight-year-old next to a height scale.

Two hundred miles per hour. Given my druthers, I'd rather be at Bayview right now. My rump is starting to complain, and my leg is getting tired of holding that touch of right rudder Moonraker needs at cruise. I'd like to be at my destination, surely. But two hundred miles per hour is just too abstract. Claude and Mike, too, are still aloft. They may be twisting uncomfortably in their seats, their legs might be stiff. Though they'll be landing soon...they're already talking about switching to 123.0 When they touch down, my leg cramp may be the only one aloft. But then, Don and I will still be part of the sky over Puget Sound. We'll still be watching for Orcas, feeling the fall air curl up in our cockpits and puff playfully past leather collars.

We crossed the south coast of Whidbey Island, skirting around the Paine Field Class D airspace. "Feet dry," I said over 122.75, to no one in particular.

A glance at the map. The Whidbey NAS Class C is dead ahead, with the floor dropping to 1300 MSL. I started to descend. The screech of the wires rises. I glanced back over my shoulder, to make sure I'm not pulling too far ahead.

Don maintains altitude, getting smaller and farther behind. I twist and wonder. Did he miss my descent? I glance at the map. Still a few miles. I'm the only one with a transponder, so it's not like he's gonna get nailed by Whidbey. But I feel a thread of responsibility...I am supposed to be formation lead, after all.

A Cessna at 11 o'clock, higher than me. I watch him pass overhead. He seems to be maneuvering to look down into my cockpit. When he's clear, I glance back...I don't know whether Don got his attention grabbed by the Cessna, but he's dropping down into position.

Just a few more miles yet to go. I switch to 123.0. A Kitfox entering the pattern at Bayview. The two letters at the end of its N-number match the initials of a Kitfox-owning Chapter member, so I'm sure it's him.

I scan the terrain as we near the airport. There it is...that line of buildings in the long clearing has to be the airport. I maneuver toward the downwind leg.

"Skagit [Bayview's official name] Traffic, Cherokee XXX on the 45 for two-eight."

I scan quickly, and spot him. The Cherokee is actually several miles out, yet. I spot a Cessna on downwind and head for his tail.

"Skagit traffic, Fly Baby 848 on the 45, turning downwind."

A few moments later, Story 38 November makes the same call.

"Cherokee XXX on downwind."

I continue my pattern, following the wide-swinging Cessna. I make my Base and Final calls, with the Story echoing a minute or so behind.

"Cherokee XXX on base."

I'm on final, a half-mile or so out. I look left...and see a head-on view of the Cherokee. I punch the transmit button.

"Cherokee on base at Skagit, you've got an experimental directly ahead of you and another one on final to your right."

"Roger... going around."

Hopefully, that'll take care of that. Over the threshold. Half an EAA Chapter is watching. Back with the power, ease down...the tires chirp, and Moonraker is rolling easily along.

Off at the taxiway, and follow the ramp to where a batch of homebuilts are parked. Familiar figures wave.

I find a parking spot, spin the tail around, and shut down the engine. I crawl out of the airplane... and there's no one there.

Figure are crossing the grassy strip between the ramp and the runway. To where the Story sits, still, on the side of the active.


Fellow netter Vernon Barr greets me. "His prop stopped about the time he was setting down. He landed pretty rough."

We walk toward the stricken aircraft. The usual worries start. If the Story has an engine problem, how are we going to get it back to Auburn? Will they have to take the wings back and trailer it? There are enough chapter members here, Don should be able to get a ride home. But where will we put the airplane?

As we arrive, Don is still sitting in the cockpit. "What happened" I ask a chapter member. He shrugs. "Just quit, he said. Right on the runway."

A pickup truck pulls up. Airport manager. "Can I get most of you to clear this area." Most ignore him. It'll be a long push, if the Story's engine is on the fritz. A man steps up to the prop, and flips it through a couple of times. I'm a bit far as I know, the man hasn't propped a plane in at least ten years.

"Let me," I say. I step up to the hub. "What happened, Don?"

He shakes his head. "Don't know. Bounced a bit, and pulled the throttle back all the way. It just died."

"Hmmm...I dunno. Give me brakes and contact. Let's see if she'll start." From the corner of my eye, I see most of the people starting back toward the ramp. The Story is on the runway, and no one is landing.

A quick tug on the prop. Brakes are on. I flip the prop. Once. Twice.

The engine catches with a roar. The plane hesitates a split second, and lurches forward.

I'm smug, for a moment. I'm a nacheral' born coward... when I flip a prop, I convert the last push into a shove that runs me backward a step or two. So I'm well clear of the prop as I convert my backward motion to head to the side.

But then, the plane keeps coming.

I step sideways, dodging the wingtip. I wonder if Don is in a hurry to clear the runway, embarrassed over all the attention. Or maybe he's having trouble with the Story's mechanical brakes...he once mentioned that tennis shoes didn't seem to work on the pedals very well.

Vernon and I walk back, discussing possible reasons for the engine to quit. Maybe super-cooled in the glide, or perhaps carb ice. Seems to be fine, now.

As we're parking the Story, a Fly Baby swoops down and lands. It's Chris. "Couldn't get hold of Ross," he says, pulling off his helmet.

Rats. No four-ship today.

We eat lunch, then head out to the airplanes again. Don wants to get gas, so I step up to prop him for the taxi.

"Brakes and contact," I say. Don echoes.

I flip the prop through. The engine catches, again, with a roar. Again, I slip around the wingtip as the plane whips forward.

Gonna have to talk to that boy....

We tank up. "This time, just leave the throttle all the way back." I turn the prop... and the engine catches with a slow lope.

Feeling justifiably smug this time, I climb into Moonraker. A minute or two later, I release the brakes and taxi towards the runway. Chris' Fly Baby waits at the ramp, engine ticking over. He slips in between me and Don. He'd said Ross might be working on his airplane at Arlington airport, just twenty miles away. I had my camera along, and hoped to get a shot of the three Fly Babies and the Story together, even if they were all on the ground.

Runup. Everything working fine. Thumbs up to Chris and Don. Returned.

"Skagit traffic, Fly Baby 848 departing Runway Two-Eight."

I climb again into sunny skies, turning a wide pattern to help Chris and Don catch up. Chris' Fly Baby eases onto my left wing. A few minutes later, Don slides up on the right. We're in a V-formation a thousand feet above the farmland.

Every few seconds, I scan for traffic, then glance over my shoulders, left-right. Both red and black homebuilts dangle in the hazy skies. It's an amazing feeling, having a pair of formation mates. Makes me long for a sky full of Fokkers, or a line of Panzerkampfwagen IVs breasting the embankment along I-5.

One curious points strikes home: Chris isn't flying as tight as he normally does. A couple of sets of glances tells the story: He's not just flying formation on me...he's matching Don's position so the formation looks good from the ground.

We just bomb along, heading for Arlington. As we near, I call on 122.75, "We'd better switch frequencies." I toggle my Narco to 122.7. Lots of traffic. I wait for a break and call, "Arlington Traffic, Fly Baby 848, flight of three, five miles out, inbound for the 45 for Three-Four at Arlington."

As we get closer, I can see the white specs in the pattern. There's something ahead, turning right.

"Arlington Traffic, Bonanza XXX entering 45 for Three-Four, Arlington."

"Arlington Traffic, Fly Baby 848 is also on the 45, following the Bonanza."

"Fly Baby, this is the Bonanza. Where you at?"

"I'm at your eight o'clock. No problem, we're well clear. I'll follow you."

I enter the downwind, making my calls, hearing Chris and Don do likewise.

I get abeam of the numbers, with a Cherokee and that Bonanza on final and base, respectively.

Wait a minute...what's that moving in from the right?

"Arlington Unicom, Cessna XXX is entering the 45 to downwind."

The Cessna barges toward me, a bit higher, then turns to fly a parallel downwind a quarter-mile to my right and slightly ahead.

I punch the mike button. "Cessna on downwind at Arlington, Fly Baby 848 is slightly below you on your left side. I'll turn to get behind you."

No answer for a few moments. "Cessna XXX is going to extend his downwind to let the Fly Baby enter base."

The Bonanza is just touching down, so I drop my left wing and make my base turn. The situation stinks. I don't think the Cessna knows about the two OTHER homebuilts just on his tail. I keep the power on, diving for the runway to gain some space for the mess behind.

I pull the throttle closed as I near the ground. A bit of back pressure kills the speed quickly, and I resume a normal approach.

"Hey, red homebuilt at Arlington, where did you come from?" The Cessna driver sounds peeved. Moonraker is beige in color, so it appears Don or Chris decided not to follow the Cessna on his long downwind.

Up with the nose, feel for the runway. Touchdown.

"Red homebuilt, you sure aren't very polite." Yup. Whoever it is back there has ticked off the Cessna pilot.

I taxi off the runway and head toward the spot where I want to take pictures. I park and climb out, waiting for the other two airplanes. Hopefully, Ross is around so I can get a picture of the four planes together.

No such luck. So I shoot up a half-roll of the two Fly Babies and the Story. We didn't have much time; sunset comes early this time of year on Latitude 47 North. Don and I mounted up and headed back home. We shaved it close; the high school stadium lights were on as entered the pattern back home. It was quieter by then...only one other plane in the pattern. A quick slip over the park-n-ride, and the tires squip onto the asphalt. The Story touches down as I'm taxing back to the barn.

Well, no Killer Whales, no third Fly Baby, no air-to-air shots, and the Story's engine quitting at Bayview. Still, not a *bad* day...and on Sunday, the weather turned bad and has stayed that way.

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