Cops & Robbers


Greetings List:

Just a little news from out West, from the lads featured in the current issue of 'SPORT PILOT & ULTRALIGHTS' magazine ! Don Zank is also in multiple photo's, in the same issue flying his favorite recreational vehicle. Beautiful plane Don !

Our micro adventure started with a 6 am lesson out at Brian Ranch Airport here in the California desert. It was to have been a 7 am start time but Captain Comperini had begged for a change to the earlier 6 am time. I found out later that Bob had two young ladies incoming and they desperately needed my time slot. So.....

Who am I to stand in the way of progress? I reset my alarm. I was, however, rewarded by a gorgeous red desert sunrise spraying through some low clouds as I approached the airport. This helped bring me to full consciousness and I was itching to fly.

The winds were variable, too strong to set me loose on solo work so I asked Bob if we could just go out and hunt down some airstrips - one of my favorite things - this area is full of dirt strips, dirt roads, flat spots, abandoned private and military fields and each with it's own set of challenges and a unique history.

The air was crystal clear and the tempertaure perfect as we climbed away from Brian Ranch, over the monster power lines (just waiting to barbecue an ultralight) and the railroad tracks. We were headed to an ugly little dirt scar of a strip called Hick's Field.

We were clipping along at a good 45 mph indicated, 500 ft. agl, with a slight cross wind when Colonel Comperini spotted what looked like a white car hiding behind a jumbo sagebrush. Bob said to swing around and do a fly by at about 10 feet off the ground. Allright, sounds good to me... throttle back, nose down... nice gentle descending turn.... roll out, back to cruise RPMs......

Bob knows every hamster hole, fence post and mine shaft for a fifty mile radius so this must be something odd... As we get closer the 'Whatif Angel' on my shoulder starts to whine: 'What if there's two naked human's in that car? They're going to be screaming and thrashing 360's in the back seat trying to grab their clothes'..... OR ..... 'What if Yosemite Sam's psycho little brother is down there (Sam himself is from this area) catching a few Z's after a hard day's work robbing banks in North Hollywood?

Straining hard, watching for muzzle flash and the sound of gunfire....

As we zoom by I see that it's a small truck and it seems to be missing all it's tires. Bob has me climb out and swing around again so he can get the license #.

We spot a dirt road about a 1/4 mile away and decide to take a closer look. We check carefully for anything that might kill us while landing. It looks good. Wind is calm now and we land without incident and pull a Quicksilver go cart turn to get off the washboard surface ASAP.

On foot in the flat, bush infested desert we come real close to getting lost as the view from here is way different from up there! After a few minutes we spot the white truck which looks miserable without it's tires, wheels, radio, speakers and with it's ignition well punched out. One bright spot is the engine is untouched and Bob spots about 500 business cards in the bed of the truck. There are fresh tire tracks and a deep trough in the sand where the varmits got stuck making their exit.

We write down the VIN#, pocket a few business cards and head back to the plane which we hope hasn't been stolen.... Bob tells me that a lot of stolen cars get dumped out here to rot. Coyote Condos.

We decide a SOFT field take off is in order to reduce the washboard pounding this road could inflict. Stick fully back and we pop off the ground, level off quickly and build up our speed. We locate a crossroads with signs and buzz in to read them and get a bearing on the nearby vehicle before heading off to our original destination of Hicks Field.

This field is a short, narrow little bastard with a couple of good sized roller coaster bumps in the middle. Coming in on final I let my airspeed get too slow and Bob has to goose the 503 to avoid the pancake from heaven landing I was about to make. I'm VERY awake now and realize I had let this strip get to me... trying to sneak up on a landing and forgetting the fundamentals.

I ask Bob if we could try that again, without pancakes, and he says OK but let's do a SHORT field take off here.... Run up the engine.... Flintstone/Nike brakes OFF and I immediately pull the stick full back again.... No!!, you idiot, stick neutral, build up ground speed then best angle of climb out of here!!!! (Bob is much too good an instructor to call me an idiot. I just wrote what he was thinking).

I'm sweating but I make a better job of the next landing. OK, SHORT field again. Bob calls out our ground speed as we accelerate and this time we are up to speed right in the biggest dip on the runway and we just launch right out of there.... YEEEEEHAAAW !!!! Every strip should have one of these.

Every time I go up with my instructor I learn crucial things which will keep me flying without dying. Instruction is a GOOD thing, don't leave the ground w ithout it.

Turning onto final back at Brian Ranch we maintain pattern altitude and then throttle back to idle for a simulated engine out approach, nose down, a little more airspeed - I'm paying attention now - and we make it back without anything bent or broke.

The 7 am ladies are pulling into the parking area and I can see they are flushed with AN...TI...CI................PATION so I conclude my day with General Comperini.

Bob called the police and the truck did belong to the guy on the business card and it had been stolen four days earlier in a neary by city. Hey Guy, thanks to the Ultralight Police and Commodore Comperini you got your ride back!

Erik Whitmyre
Student Driver
USUA #58820

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