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Monday, June 14, 2021

Olden days of flying: Pecan shells at the fuel pump

What’s Up
By LeRoy Cook

We were privileged to have some nice flying conditions last week, other than the short cold-front line that blew through Friday evening. The dry air behind the front gave us blue skies instead of white haze.

 All types of aircraft were in this week, from a Bell JetRanger helicopter to a Piper Twin Comanche. A Cessna Skylane and a Piper Archer came by, a Piper Arrow shot touch and go landings, and a Cessna 172 stopped in. Any number of practice instrument approaches were tallied.

The Butler-based pilots contributed to the traffic count as well. Roy Conley took one last flight in his experimental gyrocopter, I had a couple of hops in the Cessna Skyhawk, Jeffery Adams ventured out in a Cessna 150 and Jeff Arnold took the Cessna 172 to Pittsburgh, Kansas. CFI Eric Eastland did some training sessions in Cessna 150s.

I was pumping fuel into an airplane one day while my 17-year-old student was watching, when it occurred to me that I was doing the exact same thing when I was his age, in the exact same spot, a half-dozen decades ago. The fuel pump was in the same place, except the tank was safely underground instead of sitting in a tin box. There was a swinging sign on a post, advertising Mobil avgas with a “flying red horse” trademark. I had to stand on a rickety wooden stepladder, instead of Tom Winters’ nice welded roll-around cart we still use. And there was no air-conditioned waiting room for shelter; the only convenience Butler offered was an outhouse situated over a pit north of the fuel island. Because the entire airport was grass, we hauled some truckloads of pecan shells, donated by Max Harwick of Osage Pecan Co., to spread around the gas pump so planes wouldn’t get stuck in the mud.

 At last week’s airport commission meeting, there was discussion of pavement rejuvenation by late summer, long overdue if further deterioration is to be avoided. Other projects needed are replacing the rotating beacon light and getting the wi-fi connection restored; the former’s been out for a year and the latter merely a month. The inoperative PAPI (precision approach path indicator) lights are probably not going to be replaced, due to the expense. The PAPI beams are helpful for high-performance business-type airplanes trying to land in poor visibility, but are largely ignored by the pilots of smaller general aviation aircraft.

 “Is it a nice day for flying?” we got asked by a non-pilot on one of those warm days last week. It was indeed a beautiful day, with lots of puffy white clouds floating around the blue sky, a light breeze blowing out of the southwest. What she didn’t understand was that thermal turbulence is almost a given on such days, as the earth heats up and starts belching updrafts, with matching downdrafts. The building cumulus clouds are created by rising air. So, the better flying days are really the overcast ones, with stable air.

 The week’s question wanted to know what amount of clouds constituted a ceiling. It has to be a layer covering half of more of the sky’s dome, more than four-eighths coverage under international rules. So, the scattered clouds floating around at 500 feet don’t count, as long as they don’t cover a majority of the sky. For next week, what was a “toilet paper cutting” contest sometimes staged at old-fashioned airport fly-ins? You can send your answer in to