Perils of an off-airport takeoff
“They’re always telling you how to make emergency landings,” said my cowboy buddy Baldy Ivy, “But nobody ever explains how to take off again.”
Filmmaker Chris Gunn and I had flown from Flagstaff to visit Baldy in Seligman, Arizona, on old Route 66.
Initially low-lying cumulus clouds threatened our trip; unattended Seligman Airport is 50 miles from the nearest weather reporting station and lacks an instrument approach. But when Baldy reported improvement, we’d launched into clearing skies.
After landing, we toured Baldy’s latest aircraft projects and heard all about his new girlfriend, Claudia, a tattoo and pin-up artist. Then we convened over lunch at Lilo’s Westside Café. (Baldy prefers the Roadkill Café, but Lilo makes my favorite pie.)
“Baldy,” I asked. “What really happened on that storied emergency landing you made a few years ago on the Hopi Reservation?”
“Well Greg, I was flying a Cessna 175 to Taos for my brother’s birthday,” said Baldy. “I preflighted the airplane and took off at first light. But around Flagstaff I started noticing what looked like mist on the windshield. I remember thinking it was dust because I had my heater open and hadn’t used it for awhile.
“By the time I got to Polacca, 30 minutes past Flagstaff, the mist seemed to be getting worse; I checked the gauges and discovered very low oil pressure but normal oil temperature. I was thinkin’ I know there’s an airport around here, but I can’t find it. I’d better go ahead and land on the road before the engine seizes. So I landed on the highway and taxied off into this Indian’s yard. There I found oil covering the cowling and engine, and the oil cap was gone. So the mist – what I thought was dust – was actually oil.”
“I’ve seen oil mist on my own windshield, Baldy,” I said. “Not a pretty sight.”
“Then you know what I’m talkin’ about, Greg. Anyway, then the Hopi Police showed up, asking what I wanted to do. Of course my plan was to fix things and take off again. I topped the sump with some extra oil I had, and called a friend in Flagstaff looking for a filler cap, which he didn’t have. Not wanting to leave the airplane on the highway overnight, I rolled up a t-shirt and stuck it in the filler tube. Then I cut the lid off a 7-Up can with my pocketknife, safety-wired it on top, and sealed it with duct tape…
Read the entire story in Greg’s February Flying Carpet column, “Cowboy Flying Lesson.”
Photo: Baldy Ivy with one of his project airplanes, a ’46 Taylorcraft. Meet Baldy Ivy in Chris Gunn’s video, and See more photos here.
Visit Baldy’s PilotShareTheRide and Chris’s Shot by Gunn websites.
©2013 Gregory N.Brown
(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!
3 thoughts on ““Cowboy Flying Lesson,” Greg’s February column”
Fantastic story, Greg — thanks for sharing! Always good to learn how subtle details and an emergency mindset can get us into trouble.
Thank you, Dan!
I had to laugh at your recent “Cowboy Flying Lesson” piece about off-airport takeoffs, as it sounded so much like my own experience in Mexico.
I had to do a road takeoff down in Mexico – why is a different story – and the local bomberos brought their fire truck and an old ambulance out to block a section of roadway for me. Some old rancher in a beat-up pickup drove around the ambulance and wildly waving firemen, presumably feeling “this is MY road and I’m headed for my evening cerveza”. My swerve to miss him resulted in a big dent in my Cessna’s wing and a bent-over speed limit sign (40 kph, as I recall). I just kept going, fortunately I came out better than Baldy Ivy!
The bent sign, BTW, remained as it was for several years as a mememto.