Ride along with renowned aviator, writer, and photographer Greg Brown in his light airplane, the Flying Carpet, as he searches behind clouds for the real America, experiencing countless aerial adventures along the way.
Listen to “Red Sports Car for a Day,” Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast Flight #24
Ride along on my youthful airplane and auto adventures! (But you needn’t be a car or airplane fan to get a kick out of it!)
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Episode photo: 1967 Volvo P1800S sports car, like the one I owned for a single day!(See more photos below.)
Even after takeoff from Centerville, Iowa, I waffled about whether to land at Madison, Wisconsin’s Dane County Regional Airport-Truax Field where I learned to fly, or nearby Middleton-Morey Airport outside the Class C.
“Middleton will be quieter and simpler,” said Jean, settling the matter. We crossed Iowa’s Cedar River and the broad Mississippi, then the northwest corner of Illinois. Ninety minutes after takeoff, Madison’s signature four lakes appeared on the horizon. This would be stop two on our zigzag birthday-and-reunion journey from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Chicago.
“Madison Approach, can you approve aerial photography over downtown?” I radioed, with a lump in my throat. For 35 years I’d waited to revisit “Mad City,” my aviation birthplace.
“Approved,” came the reply. “Watch for a Cherokee also on the ‘city tour,’ and remain west of the Capitol building.”
Downtown Madison, including the state capitol and University of Wisconsin campus, floats magically on a 1/2-mile-wide isthmus between Lakes Monona and Mendota. Handing Jean the camera with far more instructions than she needed, I circled offshore over Lake Mendota–Is there a prettier city, anywhere?
Upon landing, I learned from the Middleton Airport attendant that Frickelton Aviation’s building at Truax Field where I trained had long been torn down, erasing any regret at not touching tires there. Moments later, our host Brett Kelly arrived. Brett and his wife Kathy are longtime friends.
“I know you’re eager to revisit UW, Greg,” offered Brett. “Let’s stop there before going home.” Ghosts of classmates past soon joined us wandering campus, and sipping beer on the Wisconsin Union terrace overlooking Lake Mendota, where I once rented sailboats. Between classes, I drove my old ’39 Chevy across town to Truax Field – there to soar over these very lakes on flying lessons with the UW Flying Club (See “Flying Carpet: Forty Years Aloft,” November 2012 Flight Training).
My Badger stint occurred at the height of the turbulent Viet Nam antiwar movement. My friends and I were no activists, but demonstrations sometimes intercepted us on our way to class. Once, protesters deflated city-bus tires to block State Street; another time police shot tear gas into our dorm, forcing everyone into the street. (My buddy Fred, an army veteran, showed us how to soak handkerchiefs for tear-gas protection.) Every day I walked by the empty shell of Sterling Hall, blown up by antiwar activists a year earlier (See “Flying Carpet: Flying the Mists of Time,” March 2013 Flight Training).
There were more benign protests, too, as when feminists stormed the men-only swimming pool in the UW Armory. Guys swam nude there, so the intruders stripped their clothes and jumped in too. (No, I wasn’t there.)…
Motorcycles, airplanes, and steel guitars were the topics, as we lounged under sparkling skies with Larry and Karen Howard on their vacation-home deck overlooking Lake Thunderhead, Missouri.
What a weather contrast after yesterday’s challenging flight from Arizona! Unable to land at nearby Unionville Airport due to low ceilings, we’d diverted to Centerville, Iowa. (See last month’s column, Three Time Zones.)
Larry and I were University of Illinois architecture classmates after I transferred from Wisconsin junior year. A quiet, low-key farm kid with just a hint of a smile, Larry would have been at home in the movie, Animal House. Many a Saturday night we rocketed down Green Street on our Suzukis — Jean and me on my X-6, and Larry balancing his 350 on one wheel. Larry was such a whiz at “wheelies,” that except when parked, his motorcycle’s front tire rarely touched the ground. Our usual destination was the Rose Bowl Tavern, where even the glare of regulars at longhaired college kids couldn’t dull our appreciation of the house country band.
One spring break, Larry and I teamed up with my roommate to fly from Champaign, Illinois to the Bahamas in the Flying Illini Cessna 172.
Larry’s friend Steve met us in Florida and we “flew the Atlantic” to Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands under my command. It was an epic journey for a 190-hour, non-instrument-rated pilot. (See “Spring Break,” FT May, 2005.)
The following year Larry joined me in the club Cessna 182 to visit Steve in Houston. He and Karen had since moved to Waterloo, Iowa, so he drove to Champaign the night before departure.
This was the 1970s gasoline-shortage era, and late that night Larry phoned from Bloomington, Illinois where he’d run out of gas because no service stations were open. By the time we rendezvoused, siphoned gas from my car into his, and drove back, it was past midnight…