924 Texas City Dyke

I Texas City Dyke

Four Flights at Texas City Dyke

The winds were blowing when I arrived at the Texas City Dyke.  I’d been blocked at the entrance by a foot race that closed the Dyke Road.  So I broke out the coffee and waited. Soon Another pilot arrived ….equally snookered.  Nothing else to do, so we hung out at the entrance until the race ended.

Eventually 8 or so guys showed up.  Andy started teaching and I watched and waited for the winds to lay down.  By noon it was flyable and I did a quicky to get the lay of the land.  My next flight was much longer exploring the levy and the coast to the north.

Chris Page and I went up for his first tandem flights with his new rig.  He is a very strong and talented pilot so I didn’t hesitate when he asked me if I would be his first tandem passenger.  We guessed at the hang points and never did get  it right.  On the first race I was way high with my butt level with Chris’s head.  It spoiled his view to say the least.  And…on the second flight, I was way low with Chris’s knees pressing into my shoulders.  This was a little more concerning to me because I would be landing first and would have to stay on my feet and ahead of Chris to avoid disaster.  It was not a problem though, when it was time to come down, Chris did a great job his power on landing was flawless making me look good.


It was a very good day.  Andy and I had a chance to catch up.  I watched one guy get his first flight and reunited with Chris Page who I had not seen since 2008.  

Near the end of the day I arranged with the Katy Texas group to fly with them the next day.  I did the 50 minute ride to Katy, had dinner at Hoother and crashed at the local cheap motel.

799 Fun and Sun

 Mike Lange and I got up at O dark thirty and drove to

Lakeland for the Fun and Sun Aviation Expo.  
Fun and Sun is one of the largest Fly In and Expos in America, second only to the big one at OshKosh.  It fills the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport and hosts a tremendous number of vendors and a huge diversity of aircraft including a fine showing of vintage airframes, including warbirds.  

When it got too hot to wander around the field, Mike and I sought shade at the Aviator booth.  Eric  Fairwell was a great host.  Not only did he provide all the water we could drink, he also hooked us up with passes for the gate.  Eric is the Nirvana dealer and has done a great job promoting the product and the sport.  When my friend Rex Mangurian mentioned that he didn’t get a copy of the bible during his training, Eric promptly gave him a copy which Jeff Goin happily autographed.  Great Guys, I wish them the best.

Planet PPG had a booth and Paul was in his element, giving seminars and demo flights.  Paul has recently gained control of the Pine Island Airstrip and has been busy clearing trees and making it into a premier PPG school.  

Rob Catto was there with his excellent PPG simulator, the Virtual Foot Flyer. I was impressed with how real the experience was.  Unlike a video game where the control inputs are buttons and joysticks, the Virtual Foot Flyer has you in a harness, pulling brakes and using weight shift. It allows you to swivel your head and see where you are looking. There is a turbine blowing wind in your face and the sound effect include a sub woofer that feeds vibration thru the harness.  The whole experience was increadably realistic.  When it was over, I exclaimed, “When I’m ninety,  I want one of these things”.

I also met Nick Reed who is building the V Twin Flyer.  Nick is a past student of Terry Lutke and is building an airframe along the same lines as the Falcon.  He has made a few changes, primarily a large castered nose wheel which I’m sure improves ground handling.  The fit and finish is very good  and his pricing is competitive.  Terry is supplying some key parts of the redrive and in typical Lutke fashion, he has given Nick his blessing.  It’s good to see that another builder sees the value of this design.  

A real blast from the past was Randy Schlitter, the president and founder of RANS Aircraft.  Thirty years ago Randy owned a small bike shop in Hays Kansas and I was a manufacturers Rep selling bike parts.  Once a month I would make the trek to Kansas City and along the way I would visit every small town hardware store and try to sell a few bike parts.  I fancied myself as the Campagnolo expert and my sample bag was full of high dollar racing parts.  The reality was….I was lucky to sell a few boxes of Wald bearings and maybe a sissy bar or some inner tubes.
Randy’s shop was one of the few real bike shops between Denver and KC.  It was just a small space with limited inventory but Randy was the real deal. He read the trade magazines, followed the trends and dreamed big.   Even then, he was interested in manufacturing.  I proudly carried a RANS belt pack that he developed when he was looking into the bike pannier business.  It was ten cents of quilted fabric with a couple of belt loops sewn on.  I’ll never forget the logo. It was done in that weird ballooned font of 1970 computer culture.  Eventually he designed and produced the RANS Recumbent, which was the most affordable recumbent available. Quickly, the RANS Recumbents became a true player in the industry, with significant production and good distribution.  
I remember sitting in his kitchen one morning and asking about the drawings of  aircraft that were laying around.  Some were conventional looking aircraft and some were futuristic lifting bodies similar to the modern stealth fighter.  Randy calmly told me, that someday, he was going to build airplanes.  
NOW…. THIRTY YEARS LATER…. RANS is a leader in light sport Aviation.  

There we were, two old guys, sitting in the shade of his exhibit, chatting about the “good ol” days and all the changes we’ve seen.  He told me that he had recently sold the recumbent manufacturing business but still kept his hand in as a consultant.  We talked about the Aviation business and how it was starting to come back from the recession.  I was happy to learn that Randy is still sailing, he is looking for a new boat like the Hunter 26.5 I left in Colorado.  We made plans to hook up in Punta Gorda and sail together.

Paul C. Enlisted me to fly a demo tandem with him during the evening flights.  I was pretty nervous,  its been years since my last foot launch and I think the last tandem was with Moe Sheldon at the Salton Sea more than 5 years ago.  I was worried that my knee would fail and I’d end up embarrassing Paul by face planting but we launched and landed without incident.  Thanks Paul.
Here is a video of the launch….

Photo by Eric Fallwell

After dark there was an excellent aerobatic show with lots of LEDs smoke and magnesium flares.  Mike and I hiked back to the car with our heads on a swivel.

Day 6 Sunday #387 thru #394

The wind started picking up right after sunrise.

I spent the time having breakfast, packing up my gear and policing the campground. When the wind finally abated I was on the field practicing take offs while was John was tooling around on his LZ buggy.

John Fetz

Today was much better, there were no incidents and I was feeling good about things. With the wing laid out in a chevron, I was able to bring it up clean and taxi the trike keeping the throttle just above idle. I didn’t stray too far …just launch take a few laps …land… and do it again. Eric came out to the field and complimented me on the improvement. He spoke well of the Falcon which meant a lot coming from a Green Eagle Dealer, one of the finest pilots in the world and a gentleman.

After my 7th flight Mo Sheldon asked if I would be willing to test fly new tandem rig they had just assembled. I was a little hesitant and worried that I wouldn’t be fast enough but it went very well. The only hitch was that my 120 pound frame was lighter than Mo had hang tested for so after we launched, I was hanging two feet higher than Mo and it was blocking his vision. At first he handed me the brakes because he couldn’t see to fly but he quickly sorted it out and took back the toggles. When my hands were free again, I pushed down on the stretcher bar which redistributed the weight and we rode almost level. The takeoff run was longer than I thought it would be but the landing was smooth as silk.


Dinner was at the Mexican place… Jeff Goin, Jeff Hammon, Phil Russman and Mark MacWhirter. We reviewed recent videos,…. the conversation revolved around the twists of Aerial Videography …new technical innovations and the latest cameras and players. All topics beyond my experience. I’m amazed… hours of video to get a couple of minutes of good footage. For me it’s hard enough to Fly… to be a master photographer, editor and pilot all at the same time. Well…

If it was easy everybody would do it!

After dinner we gassed up and I followed Jeff Hammon’s Hummer / Camper under a full moon all the way to Glamis. Jeff graciously allowed me to crash on the floor of his RV so I would not have the hassle of setting up a tent in the dark. Thanks Jeff!