Sunday, April 11, 2010

Second Commonwealth Skyranger: 7/1965- 6/1966

In Maine in July 1965 I started going with Margery Pierce, and bought another Skyranger, registered as N33385.    I flew it for 80 hours, mostly in Maine, until I sold it a year later and went to work as an engineer in Vietnam.    My relationship with Margery lasted much longer.  We married in 1968, after Vietnam, and are still enjoying life together.

The Skyranger and I were based in Augusta, Maine.   Marge lived with her parents and son there too.  She and I landed at many little Maine and New Hampshire airports, and several places that weren't airports.  We especially enjoyed landing on Seawall Beach, which was then little known and accessible only by taildraggers or a two mile trail.

Beach landings are easy, but require some knowledge and skill.  The pilot should land:
*  On the strip of hard dark sand between the soft wave-washed sand and the loose dry sand near the high tide mark.
*  When the tide is half way out and receding (consult tide tables ahead), to give a wider "runway" and more time for extraction if the wheels get stuck, which should be unlikely.
*  When there's nobody on the beach, and it's not nesting season for the endangered piping plovers.

My slightly edited letter of October 31, 1965, Sunday
I think Marge, an R.N., at the Togus veterans hospital, was working that weekend.
We have been married since 1968.

Dear Margery,

My flight this weekend was my most hair raising in months.   After you left I dubbed around, had coffee and donuts.  I considered the local  Flight Service suggestion that the weather didn't look flyable towards the mountains, but took off to check. Then I realized I'd forgotten my camera, so landed and got it.   Continuing, the terrain forced me higher, and the headwind got stronger.    Over the low mountains from Conway to Woodstock my ground speed was under 45 mph, so the headwind was about 50.   Halfway across the Kancamagus highway clouds in my path drooped down and there was no way around, so I went through.   Ground was always visible but such a combination of sleet and turbulence I've never encountered before.   I throttled way back to reduce the violent buffeting.   Ice grew on the wing leading edges.    I was scared, and then I came into the clear again.

I came down from 4500 feet to the Lincoln - North Woodstock airport.   It's in a pocket, short, dirt and surrounded by trees.    When I landed there was nobody and no planes.   I spent a half hour doing things inefficiently.   Just as I set foot on the road a lady (60 +) stopped her car for me.   She is the wife of the undertaker who is the principal user of the airport.   She drove me 5 miles up the Kancamagus road to the trail I wanted.   Since the plane is not lockable I left my flight bag with her for safekeeping.

The trail was very wet, then there was snow from last week's storm, which got deeper   It was a good day, and the woods were beautiful.    The pine needles on the sharp white snow would make a good wallpaper pattern.   I hiked 7 1/2 miles up the ridge, a 3300 foot climb, to Mt. Flume then Mt. Liberty (two more 4000+-footers), then Liberty Springs shelter, mostly through 6 inches of snow.   Fine views.  Wind on the bare summits made me glad I brought lots of warm clothes.   Halfway down from the shelter to the road I remembered I left my new ski mittens at the shelter, so I returned.   By then it was dark, so I spent the night there, with a bunch of schoolboys and their leader.   I slept with parka, heavy wool pants, long johns, and mittens, but woke up chilly a few times.

This morning I rose at dawn, skipped eating, and took an hour to reach the highway.   There was a little rain and  worsening weather, so it sure looked like I'd have to leave the plane and return home otherwise.  I hitch hiked to North Woodstock, ate, and phoned Mrs. McKay.   She insisted on bringing up the bag and driving me to the plane.   Much of the hills were in rain, fog, cloud, and mist, but finally it looked as if I could follow the valley road straight south to the plains beyond, then fly northeast to Augusta, a much longer route but free of mountain weather.   The plane had no radio, so I had to assess the weather trend by sight alone.  Aloft it looked better, so I turned left,  through the notch just south of Mt. Osceola.   It was pretty smooth until just abreast of Osceola's tower there was another tremendous buffeting, which required slowing the engine again.   Then I cut over at 5000 feet to the Kancamangus highway, followed it east to Conway, and the weather seemed OK again.   But around Bridgton I ran into rain, so I doubled back to land at the Fryeburg airport you and I visited.   After an hour the weather ahead improved, so over scattered wispy low clouds and under a leaden sky I squeezed in to Augusta and tied the Skyranger down on its spot.   Then I puttered around, showered and went to bed.

                                                              Love,  Dick