Sunday, September 07, 2008

World Famous Fruit Cakes

We continue north up the coast to Brunswick, then continue north while the coastline turns east. This allows us to cut the corner of the Carolinas, get out of Hanna's sights, and avoid the whole DC/NYC/Boston ordeal. Even if I didn't just want to stay away from that high-density airspace in our low-density airplane, our ferry permit, required to bring a Canadian ultralight through US airspace, specifies that we avoid overflight of populated areas. There aren't many emergency landing sites in Manhattan, anyway. But we could probably do a great landing in that pool opposite the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

There is a fair amount of restricted airspace in the US. Most of it is military, containing dangers like firing ranges, some is security, like the various residences of the nation's leaders, and some of it is bizarre political shenanigans like the no-fly zone around Disneyworld. The last exists not because the government believes that attacks on Mickey Mouse and co. threaten national security, but because the Disney machine doesn't want banner tow operators taking advantage of their customer eyeballs. Often when I fly VFR I use flight following, a series of radio frequencies where I speak to the controllers who are monitoring me on radar and receive advisories on traffic and active military operations. It's good company, keeps me from screwing up if I miss something on a chart, and ensures that I'm already on frequency talking to someone if I have an emergency. We're not using flight following on our jaunt, however, because we're mode A only, because at our altitudes radar coverage will be spotty, and because the wind noise in our little radio it takes a fair amount of concentration to hear the transmissions in my headset. We'd rather just talk and enjoy the view, so we turn off the radio when there's no one in particular we want to talk to. Besides, the radio is not wired into the aircraft electrical system, so turning it off will conserve its batteries.

We can see restricted airspace marked on the GPS map, and warnings pop up if our direction of travel will intersect one, plus I can see that if we stay south of the river we'll not enter the restricted area. My normal militant flight instructor self isn't on this trip. I tell Lite Flyer, "It's an ultralight. Look out the front window, find a landmark to line up with and fly that way. Stay between the highway and the river. Nothing bad will happen if the line isn't perfectly straight." She doesn't even have a heading indicator and there's no way I want to teach her to be a heads-down slave to the red line. Yesterday I teased her gently for wandering off altitude and heading and after that she held a straight line and constant altitude for half an hour. Today I ask her a few times what she is lined up with to fly straight and she is reminded to do that. I'm very conscious that she's going to learn things she will remember forever on this trip, and I have to make sure they are the things that will keep her alive.

We didn't fuel in Fernandina Beach, so we have to stop for gas after another two hours. Being in the United States gives us the fabulous luxury of thousands of airports, almost all of which have fuel, but practically none of which sell MOGAS, a.k.a. the gas people put in their cars. Ideally we want premium unleaded, the 93 octane grade in the US, cut with no more than ten percent ethanol. We found a list of airports purported to sell MOGAS at the pumps. Most of them seem to be in the north central US, and when I call to confirm, half of them either have their telephones disconnected or say that they used to sell it but no longer do. I didn't find one that matches up with today's route, so we choose Claxton, Georgia. No reason. It's just on the way. One runway looks the same as any other on the chart. I have Lite Flyer tune the CTAF frequency for Claxton and I announce us inbound.

We find Claxton, a paved runway with a little terminal building, and do an overhead join to downwind. We're the only traffic around. We park in the corner of the ramp and I indicate an old white car parked on the grass just the other side of the low concrete blocks that establish the airport perimeter. "That's probably a courtesy car. We can take it and get gas and lunch. All we have to do is put some gas in the tank," I explain. I jump up on the tail to reach over the engine and check the oil level while the engine is still hot. This particular engine only gives an accurate oil level reading when hot.

I'm continuing the postflight inspection when Lite Flyer calls from the little terminal building, "What is the 'unicom' frequency?" I smile because I know exactly why she is asking. There must be a combination lock on the door and a notice telling her how to get in.

"That's the number you put in the radio before we arrived here," I call back. At the time I had pointed out that it was a very common frequency for uncontrolled (US term: non-towered) airports, so she remembers it. She finds another sign telling her to call the local police department for the use of the courtesy car, and she does so without hesitation. By the time I'm done the postflight inspection she has secured permission to use the car, learned the hiding place of the keys, and got directions to a gas station.

My inspection has revealed some loose and missing pop rivets each side of the tail, attaching a strip of rubber to the fuselage. The other side of the rubber strip rests against the vertical stabilizer. It's not holding anything on. It's not immediately clear what its function is. It's remarkable how quickly I have adapted to the ultralight mode of thinking. I don't have the facility to re-rivet this strip, but I could put a little bolt through the hole and secure it with a little nut. I check my FOD-burdened pockets to see if I have picked up anything on the ramp that would do the job. Nothing. I go to the bag that Lite Flyer indicated was her tools. I had asked her to contact the manufacturer to find out what tools she should carry and make sure she had them. The contents of her toolbag are the absolute classic ultralight repair kit. Have a look.

Yes, the manufacturer's recommended complement of tools comprises two rolls of duct tape, a bundle of zip ties, a roll of electrical tape, and a few wrenches. This is the airplane for the masses. I decide against using a zip tie to secure the rubber strip, because the edges would cut the rubber as it met wind resistance.

We get in the courtesy car, which is clearly a former police car, bristling with unusual antennae and with patches in the roof where the light bar has been removed. It still has county plates on it. The AC doesn't work, so we cruise into town with the windows down, the same cooling technique we use in the air. We decide to have lunch first, before we have gasoline all over ourselves, and take a recommendation for a restaurant called Mrs. Rogers from a guy who showed up with a Cessna. "They have world famous fruit cakes," he says.

The town is not prosperous looking. I think I've heard of it before, maybe it shows up in a John Grisham novel. There are a few restaurants, promising things that are fried and/or barbecued, and then we find Mrs. Rogers, right next to the gas stations. The sign does proclaim their fruit cakes to be world famous. They have a buffet for about six bucks and we opt for that. The first range on the buffet has fried chicken, presented in a buffet tray still half full of oil, rice, mashed potatoes, gravy, some other sort of gravy, a battered deep fried vegetable that I decide must be okra, and some more meat, perhaps barbecued pork. The second part of the buffet is salad, with greens and cheese and I think there were tomatoes, kind of normal salad things, plus some bright pink stuff and some stuff that looks like chocolate pudding. Dessert was included in the buffet, but that was in a separate place. These were all salad fixings. I served myself reasonable portions of stuff that looked good, and small helpings of stuff that looked to be part of a cultural experience.

The pink stuff turns out to be mostly marshmallows. Marshmallows and pink food colouring I guess. Possibly one of my readers will know what it's called and how it fits into the salad thing. The stuff that looked like chocolate pudding turns out to be chocolate pudding. Chocolate pudding and fried chicken isn't such a bad combination, really. Neither of us had dessert, which didn't include fruit cakes.

We go over to the gas station and ask to borrow one or more fuel cans. They have closed five gallon pails which I imagine are not legal for the transportation of fuel in motor vehicles, but can provide those and a funnel and we take them. Back at the airport, Cessna guy and another guy are full of questions and advice and poking at the airplane. "Please move away from the airplane with that cigarette," I am forced to say. I'm saying that entirely too often this trip.

I mention to Cessna guy that I was surprised to see him fuelling, because there was a NOTAM out saying there was no Avgas here. he says he's on the airport committee and while the pump seems to be working okay now, it's been so intermittent that he doesn't want to cancel the NOTAM lest it break again.

"You know there's a hurricane coming?" he asks. "It's going to be here on Thursday."

I explain that we're planning on being in New England by Thursday, but listen as he talks about the anticipated effects of the storm.

Lite Flyer fuels the airplane while I check onward weather and NOTAMs. Amusingly, the briefers ... down ... South ... talk ... real ... slow. It can take a while to get a briefing, but I feel that the average quality of what I'm getting from the Lockheed Martin flight service specialists is increasing. I always compliment the briefer when I feel that I've received good service, and I've been doing that a lot lately. Perhaps they are extra attentive to an airplane that is going to take over three hours to go two hundred miles. There are still headwinds. We'll try to get to North Carolina for our next stop.

Before we leave, I call the manufacturer to update him on our progress, as he requested. "We're just leaving Claxton, Georgia," I tell him.

"Claxton?" he asks. "They have world famous fruit cakes." Apparently the fame of the fruit cakes extends at least one state away. I tell him about the blind encoder failure and the rivets on the rubber strip, and various other minor issues and what I intend to do about them. He explains that the rubber strip is just a kind of splash guard for water landings. He says I can remove it altogether or bolt it back on. I elect to wait another leg to see if more rivets give way. Perhaps those were the only weak ones and it will get home as is without further deterioration. In my estimation the two missing ones do not weaken it or allow it to flap such that the others will pull out in one flight.

I want to do a run up, but the brakes are not strong enough to hold against run up power, so I walk out on the grass next to the taxiway and find an area with no rocks and no holes. We start up, taxi out and then drive off the taxiway down onto the grass. I feel so bad. I turn around so the airplane is facing up the grassy incline against the taxiway and now I can set run up power without the airplane creeping forward. All systems are go, the temperatures are in the right range and the mags check good. I apply more power in order to get back up the slope onto the taxiway and then call traffic and taxi out to backtrack the runway. We're rolling for another leg of our journey.


Anonymous said...

re: Landing sites in Manhatten - in that aircraft the entire Hudson River is your runway. Apparently, Pre 9-11 there was a vfr corridor along the river - you could fly all the way down from near Montreal, circle the statue of Liberty and fly back north and hardly need to talk to anyone. Not sure if that's still possible?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a VFR river corridor in the NYC airspace. I've not flown it, but I know people who have done so recently.

Anonymous said...

Without being able to taste it, I'll hazard a guess that pink stuff is congealed salad (also known as Jell-O salad), which is popular down here in the South. It's made with flavored gelatin mix and is prepared a variety of ways with a variety of different ingredients. I have so many memories of Sunday lunch at my grandmother's house and Sunday dinners at church, where congealed salad was almost always on the dessert table. (I never developed a taste for it, not when the banana pudding was right next to it.)

It looks like you had a good ol' Southern buffet meal. And somehow Mrs. Rogers reminds me of a lot of the locally-owned restaurants down here, where the air is so thick with the smell of fried chicken that you walk out of the restaurant with the aroma clinging to you.

Yellowbird said...

The Hudson River VFR corridor is still available - I flew it with my dad a few years ago. If your routing takes you that way, it's well worth the effort.

Jello salad is typically a mix of flavored Jello, whipped cream, and canned fruit salad. As ea757grrl said, it's a staple in the South.

And no American salad bar would be complete without chocolate pudding!