Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coast-To-Coast Javelin

You don’t need to travel overseas to see some of the world’s best flying venues

I deviate slightly south of my Great Circle route to pass within sight of Telluride, Colo., simply because I can. It's one of the most beautiful little box canyons in the mountains. The floor is at almost 9,000 feet, and the surrounding rocks reach as high as 14,000 feet. IFR not advised. My buddy, writer Peter Lert (A-Lert Flying Service), used to live there, probably because he couldn't ignore the sheer beauty of the place. It's a small town in summer, only about 3,000 people, but winter brings throngs of skiers to Telluride's uncommonly spectacular resorts, tripling or quadrupling the population for a few months.

Past Telluride, there's western-flavored Gunnison, another spectacular destination high in the tall pines of central Colorado. Gunnison guards the eastern approach to Monarch Pass, the high point of Highway 50 that cuts straight across the spine of the Rockies.

On this trip, I look down at the apex of Monarch, 4,000 feet below at only 11,300 feet, remembering all those times I had to coax my normally aspirated Swift or Bellanca Cruisemaster just a little higher so I could clear the tourists at the highway viewpoints on the crest.

Simpler times, and who knows, perhaps better. It was certainly more challenging, probably less sane and predictably more fun.

This ain't bad, however. If I was still 30 and into aerobatics, water flying, gliders, helicopters, jet fighters and anything else I could convince someone to let me fly, I might be less enthusiastic about settling into the Centurion's plush leather seat, lofting to three miles above the sea and letting the autopilot guide me toward my next fuel stop in St. Louis. I still love flying in all its forms, and if this old body could take the stress, I'd love to go back to practicing knife-edge Lomcevaks in a Pitts S2B or spiraling in the ridge lift of Dillingham, Hawaii. But after all, SOMEONE has to drive Javelins across the country to Pennsylvania.

Kansas is a flat, patchwork quilt, not a revelation, I know, but flat means section lines that help define true north. Accordingly, I assume an angle across them as I approach Missouri, wondering if I can maintain a reasonably accurate course despite the wind by simply holding the same angle east of north.

It turns out I can. Sure enough, not long after the VNAV suggests it's time for descent, I can see the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers west of St. Louis and the huge, dramatic, half-elliptical St. Louis Arch in the far distance, gateway to the East. (No, I've never even thought about it, but there are a few former pilots who did and got caught.)

The following morning, I'm off the ground with the sun at 6:30 to beat the heat, spinner pointed northeast toward cooler pastures. The Javelin again claws its way to 15,500 feet, this time fighting headwinds, but I'm feeling forgiving, as this is the final leg. Today's destination is Seaman's Airport, 9N3, 30 miles north of Wilkes Barre, Penn., the home of O & N Aircraft, owner of the Javelin STC.

The tan of summer Missouri turns to beige Indiana, then gray-green Ohio and finally to the deep forest hue of Pennsylvania, rolling, emerald hills sprinkled with idyllic lakes and streams, all topped by puffy, baby cumulus. I land at 4+15, a total of 12 hours flying time from one coast almost to the other.

Don't even think about comparing the costs of airline versus Javelin, but it will require nearly the same time, 12 hours, to get home to Long Beach, and it won't be nearly as much fun.

But you probably already knew that. Still crazy after all these years.


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