Over, around, under

It’s now 9:15 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Martin and I are both collapsed onto our respective beds in the Dubuque Best Western after two days of hammering across the country in mid-July under a greenhouse canopy – over mountains, across Nebraska’s high prairie, through among Iowa’s rolling hills, and finally down the Mississippi to plant ourselves (a little too firmly) on runway 18 of Dubuque Regional Airport. And boy are our arms tired.

Morning in Torrington was as still and gorgeous as a day could be. Launched eastbound, and just didn’t see any reason to climb past about 1500′. Farmland, and small towns passing under our wings, passing under my thumb on the chart as I called them out to Martin. Verdigre, Bloomfield, Hartington. Each a beatiful little midwestern square, with church and ballfield, main street and grain silo – and each with its own story that we, whisking by, momentarily overhead, will never know. Like those long overwhelming but seductive shelves in the library, each town is an unopened book, and all we see is a blurred glance as we pass.

But we imagined kid coming out at the sound, pointing, and running to tell their parents. It was hard not to take that indulgence.

Western Nebraska melted into the rolling hills of Iowa. We set down for lunch amid the cornfields of Le Mars, swapped stories with the airport manager and walked into town for an uneventful lunch (I do need to tell you about Grill 77, last night in Torrington – everything you could ask from a small town diner in the high prairie; but not right now). Le Mars was just fine, though.

Martin and I had been fretting about the weather. Eastern Iowa had a stationary front settled right along Dubuque; the clouds were clearing as the day warmed, but they could easily flip over into thunderstorms before things got good enough to (safely) slip in under the ceiling.

We’d stared at the charts for 10 minutes before settling on a plan: things were clearer to the north. We could push north as we headed east, trying to flank the weather. If things went south, so to speak, we had plenty of good airports at our back.

Stratus to our right, cumulus to our left (beautiful real-life illustration of an occluded front), we climbed, dodged and diverted our way all the way to the Mississippi. Prairie du Chien (pronounced “pray-ree doo shane”), where we had a nice big spot to drop through. We picked up Dubuque’s ATIS calling ceilings at 2ooo overcast. A quick parley with Martin, and we decided the conditions were fine to proceed. Followed ol’ Miss down, left, right, over the banks and into KDBQ, with 11.5 hours on the clock.

Did I mention why we’re in Dubuque? NATA is running a four-day formation flight training clinic, in preparation for a sky-darkening formation arrival at OSH on Monday.

So once I rolled us off the runway (only a slightly horrific landing), I got to have a look at the ramp. Something like 50 T-6s of every model, stripe and marking, covering every available tiedown. The We’re marshalled to the grass, alongside half a dozen others that didn’t fit on the tarmac. No worries – she’s a taildragger, she’s supposed to be on the grass.

Shut down, hop out, and we’re among comrades. “You came in from where? Holy… I’ll bet your butt’s numb!” Into the hangar, into the swirl of flightsuits and (real) Top Gun patches. Hands flying formation, demonstrating what went wrong on that last sortie. Good stuff. Dinner in the hangar, new friends, and… uhh. Sorry, did I mention that I’m really tired? I’ll have the laptop at the field tomorrow, and will try to write a little more.

But we’ve got a 7:00 a.m. briefing (CDT – that’s 5:00 according to my brain). So now, lights out, and time to get a little sleep.

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