I just flew into Dallas Fort Worth, and can honestly say “And boy, are my arms tired.” Because I, you know, flew into Dallas Fort Worth. As mighty and powerful and fast as our trusty Bonanza feels for a general aviation aircraft, it’s mighty nervewracking when you’re lining up on one of eight runways, interleaved with 747s, A-380s and and a controller asking you to, uh, keep your speed up.
We weren’t even going to be here, at least not yet. The plan was a lazy two-day roadtrip out from Palo Alto to drop the Bonanza off in Ada, Oklahoma for some upgrades: wingtip fuel tanks and a high-capacity oxygen system. Bilby Wallace, chief pilot for Tornado Alley Turbo, was going to ferry us down to DFW the next morning to catch our flight home. But plans have a way of changing when you’re flying a small plane.
The flight out to Ada was great fun. Launching from Palo Alto yesterday morning, Julie (a.k.a N616JA – “Six Juliet Alpha,” or “Julie” for short) popped her nose skyward and hauled us uncomplainingly up, three miles into the sky, then scooted along south and eastward at a comfortable 230 miles per hour over the ground. If we’d stretched things a bit, we could have made it to Albuquerque non-stop, but Rich and I are of that certain age where the limiting factor is not what’s in the airplane’s tanks. We dropped in to Lake Havasu for a pit stop. Fueled up, chatted with Bob, Lisa and Tanya at Desert Skies Aviation – two thumbs up – and were on our way.
Ada’s about 1250 miles as the (turbocharged, high-altitude) crow flies, and dodging around various restricted areas on Nevada and Arizona adds another 100 or so to that tally. We did the math and figured that we could actually make it in one long day. Buuuut, where’s the fun in that? We scoured the map and settled on Albuquerque as a place to stop for the night. I’ve got friends in town, there’s good food, and they’ve got the freakin’ National Museum of Nuclear Science. Let me say that again: the National Museum of Nuclear Science.
Bode Aviation had the rental car waiting for us on the ramp, engine running and air conditioning on “stun” by the time we’d shut down and climbed out. We chucked our bags into the trunk, filled out a bit of paperwork and were on our way to the National Museum of… (wait for it) Nuclear Science.
Crazy cold war artifacts, videos from the Trinity Test site, replicas of “The Gadget” and other scary milestones in our country’s pursuit of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Very sobering stuff. Did you know that at one point, the US Army had a nuclear bazooka? It was called the Davy Crockett, and could lob a nuclear bomb the size of a toaster oven 5000 feet. Never actually fielded, of course, someone clearly did the math and decided that perhaps that wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Once they kicked us out of the museum (because it was closing, not because we’d done anything wrong), it kind of settled on us that, with all the fun, we’d sort of missed lunch, and it was dialing around toward dinner time. Fortunately, Albuquerque’s got no shortage of great food, and we had two sequential dinners and more margaritas than were strictly necessary. Breakfast with fellow Antarctican and pilot friend Brent Jones, then eastward again, non-stop to Ada.
When we landed at Ada, Bilby had a change of plans for us: tomorrow morning was forecast to be pretty foul weather around Ada. They don’t, apparently, call it “Tornado Alley” Turbo for nothing. They’d had a couple of twisters two days before, and we’d just timed it right to catch a spell of good weather in the neighborhood. But the forecast suggested that we would be unlikely to be able to get down to Dallas tomorrow morning if we waited – would we mind fueling up and heading there Right Now? We’d take Julie, land at DFW, then we’d climb out and Bilby would fly her back to Ada.
Uh… Sure. Bilby asked which one of us wanted left seat, and I arm-wrestled Rich for the honor. Half an hour later, southbound with DFW’s 30 square miles of concrete and asphalt (I looked that up!) filling our windscreen, I wasn’t quite so sure I should have wrestled so hard. DFW, by the way, is the third busiest airport in the world, and here we were, dropping in our itty bitty Bonanza. But Bilby handled the radios as if this was his daily commute (“Six Julie Alpha – confirm that you’re landing at DFW?” “Dallas Approach, that’s Aye-firmative…”).
I plonked us down in a patch of rubber on Runway 17L that was probably as big as my home airport, pulled off on the first taxiway, and taxied something like five miles to the Corporate Air Terminal while Bilby called out my turns.
Between the heat, humidity and the stress, I wouldn’t be surprised if I sweated out five pounds between takeoff and shutdown. But here we are. Gonna get to see old Polie friend Michelle for dinner and fly home tomorrow. Let me rephrase that: tomorrow, we’re going to ride home, and let someone wearing an American Airlines uniform do the flying for us.