Cross Country – 1993

This is an unedited log of my trip from Seattle to Boston in
Commonwealth Skyranger NC33395, as posted enroute to the internet
newsgroup “rec.aviation.piloting”. As a result, it’s a bit long
and rambling, but what do you expect after spending two weeks
rattling around behind a C-85? Enjoy, if you may!

-David “Pablo” Cohn

Well, the shakedown leg of the “big cross-country” trip, from Seattle
down to Eugene, was pretty straightforward. Loaded up with survival
gear, full tanks, and a friend who asked for a ride, I wanted to try
the ‘ranger out out near gross weight (its one reputed weakness is
that, being underpowered, it’s doggy when near gross or on hot days).
We asked for the full length of BFI’s 2 mile runway. Turns out, we
didn’t need much more than usual. With outside temps around 68, climb
was around 400 fpm at 70 mph. Nonetheless, it’s going to be nice to
be quite a bit lighter going over the rockies.

Feeling all cocky and proud of my (somewhat) rare, (somewhat) old, and
(*I* think) pretty plane, I got my comeuppance arriving at Creswell,
just south of Eugene. This is the home of Delmar Benjamin’s Gee Bee
R-2, Steve Wolfe’s Goliath, and Walter Beech’s personal Staggerwing
just finishing restoration at Wolfe’s hands).

I taxiied up and explained to the curious that this was a Commonwealth
Skyranger, made in ’46 by a consolidation of Rearwin and LeBlond, etc.
etc. I then realized that I didn’t recognize the stunningly beautiful
plane taxiiing in with an Aeronca decal on the tail. Hmmm… Turns out
I was followed in by an Aeronca TL-65 “Dual Trainer”, vintage 1937,
if I recall. Restored exactly to original condition, to the extent that
the cable fittings were spliced and wrapped by hand, rather than attached
with crimp-ons. Now *I* was the one asking “Gosh, what is it, when was
it made…?” Friendly folks, all.

In any case, it looks like the weather is amenable to starting the
next leg tomorrow: The plan is to follow the I-84 corridor through
southern Utah and Northern Idaho. I may be across the rockies in two
days, but then again…. My next posting will be from Denver.


As promised, the mid-continent post. Haven’t had a chance to read news
since the last posting, so this is going out in the blind. The love
affair between NC33395 and me is growing by the tach hour. We’ve made
it to Denver over desert and mountain, and have many a long tale to
tell. Unfortunately, these tired fingers aren’t going to be able to
tell them all this evening; the friendly rec.aviators who met me at
Ft. Collins heard a few of them.

A quick summary: First day out of Eugene with Caldwell, ID as
the target. Lots of stops along the way to wring the bugs out:
McKenzie Bridge to make sure that that roughness really *was*
carb ice, up over the Sisters wilderness as high as I could get
it on that hot day, then over into Redmond to shake my legs out
and call Devon (mush, mush), then on eastward. Over the Oregon
high desert at Burns I figured the tailwinds could carry me into
Idaho with plenty of daylight to spare. A call to Flight Service,
however, confirmed that the shining wall of white on the horizon
was indeed a wall of thunderstorms, and there’d been a pirep
of “unable VFR at Caldwell.” No second thoughts: “Hmmm. Never been
into Burns. Wonder what it’s like…”

I guess I was the first plane in there in a week. Looked deserted,
but the old grizzled unicom operator came out to greet me. Best I
can tell, he was stone deaf. Seemd fine on the radio, but he had
to watch my lips to understand me. Wanted to know everything about
the ‘ranger. I asked where I could pitch my tent and he insisted
that I occupy the airport office. Brewed up fresh coffee and told
me to make myself at home.

Next morning, up at 5:00 (when the cropdusters came through) and
on into Caldwell in CAVU. Visited the Avid factory — quite an
impressive setup, although all of the sales droids were occupied.
I got to poke around the Magnum, though. I was amused to see it
alongside the ‘ranger: one was an ancient fabric taildragger with
a side-by-side stick. The other was the hottest new thing on the
market: a fabric taildragger with a side-by-side stick. I know
which one *I’d* take, but the Magnum looked like a bucket of fun.

Flight Service at Burley was, as they all are, confounded by the
lack of an official FAA designation for the ‘ranger. The Caldwell
folks said that they’d be the ones to give me a route over the
Rockies, so I decided that I might as well see them in person.
We got talking airplanes, and by the time I was done with the
briefing, they asked if I’d give them a call before departing so
that they could come out and take a photo. Yes, I’ll admit it, I
love the attention. By the time I *did* get set for departure, it was
midafternoon, but the thunderbumpers that inhabit Idaho around that
time hadn’t developed. What had developed was some pretty serious
density altitude — around 8200 ft. I did my calculations and figured
I should be able to get off with asphalt to spare, so did my full
power runup and headed on down the runway. I got *up*, but with very
sluggish climb performance (as expected). No obstacles beyond the
airport boundary (yes, I had checked before), but I just didn’t seem
to be climbing, and I started getting a bit worried. Vy, max power
lean, carb heat off, but we’re not getting anywhere. My glider
training kicked in: I looked down and realized I was flying over
a wet dirt gully that paralleled the highway. Ah, sink! Moved over
the highway about 30 feet away and the VSI shot up past 500 fpm.
Ah, lift! Between the highway thermals and ridge lift coming off of
the buttes, I made it into Utah at max cruise speed with the throttle
way back.

Utah. Decided on Tremonton, as it was the only nearby spot with
80 octane. I *did* just get the autogas STC, but I figured that the
Rockies weren’t the time to start experimenting with new fuels.
The airfield is run by a few cropdusters, best as I can tell.
Wayne, Bill and Lorraine. Very friendly, very helpful. Bill owns
a J-3 Cub he flies in the Utah mountains, and was eager to help me
plan the “big hop”. They found me a cheap place to stay, gave me
a ride into town, told me what diner to avoid and where to eat.
Offered to pick me up the next morning on their way in (at 5 a.m!)
so I could get a good start while the air was cool.

And cool it was. With surface temps of 45 degrees, the ‘ranger hopped
up to 11.5K — more than enough margin over the Wasatch range. Over
Bear Lake, Kemmerer, and on into Wyoming. A stop for fuel at Rock
Springs, and into Ft. Collins by noon.

I got quite a welcome at Ft. Collins. Jer/ Eberhard, Bill Arnold,
and Joel Larner all came out to greet me at the airport, and we
spent the better part of an hour poking around the ‘ranger, talking
flying, and posing for pictures. The net is an amazing tool, eh
folks? Jer/ had to head off for a student, and Joel was busy
getting married, so Bill and I got to spend the afternoon and evening
talking airplanes and computers. Bill and his accomplice Dave are
rebuilding a ’68/’72 Bellanca Viking which is a long story in and of
itself. Many deep and heartfelt thanks to Bill and the Ft. Collins
gang for the boundless hospitality — they’re what rec.aviation is
all about!

Tomorrow morning, it’s off through the Great Plains. My next posting
will likely be from Boston, once I’ve snugged the ‘ranger in its new
out east.

More news as it happens!


The mid-continent update update (Great Lakes edition)

When I last left the keyboard, NC33395 and yours truly were
snug in Denver and pondering the Great Plains. Saturday evening,
May 22nd has found us in Aurora, Illinois, ostensible home of
“Wayne’s World,” that icon of America in the 90’s. It’s been an
interesting transition.

We set out from Denver (Jeffco, actually) following typical IFR (I
Follow Roads, that is), in this case taking I-76 up for Nebraska.
In the mountains, planning a route that follows the roads is good
strategy: the highway dept. *usually* puts them through the lowest
passes and most direct routes. (DISCLAIMER: Don’t just follow a road
blindly; make sure you talk to the locals.)(RULE 17a: *Always* talk
to the locals about your trip/route. They know the area and the places
to avoid, and hey, they might just buy you dinner!)

Anyhow. In the mountains, following roads can keep you out of trouble.
In the plains, it helps cut the sheer monotony. In the ‘ranger, in any
sort of headwind, it makes for a good game of “How many cars do I
pass, and how many pass me?” First stop set me done at Kearney,
Nebraska for some 80 octane. The wind was down the runway at 25 knots,
gusting 32. Elevator, going down! By the time I was in the flare, I
felt like I was close to going backwards. Lineman said I should’ve
been here the day before, when it was windy. Whew!

Puttered along through the sunny afternoon into the rolling hills of
Iowa. Entirely by chance, right into the heart of antique aircraft
heaven. After a quick visit to the Greenfield “Aircraft Preservation
Society” (again, another story) settled in to Winterset for the
evening (“Birthplace of John Wayne”). *I* chose it because the flight
guide said “80 octane, camping on field.” “Camping on field” is a
general indication that the airport owners are friendly folks. This
one drew me a map, insisted that I borrow his car to drive in and see
the town, and told me that I ought to camp in the airport office
tonight, as it was going to rain. Turns out that Winterset was just
yesterday featured on Oprah, as the site of the romance novel “The Bridges
of Madison County.” By the way the town was decked out, it was the biggest
thing that had happened here since John Wayne got his star on Hollywood

Back at the airport, I saw a fellow looking over the ‘ranger. I told
him that my standard offer was a beer for anyone who could identify
the plane. He told me I was lucky he didn’t drink, and proceeded to
recite the history of Ken and Royce Rearwin, and the brief line of
Commonwealths. I had encountered 73-year old “Ace” Cannon, an EAA
Antiques judge, and the fellow who restored most of the planes in the
Greenfield museum. We had a great talk, and I promised to have the
details fixed before he saw it again at Oshkosh. He suggested I might
want to stop by “Antique Airfield” on my next leg, with a bit of a
twinkle in his eye, and roared off on his motorcycle.

Not one to pass on so auspicious a hint, I headed off in search of
“Antique”. Had to circle a few times before I picked out the unmarked
grass field with a few hangar to one side. Looked deserted, but I’m
not one to resist the temptation of a grass field, so I went down for
a look. Turns out that this is the home of the Antique Aircraft
Association, and the site of some pretty remarkable old planes. The
manager/president came on out and wanted to know everything about
‘395. He already knew all about Commonwealth. Hell, they had all of
my plane’s ancestors, and the *factory tooling* for it sitting in one
of the nearby hangars. This is not a place to be missed. Dozens of
one-of-a-kind planes and prototypes, with even more waiting to be
restored. Ever seen a lowwing Aeronca? How about a Monoprep, or an
Anderson “Z”? Gave me the grand tour, and made me pose with the
‘ranger for the Commonwealth/Rearwin newsletter.

But the weather was following me, and I had to keep moving. I was a
few hours ahead of the eastbound fronts now hitting the midwest, and I
decided I’d better find a good spot for a RON. Hmmm, I have a sister
in Illinois….

The whole museum/restoration staff came out to see me off and snap a
few photos as I broke ground. I headed east yet again, blue skies in
front of me, and dark menacing grey behind.

Next update from Boston, I promise!


5:30 p.m. on Wednesday and I’m sitting in our weekly lab meeting as
though nothing had ever happened. Just sixty minutes ago, I was on
short final for Hanscom Field, finishing off the longest cross country
flight of my life. Was it all a dream? Nah, my head is still buzzing
from the rattle of the engine and the jarring turbulence.

But that’s it. The big West Coast to East Coast trip is a done deal.
I’m home. And in time for our weekly lab meeting, at that. Let me
wrap up the last couple of days for you.

When I last posted, I was stranded in Chicago, with torrential winds
and rain making life miserable. Ah, but I had email. I managed to get
ahold of Rich Miller, who on short notice came out and gave me a tour
of the neighborhood airfields. We headed up to DuPage, to check on the
‘ranger, and found a sorry sight: I had parked “downwind” of this
storm. Folks from the Colorado front range had stressed the importance
of being parked in the right direction, but I hadn’t put any thought
into the fact that here, in Chicago, there was a right and wrong
direction to tie down. My control lock had broken loose, and the
ailerons were jammed into an awkward angle. Worse than that, the two
wing tiedowns had come up from their mountings in the asphalt and were
swinging in the wind. The only thing securing the plane was rope
around the tailwheel. In retrospect, I guess it’s better that I parked
downwind: facing the other way, lacking those two wing tiedowns, the
‘ranger could have done some real damage to itself, possibly even
flipping over (Rocky’s first cousin?). Rich and I reattached the ropes
to their mountings and cinched them down tight. Jury-rigged the
control lock to try to minimize damage, and hoped for the best. In
that strong a wind, there was no real way to even try to turn the
plane around. Sigh. I can’t say I slept well that night.

Flight service said that the weather the next day was to be excellent.
They were wrong, but it was at least passable. Perhaps I was beginning
to feel the deadly pangs of get-home-itis? A smooth three thousand
foot ceiling across Indiana and light winds. Not great, but it’s safe,
and it’s stable. A very thorough preflight (with special attention to
the connectivity of the control surfaces), and I we’re off. The day, I
must say, was uneventful. A couple of phone calls, and the destination
for the day is Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County (AGC), home of Dave
Touretzky’s “Beast”. Played “where are *you*?” with a Learjet in the
pattern over Marion Ohio (MNN), and then “where’s the *airport*?” with

This morning, up early before the cumulus start building, and off to
the airport. I’m loading my stuff in (amid the Gulfstreams and
Citations), and grumbling to myself how the FBO’s here don’t
appreciate antiques (really, I’d love to buy fuel, but you’re not
sticking 100 octane in *my* baby!). An older fellow walks up and asks
“Is this your Skyranger?” Well, I straighened out so fast I whacked my
head on the doorframe. “How did you know it was a Skyranger?” I had
been offering a beer to anyone who could identify the plane, and had
only once been guessed, and that by a professional antiquer (see
previous installment). Anyhow, this fellow was Lou McDonald, and he’d
seen a few Skyrangers come and go. We stood there on the ramp for
about an hour talking airplanes, figuring out how many people we know
in common, and generally having a great time. After a while, another
fellow walks up amiably and says…

“Hi. I’m Jeff Halliday (sp?). I’m with the FAA. Is this your plane?”

Now, *that’s* a way to stop a conversation cold, eh? I own up to
owning it, and he tells me how he’s always wanted to own an antique.
Compliments the restoration, and is impressed that I’m doing the cross
country thing. Pretty soon, there’s the *three* of us standing out on
the ramp talking airplanes, grass fields and old Continental 85’s.
I just about wore myself out before getting in the plane. Finally, we
all bid each other farewell and good luck, and I’m off.

Stopped for fuel in Bellafonte, just south of a sharp-ridged valley
that the locals tell me give the best soaring conditions in the
country. Gosh, pretty close to Elmira.. makes sense, I guess. One
problem today was that the airport was just beyond the lee side of the
valley, with a hefty 20-knot wind blowing. I’ve seen windsocks stand
straight out before, but I’ve never seen them do it while slowly
turning counter clockwise through all 360 degrees of the compass. Ah
yes, this would be an interesting landing. Fortunately, I just happen
to be tailwheel current :-) Set down uneventfully, stumped the locals
(good friendly folks, there), and filled up with 80 octane for the
final leg home.

Finally a tailwind. It’s hard to believe that I’m on my last
sectional! Used to be a single chart would get me as far as I ever
wanted to go. These days, a sectional lasts me a day, a WAC two. And
now my destination, 395’s new home, is on the same page as I am. Up
to 7.5K feet to clear jarring turbulence below the 5K scattered
cumulus. Set up for cruise and >brap!< sputter, sputter… The rpm's
drop to idle. I've seen this before. Carb heat full on, and after a
second, the engine roars back to life. Carb heat off, and I get
sputters after 10 seconds. Aw shucks. I hem and haw about and extended
over the top with carb heat full on, and decide to go on down under
the deck. The scattered layer is supposed to turn broken, then
overcast as I continue east, so I might as well get below it now.

Bump, bump, bump, thump, bump, rattle. Three and a half hours in a
rock tumbler. Nothing dangerous, or even scary. Just continuous
moderate turbulence. Wilkes-Barre approach told me that I might want
to check my mode-C; it kept jumping all over the place. Nope, sounds
like it's working just fine. Finally, Mount Watchusetts, the Boston
skyline, and finally Hanscom itself creep over the horizon. It seems
anticlimactic: "Hanscom tower, Commonwealth 33395, 10 west, landing
with information Juliet". "395, say type." (I can almost do this in my
sleep) "395 is a Commonwealth Skyranger. Antique. Looks like a
Taylorcraft" "Roger. Left traffic runway 29, number two after the
Beech Skipper on base." Around pattern, one last greaser and off at
the first taxiway.

I taxi to transient parking, shut down, and pull my headphones off.
The lineman comes up, asks the usual interested questions about the
plane, and then pops the one I've been waiting for: "Where are you
coming from?" I take a slow breath, then savor the line one last
time: "I just flew in from Seattle…" I smile. "And boy, are my arms

-David "Pablo" Cohn, and NC33395

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