Home News Local News Flight of a lifetime
Flight of a lifetime
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Saturday's fly-in at the Baker City Municipal Airport attracted about 40 pilots and their civilian squadron of single-engine aircraft from a three-state area, and the Baker Lions Club served up an estimated 325 plates full of huckleberry pancakes.
But the biggest draw might have been the nickel-a-pound flights offered all day by three pilots: Mel Cross, who organized Saturday's event; Christenson Flying Service's flight instructor, Brett Anglesey; and Terry Schumacher.
The trio took about 130 people on 20- to 30-minute flights around the Baker Valley, offering children a real-life thrill that their video games can only simulate.
But the flying cab service wasn't limited to youngsters. Three members of a Saturday breakfast club Lois Elms, Millie Heizer and Genevieve Elliott, with a combined age of 259 hired Cross to take them up Saturday morning.
After the flight, the women marveled how green the valley is from the air.
"I loved every minute of it, and I saw everything I wanted to see," Heizer said. "It's a lot different than you'd think."
Added Elliott: "I'd do it again and I'd pay even more for it." The three women turned over about $5 each for their flight.
One speedy home-built
A Lancair homebuilt IV-P owned by Bend pilot Mike Guth made one of the fastest trips to the fly-in. Capable of speeds up to 300 knots (about 350 miles per hour), Guth took just 35 minutes to fly his single-engine pressurized airplane from Bend to Baker City, a distance of about 170 air miles.
Guth's aircraft took him 13 months to assemble at home full-time. It is one of the world's fastest single-engine aircraft and has won him awards as the best airplane at three prestigious air shows: Arlington, Va.; Oshkosh, Wis.; and the Sun and Fun Show in Lakeland, Fla.
Guth's sleek aircraft can attain an altitude of 29,000 feet and puts out 350 horsepower from its turbo-powered engine.
And one a little slower
John Day pilot Dave Feiger took a more economical route to fashion his homebuilt aircraft. A Volkswagen engine powers his 1984 KR-2, which resembles something in between a model and an airplane.
Feiger spent three years working nights and weekends putting his airplane together. He finished his labor of love in 1984 after buying the plans and building the airplane from component parts, which included go-cart tires.
"It flies like a little fighter," he said. "You fly it with fingertip pressure. If you even shift your weight in the cockpit, the aircraft will move with you."
Feiger's airplane is far from a toy, of course. Three times he has flown it cross-country to Michigan, where he was raised. The longest he's flown non-stop is from John Day to Billings, Mont.
When he left Baker City after breakfast, Feiger proved his aircraft's mettle. His rapid ascent off the runway back home to John Day was in marked contrast to the more gradual slope taken by the other airplanes.
An easier route to the air?
John McBean, a demonstration pilot and account manager for SkyStar Aircraft in Caldwell, Idaho, says he's banking on a proposal before the Federal Aviation Administration that would shorten the time and make less costly the licensing process for private pilots.
The simplified license would increase the number of private pilots, McBean says, a number that now stands at about 660,000 from around the nation.
McBean flew his KitFox Sport over for the fly-in. At less than $19,000 for the complete kit, KitFox is one of the three most popular homebuilts in the nation.
Its wings fold up easily, but the best reason to build your own, he says, is that you can sign off your own mechanical work on the airplane so long as you've assembled at least 51 percent of it.
That saves aircraft owners lots of money, he said.
Two fly-ins, one day
Walla Walla pilot Steve Kelty stopped by Baker City on his way to the state's "other" fly-in, the Rose Festival Air Show in Hillsboro.
His homebuilt RV-6A is the same kind of airplane used by small air forces, such as Angola's, to train their fighter pilots, Kelty said.
"It's very acrobatic," he said of his airplane. "You can see how they'd train their pilots in one of these."
Kelty's kit consisted of "14,000 rivets and flat aluminum" when he began the arduous task of putting the airplane together. An engineer friend helped him make the plane more aerodynamic; the company that manufactures the kit has since come up with an upgrade that speeds the assembly process, he said.
"It'll fly no matter how you put it together," he said, "but I was glad for the help."
Kelty said he much prefers the sky to highway travel.
"There are no stop signs, no highway patrol, nothing to bother you," he said. "You come to Baker City for breakfast and by lunchtime you're in Hillsboro."
Next year's event planned
Cross, both the brains and the back behind Saturday's fly-in, has already penciled in August 16 for next year's event. He hopes to beef up next year's show with military displays and helicopters and fly-overs by C-130s and A-10 Warthogs stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
But for the time being, Cross was basking in the success of this year's show.
"It was all I could have expected. It was really great," he said. "The fun part was that we had pilots from all over.
"A pilot from McCall (Idaho) told us it was one of the best fly-ins he's ever been to."
Many pilots, he said, promised to return next year.