Airport Stories: Heiligenschein

It’s another post about flying that doesn’t talk that much about flying… but let’s see if I can make it interesting anyway.

Being somewhat similar, these are frequently confused with one another, not to mention that there are not a whole lot of non-German-speaking people of my acquaintance who know how to pronouce “heiligenschein” (I’m pretty sure I mangle it on a regular basis) and thus have added incentive to say “glory” instead.

More on all that later.

For some insane reason I took the 8:30 am training slot. Insane for two reasons. First, I had this crazy notion that by getting up before dawn to get on the road by 6:30 so I could be there by 8:30 I’d be flying in less than blast furnance temperatures - not a chance this summer. Second, crazy because that meant I had to get up way early instead of sleeping in and catching up on my rest.

At this point in my tailwheel training things were starting to get routine. Two hour drive: routine. Changing radio stations on two-hour drive: routine. Pre-flighting the Citabria: routine. Waiting for J to show up: routine. Actually, he was on time in this instance - I think I was the first student of the day. To be fair, he does try to be on time, and lately he’s been getting better.

Getting into the airplane - well, that’s still not quite routine. You know, I should just go there a little early one day and practice getting in and out of it without banging bodyparts into hard unyielding bits. Lately, it looks like someone has been assaulting my kneecaps. So many pretty colors! Who would think that a wood and cloth airplane has such hard bits in it? It does - there’s some metal in it’s framework, mostly around the cockpit. I’m slowly discovering it inch by inch.

I asked Jay if it really was possible to get out of one of these in a hurry. He said yes. You tend to get banged up and maybe scraped but if you feel a need to exit prior to landing you generally have incentive to hurry and enough adrenalin so you won’t feel your injuries, if any, until later. I asked if he had ever had to do that. The answer was a firm “No” of the sort that let you know that he has hoping he would never have to do that. Then, as we were adjusting our seat belts, headsets, and other stuff he proceeded to relate to me interesting, amusing, and terrifying stories about friends of his that had done things like land a Pitts biplane upside down in a cornfield and the pilot having to punch her way out through the windshield. While hanging upside down in her seat harness. Because fuel was running out of the ruptured tanks onto the ground, the remains of the airplane, and the hot engine. :eek: (see, it’s not just me telling stories!) But she was fine in the end, and it didn’t catch fire after all.

And on that happy note I started the airplane and taxied over to the ramp to do the by now very routine engine and flight control checks. J confirmed he was still doing radios so I could concentrate on the flying. We were using 36, that is we were taking off towards the north, which is the long taxi before take off route. Along the way I asked “Cushing or here?” and he said “Cushing”.

Once last check left, right, and up for traffic and we pulled out onto the runway. Definitely improving somewhat, only a little wobble-and-twitch when the tail came up but more and more I was getting it straight down the runway, at least on take-offs. Up we went and away we went into the blue sky and morning sunshine.

Not that it was a pristine sky - you never get those in a hot, Midwestern summer. You can see the humidity in the distance. But there was an actual horizon and at least the sky was more blue than white.

Given how we were approaching Cushing we needed to overfly the airport to get to the other side of the runway to do a proper traffic pattern. I probably haven’t mentioned it in too much detail, but the standard traffic pattern consists of left turns and you assume that’s what you should fly unless told otherwise. At towered airports the traffic controllers may bring you to the runway in all sorts of odd pathways, but then, it’s their job to tell you how to get where you want to go. At untowered airports - and all the airports in this saga have lacked towers and air traffic controllers - you’re supposed to use the standard pattern (unless you’re having an emergency). In theory, this will allow everyone to know where everyone else is. In theory. In practice things can get… interesting. Given that Cushing was busy in its own way, and quite a few of the things that flew there didn’t have radios, it was kind of important to obey the traffic rules and keep a sharp look out. So we did.

As we’re flying along, turning onto the downwind and away from the sun, J points out our shadow on the ground. There are two reasons for that - one, if there’s another shadow near your shadow you need to take a good look around for that other guy flying, 'cause he’s probably real close to you. The other reason is that it’s neat to watch your shadow scooting along the landscape.

This particular morning, there was a third reason - there was a bright, bright halo around our shadow. Hey, I knew we were good, but I didn’t know we were so good as to rate a halo :smiley: Which I promptly misidentified as a glory. It wasn’t a glory, it was a heiligenschein. Which was just so cool. Normally, folks just read about optical effects like that in books and maybe get a picture of them - we’re out here making one! Whoo-hoo! As J is always saying, "How cool is that?"

Then it was back to the routine - set up to land, move your feet, move your feet, >bump< move your feet. Wheel landings in particular, so in addition to move your feet it was also push the stick forward to keep it up on the mains, then let the tail settle in its own time after which you pull the stick back to your belly to keep it on the ground, using your remaining airspeed to push the airplane down onto its wheels and improve your ground control.

Do you know how hard it is to write about the utterly routine? Go back and re-read the proceeding paragraph 9 or 10 times. That’s what I was doing, over and over again. No falling off the runway. No plowing new paths through the local crops. No scaring of the hang gliders although we sure scared the dickens out of a few ground squirrels that could be seen scurrying around under us, vainly trying to out run this giant, roaring flying thing that was even bigger than the local hawks. 13 line ground squirrels, to be precise, which look a lot like chipmunks but aren’t. Which also tells you something about just how low to the ground you sit in a Citabria, that you can see and identify speeding rodents. When they figure out they can’t out run us going forward they make a 90 degree turn and zip off to the sides. Between us, the tow planes, and the gliders the little beasties spend an awful lot of time running away from Big Scary Things. They are exceedingly fit and trim ground squirrels, let me tell you. I’m sponsoring a couple of them in the next marathon scheduled in Chicago.

Then it was back to Morris for a break. Take offs and landings are the most intensive parts of flying and lately that’s all I’ve been doing. The ten minute flight back to Morris was downright relaxing. Just set the trim for the desired airspeed, the engine to the proper rpm, and lean back with your hands behind your head. Minor course corrections are just a small tap of a rudder - nice, smooth air. A little break before tackling the slightly harder pavement landing.

And even that is starting to come together. Didn’t feel J on the controls at all that time and the nose stayed pointed pretty much down the runway the whole way. If you averaged out the left and right excursions. But they were getting smaller as I was learning to push harder and more decisively with my feet. I didn’t have to think as hard about doing the right thing.

As we’re pulling off the runway I hear a cellphone ringing in the back of the airplane - J’s next flight. Not a student but some sort of promotional flight in the Stearman over some event in the town of Morris. I parked the airplane and as soon as I shut down J squeezes out and goes trotting off to his next assignment. For me it’s more routine stuff - writing down my time in the airplane, checking the fuel, and so on. I watched the Stearman take off, then I stopped in the restaurant to cool off and have a mug of something cold to drink.

I was in the outdoor seating when a worried looking woman asked me if I was a pilot. I said yes. She nodded “I saw you get out of that little orange and white airplane.” Turned out her husband was having his very first lesson and though she didn’t say it, I could tell she was fretting. I proceeded to tell her how nice a day it was, how smooth the air was and how excellent it would be for a first flight. I was sure her husband was having a good time. I think she found it reassuring that a cute little thing like me was able to handle those scary machines.

That sort of attitude bugs me. Mind you, I don’t want to be taking anyone up in a small plane who wouldn’t enjoy it, and some people will simply never like them. But folks worry so damn much. (Not sure if reading these little stories help, though!) Partly, it’s that you never hear anything about little airplanes except that they’ve crashed, film at 5 and 10 pm. Partly, people don’t know much about flying, or anything about flying, and there’s that very human tendency to fear the unknown. I love flying. Nothing would please me more if everyone else loved flying, too. I seem to spend an awful lot of time reassuring people that it’s not Certain Flaming Death. My passengers don’t see crazy stuff - when I fly with first timers it’s close to boring. A good part of the hard work, sweat, and effort is so that they never have to see “crazy stuff” or be scared. When I take someone up for their first ride in a small airplane I want them to come down wanting more, or at least saying they had a good time.

Anyhow, I did my best to reassure her that her husband would return in one piece. Sure enough, he did - got out of the airplane positively beaming. Another convert (bwa-ha-HA-HA!)

By that time the big blue and yellow airplane with two wings was returning. Time for me to get up, stretch out the kinks, and get back into the cockpit.


Darn, you know, it’s getting kind of repetitious - we got in, started up, did the run-up, taxied out, took off, flew to Cushing… you’ve heard this all before.

Of course, there are always a few differences. And the problem of multi-tasking. I don’t care how much you think you have a handle on everything, when you’re flying your attention is always a little divided.

As an example, when we went back to Cushing and were making our first approach J said “See the gliders?” and I looked and said “No.”

“They’re on the white road, the one for cars next to the runway. See them?”

I looked again. “No.”

“Let me have the airplane.”

As soon as I yield the controls my vision went >click< and there they were, five little cloth triangles making their way towards the tow plane, clear as day. I’d been looking at them, but not seeing them. Once I saw them I kept seeing them even when I took the controls back.

This is why, when flying into a really busy airspace, us little plane pilots sometimes take someone along just to help look for traffic.

So, um, go back and re-read that paragraph on landing at Cushing I wrote earlier. Really. Sorry, but I was getting consistent. A dozen rounds of up, climbing left turn, downwind, reduce power and re-trim, carb heat on, abeam touchdown reduce power, re-trim, left turn on to base, reduce power, left turn on to final, power off, slip to lose extra height when necessary, move your feet, move your feet, be patient, move your feet, >bump<, move your feet, move your feet, stick all the way back, move your feet, brakes, turn it around, taxi back and do it again. Or maybe just go full power on the roll out and do it again. Or a wheel landing. Or a full stop. Basically, whatever J called out for on final, so I was never 100% sure what would be asked of me. Truth is, that’s how it is even without an instructor. I’ve had to dodge all manner of things that shouldn’t have been on runways but were: geese, deer, coyotes, people, other aircraft, go-carts… When you’re flying you just can’t afford to get complacent. People and critters never look UP, you know? Except for rodents and birds. Ground squirrels will get out of your way in a fairly reliable manner but birds expect you to get out of their way. They know they were in the sky first, by several million years.

On the way back J just couldn’t let things be - he came up with airspeed control exercises. This was where I tried adjusting the airspeed based not on the airspeed gauge but by the angle of the airplane relative to the horizon. And, to be honest, I wasn’t doing as well as I’d like. Kind of embarassing when the guy behind you, who can’t see the dial, knows your airspeed better than you do. Then again, he also had a lot more time in the Citabria than I did.

“My airplane.” said J. “Let me show you how this works. Gimme an airspeed. Any airspeed.”

“Um… 65”

J moved the controls. “There - what’s the airspeed say?”


“Gimme another”


Voom. We were on 80.


Voom. 40 it was.


Sort of a hrmphff from the back seat. The Citabria did about 100 in level flight. “I’ll see if I can do it before we get too low.”

Nose down, power still on, ground coming up – vrrrooooOOOOOOMMM “There, 110.” J pulled back on the stick and we were pressed down in our seats as the plane zoomed upward again.

Keep in mind, he couldn’t see the airspeed gauge at all, my body was blocking it the whole time. He was doing that strictly by feel.

“Hey, that was kind of fun.” I said.

“Glad you enjoyed it. Here’s Morris. Show me a wheel landing. Make it a good one.”

“My plane” I said, readjusting everything to a decent cruise descent and getting read to enter the traffic pattern. Just about then something pinched my leg just above the knee. Guess some bug had wandered in and had not like the swooping pull-up. I slapped at it (yes, that meant I let go of the stick for minute - being properly trimmed the airplane continued along on same heading, course, and altitude anyway). J asked what was wrong.

“Goddammit, something just bit me!”

“Bit you?”

“Yeah, like a big chomp out of my leg.”

“Did you see what it was?”

“No. Not even sure if I got it or not. But definitely a bite, not a sting.”

“You’re a tough gal, you can handle it. Uh… do you think it’s still in here?”

“I dunno.”

It’s the fresh air vents. They’re just holes cut in the fuselage. We’re always picking up bugs. And when it rains the water gets blown in and can make your shins and socks damp. This is not an airtight vehicle!

But down we go and I’m getting ready to land. I bring it down, nice and gentle. We roll out with the usual right-left dash of swerving and I taxi it back to the hangar to put the airplane away.

As we’re unbuckling J says “You asked me earlier about getting out quickly. Watch this.”

I had just enough time to turn my head. It was like this guy was squirted out of the airplane. He somehow went from sitting down, facing forward to extruding himself backward out of the airplane onto his feet. Yeah, I was impressed. I have to figure out how he does that. I have to figure out how to do that from the front seat. It’s soooo much more elegant than my awkward fumbling flopping is-she-or-isn’t-she-going-to-fall-on-her-ass technique. The fact that I now had to get out of the airplane myself only made for a more painful contrast, but at least I didn’t add to any of my current bruises.

I got out of the airplane, and noticed Jay had a really concerned look on his face. I look where he was looking - down at my leg. Which had this really unattractive trickle of dried blood running from above my knee down my shin. “Wow” he said “Something really did bite you.”

So I did what most pilots would do - I rubbed most of the dried stuff off, spat on my fingers, and washed the rest of it off. Don’t want the tourists and spectators thinking this hobby is dangerous, do we?

J wandered off, leaving me to finish the paperwork and put away the airplane. I closed up and locked everything then ambled down the way myself.

I walked into the restaurant and sat down at the breakfast bar. J was there ordering lunch to go (again). I asked if there was room for one more and he must have still been in piloting mode because he said no, there were only two seats in that airplane. I said no, is there room here for one more, just being polite before I sat down, though I did confess to having been tempted to beg a ride in the Stearman earlier. He said that one only had two seats, too, and the other one had been occupied. In my best deadpan voice I said no problem, I’d get a roll of duct tape and ride on the wing.

He gave me a very strange look, like he wasn’t sure if I was kidding or not and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. J mentioned that the prior owners had used the biplane in a wingwalking act. I said I knew that. Go get some duct tape and –

“You’d really do that?”

“Well, yeah, if I was reasonably sure I wouldn’t fall off. I’d expect peeling the tape off afterward would be the hard part, probably rip off a lot of body hair but hey, the Stearman’s hourly rate is probably still cheaper than an arm and leg wax at a downtown salon.”

“You’ve actually thought this out.”


“You’d actually ride on the wing?”

“Have you seen a Drifter? You know, where you sit on the front end of a six inch wide tube with nothing in front of you but your own two feet? Remember I used to fly those? Compared to that, the wing on that Stearman is like laying in the middle of a tennis court.”

Further comments were interrupted by the arrival of food.

I was looking forward to dealing with a problem I had had for two weeks: craving a tuna salad sandwhich. So I had ordered one. It was a little different than I expected - the mushrooms being a bit of a surprise - but, you know, it did taste as good as it smelled. Mmmmmm… yummy noises… mmmmm…

J was ordering lunch to go (no doubt he was going to snarf it down in two bites or less in the back of the next student’s airplane). The waitress handed him one of those styrofoam boxes and J flips open the lid.

It’s a box of fried nuggets of some sort.

No, that’s not the gross part. (Although it is sort of creepy that the deep fried nuggets were not immediately identifiable as a specific foodstuff)

J picks out a nugget, eats it, picks up another and accidently drops it on the floor. He bends down to pick it up. He looks at it, and it starts towards his mouth.

Then he sees me and the waitress looking at him. :dubious:

So he puts it back in the container along with all the other fried bits.

I said “You don’t fool me - you’re going to eat that, aren’t you?”

He grins and says “It’s good!”

“It’s been on the floor!” I look down. Oh, this just gets worse - someone had obviously, earlier, dropped an ashtray on the floor. “That’s just sick - I suppose you’re going to tell me that the gritty bits add extra flavor?”

So help me, he reaches in the box, picks out the offending bit, and eats it. “Mmmm. That IS very flavorful.”


OK, everybody, let’s give a big chorus of EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEW!

Oh, yeah, he knew he had us. Sidled out with his fried nuggets grinning and proud of himself.

Somehow, somehow, I managed to retain my appetite and ate a wonderful tuna salad sandwhich. Mmmm…it WAS good. Boy, they really hit the spot on a hot day, don’t they?

I finished up, paid my bill, and went on out to the car. Got in, ran the air conditioner until my clothes felt slightly less squishy, and got out on the road. Just as I pulled onto I-80 I heard on the radio there had been an accident on the freeway, shutting down westbound I-80 altogether and a major gaper’s delay eastbound. ~groan~ I pulled into the truck stop at Minooka (great name, huh?) so I could dig out my maps and possibly find a detour.

Ever notice how you always forget something when you take a trip? The weekend before I had taken a break from flying and went to Michigan to visit my parents. I had forgotten to switch out the road maps. I had Michigan maps and none for Illinois. D’OH! :smack:

Wouldn’t you know it… the truck stop was out of local maps.

Nothing to do but grit my teeth and endure. I got back on the road. Yes, there was a BIG accident on I-80 near Richards street in Joliet. A big, massive pick up pulling a big, massive trailer - a trailer as long as what you’d usually see on a semi - had jackknifed. The truck had punched through the guard rail. The big trailer was across two lanes of traffic. Tow trucks were carting away various other damaged vehicles. Ambulances were carting away people. And everyone in the eastbound lane just had to slow down and take a good, long look. DRIVE, YOU IDIOTS!!! Grrr.

Once past that I heaved a big sigh of relief – then into another slowdown with another accident. GrrrrRRRRRR.

Pulled off onto Route 30, which was clear… until I got to 394. You see, somewhat north of there they had completely shut down I-80 for construction work and detoured everyone down 394 to Route 30, along Route 30 to Glenwood-Dyer Road, then back up to I-80. Just brilliant. LOTS of lost people who didn’t know where they were, where they were going, and who apparently were incapable of reading the bright orange “I-80 DETOUR” signs everywhere, or following the little pointy arrows.

FOUR HOURS. It took me FOUR HOURS to get home. Grrrr and double-grrrr. If I had rented a stupid little Cessna 150 I could’ve been home in just over an hour. No traffic jams. No idiots cutting me off (well, maybe that, there are some crazy pilots, too). Lots less time. >sigh< Only problem was that it would cost a lot more.

Anyhow… between the heat, the flying workout, and the aggravation of six hours of driving in one day I really didn’t feel all that great. I got home, showered thoroughly, and dropped into bed for some major snoring.

The next morning, I didn’t feel any better. I still felt tired, I had a headache pounding away (Og, I hate waking up in pain), and basically I was displaying all the symptoms of heat exhaustion. So I called the airport and told them I just wasn’t up to a two hour drive that morning, much less flying anything. I stayed home, got some more sleep, the Other Half poured extra fluids into me, and basically worked on getting me better so I could drag my sorry butt to work on Monday morning

I really enjoy these posts, but if I may make a suggestion, why don’t you drive up the night before and stay in a hotel? That way you don’t have the problem of getting over a two hour drive.

Bunch o’ reasons.

  1. This is the middle of nowhere. I’m sure they have hotels, somewhere in the neighborhood but I haven’t seen any yet. When I say that, keep in mind I do have a very good aerial view of the area on a regular basis.

  2. $$$$$$

  3. 1 night in a hotel = 45 minutes of flight time.

  4. My husband likes to see me occassionally, even on weekends. Especially on weekends.

  5. I sleep best in my own bed.

  6. You’re right, it’s almost far enough to make a hotel the reasonable option… but not quite.


Questions? Additional comments welcomed.

I love these stories.

Brooms, you ought to compile them and write a book.

You’re not the first to suggest that.

Consider these a dry run. Which is one reason I want comments, so I get some feedback on whether or not I’m communicating.

Definitely good reading Broomstick. I don’t have any comments other than what’s already been said in your previous threads, so I just read. Lack of written reponse doesn’t mean they are sliding off the page unappreciated.

Rather than use duct tape why not just stand on the lower wing (does the Stearman have a walkway on the inboard lower wing?) and hang on to the centre struts. I’ve carried someone along like that in a Tiger Moth doing a high speed taxi, didn’t fly like that though. For our Tiger wingwalking we had a purpose built frame that was mounted on top of the centre section of the top wing. The wingwalker was strapped in quite securely. Very very poor performance from the aeroplane, barely got along at 70kts with all that drag on top.

By the way, I just found a picture of one of our Tigers at if you’re interested. We didn’t have the wingwalking stand on this one (we actually only borrowed the stand from someone in Auckland for a short time.) It is, I believe, the oldest Tiger Moth in New Zealand, originally built in 1935.

The biplanes in the background are two Polikarpov I-153s, crazy things they are.

Yep. Has walkway.

But the view is better on top :smiley:

I’ll believe that!

Since this airplane was used in a wing-walking act for many years there is, presumably, a wing-walker stand somewhere about the place. But either I haven’t seen it, or I didn’t recognize it out of context.

I have this funny feeling the insurance company they use wouldn’t approve, though… (insurance people are no fun!)