Liberal, Kansas Flight
October 1,2, & 3, 2010
A 425 mile cross-country trip in an AirBike
Page 1
New Experiences

There is no such thing as a non-event,
cross-country flight in a 342-pound airplane;
experiences abound. Flying from Derby, Kansas to
Liberal, Kansas and attending their one-day air
show provided many new challenges. I would soon
learn they were unique to remote areas of our
State. I like to plan flights, I like to fly, and I like
multi-day trips.  So, when Mary Shortridge, EAA
Chapter 377 newsletter editor invited me out, I
began planning.

Airbike fueled, packed with gear and me aboard, I
was ready to travel. It is amazing how quickly the
weight of things such as oil, fuel, cold weather
clothes, helmet, tent, sleeping bag, food, and
display materials add up! My flight planning for the
210 mile trip to Liberal (LBL) predicted four and a
half hours total time including two fuel stops.
Fuel stops are critical to reaching my destination. Some west Kansas airports do not sell fuel, some have
limited provisions for getting fuel and some have no telephones. These conditions were to negatively affect
my calls to Flight Service and for fuel. Because of these limitations, my ground  track to Liberal represented
a sewing machine's zig-zag stitch.
Harper Airport ("Out of network")

First stop for fuel was Harper (8K2) which caused me concern while circling to land. The field had two
runways instead of one as listed on airnav.com. It almost looked like the Alva airport 20 miles away. I thought
I had entered the wrong coordinates into my GPS and I wasn't at Harper! I landed on the unlisted but marked
grass runway. I realized later, I had erred when making my trip card, I was indeed at Harper. Not an
encouraging start!  

Bill, a maintenance man, was on sight checking the fuel tanks as was a city employee. It was here I
discovered my cell phone was "Out of network" and I couldn't close my flight plan!  Problem solved when Bill
loaned me his cell phone. The city employee then called the police to unlock the tank and sell me fuel.
Without their help, I was out of communication along with its associated problems.
Refueled, I paid my bill, filed a flight plan for Comanche
(38K) (using Bill's phone) and taxied to the grass strip.
To give the four onlookers something to talk about for a
week, I hit the smoke button during takeoff and climb. A
beautiful plume of white smoke trailed my plane! I can
just imagine them telling others at the coffee shop how I
blew a piston on takeoff but the engine had two of them
so it could keep going.

It wasn't long before I was flying over shallow gulches,
washes, small watersheds, and a diminishing number of
trees. Landmarks were non-existent as the sectional chart
showed nothing that was worth documenting.
All this
Stuff goes!
Pack & ready to depart
Wheel of fortune
over circular hayfield
Although the terrain was not featureless, there just wasn't anything significant or useful that warranted
charting. The visible features of center-pivot hayfields, an occasional donkey-head oil pump, and dried up
creeks, remained anonymous.
Comanche Airport  ("Oil leak")

Next fuel stop was Comanche, seventy miles
distant. Flying into gently rising terrain, I
constantly tapped the stick to maintain 1000'
AGL. Several times hawks momentarily flew next
to me, then realizing I wasn't a threat, did a steep
wingover back and away. That is a neat benefit
of flying a fifty-five to sixty mph airplane.

Landing on concrete runway one-seven at
Comanche, a previous problem surfaced and a
new one was revealed. Gary, a retiree, was the
gas man and just happened to be at the airport
with his yellow Labrador Retriever. What luck!
Center Pivot irrigation works well
in Western Kansas
Gary said there was nothing to do at home so he came to the airport---just to check on it!  It was a good
thing too, because my cell phone didn't work here either. Communication problem solved! Next thing I know,
he called three of his buddies so they could come out and see my strange little plane. Soon a crowd
gathered and there was more help than I needed. Everyone wanted to do something---and talk. What an
enjoyable fuel stop for all of us! This is one of the neat things about small airports.

Cleaning up after refueling, I noticed a liquid dripping from under my seat cushion and puddling on the
concrete. Examination determined it wasn't water from my bottle, wasn't oil from a punctured plastic
container, and it wasn't fuel. The only other source was smoke oil from the reservoir. Sure enough, that was
the problem, when looking into the front storage compartment, I could see that oil was dripping down the
reservoir's side. It was impractical to remove the tank here to solve the leak so I just mopped up the mess in
the cockpit floor and stuffed shop rags in various places to absorb the "continuing leak." I would solve this
problem when arriving at Liberal.

Gary loaned me his phone to file a flight plane for Liberal, I thanked everyone, said goodbye and took off.
When circling the field I thought of giving them a blast of smoke and reached to turn on the smoke oil valve.
The valve was already on!  
Whoa, that shouldn't be! I thought to myself.  Then I realized what was causing
my "leak." With the valve open, a clear airway between the hose attach point on the muffler and the oil
reservoir existed. Exhaust pressure caused the oil in the reservoir to bubble, splashing out under the loose
fitting cap and through the vent hole! It then ran down the tank side, across the cockpit floor and out the first
floor hole it came to. What a relief to find  the "smoking gun."
Liberal Airport (Civilization!)

Western Kansas is as bleak as anywhere in the
Australian outback. There are NO trees, No towns, only
an occasional farm, and lots of "crop circles."  
Deep-well, center-pivot irrigation makes it possible to
sustain crops, other land is devoid of agriculture.
Crops provide animal food for those in feedlots. The
crop circles do however, provide interesting patterns
unseen in regions with ample rainwater.

The land is almost flat except for an occasional gulch
or highly eroded area. Visibility, at even 1000' AGL, is
perhaps thirty-five to forty miles. The only signs of life
are the dust devils (small harmless tornadoes) dancing
across the fields like skinny toy tops.

It is foolhardy to fly over desolate land masses that
have not seen the foot of man or a tire track in
decades, going down could be tragic. Especially since
I have no ability to communicate. Hence I always file a
flight plan and try to fly near signs of civilization. Those
symbols are feedlots, oil pumping donkeys, cache
storage sheds and what I thought was called a road. I
later learned that those endless concrete ribbons on
which an occasional pickup truck travels are really just
l-o-o-o-n-g runways!
A very long runway?
A late afternoon eastern approach to Liberal is characterized by two (maybe three) distinct features: Huge
sewage settling ponds reflect sunlight making it appear like a small lake, and a large dark rectangular area
with yellow dust floating away from it is located about five miles southeast of town. The third feature
becomes apparent when flying through that dust cloud---the aroma is undeniably of a feedlot. The dust cloud
is created when "the cattle get to stompin' " as the locals say.

At 6:20 PM I landed at Liberal (LBL) airport and taxied up to Lyddon Aero Center Inc., the airport's family run
Fixed Base Operator.  What a nice facility and friendly people---
wow, this is civilization I thought to myself as
I completed  the shut down procedure. Thanks to the advance planning of my good friend, Mary Shortridge,
and courtesy of Lyddon's, a sleeping room and courtesy car were waiting for me. After this five hour trip, I
was ready for supper and a comfortable place to sleep (inside, instead of in my tent)

The reason for this trip was to see the Air Fair 2010 featuring Kyle Franklin's Flying Circus, Skip Stewart's
Pitts S2S show, tour the Liberal Air Museum, visit Mary and enjoy meeting the members of her EAA
chapter. Also, it was an opportunity to make another long cross-country trip. Something I really like to do.
This time to western Kansas, an area I had never visited in my AirBike.
Destination accomplished!
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