Sunday September 10, 2006
It's hard to believe the trip has ended. Four months on the road turns into a life-style after a while. And an interesting one when you're living at airports. Although I've been the "headliner" in all this, I can't let anyone forget the tremendous effort and support provided by countless people all across the country.
Our original team consisted of Michael Harwood, Tim Gibbons, Rusty Malone and myself. Michael brought a background of knowledge and experience which immeasurably helped us get "from point A to point B" safely. He probably doesn't appreciate how much I learned from him while observing his activities. Not to mention that he was a great chase-plane pilot, and wrangled the press well. When he made the decision to leave the trip in St. Louis, to help friends in need, we lost a valuable team member.
Tim Gibbons, our videographer, is another example of someone who gave 110%. His professionalism behind the camera was awesome. As sometimes happens in life, Tim had to cut short the amount of time he could devote to our project due to financial matters. I'm not sure what the outcome will be from the footage that was shot, but whatever it is, I'm positive it will be fantastic given what he has to work with.
Rusty. Where do I begin? Rusty joined us in Phoenix, when we lost our original driver (while still on the way west to start the trip). Instead of being "just a driver," Rusty turned out to be a great cook, handyman, back-up videographer, and generally a jack-of-all-trades. His constant happy demeanor and easy going personality makes him a pleasure to be around. And considering some of the tense situations which inevitably occur on a trip of this nature, Rusty's mellowness was quite beneficial.
I'm not even going to start naming the dozens of people all over the country who opened their doors (or hangars) and welcomed us. Their friendliness, willingness to give us a hand if we needed it, with no expectation of anything in return other than a firm handshake, a thank you, and the expectation that someday we'll pass it on to someone else. This trip would never have succeeded without these people. You know who you are, and I thank you, again, for your warmth, kindness, help and support.
Our sponsors. Wow. What a fabulous bunch of companies and people. It would be wrong if I didn't address each of them, as they were, literally, the foundation of the trip.
HKS: This engine changed a lot of minds. I was told, flat out, that because Voyager is "fat," (and at 480 pounds dry it is fat!), that the HKS engine would never get me through the mountains, never finish the trip. But it fooled them all. If you've kept up with this Road Log you know that I've been merciless on this engine. Pushing it far beyond the published performance maximums for hours on end. (Think about the effort it takes to reach a maximum density altitude of 13,500 feet.) And it kept coming back for more. Anyone who says that 4 stroke reliability is a myth simply doesn't know what they're talking about. Any 2 stroke that was pushed as hard as I pushed the HKS would've self-destructed before the trip was half over. By the time I was nearing the end of the trip I was constantly being questioned about this engine, and how it could be retrofitted onto various makes and models of PPCs and other ultralights. Reliability, fuel efficiency and smooth, quiet operation. That sums it up.
Phoenix Powered Parachutes: The airframe Phoenix provided (their Liberty style frame) also took all the punishment I dished out. During the first half of the trip, due to the squirrelly wind conditions that usually existed by the time I landed, I became a master of the "carrier landing." (For those that don't know, a plane doesn't "land" on a carrier, it performs a "controlled crash" onto the deck, where it's stopped by the arresting cable.) Basically it was a "chop, drop and stop" procedure. On turf that's not too stressful on a frame. But try doing it repeatedly on paved runways, and soon the fatigue will set in. With the exception of the rear axles and two plates in the nose area which needed a little beefing up, the rest of the frame came through like a champ. Even at the end of the trip I had people commenting on how, if they didn't know better, they'd have thought the machine was brand new. It's well built (which translates into safe!), very stable to fly, and will be my choice for PPCs in the future.
Performance Powered Parachutes: If a company could define "enthusiasm" in terms of support for this trip, PD would be right up there as a contender. I only had to gently ask, and PD would deliver. Sure they only make "rectangular" chutes, which certainly aren't as sexy looking as the ellipticals. But the PD chutes are unmatched in stability and ease of use. So I didn't fly quite as fast? Who cares! So I couldn't turn quite as sharply? Who cares! Once, and only once on the whole trip did I have to abort a take-off, and that was my fault for trying to take off with a soaking wet chute. Can't blame that on the chute. PD chutes kite so easily, and are so stable that it's easy to take those qualities for granted. But you shouldn't. Those are the qualities which make flying safe and enjoyable.
AvMap Navigation: There are few things as sweet as a large screen color display moving map GPS. AvMap fits the bill. Not once on the whole trip did it malfunction, and its database is extraordinarily comprehensive. With all the other things to "worry" about when flying (especially over hostile terrain), it was nice to know that I always had a precise fix as to where I was, and where I was headed.
Commtronics Engineering and Icom radios: With all the controlled airspace I flew through, communication was crucial. True, I had problems at first, but that was due to antenna placement, not the equipment. Once the antenna was moved to the proper location, the Commtronics equipment and Icom radio worked like a charm. They're a good combination, and I'll be using it again on future PPCs.
Grand Rapids Technologies: The EIS was the "nerve center" of the instrument panel, providing all the essential engine condition info I needed to know. There are a few other competitors out there trying to grab the title of best EIS. Grand Rapids already has that title in my book. Extremely flexible as to what information it displays, and how it displays it, this is truly the one indispensable item for your instrument panel.
Artex: Having an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) on board gave me a sense of security, on the off chance that I did end up landing in one of those places that aren't conducive to normal landings. It's one of those items you never want to use (and thank goodness I didn't), but is still nice to have along.
Microtim: This is without a doubt the most accurate altimeter I've seen. Small, easy to use, and flexible in what it will display, I would recommend it to every pilot of an open cockpit or unpressurized aircraft. I had 3 altimeter readout instruments on this trip, and the one I relied upon for the best accuracy was the Microtim.
Kuntzleman Electronics: Strobes? You want strobes? Look no further. I especially liked their "double flicker" feature. Looks very cool. And they add a valuable safety factor when flying early or late in the day.
Air Chart Systems: Up to date sectionals are a must if you're going to be doing any cross country flying. If you'll be doing any long distance cross countries you should definitely obtain the sectional books from Air Chart Systems. In two handy books you'll have every sectional for the entire US. Very convenient. Made planning a lot easier.
Gleim Publications: If you're preparing for your Sport Pilot exam (or any other level of aviation license for that matter), Gleim has the materials you need. I used them, and sailed through the testing process with ease. You can too. It's a proven system of learning, and it works.
There are other sponsors, of course, but I don't want to bore you with descriptions of every piece of equipment on Voyager. I encourage you to please visit the Sponsors page and read about them.
So now I head home and try to readjust to sleeping in a real bed, with no "plane noises" outside, and not have to worry what the weather will be like in the morning. Speaking of morning, it's going to be a cold day in you-know-what before I roll out of bed before 9 o'clock, at least for a few weeks.
Thank you, all of you, who've been following the trip and sending letters of encouragement and support. I hope the trip has helped our sport, and spread the word about ELLASS. If you'd like to have Voyager featured at an event or fly-in that you'll be having in the future, please contact me with the details and I'll see if I can get there.