on the last leg, eight miles to go! All the guys I passed on the
way out are slowly but steadily catching up. In the previous Jackpot
race here and at the Kanab race I hadn’t seen many planes
along the way. But today a half-dozen or so of us drift along more
or less together. What a country! With a little airbrushing Spielberg
could use film of this race for the next Star Wars X-Wing fighter
is the rest of the world doing and how can they stand not being
here doing this?
is everything. I hear them talking about it as they tape the gaps
on their planes. Shirl covers rules in the mandatory brief and then
The race course is a large triangle so there is no problem with
meeting folks coming back. There is a strict rule against making
diving turns. The way I understand it, a level turn is required
at the two turn points due to not being able to see if someone is
under and behind you. So you have to make a level turn and then
maneuver as you want afterward.
into the best strategy Shirl explains that while the diving turn
may seem faster at the time, any immediate gain is neutralized as
you try to get running straight and level again. Not to mention
the safety aspect.
the brief I work through the group matching names on hats to stories
in the Canard Pusher and Central States.
race strategy mainly means not having to climb at all. Before the
race all sixteen or so planes in the heat take off and fly about
ten miles away from the course. Turning in toward the runway starting
line on heading for the first leg they fan out from the leader and
line up abreast. The leader gives instructions as needed to arrive
over the runway in a good line abreast.
start is signaled with a radio call and by the leader pulling up.
Shirl suggests that a racer hold the start altitude initially and
then establish a minimal rate of descent that will put you just
over the last ridge without having to climb over the course. I think
there is about 1600 feet to be lost over the course. We are at about
8000 feet density altitude. Just keep a slight descent all the way,
which results in plus six to eight mph over the course. Common sense.
And easier said than done.
the start call is made and the leader pulls up everyone slams the
throttle forward and gets thrown back in their seats. Well, not
really. I notice no big speed difference. Some of us were already
almost at full throttle and the last inch of throttle doesn’t
really do anything.
does start a gentle slide down and after half a minute or so you
can see some start to pull away from the group. I guess that’s
the biggest surprise, after not being thrown back in your seat,
when planes start disappearing out ahead. Initially it seems to
be almost imperceptible as they pull away, but after a couple of
minutes they’re way out there, and they disappear. Probably
at about a mile away. The next you see of them is their canopy glinting
as they call Turn One.
to Turn One. It is a radio tower. I feel saggy making the turn.
Turn Two is over an airport next to a dusty town. I hear that the
locals there find somewhere else to fly on July 4th.
out today I held what I thought was a good fifty foot a minute rate
of descent. But without a Vertical Speed Indicator it’s hard
to tell. Just a moment of inattention can result in getting too
low. Thirty minutes of inattention is…probably normal. But
from here on the last leg it’s very easy to see that I will
be climbing to get over that ridge ahead.
the desert floor a couple of hundred feet below, someone’s
shadow is moving up on my shadow. I always hated that Beagle guy.
He sets you up and then takes you down. Mr. Nice guy on the ground,
helping everyone out, but now here he is sliding and probably smirking
past me a hundred feet above with that turquoise nose from his higher
like the last time in 1997 he will glide comfortably over that last
ridge with his 22.5687 foot per minute rate of descent that he has
held since the start call. And again I am in a 200 fpm climb for
this whole last stupid leg. In the Brief I think I heard him say
this was his twentieth Jackpot event. Or something ridiculous like
that. Good grief, what have I been doing on July 4th all these years?
fastest VariEze here this year has an 0-320 and is driven by a girl.
(I’ll think of her name just as soon as I hit send on this
the awards dinner everyone gets their speed announced and a cash
award and a few endure a good verbal bashing. At some races I think
the first three finishers get plaques or trophies, depending on
how hard Shirl and his elves worked. My speed over the course is
201 mph, good for 4th in class. In ‘97 my speed was 185. Both
had equally poor race strategy. I’m happy with the downdraft
cooling and Batprop.
young fellow with a German accent makes the outlandish statement
that someone will soon be doing 250 mph in a VariEze. Ha.
finishing the dinner with several very accomplished cigar smoking
liars, just before sunset I head out to walk the EZ ramp again.
I come upon a well-worn VariEze with level wings, downdraft plenums,
a strange black prop and pins sticking forward out from the side
of the wheel pants (it’s mine).
folks surround the plane. Several are sitting on the lip of the
tarmac under the wings and several stand looking over the fastener-less
cowls. I stop to listen.
are in the middle of deciding whether the wide, flat prop spinner
is floxed on or if it actually comes off. (It comes right off but
I don’t think I’ve ever revealed how). Another fellow
on the ground leans back on his elbow by the wheel pant and twangs
a stainless pin and says “This rod has gotta be some kind
of temperature probe.” (The three stainless pins pull out
forward and the wheel pant lifts off). These fly-ins are very educational
the heck do you get to Jackpot?
never even heard of Jackpot. Several years ago I had finally found
it on the map up in the northeast corner of Nevada. Literally in
the middle of nowhere. No one had ever described what I was to see
when I got here, but just the look in their eyes and the way they
said Jackpot, Kanab and Wendover you had to know that it was something
stark mountainous desert scenery is other-worldly compared the ranchlands
in Texas, but I feel right at home. Flying Marine choppers defending
Hawaii and Japan and the east coast in no way overshadows what I
may have developed more by now, but my view from here is Jackpot
with a tall casino hotel surrounded by some homes and a hardware
store and a runway. Good fuel prices. I guess Shirl sets that up.
In front of the hotel there is a sign on the flashing red traffic
light that says something like- this is the only traffic signal
within 500 miles.
after winning my heat at Wendover, ha, I had turned north past the
restricted area and hooked around a broad dark frontal system literally
half the size of Nevada. Fortunately I stayed just ahead of it and
was able to turn west for a clear shot to Jackpot.
a distance the only thing in view are a few indistinct ridges and
plateaus. There is no sign of civilization. But I know it’s
out- I’m flashing through this spectacular de’jah vu
all over again…
The rocky sand and scrub brush terrain passing below looks almost
exactly like the ‘70s N7EZ cover shot on Air Progress, with
the first little 390 lb VariEze dashing across the desert at Mojave.
I still have the magazine. And here I am, at least close.
about twenty miles out on the GPS, approaching a plateau, I still
see nothing. But I think I might see windows glinting in Jackpot.
Now I see the runway just north of the plateau. I call for an airport
advisory. The third call for info results in a small feminine voice
saying “I don’t really know much, but just be real careful.”
I find out later that she is in a windowless room in the hotel.
she is right. I approach from the south passing over the plateau
and don’t like the way things are feeling. So I go around
to land from the north. There is a windsock at each end of the runway.
Pointing different directions. The only thing they have in common
is that they are both straight out and steady. I see Ezes on the
ramp but no one speaks up on a handheld.
the approach deliberately, with more than normal attention. Just
after touchdown I hold the nose off on the downhill roll out. Without
warning a gust lifts the plane about five feet above the runway.
I catch it and hold it and grumble it back onto the runway and in
a couple of seconds it lifts off again. She was right. The voice
in the hotel.
I remember a 35 mph direct crosswind landing back at home. I had
made four approaches to the north checking out things and the degree
of crab needed. Several cars stopped on the highway below to watch.
I maneuver for the other end to see if it is any better landing
to the south. It isn’t. By the third approach the cars have
come around to this end to watch. On the fourth approach I get it
on the ground with purely classic wing-low technique, along with
gobs of purely crab technique, plus several dashes of contaminated
techniques that I carefully work in. So much for pure technique.
touches down fine and straightens itself out. On rollout I’m
busy and holding full right aileron and the right wing starts lifting.
Without thinking, several good joggles of right rudder bring the
wing down. Without the quick rudder I am confident there would have
been a whole lot of scraping going on, maybe flipping over at my
of through-the-rainbow sunset wingovers, with and without rudders,
have made the significance of rudders second nature and a comfortable
part of most every landing.
to the landing at Jackpot-
Taxiing in I remember Bob Hoover talking about forced landings,
saying to fly the plane all the way through the emergency. Heck,
after this three-count arrival landing I’m quoting him and
others telling myself to fly it all the way to the chocks. I tie
it down good and join the rest of the rabble in the casino.
next day a canard type rolls on short final and lands inverted.
I can’t help but wonder how much time there was for rudder
and how much was used and how well I would have done, or not.
the last day at breakfast a CFI is debriefing several EZ pilots
that he has just given BFRs. Evidently this is a ritual for them
while at the Jackpot weekend. The instructor comments on the difference
between the EZ drivers and the local chaps he tests back at his
against flying a spam can twenty miles for a hamburger once a month
during the summer. But he says that in an EZ you can literally be
almost anywhere in the country in a day, and encounter three or
four weather systems in the process; or worse, one big one. He says
that arena pushes EZ drivers to be on top of their game.
trips from Fort Worth, Texas to Jackpot and Kanab are quite an experience
and an eye-opener for me. All three of those RACE trips had excellent
first time out to Jackpot in ‘97 I overflew Montrose, Colorado
and considered stopping in at the Scaled facility I had heard about
there. I wondered if they needed any help.
Provo, Utah my eyes and brain weren’t big enough to take in
Salt Lake City. There was so much history passing around and under
me. I knew that each area that I focused on was dripping with significance,
with me not comprehending a spot of it. (I had a wonderful fleeting
image of my mother as she taught the stories in my high school literature
classes. When I got home I pulled the books out and relived the
Everything was a highlight, but the real highlight was crossing
the Great Salt Lake Desert. I had seen TV documentaries and had
read about the wagon trains that crossed right here. For one group
an expected two day trip across had turned into a gruesome six day
ordeal. Everyone had trouble, but a double-decker wagon pulled by
oxen turned out to be an especially bad idea with the wheels and
oxen sinking completely in the wet sand.
each trip to Jackpot a great point of interest (the real biggest)
was the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats. During building it was
a yearly ritual climb out of the garage for a break and to check
up on the schedule out there with the idea of someday flying out
to watch. And here I am, about to fly over Bonneville!
checked around with folks that lived “nearby” or who
seemed to know something about Bonneville. Have you ever noticed
that those who are the most familiar with the thing you are interested
in finding out about are the ones that say it the fastest. And will
only answer yes or no, if at all?
information I got usually consisted of two or three sentences run
together without a breath with no spaces between the words and very
few vowels; spoken briskly in a conspiratorial rush, followed by
“You can’t miss it”. Those of you that have actually
seen Bonneville from the air are saying right now “Well…you
can’t miss it”. But I did. Twice.
talks with the “Salt Flats information center” back
then, probably also from a windowless room somewhere, eventually
revealed that there was no set schedule for the Bonneville Salt
Flat runs, no specific weekend. One year Speed Week was in September
and the next year it was in August. Each group kinda sets their
own agenda, with some folks showing up at different times together.
Today with google it’s much better. But it was about the third
year of checking that someone admitted that there was an airport
“nearby”. Wendover. There’s that word again.
across the Great Salt Lake Desert
first time headin’ out through here was for Jackpot ’97.
Wendover was across the desert out West there somewhere. The Great
Salt Lake spread out before me. I knew it was The Great Salt Lake
because I had never seen anything like it before.
From Twelve-Five, Salt Lake City and the massive northern mountains
pass on my right too quickly. And the Lake to the north… and
the desert to the south! What is that? And where does that go? And
what’s that there? What was going on there a hundred years
ago? I’ll have to come back and stop in here for another look
in a few days.
and to the left the impressive cloud covered mountain range that
had been my horizon target all morning ends abruptly. From their
feet out to the far horizon is awash in white sand. Or is it water?
How deep is it, inches? A foot? As I pass over, some of the sand
flashes a shiny reflection of the sun or blue sky.
I search every detail’s detail for meaning but too quickly
have to look out ahead so as not to miss anything more.
a moment on the highway for possible use as an emergency runway.
It’s Interstate 80. It stretches out west to forever. Way
out past the white, on the horizon there are more dark mountains.
But part way across there on the right of the highway, there’s
a dark mountain kinda set off by itself. Looks like I-80 goes right
by it. There’s a restricted area there on the right somewhere.
minutes and I’m across and have no trouble finding Wendover.
A typical WW II military air base sitting in the middle of the desert.
But from here at Twelve-Five it is spectacular and intriguing and
beautiful to me.
where is the Bonneville Salt Flats.
They say to look on the north side of I-80 across from Wendover.
Nothing but a single little paved road there, going nowhere. Which
“across”? Where can that manicured Salt Flats be hiding?
Oh well…I’ll find it on the way back.
But in ’97 I didn’t find it.
up and strappin’ in and having help with the shoulder belts
and getting a once over and a thumbs up and waving adios,
Going through the ritual of departing, I have kind of an empty feeling
in my stomach. For one thing, everyone is going west and I’m
going east. What am I going to miss out on in the next few weeks?
Over the next year. What would it be like, to just…go on out
there. I know what I’m gonna miss, I know I’m not gonna
go, and it hurts. And don’t even mention Chino…
another sliver of this empty feeling is getting into this little
rocket knowing that in a few minutes it will disappear around me
and I will again be floating weightlessly at Eleven-Five, out of
sight and awareness of most humans, blasting over the barren half
of this vast expanse of an amazing part of the world.
every fiber of this glassy shell
I rubbed every curve of foam to its shape
tightened every nut
and twisted every wire
and finger-licked every run of RTV smooth
and gritted my teeth at every spark plug gap.
But you know, ironically that is what allows us to climb in and
strap on and throttle out to our destiny.
heard people say they would never fly in an airplane they had built.
Maybe no one should fly that airplane.
for some of us this glimpse of that EZ life is… irresistible,
unquenchable, a race toward and over horizons, to be amid the clouds,
at all… to again flash past a firm growing white cumulus curve,
to get a congratulatory high five from a fleeting vapor horsetail
wisp as it reaches out to caress and run its fingers through the
canard tip flow.
little empty feeling is OK, and should be examined more later.
Eleven-Five Jackpot’s way behind and Wendover is out there
to the south ahead. The restricted area is off to the left over
there somewhere, maybe it’s because of what’s inside
the stick and lean east over I-80 toward Salt Lake City. Some folks
say going to the Wendover RACE is not that big a deal. It is if
you haven’t been there!
Banked thirty degrees left, I make one last scan of the airport
through the right side window, wondering which of those buildings
is the hotel where I will make reservations for next May’s
next year I’ll make it.
a mile away in my left ear I hear “Bonneville. You cant’
miss it.” With the left wing low I again lean to the north
and search the desert across from Wendover. “That“ across.
To the north.
The Bonneville Salt Flats. I see it. It’s tiny! The empty
feeling grows a little. A thin paved road reaches out from the I-80
exit 4 just east of Wendover, four or five miles north and east
into the desert. There is a round cul-de-sac at the end. I try not
to be disappointed. I’m not, really. The mighty Bonneville
Salt Flats are right there below me. You can faintly see where the
salt is smoothed and prepped, or was prepped at some point. My description
makes it sound kinda plain and simple. It is.
out at history and the six mile Speed of Sound span takes up a mere
eleven inches over my shoulder here on the canopy. All that flat
salt out there and it runs eleven inches. It’s kinda underwhelming.
But, that’s what it is.
I come around.
Bonneville drifts by I glance northwest back over my shoulder looking
to see Jackpot one last time. Or maybe a desolate plateau. I don’t
come close to seeing Jackpot but it strikes me hard that it’s
different today, empty. Like the Salt Flats below. The magic that
we experienced at Jackpot is not there. It is drifting out across
the landscape, back to their garages and hangars and normal lives.
out below and see speed runs starting here in 1896, with world records
since 1914. Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons say so, as I remember
a recent documentary. They did some of their magic down below, but
more so in their garages. It took me weeks just to smooth twenty-four
feet of wing. These guys smoothed six miles.
sit back and relax and push back the empty ignorant expectations,
and they dissolve away. I nod in agreement with the work that is
still going on hidden in garages and hangars that will be showing
up down there for the crazy land racers, and at not-too-distant
airports with the crazy air racers. ‘Reno again’ has
a nice ring to it.
Bonneville is mine. I look forward to the spring and the ritual
of again throwing out hopes for the trip out.
note to the locals
of you that feel this is your back yard, you know that I have taken a
big shot at your world, and missed the three pointer here. All air. But
I don’t apologize. In talking of things as I saw and interpreted
them, I hope that I haven’t stepped on your toes to badly.
You that easily navigate this western EZ world. You that found the perfect
time machine and pull in the spectacular barren landscape from horizon
to horizon, and still sleep in your bed that night. You that know how
I haven’t even scratched the surface here; that there’s no
way to capture your world, only try to grab some of it passing through.
enter the pattern at Wendover without even thinking twice, You that don’t
need an airport diagram to taxi right up to the best parking and fuel.
You that can travel the desert blindfolded, that have the RACE course
headings and turn points permanently in your GPS, and don’t even
need them because you know the rocks out there like the back of your hand.
You that run smart races.
what R.A.C.E. means because you were sitting there smoking cigars with
Shirl when he decided to get it all going. You’ve probably seen
his VariEze and his E-Racer and now his Corvettes.
played every John Wayne gunslinger part at the dinner theater in Kanab
and you have your special part of the Grand Canyon that you show just
flyers that haven’t been to one of Shirl’s events won’t
know all that I’ve left out and messed up. Don’t tell. Let
them come out and fill in the gaps now themselves.
at Eleven-Five, eastbound and down
to the left Salt Lake City is gliding by almost silently and almost
without motion. The skyline sullenly reminds me of the promise to
stop in for a few days. But the empty feeling leaving Jackpot is
now a warm pull from home. To the hugs. For the smiles that wait.
To try to show, to explain. To mark another path on the map. To
wonder again was I really all the way out there, this morning?
inspired by those that have built and carry on the EZ movement.
Each of their stories is the one worth hearing. This trip will soon
be in the books as proof to myself of my part, that I was there
and it was successful and it was good and I somehow made it back.
I am again frustrated because everyone has more money and more time
to put in their planes, but mostly because they are smarter, and
(again) that when I get home it will be a fresh start and this time
my closet and desk will get a good cleaning out this time, and I
will truly have focus this time and the world will be perfect this
time when I get home. Right.
Maybe next time I’ll get it better.
Fort Worth VarEze
Mods? What Mods?