Rough River 2006

The pinnacle EZ fly-in?
Descending toward Falls of Rough in brisk cool air past the lush rolling green hills and winding blue river, the pristine Kentucky state park runway and ramp is already winglets wall to wall. Taxiing in you glide and nod your mount into place on the ramp among the horde of special planes. Climbing out your stretch is interrupted by welcoming greeters, and your plane is soon surrounded by appreciative folks that know what they are looking at.

You spot friends. And though you might not know everyone, you know that everyone is most likely somebody special. On the surface many of them initially seem polished and privileged, but over the weekend you come to know and see the traces of epoxy on their fingernails and can more easily imagine a sanding block in their hand and even though they are relaxed, you can occasionally catch that glint of determined intensity in their eye that got them here, so to speak. Shaking hands can clinch the connection.

Maybe it’s just that I’m here immersed in it now, and would feel this alive at any of the canard gatherings, but Rough River might be just a little more. Walking around the plane listening in on conversations I hear what I am thinking. “This is great - all the good guys are here this year”. Yes.

Earlier that Friday morning, climbing out and calling clear of Fort Worth Spinks I’m excited to tell the tower guys “see you tomorrow” and switch freqs. Up on EZ common I hear our fearless organizer Scott Carter herding everyone together out northeast of Dallas. They had lifted off early and are already over 50 miles ahead. Along the way I listen to them swapping headings playing dueling wing-levelers and engine monitors. I am pretty happy approaching RR when the Big Guys call downwind and my GPS shows having gained a little ground on some of them. James Redmond? Not. I think he has to stay above 10K for his cruising speed to be legal.

I’ve got a ways to go to get back in the groove of having equipment stuff prepared for the cross-countries. I packed inflated spare main and nose wheels, oil, tools, water, batteries, the required roll of masking tape handy in the cockpit, but I couldn’t put my hands on the mirror, and forgot the rod for repositioning things in the back seat that block the view of the sight gauges. I guess if you are prepared for it you won’t need it, and whatever you forget, you will need.

The upcoming landing at RR has been on my mind. The last landing here several years ago was coming back full from lunch with a passenger. We landed downhill on rwy 20 with a dozen or so planes stacked up at the end waiting for everyone to land and taxi back together. Landing at gross on the short (to me) downhill runway was like bowling for EZs. I went around the first time and on the next circuit the speed was good and the landing was fine and I didn’t heat up anything. But today, overheating a strut is again a background concern. Needlessly. As usual, the landings I have had significant concern about have not been an issue.

The view approaching overhead at 3000 feet is spectacular. After a couple of circuits observing traffic I fall in line #3 on long final planning a flat power-on approach. Not my favorite. I like a tight no-power approach. Oh well. Nice having the white-on-dark green planes ahead setting the wide course. A little carb heat and occasional blurps of throttle confirm good engine response. On your toes but kinda fun. Lotsa fun. Fly the plane and wait a few minutes to get all excited about getting here.

Rolling level for 02, set up good on long final, holding power and 80 kts. Some slight burble coming in low over the trees. Real happy for light winds and landing uphill. Good rate of descent and glideslope, reduce the power now, hold it…a little rudder, hold your breath-chirp-chirp, hold the nose off steady, a little brake, take the ramp turn off. Cool, there’s Rob Martinson’s racer…

Fish sandwiches for lunch with Scott Carter and Herb Sanders and Vance Atkinson and wives. Herb built the LongEZ that was my first canard ride. Vance says there is a spare room in their cabin so I’m all set. He’s still the man. Oshkosh Grand Champion. Arrived with a new strake mod. I’ll never forget his generosity ten years ago when he suggested I try his prop…

The rest of Friday afternoon the weather is cool and crowded and goes quick with the cowls and plenums on and off several times. The nose pins and hatches get a good workout and surprising fun response. It’s also fun watching friends trying to get their buddy to guess what the different engine components are. I jokingly refuse to tell Terry Schubert what the white cap on the back of the engine is for (pre oiler). I look over at Gary Hertzler’s plane and like always feel the same old hint of stomach tightening frustration, knowing the impossible challenge is probably good for me.

After the buffet dinner in the lodge a few of us stroll back to the runway in light rain. For an hour or so groups walk the ramp. I stand in the cool mist enjoying not being in Texas and talking with a couple breaking in their Cozy.

Saturday morning we find everyone on the ramp and walk to the Dam Gas Station for eggs and pancakes. Now I finally know what Bill Allen and his plane look and sound like. They both have smart looks but his plane doesn’t have the cool accent. I enjoy that he got as many homework assignments from Hertzler as I did. Along the way in the nice mist we’re hanging out with years-ago Canard Aviators partner Graham Singleton, also making the RR trek from across the pond. And I will be getting back to Steve some more about the 1.5 inch round hole in his lower cowl that resolved his LongEZ oil cooling. More fun.

Heading into a fly-in this year was not as tenuous as in the past. The paint job does wonders. Folks seemed to really worry about the plane until it was painted and now looks more socially acceptable. I’m glad to have decided to paint the cowls now too instead of waiting until all the tweaking was done. Anyway they will be stripped down and repainted again soon. On this trip I knew that the fog of oil from the still-seating-cylinders breather blowby that circles up backwards into the still-in-work aft cowl area would be distracting to some, but pushed on anyway. Some folks understand, and maybe some don’t. The oil’s fun for following the crazy airflow.

My planned noon Saturday departure time passes with the intermittent blue sky and light rain. Back home the kids and grandkids are all there and I plan to get back today and have my cake and eat it too.

The two hour departure effort includes answering last minute questions and beginning the preflight over several times. The weather briefer says they have no reports of rain in the area. Chris Esselstyn stops by and chats for a moment and his handshake communicates a depth of experience and the accomplished look in his eye spurs the earlier intensity comment. For now I decide not to harass him about his Cozy Mach IV ruining the flyby pattern for the rest of us slow peons.

Several exercises in throttle positioning and priming etiquette are tried as the engine plays dumb for the crowd. In defense I mention the unaccustomed cool wet weather for an excuse but the volunteer handlers don’t care and just continue their friendly help. I make another pull and the steed erupts into life.

One more walk-around fails to discover any overlooked pitot or vent covers and such waiting to embarrass. The strut/brake disc pin is pulled and stored. Somehow my jacket in the back seat gets moved and covers the fuel sight gauges, which I will notice later. Add that dowel rod to the mirror on the overlooked cockpit equipment list. Don Jones comes over with his video camera and asks for a flyby. I hold up two fingers. Ken Miller decides I need a new nose tire and places one in the back seat. I see Chris saddling up in his orange and white Mark IV again and notice all the planes I didn’t get to caress a little with a fingertip. Where did Steve Wright’s plane go? Next year I’ll have more time…

Now an artificial mental screen blocks out everything and the controls are checked and the run up is deliberate and normal. Back-taxiing north, the controls are still free. Now the downhill run is welcome. The advancing engine sounds good as the nose swings around and the pressures and numbers are good and the canopy catches are caught and locked and the acceleration is good even with full fuel and the mist whisks back and off the canopy and the slightly low elevators lift off for a solid 120 mph climb out over green grass and then the rich blue river.

Downwind there is no traffic and a normal turn pulls us around for a straight stable pass down the runway. Another sedate crosswind turn to downwind and still no traffic and approaching the upwind turn a gentle wingover lofts us up and over and around and we’re streaking down long final toward the camera man on the runway. Knowing I’m no match for Chris’s Mach IV the throttle stays at mid range. The run is good and solid and seems in slow motion. The nose and wings level at the approach end for the 100 foot pass. No more slow motion. At mid-runway the nose instinctively comes up for a swooping wingover to the west. No, it was not a roll.

I’m happy and the temps are happy and we waggle the wings goodbye twice and push over for Texas. A friend later told me it sounded good, for such a humble motor. I’ll humbly take the good cruise and humble fuel burn.

The pinnacle EZ fly-in? Could be. I have to admit having similar highs at other events, and still have a firm hankerin to make Wendover and other RACE sites again. Bonneville is still out there. I still aim someday to get a month chasing the west coasters. And probably the east coast. For now its hats off to hosts Sam Chambers and Dave Russell. Rough River is high enough on the list that attendees from both coasts (all three, considering us south coasters) and even that ex G-WILLY LongEZ have already made reservations for next time. And the nexts.

My favorite RR image this year, besides the welcome visit with tall standing Terry Yake, and the zipping no-issue flight out and back, has got to be Scott Carter’s grin and dance climbing out of Chris E’s smokin Mk IV trying to get his feet together and back on the ground. If you know Scott, I don’t need to say anything. He built up my excellent first engine. He kinda embodies the EZ movement to me. Contrary to his crappy comments about it, anyone would do well to emulate his smooth award winning LongEZ. His soon to be hatched four-seater with perfect inlets and the foot-long multi-moniker designation is only one of the many embers still glowing out there. I tried to thank Dave Russell for Scott’s grin, but at the moment didn’t get the words goin…
anyway, thanks guys.

Roughed up just right,
Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze

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