High Mountain High
By: Joel Strait
"You've never seen anything like that before have you Joel?" My Uncle Russell asked. He had rented a 140 Cessna at the Redding California airport for a local flight north over Shasta Mountain. He was right. Driving through the mountains just wasn't the same. The changing colors of Shasta Lake as the depths shallowed and deepened could only be seen and appreciated by air. The sightseeing flight ended all too soon. But man was I ever hooked on flying high in the mountains!
My Uncle, Russell Zangger of Zangger Flying Service in Larchwood Iowa, started my love affair with airplanes when I was 13. I have been flying ever since, but always in flat country. I’ve flown from Iowa to Florida and even out to the Bahamas, but never back to the mountains where my love affair began. Unlike me, my flying buddy Hal Hadaller, was born and raised in the mountain country of western Washington State. Hal flies back to the mountain country for family reunions on a pretty regular basis.
Shortly after I bought my 1967 Cessna 150G, Hal asked, "Why don't we make that trip together sometime?" Two years later we quit worrying about getting good enough weather to complete the trip and just set a date to go. My class reunion started on the 29th of June, 2000. We decided to allow a day or so on each leg of the trip so we wouldn't be pushed by any bad weather we might encounter. Hal would fly an EAA biplane he built himself and I was flying the trusty "Spirit of St. Joe" named after my home town of Port St. Joe, Florida.
Departure day the 26th of June dawned bright and clear. By noon we throttled back to land at the Moontown grass airstrip (3M5) just northeast of Huntsville, Alabama. After lunch at a fancy country club by my wife's relatives ( I told my wife if one of us was going to fly the other one would have to work) we went back to the 2000 foot strip nestled in the Smoky Mountain foothills. The young gas girl (Julia Sims, Private pilot/Instrument) did the honors as we sat under the watchful eye of a huge Russian AN-2 biplane. Then on to Tell City Indiana for a restful day and a half with long time friends who had recently retired, Pat and Ken Kanneberg.
The 150 didn't turn over the same as usual getting ready to leave Tell City on the 28th but finally did. Five minutes out and another amp gauge reading showed no charge, so back to Tell City to check things out. The airport manager, Jesse Morgan, said he didn't work on airplanes anymore because the insurance premiums for a FBO had increased to $5,000 a year, so he just closed shop. Hal checked the alternator after I took the cowling off. the cooling fan spun free. It's NOT supposed to do that. When I took the alternator off, the shaft that connects to the engine just fell out onto the ground. One days flight from home and I've already got a busted airplane. Well wonder of wonders the manager, Jesse, said he thought he might just have one in his shop. He had two and one was for a 150 Cessna! My whole Sunday school class of 20 people, my Mother-in-Law and even my wife said they would be praying for us on the trip. When I told Hal he just smiled and said, ”Hmmmmm.”
We took off after a hand prop by Jesse. The amp gauge read on the right side of the center line heading for Davenport, Iowa and my class reunion. we had tailwinds the first day and now we had tailwinds again, 85 indicated, 100 MPH GPS groundspeed. The closer we got to Davenport the darker the sky became. No lightning, just lowering rainy clouds. Here and there we could see light through them so we kept going. Hal went North to check getting around ahead of it because he could throttle up to about 150 MPH. My cruise speed dictated my path more behind the storm. We separated to fly around the clouds, now traveling northeast directly over the city and the airport. A 150 Cessna came barreling out around the cloud base heading southwest as I turned into the GPS direction of the field. I scooted into the opening I saw the other 150 come out of and there about 3 miles dead ahead lay Davenport (DVN), Their Unicom said it was not raining, but heavy drops were hitting my windshield as I flew by a lighted tower to my right higher than I was. Hal called in and landed just before I did on a dry runway. Rain jackets were the uniform of the day for the gas man and the tie-down girl.