Nobody will be surprised to learn that
breakfast lasted longer than expected, and
that we all got airborne a whole lot later
than I would have liked.
The museum really is interesting. I base
this statement on other visits, not on this
one. This time, I was aware of the minutes
ticking away. We would only be cleared to
leave in a group. It seemed that
all the other pilots were moving
with unbearable slowness, as if
they were all at the bottom of
the ocean, drifting through some
clear but unbelievably high-vis-cosity oil, lingering over the
exhibits and getting bogged
down in endless discussions.
(C’mon, guys, it’s a C- 47. Also
called DC- 3 and Gooney Bird.
The sun had reached its
zenith and was moving—a lot
faster than we were—toward the
southwestern horizon. When I
first hatched this plan back in
July, the sun set at about 8: 30.
Today it would set at about 4: 40. Okay, I had
allowed for that.
I had worked out the details. It would be
about 200 miles to Baraboo, then another
150 or so to Clow. The Ercoupe is basically a
100-mph airplane, so it’s easy to predict
what kind of time it will take to cover 100-
mile segments in calm air. When I checked
Flight Service early that morning, they were
forecasting a mild crosswind from the southwest of about 10 mph all along that route.
That would have little effect on the flight.
THE AMAZING DISAPPEARING AIRPORT
It was 1 p.m. by the time Minneapolis departure control turned us loose. That made
three and a half hours to cover 350 miles,
plus the refueling stop at Baraboo. I don’t
mind flying at night, but visibility might
deteriorate as sunset approached. In fact,
temperature and dew point were forecast to
remain far enough apart that visibility would
not really be a concern.
On the way down, I had periodically
turned the airplane over to Jean while I
rotated the E6-B computer. She held heading and altitude at least as well as an
autopilot (and better than I usually do).
I kept coming up with the same answer: We
would get there well after dark.
And so we did, arriving at the end of the
pencil line drawn on the chart, having seen
each visual waypoint right on time. One of
the best of those was the last one: a gigantic
circular structure, the Fermilab particle
accelerator, a few miles northwest of Clow.
It’s well more than a mile in
diameter and kind of hard to mistake for anything else.
So we reached the place
where Clow was supposed to be,
but it had disappeared. I circled
twice, looking down but seeing
nothing. There were other air-
ports within easy reach:
Schaumburg, Joliet, and Aurora.
But to land at any of them would
be embarrassing. I could imagine
the call to the in-laws:
“Hi, it’s us, but we’re at the
“Wow. How’d that happen?”
I was still locked in “This is impossible”
mode when Jean suddenly said, “There’s an
airport down there.”
I cranked the airplane up on the left wing
and looked down. There it was, a north-
south runway, picked out in runway lights.
Yes, it was Clow. I announced my intentions
on the local frequency and landed.
Planning a flight like this
is almost as much fun as
flying it, at least if you’re
a geek like me.
If I had done all of my homework by checking the current Airport/Facility Directory
(A/FD), I’d have known the beacon was not
operational just then.
During my flight training, more than
one instructor had told me that it was both
a legal and a common-sense requirement
to learn everything I could about any
destination airport. I had looked up Clow
but used an old, out-of-date A/FD, assum-
ing that there had been no major changes
that would affect me. (I could handle not
having access to jet fuel or oxygen, if that
had changed, but the fact that such things
were normally available reassured me that
it was a serious airport.) My one visit by
land had showed it was big and active
enough for our non-mighty airplane. The
out-of-date A/FD confirmed the impres-
sion. It never occurred to me that the
beacon might be out of service. And, in
truth, the original plan was for a daylight
arrival, so the beacon would not matter.
Dave Matheny, EAA 184186, is a private pilot and an FAA
ground instructor. He has been flying light aircraft, including ultralights, for 30 years. He accepts commissions for his
art and can be reached at DaveMatheny3000@yahoo.com.