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Stearman Bar and Grill Flight

By Paul D. Fiebich, EAA 577724, for Light Plane World

Paul D. Fiebich

The best time to go flying in Kansas is anytime you can. For several days the weather had become less wintry and more like the January thaw, but it was still Christmas holiday time in December! With daily temperatures reaching the lower 50s and light winds, the projection for Friday, December 30, was 60 degrees, sunshine, and winds less than 10 mph. This flying opportunity was too great to pass up!

A group e-mail was sent Wednesday to local fliers announcing a lunch gathering at the Stearman Bar & Grill in Benton, Kansas, for Friday, December 30, 2011. The responses began coming in, with some excitedly stating that they would attend. Others bemoaned that they were not retired, or had coaching, teaching, or work commitments that would prevent them from participating in this weekday gathering.

Friday dawned bright and cherry with the promise of the weather prediction coming true. This might just be the last day of the year to make a flight and join other pilots for lunch. Arriving at Selby Aerodrome at 11:15 a.m., I began the preparations for the 30-minute flight to Benton. Fuel tanks topped off, preflight done, I rolled my Airbike out of the dark hangar and into the bright sunshine. Simultaneously, other pilots across the area were undoubtedly doing the same.

After four pulls on the Rotax's "Armstrong starter," the engine sprang to life in its typical loping fashion before picking up rpm and running smoothly. A crosswind of about 5 mph dictated taking off on runway 35. Following a visual check for aircraft and a radio call announcing my intentions, I taxied onto the runway's end and aligned myself for takeoff. After one more radio call, I pushed the throttle forward. Soon I was rolling, the tail lifted, and then the plane separated from its shadow - I was airborne!

Kansas winter wheat
Kansas winter wheat

Turning away from Selby Aerodrome and crossing the Arkansas River, the GPS soon showed 75 mph. There was definitely more wind at 800 feet than on the ground. It was choppy, too. My 350-pound leaflike Airbike feels all those bumps. A G-meter would have indicated how hard they were hitting, and a roll gauge probably would have indicated a limit of 30 degrees. With one hand I hung onto the stick and the other a structural member.

Snaking my way across the countryside, I avoided golf courses, subdivisions, and towers, soon coming into radio range of Stearman Airport (1K1). At 5 miles out, I made a radio call announcing my approach. No other airplanes were in the area. Entering the pattern on a left downwind, I descended for landing on runway 35. Side-slipping off the concrete runway's centerline, I moved over for a landing on the parallel grass strip. Rotor turbulence from the adjacent tree line made touchdown a little dicey but nothing I couldn't handle.

Crossing the concrete runway and taxiing onto the apron, I passed Joe's Cessna 140 glimmering in the sun. You need a pair of Ray-Bans to view it; the glare off the polished aluminum is intense! Friends Larry and Bea met me as I began to tie down my plane now parked in front of the Stearman Inn.

Cessna 140
Joe's gleaming Cessna 140

Going inside we met Joe and soon others began to stream in. Steve, who lives on the airport, walked over; Terry and Lawrence landed in their Aeronca; and Mike and Beth drove in, as did Jerry and friend Lynn. Soon another friend named Mike arrived in his Aeronca, followed by another Larry in his Kitfox Lite and Ron his Aeronca. An L-19 tied down and the pilot came inside.

Airbike and Kitfox Lite parked at the Stearman Inn
Airbike and Kitfox Lite parked at the Stearman Inn

Cessna L-19
Cessna L-19 pilot joined the luncheon group

Eventually, 14 people had joined our luncheon group. Conversation was as varied as it gets with any collection of pilots. Everything from engines, new planes, project progress, and pet animals to hobbies was discussed as well as how hungry we were. The Stearman Bar & Grill serves great burgers and specialty sandwiches (among other entrées). The main dining room was packed while others dined in the sun-drenched glassed-in patio area.

The lunch crowd at the Stearman Inn
The lunch crowd at the Stearman Inn

An hour later with our stomachs full of sandwiches, multiple cups of coffee, hot chocolate, and tea, we decided it was time to go. One by one, pilots hopped in their planes and took off while others left the parking lot in their cars. It was a great way to end the year: a good day of flying, wonderful friends, and good food.

I bundled up for the return flight in my Airbike, pant legs tucked into my socks, long johns secured, snow pants on, shirt collar buttoned, silk scarf in position, stocking cap on under the helmet, and leather gloves tightened at the wrist. Time to go: contact, taxi, and takeoff. I was on my way home. What a great way to end the flying year.

Paul (Airbike Ace) Fiebich is a retired Cessna Aircraft engineer, a former technical college teacher, and a member of EAA Chapter 88 in Wichita, Kansas. Check out his website AirbikeAce.org.

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