And the winner is: The Airlines! It wasn't a great race, just a trip from McCook, Nebraska to Greensboro, N.C. to fetch a newly purchased Cessna 182, Skylane, and fly it back to McCook with the new owner.
Sleepy-eyed, I departed McCook at 4 a.m., drove to North Platte and boarded Great Lakes to make connections in Denver. Just five hours later we again flew directly over McCook winging eastward on United. A three hour plus layover in Washington D.C. and then on to Greensboro to arrive only 12 hours after I closed the door at home.
I must say that the TSA security processing at North Platte was professional, courteous and painless. I could have done the same at McCook except that flight was booked to capacity, mainly with passengers that had boarded at Kearney. So it goes when you book passage close to departure times.
Friends jest that I should have arranged lunch in Washington with Sen. Ben Nelson. Had he known the good Senator most likely would have extended an invitation even though I'm sure that he was busy conducting the nation's business as he should have been. Actually I would have rather spent the delay exploring the Smithsonian's aerospace museum that is located at the Dulles Airport. Too little time to see the names engraved on the MacKay Trophy for "Most Meritorious Military Flight of Year' 1965. Maybe next time.
Doug and I found his "new" 1974 Skylane freshly inspected and ready to go at Air Harbor Airport near the City of Greensboro. It is the kind of small general aviation airport where a regular half dozen "airport bums" gather to kibitz and grade takeoffs and landings. The regulars knew the deceased previous owner and his airplane so wished us well on our trip. Friendly, gregarious and my kind of guys.
Next stop after "feeling out" the airplane was Bennettsville, S.C. That was made to check off another on my bucket list, the completion of my quest to set foot in all of the 50 states. I'd made both Alaska and Hawaii while they were both territories and then later when they became states, but somehow South Carolina had always eluded me. It was a neat stop as there was a pristine C-47, the venerable old "Gooney Bird," sitting on the ramp. Doug and I got the tour and it was a trip back in time to when I used to fly the wonderful old bird.
One of the pleasures of landing at out-of-the-way general aviation airports is the local folks' reference to local eateries. We took the courtesy car, a mini-pickup with Dr. Pepper signs on the doors, to the "red building with the BBQ sign out front." We walked in to spy a gentleman of about 500 pounds heft savoring his barbeque and just knew we were in the right place. From the smorgasbord line, I selected mustard greens, fried okra, pulled pork and cornbread to go with the traditional sweet iced tea. Common folk diet heaven! Upon leaving I passed on the advertised $4.95 quart of "fat back grease."
Next stop Savannah, Georgia, where Doug had a business meeting with a pair of Aussies. Boiled shrimp, grits and a local brew made for a delectable "business dinner." Savannah is steeped in history, a wonderful city to visit. It is a deep water port where one can stand on the river walk and watch an ocean-going container ship, registered in Singapore, glide by less than 100 yards away. My first time to visit and I have to take Grannie Annie back for a longer stay.
The plan was to leave Savannah and fly direct to North Platte. The Good Lord had other plans, though, and placed a squall line, thunderstorms and rain, from New Orleans to New York squarely across our path. Most of Georgia was clear, so we headed west until lowering ceilings and rising wooded hills blocked our path. I am qualified to fly on instruments, but there is something about blindly flying into embedded thunderstorm without the aid of airborne radar that raised red flags in my desire to proceed. The Garmin showed that the nearest suitable airport to land and wait out the weather was Habersham County Airport near Cornelia, Georgia. Under threatening skies we touched down and taxied to the fuel pit.
The airport domo, a spry gent about 10 years my senior, greeted us and applauded our good sense in landing to wait out the storm. James and his wife, Marnene, keep tabs from the nice modern "James Tatum Memorial" building that houses their FBO business. James meets and greets then Marnene swoops by to snatch the checks out of his hand and disappears back into the office to keep the books. Typically there were flight planning cubicles, large tables to lay out charts and computers to pull up aviation weather, coffee, an active flight instructor doing ground instruction with students plus an aggregation of local pilots visiting and exchanging truths. My kind of friendly place! To pass the time, we inventoried the collection of light aircraft that call the place home. Notable was an L-2 "Grasshopper" World War II-era two-seater dressed in proper khaki livery. Manufactured by Taylorcraft, it was built to be an artillery spotter and a glider pilot trainer. James uses his to teach students to fly operating in the "Light Sport" category.
Then out of the murk and light rain came a Learjet 24 for fuel. It, too, was a type of aircraft that I was privileged to learn to fly in the distant past. The pilot told me that the clouds topped out about 26,000 feet well above what our C-182 was capable. His report strengthened my resolve to spend the night and await more suitable weather conditions. The courtesy car was a nice old Lincoln Towncar, now that is class!
Next day, as advertised, dawned clear a perfect day to fly. Seven and a half hours of flying time later we landed in North Platte several hours ahead of the snowstorm. Yes the airlines beat general aviation halfway across the country by a whole day. Sitting in the back and flying above endless clouds plus hours spent waiting in passenger lounges somehow just doesn't have the appeal of flying it yourself across the beautiful country that is our America. From the endless eastern landscapes of forest broken by small patches of farm ground, across the vast flat tilled fields in the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys on to the fertile plains that we know as home. I never tire of the horizon to horizon vistas and the wonderful people that we brotherhood of aviation lovers are privileged to meet along the way. Flying general aviation aircraft is in Lauren Paine Jr's words "just neater than a hot dog on a stick."
If you have time to spare, go by air.
That is how I saw it.