N79FT A Skybolt Story

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Ken Blackman's Story


On: Aug 18, 2014
In: blog
Tags: 9891U, flying, stories

After I posted my story on removing the footstep to Grumman Gang mailing list, Ken Blackman of AirMods NW fame wrote me an email.. He recognized the plane, and apparently he flew it back in the 70s and had a great story to share... Here it is, below.

Ken Blackman's Story

...we were so desperate for airplanes we were picking up "drop-outs" from other dealers canceling orders when they came available and this plane was one (sans the little tanks) we bought while at the 1977 Dealer Convention. We has also agreed to purchase a '75 Traveler "Repo" from Grumman Credit that a dealer had faulted on. It was in Oklahoma City. Maynard took airlines to OKC to get the Traveler and I was going to fly the Cheetah to San Jose, drop it there, and fly the AA-5 on up to our facility at Everett, WA for needed mechanical work and sale prep. (We had a much better maintenance facility at my end of the operation) I was within a half hour of leaving when the delivery center paged me to the phone. It was Maynard and he was asking me to come to OKC and pick him up at the Traveler was a total piece of crap.

I flew there and we stayed overnight to get a got early take-off the next day. This was in January and there had just been a minor snow fall all through our intended route through Albuquerque and on west to California. The weather was clear the next day and winds were forecast to be light & variable. There was a big high pressure coming into the NM area so we figured we would make ABQ the first leg, refuel, and on to Prescott. The 37 gal. usable put us on a thin edge for the first leg but we figured we had close to VFR reserves. Tracking the VORs, measuring the distances and doing the math I was maintaining a steady 145 to 147 MPH and flying at the higher altitudes we were getting real good economy. From Tucumcari to the next VORTAC I calculated 146 MPH and the previous leg was 147. Marking the time from that one to the next one would require a certain number of minutes enroute so we continued along in smooth air. Maynard was sound asleep in the right seat. When the stopwatch showed we should be arriving at the next fix the "TO/FROM" didn't flip. I waited another couple of minutes, then started looking at my chart and the ground for references. (Lots of luck over the desert.) I woke Maynard up wrestling the chart and he asked what was going on. I explained we should have been at the check point 10 minutes ago but weren't. We both started looking for ground references and finally found two roads that intersected along our route line and identified we were still a good 25 miles from the VOR.

I called Flight Service and was connected to a briefer in ABQ. I explained our situation and he said there as a weather phenomenon occurring called a "Venturi Effect" I had never heard of. The high pressure area coming into the ABQ area was causing wind to flow into the lower pressure area we were in and, coming through the Sandia Gap east of ABQ, set up a headwind that dissipated just east of our position. We had a head wind of nearly 50 MPH! This definitely put Albuquerque out of range but retreating to Tucumcari would not work because we would lose the wind very soon and not have the push needed to get there. Santa Fe was possible as we would be flying about 80 degrees to the wind direction and it would dissipate before we were half way there but it was a stretch and they were having snow pellets and possible freezing rain in the forecast. Looking at the chart I found a dirt strip at Kline's Corners right along a freeway and cross road intersection. It was within our range so we headed for it. Arriving at the intersection and identifying it we could only find a ragged old windsock on top of a collapsing building in the middle of a lot of snow. "NFY"

We flew low over the cross road but there were power and phone lines that would prevent landing on it. There was the freeway and an underpass where that cross road went over it. There was a Chevron gas station there with the on-ramp to the interstate and traffic was light. We made a low pass to check for obstacles and it was good for about a half mile past the on-ramp. We made a left hand downwind and tried to set up a landing but there were a couple of cars we were concerned about followed by a couple more that we didn't trust to not panic and run into us if we landed in front of them. We went around again and had a similar problem plus two cars were coming down the on-ramp. We were flying on the tank that read the most fuel and, about the time we turned downwind, the engine quit! Switched tanks and decided we were committed this time. There was a Semi just going under the overpass and another one a mile or so behind it. Trusting that the driver of the 2nd one would not run is over, we settled down to land about where the on ramp joined the freeway.

We taxied off the main lanes to the shoulder and turned 45 degrees to the left and shut down. The Trucker pulled his rig up to block anyone from hitting our plane and got out his flairs. "What'd ya do, run out of gas?" he asked. "Nope, but close. If you think you are going to run dry, for God's sake, land before you do!" I replied. About that time a state trooper came flying off the opposite set of freeway lanes, bounding across the dirt, snow covered median and blocked the right lane of the highway. He had picked up the CB call from the trucker. After explain our situation to him he asked if he should call a tow truck... "NO!!!" I asked if he could just block traffic back of the in-ramp and we would taxi it up to the gas station. He did and we did. (I had to zig-zag through the edge of road snow markers but made it fine.)

This was before EAA was working with MO-GAS and we didn't know how it would react to it. We decided to use the higher octane unleaded so stuffed a hose in each tank and filled it up. The cop blocked off the freeway again and one of the guys from the station drove his pickup to park under the power lines and turned on his flashers. We taxied back to the underpass to give us a little more runway I did a run-up only to have the engine run very rough. We thought the car gas might be causing this then realized we were about 7,000 ft, MSL, and full rich was not the correct procedure. Leaned it out half way and run-up was fine. Take off was long but we were well above the power lines and on our way to ABQ. The damned thing ran better, and burned a little less per hour with the car gas. We decided to park it in ABQ and get a good dinner and night's sleep before flying on the next day to San Jose.

We decided to leave the plane at RHV and I flew a used trade in 2 place on home. The owners of Bede Micro (Keith Henshaw and Rod (his partner)) were close friends of Maynard and had become so with me. They developed the Honda Turbo conversion for the BD-5 and stretched the fuselage. They had a facility to help people build their BD-5 kits with their tooling and fixtures and assistance. They were talking about getting a Grumman for their running around and bought '91U soon after it arrived.

There was a good article about Keith in Sport Aviation, I think the January or Feb. issue this year, about his achievements in supporting the BD aircraft and development of the Honda powered version. (He passed away last winter in his late '80s.)

Well, now you know the bit of history of your airplane that is not in the log books.

Ken



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