Jody Voss - Mooney Lead
On July 21, Mooney Caravan V completed a successful arrival as 80 pilots guided their aircraft into Oshkosh for EAA's 50th Anniversary Airventure. We had a new experience with a new airport, we had some noteworthy aircraft join in the fun and for many pilots it was a first-time Caravan and a first Oshkosh experience. We also had some fun with the weather and delays getting into Oshkosh.
Since 1998 the Mooney Caravan has been gathering and launching from Madison's Dane County Airport (MSN) with Wisconsin Aviation serving as very gracious hosts. Wisconsin has a separate ramp and hangar facility, the 'South Ramp,' that they made available to us and this provided generous space and an operating base to call our own. The facilities themselves were somewhat dated but, in my opinion, perfect for our event. As we began planning for 2002, however, we learned that construction on the airport would render this space unavailable to us this year. As we searched for alternatives, Ken Beaubien, who resides in the area and performs an outstanding service in getting logistics arranged, suggested that we consider Watertown, WI (RYV) as our new base. Wisconsin Aviation is headquartered at RYV and they invited us to their home airport.
In January of this year we began preparing for the Caravan in earnest, with Ken guiding us through the issues and logistics of handling the 100 aircraft, pilots and passengers that would participate. Watertown had several advantages in that hotels and restaurants were within walking distance of the FBO but the space available was smaller and would require more careful planning and execution. We were to find out just how true this was as planes arrived and we began parking and grouping for the flight. As noted later, we did have one 'exchange of paint' on the ground, but fortunately it was our only incident. Otherwise our experience at RYV was very good and again was due in large part to the helpful folks at Wisconsin Aviation.
EAA Airventure began this year on Tuesday, July 23. We set the Caravan date for two days before opening day since Oshkosh Tower requires our large caravan to arrive before the normal rush of aircraft that arrive the day before Airventure opens. This also allows us to get a good camping spot as well as to allow folks to browse the show grounds during set-up day. For many it is a good time to see things you might not otherwise see and to also watch other arrivals into the airport. EAA's museum on Whittman field is also worth an afternoon visit and the extra time before the show provides flexibility to do and see many things.
The schedule for 2002 called for a 4pm departure on Sunday, July 21. Many had planned to arrive on Saturday the 20th to ensure that they beat any unpleasant weather and to help get arrivals parked and registered. Based on early estimates we had expected about 15-20 planes would arrive early and the rest would arrive Sunday morning. We had made extensive plans for grouping together similar models to ensure that speed and climb performance would be compatible within a group. Saturday afternoon John Einck arrived and, together with Ken Beaubien, we marked the 100 spaces on Watertown's ramp as well as on the western portion of runway 11. FAA had NOTAM'd RWY 11 closed for the weekend for us to use for parking flight groups and to stage for departure. Saturday's arrivals quickly exceeded our ability to get planes grouped as planned and by Saturday night we had 46 Mooneys parked on the Watertown ramp and alongside Runway 11. On Saturday night I met with Bill Rabek and we agreed to simply have folks fly from the locations in which they were parked. It wasn't an elegant solution but it sure beat trying to relocate that many planes the following morning.
Weather was good for most arrivals, although a major thunderstorm system approached from the northwest late in the day. Pilots secured their planes and prepared for significant weather, but fortunately the system moved farther south and just missed Watertown. We were all pleased at the break in the weather and most sought dinner in one of the many restaurants within walking distance of the airport.
Sunday dawned bright with good weather. By 9am more Mooneys began arriving at RYV and John Einck had his ramp management program well underway, parking new arrivals where we could put them. Tom Sullivan and Deanna Puls helped get folks registered, while most people just visited and greeted the new arrivals. With briefings beginning at noon and continuing until 2:15, it became very busy and those helping with leadership anxiously prepared for the afternoon. We did have one ground incident - early on Sunday morning one of WI AV's rental pilots clipped the nose of Tom Kristof's M20C. Don Maxwell, who was flying with the group in his J model, helped inspect the plane and Tom was able to make the flight with us. Jeff Baum, president of Wisconsin Aviation, and Jim Schumacher, their representative in Watertown, did a marvelous job of supporting us - not only with regard to this item but also throughout our stay.
By the time the briefings began we had 81 aircraft on the ground, ready to fly with us, including several notable aircraft. Tom Bowen, Vice President of Engineering at Mooney Airplane Company, brought the first new Ovation2 off the line from Kerrville. It was a great sight to see the fine work from the folks in Kerrville, and N191KT was dressed out in a stunning white over black paint scheme. Also joining the Caravan, for the first time, was an M18 Mooney Mite, a 1950 model owned by Jim Bergo from Minot, ND. The Mite was in fantastic condition and we were proud to have both one of the oldest and the newest Mooneys gathering for the flight.
Two other aircraft worth mentioning also flew this year - Gary Stoneking brought N2014U, the 2000 AOPA sweepstakes plane. Gary purchased the plane from AOPA's winner and it was the focus of attention on the ramp. Also flying in the Caravan was Richard Bristow in N311WC. Doug Fields, the originator of the Mooney mailing list, previously owned this plane. It was via this email forum that the Caravan was formed back in 1998. It seemed appropriate that this plane, which indirectly led to the formation of the event, joined us for the flight.
By noon the briefings began. We met with the ten flight group leaders and went over the many details of the flight. In all previous years the Caravan had landed on OSH runway 36, which for the show they configure as 36L and then use the parallel taxiway as 36R. The winds this year favored a runway 27 approach, so we briefed for a runway 27 arrival. This required coordination of a new route and we briefed the flight leaders accordingly. Bill Rabek, our FAA/EAA liaison, gave us a weather update and also relayed information as passed along by Oshkosh tower.
At 1pm we briefed the entire flight, so that all participants would understand what to expect and what was required of them. We stressed that the flight group leaders were to fly the profile, and that all within the flight were to follow their leader, maintaining position on the plane just ahead of them. We covered the profile and route for clarity, but the primary focus was to 'follow the leader.'
After the briefing it was time to take our annual group photo. Joel Ludwigson did a superb job of capturing the moment and of arranging for an attractive photo. By 3pm most flight groups were going through their individual group briefings, allowing each pilot another opportunity to clarify questions. These small briefings are critical since each flight group acts as their own 'mini-Caravan' so coordination within the group is vital to flight safety. Following the group briefing each group gets together for a flight group photo, which adds to the camaraderie of the small group. In the Alpha group photo you'd see Bill Rabek talking on his cell phone. At that moment Oshkosh tower called and asked us to hold the flight for a while, apparently due to high winds.
The weather that Sunday was good but warm for a typical Wisconsin summer day. It was in the upper 90's with high humidity and haze was a factor in visibility. More importantly, though, the winds at OSH were from the Southwest, blowing hard at 20-27kts. This was wreaking havoc on arrivals as all landings were in a stiff crosswind and there were several incidents and one accident. Oshkosh Tower chief Manny Torres felt that a group arrival, on a single runway, was too hazardous and advised against our 4pm departure. We were to call him back at 4:30pm for a weather update and to review our options. By this time most pilots were already in their aircraft, so we walked the field and asked all pilots to convene in the main hangar at 4:30 for an update.
At 4:30 Bill Rabek called OSH Tower for an update, and the news was still bad - winds were still strong, with no outlook for them to abate anytime soon. We updated the Caravan pilots and planned to reconvene at 5:30 for a further update. The good news, and our hope for the evening, was that as the sun got lower in the sky the winds would die down. At 5:30 Bill got a further update, and it looked like we could possibly depart up until 6:30pm and plan for a modified runway 18 arrival. Bill, Dave Piehler and I worked up a briefing for a runway 18 arrival and by 5:30 we began briefing the flight group leaders. The change was a small one from the materials we had prepared, we would fly north to Highway 41, enter a right downwind to runway 18 with plenty of spacing out to the west, and make a base-leg entry right on the shores of Lake Butte des Morts. This would give us a long final, as required by OSH Tower and would provide plenty of time to get spacing correct and to prepare for multiple aircraft making a right-crosswind landing. We also would land odd-numbered aircraft (Alpha 1, 3, etc.) long and left of the centerline while even-numbered planes would land shorter and on the right. With a 150' wide runway, this allowed plenty of spacing for a safe arrival for the group.
After briefing the group leaders we made a general briefing to the entire Caravan, in the middle of the hangar and without benefit of a PA system. With as much volume as I could muster I explained the situation and the new arrival process and then asked all group leaders to gather their flights and go over it in more detail. We insisted that conditions must be safe to depart, so Bill Rabek and I discussed the alternatives we had in case the winds remained strong. Our choices were to go at 6:30, to remain overnight and hope for good weather in the morning, or to have all folks depart for the Fisk arrival and hope for camping spots close together. We were reluctant to delay overnight since the weather the next morning could be worse, and also because most folks didn't have hotel accommodations arranged in Watertown. And, although the fine people at Wisconsin Aviation were tremendous hosts, I am certain that they would be delighted to have us complete our flight that afternoon.
At 6pm Bill made one more call for weather then he and I discussed options. The winds were subsiding and we felt it was prudent to go, so via the intercom at the FBO office I relayed the information to all pilots and asked that they 'prepare for flight.' Most were relieved to be going and we all got ready to depart. We had planned for a 6:15 engine start and a 6:30 departure, putting the flight 2.5 hours behind the original timeline. It is interesting to note that our original 4pm departure was planned to allow for a large window of opportunity in case of adverse weather or unforeseen problems at Oshkosh, and this year we needed the extra time.
Our hopes were high as we made our way across the ramp. My only disappointment was that Tom Bowen and Stacey Ellis, who had joined us in N191KT, had to leave us after the first delay. They needed to get into OSH to setup the Mooney booth, but gave us a quick demonstration of Mooney speed as they departed.
At 6pm Mooney Lead lifted off from runway 23 at RYV. Scott Cutler very generously offered to me his M20J to use as Mooney Lead, and together we started on the short 50NM flight to OSH. In previous Caravans we would typically depart from runway 3 at MSN, make one slight turn to the north near Fond Du Lac (FLD) and then fly straight-in to runway 36. As we departed I contemplated how well this year's routing would work since we'd be departing to the southwest and then turning to a heading of 090 to intercept the OSH 180 radial. Once abeam of FLD we'd slow to 105kts, turn left at highway 41 and drop gear for the descent, making a long right downwind with two more turns - base then final. I had confidence that we could do this, given the briefings and the quality of the pilots flying in the Caravan.
Almost as soon as we departed the chatter on 'Mooney Frequency' began. Each year we use a special air-to-air channel for intra-Caravan communication, and the calls this year were no different. Listening on the channel we heard of planes going too slowly, someone else passing another, but generally we progressed towards OSH without undue risk or danger. The issues encountered by most included a difficulty intercepting the OSH 180 radial and the impact of a strong quartering tailwind that blew most folks right of course. As Mooney Lead, I made announcements regarding the need to crab to maintain course as well as position, to assure OSH tower was kept apprised of our location and to let all participants know when we were cleared to land. One change at the last minute was that OSH Tower allowed us to make a shorter approach to runway 18, turning at the 'blue water tower' rather than proceeding all the way to the lake. And, more importantly, as we approached we got incredibly good news - the wind was calming down even further, making for easier arrivals and landings.
As Mooney Lead landed and taxied into the camping area we could see a steady stream of planes making a nice downwind to 18, and we continued to listen to Mooney frequency. Thanks to the unpredictability of weather, I think it is safe to say that no group flight, organized the way the Caravan is intended, goes without some disruptions or changes from what is planned. Caravan V was no exception, and the way the flight unfolded highlights this to a significant degree. Rather than go through too many details, suffice it to say that some pilots followed their leader and some tried to fly the profile. Some group leaders flew the profile very well and some didn't do it quite like the others. I found myself drifting to the right and continually correcting for the in-flight crosswind, and we carried a bit of extra speed mostly to help keep the groups behind us from bunching up. But in the end I believe that we met our significant goals - we arrived without incident, the FAA was happy with our arrival and everyone was able to park and camp together. Although FAA would like a shorter recovery time, their overriding concern is for safety. The winds simply did not allow a tighter flight given the large number of aircraft.
Camping together and the fellowship of being with other Mooney pilots are the reasons for the Caravan itself. Since the flight there have been countless discussions and a flurry of emails suggesting ways to improve, and these comments are all appreciated and will be taken into consideration as we look towards 2003. The positive aspect of the Caravan is that we change leaders each year but we build successively on each year's experience and continue to learn and improve. I think it is safe to say we learned a lot over the five years we have flown the Caravan, and with everyone's help and input we will continue to improve and build on our record of a safe and friendly flight of fellow Mooney pilots.
The time after landing is always a special moment during the Caravan. The experience is fresh in everyone's minds and most people are either helping to push planes into parking positions or they are talking with others, re-living their recent Caravan experience. After a short period most begin the task of securing their aircraft and setting up camp. This year there was an additional sense of urgency, not only due to the late hour of arrival but because of the storm clouds gathering in the northwest sky. By 9-10pm the showers started - slightly at first, but later and throughout the night they persisted, sometimes with heavy rainfall.
Monday morning the rain continued but before long the skies cleared, the wonderful Wisconsin soil dried quickly and everyone was off for another great Oshkosh. Set-up day again is a special time, and through Monday and Tuesday most people in the group got to see many things and enjoy the fun of being not only around all things aviation-related but by spending time with other Mooney pilots.
The other significant Mooney Caravan event happened Wednesday evening - our annual Mooney BBQ. John Bartholomew again planned this year's BBQ, and a wonderful job he did. MAPA graciously sold over 100 tickets for us and all combined we had just over 250 joining us for dinner. Also attending were our guests from Mooney Airplane Company - Tom Bowen and our guest speaker, Dale Ruhmel. Dale is the head of engineering for Mooney Aerospace Group, the parent company that purchased the assets of Mooney and is now building and selling new aircraft. Dale gave an update as to what's going on in Kerrville and what owners of all airplanes can expect from the factory. He suggested that ALL owners will be supported with regards to parts and that parts pricing is being reviewed to ensure that Mooneys remain affordable to own and operate. Dale also hinted at new product development and even suggested that a new, shorter-body Mooney (J or K) might be in Mooney's future. This was all good news and it was great to see the factory represented. Also joining us from Mooney were Stacey Ellis and Fernando Monroy, both long-term Mooney employees.
We also were able to give away many valuable prizes at the BBQ, thanks to the generous support of our many sponsors. Since the inaugural year, the Mooney Caravan has enjoyed support from many companies, each of whom contribute cash or prizes to be given away at the annual Mooney Caravan BBQ. This year we were especially well supported, with over 14 companies supporting the Caravan and ensuring a good time for all attendees. The following companies gave of their time and resources and we want to again thank them and hope you will show your gratitude and give them your Mooney business:
Don Maxwell Aviation
Lake Aero Styling and Repair
Midwest M20 Sales & Service
Mooney Airplane Company, Inc.
Prize Donors & Other Support
Executive Flight Training
First Pryority Bank
General Aviation Modifications, Inc. (GAMI)
In addition to these sponsors we noted that Rocket Engineering also donated a Sporty's Electronic Checklist as a prize. We thank Rocket and all the others who made this event possible.
The Caravan is made possible only through the efforts of quite a few dedicated individuals, each of whom donates their time to organize the events and make the necessary preparations. For brevity's sake I can't list everyone, but the following helped tremendously through the donation of their time, their efforts or their aircraft (thanks again, Scott!):
Andy Czernek, Ken Beaubien, Frank Bowlin, Bill Rabek, John Bartholomew, James Oliphant (Great shirts, hats, etc!), Joel Ludwigson, John Einck, Tom Sullivan, Dave Piehler, Deanna Puls, Jody Pilatzky, Darwin Puls. And I am sure that I missed somebody, so please forgive me.
We will begin planning Caravan VI soon, so please stay tuned and visit www.mooneycaravan.com for updated information. Next year we plan to return to Madison as our staging point. The hotel and restaurants were much more convenient at Watertown, and Wisconsin Aviation was tremendously helpful. But air and ground operations are our priority and having plenty of space to park and maneuver makes Madison a much better choice. As planning begins we'll be writing again here in the LOG as well as communicating directly with past participants and also on the Mooney mail list (visit www.aviating.com/mooney for details on the email forum).
Again I want to thank not only those who organized this event, but, more importantly, those who participated by joining us. It was my pleasure and an honor to lead this fine group of pilots and I look forward to next year's Caravan.
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