Caravan IX, July 22, 2006

Caravan IX

By Bill Rabek – Mooney Lead

The ninth annual Mooney caravan to Oshkosh was the best one ever. I could finish this article right here and now after saying that. It really was that good. The pilots in our group flight all had great stories about the flight and how smooth it went from their viewpoint in the string of forty-four Mooneys. The controllers at Madison and Oshkosh had nothing but praise for our performance. Even I had a difficult time finding minor issues with our flight, and I was looking very diligently for anything that could be a factor needing improvement for next year. After nine years of improvements, and with the help of favorable weather, there was nothing but smiles as we pushed our Mooneys into their camping spots at Oshkosh. Don’t forget, next year will be our 10th anniversary of the Mooney caravan to Oshkosh. I hope we all work hard to make 2007 safe and more memorable.

Upon my touch down Friday, July 21st at Madison, Wisconsin, there were already ten caravan airplanes on the ground. Judy Gantt and Deanne Puls were busy getting the registration table organized and they were greeting everyone with a big smile. Linda Hartman and Jean Scott pitched in with registration so no one had to do it all. With his own home only a few miles away, Ken Beaubien had arranged for our hosts, Wisconsin Aviation to dedicate the entire south ramp for staging our flight. He ensured that we had our beverages and lunches for Saturday as well as a cold beer after engine shut down on Friday. A big thanks to Ken since he purchased the beer personally. John Gantt and Darwin Puls guided arriving pilots to their tie down spot, being sure to place a group leader in each row and fill in remaining slots with a first come, first served policy. Airplanes seemed to arrive in little clusters with an intermission until the next flurry. After his arrival, Jody Voss pulled out his laptop, fired up his wireless Internet connection, and began tracking inbound flights, advising us of arrivals before they were at the airport. This was just one of several instances where advances in technology made this year’s caravan easier. Weather presentation was by far the biggest improvement.

A Friday evening dinner tradition seems to have developed over the last few years with everyone heading to Pedro’s, a Mexican restaurant just a couple miles from our hotel in Madison. The first couple years, we had a party of twenty or twenty-five people in our own private room with great service. This year we called the restaurant with little notice to tell them we were coming with about thirty people and they advised that because they were busy, please arrive after 8pm. As hungry as we were, many of us decided to head over early for an appetizer. What started as maybe thirty people, turned into forty-five and we overwhelmed the kitchen and staff. One bright spot in the evening was how efficiently Waldo and Peggy Born were able to transport everyone from the airport to the hotel and then back and forth to dinner. They were in charge of transportation in Madison and drove the big rented van all evening and again the next morning in order for all of us to get back out to the airport for our big day. /p>

Saturday dawned and the pace of caravan business picked up quickly. Planes were loaded, lunch consumed, and Mooney Lead Bill Rabek conducted the briefings for the group leaders and then the pilots. Thanks to the apparel coordinated by James Oliphant, our annual group photograph was a sea of 2006 Caravan gold shirts. Then it was time for preflight, taxi, and departure, which meant one more break for physiological needs. The rest of the week would be Port-A-Potties, so one more use of running water was a very civilized treat.

We had forty-five Mooneys registered and taxiing out. Unfortunately, a spark plug problem caused one to wisely turn back after run up. After we were in position on the runway, the air traffic controllers at Madison advised two aircraft that they had to hold while the Mooneys departed runway 03. “How many are there?” was the question one of the pilots asked. When he heard the controller reply with “forty-four”, we could hear him groan on frequency as he anticipated a long delay. “It should take just a couple minutes before you are cleared for take off” MSN tower added. After a brief pause the surprised pilot exclaimed “Wow, those Mooneys are fast!” “Well”, I thought, as a smile spread over my face, “I know we would all agree with that assessment of our chosen brand of wings”. Fast is exactly what Mooney is known for and nothing makes us smile faster then to see our groundspeed readout and then compare our fuel burn to brands “B” and “C.” Or should I say brands “B”, “C”, “C” and “C”, now that a couple of composite/Clorox bottle airplanes are certified. Sorry, but there is just a bit of ownership pride coming out as I type this.

Weather is always an issue for the caravan, both for the flight and for the Monday barbecue. Saturday’s weather came within thirty minutes, and Monday’s within a mile, of Déjà vu all over again”, but unlike 2005 we lucked out both times. Our 4 pm departure puts us right in the middle of the afternoon heating cycle of convective activity, and this year was no different. The radar began to show isolated pop up TRWs as early as noon in Wisconsin. By engine start time of 3:15, we saw scattered activity that was near OSH and also crossing our flight path. Those would move out of our way before we raised our wheels; however, one moderate cell was situated just to the right of our flight path from runway 3 and might require a 10 degree deviation before proceeding back on course. As it turned out, by 3:30 even that one slid to the east and posed no problem. On the other hand, a cluster just to the west of MSN was ominous and growing closer to the airport. The tower was broadcasting wind shear alerts of 15 knots for the departure end of runway 31 and 36. This year numerous instrument panels boasted the XM weather option and we were looking at the current NexRad weather picture with concern. We were glad to be departing now and not 4 pm. I heard later that 30 to 40 minutes after Mooney Tail was airborne, the MSN airport was clobbered by extreme precipitation. We had made it out of MSN without a weather delay.

As our flight approached Oshkosh, there was one very small shaft of rain near Fond du Lac. It was narrow enough that we could see right through it with good visibility. The precipitation pelted the windscreen, blurred the view through the Plexiglass and was over in 10 seconds. Not even enough rain to rinse the dust off the wings. Now we turned our heads and airplanes left, lined up on runway 36 L&R and had a clear view of that Mecca of aviation called AirVenture which was taking shape at OSH airport. Flying into the EAA convention by way of a special Letter of Agreement from the FAA with a great group of pilots in cell formation is certainly the best way to arrive. No FISK arrival NOTAM arrival route for this group. Everyone you are flying near has practiced, studied and then been briefed on the flight procedures so you feel confident and safe. You know you will have new and old friends all around as you set up camp. There will be a fellow Mooney pilot ready to help if you have forgotten a can opener, run out of cooking propane, or need help pulling your Mooney out of its tie down spot when it is time to leave.

This year was the 50th anniversary of the Cessna 172. Cessna corporation and EAA agreed to reserve up to five hundred parking spaces in the North 40 camping area just for their brand airplanes in order to celebrate this milestone. They planned a huge bratwurst party amongst the Cessnas and other observations during the week. Unfortunately for us as well as the Bonanza drivers, who also arrive as a group, this would require us to taxi all the way around to the north side of runway 9/27 and camp much further from the showers and the entrance to the convention. This was the first time ever that the EAA reserved camping spots in the North 40. I talked with the head of EAA ground operations just before our departure from MSN and learned that the Cessnas were not filling up those spaces as they anticipated and therefore we might be able to camp on the south side of 9/27. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! As our group of Mooneys landed and began to taxi on the grass towards the North 40, we were anxious to see where the EAA flag people would send us. As I said in the first paragraph, this was the best year ever. We were turned into 3 rows of parking just before the shower house and Port a Potties on the south side. How convenient! The Cessnas had a good turnout for their anniversary and the Bonanzas and Mooneys both had a great location to enjoy camping and the show. Everyone was happy. Time to set up the tent and meet your new neighbors camping next door for the week. Darwin Puls has a great hobby of making beer and invited us for a post arrival taste of his keg. Yes, he brings a 2 gallon keg as part of his baggage. After a refreshing sip of his delicious brew, several people volunteered to donate a portion of their baggage allowance for more kegs next year to help celebrate our tenth Caravan. Like I said, this is a wonderful group of people that will do whatever they can to help out.

Several folks have flown in multiple caravans to Oshkosh. I talked with a number of participants and I heard one theme repeated often. After the first or second time, everyone said they come back for the people more then the airplanes. I know that is true for me. I always get a thrill seeing all the aircraft and get excited when something new shows up, like last year with the White Knight and Space Ship One. However, the real reason I make sure I return every year is to visit with people. The pilots and friends who make up the membership in EAA and the flying community are the very soul of aviation and they are what make this event worth circling on the calendar every July. This Caravan has taken on a life of its own now that so many people return whenever their schedule permits. For some that may mean every other year or less. For several, it has meant they would not miss even one. In every case, AirVenture is the catalyst and the people are the motivation to return to Oshkosh again and again.

This next wee bit of information has been a poorly kept secret anyway so I don’t feel I am divulging anything that would harm our national security. In fact, after the first year of this not so secret society, which was begun by Tom Kristof simply sharing his own with several friends on the spur of the moment, there was much talk to ensure that the humble beginnings would grow and continue. Oh yeah, in case you don’t know, I am referring to The Ancient Royal Scottish Secret and Sober Society of the 12 Year Old Single Malts. [Editor’s note: it is said that although some members of this group might be termed “ancient” or “Scottish”, they are certainly not royal, the secret is now out, and as to sober, well, we leave that to the reader to discern. The group is generally known as the “Single Malt Society.] The goal of this group is to promote quality assurance and appreciation by sipping the most carefully distilled and aged potion from the land of kilts and bagpipes. The only initiation fee into this clan is a few drams of whisky aged a dozen years or more and imported from Scotland. The place of the annual highland meeting will be the Mooney Caravan camp and the time to be announced each year whenever we figure that out. There is no scoring or judging so attendance is for purely educational gratification. Plan to attend next year.

This year we had our BBQ on Monday, which is opening day of the convention. The weather had warmed up a lot and the humidity also increased since our flight on Saturday. The forecast that day was for a 40 percent chance of severe TRWs through the evening hours. Hmmmmm. We didn’t want a repeat of last year’s downpour during our outdoor dinner program. John Bartholomew coordinated all the essentials for our BBQ and enlisted several helpers for the set up of the tables, chairs and serving. Darwin Puls, Al Hartman and XXXX poured the beverages while Pat Bartholomew, Judy Gantt, and XXXX all helped with tickets. They all cut short their day at the show in order to be ready by 6 pm for the arrival of hungry, thirsty Mooney drivers. As the crowd began arriving, we noticed that the sky to the north had darkened considerably. A couple of people had purchased the new Garmin GPS map 496 with XM weather, and others had weather capable cell phones, so we had frequent hi tech updates on the position and movement of the level 5 and 6 convective activity. Lucky for us, the line was moving rapidly to the east and only slowly drifting south. We opened the buffet line early in case the precipitation would cause a repeat of last year’s wash out. Most everyone was served and done eating when a brief shower sent us all running for cover. It turned out to be just the fringe of the storm, and within 10 minutes we were enjoying the cooler temperatures and ready to present Al Nitchman, our guest speaker from Mooney Factory. With one eye on the lightning and ominous sky, we gave away all the door prizes from our generous sponsors. Our hi tech weather watchers noted that the RADAR returns had approached with in a mile or so as they finally moved off to the east and left us in the clear. Most people stayed for quite a while after the program ended in order to talk with Mooney CEO Gretchen Jahn. She had about a dozen people around her as she talked about anything Mooney and listened to all the owners of her airplanes. Everyone agreed that she was a very warm, gracious and caring person who instilled confidence in our decision to own a Mooney and made us all feel important, no matter the age of our airplane. The Mooney factory even provided our caravan with a brand new 310 hp Ovation3 that was flown in the Foxtrot group leader position by Jody Voss and Justin Milam before parking at the Mooney display tent for the duration of AirVenture. As if that was not enough, Mooney also donated an oil discount and T-Shirts and hats for all the participants.

Through out this article I have mentioned some of the great people who volunteered their time to make this event run smoothly. I would like to include everybody who pitched in, however, I know there were several that I either simply missed seeing their efforts or I did not write it down and have forgotten. Please accept my apology if I overlook thanking you here. I guarantee that every effort is appreciated. There is no way that the Mooney Caravan could continue without the many hours that so many people devote to the details of this operation. As we approach our 10th Caravan, it is important that we groom people to take over all the positions to ensure that the Caravan continues into the future. I want to give recognition to the people who make this happen and I hope that some of you reading this will contact them to say that you would like to learn how it gets done and help out. Contact information is listed on our web site at We can always relay a message if the contact information you need is not there. In no particular order, I would like to recognize the following for making the Mooney Caravan possible. Most important are the pilots of each and every Mooney who come prepared and safely fly the profile into the busiest airport in the world to attend AirVenture. Without all of you, this would not be fun or necessary. A special thanks goes to the great folks at the MAPA tent for their help in selling BBQ tickets and providing the shady spot for us to chat with fellow Mooney enthusiast while enjoying cold lemonade. Thanks to the following individuals for their contributions. Bill Rabek: Mooney Lead, FAA/EAA Liaison, Flight Procedures. Jonathan Paul: Registration, Web page, General Manager, Mooney Tail. Jody Voss: Corporate Sponsors, Treasurer, Group Leader. Dave Piehler: Alternate Lead, Registration. John Bartholomew: BBQ Manager. Peggy and Waldo Born: Madison Transportation. James Oliphant: Caravan Apparel. Ken Beaubien: Madison Logistics and Liaison, BBQ helper. Judy Gantt: Madison Registration, BBQ helper. Deanna Puls: Madison Registration, BBQ helper. John Gantt: Group Leader, BBQ helper, Madison Ramp. Darwin Puls: Group Leader, BBQ helper, Madison Ramp. Chris Strube: Group Leader. Joel Ludwigson: Group Leader. Don Maxwell: Group Leader. Pat Bartholomew: BBQ Helper, Al Hartman: BBQ Helper. Linda Hartman: Madison Registration, BBQ helper. Robert Angel, BBQ helper. Jean Scott: Madison Registration, BBQ helper. Bill Scott: BBQ helper. Bob Bristow: Group Photos. Wisconsin Aviation: Madison support facilities. Thank you one and all. See you again next year. I know I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it for the world!