The Disney World For Pilots, Planes and N71RJ
By Steve Wightman, builder, owner and pilot of the world’s only flying PT6-powered Seawind.
Making it to Oshkosh Wisconsin for my third time in thirteen years for Airventure 2016, was a monumental team accomplishment. In fact it was a dream that seemed to be further and further from our reach from time to time – at least with N71RJ. It would not have happened without the perseverance of Mr. Herbert (Jay) Drury. Considering the fact that my Super Seawind, N71RJ, had been in maintenance for nearly two years, dragging it back to flight status itself was a miracle of sorts. Even when the hot July day came for me to review and sign off the annual inspection I knew there would be ground and flight tests that could put the airplane back in the shop for more fixes. Fuel leaks great and small topped the list of these repairs. With the fuel line pressurized for longer periods of running the engine a fuel fitting at the engine fuel pump sprung a leak, not once, but twice!
On landing N71RJ, Jay and I noted a serious nose wheel shimmy. This required a complete disassembly and rebuild to fix it. In addition there were several computer settings that needed to be adjusted and fine tuned. Every hour on the ground meant one less hour flying and flight training – a vital component for executing a cross country flight so that both the airplane and pilots are tested and ready. Reaching Oshkosh was like summiting Everest. The path was strewn with obstacles and risks.
Like a kid in Disney World, being at Oshkosh was a thrill and certainly a unique experience. Pilots and airplanes from all over the globe gather there in the greatest in air migration on the planet. Every kind of aircraft imaginable was there from a one-seater gyroplane to a USAF C5 Galaxy. Almost for as far as the eye could see airplanes huddled together like snow geese on a cold day in January: Land planes, seaplanes, biplanes, helicopters, ultralights, and balloons could be seen any day along our daily hikes or just by looking skyward.
Fighter planes from WWII to today roared across the mostly blue skies in tight formations. The almost constant aircraft engine noise sounded like being positioned between a Harley Davidson rally and a hot Taliban fighter jet target, but that goes with the territory. It’s the high spirit of Oshkosh that draws me. Vendors and pilots were all eager to share their stories and information for the benefit of safer skies everywhere. See http://See http://learn.business.gogoair.com/at-oshkosh.html?gclid=CjwKEAjwrIa9BRD5_dvqqazMrFESJACdv27GLluSUsAzpgXdvZXAVS97MOzlcV3wIktebNHwtNFBkxoCv6fw_wcB
I met fellow Seawind owner Gerry Roblin from Nevada, for example, and we shared secrets on making our airplanes safer and better. Garmin International and Jeppesen aviation data at cost downloaded a full suite of flight data for my G900X flight management system, FMS. Cool! Now, I have a full electronic flight bag complete with current charts for every airport in North America.
The high spirits were often accompanied by good taste humor. Everyone we met made the hot and humid days easier to bear. One lady wearing wings and another a mermaid suit made my day with a hug and a photo of me a hot-weather weary man. Dinner at the Fox River Restaurant Wednesday evening 7/27/16 with the Bonanza pilots we chose to camp out with was a blast. Also, the Seaplane Pilot’s Association’s “Corn fest” Thursday evening was crowded, festive and buzzing with conversations and a spirit of water flying stories which thankfully for me never seem to end. I love hearing about the alligator that nipped someone in the butt or a great camping adventure under the stars on an Alaska lake shoreline in August. After an hour of live entertainment, a meal, a beer or two, partygoers were showered with promotional gifts from sponsors and a host of companies promoting their aviation products and services. Jay Drury, my copilot, bought a raffle ticket and won a complete package for seaplane training for a seaplane rating in Georgia! The lucky dog who will benefit from it is his smiling son, David. Congratulations to both and good luck David.
Flying N71RJ at 14,000 to 17,000 required these two pilots to be on oxygen and to monitor their blood oxygen levels. Ours stayed above 90% saturation which is normal. The mountain high dual tank portable oxygen system served that purpose well. It allowed us to fly at much higher air and ground speeds. For instance, on our return, both averaged about 200 MPH. Getting to Oshkosh took about six hours flight time, coming home; 4 hours and 46 minutes.
At 17,000’ coming home we were high, cold and IFR. To dodge a thunderstorm to the south we veered northerly. It was 5 degrees C when we flew into miles of clouds. Rime ice began to coat the leading edges of 1RJ’s wings and it coated the windshield as well. Just one call from N71RJ to ATC center and we were on our way down to 11’000’. Here the ice slowly melted and finally disappeared by 5,000’. We sailed into Hanscom Field, landing at 10:11 PM from Rochester Airport, NY. We did it! No mountain of problems could keep us from Airventure 2016, the Disney World of aviation enthusiasts and a place where the loftiest dreams really do come true!
Review our trip here: http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N71RJ/history