National Geographic : 1949 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine motto is "Service," and he provides it in the form of a good coffee shop and tourist cabins right on the field. If you prefer to stay in town, his service car takes you there without charge. To add to the fun-and the income-the field has a dirt track for midget auto racing, and there was an auto auction in the main hangar once a week. One of the field's small training planes was equipped with loud speakers and flown over the city to send down music and advertising patter. The morning we were there it was being used to boost a local political candidate. Both of us became so intrigued with pic turemaking at Vicksburg and along the Mis sissippi River* that our flight plan had to be amended to include an extra fuel stop at Mon roe, Louisiana. It was the only time on the trip that we failed to reach our scheduled desti nation for lack of fuel. We always planned our flights to allow an hour of fuel reserve. Some minutes west of Monroe, Ernie pointed to the fuel-pressure gauge, which was jittering badly. I'd noticed it earlier and, assuming the worst, a fuel pump failure, had already decided on a landing at the nearest airport. The last check point marked on my running flight log quickly indicated that the closest field was at Shreveport, 15 minutes ahead (page 96). Cessna had thoughtfully provided an auto matic, gravity fuel system which would keep gas flowing to the engine even if the pump failed completely. But this knowledge didn't prevent us from keeping a nervous eye on that gauge until we had cut the switches in the parking area of Shreveport Municipal Airport. Next morning I watched while a CAA licensed mechanic blew out of the fuel gauge line a big gas bubble, caused by the high temperatures of the day before. When a test run of the engine on the ground showed that there was still some trouble, we overhauled and cleaned the entire fuel system. It was a wise decision, for there was a tiny crack in a fuel pump part which later might have caused a complete failure. "Posing" Landscapes for Pictures When it came to pictures, Ernie was in command, and it was my job to put the ship where he wanted her, within the limits of safety and Civil Air Regulations. Usually he wanted her lower, slower, and closer, but the summer clouds west of Shreveport grew so fast he kept calling for more altitude and more distance to get them in his camera field. The distance wasn't hard, but no small ship could have got above those clouds. We were more than two and a half miles high and shaking with cold when he gave up. The thermometer was down to 350 F., and we'd been too busy to think of the cabin heaters. Neither of us realized at the time that we were feeling the prolonged lack of oxygen, but the scrawly characters on my flight log indicate that I was. Since our leaving Washington, weather re ports and the weather had been almost monotonous-high overcast, scattered lower clouds, visibility 10 miles with haze, winds west, 10 to 15 mph. As we crossed east Texas, a change became apparent. Visibility and wind velocities increased; haze and thunder storms decreased. We saw our last thunder storm at Tyler. West of Dallas and Fort Worth, the fertile blacklands began to disappear as the ground steadily rose to the high, dry plains of the cattle country.t Ranch Houses Serve as Check Points At Abilene the desert areas began to ap pear, and good check points came at wider intervals. They were, however, easier to see and identify. In some sections an isolated ranch house was important enough to be marked on the charts. Tank farms, oil well derricks, and the huge gas flares of the refineries dotted the land scape. Small airplanes flew along below us, checking the pipe lines which cross the desert in all directions. Darkness brought us down on the Wink Municipal Airport, in the heart of the natural gas fields. Here we found the field man ager, Wesley L. Stoddard, using a National Geographic map of the United States as an aid to students planning cross-country flights. We had a graphic demonstration of the clarity of desert air when the Sacramento Mountains appeared on the horizon more than 80 miles away. When we reached them, 40 minutes later, the weather station near Guada lupe Peak, highest point in Texas, was re porting visibility at more than 150 miles. Flying at 10,000 feet, 5,000 feet above the floor of the pass, we were in smooth, sparkling clear air. Minutes later, as we descended to land at Salt Flat CAA Intermediate Field, the desert heated air was so rough that our vertical * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE:: "Down Mark Twain's River on a Raft," by Rex E. Hieronymus, April, 1948; and "Machines Come to Mississippi," by J. R. Hildebrand, September, 1937. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOC:1RAPIIC MAGAZINE: "Yield of Texas," by Frederick Simpich, February, 1945.