Wow. So much has happened that I don’t fully think I can process all of it right now. I am sitting at my desk–in my chair in my room–for the first time in nearly a month. Yet it seems all so surreal to me. It feels as if the trip should not be over yet but it is. At least the flying is over. I left this morning from Springdale, Arkansas (KASG) and headed east to the southern corner of Missouri that is wedged in between Arkansas and Tennessee. The airport I was intending to land at had fuel for $3.19 a gallon which is a very good price and my primary reason for landing there! Clearly the fuel was cheap because three aircraft were in line when I arrived and a few when I left had rolled up to the pump. It was a warm day for the flight to Kenneth, Missouri. The air is just so humid and oppressive now; nothing like the pleasant May day when I left the region. I climbed up to 5,000 feet and didn’t get away from much of the heat. With the sun mostly in my face, the cockpit warmed up quickly. The engine temperatures rolled up to the top of the green “normal range” and stayed there for the remainder of the climb. Below me field after field of crops at various stages of growth and occasionally a crop-duster would race across them taking odds against trees, fences, and power lines. As I neared Kenneth, I began my descent and crossed the boarder of what I believe was my 25th state to cross during this trip. It’s difficult to believe that I’ve flown over half of the country in the last month!
After fueling up, I filed another flight plan and then went inside the building where a blast of cool air nearly gave me a headache. I noticed a pilot having a difficult time starting a Cessna 182. Even though there isn’t a hippocratic oath for aviation maintenance technicians, I felt it nearly duty to go preserve his starter. When it is hot outside and the engines have been ran, fuel injected engines will become “vapor locked” or the fuel will evaporate in the lines before reaching the engine. This requires the operator to start the aircraft nearly opposite from the normal starting positions of mixture and throttle. He noticed me approaching and cracked open the passenger door almost beckoning for some assistance at firing the aircraft up. I hopped in and my instructor-side kicked in; I taught the guy how to properly “hot start” an engine for about 5 minutes. After firing it up and giving him a handshake, I hopped out and lingered for just as second as the warm blast of air from the propeller somewhat cooled me off for a minute.
After firing my own plane up, I only had to wait a few minutes for the engine to warm up. The other aircraft had taxied to the far end of the runway and I didn’t feel like taxiing all the way down so I called him and asked if he could hold while I departed the closer end. The wind was a perfect crosswind so it honestly didn’t matter which direction I departed from. I took off and turned eastward for the 2 hour flight towards Murfreesboro. As I climbed up to 5,000 feet, I realized the winds were twice the strength forecast and directly behind me. I looked and my estimated arrival time was 2:30 rather than 3 o’clock as I had broadcast all over social media. So I pulled the power back all the way down to 60% total power and just flew along at less than 90 miles an hour on the airspeed but still was doing almost 110 across the ground. To compensate for the fact I thought that everyone would be showing up before 3 rather than earlier, I asked for a GPS approach which would take me out about 10 miles away from the airport to delay the landing. About 100 miles west of Murfreesboro, I just happen to tune into the Traffic Advisory Frequency and was able to pick up the local airport traffic since we have a pretty unique frequency with only one airport in the area using it (not typical; sometimes about 20 airports within range will use the same frequency because they aren’t that busy). It was the first time I realized I was about home; I was listening to some friends make calls and tried to call from 100 miles out making an advisory call just to be funny. Even though I was an hour away, one of the guys heard me and replied! Also, I don’t know who it was, but just after taking off from the Kenneth airport I was talking on Memphis’s Center someone called out “welcome home, Collin” amid the ATC calls. It was pretty cool (despite the humid heat).
As I approached the initial approach fix, I realized I was still early. I requested to do a couple holds (pretty much oblong turns in the sky to kill time) over the fix before proceeding towards Murfreesboro. I turned inbound and recognized Murfreesboro through the haze and then saw the runway which I have seemingly not seen in a small eternity. The GPS showed that there was a classic training day at the airport with about half a dozen aircraft between a 4 mile final and 3 mile upwind. I wiggled into the flow of traffic and then was greeted over the radios by fellow coworkers and friends as I made my initial calls. I love aviation for the camaraderie that pilots share but when you have friends who fly, that makes it even more enjoyable. I bounced my landing pretty good but recovered to make it look like I had done a beautiful one before I rolled into view of the small group that had gathered to welcome me home. As I taxied off, I was relieved to be home. I have had a blast but honestly have been ready to be home for a week or two now which made flying difficult at times. There are multiple reasons for that but this is not the place to discuss it.
As I got out, the first person to greet me was dad. I haven’t seen him since about a month before. A few feet from where I parked, he stood watching his son leave out on this crazy adventure. He walked up and hugged me saying “welcome back, Bulldawg (a nickname he has given both my brother and I going back to his collegiate days); I’m proud of you.” It was simple yet very special to me to have such a caring father. Mom was waving that ridiculous sign which now is sitting in my room to remind me of her motherly love for me as well. By brother and a friend showed up as well as Dean Vile of the Honor’s College to congratulate me on the return. One of my professors, Joe Hawkins, made it to the airport to welcome me back. It was an honor that he took the time in his schedule to do so. A few media people also were there and then the local people who worked at and ran the airport. It wasn’t a large crowd but it was a good one. I am appreciative of everyone who showed up and all those who have sent well-wishes today and congratulatory messages and text.
After an hour there, I walked over to work to square away some stuff concerning my position there. I got all the materials from there I owned and headed out for home. It was a short flight and I reached for the iPad instinctively and then put it back. I didn’t need the map for this flight. I took off and looked for the landmarks that I use while flying between home and school, following them all the way back towards Carthage. Instead of flying straight in and landing, I made one “victory lap” around town before turning back into the afternoon sun and setting up for landing. It was the first full-flap landing I have done in a month and honestly wasn’t the prettiest one. I flared a little high causing an increased sink rate but not excessive. I was just glad to be back on familiar turf (literally). First thing I noticed once I got home was the grass had not been mowed and with my father’s schedule booked tomorrow and Connor’s school in the way looks like I’ve a date with a zero turn of the majority of the day. Living on a farm has its advantages; one of those is 1,200 feet of runway on the side of a hill.
And so this chapter comes to a close. The project is not complete in its entirety. Yet it is the next chapter that is the real adventure! I will be working on the actual paper for the thesis itself which will either be a book or become a book after the thesis is written (should it be of interest to a publisher). I plan to tell Rodger’s story in more depth and relate each leg of his flight to mine as well as look at the overall change that has occurred in aviation. This has been a trip of a life time and I can’t thank MTSU, the honor’s college, the aviation department, Dr. Paul Craig (my mentor), Dr. Vile (honor’s college dean), and Dr. Phillips (thesis committee chair) for the assistance and encouragement they have provided along the way. It will be something that I cherish and from which I will have many stories to tell in the future. I will probably post either a reflective post in a week or so just talking about the highlights and my “favorites” of the trip. After that, I plan to keep the blog updated as I write my thesis and then will post a final post on the thesis defense in late October which will signify the completion of the entire project. I plan to also get all the statistics documented in a nice format and post them for reference. I also am going to get the individual screenshots of the legs I flew verses Rodger’s routing. I was asked by one of the reporters if would I do it again, and without hesitation I said “yes.” The caveat was I needed a few weeks to rest and Molly is begging to be put down for annual so we both will be taking a rest… for at least a day or two. The other question was one that sparked my mind into thinking; “so what next…?” I gave a generic answer as I thought myself well, what is next? I have been praying about a few areas in my life and seen God answering those prayers even today so I guess the honest answer is “I don’t know…” It honestly is just “the end” of the flight; with such a sea of opportunities ahead of me. We will see what the future holds for me over the next few months and years but right now I will take time to be grateful and thankful for the love and encouragement I have received from family and friends as I completed this journey.