September 2001 was when Joe and I first met in Greensboro, NC. I started working second shift as an avionics technician at the Cessna/Citation Service Center – Joe had already been on that shift for a year or two. We hit it off pretty quickly and have been friends since. Over the past twenty years we’ve stayed in touch and have had similar paths in life, both personally and professionally, so it was fitting that we each started flight training at the same airport, in the same airplane, with the same instructor, within a few weeks of each other.
Joe got his instrument rating two months to the day before I got mine – not that I was counting. Of course, I may have started counting in April 2019 when I got my Commercial ASEL forty-two days before he got his in June 2019. It’s also possible that I was counting later on in that same June when I got my Commercial AMEL two days before he got his. It would irritate him if I made no mention of his Private AMEL rating, so I won’t.
Fast-forward to August 2019. We were building time toward getting a couple of jet type ratings, we had a 182 at our disposal, and we’d committed to going somewhere that day. There was talk of making a hot chicken run to Nashville like Gary and I had done about six months previously, but the weather was low IFR all the way out west so we decided to go south and stay in the sunshine.
The light bulb above Joe’s head came on, he dialed a number on the phone and said, “My buddy and I have an airplane and some time to kill, any chance we could stop by for a quick tour?” A pause. “Great! We’ll see you in a little while, Brent.” He hung up the phone and said, “We’re going down to Moultrie (Georgia) to tour the Maule factory.” Giddy up.
We landed after an enjoyable flight south to Spence (KMUL) and taxied up to the Maule hangars. After we shut down and secured the airplane we walked into the front office, where Brent Maule met us and introduced himself. He was in the middle of his workday and told us that he had a few things to do and to make ourselves at home.
We looked around and admired all the magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and photos on the walls, including photos of a turboprop Maule that we both daydreamed of flying. When Brent came back, he gave us a brief history of the company, asked about our backgrounds, then took us out into the first hangar where several brand-new Maule airplanes were lined up at the hangar door ready to be test-flown and delivered. Such a beautiful sight.
We walked along the airplanes, looking inside and running our hands along the surfaces while Brent told us about the processes that go into getting the tubing, turning it into frames, then wrapping everything in fabric. He also told us how they make tricycle gear airplanes out of all their current models. Joe and I agreed that a Maule with a nosewheel just didn’t look like a Maule, but I surely wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to fly one!
Next was the next hangar where the paint and fabric get done. Joe and I watched the fabric process for a little while and marveled at what an artform it is. I remember going over some fabric questions on my A&P and IA study material, but I’d never want to attempt it on my own. It gave me a new appreciation for those who have mastered their craft.
Sitting in the last hangar all by itself was a gorgeous blue and white MX-7-180 with bush tires. We had to look around that beautiful beast for a few minutes. I don’t remember what the price tag was, but it was out of my price range. Someday, maybe.
By now it was about 1:30pm and Brent offered us their crew car if we wanted to go get something to eat. He also mentioned that their service facility was on the way to the airport exit and we were welcome to stop by if we wanted to look at the airplanes they had in the shop and ask their maintenance folks some questions.
Joe was (and still is) knocking around the idea of buying a used Maule, so he was keen to ask the guys who worked on the older models what to look for and things to be wary of. Brent introduced us to the guys in the shop and said he had some kids to get to soccer, so we shook hands and thanked him for being so generous with his time.
The two gentlemen we talked to at the shop were extremely knowledgeable about the entire Maule line and gave us a lot of good insight on some of the “gotchas” and trouble spots they typically see on airplanes that come back to them for inspections. The shop was packed full of airplanes in varying states of repair and/or inspection, so we got to see the “guts” of several airplanes that have been in service for thousands of hours, and there’s no doubt they’re built to last. After keeping the maintenance guys from getting any work done for about a half hour, we set off to the local Subway, got a couple of sandwiches to go, and headed back to the airport.
As we looked at the weather for the return leg, we saw some pretty significant buildups to the west of our path and moving east. The cells were pretty scattered and they were dissipating nearly as quickly as they were building, so we decided to make a run at it. We’d go VFR and pick up flight following; it never hurts to have another set of eyes watching for traffic and weather.
There’s no FBO or any other services at Spence, so we dipped the tanks on 4MW and figured that as long as everything went right, we’d probably have enough fuel to get us home. That being said, we committed to a fuel stop in Augusta (KDNL) which is about an hour and a half flight north of Moultrie. If we would have been about 20 years younger, we’d’ve probably taken our chances on “probably,” and “as long as everything went right.” Neither of us was interested in doing that, or landing in a field for that matter, so we set off on the 163nm first leg.
We got about 45nm north of Moultrie when the giant wall of clouds slowly came into view in front of us. There was no getting to the left or right of it, and we definitely couldn’t get over it. We were at 5500’ which looked to be about the height of the bases, so we decided to drop down to 3500’ just to give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room. Once we got down a little lower, we could see all the way through to the other side and there were well-defined rain shafts here and there, so we decided that we’d “take a look.”
It was surprisingly smooth under the layer as we watched rain shafts start and stop like a backwards game of whack-a-mole. Joe was flying and keeping his eyes outside while I was splitting my time between the ADS-B weather on my iPad and providing a second set of eyes outside. The weather displayed on Foreflight is typically 5-15 minutes old, but it’s useful for determining “big picture” type stuff. We got a pretty good read on the direction and speed in which the system was moving, so we were able to lead the bigger buildups and get past them without getting too close.
We were under the clouds for about 30 minutes and didn’t feel so much as a bump until we saw clear sky ahead. We were almost out from under the layer when we started getting tossed around pretty vigorously. Thankfully it was only a few minutes before we were out of the turbulence and into the wild blue yonder. As soon as the air smoothed out, the sandwiches started calling our names. The combination of the long hot day, the excitement of the Maule tour, and picking our way through the clouds made that sandwich the best I’d ever had from Subway.
Shortly after we got our bellies full and had nothing to do other than fly, I took a look at the winds and the performance data. I said, “We’re making good time. We could probably make it back home without a fuel stop.” Joe didn’t skip a beat. “Yeah, maybe, but we said we were going to make a fuel stop at Daniel, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
I don’t remember how much fuel we ended up adding at DNL, but I remember thinking that, yeah, we could’ve made it back home with what we had in the tanks, but why? The fuel stop added, at most, a half hour to the ride home. It also added the certainty that we definitely had enough fuel to make it home, even if we got vectored around a lot or got some really out-of-the-way routing.
We made it home an hour and a half later, topped off the mighty 182, then tied it down and covered it up. Of all the time-building trips that I’ve taken with friends over the past few years, this is easily one of the most memorable, for many reasons. Joe and I had been training for nearly two years, working hard toward the larger goals that we set for ourselves. This day was just a couple of friends hopping in an airplane to have an adventure for the day. There was no curriculum, instruction, or boxes to check. We flew for the fun of flying, and it was fantastic.
Joe and I are still comparing logbooks and ratings often – I’m sure I’ll write more about that later. As of now, we’re evenly matched as far as certificates and ratings go. Well, as soon as he gets his Inspection Authorization (IA) we will be, but who’s counting?
Categories: Just For Fun Flying