It took more than forest fires, fire-gutted towns (Weed, CA), aerial tankers and thick smoke to keep 25 Swifts from landing at the Jackson County (Westover Field) airport in California on the weekend of September 19th through the 21st. This year marked the 29th or 30th annual West Coast National Swift Fly-in (depending on whether you count the national disaster of 09/11/2001 – which cancelled the event).
To say that getting to the event was difficult might be the biggest understatement of the entire weekend. Depending upon the direction from which you arrived, you were forced to navigate around valleys full of smoke near the California-Oregon border, and even more smoke from a huge fire near Highway 50 northeast of Westover Field. The result was the that 450-mile long San Joaquin Valley was filled with smoke and haze that made for beautiful orange sunsets but difficult flying. Just having ground contact was something to brag about. Fortunately, most of us were either IFR current or were able to muster the skills necessary to get there on the “steam gauges” (supplemented by hand-held or panel mounted GPS systems). Since the San Joaquin Valley averages about 45 miles wide, it resulted in over 27,000 square miles of MVFR. Okay, nuff said about the weather.
Dave Richards was our host this year and he had the registration table set up early to welcome the Thursday arrivals. The ramp was almost filled when I arrived late Friday afternoon on the wing of Doogie Robison and Tom Numelin. We hurried to the motel for a quick check-in and then back to the airport. We had a wonderful, catered meal of BBQ brisket, chicken, baked beans, green salad and garlic bread. A local service group provided a bar and two delightful bartenders for the evening. The temps were mild, but I did notice a few watery eyes and some coughing from the smoke. Everyone chatted and visited well into the night.
Saturday morning brought somewhat cleaner air and several Swifts departed early for a fly-out breakfast to the Lodi airport. Their breakfast flight took them over the beautiful Comanche Reservoir to the Lodi Airport, some 40 miles from Jackson. The airport restaurant boasts new management on their website and they have a motto that I’m not quite sure how to interpret… “Where good pilots land and brave pilots eat”… really, I took this from their website! I didn’t hear any bad reviews, so I’m guessing everyone made it out okay!
The ramp was full of folks kicking tires, wiping soot from their wings and judging aircraft for the awards to be given out at the banquet.
I’m guessing 75-85 people arrived at Thomi’s banquet room on Saturday evening. Once again, we were treated to a wonderful meal of pork loin, chicken, green beans, salad, and apple cobbler for dessert. We are beginning to see more Swifters arriving at Westover in vehicles than in the past, but giving the age of our group, it’s understandable. Conversations have switched from how fast our planes were and how many bounces we made on arrival to Medicare supplement plans and Viagra. I can’t refer to these times as the “golden years”; it’s more like the “metallic years” (you know, metal in our hip, silver in our teeth, lead in our butts!)….
At the beginning of the Saturday night dinner, Dave Richards lead everyone in a silent toast to our departed founder, Charlie Nelson. Following the toast, Janie Nelson thanked the group for the many emails and cards of sympathy she’d received. There was nary a dry eye in the room.
Janie also called Denis Arbeau to the stage. She recalled a story about a painting of a Swift Charlie had kept on his wall for many years. The Swift was Denis’. She wanted Denis to have the framed painting. Denis graciously accepted it, told the crowd how much he’d enjoy having it for a while, but then referred to himself as only the “caretaker” of the painting. Denis promised to return it to the Swift Museum when the time is right. The painting will be there for all to enjoy. That was a class act, Denis!
Dave Richards and Gerry Hampton gave out the awards for the event:
Best Custom went to Kyle Hook of Petaluma, California
Best original went to Tom Numelin of Fairfax, California
The Bud Knox Award went to Hal Cope of Spring, Texas
The “tired butt” award went to Bill Jennings of Dalton, Georgia (17 hours in the Swift).
The crooked raffle was conducted with a number of nice (read that donated) gifts taken home…
The hospitality room at the motel was going strong well into the evening with lots of visiting and stories being told.
Departure times on Sunday were determined by how far you had to fly and how much smoke remained in your course of travel. I departed at 8:30am with Ernie Hansen (with passenger Dot Shepherd), Doc Mahoney and Nate Andrews. We hit some rain, smoke, haze and yuck for about 65 miles before finally breaking out when we stopped in Medford, Oregon for fuel.
Two DC-6 aerial tankers departed Medford in front of us, fully loaded with retardant and headed to yet another fire.
We stopped in Independence, OR, where we fueled and ate lunch before the Diamond Pointers headed further north without me. It was nice having them on my wing as we negotiated our way home. There’s always safety in numbers.
Dave Richards has “volunteered” to do it again next year, so be sure to follow the announcements on the Swift website. I enjoyed seeing everyone, and apologize for not being able to spend even more time visiting with you…..