Bud Granley's N3N Ferry Flight from Anoka, MN to Olympia, WA
Wed, 19 Jun '02
Bud's Great Adventure: 5/20-23/02
EIC Note: Of all the aviators I am privileged to call a friend, few have impressed me as much as Bud Granley...
even better, few have been better friends to me than the "Budster." Undoubtedly one of the best airshow pilots I have EVER
seen, we are privileged to present the following story to you about one of Bud's most recent adventures. This guy has quite
Wednesday, May 22nd:
At four this morning, I looked out the window of the Super 8 in Cutbank (MT), and
saw snow covering the plants, drifts building, and a blur of snow mists giving life to the 40 mph breeze. I wouldn't be flying
the N3N open cockpit biplane anywhere today.
I went back to bed and read a long unfinished book written by Gerry Billing, who
had flown the Spitfire that's now in the Museum of Flight in Seattle. He had given me many tips when I picked up the
plane in Kalamazoo. He had a remarkable career in the RCAF, stretching from the Malta defense in WW2.
I arrived in Cutbank yesterday morning after a fuel stop in Havre. I had gotten off
to a good start from Malta (MT) at 06:40 with leftover eastern tailwinds.
This planned ferry trip started on Sunday morning with a flight on United to Minneapolis
through Chicago. Brian Reynolds, the man behind the Olympic Flight Museum, had asked me in January if I could pick up the
N3N. The weather was looking good for the first part of the trip, and the front approaching Seattle is a fixture, so I gave
him a go right after our Concrete/Darrington/Warbird roast of 'Crash' Williams on Friday.
First things first.
We finished some important annual items on my T-6 on Saturday. The compression wasn't
that good -- no running since before 9/11. Not good being 20 over 80 on the first couple of cylinders before I stopped
the process to resuscitate the engine. It perked right up a couple of days after draining the oil and running it a few minutes
after adding a half gallon of Marvel Mystery oil, a couple pints of Pro-long, two quarts of Hilton Hyper Lube, and 7
gallons of Phillips 25/60. There wasn't a cylinder below an easy 75 on Saturday.
I arrived in MSP after 7, checked into my first Super 8 and called Rick Ranheim, my
contact with Wally Fisck's AMJET operation in Anoka County airport, about 20 miles north of MSP. Brian had purchased
a number of Wally's airplanes, along with the 3000 HP Allison V12 Animal tractor, the P-51, Skyraider, C-123, and
maybe some others. (I've never seen Brian lose it except when he invited me to drive the Animal, but he says that
Wally plied him with Jack Daniels, and by the time it was over, he wasn't sure what he'd bought.)
He told me when I flew in to Olympia that he thought that the yellow N3N was green
when he bought it. (He was teasing me though.) I told him that the tires had tread on them when I started the trip. Tom Cathcart
later told me that they had used Model T tires on the one that he had ferried for his friend.
Rick picked me up around
7 and brought my knowledge about their operation up to date in the MSP traffic. He thought it was bad, but it seemed as easy
as a commuter lane on 405. We arrived at the hanger to see Gary Mann helping to push the N3N outside of a "horn of plenty"
for old airplane lovers.
The first airplane in view was an almost finished restoration of a MK-15, Griffon-powered,
Seafire. The folding wings of the Spitfire were leaning against a dormant Lodestar. A flying turbo-powered Gannet would have
used up a lot of space if the wings hadn't folded so compactly. It was ready to fly. A Seahawk jet, that replaced the Seafury
in service beside it, looked like it needed just a little service to fly. The Iraqi Seafury may still have had sand on it
from the desert. It is a true restoration project. A B-25, Avenger, T-6, and Strikemaster were ready to go.
I got off to a stumbling start. It only took 1000 RPM to roll over the chocks with those
big wheels. They'll be OK to land in a rough field though. I started off toward the South to takeoff, but there were only
hangars back there. The tower pointed me back to the beginning of the runway. I was starting to feel embarrassed now.
After takeoff, I heard a 'beep beep' noise on the radio, and thought that my ELT
had gone off. It was in the front seat, so I couldn't turn it off. I was ready to turn back to land and was relieved when
I heard the tower call me for my transponder code. The beeping noise was the generator regulator cycling. It was evident after
I noticed the ammeter bouncing later in the flight.
My first leg westbound had several airports planned for refueling. I didn't know
what the range of the airplane was except for my guestimations. I'd planned the trip at home before knowing what the
fuel capacity was. The fuel gauge was calibrated like an automobile: Full, ¾, ½, ¼. I flew over my first option after using
up the first quarter. That was great. The next point passed with a half a tank left. I'd flown 200 miles, and only had
50 miles to the next option.
The last 20 miles were when a part of my body started to pucker. A quarter of a tank
indicating. At 80 mph, that was about 15 minutes of watching the gauge. I have a new rule now. The last half goes down faster
than the first half. The 'last quarter' really goes fast. I had flown 250 nautical miles, and 3 hours, so I knew something
about the plane now.
My landing was surprisingly OK at Jamestown. I was feeling fine until I tried to
taxi in the 35 mph wind. The plane had a mind of its own, and a sticky left brake was adding to the deception of what was
really going on. I took it very slow, with the stick away from the wind, and started just putting along to the self-serve
gas pump. I usually got help at the self-serve places. The N3N had a way of drawing help.
My next leg was only 130 miles to Minot, the home of my good airshow friends, Kent and
Warren Pietsch. The east tailwind was pushing me along enough to consider going on to the next option, but I wanted to stop
and say hello to my airshow buddies. The wind at Minot was blowing about 30 again and I didn't want to taxi downwind again,
so I planned my landing angling across the threshold so was able to exit the runway at the entrance to the runway, and taxi
with a cross wind to the Pietsch FBO.
Kent came out from home to see me and try and talk me into staying for the night.
I wanted to, but didn't want to lose the rare tailwind with an airplane that can pick up a 90 to 100 knot speed (vs. 50 in
a bad headwind). Kent called ahead for me and alerted the folks at Wolfpoint (MT) that I would be arriving, and asked them
to give me help. I started up and taxied for 100 yards to a wind-friendly taxi strip with Kent hanging on to a wing. I got
airborne and headed west with the power pulled back, the engine leaned out a little more, and enjoyed my greatest tailwind.
I pulled the power back at 4500 feet to indicate 75 to 80 mph, and was getting a ground speed of 100 knots. I watched
Wolfpoint go by with enough gas to easily make Glasgow. I listened to the ASOS at Glasgow, and with their 35 knot winds, and
my tailwind, I opted for 50 more miles to Malta (MT).
The wind couldn't have been any worse there for landing. I arrived there after a
270 nautical mile trip with a quarter tank indicating. (That's still different than real gallons left indicated.) The airplane
tried to tell me that it wanted to head into the 35 knot wind from the right on touch down, but due to the low ground speed,
I had lots of time to fix that urge. I taxied -- for the next 5 minutes -- very carefully to the fuel pumps. Dixon Hitch,
the airport operator and crop sprayer, helped me gas the plane. It was around 6 PM, and I had planned to make another leg
to use the wind, but decided to ask Dixon if I could get into his hangar for the night. His response was "let me resort the
airplanes and we'll get you in there."
I locked the tail wheel, and we used the pull-out handles in the back of the fuselage
to guide the plane back to the hangar without the wind's overpowering us. Dixon set me up with the State of Montana courtesy
car, and called a hotel for me. I arrived there in a few minutes and met Dave Mendel, the previous crop sprayer operator.
He had flown N3N's for spraying and went into the hotel business sometime after he lost his last one in a 100 mph wind at
the Malta airport.
I cleaned up and went for a walk around town. Several of little casino bars were
spread around, but I opted for an old western saloon called the Stockman's. It had a 40 foot long bar with several guys spread
out in active conversation. I settled onto a stool a seat away from a big older guy. He introduced himself, then the bartender.
His name was Lloyd Lefdahl. He made it known that he was Norwegian right away, and that the bartender, Ron Sjostrom, was one
of those Swedish guys. I let him that I was also Norwegian. He was 80 years old, but he was a big tough farmer, and I wanted
him to know that I was on his side. There were several Hooofta's (uff-da!) in the conversation later. I still don't know what
it means, but it sounded ethnic. He wanted to know why I wasn't drinking good Scotch like him instead of that light beer.
In the next hour, I'd found out that the hospitality and sense of humor in Montana was great. Lloyd bought the bar a round,
then someone else bought a round, then someone else. I figured that I'd better buy a round and get out of there for supper.
I mentioned that I was looking for a country fried steak, and Ron called the Great Northern hotel and told them that I would
be there for supper soon, and to take care of me. Ron owned the bar but was also a farmer.
Start a fire in the snow...
His place had experienced a fire covering over 100 acres the day before. A group of
horse riders running dog field trials had been using the land, and one of the horses' shoes had clipped a rock and started
the fire. They were lucky to survive with the strong winds chasing the fire after them. Lloyd and his son were still
farming, but only grass, as the government's CRP program was paying them not to grow grain. Lloyd was not happy about that,
as it wasn't doing the job of supporting prices anyway. I escaped to enjoy a really good CF steak, and was sound asleep by
10, and up by 5:30.
I called Dixon, who met me at the airport a little after 6. We took a few pictures,
and I was airborne by 6:40. The wind had settled down, and the tailwind was turning into a headwind by Havre, so I stopped
for gas after only a 100-mile leg. I waited for a little while for the airport to open at 8, gassed up, and talked about options.
I called my friends, Bill, and Eleanor Bailey, who lived on Flat Head Lake, near Kalispell.
Their advice was "don't come
The weather stinks.
If I kept going west, I may be stuck in Cutbank, as there was no air service out
of there. The other option was to go to Great Falls, and leave the airplane. In either case, I would have to come back to
get the plane so I opted to get closer to the mountain pass that I would have to use eventually.
As I flew west toward Shelby, I thought about stopping to visit Delmar Benjamin, owner
of the GeeBee, but decided to go to a bigger place to get a hangar. The visibility was down to a couple of miles in smoke
from a Canadian fire, and the wind was blowing like crazy from the north now. I had trouble believing the headings that I
was using to track to the west using the GPS. I found Cutbank 20 miles to the west, flew over the airport checking out the
windsock for my best landing option. There were two runways, but the taxiway leading toward the ramp looked like my best bet
with the windsock standing straight out. I landed and was about to turn off into the ramp, when I noticed a guy running out
to meet me. He grabbed onto the left interplane struts, and held the wing down as I taxied to the ramp where another fellow
had opened a hangar door and guided me into it. He turned out to be Dave Anderson, the airport commissioner. My wing hanger
ran a Hiller helicopter sprayer. They set me up with another Montana aviation council Courtesy car, and I was off to find
a hotel at breakfast time.
Another Super 8 hotel, in a strip mall with an Albertson's, Casino, and McDonald's,
looked like a convenient place to park. I found out a few things about Cutbank in my stay there: no Chinese restaurants; beer
at the bar is $1.25; sodas were 60 cents in the hotel. I cruised the town and found that Spider Man was playing at
the theatre. I thought that I might end up there later, but events would change that.
Big Snow in Big Sky Country
I woke at 4am on Wednesday morning, and had a look out of the window to check the
weather. I was surprised to see that the plants outside were covered with snow, and the sky was a blur of blowing snow in
the 40 mph winds. I wasn't going anywhere today. Back to bed, to arise at breakfast time. The continental breakfast area was
full of people who had gotten stuck in Cutbank. The cars in the parking lot were locked in with 2-foot drifts. I'd met a road
paving crew manager the day before. His guys weren't going to do anything today. The roads in and out of Cutbank were officially
closed. We found out that several hundred people had ended up in the community center in Shelby after the hotels filled. Many
locals also opened up there homes to travelers. I stocked up on food and books at Albertson's after I found that the restaurant
Casino was closed.
The temperature was above freezing, and the roads were cleaned, so I drove to the airport
hoping that I could get going. I took a chance on following some tracks into the airport. They must have been 4 by 4 truck
tracks, as the belly of my car got hung up on the high snow. I deserted the car and walked to the airport office. No one in
sight! A couple of snowplows were working on the runway. I called the manager's cell. He was driving one of the plows, and
said to join the queue for help requests. The N3N was completely snowbound in the hangar with 3-foot drifts, and the path
to the gas pumps was too narrow for the plane. I waited for an hour or so with Mike, a government guy, who had come from Great
Falls to fix the automatic weather ASOS machinery that had gone gafutzt in the storm. He was also waiting for someone to clear
a path thru the snow to that location.
While we waited, we grabbed a come along cable out of an official airport truck,
and went to rescue my car with his 4-wheel drive state truck. We finally pulled it through the snow and got it reinstalled
in the courtesy car spot after breaking the come along and re-teeing the cable. We had a permanent knot in the cable after
that. Since he had helped me, I suggested that we go together and drive down the taxiway and runway to the ASOS unit. We departed
the runway with his confidence, and got totally bogged down in snow. I dug and kicked snow out from behind wheels, and pushed
until we were free. We tried a different route, and made it to the weather unit. Mike did his thing, testing and replacing
cards, and we got back to the office without getting stuck again. The morning was going away, no progress on the drifts to the hangar.
Mid-May is Still Snow Season
I was pretty sure that I would be stuck for another day when another fellow came
along just to visit. We were talking beside the airport pickup truck, which just happened to have a snowplow on the front.
Go figure. Mid May, and the official truck has a plow on the front.
I checked to see if it had keys in it, and in Montana fashion, it did. I started
the engine, and checked out the operation of the plow, then proceeded to give it my best efforts on clearing a path for the
N3N. This inspired the truck operator, so he drove his car down the cleared part of the taxiway, and got permission from the
airport manager to use one of the big snow plows. He arrived with the big truck just as the drifts that I had been making
were getting too high for the pickup truck. Everything came together quickly. The airport commissioner, Dave Anderson, left
his job as the manager of Penney's to clear the big drifts with a front-end loader. We pushed the N3N to the fuel pumps,
got some really good help in finding oil from John Clark, the fellow who held the wing down on arrival, and managed to get
airborne from the taxiway by 12:20. It was quite a layover, as I met more really great Montanans.
My leg to Kalispell left me doubting my navigation skills. The land was pretty much
white with no roads open. I found the entrance to the East Glacier valley, and plugged along the valley north, then back south,
to the city airport. My GPS batteries died in the cold, so I replaced them on my fuel stop, and decided to keep a replacement
set warm next to my body. My next leg to Dear Park (WA), I was able to cut across a range at 6500 feet, and save lots of miles
instead of going to Sand Point (ID). I had a nice visit with the fuel manager who knew Wally Fiske, the last owner of the
N3N. A last stop at Ellensburg, with the wind blowing with gusto for one last landing before Olympia, gave me some more careful
taxi practice. A call to Brian at Olympia, and to Carol for a pickup, and I was getting close to making it home. The clouds
were high enough to allow me to set out straight across the mountains to Olympia, where I arrived around 8 PM to a good welcome
of museum volunteers.
We put the airplane away, then "video Jeff" drove me north to rendezvous with Carol
on the interstate.
I was happy to have the trip successfully over. Memories sometimes are more fun than
the real thing. My memories about the trip will be somewhere between great trepidation about the winds and weather, and enjoyment
of the people who had helped me. --Bud Granley