USA Coast to Coast – The South

USA Coast to Coast – The South

Crossing the great state of Texas

We stayed that night at a Motel in Carlsbad, and the next day made our arrival in the grand state of Texas! It turned out to be almost as big as Texans like to claim it is.

We stopped first at a small airport called Andrews in order to stock up on cheaper fuel. To welcome us to Texas, an angry prairie dog chattered away at us while we refueled; at least, until it was drowned out by a rude arriving helicopter that hovered right up to us forcing me to dive into the aircraft and stop the control surfaces being blown around.

We took off after a short stop, and headed for Mesquite Airport, Dallas, where we planned a visit to the Texas State Fair.

The Texas State Fair is an annual event that carries on for an entire month. It seems to be centered around livestock and automobiles, with both present in abundance. We attended the judging of the goats, and the finals of some kind of “best bull” competition, as well as a visit to the poultry building to view some of the USA’s finest turkeys. The Texans certainly know how to put on a fair!

From Dallas we flew southeast, stopping at a small unattended airfield called Center Municipal to refuel.

Headed for the Gulf of Mexico

At small airfields like this in the USA there is no control tower; instead, airports are assigned a CTAF, or “Common Traffic Advisory Frequency”. Aircraft in the area tune into this frequency and announce their position and intentions, so that everybody knows what’s going on. Because there are only a few frequencies, shared across hundreds of airports, many share each frequency; to avoid confusion, one begins and ends each call with the name of the airport that you are at.

Approaching Center, another aircraft was giving approximately the same position reports as me; but despite my best efforts, I could not see him. When we both called final approach at about the same time without being in sight of each other, I declared that I’d go around; and still could not see any aircraft on finals. I queried him again, and after a moment’s pause, he came back and admitted that he’d been absentmindedly copying the name of the airport I was calling, rather than the name of the one he was at, which was about 50 miles away and happened to have runways with the same number designation! We landed quickly, refueled, and set off again for Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge is an industrial city located on the Mississippi, and one of the top ten busiest ports in the USA. It has a strong French history, and a beautiful central district with a number of colonial buildings. On a Sunday, it turns out, it also has absolutely nobody around. Hannah rested at the hotel while my father and I went for a walk, and we hardly saw another person until coming to the State Capitol building which we decided to visit.

There was security at the entrance with a metal detector, and I remembered suddenly that I had my Leatherman tool with me, which I’d had on me ever since setting off. I hid it under a traffic cone and, happily, it was still there on my return! The view from the State Capitol’s tower across the city was excellent, although of course not comparable with the view out of a Cessna.

Flying the Delta

From Baton Rouge I had the bright idea of flying out to the end of the Mississippi delta, thinking that it would be an interesting thing to do. There was an airport on the way known as Galliano which had cheap fuel, so that would be a good stop as well. The flight down the Mississippi to Galliano was fantastic, enjoying the views of the mighty river and all the human activity that surrounds it, and around an hour after takeoff we were touching down for our fuel stop. Unfortunately, there was someone in front of us in the fuel queue; and given that he was a tanker refilling the pumps, it looked like he was going to be there a while.

We wandered around inspecting some of the helicopters used to service the oil industry out in the Gulf of Mexico before taking refuge in the small but air-conditioned FBO. Finally the fuel truck finished disgorging itself into the ground, and we filled up. Unlike at Hawthorne, we could at least be fairly sure the pumps wouldn’t run dry on us!

Soon after takeoff from Galliano, it became clear that we would not reach the end of the delta. Mainly because it all looks exactly the same, and crushing boredom was setting in, and partly because the idea of an engine failure over the delta was unappealing, the only likely ending that I could see being ending up as somethings lunch. So, we turned West along the coast to the city of Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is a large city, and the only part of Alabama to enjoy a coastline. After checking into our hotel, we set out for the City park, which houses a museum of ships and aircraft. A B52, SR-71 Blackbird, and various other aircraft were on display; some outside, and some inside a purpose-built hangar. Moored alongside were a submarine, which visitors could explore unsupervised, and also the USS Alabama, a South-Dakota class battleship which served in WWII. We spent the rest of the day exploring the exhibits, and watched the sunset from the bow of the USS Alabama before going out for dinner and finally turning in for bed.

Click here to read the final part of the story.

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