Saturday morning greeted us with bright blue skies and calm winds out of the Southwest at our hometown airport in Lincoln CA. Our month long journey to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. was about to begin. I have been looking forward to the trip and all our stops along the way for a long time. Our plan is to stop at the USAF Academy where we will meet up with 8 Tuskegee Airmen. Then on to MN for 3 airshows and 3 meetings with the Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, and the local community. Then on to Oshkosh for half the week before we go south to Tuskegee AL. The trip will culminate with the Tuskegee Airmen National Convention in D.C. the first week of Aug. At the end of the convention we will turn the plane over to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
At engine start I looked off into the sky and saw a good friend flying his PT-17 Stearman Biplane. I taxied out as he landed and pulled up next to me in the run up pad. Our takeoff was like a normal training sortie for a PT-13 during WWII as we joined up on the PT-17 and pointed our planes into the rising sun.
After traveling about 10 miles our sister ship split up the formation as they pulled up into a wing over to return back to Lincoln CA. Ahead of us were the beautiful snow capped peaks of the Sierra’s. We continued a slow and steady climb as the terrain became more rugged below. I was resting on my leather flying jacket for the beginning of the flight, and managed to fight my way into the jacket in the cramped cockpit as the temperature dropped.
The deep blue of Donner Lake slipped under the wing as we flew over the famous Donner Pass. I contacted LA center with the Reno Airport just ahead. I gave them a courtesy call on the radio to let them know I was flying over their airspace. Shortly after passing the Reno area we made our first stop at Derby Field NV.
Derby Field was a throwback to the 1940’s with the exception to an old MiG sitting on the dusty ramp. The airfield was used in WWII and still had the original control tower and support building. There was an unattended terminal building with pictures of military veterans from the local area. Many of the pictures were in front of aircraft from modern fighters to vintage Pursuit planes.
Off the ground at Derby field we flew over lush green fields. The fields were a stark contrast to the brown dry lakes and mountains ahead. Navigation in this beautiful but desolate land was a challenge as we compared our sectional chart to the scenery below. An occasional mine or ranch was the only clues as we searched for our mountain pass ahead.
After a brief stopover at Battle Mountain for lunch, we pressed on to Wendover UT. We skirted around a few rain showers en-route, and just beat a storm in as we landed. The ground crew was great, and had us fueled and in the hangar in just a few minutes. Inside the terminal we found a museum dedicated to the WWII history at the field. The training for the crews that dropped the Atomic Bomb was all done at Wendover. They actually have a model of the Atomic Bomb Little Boy with the pilot Gen Paul Tibbits and the crew’s signatures.
We checked the weather ahead and it was looking like possible thunderstorms in the evening at our planned destination at Heber City UT. The plane was already in the hangar, and the hospitality at the airport was incredible. We figured if the locals were half as nice then we should check out more of Wendover for the night.
-Captain Matt Quy