Book #9: Flying the Star Valley

As if moving internationally is not enough, I decided that I should get on with publishing the first of many books related to this past summer of flying. All told, I flew well over 300 hours in the State of Wyoming, covering a distance of just over 25,000 miles, which happens to be slightly more than the distance around the circumference of planet earth.

This time, I am attempting to work with publishers to place some of the more recognizable titles. There are some areas of focus that publishers simply won’t be able to get their head around, so I decided to start with those on the self-publishing route. That, and the traditional publishing world takes an extraordinary amount of time to get things to market. It’s an entirely different animal that I am getting used to.

The first is based on my origin point for all of my flying: the Star Valley. For those of you that have followed the blog the entire time, then you have experienced the journey of discovery as I came to understand the weather patterns, terrain, and most importantly, the opportunities for beauty. Densely packed with beautiful imagery, “Flying the Star Valley” is the first of the Wyoming series and focuses on the valley itself, its four adjoining mountain ranges, and three river basins that comprise the area.

I’d have to say that this book took a different tone than prior works. In the past, I would focus on a particular area, or all of a certain feature set (mountains over 14,000′ feet in Colorado is a great example). The effort went into showing all of the particular item in question. The Star Valley is not a series of finite points, and it is also a smaller geographic area. I found myself gravitating to imagery of how time, weather, and season interacted with terrain, showing depth of texture, movement, and perspectives not only of scenery, also of weather that are not viewable from the ground.

Small Cover - Star Valley


Loading the Airplane into the Shipping Container for Germany

One would think that the magnitude of the problem of moving an aircraft was taken care of by taking the wings off. That is all well and good, except the aircraft must now get lifted 5 feet up into a shipping container, which is sitting on a semi-trailer, and the plane cannot fly to do it, and it must be done precisely in concert with moving all of our stuff, at a choreographed time. At 788 pounds (less wings, so lets say 650 pounds), it’s not an easy prospect.

I built an elaborate ramp out of a pile of lumber from the local lumberyard. More specifically, I walked in with a rather complex list of items needed, and they didn’t want to do the math, so I had to break down the end cuts I wanted, and the origin pieces, mapped to their inventory, with a giant spreadsheet. It was a picture perfect scene where your math teacher from third grade points and says: “See, math is important!” The only problem with that fantasy is that I had a big pile of wood left over afterward.

The ramp was 16’ long, with a five-foot height, built far too strong, but it got the job done. I devised an ingenious scheme to mount 30” fixed studs along it, remove the pieces that elevate the ramp from ground to 5 feet, and then use it as a platform to place one wing under it, one over, and the tail on a brace over that in the shipping container. On the German side, I will reattach the ascending columns and it becomes an exit ramp.

The first hiccup in the plan was the consistent snowfall, falling all over my ramp and creating sheets of ice for the two weeks prior to the move. As it was on the north side of the house, it did not get sun, so I had to shovel and spread salt. Sigh.

Moving day meant that the plane had to come up a twisting driveway from the hangar, wings had to be carried, and struts driven up. I would have fired the engine up and driven it up (it taxies under its own power, wings not necessary), except the fuel tank is in the wing, which was now off. So, we hooked it up to the back of the truck and pulled it up.

The shipping container was five and a half hours late.

So we waited, and waited, and waited. Meanwhile, it was snowing like hell and blowing like crazy, so we had to weight the wings so the wind wouldn’t take them flying (they are designed to do that, FYI). We put plastic on the cockpit area as I just had thousands of dollars of Euro-compliant avionics installed, and I didn’t fancy water getting all over it.

Eventually, we loaded, after dark, in a snowstorm, while it was fiercely cold and windy. It couldn’t have gotten any better. Well, except for the fact that my ingenious hybrid ramp repurposing protocol didn’t work. The tail was 4” too tall, meaning that the rudder would smack through the ceiling. [expletive, most common form]

The ramp couldn’t go (somebody got $200 of free wood). I had to improvise. And I had already packed the box of straps, which was now blocked by all of our possessions, in the front of the container, under about 3,000 pounds of stuff. [expletive, resigned self-damning/”I hate the universe” form]

With minimal resources, a waiting charge of $100/hour hanging over my head, and the hardware store closed, I made it work, I’ll say that much. It was improvising, par excellence. It helps that I have a grandfather that moves airplanes on a car trailer all the time and I was frequently impressed into service during load/unload (that’s a whole book right there).

The container door was closed and everything we own, except for the car, was off, getting driven to a rail yard in Salt Lake City, riding a train to the port in New York, heading on a ship to Bremerhaven, Germany, and then riding by truck to its new home south of Frankfurt. I couldn’t help but think at this moment of countless relatives I have never met, people who left Germany and Poland for better lives in America, crossing on ships heading west, passing through Ellis Island, the pioneers heading west, the transcontinental railroad, Manifest Destiny……….and here I am doing it all in reverse, my earthly belongings riding on the pathways that became wagon trails that changed into railroads, highways, and airports, all another chapter in the complex story of human migration.

There is the ramp…..
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Tail feathers, wrapped in plastic. That was the wife’s idea, and is was very smart.
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Wings being prevented from flying.
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Airplane all ready for towing.
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Driving the lift struts from the hangar.

Improvised. I laid in bed that night wondering if I failed to brace something and finally resigned myself that its insured and I know how to fix anything that could happen in shipping.
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Disassembling the Airplane

The airplane will be shipped to Germany on a 40’ shipping container, along with all of our stuff. Therefore, the wings have to come off for transit. Forever the domain of my mystical accounting office, I brushed off the whole affair as another item on the to do list, easy enough from a distance of time and thought process, until the day comes that it needs to be done.

That day was two days before packing the shipping container. Yikes.

I asked the friend of mine that went up for the final Tetons flight if he would be willing to help disassemble the airplane. I was sheepish, thinking it was a sizable burden and hoping the flight around the Tetons would be suitable temptation to help. He, it turns, was eager. “Take a [expletive, present participle form] airplane part? Absolutely! I have never gotten to do that before!” In the event my friends at the FAA have subscribed to this illustrious flow of literary brilliance, there was a certified mechanic supervising the whole affair.

The wings are held on by 6 bolts for each wing. Two contact the fuselage at the top of the airframe, 2 contact the fuselage and lift struts, and 2 connect the lift strut to the wing. This is doubled for the second wing. There are two cable connections for the flight controls in the cockpit that have to be loosened, and three fuel lines and one pitot tube must be disconnected from the left wing. There is an antenna for each side that attaches to the ferring strips, which are metal pieces screwed in to cover the gaps between the wings and fuselage.

Fuel and oil had to be drained for container transit.

Without much fanfare, it was all over.

That is, of course, until my wife asked “What about the tail feathers?”

[expletive, noun form] Yeah, I forgot about those.

The tail feathers, technically speaking, are the rudder, elevator (up and down control) and stabilizers (what the elevator attaches to, known to non aviation folks as “that wing thing in the back”). The rudder would stay on for the shipment, though the elevators and stabilizers had to come off.

That included 4 braces, two control cables, some hardware, 13 bolts, a pile of washers, and some metal tubes and things. Despite their small size, that whole affair took longer than the wings, as twenty years of remaining attached to each other meant that certain things were stuck or frozen into various places, which is fine for flying, as these airplanes are not exactly made for continuous assembly and disassembly. It did, however, offer the chance for in depth inspection of highly critical flight components, which is a nice thing for personal reassurance.

Fuel draining
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Left wing root, ferring strip removed.
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Same thing, right side.
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Yes, it can have only one wing on and not fall over.
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Both wings off.
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Tail feathers off.
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Nefarious tail feathers.
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My superb hangar organization method in practice.
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Last Flight in the USA

It seems like some sort of thought provoking quote belongs in this space, a witticism drawn from literature of the ages, eliciting from the wells of personal spirituality a poetic phrase creating value out of getting the shaft, and looking forward to something that shouldn’t be looked forward to. That, of course, would be drawn from the assumption that my only source of happiness comes from living on an airpark, and anything else seems nonviable, so the fact that I am leaving the United States has to be part of accepting something awful.

It’s not.

We’re moving to Germany. Most importantly, the airplane is coming too. The same adventures that went on in Wyoming will be repeated in Europe. I’ll sum up the whole affair with the same conversation I have with everyone I tell:

“Why are you moving to Germany?”

“I don’t know. I just am. Because I want to.” (It really has something to do with not having a place to rent in WY, having a place in Germany, timing, opportunity, a dose of ‘why the hell not?’ and because my wife made me do it.)

“Are you flying your plane over there?” (Do people think I am an idiot?)

“No, the fuel range is 286 miles.” <<dull look on face>> (Who is the idiot now?) “The biggest leg over water is 700 miles.” (Not to mention that it would take 83 hours of nonstop flying. Why don’t you drive to Argentina for your next vacation?)

“Oh, are you buying one there then?”

<<rolling my eyes>> “No, I am shipping it. I’ll take the wings off and put it in a shipping container.”

“Oh boy, that’s a huge ordeal, isn’t it?”

“No, it takes 8 hours on either side, give or take.”

“Oh wow, I didn’t know they were made to be taken apart.”

“They aren’t. I am just doing it.”

“Oh. Do you speak German?”


“Well I am sure they all speak English over there.”

“At the information desks in the big cities, that is true. Otherwise they don’t.”

“Are you going to learn German then?” (Really, are people that daft?)


[After New Year’s Eve affairs in Cologne] “Careful over there. They’re having problem with those Muslims. Especially in the train stations.”

<<rolling my eyes>> “That assumes that I don’t want to be fondled by North African males.”

<<end of conversation>>

As for the flight, it was metaphorical, from a luminary standpoint. The prior blog post consisted of the activities during the afternoon, and it was time for one last run around the pattern before taking the plane apart. It was in late afternoon, and the sunset was a brilliant display of color, signaling the end of my westward expansion. Just as the sun was going down, a full moon was rising in the east, signaling the fact that we would be traversing nearly a third of the planet in that direction, starting in the next few days (what am I doing this for, again?).

Wyoming put on quite a show before I left. From the snowy, illustrious brilliance, to the fact that I saw giant herds of elk, a herd of deer, some bighorn sheep at 11,000’, two foxes, and two eagles from the air during the final flights of the day, as well as the fact that I met the nicest, coolest people in the prior month before we left, it was challenging to leave. I don’t say goodbyes, because there is only one true goodbye: death (this coming from someone who flirts with it all the time). All of the rest can be revisited, and as my navigation of the publishing industry is proving, I fully expect to at least journey through Yellowstone again in an airplane for what would likely be the second edition of one or more books.

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