The 1998 Mooney Caravan to
Part One, Planning
by Jonathan Paul
February and July of this year (1998), I had the privilege to help organize the
First Mooney Caravan to
For the last two years there has been an Internet-based electronic mail list for exchanging information among a growing community of Mooney owners and pilots. For the technical, its e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. To most of us it's known only as The List. Over six hundred Mooney owners and pilots around the country, in fact around the world, exchange technical information and experiences, ask questions and receive answers, tell jokes and lies, fuss at one another, and BS around the cracker barrel at the speed of light. The list has informed, entertained, and possibly saved lives. It's a good thing.
The "host" of The List is Akmal Khan. Akmal is one of those near geniuses who has made an impact in the computer industry through hard work, a bear trap mind, and good timing. Akmal looks like a leprechaun who fell in with Ali Baba. His prematurely gray hair does not detract from his youthful and mischievous smile nor does his intensity mask his warmth. It is clear to all that Akmal loves flying and we forgive him for his constant reminders that his Mooney 252 is the fastest magic carpet around.
Anyway, to get back to the thread of this story, on February 21st of this year, an electronic message appeared on the list that said, in part:
From: email@example.com (Akmal Khan)
>Subject: Let's caravan to
I am taking my family over to
This message was the seed from which sprang a truly incredible grass roots affair. It was organized and nurtured over the Internet by an all-volunteer effort. All of us who participated in the Mooney Oshkosh Caravan think it was a great success and a tradition that is well worth carrying on in future years.
The EAA convention at
When Akmal's message hit the Internet, I was interested, but I neither lived
I eventually joined the discussion with my own message to the list, suggesting that the goals of a Mooney arrival should simply be that we arrive together and park (and camp) together and that this, by itself, would be a great accomplishment. Such a group arrival would require the full cooperation of the FAA and the EAA and a bunch of others along the way. I wrote to the list that MAPA, with its significant clout, should really be making these arrangements. I felt that only with the MAPA's influence behind us could we get any attention from the officials. I was wrong on several counts.
Some of the organizers and the MAPA brass. Don Bymaster,
Tom Canavera, Akmal Khan, and Jonathan Paul.
I volunteered to explore, on behalf of the fledgling Mooney Caravan (from the beginning it was known as The Caravan), how we might make the necessary arrangements. Akmal, having started it all, seemed pleased to have somebody take up the cause. My first step was to call Tom Canavera, Executive Director of MAPA. Tom was sympathetic and supportive, but he was also pessimistic. It turned out that in a prior year, he had personally spent a lot of time and organization money setting up a group arrival into the EAA convention. Nobody came. It was a personal embarrassment to Tom, since he had widely publicized this grand event, which turned into an expensive flop. Tom said he would help where he could, but he did not have the time or resources to take on the full burden of organization.
Into the Enemy Camp
Not feeling very encouraged, I called the American Bonanza Society. I was
aware that the ABS had been making large group arrivals into
I now felt more knowledgeable, but I still had Tom's concerns on my mind. If we threw a party, would anybody come? I called the FAA's EAA Convention Tower Chief, Manny Torres of the Green Bay FSDO. Manny was cordial, but admitted that this was his first year in this job and needed to consult with his predecessor to see how this was done. I also called Jim Casper, who is a volunteer for the EAA Convention and is responsible for all aircraft ground operations and parking. I told both of these gentlemen of our tentative plans. I projected a small group of Mooneys, perhaps 20 planes, and indicated we wanted to arrive using the same special procedures as the Bonanza group. Once landed, we wanted to park together. I asked for their assistance and advice and, in retrospect, we received it to the fullest extent at every opportunity.
For those who have not been to the EAA convention before, imagine an aircraft arrival rate of over 10 aircraft a minute, with several aircraft landing on the same runway at the same time. Up to four runways are used simultaneously, the two main runways, a taxiway, and a turf strip. This doesn't include the sea plane base just off the approach end of Runway 27. All these aircraft have to be controlled in the air and on the ground and parked in a safe manner. It's quite an operation. Injecting a burst of Mooneys into this process was asking for a lot.
Where Do We Start From?
One of the first questions that we had to settle early was where would the
Caravan start from. Early on it became clear that the Caravan was actually two
activities. The main event was the last leg into
In the middle of March, the list agreed, by consensus, that
Dave Piehler of
of the 42 Mooneys on the Ramp at
Dave called the FBO on
Selecting the Date
The Oshkosh Convention runs for one week from Wednesday till the following Tuesday. A major problem is that the popularity of the convention can cause all parking/camping places to be taken before the convention even begins. To ensure we could get into Wittman Field it was necessary to arrive Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning (at the latest). We also took our cue from the Bonanza group, which traditionally arrives Monday afternoon at 4pm. So we planned for an arrival on Monday at 5pm just after the Bonanzas. The Mooney Corral was virtually next door to those Sons of Beeches.
Planning the Caravan Formation
By default I found myself acting as the Caravan organizer. I spent
considerable time theorizing about what sort of formation the Caravan should
assume on the flight from
The next decision was to determine the proper distance between the aircraft. This distance had to be big enough that it wasn't dangerous, but close enough that one could see the plane in front. This distance, it turns out, was dictated by other factors, namely, our takeoff rate and our enroute speed. Wayne Collins of the Bonanza group said that each aircraft starts rolling when the 3 plane element in front lifts off. Some experimentation at my local airport showed that a typical takeoff roll lasted 10 seconds.
After further discussion, we agreed on a flight cruise speed of 125 knots. This seemed like a good balance between aircraft controllability and providing a power margin for the slower models among us. This also happened to be the speed used by the Bonanzas. Each pilot was told to experiment with the power settings that would yield the desired speed at the altitude and expected gross weight. In my E model, this was 2400 RPM and 19.5 inches of MP at 3,500 feet.
Having determined our takeoff rate and our cruise speed, the aircraft spacing turned out to be 2,100 feet or almost half a mile. This distance represented about the maximum limit for reliably keeping visual contact with a single Mooney in front. This spacing did not work out exactly as planned for a number of reasons. In future Caravans, the distance between aircraft needs to be reduced, both to assist in the visual contact between aircraft but also to speed up the takeoff and landing rate.
Gaylon had one major concern to share about a formation flying in trail. He called this the whip saw effect. He said that any variations in speed or course by any aircraft would become exaggerated for the aircraft that follow. He stressed the need for all aircraft to keep power and heading changes to a minimum. This exaggeration, particularly in course, definitely occurred within our Caravan.
In summary, the theory was that each aircraft would first follow the
aircraft in front and second follow the prescribed course. Since some aircraft
drifted off course during the short flight to
The Enroute Flight Profile
The flight from
The flight would cruise at 3,500 feet, about 2,000 AGL. The course was the
044 degree radial of the MSN VORTAC until a point due south of the
The flight route had a number of variations built in to be exercised if the ceiling would not permit flight at 3,500 feet or if the landing runway was other than 36L and 36R.
In late April, I contacted Frank Whitezal, FAA ATC specialist in the Madison
Control Tower. I introduced myself and explained what we were organizing. After
a pause, he said "That's great. We could have a lot of fun helping you
guys." I was thinking, "this is an example
where our government really works!" After some exchanges of e-mail, Frank
explained that there might be some problems.
After takeoff, each aircraft was instructed to climb to 500 feet AGL and then turn to intercept the 044degree radial of MSN VORTAC.
Managing the Ramp at
It was my personal concern that the hardest part of the flight would be to
get all the Mooneys from their parking place to the takeoff runway in the right
order and at the right time. I had visions of ramp gridlock and the
aeronautical equivalent of road rage. We were lucky to be at
The view from Mooney 35 as we lined up to takeoff.
Dave Piehler worked out a brilliant plan for parking the aircraft, all facing West, with a long U shaped taxi path that would permit room for all aircraft to get in line, do their run up, and then be ready to move onto the runway for takeoff. To insure that the aircraft were in the right order as we taxied out, Dave and Keith Hoyte assigned flight numbers to each aircraft based on their parking order. As it turned out, our taxi performance was flawless.
Mooney Lead and Mooney Tail
As with any flight of multiple aircraft, the ATC controllers talk only with
the flight leader. So it was to be with the Mooney Caravan. The FAA said the
flight was to be called "Mooney Flight" and the lead aircraft was to
be called "Mooney Lead." Similarly, the last aircraft was to be
called "Mooney Tail" and also had official duties. The job of
"Mooney Lead" was turning out to be a big deal. This aircraft did all
the talking to ATC, from Clearance Delivery at
Dave Piehler volunteered to be "Mooney Tail." His job was to
define the position of the end of the Caravan and to announce to
Everything gets Official
The preparations and planning were happening in the very open forum of the Internet. Akmal set up a Caravan Web Page that contained a growing list of participants and all the rules and procedures that we were developing. The planning also took place in a very democratic way. The procedures, which totaled about 10 pages of text, went through five major revisions as people reviewed them and made valuable suggestions. Each update was posted on the web where all pilots could access them. There were a number of contentious issues, but all were resolved in a satisfactory fashion. The FAA delivered an eight page "Letter of Agreement," which every flight member was supposed to read. This letter covered the details of the arrival procedures for the flight for each of the four principal runways at the convention. This was also posted on the Caravan web page.
Caravan had a tour of the
By the early May we had twenty five participants signed up and by June 1st
(60 days before the actual flight) we had 40 planes. At this point I started to
get worried that a population explosion would exceed our capabilities to safely
manage the flight. I suggested that we establish an absolute maximum of 50
aircraft. Any additional candidates would go on a waiting list. As the final
date approached we reached a maximum of fifty confirmed planes and four on the
waiting list. Not surprisingly, there was some last minute attrition and two
days before Caravan day we had 49 confirmed planes from all over the country
poised to head out for
Part Two, Execution
On Saturday July 25th, Mooney Caravan
participants from all over the country began their pilgrimage toward Madison
Wisconsin. The first planes arrived around noon on Sunday and were directed by
the savvy tower crew to the south ramp. An impromptu greeting area was
established under a veranda and the early arrivals sat around on lawn chairs
critiquing the landing technique of the later arrivals. At about 5pm the
Northwest Caravan led by Akmal arrived with a total of five planes. By six p.m.
we had 16 Mooney on the ramp with five more arriving before midnight. Ken Beaubien who keeps his M20C at a grass strip just 14 miles
All of the pilots and crew stayed at a
very nice local hotel, the East Towne Suites, just a few miles from the
airport. After a shower we all felt much better and joined together for a
dinner at a restaurant next door to the hotel. Altogether, we were about twenty
five people at that time. After dinner, many of the Caravan members gathered to
watch the video made by the Northwest Caravan of their flight over the Cascades
and the Rockies and across the Northern tier to
When I started planning the group
fly-in, and particularly when I volunteered myself to be the lead aircraft, I
could see that there was a daunting amount of things to do both before and
during the flight. So in April, I started a campaign to induce my daughter,
Victoria (Tory), to join me at
The Big Day, July 27th
The weather had been a concern. The
long-term forecast had shown a strong Canadian cold front sagging down from
The core of the over-nighters headed
for the airport early to act as a welcoming committee. Even before we reached
the airport, new arrivals were streaming in. By two o'clock the last arrival,
Ron Apfelbaum and his son arrived from
The composition of the Caravan was
diverse. Thirty-eight planes came from twenty different states and four
Canadian planes came from two different provinces.
Victoria set up a formal registration
desk where each pilot checked in and received the briefing package, a thick
brown envelope filled with all the procedures, a copy of the briefing to
follow, the FAA Letter–of-Agreement, a Caravan Prop Card, and an EAA
"Camping" sign. A one-page summary of all procedures proved to be a
big help. At the registration, most participants picked up their custom
"First Mooney Caravan to
At 2:00 p.m. we began the flight briefing, which was scheduled to last for one hour. Wisconsin Aviation had moved a couple of business jets out of a big hangar next to the registration area. They had an overhead projector for the briefing and Don Winkler brought a screen from home. From the beginning, we felt that any large collection of airplanes in the air together had the potential to be hazardous unless everybody knew what was expected of them and what they could expect of others. Only pilots who attended the briefing were permitted to join the Caravan. Although the Oshkosh Caravan flight plan was as simple as you can get, there was an obvious need for a detailed briefing. Even after the briefing, our performance was ragged. We hope that experience and revised procedures will smooth things out in future years.
I conducted a major portion of the
briefing covering the procedures for radio communication, takeoff, the flight
path and profile, emergency procedures (thank goodness), and the
Before departure we had a one hour briefing of procedures. Here Jonathan Paul presents some detail to the attentive crowd.
After the briefing, everybody assembled on the ramp in front of the first row of Mooneys for a group picture. Mark Napier arrayed his numerous cameras for a panoramic shot of the seventy people (1.66 people per plane) who were the pilots and crew of the caravan. A wide collection of Caravan pictures have since been displayed on the web. See the Mooney Junction Web page (http://reality.sgi.com/mooney) for links to all these pictures and narratives. Don Winkler set up his camcorder on a movable tower to film the Caravan’s departure. In future years, it will be fun to have more video coverage of all phases of the caravan, including the in-flight phase.
The engine start was scheduled for 4:05pm. It turned out that Akmal, in the number 2 position, needed to boot up his large array of on-board computers, so he started his engine before 4pm and many in the flight followed suit. It was an amazing sight to look back and see all those Mooneys idling. At 4:05 I started my own engine and called Madison Clearance for our VFR Class C departure clearance. It was simple, "Mooney Flight, climb to 3,500 feet on course, Departure frequency 120.1. Mooney Lead squawk 0714". Only Dave (Mooney Tail) and I were given discreet squawk codes. All other transponders were supposed to be turned off.
After getting the clearance, we all
After I reached the departure runway, I could see all the other planes lined up in an orderly line more or less behind me. I performed my own run up and waited for a reasonable time to elapse before beginning the pre-takeoff check in. This was a radio check to determine if all the aircraft were ready to go, needed more time, or were aborting. It proceeded like staccato gun shots on the radio: "Mooney Lead OK, Mooney Two OK, Mooney Three OK..." and so on until Dave said "Mooney Tail OK." Three aircraft didn't respond on the first go around, but we picked them up on the follow up. I declared that the flight was ready to go. I can tell you that the adrenaline was in ample supply.
We switched to tower frequency, and I
announced "Mooney Flight, Ready For Takeoff
Runway Three One, VFR to
I taxied out onto the runway giving
time for Akmal to take position behind me. We had briefed that there should be
three aircraft on the runway at all times: rolling, waiting, and moving into
position. I looked over to my left. The ramp to my left was a
From my position in the front, I saw
no other aircraft in the flight until after we landed at
Behind me the takeoff was proceeding smoothly, but much slower than expected. We had estimated to have all aircraft in the air in seven minutes at 10 seconds each. It actually took over twelve minutes for the flight to become airborne. It appeared that each plane was reluctant to add power before the plane ahead was clearly in the air, and between a gradual addition of power and general caution, it was taking closer to 18 seconds between planes. This is something we will have to work on, particularly if the Caravan gets bigger in coming years.
While all of the planes were
monitoring the ATC frequency in use, we used another frequency for plane to
plane communication. This was the so called Mooney Frequency and for 1998, we
continued to use
It was about fifteen minutes into the
flight when we heard the transmission "Mooney Fifteen aborting" on
the Mooney Frequency. A moment later we heard on the Madison Approach
Frequency, "Mooney 201XG..... Declaring an emergency.... Request direct
Problems in the Formation
Meanwhile, back in the formation, problems were developing. In part, because of Henry's gyro problem, Mooney 15 had for some time been heading to the right (south) of course. In accordance with the briefed procedures, Mooney 16 (and all the planes behind) followed and found themselves seriously off course. Many pilots recognized the problem but were unwilling to break formation to start a correction. After the abort, Mooney 16 lost sight of Mooney 14 and Mooney 17 actually overtook and swapped places with Mooney 16. From our position at the head of the formation, we heard an increasing number of radio calls between the aircraft advising each other of the course deviations and suggesting corrections.
Because of the greater than expected spacing between the aircraft, several aircraft lost sight of the aircraft ahead. It was agreed that in subsequent years, we need to tighten up the spacing between aircraft.
Dave Piehler (as Mooney Tail) later reported, that at the back of the pack there was a decided oscillation of heading and course as each aircraft followed the aircraft in front in a formation. This oscillation became more pronounced the further back in the formation one was.
John Kallend, from his position as Mooney 35, commented later on our performance
was a long line of aircraft separated by some 1/2 mile. The problem was missed
navigation waypoints. The caravan was supposed to intercept and then track the
044 radial off MSN VOR, but someone around the middle of the line blew right
through this by several miles. This was supposed to take us on a direct course
to FDL, but this bit got messed up for the reason stated above. We were
supposed to turn inbound to
Being at the front of the pack I was
spared some of the problems of the planes to the rear. Even at the leisurely
speed of 125 knots, the 72 mile flight seemed to be happening in fast forward.
I switched from Madison Departure to
Shortly after we landed, Jonathan Paul
was interviewed by the local radio station.
As I turned inbound, I reduced power
to 15 inches and slowed (much to Akmal's distress) to the briefed 105 knots. At
eight miles, I swung the Johnson bar and dropped the gear and started my
descent. I was lined up OK on Runway 36 Left but there was a noticeable cross
wind from the west (left). The rate of descent was perfect as we approached the
runway. Full flaps. I caught sight of Akmal landing to
my right on RWY 36R (normally a taxiway). The tower droned, "Touch down
after the third taxiway," and I added power and flew down the runway at
eighty mph and fifty feet. The crosswind made me drift to the right. My speed
bled off, I added power, left wing down, right rudder. More right rudder. Damn,
no more rudder. OK put it down. And there in full view of thousands of people,
Part of the Caravan taxis in after landing.
The EAA parking volunteers in their
day-glow vests directed us onto the taxiway and after a short stretch on
concrete directed us to the grass and dirt taxi corridor to our designated
parking place. It was quite rough and I couldn't help but think that we were
still over gross weight (having foolishly filled up the tanks at
At about 10pm, a car moved slowly down
the rows of parked aircraft seeming looking for something. At our row it
stopped and out jumped Henry and Larry in their rental car. Somehow they had talked
their way out onto the flight line. We were full of questions and got the full
story of the abort and return to
There was one more organizational item
on the agenda, the Mooney Caravan "Barbecue." In the months leading
up to the Caravan, many people had suggested that the presence of a large contingent
of Mooney owners (the Caravan and many others) at
The issue did not die on the
"List", however. Several Caravan participants continued to explore
what we could do, probably on a much smaller scale. Several people volunteered
to help, and Jim Ryan, of
At an organizational meeting on
Tuesday morning, it was decided that we would limit our sales to 100 tickets.
We had already sold fifty tickets at
In summary, the barbecue, held at dusk on Thursday evening, was a big success. 172 tickets were sold at $6.00 each, collecting over one thousand dollars. Jim Ryan managed to sneak through the back gate with the provisions. Tracy Smith organized the "Brat Brigade", which cooked bratwurst on every available camp stove in the Mooney compound. Within an hour after the appointed start time, ten cases of beer, all the soft drinks, and all the salads were gone. It turned we all had bratwurst for breakfast for the next few days.
By 8pm the beer was gone!
The barbecue was a truly nice affair with lots of conversation and fellowship. Due to a lack of furniture, it was basically a stand up affair, but that kept people moving around and meeting others. The major problem was deciding what to do with the leftover money. After paying for the Mooney Caravan Banner, we donated $351 dollars to the MAPA Safety Foundation. An appreciative Don Bymaster, treasurer, accepted the donation the next day at the MAPA tent.
Thoughts for Future Caravan
The Mooney Caravan will definitely be repeated in 1999 and, we hope, for many years to come. The idea has proven to be of significant interest to a quite a large number of Mooney pilots and owners. As the time of this writing (late August 1998) we already have over forty members signed up for the '99 Caravan. We have formed committees to deal with many of the major tasks and many eager volunteers have signed up to help
Our goals for '99 are to increase the size of the caravan and to rectify the procedural problems that turned up in the '98 Caravan. We did a good job on our first try, but there is much room for improvement. At the same time, Waldo Born, Lloyd Sterns, and Ken Curell, all experienced military flyers, are investigating the issues of formation flying (as do the Bonanzas) for possible incorporation into later Caravans or as a stand-alone educational and proficiency activity.
To keep abreast of developments, check
out the Mooney Junction web site: http://reality.sgi.com/mooney. There you can
subscribe to the Mooney Mailing list. Not connected to the Internet? Contact:
Jonathan Paul, 56 Calara Canyon,