I love it when a plane comes together.

April 7, 2021


When we flew into Grand Junction on Friday, I was struck by how amazing the landscape is in western Colorado. There are mountains and mesas and buttes and arroyos and lots of other things that I don’t know the names of.

But Lauren’s dad knows all of the names for everything within about 100 miles of where they live. And he doesn’t just know that that’s a mesa over there. He knows that it’s Orchard Mesa, and it’s irrigated by a long underground flume.

So I thought it might be fun to tool around with him in a little plane for a while. Lauren and I had gone up with Lon Jungemann a couple of times, and I had been on a plane ride with Curt and Samith and a helicopter tour of Maui with Samith, Curt and Brad. It’s great because you aren’t 20,000 feet above the ground. You’re close enough to see everything. And it’s great because you’re not looking through a tiny little window with half of the view taken up by a giant wing. But I didn’t know if he would be interested.

Keren, Lauren’s sister, picked us up at the airport in Grand Junction and I asked her if she thought her dad might be interested in a little sight seeing flight. Keren thought it was a great idea, and graciously volunteered to go along. Lauren said that she would, also graciously, stay home and make sure their mom didn’t worry.

Once we arrived at the parents’ house, I obliquely asked their dad if he thought that a flight might be interesting, and he allowed that he would not be opposed to that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to go about finding out if this was even possible, much less possible with less than 24 hours notice. I did a lot of Googling and came up empty. Finally, it occurred to me to just call the airport. We left for Keren’s place soon after that, so I could make the call.

I learned a lot of new phrases. I was not looking for someone to take us on a sightseeing flight. I was looking for, “Someone to take us up.” The lady at the airport thought that perhaps their flight instructor did that from time to time. When I asked about paying, she said that the aircraft was $159/hour “wet” (with fuel), and that I would also have to pay Bill, the flight instructor.

I called Bill and he was giving a lesson in Montrose in the morning, but could be back in Delta by 11:30. He asked how many of us wanted to go up and I said 3. He asked how old we were, and I said about two of us were around 55 and one a spry 75. He seemed a lot more inclined to take us up after that. I don’t think he wanted to deal with any kids. I realized right after I said it that I had shaved quite a few years off Pastor Hofman’s age, but decided not to make the correction. He asked how long we wanted to fly and offered that he charged $60 an hour. I said an hour or so and we talked a bit about where we might want to fly.

When we got back to the folk’s house, Marion told me that the guy I wanted to talk to was Bill Swartz. He had sneakily called the airport while I had been sneakily calling the airport. I took that as a sign that he really wanted to go and was not just humoring his son-in-law.

We told Lauren’s mom that we were going to run a few “air”-rends and maybe “go up” onto The Mesa. They say, “The Mesa”, but it is actually the world’s largest flat top mountain.

We arrived at the airport about 30 minutes early, and the monthly meeting of the Delta County Experimental Aircraft Club was just getting out. So Lauren’s dad made about 10 new friends before Bill arrived to take us up. Bill was a retired army pilot, and he was impressed by some of the planes that Marion had flown in. Bill was impressive too, and very fun to go up with.

The plane was completely full, and Bill mentioned that the plane would take longer to get up on The Mesa because of that. Keren suggested that we reverse the itinerary and go to the Black Canyon first to use up some fuel and lighten the load. The suggestion seemed to impress Bill, and he readily agreed.

The picture doesn’t really do it justice. We took a fair number of pictures, but they just aren’t as three dimensional as the real thing. About 25 years ago Lauren’s folks took us to the Black Canyon, but seeing it from the rim was different from seeing it from the air. Bill said he had rafted it once and Keren and I agreed that that would be the next adventure. But we would probably have to wait for Phil and Mark to come out for that one.

We headed back north toward The Mesa with Marion and Bill outdoing each other pointing out local landmarks. We flew up over the Mesa and Bill suggested that we fly back level with the edge of The Mesa. We all agreed that that was clearly the way to go.

Our final objective was to see the house from the air. Bill pointed the plane toward Cedaredge and I pulled up Google Maps and we aimed the plane right for the house.

It was sort of a comedy of errors for a while. We all knew right where the house was, but had a hard time describing it. “North of the pines.” “Next to the big shed.” “The one with a roof.” We circled it about 3 times and I eventually called Lauren. I couldn’t hear her over the plane, but I asked her to come wave to us. I found out later that she had already come out once, because there was a really loud plane circling the house at a low altitude.

She sent back this picture. She said we were much bigger in real life.

Here’s everything Lauren wrote about yesterday.

Then we were safely back on the ground after the smoothest landing I’ve ever been a part of.

We all thanked Bill, and agreed to do it again sometime.

Just one other note, the airport was pretty informal. When I asked them how I pay them for the use of the aircraft, they said I could call on Monday, tell them how long we had flown, and pay with a credit card. Or, if I didn’t feel comfortable giving my credit card number over the phone, I could write a check on Saturday and just slide it under the door.

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About Lauren

Lauren Sommerer is a preschool teacher who likes to build prototypes, grow cats, cook things once, save money, reduce, reuse and recycle.

View all posts by Lauren

9 Responses to “I love it when a plane comes together.”

  1. Brad Said on:

    How fun! I love the pictures! I don’t know if I would do such a thing because of my fear of flying, but maybe it’s different when it’s a small plane.

    Also, your title is fantastic.


  2. Deborah Said on:

    “The one with the roof.” Ha!


  3. Lauren Said on:

    I think the funniest part was that my mom was napping while the plane flew around the house -- low, and circling three times trying to identify the house. I snuck out very quietly so I wouldn’t bother her. When she woke up later she said, “Did you hear that loud plane? I bet that was Lloyd.”

    You can’t pull anything over on her. 🙂


  4. Beth Said on:

    Yea…that whole deal was pretty fantastic.

    “I bet that was Lloyd.” Oh Nancy.


  5. Lauren's dad Said on:

    ‘Twas an enjoyable flight! And, I did not embarrass Lloyd by offering to help with the fees. Oh, and we reached an elevation of a little over 12,000 feet! Thanks, Lloyd!!!


  6. Mark Said on:

    “Thou shall not covet….thou shall not covet….thou shall not….”

    Being one to focus on the vehicle and not the scenery, it looks like you went up in a mid-1960s Cessna 182 Skylane equipped with de-icing boots on the leading edges of the wing and horizontal stabilizer. Mountain flying would be safer in a 182 than a lower horsepower 172 with only a small increase in fuel burn ($cost$) for the added safety. Four poeple, a full load of fuel and 5,000+ starting altitude would be tough in a 182, and probably not all that safe in a 172.

    172s of that era have an exhaust pipe sticking out below the left side of the engine cowling, while 182’s have it on the right, with three little chevrons (like those in your photo) and a cowl flap for cooling on the left side.

    But I could be wrong.


  7. Kristi Said on:

    Great story!


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