By JOEL MEANOR
The word came across the wire on Tuesday afternoon to fly a pup on what was forecasted to be a perfect Sunday morning.
Jack called, asking me to fly with him on a dog mission to a place due west of us, Aspermont, Texas. After analyzing what would be my Sunday afternoon schedule and the chance to fly in his Bellanca, I said, “heck yes, I’ll go.”
This mission, created by animal welfare organization Texas Cattle Dog Rescue (TCDR) was to move a rescued cattle dog from Flower Mound, Texas, to Santa Fe, N.M. It would take a total of three intricate legs, so the next couple of days consisted of a ton of work, emails, and coordination with the transporters by the names of Jena, Shelagh, and Cherie from TCRD.
Jack and I planned to meet at the airport between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. for a desired 7 a.m. departure. We would be “leg 2.”
Not getting to bed until around midnight Saturday night made the alarm going off at 5:15 a.m. come around extremely fast. I got out of bed, put the coffee on, and checked weather. It was 48° Fahrenheit, clear skies, and a gentle wind out of the north. Perfect weather for our important VFR assignment.
I arrived at Northwest Regional Airport at 6:35 a.m. to find Jack, with his headlamp on, putting the final touches and preparation on the airplane. Early morning greetings, comments on the ideal weather, then we pushed the 1957 Cruisemaster out of the hangar.
Moments after we secured our cars in the now empty T hangar, Jack’s phone rang. On the other end was Aaron Hoff. Aaron was “leg 1” of the route, transporting our cargo from Flower Mound, Texas, to Roanoke, Texas. He also fostered the puppy for a couple of days while everything else fell into place.
Aaron informed us he was on the west side of the airport. We vectored him to our location on the east side of the field.
At 6:45 a.m., we meet our auspicious consignment for the first time. Out of the back of Aaron’s vehicle, popped up a cute and inquisitive red heeler puppy, named Roo. The first thing I saw on this young, skinny cattle dog were her perfectly erect, oversized ears.
Aaron escorted Roo to a grassy area for a bathroom break, told us about her last bathroom times, her last meal time, etc. He also explained that she had been abandoned, and found at an apartment complex and was 5 pounds lighter than she is now.
The vet estimated her to be 8 to 10 weeks old, and healthy. Someone in Santa Fe was about to adopt a very good-looking dog.
Jack and I took a picture with the young dog, complied with the required paperwork, gathered a few “puppy pads,” leash, and then gently loaded Roo into a crate within the baggage compartment of the airplane.
Roo had no issues with her new, temporary surroundings, and settled right in. Big ears and bright eyes.
We climbed into the Bellanca. And at 6:53 a.m., Jack woke up the 230-hp O-470-K.
With the wind out of the north, Jack turned the taildragger to the left, south on the taxiway and found a spot for a run up. With all systems go, we made a radio call on 122.9, visually looked for traffic and eased onto Runway 35.
With me, Jack, Roo, full fuel, cool OAT, and a gentle headwind, the well-made Bellanca used only about a fifth of the available 3,500 foot asphalt runway. We rotated at 7 a.m. sharp.
Establishing a positive rate of climb was effortless for the two-tone green and white model 14-19-2. A gentle “bump-bump” sound, combined with cockpit lighting, confirmed our mains were tucked away properly.
The sky was crystal clear blue and the sun bobbed off the right wingtip. Simply ideal conditions as we steered west to two-seven-niner, respecting the Alliance Airport’s Delta airspace.
Jack tuned in, called regional approach on 118.1, and requested VFR flight following, and 8,500 feet. We followed their instructions and squawked a code. Radar contact was made and we continued our 500 feet per minute climb.
Little Roo whimpered for about two minutes before calming down.
We leveled off nicely at 8,500 with not a bump in the air and Jack properly leaned for best fuel burn. Looking down on a beautiful green, springtime Texas, we were at 150 mph indicated. With both of us using iPads, ForeFlight, and Stratus, we settled in for our 150 nm journey.
“55B, switch to 127.” “127 for 55B.” “Altimeter is 30.17.” “30.17.” “Be advised, could be precipitation in your route, deviate if required.” “We’ll be on the lookout, and deviate if required, 55B.”
I love settling in after the takeoff and climb out. All P’s & T’s (pressures and temperatures) were in the green. Good conversation, check.
“55B, switch to 133.5.” “133.5 for 55B.” “Altimeter is 30.24.” “30.24.”
With our destination field elevation at 1,744 feet MSL, a pattern altitude of 2,600 feet, and a little less than 6,000 feet to lose, Jack radioed approach and informed we were beginning our descent. We were now 12 minutes away from Stonewall County Airport.
“55B, squawk VFR, g’day.” “55B, thank you..”
Throttled back, trimmed up, establish a 500 fpm decent and Jack flopped us over to the CTAF of 122.9.
“Stonewall County traffic, Bellanca 55B is 10 miles east of the airport inbound landing runway 35. Stonewall County traffic.”
It was nice to see features in the land as we descended. There were hills, valleys, knobs, washes, and the rest. I read where Aspermont means “rough mountain” in Latin. And again, lots of pretty green down there this time of year.
“Stonewall County, 55B 3 miles east, inbound full stop, will cross mid-field for a left downwind for 35. Stonewall County.”
I looked back to the baggage compartment to find our young pup observing our traffic pattern work.
Jack made easy work of it, crossed mid-field, entered the downwind, flew us in for stable landing onto recently black-topped Runway 35. “Time on” was 8:09 a.m.; just an hour and nine minutes from runway to runway.
Stonewall County, Texas, was created in 1876 and named for Stonewall Jackson, a general of the Confederate States Army. Stonewall County Airport (T60) sits on 80 acres, is publicly owned, and was activated in 1986. There was one vehicle, a white pickup truck, waiting for us by one lone hangar on this quiet, remote country airport.
Enter Scott Metcalf. This day, Scott was officially “Driver 2,” responsible for “leg 3,” ensuring safe passage for the lucky red heeler puppy for approximately 435 miles from Aspermont to Santa Fe, N.M.
Scott was grinning ear to ear at us, as we crawled out of the “triple tail” aircraft.
Scott had two other cattle dogs in the backseat of his late model, white Ford F-250. And, he was more than eager to help unload our cargo.
A quick picture of Scott standing by Roo in the aircraft, and then it was off to the grass for some relief prior to popping her up into the backseat for an introduction to her two new, furry friends.
Again, some doggy paperwork, and that was that.
Scott Metcalf was more than kind. He had thoughtfully provided donuts and drinks for us. What a treat to meet our new friend here, at T60, talking about airplanes, and enjoying a couple glazed donuts and an iced coffee.
Scott told us his family had been ranching in Stonewall County for 117 years. Jack explained later that catered refreshments on a “dog run” is not normal, but certainly appreciated!
Time to go. We climbed back in the Bellanca, buckled up and threw the switch at 8:36 a.m. A quick check of things: The weather at Abilene Regional Airport (ABI) is 330 at 3, 10sm, sky clear, 44F, and 30.25inHG. Beautiful West Texas land here we go again. We were airborne at 8:42 a.m.
Pretty much the same in reverse for the return home, holler on 133.5 for flight following, establish a 500 fpm climb for 7,500, follow the instruction to squawk and request to ident.
“55B, radar contact, 46 miles north of Abilene.” “55B.”
We were on our way back home.
With just a couple of bumps while descending into 52F, the mission was just perfect. Right after a chirp of the stall warning, our “time on” was 9:54 a.m.
A quick stop at the pumps for fuel, and it was back in the hangar for 55B. Another mission in the books for the proven Bellanca.
Jack and I stopped for a breakfast in Roanoke, at the renowned Dove Creek Café. It was time for coffee, great food, and some lively conversation about little Roo, and our successful undertaking. And all wrapped up before 11 in the morning!
My hat is off to organizations such as Pilots N Paws, and Texas Cattle Dog Rescue, as well as all the volunteers engaged in rescuing and assisting with animal transportation. I was glad to be a part of it and look forward to the next mission.