Valentine’s Weekend Flights

By Steve Aughinbaugh (February 1999)

This is an article that I wrote for my flying club’s newsletter about a 1999 Valentine’s weekend flights.

I had suggested to Cindy that we might have time to take Colin (her 13 year-old son) for an airplane ride Saturday. With the weather so nice (about 65) and clear, I thought this would be a great day for a first small airplane trip. So on Saturday I picked them up and at about 2:30 we jumped into 2 Romeo Juliet (2RJ - I just realized that my airplane's name and the holiday had some connection). We flew over their home in Richardson and then headed northeast for Paris! I figure it's Valentine's weekend and you might as well go to Paris ... Paris, Texas that is.

Paris, TX is about 80 miles to the northeast of Plano. When we arrived we were going to go into town, but another pilot had arrived before us and he had taken the courtesy car to town to get a meal. We were told that he was expected back soon. So we sat down in the lounge. I looked on the sofa table in front of us and what did I see? The latest fashions from Paris! Well sort of, it was the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. So when in Paris ... (you know the rest). We browsed through the pages. Have you heard about or seen this year's issue? About a dozen of the pictures have the models with painted-on swimsuits. Tastefully done of course! Cindy reminded me that Colin is 13. I pointed out that this is Sport Illustrated, not one of them "other" magazines. She smiled politely and motioned Colin to moved closer. I continue turning pages. Even the advertisements can be pretty interesting. It really is an interesting idea. I wonder how many subscriptions they sell just because of this one yearly issue. I am sure the number is small and that most people subscribe just for the sports related issues. (Ya, right.) Well enough of that.

The other pilot must have been having a big dinner and Colin was getting hungry (it had already been 2 hours since he had last eaten a full meal.). So we got back in the airplane and flew to Sulphur Springs, TX which is about 35 miles and 15 minutes south from Paris. I let Colin do most of the flying on this leg. He did really well for his first time. It is fun to watch young men and women take the controls. I completed a Young Eagle’s application for Colin when we returned. Soon his name will be listed in the world’s largest logbook at

At Sulphur Springs, we took their courtesy car into town and found what turned out to be a nice Texas BBQ place. The guys in the hanger had recommended the next-door Mexican place. When we got to the restaurant there were no cars, not a single one in the lot for the BBQ place. While next door, the lot was full and there were people standing outside! We did not think this was a good sign, but Colin wanted BBQ. So in we went. It turns out that they were just opening and other people started showing up and much of their business is drive-through. The food was very good. After filling Colin with a 1/2 pound of ribs and another 1/2 pound of sausage (no vegetables, just the meat), it was back to the airport to take-off into the setting sun.

The sun was just about to drop below the horizon and we were treated to very pretty orange sunset. As the sun set in the west the lights came out. Even in the very rural areas there are lots and lots of lights. It appears that we humans really don't like the dark very much. Each little town would bloom into a white cluster of bright lights and dwindle away into the stars of the countryside. You could see the streams of cars going from town to town along the highways. I guess that we humans also don't like to stay in one place very long either. As we got closer to Dallas I turned toward downtown to get a better view of downtown and go over Colin and Cindy's place at night. They have a white picket fence in front and even at night you can see it to pick-out their house.

The lights of downtown Dallas were about 10 miles away. To go any closer I would have to contact Dallas Love Field (appropriate on enough on this weekend) but I did not want to get tangled up in the air traffic at night so we turned back to the north. The lights of the downtown mixed together with all of the other lights and from 10 miles it was hard to pick out the tall building of downtown. I made a note to myself to get one of the more experienced pilots or instructors to go up with me some evening and help me do a tour of downtown Dallas so the next time I'd be more comfortable with such an adventure.

Back to Aero Country and the last of three pretty good landings. At night it is a bit more challenging to flare at the right time and gently place the wheels on the runway. You tend to flare too high and drop the airplane the last 2 or 3 feet with a thud! But not this time. The landing gods were nice to me. We put the airplane away and then took advantage of the rural location and the lack of moonlight to gaze at the stars. Living in a very urban area I don't get the chance to really see the stars as much as I did growing up in rural Indiana. It was a great end to half of a wonderful weekend. I still had Valentine's day on Sunday to go!

Valentine’s Day

Sunday I got up and made preparations for the evening. I had to take a couple of thing to the airport. With my preparations done it was time to head back home and get dressed for my Valentine's Day date. Nice slacks, white shirt and a blue pullover sweater. This is not my normal outfit for flying. Another great weather day in DFW. I left the top down on the car and drove to Cindy's with a half-dozen roses and chocolates in hand. Cindy surprised me with a nice Dallas Stars polo shirt. From there I pick-up Dick and Diana, long time friends of mine and then on to the airport where N642RJ waited for us. I opened the hanger and produced a bottle of wine and three wineglasses from the refrigerator. Of course I cannot have alcohol before a flight but there is no reason my passengers cannot. While they were visiting I finished opening the hanger and pulled the airplane out. A friend who lives at the airport and his date came by and I poured them a glass of wine as well to celebrate the day.

With the pre-flight complete and the airplane ready, we climbed in. Soon we were in the clear, blue Texas sky headed for Oklahoma and Fireside Dining near Lake Murray State Park airport. We had a very good tailwind and were landing just 25 minutes later and 70 miles north of where we started. I do not often have 4 adults in my airplane, but the airplane and I did just great. It does handle a little differently fully loaded. The cruise trim and flare to landing is a bit different, but not greatly. The Cherokee 180 is a great 4-person airplane.

Two other pilots had landed just ahead of us. In fact the last pilot waited at the far end of the runway while we landed. Lake Murray does not have a taxiway and the turn-off to the parking area is midway on the runway. I did a good job of landing and was able to slow the airplane quickly enough to make the turn-off and not have to turn around and back-taxi. There were 6 airplanes at the airport. This is a popular Valentine's Day destination for pilots. Other times when I have been here there may be one other airplane in the parking area.

The runway is located next to the golf course and the parking area is right behind the golf course clubhouse. A quick phone call from clubhouse to the restaurant resulted in us being picked up and taken to Fireside. It is a very nice restaurant with a warm fire always glowing in the lobby. It is located about 1/2 mile west from the south end of the runway. The large windows afford you a nice view of the trees and the woods surrounding it. They have a full menu of steaks, fish and chicken. Tonight they featured Chateau Briand for two. All of us agreed and order the Chateau Briand. It came with an appetizer of shrimp, fried pickles and fried cheese. The meat was very good and tender and the hollandaise sauce was grand. Steamed carrots, broccoli and cauliflower with sauted mushrooms and potatoes completed the main entree. For desert there was a heart shaped ice cream dish. It was vanilla ice cream encased in white chocolate on a plate of strawberry syrup and a bit of strawberry sherbert in the very middle of it. It was very good. We all enjoyed it.

With our meal completed it was time to head back to the airport. It turned out that all of the groups that had flown in completed our meals at about the same time. So we waited as they shuttled us to the airport. The trip is short so it did not take long. It also gave us time to warm by the fireplace and visit. Since we were one of the later airplanes to leave we noted that this might be good because the earlier departures would have cleared the runway of deer. The pilot that landed ahead me said that he had seen some while he was waiting at the end of the runway for me to land. By this time of night, 8:00 PM, it was a bit cooler, so we quickly loaded up. I remembered to do my run-up check before entering the runway this time. Last time I was here I taxied to the end of the runway and had to do my run-up there. One last check for deer on the runway and it was time to takeoff. We climbed into the clear, dark Oklahoma sky this time and leveled off at 3,000 feet. Again the lights were everywhere. The trip back was smooth and uneventful, but a bit slower. In fact was a lot slower. On the way up we were doing about 160 MPH. Now we were only doing 90 MPH. We had a direct headwind of 45 MPH! Oh well, just a bit more time to enjoy the view. We passed the time trying to see how many other airplanes we could see. During the day you do not see very many airplanes, but at night you can pick out the airplane beacons with ease. At one point we counted 10 airplanes over the DFW skyline.

As we neared Aero Country, I saw the field and headed to the west to make and 45-degree downwind entry. Downwind was right! By the time I completed the 180 to turn back to the north for landing on runway 17 we had been blown to the point where I needed to do my turn to the base leg. On final, I glanced at the GPS and saw that we were only approaching the runway threshold at 50 MPH instead of the more normal 75. But, no problem we glided to the ground and touched down just beyond the threshold. It was not one of my better landing. I flared a bit late and planted the mains on the runway a bit harder than I normally do. Everyone on board thought the landing was fine, but I knew that I could have done better.

We taxied to the hanger and tucked 2 Romeo Juliet safely away until the next time. I had a glass of the remaining wine to toast the end of a great Valentine's Day aviation weekend. There is so much that you can do with a small airplane and this weekend was a prime example. I hope that all of you enjoyed letting me drone on about this. Now go out and fly somewhere!

Cheers, Steve

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