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3/3/2005

Watchin' The Sky

The excitement never ends! You may have heard of Steve Fossett’s attempt to fly non-stop around the world without refueling his aircraft, the Global Flyer. There were a few tense moments with the Global Positioning System failing during the early part of the flight and a reported loss of fuel that threatened the flight. But, in both cases problems were worked out. The GPS resumed functioning after a couple of hours and the fuel problem as near as I can tell turned out to be a miscalculation.  
 
I just happened to be hauling some calves to the sale barn at Salina this morning. Fossett had taken off from Salina Monday evening just about dark. Salina had been chosen for the take off and landing for a number of reasons. The location used to be a SAC Air Force Base back in the day of the Russian nuclear threat of the 50’s and 60’s. The runway is one of the largest anywhere being nearly 2 miles long. What do ya do with a two mile long runway when the Air Force pulls out? Well, for one thing ya got plenty of room for an airport. Kansas State recognized the opportunity basing the K-State University College of Technology and Aviation there. Mission Control was set up right on campus.  
 
Of course, I was unloadin’ calves about 9 am and they were sayin’ the Global Flyer was due to land sometime after 1:00 pm. So, I pointed the pickup west toward Ellsworth. I figgered Fossett would have ta land this one without my help. 
 
I got back to Drovers Mercantile and settled in ta write a story for the next Kansas Cowboy paper but Kassi had other idees… We piled into her covered wagon an’ headed north to her mother’s farm. The country rises out of the Smoky Hill River valley pretty fast. The farm sits on top lookin’ down on Ellsworth and the valley beyond. Pretty view. We pulled up to the west side of the farm where Christine, her mother, was already out watchin’ the sky.  
 
Kassi had seen the Global Flyer once when they were runnin’ test flights and she wanted ta say she had seen it come in on the actual record setting flight. I’ve never been much fer that sort of thing, but I do remember watchin’ Sputnik roll across the sky when I was a kid. Seemed purty amazing at the time… 
 
Well, we sat an’ watched a clear blue sky. Not much moving except a couple of red-tailed hawks floatin’ lazily over the crick. The folks on the radio were all situated at the runway waitin’ for the expected touchdown. They were saying 1:20 or so. A prop plane sauntered across the heavens. Not much else. Along about 12:50 a jet appeared in the southwest, its con trail shooting straight up into that blue. A cloud bank was forming way out in the west. But, no… It was only a big passenger jet.  
 
Then, the radio announced that Global Flyer was expected to touch down in something like seven minutes! What? No way! Could we have missed it? Salina is 35 miles away. We must have missed it. Even though I claimed I wasn’t all that interested I was feeling disappointed anyway.  
 
As if on queue the sky seemed to fill with passenger jets crisscrossing the heartland on their way to Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Omaha and who knows! I counted eight in our view at once. We were about ready to pack up and head for town when the sound of a helicopter caught our attention. I located it with binoculars. And then! Kassi spotted the Global Flyer! There it is!  
 
Sure enough! It was gliding along as pretty as you please. Another plane was escorting it. We had heard that a plane had been shadowing it to document the flight for the Discovery Channel. The two planes seemed to be dancing together. Only the dance floor was the beautifully blue Kansas sky. They made a big arc turning from an easterly direction toward the north and around to actually flying away from Salina to the west. We were able to watch them for several minutes. The radio personalities were expecting them in sight at any moment, but we were in on a little secret. It would be some time yet before they flew into Salina.  
 
Global Flyer finally banked to the north and we lost sight of them. It was fun while it lasted!  
 
The radio crew and TV cameras were all set up on the north end of the runway in Salina just waiting for their chance to report on the historic landing when word came that the plane was going to come in from the SOUTH instead of the north. As they were reporting the apparent change in plans everybody was hustling to get to the south end to set up in time for the landing. We were wondering what was going on as we knew we had seen Global Flyer making that big arc to the north in preparation for landing. Then an excited reporter announced that there had been a mistake. The Global Flyer was indeed flying in from the north!  
 
I imagine that it was funnier in my mind than for real, but I could see this Keystone Cop experience happening up and down the runway. Laughter echoed over the prairie. Sure glad Kassi wanted to see this thing. I was havin’ myself a time!  
 
Global Flyer did in fact land from the north. Steve Fossett was in the saddle fer a little over 67 hours. The sky has always been a part of the heart and soul of any Kansan. We naturally watch the skies everyday. Today, was a good day to be watchin’. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy  

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