Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Traveling Tuesday: Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure

With more than 100 species of wildlife at home on 65 acres of land, the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure located six miles west of Salina has many animals in their natural environments to see. Get an up-close look at a white camel, an Indian rhino, a snow leopard, a giant anteater, a white throated capuchin and more.

In the early 1980s, a large barn was built for several Belgian horses, the beginnings of Rolling Hills Ranch. Later, more animals were added and tours were requested, which expanded the zoo to what it is today. A wildlife museum opened in 2005 to expand the educational message and feature animals not found in the zoo.

Monday, June 29, 2015

KDOT Aviation Director reports on her experience at the Air Race Classic

KDOT Aviation Director Tiffany Brown (right) and her teammate Taylor Humphrey pose in the plane they used in the Air Race Classic.

I think it’s rare to go into an experience knowing that two weeks of your life will be a once in a lifetime experience. The personal and financial sacrifices it took to make the race happen for Taylor and I will be hard to replicate but we both agreed we left the finish line with no regrets.

An aerial view of the Mississippi River.
The race started on Monday, June 22 when groups of 5 airplanes would be signaled to start their engines together and taxi to the starting line one behind the other. There were over 50 teams so the time between each engine start was long enough that I was able to watch about the first 20 before getting in my airplane. Hearing so many engines roar all at once gave me goosebumps. One by one we would make our radio calls onto the runway. Aviation radio calls have a simple structure: where you are, who you are, what you are doing, where you are. The race started at Stafford Regional Airport in Fredericksburg, Virginia and when our turn came we made our first race call. “Stafford, Classic Racer 45, line up and wait Runway 15, Stafford.” We proceeded onto the runway and waited for the flag drop. As it dropped we went full throttle and made our departure call, “Stafford, Classic Racer 45, on the roll Runway 15, Stafford.” The Cessna we flew has traffic awareness in the cockpit that visually and audibly warns the pilot of nearby traffic to assist in preventing mid-air collisions. As we departed our screen lit up with targets, “Traffic, 3 o’clock, high” then “Traffic, 1 o’clock, low” our heads were on swivels as we were approached and passed or were passed by other racers. The first leg was the busiest and the traffic naturally spread out after our first stop and fly-by.

Each race leg is timed individually and to stop the clock a racer would do a “fly-by” at 200 feet above the ground at a selected airport. These fly-bys would make or break your race score. If you did anything wrong a racer would be penalized anywhere from 4 to 10 knots. Penalties came from missing one of your required radio calls, to forgetting to turn on your landing lights, or flying the fly-by to high or low or in the wrong corridor. Our team encountered one penalty during the race for missing a radio call on the first of the nine stops and we flew the rest of the fly-bys perfectly.

My co-pilot, Taylor, and I would switch off legs. At each leg we would do a fly-by and then circle to land, refuel, check the weather, eat something, and then takeoff again.  The pilot in left seat was responsible for flying the airplane or managing the autopilot and the pilot in right seat was responsible for everything else. Weather is such an integral part of flying and was the basis of all of our decisions to continue on or to stay at a stop and wait. In-between Lawrenceville, Ill., and Kirksville, Mo., we took a chance on the weather. A storm was approaching Kirksville that we would not want to fly into but the leg from Kirksville to Union City, Tenn., had killer tailwinds we wanted to fly in. A tailwind is when the wind is moving in the same direction as the airplane and a headwind is when the wind is moving in the opposite direction of the airplane. The difference between a headwind and a tailwind dramatically increases or decreases the ground speed of the airplane and plays a huge part in our score. Think of it as trying to swim upstream versus trying to swim downstream. We were one of two airplanes that took the chance on beating the storm and made our plan B to land off route if the storm beats us. Plan B would have completely taken us out of the race but no guts, no glory so we pressed on. The turnaround in Kirksville was the fastest turnaround of all our stops. It was luck that Kirksville prides themselves on their speed of refueling planes. There was no delay and while the other planes were on the ground waiting for the storm to pass we were making our departure fly-by to make it to the next leg. Taking that chance paid off and that leg was our highest scoring leg in the race.

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful. The leg to the finish line in Fairhope, Alabama was riddled with isolated thunderstorms. The thunderstorms popped up on both sides of us as we were about 20 miles out of Fairhope and closed up behind us. As they closed up they caused about 6 racers to have to divert and fly into the airport from the south instead of the most direct route from the north. We concluded that we had gotten lucky and were relieved to be done. In three days we spent 20 hours in a cockpit side by side. Taylor was the youngest racer to fly the race this year and she did a phenomenal job. Taylor has an uncanny ability to stay calm under stress, which is a great trait to have in someone sitting next to you.

Our team ended up placing 42nd in a field of 55 registered racers. We ended up with a technical penalty for unreported maintenance to the airplane that resulted in a 5-knot penalty on every leg. While the technical penalty killed our score we were both extremely pleased with how we flew the race and both think we did the best we could have done.

We both came home with 40 hours of flight time in conditions and terrain completely unfamiliar to us and landed as better pilots than when we took off. At the end of the race we kept getting asked what’s next. So what is next? Taylor will finish her summer working on her instrument rating so she can fly in the instrument conditions I described in my first blog (June 23). She will start college in the fall at Southwestern University in Winfield with plans to join the Air Force after college. I will continue working on my flight instructor rating so I can start to pass down all of the knowledge I’ve worked so hard to gain. It’s humbling to think for two weeks we spent time in the ranks of the modern-day Amelia Earharts. These are woman with the same adventurous spirit she had when she and a group of woman started the air race in 1929. It was a life changing experience filled with contacts and friendships we will keep for a lifetime.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grain trucks take over roads, towns this time of year

Delphos Co-op employee Sandy Fruits takes a wheat sample from a customer.

Tucked into north central Kansas is a small town, home to about 350 people, called Delphos.  Grace Bedell, the 11-year-old girl famous for writing a letter to Abe Lincoln encouraging him to grow a beard, once lived here.  Delphos streets may be quiet  most of the year, but on a hot June day the amount of trucks passing through town nearly double the number of people who call it home.

“At the high point of wheat harvest, we can serve as many as 600 grain trucks a day,” said Steve Hoesli, general manager of the Delphos Co-op.

That’s impressive for a staff of only 11. 

In a typical year, Delphos will take in 3 to 3 ½ million bushels of grain, which is about average for an independent co-op in Kansas.  Nearly 80 percent of that grain will be transported out by truck on Kansas highways—the most common destinations being Concordia, Salina, and Kansas City.

“Transportation accounts for about half of our expenses.  It’s a major factor of our business,” said Hoesli.

Agriculture is the largest economic driver in the state and transportation plays a key role in its success.

While the Delphos Co-op is served by the Kyle Railroad, trucking is more feasible for getting grain in and out of the facility given that much of it travels short distances initially. However, once the grain arrives at the larger facilities, it’s likely to be transported by rail to its final destination.

About 380 million bushels of winter wheat are produced in Kansas each year. Most of that will be transported on a Kansas highway at some point from the time it leaves the farm to the time it ends up in a loaf of bread on someone’s table. 

With harvest underway in much of the state, motorists will be seeing more grain trucks and farm machinery on the roads soon and will want to use extra caution. Click here for some safety tips from the Kansas Highway Patrol.
With only a few area farmers having started cutting last week, Hoesli and staff have had the chance to ease into the harvest routine a bit.  Early reports indicate the wheat will be good this year and that means it should make for a busy harvest.  Soon hundreds trucks will be rumbling up and down the once quiet streets of Delphos, and the co-op staff will have the nearly impossible job of getting them through the elevator in a timely manner.  But, they’re ready—it’s what they do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Check out this firsthand account from KDOT's Aviation Director as she and her 18-year-old teammate participate in the Air Race Classic

Tiffany Brown  (left) and Taylor Humphrey (right) pose in front of their aircraft.

(Tiffany Brown of the Kansas Department of Transportation is the state’s Acting Director of Aviation. She and her co-pilot, Taylor Humphrey of Winfield, Kan., are competing at team TNT in this year’s Air Race Classic, a four-day, 2,100-nautical-mile air race for women. Brown will file two more blogs this week about the race.  Below is her first one.)

As it turns out just getting to the Air Race Classic start would be an adventure in itself. The Air Race is an all-women's race with roots from the 1929 Powder Puff Derby, which was started by a group of woman including the famous Kansas aviatrix Amelia Earhart. The route changes every year and each team is composed of two to three women. Our team consists of a pilot, myself, and a copilot, 18-year old Taylor Humphrey from Winfield, Kan. 

We intended on leaving Wednesday morning from Lawrence, Kan., but Tropical Storm Bill threw a couple new challenges our way in the form of thunderstorms on our intended direct route to Fredericksburg, Va. Our departure was delayed until we could find a break in the thunderstorms around noon and we decided to take an indirect loop down south hitting Sikeston, Mo., then Crossville, Tenn., to stay the night. The flight was mainly made in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which means you can't see where you are going and you are depending solely on instruments. Imagine driving in your car in rain so heavy you can't see anything outside and you must depend on only the information your car's gauges are giving you. That's IMC and it's very mentally straining. Not only can’t you see, but you also must dodge the worst part of the storms. We have radar on board the aircraft but it averages a delay of 6 minutes. Anyone who knows anything about storms knows that a storm can change a lot in those six minutes. Air traffic control helped navigate us around parts of the storm that was producing hail and other convective activity.

The next day was another flight in IMC over the Appalachians, which is terrain neither of us Kansans are particularly used to. Flying at 7,000 feet we were just 2,000 feet above some of the highest peaks on our route and the occasional break in clouds would give us a lovely view below. That flight was relatively uneventful. No thunderstorm activity and an easy descent into our destination airport.

As of right now my teammate and I have gone through a full day’s worth of inspections, which included reviews of our pilot credentials, logbooks for the upkeep of our airplane's engine and air frame, and a physical inspection of the airplane itself. Once our aircraft was deemed acceptable, it was impounded until Tuesday morning when the race finally begins. The rest of the week has been full of race briefings, which has included weather, timing and scoring rules, and what to expect during the race. If you are interested in following our team, Classic Race Team 45, follow this link: http://airraceclassic.org. (You can also follow the progress of another Kansas team, the “Wildcats” from K-State Salina – Classic Race Team 49.  Members of the Wildcats are Karen Morrison, Summer Gajewski and Alisha Kelso.) Each team will carry a GPS tracking device which allows anyone to follow their favorite racer on the route. 

It's been a humbling week so far to be in the ranks of so many exciting women. The professions of the women here vary from doctors to lawyers to professional pilots who have all been brought together by the love of general aviation.