On Day 2 of our cross-country flight, we woke up in Huntington WV. The Holiday Inn was buzzing with crews of utility contractors who had been called in from all over the region the night before to deal with the expected storms just to our east in the hills of West Virginia. Some were heading out to their tough bucket trucks. Others were huddled over coffee, listening to a visiting Chinese businessman ramble on about connecting some nearby mines in West Virginia to prospective buyers in China. An odd collection of travelers, to be sure. (See Day 1 report here.)
We were expecting an uneventful flying day, destination Little Rock about 650 miles away. But nothing is ever uneventful about flying in a small plane. It is rarely scary, but also rarely without something unusual with weather, or topography, or clouds, or mechanics, or overheard Air Traffic Control transmissions. The first that day was about mechanics.
Our little plane’s dashboard is filled with all kinds of electronic reporting systems, as well as multiple backup and double-check measurements. We noticed one of the 6 pistons reading hotter than all the others, which probably indicated a spark plug having some trouble. (Jim informs me that this was only one of the two heat readings: Exhaust Gas Temperature, as opposed to the more important Cylinder Head Temperature, and that it showed up only when he had set the engine on the gas-saving "lean of peak" setting. All of which suggested a spark plug issue.) This wasn’t drastic by any means, but we decided we should try to get it looked at before the next day’s Thanksgiving holiday. With real-time info showing up on our iPad via a program called ForeFlight, we looked through possible small airports and decided to stop to refuel and hope for a mechanic in Murray KY.
The Calloway County Airport turned out to be a perfect stop: a nice runway, a mechanic on site (who not only confirmed the spark plug issue but had on hand the exact replacement we needed), a friendly staff (who not only directed us to the town’s best diners for lunch but also were readers of The Atlantic!).
The small airport (FBO for fixed base operator) lent us their “crew car” for the quick drive into Murray. The crew car is one of my favorite features of small plane flying. FBOs often provide them for transient fliers like us to borrow for a few hours for lunch or a look-see around town. Surprisingly often, the cars are rambling old Crown Vics, likely hand-me-downs from the sheriff’s department to the country airports. We were not disappointed! Here was an old white Crown Vic, complete with giant moveable spotlight fixed by the driver’s rearview window.
So off we drove to find Rudy’s, on Murray’s downtown court square. Rudy’s opened about 80 years ago, making it one of the earliest eating places in Murray, where it remains an anchor in town. It just escaped the early morning blaze last July, which destroyed several buildings along the square.
We had some all-day-breakfast omelets for lunch and chatted with the servers who showed us photos of Rudy's then, much like Rudy's now.
On to Little Rock. The plane felt sprightly with its new spark plug. The weather reports, which Jim spends all his time checking whenever we're on the ground, were good. Skies were clear, so we planned a "visual flight rules" route direct to Little Rock at 2,500 feet — high enough to be comfortably above the ground in the flatlands on either side of the Mississippi, low enough to be well clear of the clouds and have the close-up view I always prefer of the changing landscape.