I’ve only flown in a small plane three times in my life.

Two of those flights have occurred within the past eight months – one last November and another last Monday evening. That most recent outing was probably my favorite.

Last fall and again this week, the pilot was a friend from Dallas. Last time he was here, he arrived in Van’s RV-6 kit plane built by his father in 1995.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

It was a blast whizzing around in the little “pocket rocket” (as the pilot likes to call it), and I sort of felt like I was in a sky-high roller coaster. This time he came in a Cirrus SR-22, which is famous for being the most frequently purchased craft on the market. The 2003 model we left the Houston Memorial Airport in is a sleek machine equipped with four nice leather seats and a top-quality communications system (featuring comfortable noise-canceling Bose headsets that all but eliminate the ear-busting noise of the 310 horsepower motor and propeller).

Last time I went up in an MG roadster. This time I was in a BMW sedan.

Using incredibly little runway, the craft left the ground effortlessly into the slight northerly wind that was blowing on the late spring evening. As the pilot banked the plane eastward over Houston, I was amazed at the lack of vibration or anything remotely resembling unpleasantness.

With me in the co-pilot’s seat and another friend who lives locally seated in back, we circled Houston a few times, checking out the view from above and snapping photographs of familiar sights from a very unfamiliar angle.

Then the pilot took us on a surreal tour of eastern Texas County. At one point, he shared his impression of what lay below and stretched out before us in every direction.

“Compared to Texas, Missouri is like a painting,” he said.

As we cruised at about 1,000 feet (just below a pesky layer of overcast), the two locals in the plane enjoyed looking down at recognizable roads, buildings and other objects, and we were constantly wowed by how different things look from an aerial perspective. And if nothing else, our lofty view certainly reminded us of just how much forested land there is in Texas County –lots!

We headed north for a while, and then turned back toward Houston. All the while it was so smooth, so peaceful and so easy.

I kept thinking, “it doesn’t feel like we’re in an airplane.”

Once we got back to town, we circled a few more times and then the pilot made us feel like we were in a plane by conducting a high-speed “low pass” of the airport runway.

One word: Awesome!

Landing was another act of smoothness, and the whole experience left me with a feeling of overall satisfaction.

Chances are I’ll never own a private plane. But I’m glad to know what it’s like to fly in one.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison sits in the cockpit of a Cirrus SR-22 before takeoff from Houston Memorial Airport.

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison sits in the cockpit of a Cirrus SR-22 before takeoff from Houston Memorial Airport.

Cirrus SR-22 ready for departure from Houston Memorial Airport.

Cirrus SR-22 ready for departure from Houston Memorial Airport.

Doug Davison, front, and Rock Gremillion prepare for a flight.

Doug Davison, front, and Rock Gremillion prepare for a flight.

The view of downtown Houston, Mo., from the cockpit of a Cirrus SR-22.

The view of downtown Houston, Mo., from the cockpit of a Cirrus SR-22.

An aerial view of Texas County Memorial Hospital.

An aerial view of Texas County Memorial Hospital.

Landing in a Cirrus SR-22 at Houston Memorial Airport in Houston, Mo.

Landing in a Cirrus SR-22 at Houston Memorial Airport in Houston, Mo.

Experiences come and experiences go, but some leave a more lasting impression than others.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of enjoying a flight in a small two-seater airplane. It was an experience that ranks near the top of my all-time list and left an impression that surely won’t go away.

It all started when a couple of friends came to stay for a few days at the remote Texas County high country outpost where my wife Wendy and I reside. One of them flew in from the Dallas area.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

I mean literally flew in – he landed at Houston Memorial Airport in a Van’s RV6 kit plane his dad built in 1995. The first order of business when he arrived was for him to take me and Wendy up for a flight above and around Houston. The two of us went up separately, because the RV6 is a two-seat aircraft. It’s also a speedy, highly maneuverable machine, so this was no ordinary aerial jaunt.

Once I squeezed my 6-3 frame into the passenger’s seat of the plane’s cockpit, my adrenaline began circulating and I knew I was in for some excitement. I put the Bose headsets on, Wendy took a few photos of us and the pilot (who prefers anonymity) taxied to the end of Houston Memorial’s 3,500-foot runway.

The wind was blowing hard – probably a good 25 knots – so I was warned that the ride would be pretty rough. I replied that I would be OK no matter how bumpy things got.

“Bring it on,” I said. “I was hoping that would be the case.”

Once we got off the ground, the pilot elevated to about 500 feet, banked the RV6 hard and we circled Houston a few times, with me snapping photos and trying to steady my little video recorder enough to get some footage. All the while, it was like being on an old-fashioned roller coaster (complete with side-to-side and up-and-down jolts a-plenty), and it’s a good thing I was strapped in.

Even so, one of the bigger bumps caused the top of my head to make hard contact with the glass cockpit canopy’s metal crossbar. The headset’s thick overhead piece thankfully softened the blow significantly, but I didn’t care, anyway, because looking down on Emmett Kelly Park, U.S. 63 and Walmart from the seat of a flying sports car made any momentary discomforts more than worthwhile.

After a few passes over town, we a followed a couple of paved highways eastward and eventually flew low over the remote Davison outpost. To say it was awesome hardly does the deal justice.

It’s wonderful to see everything from the air that’s so familiar on the ground. It somehow looks different, and yet easily recognizable.

After we bounced and flopped our way the 10 miles or so back to the airport, the pilot took a low pass over the runway without landing. Traveling at about 200 miles per hour that close to the ground in such a small flying machine was incredible, and I watched in amazement how fast objects went by.

Then it was time to land. The pilot re-approached the runway – from the north because of wanting to land into the wind – and of course, it wasn’t the smoothest of touchdowns. But once again, I didn’t care that the plane dropped pretty hard onto the tarmac – it was all part of the overall experience and I told my friend I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And I really wouldn’t. From beginning to end, my thrilling time in the Van’s RV6 was perfect – fast, furious and downright fun.

After Wendy’s similar experience, we parked the craft inside one of the vacant bays in the City of Houston’s new hangar building (which, by the way, is one heck of a nice set up). When Sunday rolled around and it was time for our friend to leave, he said so long by banking hard shortly after takeoff, circling back toward where we stood near the runway and making a high speed pass not far over our waving arms.

It was somewhat sad to watch the RV6 head south and disappear into the overcast skies, but the memory of the experience was forever etched in my mind. God willing, maybe someday I’ll be seated in that plane again.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

The Van's RV6 that took the Houston Herald's Doug Davison for a spin Nov. 28. It's a "kit plane" built in 1995.

The Van’s RV6 that took the Houston Herald’s Doug Davison for a spin Nov. 28. It’s a “kit plane” built in 1995.

Houston Herald reporter Doug Davison sits in the cockpit of a Van's RV6 before its canopy is closed for take off from Houston Memorial Airport (in Houston, Mo.).

Houston Herald reporter Doug Davison sits in the cockpit of a Van’s RV6 before its canopy is closed for take off from Houston Memorial Airport (in Houston, Mo.).

Just prior to take off from Houston Memorial Airport (in Houston, Mo.), Houston Herald reporter Doug Davison smiles after squeezing his 6-3 frame into the cockpit of a Van's RV6.

Just prior to take off from Houston Memorial Airport (in Houston, Mo.), the Houston Herald’s Doug Davison smiles after squeezing his 6-3 frame into the cockpit of a Van’s RV6.

A view looking north, with downtown Houston, Mo., at the top-center.

A view looking north, with downtown Houston, Mo., at the top-center.

A remote Texas County High Country outpost.

A remote high country outpost in Texas County, Mo.

 

As seems to so often be the case, weather has been a topic of great attention this winter in the Ozarks.

Obviously, we’ve experienced a bit of a reprieve of late, but memories of wintry conditions are still fresh in the minds of many an area resident. While February began in tame fashion, with a rather average day with a high in the 40s and low in the 20s, that was followed by a 10-day stretch when the temperature never rose above 34 degrees, including eight straight when the high didn’t break the freezing mark and seven when it stayed below 30 (according to data posted on the Weather Channel website, weather.com). During the run, low temperatures dipped into the single digits five times and below zero once.

In fact, this winter has been so wintry in these parts, there’s even an article in this week’s Herald written by a University of Missouri Extension meteorological expert who says that depending on how February pans out, it could go down as one of the top 10 coldest on record. Whether or not that happens, there was certainly enough cold weather to make people actually talk about it on a regular basis, myself included. In fact, I’ve told several people lately how I wish I had kept track of how many times I’ve gone outside just before sunrise this winter and seen the mercury below the zero line in the thermometer mounted to the well house at the remote high country outpost where my wife and I live, because I know full well it has happened a dozen or more times. And it’s been right at or very near zero many other times.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

But as rough as we’ve had it (or think we’ve had it) for the past six or eight weeks, it’s pretty easy to find examples of how it could have been worse. A lot worse.

Take England, for example. The wettest weather since the mid-1700s has had much of the southern portion of the country virtually submerged for what now seems like ages. As the Thames River and about every other waterway in the region have gone way over their banks, “flood tourists” are even becoming a nuisance as they drive around and cause wakes to lap even higher in homes and businesses already drenched in high water.

Then there’s California, the land of the mega-taxes and bankrupt cities that frequently endures newsworthy weather, like windy periods that whip up wildfires or mountain snowstorms that bury buildings and highways. While England virtually washes away, winter weather in the Golden State has gone the opposite direction and much of it is in the grips of a titanic drought that threatens to permanently shut down centuries old farming operations and cause food prices to jump accordingly.

And, of course, there’s Barrow, Alaska, a city of 4,212 on the north slope of the “Last Frontier.” Living there means not just enduring occasional or even frequent cold snaps, but pretty much permanent cold.

Located in a region that’s technically desert (with less than five inches of melted snow – or rain – during a typical year), the average annual temperature in Barrow is 11.7 degrees and there’s usually in the neighborhood of 160 sub-zero days per year. I guess that’s not too surprising (nor is the icy berg’s all-time low of minus 56), considering the place is well north or the arctic circle and the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon during a “polar night” that lasts from mid to late November to late January.

But hey, it’s not always cold in Barrow; five days with temperatures of 75 or higher have been recorded since 1922.

Suddenly, a little cold like we had earlier this month and a little topsy-turvy weather like we had in January doesn’t seem so bad. Speaking of January, according to the Weather Channel, temperatures in Houston dipped as low as minus 11 on the sixth and climbed as high as 64 on the 12th. And as our local volunteer firefighters are sure to recall, there were also some stiff winds and a significant lack of moisture for quite a while that caused fire danger to become an issue.

But it could have been worse. There could have been a four-foot deep current running through our living rooms, or months of moisture-free days and nights that devastated our olive tree farms, or the knowledge that tomorrow’s high is always likely to be below freezing.

I’ll take what we get here – any day.

Still, this has been a doozie of a winter, and I’m right there with everyone else around here who can’t wait until it’s really, truly, undeniably safe to plant tomatoes again. I know we’re probably in for some serious heat in the not too distant future, and who knows if we’ll get another “100-year flood” (a year after we got the last one).

But I’m ready for the mushy ground to firm up and evenings to be mild enough that I can get out and brush a horse after dinner.

Incidentally, Weather Channel data states that the record highs in Houston for Feb. 23 and 24 are 81 and 80, respectively, and record highs for the last four days of the month are in the mid to high 70s. Woo-hoo! Suntans and grillin’ out!

Wait. Winter doesn’t end until March 20, so it might be best not to get out the beach towels and sunscreen and head to the lake.

I guess it’s worth noting, too, that the record lows for the 23rd and 24th are 1 and 7, respectively. So it could be 81, 1 or something in between in the coming days – only time will tell.

The bottom line is, we probably shouldn’t box up the knit caps and gloves just yet. As quotemeister Yogi Berra once so aptly said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

Applying that indisputable logic to wintry weather, I hope it’s over. But it might not be.

But it’s safe to say that even if it isn’t, it could be worse.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.  Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

A former Houston High School student stationed with the Navy in Japan is OK following Friday’s massive earthquake.

Duke Pyle, who is living just south of Toyko, said he was hit in the head by his computer monitor during the 8.9 magnitute quake that triggered a tsunami. He was otherwise unharmed.

Officials said earlier Monday that the official death toll from the disaster stands at 1,627 – with more missing. More than 10,000 people are unaccounted for.

Pyle’s sister, Karen McGiboney, is a mail carrier in Houston.

On Monday afternoon, Shirley Hebblethwaite Swenson of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, reported on the Herald’s Facebook page that her grandson, Jackson Wells, is also safe. Wells is the son of former resident Kay Beasley and has been in Japan teaching English. He was briefly evacuated for 24 hours and returned home Sunday.

The Animal Shelter of Texas County is seeking goat milk for seven puppies whose mother was struck and killed by a vehicle. Goat owners or anyone who could provide the milk is asked to call 417-967-0700.

The shelter is also seeking blankets for its animals during these cold winter days.