25th April 2008

I had recently landed, only to take off again, from McGregor Airport, Waco, Texas, on a most gorgeous bright April day in order to find somewhere more hospitable for the night. The weather forecast for the day had indicated scattered transient but inclement weather from cumulonimbus clouds gathering to the south.  I noted these were now gathering significantly in size, charged with their electricity, soon enveloping the heavens with a much heavier dark fluffy pattern. My direction of flight in the old two seater J3 Piper Cub aircraft was somewhat settled for me as the skies to the south and east quickly turned ominous.

 A downpour of rain then hit the aeroplane as I purred along at seventy miles per hour making forward vision virtually impossible. Just minutes earlier it had been streaming sun shine with not a breath of wind.  Thunder and lightning soon broke out and continued long after I had decided to duck out of it into a pretty Texan meadow far below. On approach to land, following a preliminary circuit to spy out potholes, ditches and possible wire, I was greeted by a huge flower bed of pink and white flowers, weeds do doubt and a muscle bound black bull grazing with his herd at the other end of the strip. He could be sorted later.

Either under or over the power cables, straddling the long grass, was my dilemma due to a sudden change in wind direction now buffeting us both violently from the side. It also did not help my final decision as to just which field was best to get out of this turbulence, forces sufficient now to cause structural damage to the airframe. As the old adage goes, ‘never land unless you are sure you can get out again'!

However, with decision now made and committed on a somewhat rutted and possibly boggy permanent pasture, prone to flooding, I later noticed, I throttled the engine back and glided down through rain that was simply bucketing down while the lightning crackled all around illuminating the black back drop of a sky before us.

Water poured into the cockpit in the descent as both windows and doors had to be wide open in order that I could stick my head out into the slip stream to try and see with better accuracy and just where we were going to finish up was paramount in the agenda!

Safely on the ground I taxied her back close to the road and bridge with tail facing the wind hoping that, should the wind suddenly change direction again, I could rely on the raised road and trees for protection while I hurriedly reached for the ropes, hammer and the nails for picketing her down.

No sooner had I started the wind died and the sun appeared!  All I could hear was a peaceful cacophony of bird sounds in the adjacent woodland. No other man made machine in sight. Only the euphoria, post flight, experienced by pilots that have just ‘broke the bonds of earth'.

The severe thunder storm had moved one, albeit but a few fields away. A Texan field, incidentally, can stretch a mile or two in all directions. A little different to my South Wales six hundred foot airstrip outside our kitchen window in the shadow of Randolph Hurst's old Norman castle.

I was then taken aback by the beauty around me. Flowers and the abundance of lush green foliage was everywhere. No different, at first site, to the farmland in the West Country of England where I had been brought up as a child. The Texan summer was yet to arrive.

One of the issues deciding which field to land in, as I circled overhead, was the sight of a huge Texan flag painted on the full length of a barn roof. Well, at least I am still in hospitable surroundings, I thought, as I reminisced on the wonderful hospitality over the past few days that I had enjoyed from Houston, San Marcos to Odessa and then back to Robert Lee and Comanche.

I decided the storm was gone and so clambered up onto the road before deciding what to do next.

Having decided which way to walk I slowly set off down the road in a westerly direction my right ankle, full of fixation screws from an old hang gliding accident, ‘telling me all about it' as the rough ground of the field had exacerbated the ensuing arthritis and, no doubt, made worse with the result of far too much good or not so good red wine over the years.

I wished to leave a message of thanks to a local ranch owner concerning the US Coast Guard, my having previously checked he was away but just might be back for the coming week end, starting tomorrow.

Another thunderstorm, as if from nowhere, soon had me drenched but wind there was not.  Hard hailstones, almost the size of pigeon eggs, hurt as they bounced off my hat and shoulders. Again the shower and lightning was gone almost as quickly as it had arrived leaving the road in large puddles of crystal clear water..  The sun was again blazing down and I must have been at least a mile down the road by now from the little Cub, in the process of trying to photograph a scissor bird on a fence, when I heard a screech of tyres behind me.

I looked round to see two fast moving male white Caucasians exiting the limousine at speed. I was impressed. Both were brandishing what looked like nine millimetre Berretta pistols but the only problem was, they were both pointing at me.

Up with the hands, down spread eagled on the road, hands slowly behind your back, for handcuffs, the usual stuff, seen on television, except I was having to do it! Face down on the gravel is not comfortable nor is it easy for a sixty three year old trying to get up again with his hands behind his back.

Pockets are searched while a passport is quickly tendered by the prisoner with the vain hope of  expediting this sudden new relationship thrust upon him with the well dressed ‘men in black'. What was to turn out would be a long drawn out experience, debatably quite unlawful, in a Texas Mental Institution.

As Dryden wrote, around the turn of the 17th century:

 "There is a pleasure sure in being mad that none but mad men know".