Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Eagle County, Colorado, aviators honor Allan Nottingham

Photo Courtesy/Credit:  VailDaily  
Allan Nottingham bought this 1954 Cessna 180 in 1964. He owned it for more than 50 years.

EAGLE — Allan Nottingham has been part of Eagle County aviation almost since, well ... before the beginning. 

The Eagle County Aviation Association honored Nottingham for his time, his service and the laughs.

“Allan has been buying fuel for getting annuals for ... I don’t know how many years,” Paul Gordon with the Vail Valley Jet Center.

Here’s what we know about dates. In 1964, Nottingham bought a 1954 Cessna 180 and flew it all over our spiral arm of the universe. He owned it for 50 years. That plane taught four of his five children to fly.

The airport was built during World War II as a refueling station for cross country military flights. Nottingham remembers, as a kid, standing in the middle of the grass airstrip as planes landed. A B-24 might have crashed back then. Or not. It might have just landed, refueled and taken off again. Or it might still be a military secret. Allan just smiles.

Not long ago, he sold his hangar and plane. He watched that plane taxi onto the runway and fly away with its new owner, and legend has it that a tear might have come to his eye. Not true— that was just excess awesomeness leaking out.

Flying tall tales

All kinds of stories fly around at an event like this, mostly about hilarious near-death experiences. But let’s be clear: You don’t get to live as long as Allan has if you fly reckless; he’s a skilled and careful pilot. But once in a while, stuff just happens.

Steve Jones flew with him often. It’s a matter of friendly contention whether Jones likes flying so much that he bought his own plane, or whether he was so scared he bought his own plane. Nottingham and Jones just smile when you ask them.

There was the time in the early 1960s when Allan had some 80 sheep stranded on Red and White Mountain after a series December snowstorms dumped about four feet of snow. Nottingham and Fred Collett were flying some hay to them — two bales because that’s all Nottingham’s plane would hold. Collett sat in the back and kicking hay out to the sheep. Did we mention that to get the hay in and out, Allan had to take the door off the plane? That would explain why, when his foot slipped, Collett almost fell out.

Photographer Mike Crabtree enjoyed a similar sensation. He needed a better angle for an aerial photo, so Nottingham tilted the plane to give him one. That was the end of taking the door off the plane.

There was the time when one of his passengers got airsick and the only receptacle was Nottingham’s cowboy hat. When they landed, the guy tried to give it back to Nottingham.

Like most guys, Nottingham used to think that the “E” on the gas gauge stands for “Eeeh, just a little further.” His plane holds 55 gallons of fuel and there was the time it took 53 gallons to fill it. He’d been debating whether to fly on to the next airport, but decided to land instead.

Cloud seeding with Minnie Cloud

Perhaps the Southern Utes made it snow with their 1963 snow dance in Vail. Perhaps they had some help.

It was just before the ski season of 1963-64 when Vail Associates hired the Southern Ute tribe to do a snow dance.

For good measure, they also hired a guy to take the ski company’s first crack at cloud seeding.

The cloud seeding guy’s name is lost to the winds of time — so we’ll call him Cloud Seed Clem. But everyone still knows Nottingham.

The Nottingham ranch covered what’s now most of Beaver Creek and part of Avon. You’ve strolled through Avon’s Nottingham Park and watched fireworks over Nottingham Lake. It’s those guys.

Anyway, like lots of ranchers, Nottingham had his own airplane so he could fly around and keep track of his livestock, and also because flying is fun.

Cloud Seed Clem hired Nottingham to fly him around the area. When clouds started rolling in, and they weren’t too high — the clouds, not Allan and Clem — up they’d go.

“We flew over all the ski areas and he’d dump out this stuff,” Nottingham said.

Cloud seeding is an attempt to squeeze more moisture out of a cloud. Stuff like silver iodide is either lofted up into or dropped down into a cloud. Moisture collects around the silver iodide, and you can squeeze more water out of that cloud than you’d get without it.

Silver iodide is mostly salt, which is another reason Allan was ahead of his time.

One day the clouds were too high and it was a bad day for cloud seeding, but a good day to fly. And besides, Allan’s contract called for him to fly.

Only he didn’t have any of the cloud seeding stuff.

So he took off with a couple boxes of Morton salt, flew around and dumped the salt into the clouds.

About that same time the Southern Utes rolled into town, led by Eddie Box and Minnie Cloud. It was mid-December 1963 and Vail was devoid of snow.

On Dec. 18, 1963, after Nottingham dumped two boxes of Morton salt into the clouds and the Southern Utes did their snow dance, it snowed.

Two feet.

Story and photo gallery:   http://www.vaildaily.com