Sunday, December 06, 2015

Acadiana Regional Airport (KARA) destination for pilot

Tucker Axum III, left, and Joe Guillory load up Axum’s Cessna Cardinal in preparation for their cross country flight to the Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia. The friends left Bremerton, Washington, where Axum was working before he left for a job in Yokosuka, Japan.

YOKOSUKA, Japan — In May, when Tucker Axum III was granted his request and “childhood wish” to transfer from Seattle to Japan, he knew he’d be able to bring his wife and chocolate Labrador with him, but the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent quickly learned he would not be able to take his third love — his Cessna Cardinal.

The next best thing, he decided, was allowing his friend back in his hometown of Lafayette to hang onto his beloved aircraft. So began their three-day cross-country trip that ended at Acadiana Regional Airport outside of New Iberia.

“I tell you, it was a lot of fun, that’s for sure” Axum, 34, said in a phone interview from Yokosuka, Japan, where he has been stationed since August. “There were a lot of times that were scary. It was quite an adventure.”

Axum’s friend, Joe Guillory, was found to be a perfect fit for the Cessna because he happens to be taking flying lessons at Owens Flight Training at ARA. A friend using the plane, Axum reasoned, was better than simply storing the machine.

“That’s the worst thing you can do to an airplane,” Axum said. “I was very fortunate that my friend is a student pilot in New Iberia.

“I told him, ‘All you have to do is hangar it and, every year, pay for the annual inspection and pay for the insurance,’” he added. “Oh and ‘Please learn how to land in one of the practice planes first.’”

3 Days, 8 states, 2,075 miles

On the morning of Aug. 5, Axum and Guillory loaded the Cessna — dubbed simply as “The Cardinal” — and took off from Bremerton, Washington, first bearing toward Medford, Oregon. From there, the two headed toward Las Vegas, flying near Mount Shasta in California.

Axum chronicled his cross-country flight in a memoir-style missive, which he provided during his interview.

The Cascade Mountain Range gifted Axum and Guillory with a lost radio signal for at least an hour and smoke from California’s wildfires impaired the otherwise brilliant scenery of the area, Axum said.

“We were flying in the blind — figuratively and literally,” Axum wrote.

Hawthorne, Nevada, was the next stop. The remote airport had only a single volunteer at the helm and the airport itself was next to the primary grocery store and gas station for the area. The pair made Las Vegas the next destination and actually spent time exploring the Las Vegas Strip on foot after hangaring the plane. They resumed flight the next morning.

Gaining altitude there proved to be a challenge, as the reduced density of the desert air forced Axum into a climb rate of 150 feet per minute — as opposed to the 750 feet per minute he was used to.

Once they reached an altitude of 11,500 feet, Axum and Guillory made their way to the Grand Canyon, which Axum called “one of the greatest highlights of my life.”

“We struggled for words to describe the indescribable,” Axum wrote.

From there, Axum and Guillory flew over the large meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona, and eventually landed in Roswell, New Mexico. The winds propelled the Cessna to 170 mph for much of that stretch, expediting the trip but also putting them through violent and unwelcome turbulence.

After landing in Roswell (which included the requisite radio interference), Axum and Guillory felt daring enough to fly through the night toward New Iberia, but prolonged desert flight was causing the Cessna’s engine to overheat and they opted to turn around and land back at Roswell for the night instead of risking a crash.

“The last time a flying object had crashed here, it was never discovered …” Axum noted in his writings.

The next morning, the two left for New Iberia, making a stop in Tyler, Texas, so Axum could enjoy lunch with his father and great-grandmother (who in November turned 100).

Axum and Guillory reached ARA two hours after their final departure. At night, Axum said Lafayette’s growth since he was a novice pilot was obvious.

“I started flying in ‘99,” Axum said in the interview. “I didn’t see all of these lights back then. It’s really grown.”

Axum was effusive in his admiration for ARA and its infrastructure, especially its 8,002-foot runway.

“The airport itself is fantastic,” he said. “It has a huge runway. You can take off and land in the same run.”

Their journey put them in the air for 23 total hours. They traveled, to Axum’s best estimates, 2,075 miles across eight states. When planning the trip, Axum admitted he harbored a bit of a desire to go coast-to-coast, but he had a ship to catch across the Pacific Ocean, after all.

“I think that would have been neat, but I was in such a time crunch,” he said.

Flying Full Circle

Axum quickly admitted the flight to ARA was a full-circle journey in his life as a pilot.

In 1998, Axum’s best friend, Jared Guillory — Joe Guillory’s son — gave Axum a copy of Microsoft’s computer flight simulator. The teenaged Axum became enthralled with the game, he said, even though he was completely unfamiliar with the science and mechanics behind piloting planes.

Axum said two nightmares of him being flown in a pilot-less plane soon followed.

“I don’t understand why I had them, but they motivated me to get my pilot’s license,” he said.

While touring colleges as a senior at Lafayette High School, Axum said he met with instructors with the U.S. Air Force ROTC at LSU, who turned him and Jared Guillory toward a two-week aviation ground school at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chase.

Jared Guillory ended up dropping out because of a thyroid cancer diagnosis (surgery later removed the cancer), but Axum completed the course. Next was the journey to earning his pilot’s license on July 4, 2001, in which Axum said he practiced at ARA or Chris Crusta Memorial Airport in Abbeville.

“I never once had that nightmare again,” he said.

When planning his return to New Iberia, Axum said there was one simple reason his best friend did not accompany him: Jared Guillory died after suffering a heart attack in 2013.

“Looking back on it all now, it’s ironic that Jared would have instilled my curiosity for flying, and then his dad would have been the person to lease my plane,” Axum said in an email.

Joe Guillory, 63, said it meant a lot to him, too, to have made the flight with Axum.

“It was something Jared and Tucker would have liked to do,” he said. “If they don’t see the USA from the sky, you’re missing out.

“If Jared was alive, he would have gone, that’s for sure,” Joe Guillory added. “That’s why I went along.”

Story and photo gallery:

An aerial view of the Grand Canyon in Arizona taken from Tucker Axum III’s Cessna Cardinal airplane.

The view over Lafayette taken from Tucker Axum III passes over Lafayette as he nears Acadiana Regional Airport where his Cessna Cardinal will be housed for his friend Joe Guillory to work toward getting his pilot’s license.

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