Breakfast Club

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn



The Knife & Fork




Breakfast Club Visits Safford, Tours MT Graham



                                                                                    Visits Large Binocular Telescope Facility



8-9 May 2010

by Warren McIlvoy



Every once and while, the crack(ed) Breakfast Club event committee hits a “home run” when compiling the next year’s fly-in schedule.  Only this time, they went “back-to-back” with the Safford overnight event being a “grand slam” (not to be confused with Denny’s).  Not only was the Bagdad fly-in with the accompanying tour of the copper mine, outstanding in itself, but the Safford fly-in with the side event of touring the telescope site on top of Mount Graham was literally “out of this world”(pun intended).   


The day’s activities began with an east departure from Deer Valley Airport to GRINS intersection with a slight right turn to the San Carlos Globe Airport.  From Globe, we traveled over the eastern shores of San Carlos Lake and then the Gila River Valley.  Further along the valley route, we overflew the small settlements of Geronimo, Fort Thomas, Ashurst, and Pima with Safford just a few miles down the “road”.


After landing and turning off into the ramp area, I noticed that the Ponderosa Aviation folks ushering the aircraft to their parking spots.  After securing the aircraft, I was met by Jon Johnson, Assistant Editor of the Eastern Arizona Courier newspaper.   Jon did about a five minute interview and some film footage that you can view from the links later in this story.  The Ponderosa folks had offered a discount on their fuel in honor of this event so they were there to take your fuel orders as well. 


As we arrived at the terminal building where everyone was gathering, I was greeting by a number of folks from the City administration.  Among them were: Mayor Ron Green, Vice-Mayor James Kouts, Councilman Jerry Hancock and Ken Malloque, and City Manager David Kincade.  I was also introduced to Lynsee German, Miss Graham County.  I had to get a picture of me with Lynsee as I have never had my picture taken with a Miss Anywhere (wife excluded).  


When all of the picture taking and greetings were finished, it was time to load-up the “herd” for the ride into town and a cowboy cook-out and the City Hall Annex.  The folks who prepared the breakfast do not charge for their services but rather count on donations where they donate the proceeds to local charities. Our cowboy breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy with the biscuits made in a Dutch oven, sausage and bacon, juice, and cowboy coffee.  After a hearty breakfast, the transportation was lined-up for our trip “up the hill” to tour the telescopes on top of Mount Graham.


We made two stops before beginning the climb up the mountain.  One stop (important) was to pick-up box lunches for everyone in the tour group.  The second stop was to pick-up our tour guide (very important), John Ratje, Site Manager for Mt. Graham International Observatory.  John’s office was at a place referred to as “base camp” on the outskirts of Safford.  From there, it was about an hour + forty-five drive to the top.  The first 2/3's of the drive was on winding paved roads that, for a while, provided occasional panoramic views of the valley below.  The further up the mountain that we went, the forest would get denser.  We did pass several locations where homes and cabins were situated but it did not appear that any were occupied at this time.  But that might be expected as the road had only been open for a few days.


We came to a place where we stopped to allow John to open the locked gates that marked the end of the paved road.  Once all of the vehicles cleared the gate, John then closed and secured the access.  Although the road was clear of any snow, in many locations, it was piled high along the sides.  The winter snows and constant grading had taken its toll on the road as the pace was relatively slow due to the roughness of the dirt and gravel road.  Small streams were very common and an occasional water fall could be seen from the road as we ascended the mountain. As we neared the summit of the mountain, you could clearly see vast areas of fallen trees that had been cut down due to the devastation caused by the bark beetles.  I am only guessing that this was done to mitigate the effects of potential forest fires. 


We arrived at a location where there was a turn-off from the main road that was just a single lane in width.  The narrow, winding, road was bordered by burned areas and the now common log strewn landscape until we were just short of reaching to top of the mountain.  Once the road leveled-off, we got our first glimpse of the telescope towers that dominated the scene.  We made a brief stop to allow John to check-in with the guard.  We then continued on a short distance to the parking area along side the LBT (Large Binocular Telescope).  You can get more detailed information regarding this site by visiting their web site at


When we exited the vehicles, the now cold air and spirited winds were a stark reminder that we were now at an elevation of over 10,000'.  I was very thankful that we had the foresight to bring jackets with us.  We entered the building into a lobby area where the walls were amply covered with photos and narratives of the construction of this facility.  John added some insights from his perspective and took questions from the group.  We exited the lobby into a short hallway and entered a very large room that contained maintenance equipment and served as a storage area.  Above the door where we entered the room, was a set of rollers that were about 40' above the floor area where we were.  These rollers are part of the mechanism that allows for the rotation of the tower that houses the LBT.  In a corner opposite where we came in, was a large container that looked like a pressure cooker on steroids.  John said that this piece of equipment was used in the re-coating process for the huge telescope mirrors that is done about every two years.  John said that it takes about two weeks to prepare the mirror and container.  John stated that when all is ready, an aluminum coating that could be contained in a soda can, is released into the container and the time required for the re-coating is no more than the blink of the eye.  If you were to sneeze at that moment, you would have missed all the fun.


Retracing our steps to the lobby, we got on an elevator and went to the fourth level and exited into a hallway.  We proceeded down the hallway only a short distance where we boarded another elevator for a short ride to the next level.  Upon exiting the elevator we found ourselves in a glass enclosed room that overlooked the huge telescope structure.  There was a door right in front of use with a key pad on the locking mechanism.  At this point, that lock appeared to be a very good idea as the next step was at least 4-stories down.  John said that when the staff is doing maintenance work on the telescope, the framework is rotated so that a ramp is aligned with this door opening thus making that first step a little less exciting.  After John explained what we were viewing, we descended the metal stairs to the main floor to perform a closer examination of this mind boggling device.


The LBT is housed in a huge box-like tower that is about 150' high with sliding doors on one side.  Since the tower rotates, they only needed doors on one side.  The two telescope mirrors are 8.4 meters in diameter (about 27.5') and about 50' center-to-center.  They work together just like a pair of binoculars that form a single image on the screen.  There are several cameras and lenses mounted on “arms” supported above the reflector mirrors that serve different purposes.  There is also a Gregorian foci that is mounted on the back side of the primary mirrors that receives the image through a lens that is mounted on one of the arms, that reflects the image back through the hole in the center of the primary mirrors.  This telescope also employs adaptive optics to compensate for the blur of light as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.  If those features aren’t enough to whet your appetite, they also use a device called “Lucifer” (who says that scientists don’t have a sense of humor).  This device is an LBT Near Infrared Spectroscopic Utility with Camera and integral Field Unit for Extragalactic Research.  I think that I prefer Lucifer instead.


The telescope and all of its supporting structure and bells and whistles, weight about 650 tons and is supported by two “C” rings just inside either of the two primary mirrors.  These “C” rings are in turn, supported by four “oil bearings”.  These “oil bearings” are supporting blocks with an angular plate that has a film of oil and cradle the “C” rings.  Obviously, the oil is under high pressure and is constantly oozing out where the C rings and oil bearing meet.  Since the oil is under high pressure, the C ring does not actually make contact the oil bearing.  The oozing oil is collected in a drip pan and is filtered and returned to the reservoir for further use.  John said that there are three 3-horsepower motors that rotate and turn the telescope as well as turn the tower structure.  He also stated that they never open the doors with the mirrors in position during the daylight hours because “the mirrors can bake your lunch 150-miles away”.  With the telescope mirrors in an upright position, they did open one of the doors that allowed us a spectacular view of the Gila River Valley.  From our vantage point, you could see nearly forever.  You could also note just how close the forest fire of several years back, got to the telescope site.


Following our rather thorough examination of the telescope, we went down to the second level where, as I recall, that John said was the living quarters for the scientists that were working with the telescope equipment.  Since the telescopes at this sight are actually owned by a consortium of universities, there is a constant rotation of scientific people coming and going.  While on sight, they have living quarters that I would guess are similar to hotel rooms.  There is a central eating facility and dining area along with a lounge area with a wall mounted TV.  This is where we were able to chow down on the sandwiches that we had picked-up earlier.  After lunch, we went down to the lobby level where we used the “relief” facilities before heading-out to the Vatican Telescope site that was about 200 yards from the LBT.


As you might guess, the Vatican Telescope is housed in a considerably smaller structure with only a single mirror telescope.  Entered through a single entry door and into a living area that was not unlike you own home.  There was a living room that adjoined the kitchen area with two small bedrooms at the end of the hallway.  The bedrooms were quite small and somewhat Spartan in their decor.  We then ascended a staircase to the second level that had two additional bedrooms that I would assume were identical to those on the first floor.  From the second level we took an elevator to the “observation” deck.  This telescope was about half the size of the mirrors of the LBT and was housed in the traditional “dome” that one would associate with a telescope.  John described the various pieces of equipment and then responded to questions from the group.  As you might guess, the inevitable question came up about why the Vatican wanted a telescope (hence the nickname “Pope Scope”).  John said that the facility was funded by private donations and then donated to the Catholic Church.  John also stated that, going back in history, that many of the priests were amateur astronomers since much of the churches’ activities were associated with the placement of the star and planets on an annual cycle.  The then existing calendar system was inaccurate and from the studies of the movement of the stars and planets, the Gregorian Calendar was invented.        


After all of the questions had been answered, we descended to the first floor and exited the building.  We headed in the direction of the LBT but quickly made a left turn to what was certainly an area that was clearly support facilities for the site.  There was a huge water tank with water treatment equipment (the water is trucked in), a large diesel generator and fuel storage tank, and other maintenance equipment.  There were also areas that were roped-off that contained nothing but trees and untouched landscape.  John said that these area were “off limits” to human travel because these areas were supposed to be inhabited by the red tailed squirrel. 


Our next stop was to be the radio telescope that was currently in operation.  But by now, it was nearly 3:30 and some of our folks were not planning on staying the night.  With the hour and a half ride back to town and a brief stop and the city hall annex to pick-up gear, it was decided to skip this part of the tour and head back to town.  After retrieving our gear from the City Hall Annex, we headed over to the Spring Hill Suites in Thatcher where we would spend the night.  We informed our hosts that we would be ready for pick-up at around 6:45 for dinner at the Ice Cream Company. 


The Ice Cream Company is owned and operated by Ron Green’s wife Candi.  Although they don’t have a dinner menu, Ron had arranged with the folks who put on the Cowboy cookout that morning, to grille some steaks for us.  They set-up a long table that had salad, beans, rolls and butter, and, most importantly, the steaks that were done to a T.  Another highlight of the evening’s festivities was the Western entertainment supplied by Ron and the group that was at last year’s breakfast cookout providing the Breakfast Club with western tunes and songs.  There was a girl vocalist added to the group and she contributed her talents to a few of the western songs.  Since this was the Ice Cream Company, we had to have the mandatory ice cream treat after a very filling and satisfying dinner meal.  Following the evenings activities, our hosts brought us back to the Spring Hill Suites.  We made arrangements with them to meet at 0830 for the ride to the airport.


Jerry & Nancy Grout invited us up to their room to share in some spirits of the day.  Phil Goddard and Nadine Davis were also there and we all sat in the sitting area and shared some Champaign and reminiscing of the day’s activities.  What a fine and enjoyable way to close-out a truly mind boggling day.  Prior to everyone going there own way when we got back to the hotel, we agreed to meet for breakfast at 0700.


The breakfast that is put on by the hotel was sort of a Continental breakfast but far beyond that.  You had your choice of hot oatmeal, various dry cereals, sweat rolls, bagels, fresh fruit, coffee, milk, juices of your choice, and you could even make you own waffles.  All-in-all, a very nice breakfast offering prior to heading out to the airport. 


After our breakfast, we returned to our room to finish packing and make one last “pit stop”.  Our group had gathered in the hotel lobby and promptly at 0830, our hosts arrived to take us to the airport.  Upon arriving at the airport, we unloaded our gear and headed out to our respective aircraft to get them loaded and perform our preflight inspections.  Ponderosa Aviation was there in a golf cart to fill-out the credit card slips for the fuel that they offered at a discount price for our fly-in group.


On behalf of all of the Breakfast Club members, I want to thank Ron Green and the City of Safford for making this one of the most satisfying and well organized Breakfast Club fly-ins.  Ron and I had many phone conversations regarding the arrangements for this event and Ron made all of the arrangements for the tour and hotel reservations.  I am not sure just how much a roll that tourism plays in this part of the state but I would not be an overstatement that the City of Safford and local officials went well beyond the call of duty in setting-up and executing the weekend plans.  They exhibited a professionalism that exceeded the offerings of many cities and towns that rely on the tourism dollar.  The City of Safford officials that assisted in making our weekend a truly memorable experience are:


  • Ron Green, Mayor
  • James Kouts, Vice-Mayor
  • Jerry Hancock, Councilman
  • Ken Malloque, Councilmen
  • David Kincade, City Manager and acting Airport Manager


Also at the airport to greet us was the reigning Miss Graham County, Lynsee German.  Lynsee was brave enough to be photographed with several of the Breakfast Club folks without fear of her reputation being damaged.



The Safford Group


  • *Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy in 93MB, BC-1 & 1.5
  • Roger Whittier & Trent Heidtke, BC-122
  • *Jon & Lisa McLin
  • Glen & Judy Yoder, BC-007
  • *Jerry & Nancy Grout with *Phil Goddard and Nadine Davis in 1129T
  • Jerry & Diane Kapp with Rachel Davis and Peter Culin in 5658K
  • *Adam Rosenberg in 4372J, BC-72
  • Rich Kupiec and Austin Erwin in 6693M BC-47 & BC-99
  • *Bob Ivory & Donnie Rosenberg in 4840T
  • *Mark Hess and father in 428DW
  • James & Debra Abraham


*Stayed for the evening


What’s Next?


The June Event for the Breakfast Club will be a return engagement to Show Low and Aunt Nancy’s Café.  July will see us take a short trip to Payson and the Crosswinds Restaurant.  That’s all for now but remember, fly safe.


Click on these links to read the Eastern Arizona Courier article about our fly-in and the 2nd link to the video of our event.


To view photos of the Safford event, click on the link below.