Monday 09 December 2013 11:21 UTC
Where have you been? What have you seen?
I decided to fly to my friends wedding in New Orleans late April, and thought I'd share once again. I gave myself 2-2,5 days to get there VFR.
Day 1. Set off pretty late on a Thursday after a strange gear switch problem had mystified us for a week. This would also be the first long trip after the right engine top overhaul, so a good opportunity to run her in on some xcountry with the mineral oil. I'd planned to go to Tucson, AZ and stop there for the evening, but everything was going rather swimmingly so we proceeded to Cochise Airport in Willcox, AZ. Beautiful evening. As I landed the FBO guy, who's name was Jim, filled me up and drove me to a hotel. Not only that, he picked me up the next morning as well. Unassuming, good old smalltown friendliness like that you get a lot of in the US, and it makes flying here even greater.
Day 2. Sky was clear and she was filled up, so only needed a quick preflight, couple of quarts of oil and off we went. Ride was smooth and the Arizona/New Mexico vastness unfolded before my eyes. NM only has 2 million people living there, and it goes on for miles - on a 3hr leg, you literally won't see more than one small town. It gets pretty lonely. Radar service also gets a bit patchy and for long stints you're on your own. I've never understood why radar advisory frequencies are not published on VFR charts. You inevitably lose reception with one and have no clue whom to call up next. End up having to locate a nearest airport, look up in the AF/D if there's a frequency published. If not, you just have to wait until you get to a bigger airport with an instrument approach and try either the tower there or a published one. Same goes for England - why they not on the chart?
Economy cruise. I normally pull back to 2500rpm, but wanted to run the new chrome cylinders a little harder so they wouldn't glaze.
Hugging the Mexican border to avoid the grunt of the Rockies. Still needed to cruise at 9500ft to clear many of them.
My smooth ride-luck runs out after the Rockies. It gets seriously bumpy and there are times when I fear for the integrity of my 57 year old main spar. A fellow pilot friend back in LA keeps sending me real time updates on the phone of the nastiness ahead; a huge frontal system with lightning, icing and thunderstorms is engulfing the whole southwest. Just my luck. I can see the tell tale signs of lenticular clouds of air rushing in to the front. At least I have a quartering tailwind. I land at Coleman, TX and the wind is howling. Thankfully, it's straight down the rwy. Refuel and grab a bite to eat. As I take off, the clouds to the east are right there and the bumpiness is incessant. I give up again and decide to sit it out a bit at Hearne.
Of course the left engine has now started to leak a bit more oil, just to annoy me. Turned out to be the rocker covers that needed tightening, but I didn't figure that out until I got back home.
Just keeping them warm, why you asking? Having a kip at Hearne, hoping the weather will improve.
I get off just before nightfall for one last vailant stab at it, but end up scud running almost immediately. My passage to east is cut off, so have to go north. I finally can drop a bit lower over a lake and escape to the east again, but by now I'm fed up, tired and it's dark. On the other side of the lake is a small airport in Livingston, TX and I pack it in for the night. I had planned to get to New Orleans by nightfall, but obviously that was out the window now.
The local hotel wants an exorbitant amount for a rubbish La Quinta room, plus they have no courtesy van to pick me up. I decide to sleep in the plane in my sleeping bag. I make half an attempt at ordering a delivery pizza, by they won't deliver to the airport. Being a fat man, I need my food. Thankfully I have a Brompton foldable bike in the back with me, so I whip that out and cycle down to the truck stop and and manage to get some horrid sandwich. The wind is howling and shaking the whole plane all night long, so I don't get much sleep.
Wet and windy.
My hotel room for the night.
Day 3. I wake up at 5am and do howling wind preflight in total darkness. My aim is to be off just before first light at 6am. I need to be in New Orleans by 2pm, or else I miss the wedding. Weather is even worse and as I take off in darkness, I immediately run into low clouds. Turn back around and start tracking south. As the glum day begins I can tell that my chances are slim of making it. At Orange County, TX I decide to sit it out as I can't get through, plus I need fuel. As I make my approach, I have gusting 28kts right in the side as a crosswind. First approach I get blown so far off track it's embarrassing and I have to go around. Second attempt is better, but it's going to be rough. A real carrier landing ensues, but at least we make it down safe. Earned my wings on that one. See Day 3 video for this landing.
After refuelling, it looks like the best option is to track south and follow the coast. At least it's easier to scud run there. Said and done - that's what we do. The swamps of Louisiana provide enough clearance to scud, so didn't need to get out over water. At least for a bit. Crossing the Mississippi it gets so bad that I have to divert to the closest airport. The rain is pouring down and I orbit just about at 500ft for the landing. No fun at all. I honestly don't know how those guys up in Alaska have the nerve to fly in VFR minima constantly. It's pretty nerve tugging.
Anyway, I borrow the FBO's courtesy car (another great thing about America) and get into town for a quick meal. After about 1hr it seems to improve a bit and I launch again. Long story short, scud running and flying in zig zag I finally make it to New Orleans Lakefront airport right on the shore. It's a beautiful airport. Controller asks me to keep it tight as I have a King Air breathing down my neck. No problem - just glad to have made it. We treat ourselves to the Flightline FBO and get the whole red carpet treatment. I apologised to the handlers that this old girl would probably drip a bit of oil on their pristine tarmac. Hey, we can't all afford G5's...
Wedding is wonderful, but since I have to fly the day after I must behave.
Return day 1. Home trip is pretty uneventful, at least until I'm almost home. I have constant headwind (as expected) and it's still pretty bumpy. Stop by at a small grass field in Rhome, TX to look at a project plane I was interested in. It's in a lot worse shape than I've been led to believe, and the owner wants an unrealistic amount for it. Still, fun to see. I stay the night in Lubbock, TX and treat myself to a slightly posher hotel. Next day it's the home run.
I find an old derelict DH Dove just outside Lubbock.
Wonder how she ended up there?
Return day 2. Next morning I get started early and thankfully the ceilings are at 20.000ft. Soon I'm over the Arizona deserts again and they look extra beautiful this morning. It really is a very varied and pretty state.
The old girl is running strong and has had no squawks during entire trip. Except for the horizon gyro that tumbled for two full days and then mysteriously repaired itself.
I make a stop at the absolutely stunningly pretty Sedona airport in Arizona. I can't recommend this airport enough - it takes your breath away where it sits on top of a Mesa like that. I have lunch at the wonderful restuarant on the field, but the real reason I'm here is not to uplift their exorbitant fuel, but to look at an old 520 that just got sold for scrap on Ebay. I'm interested in some bits on her. Turns out the old bird has been sitting for 10 years, but looks to be in surprisingly good shape. Pack rats have unfortunately eaten the seats out, so they were no good. But the wingtip fairings, the flap assemblies, the front gear doors, the cowlings and the Narco glideslope in the panel look pretty interesting. I make an offer to the scrap yard for those pieces and it looks like I might get them for a decent price. The right engine looked great, but without papers it's just metal. Still, the cylinders looked brand new. But they guy wanted $5000 for the engine and prop. Too much for no papers.
Probably the last picture taken of N2600B intact before she got cut up. Sad to see them neglected like this, especially the ones that are salvageable. Probably no more than 5-10 520's still flying in the world out of 150 built.
Last leg back to LA is an annoying and frustrating end to a long and successful xcountry. Literally 30nm from my home airport, the whole LA basin is completely socked in. The only low level in to the basin is at Banning Pass. An incongruent bunch of pilots take turns trying to get through from the airport there. I make two attempts myself, one with two stages of flaps barely creeping along at stall speed trying to follow a road before I have to admit defeat and almost bust FAA minimums (at least that's what I'm sticking with).
I try the high approach - go around Big Bear Lake and try to go over the whole basin on top of the cloud base at 10.500ft. It's clear, but there are no openings, not even far out over the pacific, where I'd hoped I could drop down and the scud run my way back in. It's so frustrating having come so close to home only to then have to give up. I curse like a sailor as I dump her into William J Fox airfield in the desert. What now? How do I get home? Thankfully, my pilot friend who's also doing his IR rating says he can bring the instructor and come pick me up. Very nice of him. Except that the pretty new instructor and him get quite seriously overworked on the IFR flight back and I fear for my life a couple of times in the soup with all the confusion. Anyway, we make it back eventually. Next thing on the agenda is to finish that IR so I won't have to give up a couple of miles from home or sit helplessly in the back!
The trip on a map.
The trip was also recorded on video, and I have edited some of the footage into some kind of cohesion for those of you who are masochistic enough to endure it after having already read about it. The rather salty crosswind landing is on day 3.
Last edited by AdamFrisch on Sun May 20, 2012 6:32 am, edited 2 times in total.
JAA and FAA PPL, ASEL, AMEL.
Wonderful trip, great write up, but aren't you pushing your luck?
I did have low ceilings, but pretty good visibility for most of it. No real risk of hitting or getting into cloud without seeing it coming, so could always turn around or deviate if that was the case. I've found low ceilings don't bother me much, but low vis does. I guess it's the false security of flying a twin. FAA VFR minima in G airspace over sparsely populated areas is 500ft, clear of clouds and 1m visibility. Flown in 3miles visibility and that's pretty hairy, I find. I don't know how the bush pilots deal with 1m vis constantly - I know I couldn't. With a few exceptions, this was 10m for most of it and rarely below 5m. Ceilings were around 1000ft for most of it, with the occasional dip down to maybe 700ft.
As for the LA basin bit, it was just at the pass that it was to the ground. We could hear and talk to planes just on the other side on the CTAF doing circuits where it was clear below 2000ft! That's what made it so frustrating. And that's why I knew I could get back home if I could just get past the curtain. But alas, no luck. I picked her up two days later.
JAA and FAA PPL, ASEL, AMEL.
I see you took the pics with a Sony NEX-5N? Great dynamic range and good DoF, quite impressive for such a small camera.
Yes - I'm ver impressed with that little camera. Got a big chip, so has a nice falloff in dept-of-field and the images look like they come from a bigger SLR. Sony is basically satan (in my book), but they did a good job with this one. Unfortunately I dropped it and repaired it with superglue and the superglue fumes/vapors managed to fog the lens, so now it all looks like some romantic fog filter on everything....
JAA and FAA PPL, ASEL, AMEL.
I'm sure you could charge for such a lens (look at lensbaby)
Good write up, as ever!
I love your write-ups and the videos. There's a real shortage of good flying videos, yours could be longer without causing any problems It would be really good to see the gear retracting and extending - not as good as on an "F", of course but still strangely fascinating (for me, at least )
I suppose an IR can't be far away?
I noticed that the mixtures seem to be full rich... How much do you lean?
It seems 20" is right for economy cruise in many aeroplanes. I use it in the 300hp Wilga leaned to 48 - 50 litres an hour and the Super Decathlon, 6.8 -6.9 USGPH.
I'm supposed to be coming down your way Thursday next week. In to Columbia Ca, O22.
In BC wondering wandering
Strangely, my old Bendix pressure carbs auto lean - it was the rage back in the 50's but didn't really catch on. It's based on air pressure and mine seems to work pretty good. One can test this by trying to lean at altitude - they immediately start to run rough.
IR is still a ways away. Financially this year hasn't been that good, so I can't train as much as I'd like. Should be done by end of year, though. Also, with age comes almost comical inability to remember stuff. Don't know how many times I've now flown and read about entering holds, still can't remember it if it's been more than a week. So every session is an exercise in re-learning and cramming. I can barely remember what I did yesterday.
JAA and FAA PPL, ASEL, AMEL.
Practice at home!
Draw the hold on a piece of paper and then get a model aeroplane and approach it from different directions.
Call entering the hold and then established in the hold.
At certain angles it does not matter whether you do a parallel or an offset entry so it doesn't have to be that precise!
Also practice enroute holds based on a DME position.
Think about the effects of wind and how the hold will look when you double the drift on the outbound leg, and how you would extend or shorten this leg to achieve one minute inbound.
One thing I've done is set a second VOR to ninety degrees from the inbound track so I get an abeam indication.
The mind is the best simulator and if you practice at home you'll save yourself a lot of money in the air.
For the mind itself, eat fish, and ride your bike!
In BC wondering wandering
Fantastic write up, showing the glamourous lifestylye of aircraft ownership. Brilliant.
Suiting the action to the words
In North America people live busy lives and many do so without passion.
I never did so much solo flying in England as I now do here, there are always friendly keen people to share trips with in Britain.
But I did fly to Switzerland a couple of times alone, and afterward I'd hear: "you should have asked me".
Today I had planned to go and check the Chipmunk out prior to its planned trip to California later this week...
But it's difficult to get enthused about the long drive down Number 10 highway (it's not far, but it takes a long time), to pull the aeroplane out and go for a solo flight... Partly because I've gone back to winter mode; whereas I know sunset is after 9pm, it's so cold and grey outside I believe it's December!
North American society has become predominately disparate, with people off on their own... The internet dating services do well out of people who would historically meet at social gatherings...
If I drove down Number Ten, I'd pass the Delta Hall, a building still out in the countryside that's been there a long time.
One can imagine the dances that took place there perhaps when Boundary Bay was an RCAF base during the war, then through the fifties, when people were not so aware of television and the internet was science fiction.
That's gone with people on their computers as I am now, and a media that has made people so conscious of political correctness, and scared of speaking their minds and being themselves.
It's something very much on my mind.
I have the job of teaching people to become commercial pilots, with the very occasional person coming along with passion.
There's a lot to recommend flying in North America, and it is fantastic, but it is often a lonely pursuit.
In BC wondering wandering
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