Tuesday, October 16, 2012

to Scottsdale

I awoke Saturday morning in time to see a beautiful sunrise. The temperatures were still warm and the sky was mostly clear. I was optimistic but knew that bad weather was due to arrive from the west sometime in the afternoon. Maybe I could get out, perhaps to Johnstown, wait for the weather to pass and resume my trip. Johnstown was flagged Red = Limited IFR. The NEXRAD composite behind the cold front was just ugly. A southern route wasn't much better. No Go again on Saturday.

Sunday brought low ceilings gray sky, much colder temperatures and limited visibility. The maps had local airports flagged mostly Blue = Marginal VFR. However west, out near Pittsburgh it was improving and the little airport symbols were Green. I packed my overnight bag, poured some coffee in a Chinet cup and headed out to the airport. Go - IF the local weather stayed VFR.

I put the oil cooler baffles on anticipating the colder temperature and was glad to have them. Heat started to come into the plane as the oil warmed up. All ground operations were normal. The 696 showed nothing awful along my route of flight. The engine purred. I pushed the trip reset button on the timer and advanced the throttle. We were off.

Well, at least up to 2500'. Enough to clear the nearby mountains but not where I had intended to cruise. I dialed up Allentown for Flight Following and wen I stated my altitude he asked if I intended to climb. "As soon as the weather would let me." I diverted around some showers over Reading which showed as yellow blotches on my 696.  We were able to climb up another 1000' just before the next ridge line and stayed there until descending for the fuel stop south of Pittsburgh.

A quick turn and off again heading west. By now the ceilings were a bit higher so we leveled off at 4500'. All systems were normal so I settled in for a nice cruise. The skies were still gray and after awhile we started the scratch the bottoms so I told ATC we would drop down 1000'. That worked well for most of Ohio, until it started SNOWING! Truly beautiful but not good for VFR flying. Visibility was deteriorating rapidly and I advised ATC that I would go down another 1000'. He cautioned me that we might lose radar contact. I weighed the options and decided that Sally was a VFR kind of girl, we went lower. Approaching Wright-Patt most of the snow showers were behind us and we climbed back up to 4500'. Smooth sailing into our first overnight stop at KMTO.

*A beater of a crew car (and thankful to have it), Hampton Inn honored a Military Discount. It was a good stop.

Frost. Monday morning and Sally is encased in a block of frost. Fortunately there were clear blue skies overhead and the temperatures were rising quickly. Time enough for some more great FBO coffee and hangar talk with the guy sitting behind the desk. I waited about an hour before my soft squeegee could remove all of the frost from the airplane.

We had an easy climb up to 6500' and settled in for the next leg. Smooth air over very flat country. Crossed the Mississippi near St Louis and had a nice conversation with the controller about LSA flying.It was starting to get warm, OAT read 10C and rising. Two hours out and the next rest stop came into view.

Another quick turn and another uneventful climb to 6500'.  Still flat country, but getting warmer all the time. I took my lightweight sweater off and closed the heater vent. We were heading back into Summertime. The oil temperature showed that as well as we were now running on the high side of the green arc. Not a full fledged worry but something to keep my eye on. I pulled out my tablet and opened PILOT to look at fuel prices. Eureka, Kansas had some MOGAS so I asked ATC to change my destination and we headed there. Winds were picking up and airports in the area were posting gusts in the twenties, 13K had the winds pretty much straight down the runway which gave me another reason to divert.

The MOGAS was only 87 octane, not good for Sally. We went with Avgas instead. There was a drop of oil on her nose wheel pant. Argh. All of the work Harry had done came into my mind. Did something come loose? Cowling came off and everything was dry, except the oil reservoir overflow. The oil had to expand due to the heat (baffles still on). It was below the flat on the oil stick so I added a little and removed the baffles in the blowing (but warm) wind. Triple checked everything and off again.

Climbed back up to 6500" and everything was solid. Oil Temperature and Pressure were solid and steady, and blew a sigh of relief. After awhile my next overnight came into view. KWWR was great! A Cadillac crew car, good prices and wonderful hospitality. (Hampton Inn was unable to honor the military discount this time.)

The landscape changed again in Oklahoma with the ground becoming more scarred with gullies and washes. The ground was rising up to meet me.  Lots of cattle pens and brown open spaces. Two fuel stops later I was wearing a T-shirt and the air vents were wide open. This time I climbed to 8500' and battled head winds approaching the mountains. Soon I learned something. Sally was trying to maintain altitude and was struggling with it. I advanced the throttle to full, slowed to Vy and still descended at 200 FPM. Crossing the next plateau we climbed at over 1000 FPM and I had the throttle near idle. It didn't take too many cycles to learn that altitude hold wasn't going to work out here in these windy conditions. So I pushed the buttons to give me GPS track mode and hand flew the altitude. Around Los Vegas, New Mexico I decided that getting beat up by the turbulence wasn't fun anymore and took her up to 10,500', which meant higher head winds but somewhat smoother air.

KGNT: last fuel stop. I wove down through the mesa and valleys looking for this tiny airport. I wasn't sure if it would be near a town or on top of one of the Mesa flats. Neither, it out of town near I40. Self serve, full tanks and taxied out. Altimeter read 6500' on the ground! I clicked the CTAF frequency and mentioned that and the FBO came back with the Density Altitude of 8,300'. Visions of that now infamous YouTube video came to mind. I let her accelerate a long time before easing back on the stick. Slowly, slowly she climbed. I turned back to climb up over the airport before turning on course over the mountains to the southwest.

I was thirsty and had already downed my two water bottles. Should I dare to open a can of Coke Zero at 10,000 ft? I thought better of it and munched on some nuts instead.

I also learned that a magenta GPS track may go straight over a peak that is higher than current altitude. Heading mode to divert around the big ones, then Direct/Enter/Enter when clear. Many times I was pitch up, full power and could barely maintain altitude. Mountain flying is just a bit different. My six hour day turned into a long 8 hours as I passed the last range into Phoenix airspace.

By now the Sun was low on the horizon, the glare was painful and the haze was unbelievable. I told the tower I was three miles from the field and still couldn't make out the airport. A vector to downwind helped and soon the long runway was in front of me. Smooth landing, off at Alpha 10 and a kind ground control gave me some help to get over to Landmark Aviation.

I shut her down and checked the trip time at 22:26.

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