Flying Across the Country… Part 1

My adventure with flight started simply enough, when I commented to a pilot friend that I always wanted to fly and his simple response was, “So why don’t you?” That exchange occurred in April of 2003 and by September of that same year I not only had my private pilot ticket but also bought a 1966 Piper Cherokee 180 that I call Pippa.

In the time since I’ve received my Instrument rating, given Pippa new paint, interior, updated avionics and engine monitoring equipment. Over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve flown Pippa to Sun’N’Fun, Missouri a few times and North Carolina many dare remember. Luckily Pippa’s gross weight capability has allowed me to continue my flying protocol – With every fight having a meal associated with it.

It was time for another adventure and my need to attend a conference in Palm Springs followed by a week of meetings in Lake Forest, CA gave me a unique opportunity, to fly to the left coast. If needed I could leave early and work in CA a little more than planned or return later.

Planning started weeks before with the first flatland part of the trip to allow me to visit with family in Raleigh, NC then Tulsa, OK. So it was that the trip going would be leisurely, with multi-night stops. Planned time to Palm Springs, 6 days requiring 7 stops. Given the altitudes to be flown out west, I ordered a small bottle of oxygen that would allow me to fly at high altitudes for up to 5 and a half hours.

Having just had my transponder and IFR certification done, a test flight the weekend before the trip was in order to make sure everything was good which it was, that is until I topped off the oil to be ready for the adventure. After adding a quart, the dipstick wouldn’t screw in, it seems the threads were stripped. My stress was uncalled for as a call to Jim Casey the next morning found me with a serviceable dipstick that he found.

Given the weather through the middle of the country, a little luck would be needed. It seemed there was more severe weather this year than I can remember in the past with daily tornados, convective activity and heavy rain. Not an ideal pattern for a Cherokee, but I had hope that a break in the pattern would occur. If not I could always fly commercial, even from some intermediate stop, if prudent.

The Trip Begins – Travel Day 1

Weather Channel’s iPad app predicted leaving May 22nd would be good with the 10 day forecast. So it was set, the adventure would start on the 22nd. The night before I was to leave, I penned the following:

It’s the night before flight

and the TAFs all predict

the clouds will be low

and the fog will be thick.

I slept we’ll the night before, but as always woke early in anticipation of my next great adventure. The TAFs weren’t totally accurate, the ceiling was about 800 feet but visibility was good – no fog. So I filed an IFR flight plan, first top Easton, Maryland for fuel and lunch at Sugar Buns – a regular stop of mine for each of my trips to Raleigh.

1

Calling FSS, I was cleared As Filed, a very rare occurrence here in the Boston TRACON. Upon take off, I entered the clouds at about 800 feet and broke out into the sun about 400 feet later, flying the next 3 hours on top. Also upon contacting Boston departure, I was cleared direct Norwich, not north to BOSOX then west to GRAYM only to go south – a very good omen. While the purpose of this trip was to see the country, I’ve seen this route before so it wasn’t important to me that weather be good. It’s a good thing too as all I saw below were clouds.

2

With an average ground speed of 100 knots, I arrived at Easton a little less than 4 hrs after leaving Mansfield. Of course this first leg of my scenic flight required an LPV approach to runway 22 at KESN. Not down to minimums, far from it, but still a good approach that I flew well.

3

After a quick top off and late breakfast I was off to RDU about an hour after touchdown.

The second leg was just as uneventful as the first, except weather was starting to clear and I could now see ground, not only directly below Pippa, but as the fight continued off into the horizon. With an average grind speed of 120 knots, I arrived at KRDU a little over 2 hours after KESN departure. Total flight time for the first day, about 6 hours – for what typically takes 5 hours.

5

Travel Day 2

After 2 days with family it was time for an early morning departure for Tulsa, Oklahoma with a planned stop in Nashville. Once again an IFR clearance was required as the weather at RDU had the ceiling at about 1200 feet.

6

Cleared As Filed, for the third consecutive time, I entered the clouds and was quickly on top of a thin layer climbing to my assigned altitude of 8000 feet MSL, enough to clear the smoky mountains. I was fortunate to see my first lenticular clouds, you know the ones your warned to avoid due to severe turbulence. Luckily I was on top of them unluckily I was blessed with a ground speed of 60 knots due to a short lived 60 knot headwind.

7

The headwind caused the 3 hour 20 minute still air flight to take an hour longer. Luckily at 60% power Pippa has 5 hours and 50 minutes a whole 30 minutes beyond IFR reserves. The weather even started clearing up and I started to appreciate the beauty of our country. Landing at a class Charlie airport rewarded me with higher fuel prices, for the south that is and the loan of a new crew car for a quick lunch. The Atlantic FBO attendants recommended the lunch at Bar-B-Cuties and being an out of tower, who was I to question. Besides no one in their right mind says no to BBQ, so ribs it was and good they were. After which it was a quick ride back to KBNA, sumping the fuel, opening a clearance, another As Filed. I must admit I started to wonder if this was a good sign or a tease to make a future problem seem worse but being an optimist decided to treat it as a good omen.

8

The trip from Nashville to Tulsa was uneventful. The view crossing over the Mississippi was wonderful, especially after the wet spring where it was wider than usual. At 6000 feet MSL, I picked up a fairly good tail wind and saw ground speeds as high as 140 knots for over requiring just 4 hours. I was even able to enjoy the scenery, good weather and some tunes courtesy of XM.

At the end of the day, I found a room at a local Holiday Inn Express (yes things are that good) and enjoyed a very good Chicken Mole dinner accented by a margarita (or two, I was on a 2 day flight hiatus after all) with my nephew and expecting niece.

10

So far the trip has been great. Seeing family is fun and the flight has been entertaining. It even looks like the weather will continue to improve with no major weather forecast through the center of the country, unusual for this spring.

-Fly Safe, TNery1B9

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check back next Wednesday for Part 2 of 4!

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