Flying Across the Country… Part 2

A SeaLeveler’s View

When we left off last month, I was finishing a Chicken mole diner, having some fine margaritas and finishing a visit with my niece and nephew. After a good night’s sleep at my Holiday Inn express, it was off to Tulsa airport for an early enough, or so I thought 7:30 departure. Because of potential thunderstorms during my stay, I opted to hanger Pippa for the time at Tulsa. After returning the car, settling the bill, waiting for the plane to be pulled from the hanger and preflighting I was finally off the ground around 8:00.

8:00am for us east coaster is early enough, but it was already starting to warm up and Pippa’s was showing her distain for the heat by climbing slowly. But climb she did and we successfully made it to our next stop Las Vegas, err Las Vegas New Mexico that is, after only 4 hours and 48 minutes, arriving at 12:30 Mountain Daylight Time! You might be wondering about reserves and I was still IFR legal upon landing with a little over an hour of fuel left, all because I decided to trade speed for endurance by flying at 65% power.

Las Vegas, NM is a beautiful, but deserted airport with no services on a Sunday except self service gas, which I and Pippa were both thankful for as it allowed us to move on to our final destination for the night – – – the Grand Canyon. No lunch but I figured one lunch shouldn’t stop me.


Now let me tell you, in case you ever wondered, it gets really hot in New Mexico at noon. Just filling the gas required me to drink a bottle of water. The other thing I wanted to tell you is airplane performance really sucks when the weather is hot and the airport is high.

KLVS sits at 6900 feet MSL and on this hot day the density altitude was a little over 11,000 feet. Still in luck, KLVS has a 8200 ft runway and let me tell you, I used a lot of it. Additionally, because of the mountains, oh did I fail to mention the mountains, I needed to climb to 12,000. When my climb rate was in the low 100/minute, I decided it was prudent to circle the airport for a while until I was sure I could get to altitude. About 45 minutes later, I had successfully climbed to my filed altitude, so I opened my plan and started on my way to the Grand Canyon.

No a little Cherokee information. My Cherokee 180 has a service ceiling of 15750. When the density altitude is above the service ceiling (which it happened to be this day at about 17000), the indicated airspeed at cruise is approaching stall. And when you’re flying near stall and you hit a down-draft the plane either stalls of descends, the latter of which I preferred. So I spent the next 3 hours and 45 minutes flying Pippa by hand, in slow flight on an IFR clearance.

Also let me add that my oxygen bottle came in handy. And I was extremely pleased I upped my order to include an oxygen conserving cannula, providing me 4.5 hours of oxygen at this altitude. I kept a check on my blood oxygen level with a $24.99 pulse oximeter I bought from Groupon.

Let me take a moment to thank Dave Lawrence for allowing me to practice slow flight and turns in my bi-annual the month before. After this leg, I now consider myself proficient at slow flight and managing lack of lift.

About an hour into this leg, I noticed my ability to hold altitude was becoming worse and my airspeed was down. Not being accustom to hot and high flying, with up and down drafts, I chalked it up to density altitude. However had I done an in-flight mag check, I would have known that my left magneto had died.


Flying over the desert is like flying over water. There are lots of places to set down, but none you want to be at. So not knowing of the failure was probably best for my sanity.

Although I failed to notice the magneto failure, I luckily did notice that my fuel burn would not allow me to get to the Grand Canyon, unless of course they could amend my clearance to give me direct. So I asked and when told I could go direct if I could climb to 14,000 I decided given the performance, or lack of it at 12, would not make an additional climb wise. As a result, I pulled out my iPad and looked for alternatives. Flagstaff was about an hour closer, so I amended my destination to Flagstaff and when asked why, the answer was simple – fuel.

Landing at KFLG, I was lucky to identify the mag failure and there was a repair shop on field. Not only was there a repair shop, but they would be staffed on Memorial Day.


Upon inspection, they found the magneto’s drive gear. The good news was they had one in stock – the bad news was that the distributor had been arcing internally (probably the reason for the gear failure), and the cap needed replacing and they didn’t have one of those. So I arranged to stay the night in Flagstaff, rented a car and drove to Palm Springs expecting to pick up Pippa the next weekend.


So the old adage, time to spare go by air held true for me. After only 5 hours of driving, I made it to Palm Springs and the conference I needed to attend on schedule, but very tired.


In the next post, we’ll pick up the plane in Flagstaff, fly to California, then to Catalina for bison burgers, then the Hollywood flyway.

-Fly Safe, TNery1B9

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check back next Wednesday for Part 3 of 4!


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