Van's RV-9A in Aurora

The Big Picture

The Big Picture
Flying! 8/28/2011

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ferry Flight to California

After finishing the posts for the work on May 7, I was browsing the VAF forums. Just looking though the classified section I noticed a post asking if any one wanted to get some hours ferrying a Cessna 150 from Arkansas to California. There was some discussion, but no takers for the couple of days the article was posted. It got me to thinking. Looked at the weather and it looked reasonably clear. Did a rough plan for getting over the mountains along with an estimate of how long it would take. Began to seriously consider it.
The next day, called the post author to get some more details. Among the questions I had was why not send the ferry pilots his company had on staff? The answer was they were enroute to Asia in a King Air. At this point, I checked with the various authorities. I could take some time off of work, and the wife thought it was a great idea. Made the commitment on Thursday and set it all in motion. The plane had only one VOR, so I decided to get a GPS. Decided on the Garmin 196, not wanting to spend wing money for color or weather. Also ordered all of the sectionals for the western part of the flight. GLAD I got a GPS, as I'll explain.

All the paper work for the trip and the GPS arrived Friday morning. Got some real work done for AMD, but it was hard not to obsess on the trip planning. Made hotel reservations for Little Rock, packed, and hopped a Southwest flight Friday afternoon. The flight I was booked on was at 6:30 or so, and was supposed to get in around 9. This was not to happen. Flew standby on an earlier flight and got in to Little Rock around 6. But my bags ended up on the original flight, which didn't get in until midnight.

Since I had voluntarily seperated from my bags, Southwest wouldn't deliver them. And they said they wouldn't wait for me to get there, so I better not be late. So I had to get back to the airport at midnight to get the bag. The hotel was most unhelpful, their shuttle service was shut down, and they wouldn't let me have the keys. Hmmph. Fortunately it was only about 1200 yards from the terminal, so when the alarm woke me up, I walked to the airport in the dark. For me that's about a 10 minute walk. The plane landed as I was walking down the airport access road. Got to baggage claim about 2 minutes before the bag rolled on to the conveyor. Then carried it back to the hotel to get more sleep. 40 minutes from alarm to lights out, and a brisk 1.5 mile walk, half with a 20 lb bag! An adventure already, and I hadn't even seen the objective.

That was Friday.

I had called the seller to make arrangements for picking up in the morning. Left the hotel at around 8. The seller turned out to be Polish, but at first I thought he must be Russian Mafia or something.
Black Cadillac. We saw a F22 Raptor (I think) on a tractor/trailer on the way to the field. Didn't have my camera out so I could only sit in frustration. The fuselage was shrink wrapped, and the wings and control surfaces were on a jig on a following truck. What a sight! The single plane had two oversize load trucks and 3 other support vehicles.

Got to the airfield. It was a small private field. Literally. A grass strip! 1AR9. Preflighted, had some last minute repairs done, including getting the lights working. Took it around the pattern once to see how it behaved. Just like a 150! Acted as the buyer's agent for the transaction (to the best of my ability). And then started waiting.

Ugly, but it flew very well.

All morning it had been overcast. The forecast for Little Rock was for an improvement to MVFR, and then severe thunderstorms and tornadoes with a frontal passage in the late afternoon and evening. The locals were flying in and out of the field all day, and the trip around the pattern was marginal, but never in the clouds. Just as I got ready to go, it started getting worse. A quick check of the weather showed some rain on the way in. Little Rock was IFR, as well as Hot Springs, which was my intended first VOR. The mechanic went for lunch and took me. We ate lunch and I nervously checked the radar every 5 minutes. On his advice, I replanned to follow the interstate direct to Texarkana, with a detour around the Little Rock class C airpspace. Hot Springs had some hills that would be treacherous in these conditions.

Finally, around 2PM it got lighter, and the route looked clear with no activity moving in. So off I went. Scud running. A definite compromise of my personal mins, however I planned to always have an out, turning back, or to the nearest airport if it got really bad. At first I was only 500 AGL. Little Rock was still IFR. I was indeed well clear of clouds, and I could see 3 miles on the ground. The GPS was a huge benefit in getting around Little Rock. I could see the tower farm that the chart and the GPS said was there, clearing it with a comfortable margin. After a while, flying down the interstate, I noticed that there were shadows on the ground. Still thick haze above, but sunlight below. Slowly the visibility improved so that it was full VFR in Texarkana (TXK). But it got choppier the further south, to the point where I couldn't push buttons on the GPS or fight with the chart.

As soon as I was airborne, I tried to get Little Rock ASOS. Nothing but noise. I tried Little Rock approach to get a squawk. Nothing. Tried Flight Watch. Tried the Center freq I had written down. Nothing. Great, no radio. Fiddled with everything I could think of, head set, headset jacks, all the toggles and volumes. Finally managed to pick up Texarkana AWOS. OK, the radio receives. Punched in the CTAF. Texarkana is Class D, so requested a full stop from Tower. Nothing. I had bought a bunch of charts for the trip, but I forgot to get a Memphis chart. I had an old one. It had the wrong frequency for Texarkana. Of course at the time, I wasn't completely sure that the radio was working properly, so wrong frequency was a possibility in the back of my mind, not a certainty. With no comm, can't land at a towered airport. But I was getting tossed around pretty good, didn't like the looks of the sky to the west, had old weather info, and the next stop was at least 45 minutes away. With no choice, I turned back toward TXK. Saw it well outside of 5 miles (later arrivals were having trouble finding it). No activity at all. Is it even open? Got the weather again, Lima, and entered a downwind traffic pattern for the specified runway. Announced intentions the whole time, with no response from anyone. One nasty crosswind landing later, I taxied down the crossing runway and into the FBO. Crap. Landing at a towered airport without permission. As I got out of the plane, I was in full view of the tower, only 100 yards away. I gave them a shrug that was supposed to indicate what a clueless idiot I was. Two steps in the FBO door, had the correct tower freq and ran out the the plane to call tower. Apologized profusely. They sounded terse, but gave me the ground freq and said to call when ready to taxi.

Now this part of the trip doesn't come to closure until I'm back in Austin, 6 days later, but I'll tell it here. First, I had a current A/FD, and it had the right freq for TXK. But I just didn't think of it. The GPS had the right frequency also, but I was one button push away that I couldn't figure out in the chop. Later, in Gallup I was telling the story and one of the pilots suggested I fill out the NASA form, a free get-out-of-jail card. Sounded like a good idea, but I still wanted to call the controllers in TXK and just see what they had to say. Their manager and one of the tower guys (not the one I talked to immediately afterward) said that no actions had been written up. The controller remembered something but said they gave me a green light signal. As far as they were concerned, I landed with permission and there really was no incident. Whew! And thinking about it later, I want to say I do remember a flash from the tower. But it didn't really register, and it seemed like a white flash, not green. I thought about squawking 7600, but most Class D towers don't have radar so that might not have made any difference. Still, the center radar might have seen it and let TXK know.

Lesson learned. First, keep watching the tower for lights (even in nasty crosswinds). Second, go out both at day and night, and ask the tower to give you both color lights so you can see what they really look like. I think the tinting in the tower windows changes the light, so they may not really look pure red or green. I'll try this at New Braunfels next time I have a chance.

Back in TXK, requested a top off and checked the weather, which is not promising. I'm frazzled, and two other professional crews come in and decide not to fly any more. I had already decided, but that cemented it. The front desk made a hotel reservation for me. One of the other pilots, a Civil Air Patrol guy, gave me a ride to my hotel. He had a brother in Georgetown, and I'll put in his name if I can remember (Atkinson?). At the hotel, redid the flight planning, had a nice dinner, and slept like a baby. The wind howled outside, and the front passed through with a light show.

That was Saturday.

Woke Sunday to a fabulous day. Preflighted, the FBO waived the tie down fee, and off I went. Paris, to Gainesville. Borrowed the car and went to a popular local spot to get a hamburger, and ate outside back at the airport. Back in the air, next stop Childress. The flying was uneventful to this point, except for a stiff headwind that slowed groundspeed to 50 knots. Preflighting in Childress there was a little bit of rusty water muck that came out in the fuel sample. Checked a couple more times and it was clear.

A beautiful day, despite the headwinds.

Back in the air, via Amarillo, next stop Tucumcari. The headwinds had subsided a bit, but it had started heating up, and there was a wind shear. So it got bumpy and bumpier. In Tucumcari wind was 330 at 22 Gusting 29. 30 was the favored runway. Great. A 11 knot gusting crosswind in a 150. I had enought fuel to go back to Amarillo, but the wind was bad everywhere now. So I proceeded to land like I knew what I was doing, establish a crab on final to guage the wind, then kick it to a upwind-wing-low side-slip on short final. That was my most extreme cross wind landing ever. And it didn't seem too bad.

Checked the weather, decided I had enough of tubulence and high winds, and called a hotel. At the hotel, the wind got worse and howled outside.

Childress was almost totally devoid of charm...

unless large flying toys gets your propellor spinning.

That was Sunday.

I was now on the doorsteps to the mountains, and really fretting. The next morning, the wind was already blowing. I knew the wind wouldn't make the mountains better. Called the FBO at Double Eagle II, outside of Albuquerque, looking for someone with area experience to get advice. The guy who answered the phone, MC, was a pilot and happy to help. He counseled the it would certainly be rough in a 150, especially downwind from Sandia, but not unsafe if I flew at 10,500 through the pass in to Santa Fe. Also called the new owner to keep him posted. He said he had a pilot in Albuquerque and he would arrange for me to talk. He counseled pretty much the same thing. It was flyable, it would be rough, don't fly if you're not comfortable.

Finally decided that waiting wasn't really accomplishing anything, so around 10, got a ride to the airport, preflighted, and took off, nasty crosswind and all, for Santa Fe. Had a bad headwind, and was a bit nervous about fuel and range. Flew west for almost two hours before turning north at the Otto VOR. Once I made the turn, I new that fuel was no longer an issue. The wind was now a quartering headwind, and ground speeds rocketed up to 70 knots! The GPS said I would be in Santa Fe well before the tanks ran dry! I actually started to relax and enjoy the ride, despite being hammered by turbulence off the top of Sandia Peak. At one point I had a 900 fpm rate of climb at ten thousand feet. The airline guys were reporting all sorts of crazy turbulence, and Albuquerque Center was having fun relaying pilot reports.

But there was another factor coming into play. I had slowly climbed up to 10,500 feet. And I was noticing the altitude. At first I thought I might not be able to tolerate it. I got a little light headed, but never had any worse hypoxia symptoms. I managed the 19 gusting to 25 crosswind landing in Santa Fe. Checked the weather, windy, getting windier. But my head was starting to pound from the altitude. The next leg would follow I-40 up to Gallup, 10.5, headwinds. Decided after about an hour that was enough. Only one leg for the day, but I was in no shape to go on. Stayed in a very nice Marriott Coutyard, did the laundry, dinner at Olive Garden, flight planned, asleep at 9 and out like a light.

That was Monday.

Santa Fe was a great place to stop!

The next morning, the winds had let up, it was nice and cool, the ladies at the FBO waived the tie down fee, and I was off for Gallup.

Sandia, not so menacing now that I was upwind.

The continental divide, from 10.5 in a Cessna 150!

Now Gallup is not exactly a garden spot, but it has aviation history, and it turned out to be a very interesting place to get stuck for a day.

On Final for 24 at Gallup.

Arrived Gallup at 9, and after refueling and checking the oil, took a look at the weather for Arizona. The route would go over the Winslow and Prescott VORs. There was a low stuck over central Arizona, and it was actually snowing in and south of Flagstaff, including the route. The radar showed the classic swirl of rain from the low. My entire route in Arizona was affected, plus weather was on it's way to Gallup. Borrowed the courtesy car to go get something to eat.

As I was about to get into the car, a truck pulled up behind. Two old guys were in the truck, both with oxygen tanks (in use, that is). The passenger got out and started into the FBO. He had the look of an old pilot and my first impression was that he had lots of stories to tell.

Took the car and drove the length of Gallup and back, and ordered a sandwich to go at the recommended West End Deli. Back in the FBO, ate lunch at a table with other folks, including a Cessna 414 pilot and the old guy I had seen earlier. As predicted, the old guy had lots of stories. He was still a flight instructor, but didn't have his medical anymore. 400 hours in a B17, but no combat missions. Was orbiting over Roswell when the first atomic detonation was set off. The war ended before his crew was shipped out. His name is Jack Horrocks. The 414 pilot (waiting on a medical passenger) let me sit in his airplane and ask lots of questions. Turns out he knows some the Lakeway crowd.

There was a another pilot in the FBO, attempting to sleep in the pilot's lounge. He had a uniform on, with a logo for the FBO I had called in Albuquerque. I asked him if that was a chain of FBOs, he said no, it was based at KAEG. I mentioned that I had called a couple days ago to seek advice. He said, yes, that was me. What are the odds? So I got to meet MC in person. He was flying a King Air, and was also waiting on medical patients. We talked quite a bit, and I essentially got part of a free commercial ticket ground lesson from him. He also indulged me and I got to sit in the King Air for a while and learn about a turbine cockpit. Thanks, MC!

I spent 7 hours at the FBO in Gallup before giving up and finding a hotel. And I wasn't bored for a minute! The hotel is a another story. Asked the girls at the counter (also a FedEx counter, and quite busy) if they could recommend a hotel. They suggested one. A lady at the counter says to the owner, "I like it when your girls recommend other hotels when I'm standing here." Turned out she managed one of the three Best Westerns in town. The rate at the recommended hotel was cheaper, but I decided to try her hotel. I was about to use the car to drop off my bags when she offered to give me a ride. So the manager drove me to the hotel, and she had the desk put me in a suite, for only $59 a night. What a deal. Had a nice dinner, flight planned, in bed by 9:30, out like a light.

That was Tuesday.

Up at 5:30, situps, breakfast, coffee, shower, and called the airport for a ride. One of the line guys was there almost instantly. I was preflighting at 6:30 and wheels up at 7. A beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. Opened the VFR flight plan (filed for every leg, and activated on almost every leg), and then got a VFR flight following squawk code from Albuquerque center.

Outside of Winslow, a feature appeared on the desert floor. Diverted to get a good pilot's side view and got a few great pictures of Meteor Crater.

South of Flagstaff, over the Mormon Lake area, there was snow on the ground. What a difference a day makes. Was able to fly the remaining legs at 8,500 feet, even though there were a few ridges still to go. There were some wildlife habitat and special use airspace to avoid. Flying into Prescott, the tower frequency was very busy. They asked me to do a wide left 360 for spacing, which I did, then was cleared for 21L.

Fresh snow at Mormon Lake, AZ. Proof that staying in Gallup was a good idea.

Sedona, AZ.

Prescott was a beehive. There were a couple of flight schools including Embry Riddle. The FBO told me it was the 8th busiest general aviation airport in the country. It has more traffic than Bergstom, but all light singles and twins. Got fuel, walked around for 30 minutes or so, then back in the air, wheels up by 0900.

Hard to see, but there are four 172's taxiing in this picture.

Next stop was Barstow-Dagget. A desolate place, but with Army or Guard helicopter primary training. The FBO was just a shack, but the people were helpful and the microwave food tasted great. After fueling and lunch, back in the air by 1300, this time with help from a time zone change.

Edwards Dry Lake and AFB.

The last ridge to cross

After Barstow, I was handed off to Los Angeles center. The controller pronounced it Los Angelees. Ala Arlo Guthrie. He was a hoot. I was in stitches listening to this guy. A job should be fun, and he seemed to enjoy his.

After running the restricted airspace gauntlet, complete with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle traffic (which I never saw or was told about), turned north at Palmdale to leave the high desert. There was one last ridge. My intended route put me over a higher part of the ridge, and also in the lee of the southern Sierra Nevadas. I diverted a bit east to stay away from the mountains and to get a bit more terrain clearance. It got bumpy, but then I was clear, in the valley, smooth flying, and on the way to Porterville.

Entering the traffic pattern at Porterville was an adventure. I listened to a squadron of Yaks up ahead as they landed and found parking places. As I entered downwind, there were hundreds of crows in the air, but they seemed to know the drill and stayed clear.

On the ground in Porterville, more and more Yaks came in. Got some good overflight pictures, and the picture I include only shows 2 of the many aircraft that where there. The guy in the black Yak taxied up, his wing going under mine. He motioned for me to stand at my horizontal stab so he could judge wing clearance there. Then I snapped this pic.

4CV gets some company in Porterville.

After refueling and de-fluiding, left Porterville around 3:15. Flying around the Fresno Class C was an adventure. The approach controllers were dealing with a lot of training traffic. Some were students, some were working on their instrument ratings. All had foreign accents, Indian, Japanese, etc.. Again it was quite amusing. The controller was scolding them for poor radio phrasing. You could tell which students were over their heads and under stress by their voices. The Japanese instrument student was requesting approaches and reading back clearances in a stereotypical Tora-Tora-Tora delivery. It was hilarious - and I don't mean to be demeaning about that. I was really enjoying listening to other students sound just like I used to, but with accents.

After Fresno, it should have been smooth sailing. But I had one more issue to contend with. The left tank had decided not to feed. Only the right tank seemed to be feeding fuel. Very strange. I jostled the plane about, trying to shake up the fuel floats, or dislodge any crud in the left fuel drain, to no avail. I did some quick calculations and figured that it this was really happening, I would just be on fumes going in to Tracy. Crap. That meant landing at Modesto to refuel. I kept an eye on it, and decided to go direct to Tracy, and if I had less than 1/4 tank on the right at Modesto to divert and refuel. Then just as I was passing Modesto and about to have to make the decision to land, the left tank broke loose, the fuel levels equalized, and I had plenty of fuel. Woo Hoo! Tracy here I come.

There was a bit of traffic at Tracy, but entered the pattern on the 45, downwind, and then final. Was really trying to do a good landing in case anyone was watching, but it was one of my worst of the trip, and no cross-winds or anything to make it difficult. But no one was watching. Taxied around back, and shut her off for the last time. Just about 20 hours of flying, Little Rock to Livermore.

And that was Wednesday!

My home for several days.

Mission accomplished!

Thursday had fun hanging around looking at airplanes. There was a Stinson being prepared for a long trip to the Netherlands. The two pilots were in the hurry-up-and-wait, it's-always-something mode, and quite anxious to get going. About 11, I threw all my stuff into one of the FBO's 172's for the trip to Oakland to catch the Southwest flight back to Austin. We took off, and just as we got to cruise altitude I smelled something electrical. At first we thought it was outside, but then the pilot noticed his voltage annunciator. The ammeter was showing a drain. He reset the electrical system and alternator, but that didn't fix it. So we turned afound for Tracy.

I still had plenty of time, and this time loaded the bags into their Cherokee, and one of the flight instructors flew me into Oakland. What a blast! The FBO at Oakland gave me a quick shuttle ride over to the other side of the airport, and then I was standing in the security line.