Van's RV-9A in Aurora

The Big Picture

The Big Picture
Flying! 8/28/2011

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Final Leg

I woke up on the 12th to these METARS.

The pink and red mean I can't legally fly there.
While forecast and expected, I was bummed to see a low overcast sky out the window. I was tired of being held captive in the Hilton. The forecast was for this to lift by 11, and that's what happened. So I checked out and got the hotel shuttle to take me to KDTN.
There I retreived the plane, refueled, and then waited. The sky was definitely clearing up, and the 10:53 METAR update showed green and blue for the route. I saddled up and said goodby to Shreveport.

The flight home was uneventful, although Austin was reporting IFR until just as I got there. The AWOS from Rusty Allen was reporting "sky clear below one two thousand", so I knew I'd be able to get into Lakeway. The conditions along the way were clear to scattered, with some stations reporting a ceiling at 900 ft.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Return from Virginia, or Stuck in Shreveport again

And now a post on the return flight. As I type this I'm stuck in the Hilton in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana. It's raining, and will all day, so I can't even go walking anywhere.

So while I was deleting old browser favorites (sort of like cleaning out the sock drawer), I realized I needed to write up a trip report. What a great way to kill a few minutes! With what looks like a whole day to kill, I'm going to use a lot of words!

As soon as I arrived in Virgnia, I started keeping an eye on the weather to see when a return might be possible. As much as I would like to stay out there for a couple of weeks, I still need to get some work-work done so I can pay for Avgas. I was shooting for returning for the weekend, and the forecast hinted that Sunday might be a good day.

I wasn't paying attention, Friday would have been OK, if windy, but I didn't want to go home that soon anyway. But by Friday evening, the situation was shaping up to be problematic. The weather in Austin would be clear on Saturday morning, and Monday, but lousy every other day in the 10 day forecast. There would be no way, after Friday, of making it home in one day. And it got worse. A slow moving low was forming over south Texas, forecast to grow and cover the entire central US. There was no way to avoid it by flying around to the north.

Saturday morning I woke up and hit the weather pages. It turned out to be clear all the way to east Texas, but was already marginal in Austin. It was either go now and get part way, or be in Virginia for another week. I quickly decided to go, got packed and ready, and Dad drove me to the airport in Culpepper.

My initial plan was to get to southern Arkansas, and I called the number at KLLQ, Monticello, and talked to the manager who was very helpful. Fuel and hotels were available, a car, and he allowed the use of a partially enclosed T hangar.

The wind had been howling for three days, but the plane was in good shape. The control locks all worked as designed. I got fuel, preflighted, paid the tie down tab, and said goodbye to Dad. It took a few tries to start up the cold engine, but it came alive without running the battery down.

There were other people in the pattern so the CTAF was a little busy. I did my warm up and runup, then launched. Climbing out of pattern altitude (1000 ft above the ground), I smelled fuel. This used to happen with full tanks when I first started flying, but I had found the issue and solved it. I hadn't smelled any fuel since then, so this was unusual. I decided to return to the field to see what was going on. I wondered if Dad had seen me return and it turned out he did.

On the ground I found no evidence of the problem, chocked it up to full tanks and the vent lines interacting with airflow at high angles of attack. I departed again and once in a more level attitude there was no more fuel smell. The smell returned at that next fuel stop, but the story was the same, it was only there for the initial steep climb, then went away. I will look at this closely when I get home, I'm betting there is a loose nut on the vent lines somewhere.

My route of flight was KCJR, 8A3, KLLQ. The flight over the mountains was reasonbly smooth at 8500 feet, but a bit nerve wracking. For two hours there are few decent places to put down if needed. But the fan kept turning and then soon the mountains were behind me and I was descending for Livingston Muni, a non-controlled airport. They had fuel, a bathroom, and a computer with internet service, everything a transient pilot needs.

Soon I was on my way again, funky fuel smell problem and all. The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful. As I got to Memphis, there was a big fire. From a distance I thought it was clouds, but soon realized it was smoke. It looked to be higher than my 8500 ft so I started to deviate, but I flew over the top with plenty to spare. It was the topic conversation with Memphis Approach and other pilots.

Once past the smoke, it was obviously VFR as far as I could see. I informed Memphis Center that my destination was changing to Minden, LA. I had once run a triathlon there. The sky started to darken approaching Minden, but I could see Shreveport, so I made my final change to Shreveport Downtown. The landing was smooth, and I taxied up Millen Aire. The line guy met me and he quickly found a hangar for the plane.

There were a few people on the ramp and they asked if they could look at the plane. Of course I said yes. They were sponsoring a Boy Scount merit badge event, and I was happy to have one of the boys look at the plane and ask questions. He was just about to get his turn in a 172 they were flying. I hope my plane served as a bit of inspiration for him.

Then I followed the line guy to the other side of the field to the hangar. We had move one plane to get Cav in, but there she was, a nice cozy place to wait out the storm. While we were putting the plane the hangar, one of the locals went up for some practice in his Extra 300. So we got to watch an air show act for free!

Back at the FBO office, the guys called around to find a room for me. The casinos might have been OK, but since it was spring break, they were booked solid. They found a room at the Hilton, which was pricey, but acceptable. I was really happy with the service at Millen Aire, this is an FBO worth supporting.

So here I am sitting in the Hilton. I've been watching the weather all day and it looked like it would just clear enough for a return just as my launch window would close. I would need to be calling tower for departure at 5:30 to make it home to Lakeway before sunset.

This system had started to move, and a rough calculation showed the edge would be very close to DTN by 5:30.

And here the rain is nearly over in Shreveport

Sure enough, right on queue. It had been VFR here in Shreveport for almost 2 hours already, but with marginal and IFR to the east. I was very tempted to go wait at the airport for it to clear and then launch as soon as the METARS showed suitable weather. But it turned out to be a false window. These METARS reveal that there was still bad conditions on the route.

A few days at Toll Gate

A few notes about my stay at Dad's in Virginia. Most readers know that my Dad has a place out near Flint Hill, Virginia. It's about 20 acres, most of which is the side and top of a mountainette. Skyline drive can be seen from the property, so real mountains are very close. About 7 of the acres are flat enough to clear and use, and he has 5 acres of vineyard. He grows Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Petite Verdot, and Pinot Grigio. He doesn't make any wine (yet), but sells his entire harvest to local wineries. One of his customers liked the product so much, they put his vineyard name on the label! Toll Gate Farms.

The house is comprised of a few sections, one of which is a log cabin dating from the 1700's. The rough hewn logs are still there. Another section is from the early 1800's. Only the log walls survive from that time, the house has been built over and around these structures, with as much wood preserved as possible and made visible. An exterior view of the house does show the exterior walls of the original cabin.

With 5 acres of grapes, there is always something to do even though they're dormant right now. We ran in to Culpepper to the farmers Coop to buy 800 pounds of fertilizer. Dad has the soil analyzed, and they mix up a precise recipe of various minerals, and then dump it into the back of the pickup. That was fun, I got to see a little of how a fertilzer distribution plant works.

While we were in Culpepper, we drove out to CJR and checked up on the plane. The wind howled all week, and Cav was getting tossed around. The wind had pushed the nosewheel to the side and started rotating the plane. The canopy cover was doing no good at all, the wind was working it over good. So I took the canopy cover off and tightened up the tie downs, and put chocks in place. The good news is that my control surface locks worked perfectly, and the plane handled the beating with no ill affects.

Back at the farm, we got the fertilizer broadcast spreader attached to the back of the tractor and got everything ready for the next day.

At night, we had a beautiful clear evening, and we got to see a Iridium flare, which occured right on time, right where it was supposed to be.

That was all on Wednesday. On Thursday, we applied the fertilizer to every row in the vineyard. I shoveled it into the hopper, 200 lbs at a time and he drove the tractor to spread it out, just like an oversized lawn fertilizer. Once that was done, we power washed the spreader, tractor, and truck to minimize the corrosive affects of the fertilizer.

Also on Thursday, we ran an errand to visit a local clock repair guy. He was south of Front Royal, so on the way back we visited KFRR to check out the conditions (it was windy), and then a local winery, Glenn Manor, to buy a few bottles of wine. These had just won the Virginia Governor's Cup. Jeff White himself greeted us and we chatted about the grape growing business for a little bit. We had one of the bottles for dinner the next evening, and it was excellent. I should have bought some myself.

On Friday, Dad had another dose of fertiziler to spread in the upper block of Petite Verdot, in this case 1600 lbs of dolomitic limestone. This came in bags, and we bought it at the local feed and seed. We drive up and everyone knows Dad, he's just one of the local boys! So we load 32 50lb bags into the pickup and head back home.

The drill was similar to the day before, about 6 bags (300 lbs) in the hopper, spread it, repeat. The upper block is a little tricky, it's higher on the hillside and fairly steep, it makes us a bit nervous to have a heavily loaded tractor up there. So he makes a point of keeping the load lighter than usual, which means we have to stop and put more fertilizer in a bit more often.

After finishing that, which was done by lunch time, Dad had some landscaping he wanted to do along the front fence line. He wanted to add some large granite rocks to the base of the embankment to help stabilize it. We attached the front bucket/shovel on to the tractor and dropped the spreader in its assigned spot. We used the bucket to scoop out part of the embankment. Then we picked a big ass rock from his collection of big ass rocks and arranged it carefully into the embankment. We did this in two spots, but more was needed. In a short amount of time, they'll look like they were always there. Dad is a master at landscaping.
I failed to take pictures of this process.

Flight to Virginia

It's now a little after the fact, but I made the first long trip in the RV-9A. I flew one of the intended primary missions, which is a flight to Virginia to visit Dad.

I'd been watching the weather for weeks for either a trip to Pagosa Springs with John to do some skiing, or to visit Dad. A few nice days popped up here and there, but there was always something pressing that prevented going, and I was never prepared to just hop in the plane and go.

The 7 day forecast showed that Tuesday, March 6 would be VFR for the entire route. A strong high pressure had set up over the Southeast states, and the resulting clockwise flow promised tailwinds for a slightly northern route. That turned out to be a under estimation.

I warned David that I might take a few days off, did the flight planning, fueled and prepped the plane, and got everything else ready to go. This would be a solo trip, and the first major endurance test for the aircraft.

The route I planned was Lakeway, Branson Missouri, Owensboro Kentuky, Front Royal, VFR at 5500.

Tuesday came, and I was at the airport shortly after sunrise.

I was about to fly in this direction.

Here's the sky I launched into, overcast at 3500.

I loaded my bags, rolled her out, let Cora know what my plans were, hopped in and launched. The high pressure had set up moderate southerly winds in Austin. It was a bit bumpy low. I had to stay at 3500 ft until nearly Dallas because of an overcast that wasn't supposed to be ther. Finally leaving the overcast behind, the air smoothed out nicely with a climb to 5500 feet. At this altitude there were 40 and 50 knot tailwinds. I have a picture of 199 knots ground speed. Woo Hoo!

After crossing into southeast Oklahoma, I saw a band of clouds ahead.

I climbed to 7500 and was glad I did. The clouds were due to uplift at the upwind side of a range of mountains. I cleared them with plenty to spare and just the slightest turbulence, but the autopilot did something odd. Just at the top of the mountain, the autopilot pilot pitched up about 10 degrees. It didn't appear to be climbing, but the airspeed fell off about 15 knots. I guess a pressure wave caused it to think it was descending, so it countered with a pitch up. I disengaged the TruTrak, and the plane was flying normally with no extra inputs needed. After a minute to make sure everything was stable I turned the autopilot back on, and it went back to flying perfectly just like nothing had happened. It did this a couple of other times later that day, always in conjuction with high ridge on the ground.

After that excitement, as Arkansas quickly slipped behind us, I started the descent into KBBG.
At about 6000 feet. It started getting choppy. By 3500 there was moderate turbulence. The wind presented a crosswind at Branson, but the real problem was that the approach end of Branson is built up on the side of a hill, with a steep upslope on the south side. The wind was howling up the side of this and making a nasty situation on final and in the landing zone. A passenger would have been extremely unhappy. I wrestled the plane on to the ground, twice in fact, tires screeching, and taxied over to the FBO. As I stopped and got out, the plane was tossing back and forth in the wind. I don't know how I made that landing. If I had known it was in the cards, I would chosen a different airport.

With the plane refueled and the checkin phone calls made, I hopped back in for the next leg, which was KPOF KOWB. The takeoff was not as bad treacherous as the landing, but was still quite the ride. I turned eastbound and climbed to 7500. At this altitude it wasn't too bad, but it was still a bit bumpy. A quartering tailwind allowed 170 knot ground speeds. It was clear VFR for the rest of the trip. The next leg passed quickly and without too much excitement. I crossed the Mississippi for the first time as Pilot in Command and into Kentucky.

The Mighty Mississippi

The wind was blowing at bit at Owensboro, but it was right down the runway and the landing was a piece of cake. The FBO there mid-atlantic was a bit pricey. I had wanted to use the city self serve pumps, but they were apparently closed. The MidAtlantic guys no doubt heard my exchange with tower about where I didn't want to park, and they were a bit frosty at first. But they had a nice operation, and I was able to relax a little, finish planning the next leg, and I had my plane refueled and ready to go.

Back in the air for the last leg, I decided on Culpepper Regional as my destination instead of Front Royal. The wind was still blowing pretty good in the east and I was wary of turbulence from the hills around Front Royal. KFFR had no AWOS report, so I didn't know what the wind would be like. (It later turned out to be a gusty crosswind, just what I wanted to avoid).

I climbed back to 7500 and the ride continued to be a decent tailwind with light turbulence. Eastern Kentucky rises up to the Appalachians and airstrips less frequent, and suitable terrain for an emergency landing gets harder to find.

Approaching the higher ridges, I decided to climb to 9500 to stay well out of the ripples from the mountains. The autopilot did it's weird pitch up again, this time with the wind from the other side of the hills. I again took control of the airplane to find that nothing unusual was really going on. I guess I'll just have to be aware of this little quirk, and be prepared for it.

I picked up VFR flight following for the entire route. I brief and file a flight plan through DUATS with the on the IPad, but I typically don't activate the flight plan. I would monitor flight watch and flight service at times, but I never heard anything on these frequencies (122.0, 122.2) During the day's flying, I had filled a whole page with Center and Approach frequency handoffs. I tallied up 28 frequencies for the whole trip, and this didn't count tower, ground, and weather frequencies that I used.
I also make a habit of tuning in the weather at close airports along the way, and checking out the info that the Skyview database has - runway info, remarks, etc..

One nice thing about flight following is the discrete transponder code allows my tail number to be tracked on Flight Aware. This allowed family to track my progress across the country.

Before crossing the last ridge at Virginia border I started my descent for Culpepper. Got tossed around a little, but nothing like Branson. The wind at Culpepper was right down the runway, another piece o' cake. I flew entered the pattern on the downwind, and everything went fairly normal, including my tendency to not lose enough altitude on base and final. So over the numbers, I'm still about 300 feet up. With full flaps, I slow to about 58 knots and make a nose high steep descent to a perfect short field stop just before the midfield taxi way. I'm starting to get good at that, due to practice forced by poor pattern altitude management.

Dad and Patti were waiting on the ramp as I taxied up. I pulled into a tie down spot and shut down. Dad and I put all the control locks in place, since we were expecting lots of wind from the south, and then a storm line from the north. The storm never really materialized, just a few drops of rain, but it sure was windy.