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2013 Cross-Country Trip Day 11: Montgomery to Austin

Before the trip, Kelly and I joked about not having a detailed plan.  She’s a planner, so the flexibility of general aviation is not necessarily a plus.  We had a plan to get to Montgomery, but not really a plan for getting back.  A couple days before we needed to start our return trip, we started looking at places that were roughly 4 hours in the general direction of Seattle.  Most directly toward Seattle would be somewhere in Oklahoma, but there’s not much there and we’d just been there.  Instead, we decided to stop in Austin.  I hadn’t been there in over 10 years, and Kelly had never been there, so we decided that was a good choice.

The weather this morning was good, too, though it was already starting to get warm as we were loading the airplane.  I got a picture of the one other guy leaving the same time as us.

F-18 that departed just before us.

The proud mom of the F-18 pilot watched him depart–very fun.

Our first scheduled stop was Alexandria, Louisiana: a towered airport with a highly-rated FBO and cheap gas.  After leaving Montgomery, we had to deal with some clouds around our cruising altitude, but those cleared out after about 45 minutes, leaving just some lower broken-to-overcast ones.  As we neared Alexandria, it became apparent we’d need to do an instrument approach–our first of the trip.

The approach was easy, though the controller kept us very high before clearing us for the approach.  We ended up breaking out of the clouds before intercepting the glideslope, so the ceiling was fairly high.

Approach into Alexandria as viewed on the iPad

Approach into Alexandria as viewed on the iPad

On the ground, the line guy let us know that the self-service fuel on the other side of the ramp was much cheaper than fuel from the truck.  Wow, was he right!  The fuel price was so low, I had to take a picture.

Cheapest gas yet

When I got back to the FBO (where Kelly was feeding Cooper), it got even better.  They have lunch for $1: either a giant 1/2 lb. hamburger or red beans and rice, with pumpkin pie and chips.  That, the fuel, and the beautiful building with strong air conditioning makes this my favorite FBO to date.

Proud of my parking job

The rest of the flight to Austin was easy.  I was surprised how close we came to Houston, flying over the north end of Lake Livingston.

We decided to use Austin Executive airport, rather than the main airport, as it’s cheaper, easier, and not much further away.  Since we needed a car anyway, we got a cheaper hotel closer to the airport.

The “carport” is a great idea in Texas

We had a tasty dinner downtown and checked out Barton Springs.

Day 11 Route

Day 11 Route

Next: Day 12: Austin to Santa Fe

Previous: Day 6: Little Rock to Montgomery

2013 Cross-Country Trip Day 6: Little Rock to Montgomery

Whaddya know?  Another beautiful morning!  We’ve really lucked out with the weather to this point, aside from the first day.

One of the boys

At this point, the mornings were becoming something of a ritual.  Kelly was inside feeding Cooper and watching him crawl around, while I preflighted and loaded the airplane.

Cooper enjoying the FBO facilities

With great weather and the knowledge that we had only a single, hopefully relaxing, 2-hour flight planned for the day, we headed out.

Socks: the perfect in-flight meal

The flight itself was unremarkable.  We did need to deviate for an MOA that went active, and we needed to descend through a scattered/broken layer as we approached Montgomery.  When we landed, we were happy to have made it to our destination, 2100+ miles from home, and were ready for a few days of relaxing on Lake Martin with family.

Made it!

Tip for rental cars at Montgomery: the airline terminal is just a couple hundred yards from the FBO, and the rate I got from the Enterprise counter there was ridiculously low (less than $20/day).

day6

Day 6 Route

Next: Day 11: Montgomery to Austin

Previous: Day 5: Erie to Little Rock

2013 Cross-Country Trip Day 5: Erie to Little Rock

After a great few days with the Baers, it was time to keep going.  The weather was nice once again as we were loading up in Erie.

Loading up in Erie

Though I’ve flown over Kansas a couple times, I hadn’t landed there, so haven’t been able to “check it off” the list of states visited.  Dodge City seemed like a good first stop, so we headed in that direction.  There were still some low clouds to the east, so we filed an instrument flight plan and set off (picking up our clearance in the air).

Flying eastbound under the Denver Class B airspace

Before the trip, we’d ordered a handlebar mount for our video camera.  I decided now was a good time to install it while we had a few minutes of downtime.

In-flight camera installation.

As we approached Dodge City, there was a solid layer of low clouds.  Everyone was still content, so rather than fly the instrument approach (which would take additional time), we decided to continue.  About 30 minutes beyond Dodge City was West Woodward, Oklahoma, where I’d stopped last August on the way down to get the airplane painted.  I knew they had cheap fuel and a good pilot lounge, and they were reporting clear skies, so we made that the plan.

Solid undercast as we approached Dodge City, Kansas

Short final at West Woodward, Oklahoma

We had a good stop in West Woodward, eating lunch and letting Cooper crawl around the massive open floor space in the pilot lounge.  Tip: the room with the best air conditioning is the one facing the runway.   We also chatted with a guy flying doctors around the state in a PC-12.

During the hour we were on the ground, the wind had really picked up, gusting to near 30 knots.  Fortunately the gust factor was low and the winds were right down the runway, so it wasn’t an issue for departing.

Check out that hair! It’s windy!

It was hot, windy, and bumpy, so we were eager to get going and climb back up to altitude and toward Little Rock.  There were some clouds and showers we’d need to negotiate, but nothing too bad.  The rest of the flight was pretty unremarkable, crossing the rest of Oklahoma and into Little Rock.

Settled in

Enjoying some time out of the car seat.

Downtown Little Rock

On the ground, we got fantastic service from Supermarine: very friendly, found us a hotel, and drove us there, showing us some of the sites along the way.  We stayed at the DoubleTree just west of the River Market area.  Eager to move around after dropping off our bags, we walked along the river and got some dinner before heading back to the hotel for the evening.

Kelly and Cooper outside the Clinton Library

Day 5 Route

Day 5 Route

Next: Day 6: Little Rock to Montgomery

Previous: Day 2: Boise to Erie

2013 Cross-Country Trip Day 2: Boise to Erie

After our unplanned overnight stop in Boise, we were eager to continue.  A much cooler, smoother morning greeted us.

Some Idaho ANG A-10s along the taxiway as we departed

Our plan from Boise was to head pretty much east and across the southern part of Wyoming, then turn south to approach the Denver area.  Due to the high, rugged mountains west of Denver, it’s not a good idea to go directly.

The route is high, but mostly flat.  The exception is some mountains near the Idaho/Utah/Wyoming borders.

Crossing the mountains, with some snow remaining

Bear Lake, just past the mountains

Past the lake and into Wyoming, the terrain becomes pretty brown and largely unremarkable.  The one remarkable part is the turbulence that always seems to exist in this area.  A couple strategies to avoid it are to fly early in the day and fly higher.  Though we left in the morning, we weren’t particularly early, and without a good way for Cooper to use our oxygen system, we couldn’t go high.  This unfortunately meant bumps.

Exciting southern Wyoming!

Airports are few and far between in this area.  We decided to stop at Rock Springs to get fuel, use the bathroom, stretch our legs, and take a break from the bumps.

Landing at Rock Springs

By the time we departed, the density altitude was about 9000′, which made for probably the longest takeoff roll we’ve experienced in the RV-10.  There’s a reason the runways are long in this part of the country.

The rest of the flight to Erie was unpleasant.  We had a rare headwind heading east, and it was very hot and bumpy.  We were all happy to arrive in Erie, where we’d be staying with friends for a few nights.

Short final at Erie (EIK)

Tied down and happy to be done.

Route from Boise to Erie

Route from Boise to Erie

Next: Day 5: Erie to Little Rock

Previous: Day 1: Seattle to Boise

2013 Cross-Country Trip Day 1: Seattle to Boise

The departure day for our trip had finally arrived!  We’d planned a relatively long first day: approximately 6 hours to Erie, Colorado (near Boulder).  I’d been obsessing about the weather for days, which wasn’t very useful.  It had been looking like we would have decent weather, but I was disappointed to wake up to find we were facing relatively low clouds.

The first step was crossing the Cascades.  I’m not a fan of flying over mountain ranges without good emergency landing options, so there are basically two ways I’m willing to cross the Cascades to the east: via Snoqualmie Pass (I-90) or the Columbia River gorge, near Portland.  If flying on instruments, I’m also willing to go via V-2, the airway just south of Snoqualmie Pass.  On a cloudy day such as this, for each route, the options are to go under, through,  or above the clouds.  For the Snoqualmie route, a stationary band of heavy showers removed that as an option at any altitude.   For the Columbia River gorge, the ceiling was 1000-2000 in places, which is lower than I was comfortable with flying in an unfamiliar area.  It was unusually cold, creating likely icing conditions, so we couldn’t go through the clouds.  The only potential option was to try going above the clouds.  We didn’t have any reports on cloud tops, so we decided to go take a look.

Leaving our home base at Paine Field, we had to fly low to stay under the clouds until we reached the Tacoma area, where there were some holes.  Climbing above the clouds, we continued south toward Portland.  The further south we went, the higher the cloud tops were.  Fortunately, they topped out at around 10,000 feet, enabling us to stay at  11,000 feet, which was about as high as I was willing to go without oxygen.  We turned left to fly over the Columbia, and as we reached the other side of the Cascades, the clouds became more and more sparse–we made it!

Staying low under the clouds as we left Paine Field.

Flying over the Columbia River gorge.

Clouds thinning out as we crossed the Cascades, into eastern Washington.

We were cruising comfortably until we reached the next mountain range: the Blue Mountains, just east of Pendleton, Oregon.  There were low clouds and showers over the mountains, making it impassible.  We were ready for a break, anyway, so it was an easy decision to land in Pendleton and think things over.

Showers just beyond Pendleton

Pendleton was really quiet.  No airplanes came or went for about an hour, until one landed. Amazingly, it was another RV-10!

Another RV-10

We saw a break in the showers approaching on the radar, so we jumped back in the plane and took off.  There were still some low clouds, so we needed to stay low, but they were mostly scattered to easy to avoid.  The route also follows I-84, which provided additional comfort.

Flying across the Blue Mountains

Past the Blue Mountains, the clouds really thinned out, and as we got into Idaho, it was clear.  Unfortunately, it was getting later in the day, and the daytime heating and atmospheric instability combined to create some uncomfortable turbulence.  As we passed Boise on our way east, the bumps got worse, and neither one of us felt great, so we decided to turn around, backtrack about 10 minutes, and stop in Boise for the night.

We showed up unannounced at Western Aircraft in Boise, and they were extremely helpful, finding us a hotel for the night and driving us (and all our luggage) to it.  Because we had not planned on a stop before Erie, we didn’t have an overnight bag.

We checked into the hotel, got some dinner, and relaxed.

Cooper expends some energy crawling around the hotel room floor.

Day 1 Route

Day 1 Route

Next: Day 2: Boise to Erie

2013 Cross-Country Trip

Kelly and I had been planning this trip for almost a year.  The goal was to fly from our home base in Seattle to Lake Martin (north of Montgomery, Alabama) the weekend after Memorial day, for a family reunion. We also have good friends that live in the Boulder, Colorado area. Why not do a big “road trip” in the airplane? The trip would be really long—probably about 30 hours total, much longer than any flying trip we’d ever done. Also complicating matters is that we were bringing our almost-one-year-old boy, Cooper. The trip wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a success. The weather was relatively good and we had no mechanical issues. We didn’t always make it to our planned destination each day, but we had the flexibility in our schedule to accommodate changes. Cooper was amazing, considering he’s 1 year old and was asked to sit in a noisy, sometimes hot airplane for 33 hours.

Day-by-day writeups:

Keys to success for this trip and other suggestions for flying with a very small child:

  1. Flying as early in the morning as possible. It’s cooler, smoother, and the density altitudes are lower. We didn’t always take this advice, and we paid for it.
  2. Aligning flights with naptimes. Though he doesn’t sleep the entire time like he used to, he did sleep for much of the trip. Our routine on flying days was to wake up, feed him a bottle in the hotel room, get ready and head to the airport, load up, feed him some more food, then take off just in time for his morning nap.
  3. Keeping legs short. We aimed for 2 hour legs, but by the end of the trip, we were sometimes doing 2.5 hours or even a few minutes longer. The little guy is happier when he gets to eat and move around every few hours. It makes the big people happy, too.
  4. Having many “no flying” days.  The flying itself can be fatiguing, but to an even greater extent, the unpacking the airplane, traveling to the hotel, unpacking, packing back up the next morning, traveling back to the airport, re-packing the airplane cycle gets old and tiring.  We ended up flying only 8 of the 15 days–the other 7 days were a welcome break.
  5. Being willing to land short of or beyond the destination. We always had a planned destination at takeoff, but we were willing to land early if necessary (e.g. too bumpy). One time as we were approaching our fuel stop, Cooper was still asleep, so we continued to the next airport. The controller had a good laugh when we advised that we were changing destination “because the baby is still sleeping”.
  6. Staying flexible on days. Though we wanted to be in Montgomery for the start of the family reunion, we had the attitude that it was okay to be late or to miss it completely. We also built buffer in the schedule to maximize the chance we’d be on time.
  7. Packing an overnight bag (or bags). For the 1-night stops in route, it was great not to have to unload everything and bring it to the hotel.
  8. Not packing everything in bags.  Most stuff was in duffel bags, but we put a bunch of smaller stuff (e.g. diaper packages, formula, wipes) in shopping bags and filled the “nooks and crannies” of the baggage area with those items.
  9. Using full-service airports. We interacted with some wonderful FBOs on this trip. It was great to have the rental car or shuttle waiting for us, and a couple times we had the FBO find us a hotel. This kind of service is really helpful when trying to keep the family comfortable—more important than maximizing savings on gas, which is my strategy when traveling alone.
  10. Being careful about weight and balance. Kelly needed to ride in back with Cooper to attend to his needs. That, combined with a full baggage compartment, made for a very far aft (but still within limits) center of gravity. We carefully weighed everything that went in the airplane and also put his pack-and-play, the tool bag, and the tiedown bag in and around the front passenger seat. This also highlighted the importance of my testing aft CG loading during the flight test period—it would not have been good to do this for the first time with the family aboard.
  11. Sucking it up and buying the good headset. Cooper is now the proud owner of a Bose A20 headset. Though it seems a little ridiculous to spend $1000 on a headset for someone who can’t talk, we thought it was worth it to minimize the chance of hearing damage in the very loud airplane, and he should also be able to use it for years to come.  He has a giant head, so it actually fits him well.
  12. Focusing on flying the airplane and using the “pilot isolate” function on the intercom when necessary. The flights were mostly easy and I enjoyed interacting with Cooper at times when the workload was low, but I needed to keep in mind that my primary job was flying the airplane. For example, as we approached Seattle, there was a solid layer of overcast (surprise!) and Cooper was really upset, so I told Kelly we were entering IMC and needed my full attention, told her to tap me on the shoulder if something urgent happened, and hit the isolate button.

Stats:

  • Days: 15
  • Flying days: 8
  • Hours flown: 33
  • Miles flown: 5263
  • Gas burned: 340 gallons
  • Highest gas price: $6.78 (tie between Little Rock, AR and Heber City, UT)
  • Lowest gas price: $4.91 (Alexandria, LA)
  • Instrument approaches: 1
  • States flown over: 15
  • States landed in: 12
  • Cities overnighted in: 7 (Boise, ID; Erie, CO; Little Rock, AR; Montgomery, AL; Austin, TX; Santa Fe, NM; Park City, UT)
  • State capitals overnighted in: 5 (totally unintentional)
  • Hotels: 7
  • One-year-old birthdays celebrated: 1

Some of my favorite pictures from the trip…

Loading up in Erie, Colorado

Daddy turned off the fasten seatbelt sign.

So sleepy.

Made it to Montgomery.

Taking a break in Baker City on the way home.

The whole trip!

All the pictures from the trip are here.

Kelly also did a non-aviation-related write-up here.

Annual (and more, unfortunately)

Annual is done!  And for the second year in a row, it was much more than just the annual (last year was remove/repair/reinstall right fuel tank).  Extra things I had to do this year: 1) return the strobe driver box for repair since the rear strobe wasn’t working 2) send ELT for repair for a ridiculous $400, 3) replace a fuel line that I may have slightly twisted while removing the fuel filter for inspection, but replacement was probably unnecessary, 4) repair leak at the brake reservoir due to ridiculous Van’s plastic fitting, 5) replace two leaky fittings at the brake pedals and re-bleed.  There were also a few minor inconveniences like painted-on screws on some of the inspection panels that slowed me down a little.

Next year, I swear it will be easier and faster.

A Real Headset for Cooper

Cooper has graduated to the real headset (my first headset, from 17 years ago). Super cute hearing him “talk” over the intercom today.

cooper-headset

We had nice, partly cloudy skies today, for the first time in a while.  We flew over the north part of the Olympic Peninsula and landed at Port Angeles.

Quick Lunch

It had been a few weeks since we had a family flight, so we planned to finally head out to Hoquiam to check out the cafe there.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great, so we decided on a quick trip over to Arlington to eat there.  The weather wasn’t very good there, either, but there were still a few planes flying, including a busy glider operation.

On the short flight back, Paine was reporting 1100′ ceilings, so we filed an IFR flight plan and Kelly and Cooper got their first experience instrument flying.

cooper-imc

He was very sleepy by the time we got back.

cooper-sleepy

Instrument Practice

Haven’t been doing too much flying lately, with the bad weather and all of us having colds for a couple weeks.  I did get up last weekend to do a couple practice approaches, which you can see here at 16x speed.