There were times during my training in the Twinstar that I thought it would be worth renting the plane I was training in and doing a longer trip, up to the Bay area at least, to see what it would be like. I never did. They rent for hundreds of dollars per hour, which made sense when I would spend two hours and exit sweaty with new knowledge, but makes less sense to just ride along a route that I could fly in the Diamondstar, which I already owned.
Sometimes it seemed like a smart investment to make before we made the decision to buy a new plane, other times it seemed like it would be a significant portion of the cost of a new plane. We never did it.
Dexter was headed up to see Rudy at Reed. (Nell and I had been up the weekend before, but Dexter had commitments that weekend, so he stayed behind. I arranged it so that he had a flight up on Friday, and a refundable ticket back on Monday. (A refundable ticket was so expensive it was only $40 more to book him first class refundable. I hoped that if my plan to pick him up worked out he wouldn’t consider the back seat a downgrade.)
A long flight teaches you a lot about a plane. Really, I need to be keeping a better list of the things I need to do. The Stratus worked great, as did the USB power ports. I learned through Dexter that the USB power port introduces a wicked loud ground whine that you can wiggle your headset cable away from. But that’s something that I need to talk to an avionics shop about.
One of the aviation blogs I follow is called Photographic Logbook. He carries a better camera than I do and I feel that he more carefully frames a lot of his photos. But one of the things that I like about his entries is that he is often able to tell the story of an entire trip with photographs. This is my attempt at that. I’ll try to keep it to the captions, but I will probably fail. (The captions seem to show up when you hover over the image with your cursor.)
The plane was damp from a misty rain the night before, but the sky was clear. I started the engines at 8am, the first allowable time on a weekend.
Departing today Van Nuys I flew direct for Fresno. That’s not entirely direct to Friday Harbor, but a straight line took me right over the Sierras and I’m not ready for that yet. The SoCal controller I contacted over the Van Nuys airport rolled his R’s on Sierra, which sounded great on the radio. A very nice early morning welcome to the community of aviation on the radio.
Adam and I thought it might be possible to one-hop the trip. I imagine that if I were careful with the throttles and managed more than the five knot tailwind I had, I could. But it would also mean slowing down and increasing the trip length. I’m not sure. It’s something I could fiddle with. As it was, I knew that there was a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company in Medford, Oregon that had the caramel apples that I like so much. (The amazing thing was seeing the FADEC at work, with the fuel burn 5.4 gallons per hour on each side steady as I climbed from 7,500 feet to 9,500 feet.
Sadly, the caramel apple place had closed. I was crushed and drowned my sorrows with an Oreo Blizzard (small). A short nap in Million Air’s sleep room and I was back in the plane. The autopilot (Otto) did a very nice job the entire trip. Foreflight said that it would be a two and a half hour ride from Medford up to Friday Harbor. There were clouds over parts of Seattle, and a continuous blanket around Olympia, but they cleared as you went out over the water.
Seattle has some very crowded airspace. I had the transponder-based traffic on the MFD and I had the ADS-B traffic on the iPad. And I kept my head on a swivel. The sky was the deepest blue, and I appreciated the views of the snow-capped mountains, but mostly I was looking for other airplanes and talking to air traffic control. Near the northern portion of Oregon there were a lot of sky diving operations going on, including some over an airport named Skydive Oregon.
Adam filmed my landing at the neat Friday Harbor Airport. We were so busy getting the plane tied down, off to get kids, have an early dinner, run kids back to the house… I totally forgot to tell Nell that I had landed safely. And, in one of its few failures, FlightAware didn’t track the day’s flying at all.
The day started off, as all good days do, with crépes. Sharalyn used fresh eggs from the hen house the evening before. They were delicious. Adam worked hard to find us a flying mission. His friend John Moalli needed to get down to Boeing Field to collect his sister-in-law. We got some slightly-convoluted logistics going on where John, Abel and I flew down in the Twinstar while Adam took his first turn at piloting John’s 206 solo. Then Adam and I flew back with Abel while John brought his sister-in-law (and more luggage than would fit in the Twinstar) back.
It worked out great. John’s a great pilot and I learned a lot about the run from KFHR to KBFI on the way down. He got to see the G1000 do all it’s smoke-and-mirror stuff. He’s getting an Aspen put in the 206 so he’ll see a lot of the same things soon.
Upon our return we found lunch with Abel (excellent sandwiches), and watched a ferry depart Friday Harbor as we sat in the car overlooking the water.
After lunch Elly and her friend Gianna wanted to get a turn in “the big plane,” so Adam parked his car behind the plane, we saddled them up with Abel as co-pilot. Adam puttered about the airport talking to people and saving their days (he jump-started a Cessna with his pocket-starter, saving a guy on a Sunday from having a really bad weekend with the family). John did traffic patterns practicing landings in his Cub while his daughter Gianna was aloft with me. We flew out over the shore of San Juan Island, turned back so that Gianna could see her house from the air, and then flew out over Orcas Island, so that they could say they had been somewhere.
I did a very long final to the runway and as I was coming in I heard John’s voice on the radio, “Looking smooth, Colin.”
I taxied back to the parking spot but the way Adam had parked his car made it impossible to squeeze between it and the Vans home-built plane that had pulled into the space next to my transient spot. I am new to taxiing such a long-winged beast and I stopped and shut down before I embarrassed myself by bumping the tail of the other plane. The kids turned into a cleaning crew and wiped down the wings and the belly while Adam talked with the owner of the little silver plane. Elly complained that I didn’t have a creeper (to slide around on under the belly) and in general the feeling was that I should have more supplies for them to clean with.
At around five I said goodbye to everyone and threw my bags in the plane. It would be about an hour hop down to Portland. The skies were clear around Seattle and then things got progressively worse as I flew south. I was never in IMC, but I got wet a few times. As an experiment I landed at Hillsborough airport, a little further out of town. They had much cheaper JetA fuel and a highly-rated FBO. I was a little bummed that there were no tie-downs because it meant that I had to pay for a hangar spot for the plane. My original plan was to head into downtown Portland, which would be a little more expensive hotel but I could walk to things. Instead, the plane had some of my hotel room and I wound up in a nearby hotel that had no staff, was in a townhouse, and which I punched a code into the lock to get into the building and into my room. A very strange little adventure. I would return to the hotel, though. Nice and quiet. Clean and comfortable. As inexpensive as the Comfort Inn across the street from the airport and a $7 Uber ride away.
I found food around the corner at a nice grocery store that was Whole Foods-like. And I managed to catch up with the boys while they were doing some Magic the Gathering event.
In the morning I took an Uber to the airport, loaded and checked the plane, borrowed a crew car from the FBO, collected Dexter and then Rudy, had breakfast at the Grand Central Bakery, dropped Rudy back at Reed, returned to the airport, and got Dexter into the plane. Those two and a half hours were more work and navigation than the next three in the plane.
Once Dexter had his music plugged in, oxygen in place and the soft fleecy blanket, he went right to sleep. He and Rudy had some late nights in Portland. I had filed for an instrument clearance to Roseburg (RBG, the notorious) and canceled once it was certain I would remain clear of clouds. I have become more assertive with the controllers and mimic the professional pilots I hear saying, “We need ten degrees west of course for a build-up.” Clear, concise and polite means the controllers are always happy to give you what you need. Over Roseburg I canceled the IFR and noted that we had burned 13 gallons from engine start. That’s 140 nautical miles, or 160 miles on the ground. Twelve miles to the gallon which isn’t too bad for as-the-crow-flies and before I have figured out much about the engine management.
After Roseburg a lot of the cloud cover climbed above us and scattered. Looking down I could see farms, forests and orchards. Down there they were looking up and seeing patches of blue sky, a shining sun; from above we look down at sun-drenched green fields, sparkling seas, the results rather than the cause.
Sometime later, as we approached the California border (hello, Mount Shasta!), we discussed the options for lunch. In the end we decided to descend for Redding, California.
If you are going to stop in Redding, California you need to take the time to go see the Sundial Bridge, by Santiago Calatravas. It is the only one of the his structure west of the Mississippi and worth the trip. It was my second visit. Dexter and I watched tree swallows darting in and out of the trusswork, feeding their hatchlings from the bugs they caught over the water.
Astonishingly we got to see a hawk swoop in, fold its wings and float alongside a truss and snatch a swallow before falling toward the water, opening its wings and soaring away. It was breathtaking.
It was three hours from Portland to Redding. It was then two and a half hours to home. The Los Angeles basin was unusually clear after the rain. It was one of the few times I returned over Van Nuys and SoCal kept me high over the approaches into Burbank. Next time I will head out to the Ventura VOR instead and pop down the coast. That’s simpler and I can plan a better descent. The only turbulence we had the entire trip was a little light chop over the Gormin VOR.
After we landed Dexter climbed into the Spark and waited while I tied down the plane. When I got in he said, “You’re getting better at landings in the new plane, Dad.” And better at traveling in it, too. Many little tasks to get it ready for a real Cross The Country run, though.