Fun to Fly Heads West Archive

Safe and sound in Santa Paula

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Hailstones the size of golf balls in Arizona. Snow in Nevada. Looks like the Southwest’s weather patterns are starting to heat up, so to speak. You better believe that I’m relieved the Fun to Fly Remos is safe and snug in a hangar at Santa Paula airport as I write this.

Our final leg to SZP was tinged with both anticipation (We’re in California! It’s almost over!) and regret (We’re in California… this amazing trip is almost over). Watching a Southwest 737 cross beneath us as we chugged along at 8,500 feet was more than enough excitement for one day. We left the Remos in the care of CP Aviation, where Clay Phelps and his crew will give it an oil change and a detailing.

Strapped into Row 22B on a United Airlines Airbus headed east on Friday, I could only catch intermittent glimpses through a tiny window of the vistas I’d just traveled.The world is a lot more interesting from 5,500 feet than from 37,000 feet.

We’ll return in about a month to bring the Fun to Fly Remos to Long Beach for AOPA Summit 2010. Then, oh unknown winner, new adventures await you in this fun airplane!

Barstow: the last fuel stop

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

About the only thing I knew about Barstow, California, was that it was the subject of a quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When Patrick and I landed at Barstow-Daggett airport last Thursday, it represented an important milestone for the Fun to Fly Remos’s trek out West: our last fuel stop before Santa Paula. This leg from Sedona, Arizona, also provided some of the starkest terrain of the trip–mottled, grey-brown stretches that more closely resembled the surface of the moon than Earth.

Thirty miles out from the airport, splotches of green had begun to show up on the Garmin 496, and we decided we’d check the weather thoroughly before taking off again. Having come so far, we didn’t want to fall prey to get-there-itis. An Army helicopter maneuvering in the vicinity offered to let us get in first, saying, “I’m sure you’re faster than I am.” We laughed and said, “Probably not.” On final to Runway 26, Patrick hit the PTT switch to bring up the VASI–nothing. And we heard a laconic voice on the unicom say, “It doesn’t do any good.”

The voice belonged to our lineman, who came out to help us fuel up and directed us to the FBO behind the FBO–a brand-new pilot lounge with weather computer situated behind a trailer. As I was fueling–which can be a lengthy process with the Remos–he explained that the pilot-controlled lighting doesn’t activate until dusk. Of the 87-degree temperature, he observed: “Don’t let this fool you. In July and August it gets to be 115 degrees. ”

But it wasn’t 115 degrees that day, and the Remos did fine with a climb to 8,500 to take us over the ridges and mountains. The last bit of excitement was a call from Los Angeles Center advising us that a Southwest 737 was at our six o’clock, 1,000 feet below and 10 miles behind. The rational part of my brain knew that was plenty of separation. The other part–the part that hates turbulence–worried about the possibility that a wake vortex might, on this occasion, decide to travel upwards. It didn’t happen.

Arms wide open in Arizona

Monday, October 4th, 2010

When we started planning how to get the Fun to Fly Remos from one coast to the other, we asked you for stopping points along the southern route–and you did not disappoint. Arizonans in particular were bursting with ideas, especially Flight Training contributing editor Greg Brown, who bases his Flying Carpet at Flagstaff.

There were so many suggestions for Arizona that we had a hard time choosing. Flagstaff? Winslow? Prescott, home of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s “other” campus? Sedona, where you can actually take off and land on a mesa? In the end, Sedona won the day. Why? I’ll let Greg Brown’s words do the talking, from his May 2003 column:

“…Sedona, Arizona, ranks among the most memorable pilot destinations anywhere. Set in the massive shoulder of the Colorado Plateau, the town is nestled among fantastical columns of rose-colored rock. The airport perches atop a 500-foot-tall mesa.”

So forgive us, Prescott, Winslow, and Flagstaff. The lure of landing on a mesa was too much to resist. Greg promised to meet us there with a picnic lunch, knowing that the Sedona airport restaurant was closed and our schedule for Thursday was to complete three legs.

As we topped a ridge and pointed the Remos’s nose downward, the airport lay just ahead. Greg had told us to land on Runway 3, which goes uphill, and take off on Runway 21. Getting down and stopped on the 5,132-runway was no problem for the Remos. Greg was parked alongside the runway taking photos of our arrival. When we called final, the reply came back on the CTAF: “Smile–you have a friend taking pictures.”

I wish I had the talent to paint a verbal picture of the view from the scenic overlook just a few hundred yards from the airport. I hope these photos help convey the astonishing beauty of this part of the country.

Our time in Sedona was long enough to feel entirely welcome, short enough to make us want to return immediately. Departing the airport requires some planning and careful airmanship, thanks to the elevation and density altitude. You keep the airplane in ground effect so that you can gain enough power to climb, else you might dip below the edge of the mesa when you reach the end. From there it was on to Barstow, California, our next-to-last stop on this journey.

Long day’s journey into Albuquerque

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Today and our next day in the Fun to Fly Remos are where the rubber meets the airway, so to speak. Today Patrick and I, flatlanders both, encountered our first real mountains. (Yes, I know we have the Appalachians, but they basically serve as a means of holding in the haze.) And there are more mountains to come before we reach Santa Paula.

We launched from Waco and headed to Midland, Texas, for a quick fuel stop. The leg from Waco to Midland was pretty unexciting with the exception of the fact that we flew past President George Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, and then later saw what had to have been one of the nation’s largest wind turbine farms. We think we overflew about 3,000 of them.

Boneyard

Boneyard

The leg after Midland was Roswell, N.M.: a perfect stop for lunch and a peak at the downtown area. You need only go a few miles before you start seeing signs for “UFO Storage,” “Alien Gifts!” and “Area 51 Bakery.” (OK, I made that last one up. Maybe I should consider opening an Area 51 Bakery when I retire.) And the Roswell Airport is home to what appears to be the place where 747s go to die. As we were about 10 miles from the airport and I was straining to find the runway, I saw what looked like a bunch of large white buildings, and said so. Patrick spotted them and said, “I think they’re airplanes!” They were. Not just airplanes, but row after row of jets in various stages of disassembly, some without their turbines and some with their corporate logos faded from years of baking in the hot New Mexico sun.

“What do you do here?” Patrick asked our lineman. He replied, with a grin: “We tear up airplanes!”

The final leg, from Roswell to Albuquerque, was the most challenging of the day. We  started a long, slow climb to 10,500 feet. With outside air temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, the Remos’s Rotax engine chugged along, but our groundspeed was 60 knots. What seemed like a half-hour later, we arrived at 10,500 feet and breathed a sigh of relief. A bumpy ride ensued as we picked our way through the mountains. Emerging through a pass with Albuquerque just 30 nm away, I felt a lot of relief. And the approach into Double Eagle Airport, with the city spread out under the Sandia Mountains, was breathtaking.

A great day in a Great State

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Thanks to my Twitter friend Nikolas Keramidas for the title of this blog, but it’s an apt observation. Yesterday our trip in the Fun to Fly Remos gave us good weather and a tailwind for the very first time. Launching out of Wichita, at 7,500 feet we saw 87 knots indicated airspeed, 119 knots over the ground, and true airspeeds of 101. (The Dynon avionics display all those for you, plus your winds-aloft speeds and the direction of the wind.)

Wind turbines in west Texas

Wind turbines in west Texas

A lunch/fuel stop put us in Gainesville, Texas, and we overnighted in Waco. This gave us a chance to catch up with our friend and former colleague, Claire Kultgen, who showed us the sights of her city and took us to a rocket-launching facility–I kid you not. More about that in a later post.

Today’s going to be a long day for the hearty crew of the good ship Fun to Fly. We hope to make Albuquerque by nightfall, and our planned route is Midland, Texas-Roswell, N.M.Albuquerque. Wish us some more tailwinds!

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A (or Texas?)

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

We’ve completed our first full day of travel to bring the Fun to Fly Remos to the West Coast. (I’m not counting the day it took to get to Mount Vernon, Illinois, for the Midwest LSA Expo.) Launching Monday morning under clear skies (that extra day to wait out a low pressure system paid off big time), we made extremely good time on our first leg, flying about 3.5 hours and seeing a groundspeed of about 95 to 99 knots. We detoured about five miles off our path to fly by the St. Louis Arch, first asking the tower controller at St. Louis Downtown Airport if we could skim the edge of his airspace to meander up the Mississippi River a few miles.

Even with this little diversion, we did so well that we scrapped our first planned fuel stop at Jefferson, Missouri, and landed at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City. If you’re a carnivore, you’ve got to have BBQ or a steak when you’re in this part of the country, and so a Signature lineman obligingly took us to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue downtown for a fantastic lunch, followed by a quick tour of Union Station. Trains have never interested me as being anything more than a mode of transportation, but the history and architecture of this place drew me in nonetheless. They have a model train setup that rivals anything you’ve seen.

Our second leg brought us to Wichita Mid-Continent in downtown Wichita, where we spent the night in Cessna country. Yingling Aviation personnel came out to view the Remos and compare notes with the Skycatcher, recently brought onto the rental line here. Yingling is also an assembly center for the Skycatcher.

Our fantastic lunch was followed by an amazing dinner at Hangar One Steakhouse, a few blocks from the airport. Owned by a retired Cessna employee, this restaurant is almost beyond description. I’ll throw out a few details: door handles made of props, tables constructed of rotary engines; quotes from Bob Hoover and other greats on the walls; waitstaff who wear captain’s shirts; a bartender in a flight suit. And that’s not even talking about the food.

Today we set out for Oklahoma and wonder of wonders, it looks like we’ll even have a tailwind! Our tentative plans are for Oklahoma City or Gainesville, Texas. Patrick and I continue to update our progress via Twitter (@jtallman1959, @skyhawk8519, or search for the #fun2fly hashtag) and Facebook. Keep those airport suggestions coming!

The Remos meets the nicest people

Monday, September 27th, 2010

One of the best parts of my job is getting out and about and meeting people who just plain love airplanes. This weekend at the Midwest LSA Expo in Mount Vernon, Ill., was no exception. While the turnout was small–understandable for a show just in its second year–the opportunity to talk to members, wannabe pilots, and everybody in between paid big dividends.

William Rogers (left) and 'AOPA Pilot' Associate Editor Jill Tallman (right) at the Mt. Vernon LSA Expo

William Rogers (left) and 'AOPA Pilot' Associate Editor Jill Tallman (right) at the Mt. Vernon LSA Expo.

William and Debbie Rogers stopped by to admire the Fun to Fly Remos and dream about what they might do with the airplane if they happen to win. The Rogerses live in Michigan, and they drove all the way to Mount Vernon to sample LSAs. You see, William is soon to finish his sport pilot certificate–and when he does, he wants to buy an LSA. He and Debbie want to travel around the country to visit their children and grandchildren, who are scattered in several states. William was pleased to be able to sit in the Remos, and he investigated it thoroughly.

Later in the day Patrick Smith and I had the pleasure of allowing a beautiful family of youngsters–redheads all–a chance to sit in the airplane. Their dad got a turn as well. “This is the first airplane that they’ve been allowed to sit in,” their mom told me. That’s one of the reasons we bring our airplane to events like this: so children can experience for themselves what we are privileged to experience on a near-daily basis.

Kansas City, here we come?

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The Midwest LSA Expo is over, and the Fun to Fly Remos is ready to move on. Our route today will be Jefferson County, Mo. (KJEF) for fuel, arriving anywhere from 11 to noon CST. We may stop for fuel again at Charles B. Wheeler/Downtown Airport (MKC). If weather and winds are favorable, we will press on to Wichita, Kan., before stopping for the night.

We waited out a low-pressure system that brought rains and low ceilings to southern Illinois, but that’s cleared out, and it’s time to hit the skyways. We’ll head west a bit to get around the low, then start south on Tuesday.

If you’re a Twitter user, follow Patrick Smith (@skyhawk8519). He’s got a SPOT set up that will track our progress. I’ll continue to tweet (@jtallman1959) our planned destinations and approximate ETAs. Hope to meet you along the way!

Small cockpit, small tools

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We knew that a 2,600-nm trip in the Fun to Fly Sweepstakes Remos would require that we pack lightly. So PIC’s Patrick Smith and I found the smallest bags we own for a weeklong cross-country that will take us to seven or more states.

What we discovered coming out from Maryland to Illinois for the Midwest LSA Expo is that “keeping it small” is a good plan of action in general. Our CLAW tiedown kit, weighing just eight pounds, fits nicely in our baggage compartment along with our two bags and various and sundry other items needed for a trip like this.

Small is good when it comes to navigational aids too. The paper charts we need are stored in the Remos’s zippered door pockets. In the air, however, when you have a nicely compact unit like the FlightPrep ChartBook electronic flight bag positioned on your knee, all your charts–and every other chart you might possibly need–are available at your fingertips, and you don’t even have to unfurl them at an inconvenient time. Don’t forget that the winner of the Fun to Fly Remos will also receive a ChartBook EFB for his or her cross-country adventures.