Events Archive

College Park Airport’s first 100 years

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Actors in period dress helped re-create the look and feel of the early days of College Park Airport.

Actors in period dress helped re-create the look and feel of the early days of College Park Airport.

Only 33 nautical miles away from AOPA’s headquarters, College Park Airport’s (CGS) 100th Anniversary AirFair was the nearest event for AOPA’s 2009 Sweepstakes Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22.

The Aug. 29 event was the first centennial of any airport anywhere, as College Park in suburban Washington, D.C., is the world’s oldest continuously operating airport. And airport supporters outdid themselves with the unveiling of an exact re-creation of the Wright Brothers’ 1909 Flyer, the airplane that launched fixed-wing military aviation in the United States.

Actors in period dress helped re-create the look and feel of the early days of the green, leafy, tree-lined airport a stone’s throw from the University of Maryland campus.

An aerobatic display by veteran airshow performer Greg Koontz was a rare occurrence inside Washington’s highly regimented flight restricted zone, the inner wall of the already imposing special flight rules area (SFRA).

Even though the straight-line distance to College Park is short, getting there required getting TSA and FAA screening in advance. Fortunately, I’d been through that bureaucratic scavenger hunt last year, so the IFR flight planning and filing process the morning of the event was virtually identical to any other domestic trip.

Fog and low clouds blanketed the mid-Atlantic that morning, however, and had barely lifted enough (700 feet) by 10 a.m. to allow the Let’s Go Flying SR22 to make it there on time.

Even with clearance to enter the SFRA, it’s a bit unnerving to see all the red lines and warning areas graphically depicted on the multi-function display, and then intentionally cross them. The two Garmin 430W GPS units practically beg you not to with multiple warnings of “special-use airspace ahead,” and “inside special-use airspace.”

Our ATC-assigned route directed us to the KRANT intersection, which, according to the Avidyne MFD, looks like it’s located just about on top of the White House swing set.

“I can’t believe they want us to fly that close to the Capitol,” said fellow pilot Joey Colleran, director of AOPA’s Airport Support Network, as we flew along in the clouds, watching the miles count down.

I was hoping for a turn to start the RNAV/GPS Runway 15 approach before we got there, and thankfully, we were cleared to descend and begin the approach before anyone scrambled the F-16s.

The WAAS-derived vertical guidance on the approach made flying it extremely smooth and precise, and we broke out of the murk in plenty of time to see the airport. The winds were calm, and the deer that like to graze on the grass near the 2,600-foot runway were absent.

The clouds lifted throughout the late morning, and we got to see some exceptional flying and talk with some of the many dedicated people who have done so much to keep College Park open despite the onerous restrictions and pressure to close the historic gem.

More than a dozen volunteer pilots at College Park were giving airplane rides to a long line of visitors, even as the 5 p.m. deadline to finish the flights approached. Scores of first-time passengers had been introduced to general aviation already that day, but the volunteers couldn’t accommodate all of them before time ran out. Fortunately, enough of the volunteer pilots kept at it, filing their own individual flight plans for each trip, to ensure no one who wanted a first flight left the airport without one.

It’s that kind of generous, resourceful, and determined spirit that ensures that, despite the obstacles, College Park will extend its remarkable legacy.

Where might the Cirrus show up next?

Monday, August 24th, 2009

A quick call to friend and fellow pilot Tom Linton on Saturday, August 22, confirmed his participation in our all-day aviation immersion experience. I picked him up less than 12 hours later on Sunday morning and we headed to Maryland’s Frederick Municipal Airport. The Let’s Go Flying Sweepstaks Cirrus SR22 was tucked in Hangar A11. And I do mean “tucked.” The Cirrus’ 38-foot, four-inch wingspan leaves only about two feet on either side inside of the hangar. My biggest fears regarding the Cirrus have nothing to do with flying the airplane; it’s putting it back in the hangar.

Anyhow, we pulled the flashy sprinter out into the early morning mist, loaded her up, and headed northeast to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for Airport Community Days. The all-weekend event was lightly attended on Saturday because of testy weather. The air show had been moved to its rain date of Sunday.

We arrived after a quick flight from Frederick, with Tom getting his first flight in a Cirrus and a little stick time too from the right seat.

The effecient air show crew soon had us backed in front center between an A-10 Warthog and a Russian Beriev Be-103 low-wing amphbian. We were in good, albeit eclectic company.

Before the crowds arrived, Tom and I took a quick walk down the ramp, passing a peck glimmering of P-51s, a B-17 Liberator, a couple of more of the angry-looking A-10s, a fleet of World War II trainers from Fairchild, Grumman, and other iconic companies, and a big clutch of light sport airplanes.

Somebody somwhere threw open a gate and we were suddenly awash in people oogling the A-10 next door, kids crawling in and out of the Beriev, and AOPA members checking in on “their” Sweepstakes Cirrus.

Unlike AirVenture, Sun ’n Fun, and AOPA Aviation Summit, where the audience is predominantly pilots, the folks at the community days were mostly nonpilots. It was a target rich environment for engaging folks about the benefits of general aviation and letting them know what an airplane such as a Cirrus can do for them. Many had never fathomed that someone would or could own an airplane themselves. “What would you do with it?” was a common question. As one who is immersed in aviation and who routinely uses GA airplanes for business and personal travel, I was at first stunned that people didn’t know. But I quickly recovered and began evangelizing about the benefits of GA flying, taking some tips from AOPA’s GA Serves America campaign.

Almost an equal number of people expressed an interest in flight training, giving me an opporunity to tout the advantages of learning to fly—which is a part of the Let’s Go Flying theme of this year’s sweepstakes project.

Meanwhile, AOPA members were pleased to see the Cirrus and get a chance to peek inside after reading about it in AOPA’s magazines and on its Web sites all year.

I was glad Tom was there, because we were swamped—heavier traffic than we usually see at the big air shows. Tom is a consummate salesman and quickly picked up enough facts about the Cirrus to answer most of the routine questions. He backed me up all day long. Thanks, Tom!

After two different versions of the air show throughout the day, the crowds dwindled and the ground crew quickly got us pulled out on the taxiway for our quick flight home. A strangely intense isolated rainshower just southwest of Lancaster caused us to deviate a little westerly before turning to Frederick, giving Tom a little more Cirrus stick time as reward for his volunteering a day to the cause.

Back in Frederick, a helpful line guy helped us tuck those long wings back in the hangar, wing tips still intact and without a scrape.

What a fun day visiting a nicely organized local aviation event. If you see such an event in your region, make a point of going. You probably won’t be disappointed, and who knows, perhaps our Sweeps Cirrus will greet you on the ramp.

Getting there is half the fun–and most of the challenge

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Crossing two Great Lakes, a right hook into Canada, and a safe arrival at OSH

Getting to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, from the Mid-Atlantic by Cirrus requires answering one central question: whether to fly over Lake Michigan, or around it?

Flying over the lake means being out of gliding range of either shore for about 20 minutes – but it also results in a shorter total distance, an efficient non-stop flight, and a mercifully brief period in Chicago Center’s busy airspace. Staying over land requires circumnavigating Chicago to the south and west, sometimes way south and way west, a fuel stop, and the associated descent, hot start, full-power climb, etc.

This year’s trip to OSH presented an especially challenging set of circumstances that, in the end, illustrated some of the AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus SR22’s impressive capabilities.

For starters, fellow traveler Warren Morningstar and I would have to confront 30-knot headwinds over most of the route. A menacing line of thunderstorms would require a significant deviation north or south, and if we climbed near the airplane’s 17,000-foot service ceiling to extend our range, we’d be at, or close to the freezing level. And even though there were only two of us aboard, we’d be carrying so much gear for the show that the airplane would be near its 3,400-pound gross weight limit.

Warren took the left seat and handled the takeoff and climb like a pro, even though it was his first time flying an SR22. He hand flew the airplane to 12,000 feet and configured for a lean-of-peak cruise (164 KTAS at 12.4 gph). The headwind made its presence felt right away, but if we could continue our relatively straight line, we’d get to the big show with more than two hours of fuel remaining.

That’s when the XM Weather depiction on the Avidyne display gave us the bad news about the storm system ahead. A cold front in the Ohio Valley was spawning a big line of storms that stretched from southern Indiana well into central Michigan. The south edge of the front was thin but violent with red and purple radar echoes and numerous lightning strikes. The north side was wider, but the radar showed only greens and yellows representing light and moderate rain showers.

We had brought a pair of inflatable life preservers in anticipation of crossing Lake Michigan. Deviating around the approaching weather system north of Cleveland, Ohio, meant they’d be doubly useful as we’d cross Lake Erie as well.

Morningstar, who grew up in Utah, said he didn’t mind flying over the big bodies of water.

“At least it’s summer,” he said. “The water down there’s probably about as warm as it ever gets.”

We entered IMC and continuous light chop near Cleveland, and a nearby airliner reported light rime ice at 14,000 feet. The OAT indicators (two of them) in the Let’s Go Fling SR22 weren’t in complete agreement. The one on the PFD (which derives its information from a probe on the wing) indicated the air around us was within two degrees of freezing. The one on the MFD (which gets its data from a probe on the engine cowl) showed eight degrees F above.

“I wonder which one we should believe,” Morningstar said.

We continued north all the way into Canada before a wide gap allowed a west-bound turn toward Muskegon, Michigan. We stayed at 12,000 but soon began collecting traces of rime ice. The airplane’s TKS system removed the traces quickly from most of the wings and tail, but small amounts remained on the wing roots and tips.

The OAT on the PFD registered freezing while the one on the MFD registered six degrees above.

“I guess we know which one to believe now,” Morningstar quipped. (The OAT probe on the cowling was likely getting some heat from the engine.)

We could have descended to warmer air, but flickers of blue sky above showed we were near the tops of the clouds. We climbed to 14,000 feet and pushed our way westward in blue sky and smooth air. The higher altitude allowed us to reduce fuel consumption to 10 gph, and ground speed was virtually unchanged. We had sufficient fuel reserves to make our destination under normal conditions. But the often swarming VFR arrival into Oshkosh isn’t normal, and we didn’t want to enter the melee with anything less than two hours of fuel in the tanks.

The clouds disappeared over western Michigan allowing a clear view of the blue waters of Lake Michigan. We were on an IFR flight plan for Sheboygan on Wisconsin’s eastern shore (Oshkosh wasn’t accepting IFR arrivals), so we planned to cancel when we arrived overhead and then continue VFR to the big show.

Oshkosh had wisely put its ATIS information on an extraordinarily powerful transmitter and we were able to pick up the information more than 120 miles away. The winds were out of the west at 16 gusting to 23 knots and the ceiling was 4,600 broken.

Morningstar clicked off the autopilot and started a long descent over the lake. Shortly after reaching the Wisconsin shoreline, we ducked under a layer of cumulus clouds and bounced along toward Ripon and the well-known Fisk Arrival.

It had been several years since I last flew to Ripon, joined the conga line, and followed the railroad tracks to Fisk, then Oshkosh. But the well-written and illustrated Oshkosh notam made the process straightforward and easy to understand.

Morningstar took out his video camera to record the event, and I took over the flying duties.

Given the strong west winds and relatively light traffic (for Oshkosh, anyway), I assumed we’d be landing on Runway 27, and I’d pre-programmed the radio frequencies accordingly. As we approached Fisk, however, the Cherokee Six in front of us was assigned Runway 36, and we got the same instruction.

One frequency change brought us to Oshkosh Tower South, and we were told to land on the “yellow dot” about half way down the runway.

The Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 and its highly authoritative rudder pushed back against the crosswind and held the centerline. Moments later, Oshkosh volunteers directed us to AeroShell Square where we shut down the engine. The Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 still had 24.1 gallons of fuel remaining after 4.8 hours in the air.

The ground crew tugged the airplane to the Big Yellow AOPA Tent for its weeklong display.

We were pleased to open the airplane to the highly knowledgeable and airplane savvy visitors that Oshkosh attracts, and glad to answer questions about the many modifications that have been made to the Let’s Go Flying SR22 in recent weeks. The Forward Vision EVS-100 infrared camera system and its pop-up display screen drew the most curiosity, and AOPA members also wanted to know about the in the AmSafe airbag seatbelts and S-Tec roll autopilot roll servos.

We didn’t intend to add so many new products and upgrades to what was already a fantastic airplane when philanthropist J. Lloyd Huck donated it in late 2008. But each modification has improved the airplane’s already impressive performance and utility.

And when you see it at AOPA Summit in Tampa Nov. 5 -7, the Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 is likely to be sporting a few more improvements.

Old habits are hard to break.

Flying the Soldier

Monday, June 22nd, 2009
Sgt. Joshua Ben with the AOPA Sweeps Plane

Sgt. Joshua Ben with the AOPA Sweeps Plane

Paratroopers tend to regard airplanes as good for takeoffs only. So it was no surprise that Sgt. Joshua Ben, a youthful, former cavalry scout in the 82nd Airborne Division, cast a wary eye on AOPA’s 2009 Sweepstakes Let’s Go Flying SR22 before boarding it at Florida’s Orlando Executive Airport.

Ben, 22, an Afghanistan combat veteran, won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart there in 2007 after losing his right leg in an ambush. He’s in the process of moving from the U.S. Army’s Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., to Orlando where he’ll become a full-time student at the University of Central Florida in the fall. But on this warm June night, he needed to return to Walter Reed for some additional medical treatment—and that’s where the Let’s Go Flying SR22 came in.

The Veterans’ Airlift Command, a group founded to link general aviation volunteers with wounded veterans in need of transportation, put us together via the Internet. Ben and I met at the Showalter Aviation terminal, and I gave him a quick introduction to the Let’s Go Flying SR22.

“I’ve jumped out of C-130s and C-17s before, but I’ve never flown in anything quite like this,” he said.

When I told Ben that our aircraft was equipped with a ballistic parachute that could bring the entire aircraft down safely in an emergency, he warmed to the idea immediately.

Climbing up the step and onto the wing was no problem for the compact, square-jawed soldier with the athletic build, and he quickly eased his body into the right seat. Getting his prosthetic leg inside the airplane, however, required a trick that only a modern amputee would know. Ben pushed a button on his high-tech leg that allowed him to rotate the knee forward and fold it like a pocketknife. He was soon strapped in and we were taxiing to Runway 7 for departure on a marathon five-hour flight to Frederick, Md., AOPA’s headquarters (about 40 miles from Walter Reed).

It was already 9 p.m., and the sun had just disappeared as the Let’s Go Flying SR22 got off the ground.

Ben had flown in a Cessna 172 once as a young teen near his family’s home in Columbia, Mo. He asked a few questions about the futuristic, glass-panel SR22, and caught on to the GPS navigation system immediately. A moving map showed our route would take us over Jacksonville, Fla., and Savannah, Ga., then inland over the Carolinas and Virginia to Maryland.

Level at 11,000 feet and 160 KTAS with the engine using 11.4 gallons an hour, the Avidyne Entegra avionics system showed that we’d arrive at our destination with nearly two hours of fuel remaining, despite a 20-knot headwind.

“Once you take off, it looks like there’s not much to do until it’s time to land,” Ben said.

Even though not required by regulation, we strapped on the clear nose hoses from a portable, two-place Mountain High oxygen system. Ben had spent 12 months at high elevations in Afghanistan before being wounded in October 2007, and he said he was beginning to recognize the physiological effects: colors on the moving map were getting less vibrant, and the small numbers on the screen were blurry. The oxygen cleared that up right away.

We had originally planned to make the flight the following day—but a forecast calling for violent weather prodded us to move up our departure time. The XM Weather on the Avidyne multifunction display showed monstrous thunderstorms in the Ohio Valley, but we were scheduled to arrive at our Mid-Atlantic destination well before the nasty weather.

Ben plans to study forensic science in preparation for a law enforcement career. It’s a big change from military life, and one he didn’t plan for before being wounded.

While serving as a gunner atop an armored Humvee, Ben and his platoon were ambushed on a narrow road by scores, possibly hundreds, of Taliban fighters. A dozen U.S. soldiers including Ben were wounded in the attack. A rocket-propelled grenade penetrated the side of his vehicle and wrecked his right leg in an instant. It happened so fast, he said, that he felt no pain at the time. Ben’s body armor protected him from most of the bullets that struck him, but one pierced his abdomen. Fortunately, it didn’t damage any organs, and doctors were able to remove the bullet during surgery. Ben, the future forensic scientist, keeps the nearly perfectly preserved AK-47 round in a specimen jar at home.

Ben credits a pair of A-10 Thunderbolt pilots for helping save him and his fellow soldiers with well-timed strafing passes.

“The sound of those Gatling guns was like music to us,” he said. “No one who hears them that close ever forgets the sound.”

Ben reclined his seat and slept for parts of our marathon SR22 flight. I was a poor host with few snacks or beverages to offer. Ben declined everything but a half stick of Doublemint gum.

The flight was the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s first in actual darkness since its new Forward Vision infrared camera system was installed at Lancaster Avionics, and it worked beautifully. There was little to see at altitude except a few scattered clouds. But as we descended over the Catoctin Mountains, the image on the glareshield-mounted, pop-up screen clearly showed the Catoctin’s curvy contours.

And on an ILS approach to Runway 23 at Frederick with visibility reported as four miles in mist, the lone obstacles—a pair of grain silos a mile from the threshold—showed up as bright as daylight.

“Just like NVGs,” Ben said, referring to the night vision goggles U.S. soldiers commonly wear in the field.

We tied the airplane down on the vacant ramp and loaded our bags in my car. Ben spent what remained of that night in our guest room, and my wife and two kids, ages 10 and 13, were excited to meet him at breakfast. Ben gave my son a few skateboarding tips before we began the hour-long drive to Washington, D.C.

The drive turned out to be the scariest part of our entire trip as the storms we had avoided with our early departure finally caught up with us.

“I’m glad we’re not flying through this,” Ben said during a cloudburst on Interstate 270.

Ben guided me among the winding roads at Walter Reed and soon had us at Malogne House, the temporary home of America’s wounded warriors as they remake themselves for the next phases of their interrupted lives. It’s a place of indescribable tragedy and triumph, and Ben appeared instantly at home among his brave fellows there.

As a member of the GA community, it’s a privilege to use the mobility we so enjoy on behalf of a young man who has made such a terrible sacrifice for his country.

Home again in the sweeps SR22

Monday, June 1st, 2009

The Let’s Go Flying SR22 is tucked back in its hangar at Frederick, Md., after a coast-to-coast-to-coast journey that showed general aviation’s exciting new possibilities from the Chesapeake Bay to the Golden Gate and back again.

The two-week odyssey spanned the Appalachians, Great Lakes, Northern Plains, Rocky, Wasatch, and Sierra-Nevada, scorching Southwest and soggy Southeast. The airplane got a exterior makeover in Middleton, Wis., was on display at Watsonville, Calif., on the Monterey Bay, and stopped in Memphis, Tenn., on the banks of the Mississippi River, where AOPA Pilot staffers researched a magazine article and produced a video on a fascinating family of agricultural fliers there.

The cross-country portion of the trip included eight takeoffs and landings, six time zones, and about 34 total flight hours. The Let’s Go Flying SR22 flew at altitudes all the way up to its service ceiling of 17,000 feet topping the snow-capped Sierras near Mt. Whitney’s 14,505-foot summit, and its broad windows offered panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, Great Salt Lake, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, and San Francisco Bay.

But now that it’s over, it’s easy to recognize that the most valuable and lasting part of the trip wasn’t the majestic scenery, America’s grandeur, or learning the nuances of the sleek, technologically advanced aircraft that some fortunate aviator is going to win in January (although those aspects were certainly enjoyable). The truly magical part of GA travel was the ability to connect with geographically far-flung family and friends and tend to some of the bonds that time, distance, and our ceaseless busyness erode.

In California, I got to share the cockpit with my sister-in-law Loree, a former U.S. Navy pilot. That was a treat in itself, as was seeing her amazement at the glass-panel revolution that has given modern GA airplanes navigational and collision-avoidance tools that surpass anything in the S-3 Viking and F/A-18 Hornet jets she used to fly.

I also spent most of an afternoon with an old friend whose feelings I had needlessly hurt years ago. She came along on a photo flight over the San Francisco Bay on a sparkling afternoon, and any bitterness or awkwardness from that long-ago period was vanquished by the time we landed. My mom, a private pilot since 1968, wanted (and got) a detailed explanation of the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s Avidyne Entegra avionics system on the ramp one evening; and my five- and seven-year-old niece and nephew got to explore every inch of the composite aircraft when it was on display at Palo Alto Airport.

In Memphis, I had the privilege of introducing AOPA colleagues, Tom Haines and Warren Morningstar, to the amazingly talented, resourceful, and lively group of GA pilots who helped me get started in flying when I lived there for 10 years ending in 1999. David Peeler hosted a cookout at Gen. DeWitt Spain Airport near downtown Memphis that brought together an uncommon assortment of agricultural, airline, aerobatic, and warbird pilots and families for an absolutely delightful evening.

Haines, editor in chief of AOPA publications, flew the Let’s Go Flying SR22 on the eastbound, transcontinental flight home. He had much to contend with in terms of changing weather, strong winds, and high terrain, and he used all the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s considerable tools to deal with ice over southern Nevada, thunderstorms across Arkansas, and powerful, shifting winds in the canyons of Arizona.

Haines owns and flies a GNS 530-equipped Bonanza, so he quickly mastered the dual GNS 430Ws that drive the Avidyne Entegra avionics system in the Let’s Go Flying SR22. He also flew simulated or actual IFR approaches at Sedona, Memphis, and Frederick.

The final 4.1-hour leg of the trip home took us up the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, but the craggy hills were invisibly draped beneath a thick blanket of clouds from Tennessee all the way to Maryland and beyond. I amused myself by snapping photos of some of the more dramatic cloud formations along our path. We arrived at our home field about 30 minutes before the first in a series of towering cumulus clouds brought more rain to a now-vibrantly green region.

Even though Tom and I were anxious to get home to our families, we lingered in the hangar for a time wiping the bugs and road grime off the Let’s Go Flying SR22 and getting the airplane fueled, oiled, and ready for its next adventure.

The Let’s Go Flying SR22 looks no worse for the wear after its long, sometimes challenging, and richly rewarding U.S. circuit. It’s an amazing aircraft that not only can carry people safely and comfortably across continents—but also brings us together.

On to California

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Four takeoffs, four landings, 16 flight hours, and about 210 gallons of avgas.

Some aspects of general aviation flying are easy to quantify, but the 2009 AOPA Sweepstakes Let’s Go Flying SR22’s trip from Frederick, Maryland, to Watsonville, California, like any air journey, is much more than the numbers in a logbook entry.

The modern, GA airplane’s first stop was Middleton, Wisconsin, 625 nm and across Lake Michigan against a headwind, for a new graphic design that will be part of a high-profile campaign to raise awareness of GA’s contributions to the American economy. The airplane’s bold message is sure to resonate as AOPA and other aviation organizations change the tone of the discussion and focus on jobs, innovation, productivity, and aspirations that GA provides.

Leaving Wisconsin, the Let’s Go Flying SR22 was cleared direct to Ainsworth, Nebraska, more than 400 nm away. But with lighter-than-anticipated headwinds and an economical, 11.5-gallon-an-hour fuel burn at 12,000 feet, the airplane easily covered 150 additional miles to Sidney, Nebraska. Looking down at the ocean of land along the way, it was easy to imagine the buffalo herds that once covered them, and the native Americans who lived there for thousands of years. Next, the Missouri River came into view, and little about the waterway seems to have changed since it carried Lewis and Clark and their fellow searchers on their perilous voyage of discovery. To the south, trains were still traversing the transcontinental railway, and the epic ambitions and effort it took to build it are still awe inspiring.

Scattered but intense thunderstorms were approaching western Nebraska from the southwest, so after a brief fuel stop, it was time to continue west. Rising, increasingly barren terrain became wavy, windswept mountains in Wyoming, and then the SR22 vaulted the jagged Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Approaching Provo, a golden sunset and patchy rain created brilliant rainbows against the mountain backdrop.

The next morning brought the final, 571-nm leg to Palo Alto Airport–and a direct route across the Sierra Nevadas requiring a long climb to 16,000 feet, just 1,000 feet below the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s service ceiling.

A portable Mountain High oxygen system made the three hours at high altitude possible, and comfortable.

At 16,000 feet, full throttle (16.4 inches manifold pressure), 2,700 rpm, and the mixture set 50 degrees lean of peak, the Let’s Go Flying SR22 was traveling at 165 ktas (126 kias) and burning less than 11 gallons an hour. At that power setting, the airplane (which carries 84 gallons of fuel) could have continued flying more than six hours.

The route took the airplane just north of Tonopah, Nevada, and the remote, dry, lake beds where formerly secret military aircraft such as the F-117 Stealth Fighter and U-2 flew. Then the snowy Sierra passed underneath with a dramatic, downward view of the incomparable Yosemite Valley. ATC asked for a steady descent across California’s Central Valley, and over the oak-covered hills to the Silicon Valley at southern edge of the San Francisco Bay.

Landing at Palo Alto (PAO), the Let’s Go Flying Cirrus had more than 34 gallons of fuel remaining. It’s currently parked front-and-center at Advantage Aviation, a thriving flying club, where it will be on display until it makes the short hop to Watsonville.

It’s been a wondrous, eye-opening trip so far.

I’m looking forward to the east-bound return trip (and maybe even a tailwind!) next week . . .

Safe arrival at Palo Alto Airport.

Safe arrival at Palo Alto Airport.

Half Dome

Half Dome

California's Yosemite Valley.

California's Yosemite Valley.

Approaching the Sierra Nevadas.

Approaching the Sierra Nevadas.

Climbing to 16,000 feet over Nevada.

Climbing to 16,000 feet over Nevada.

On the ILS approach to Runway 13, Provo, Utah.

On the ILS approach to Runway 13, Provo, Utah.

Rainbow over Provo, Utah.

Rainbow over Provo, Utah.

Fuel stop in Sidney, Nebraska, with some ominous clouds moving in.

Fuel stop in Sidney, Nebraska, with some ominous clouds moving in.

En route to Utah at 12,000 feet.

En route to Utah at 12,000 feet.

Over the Wasatch Mountains, approaching Salt Lake City.

Over the Wasatch Mountains, approaching Salt Lake City.

A real cross-country flight

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Pilots tend to revert to regulatory definitions—even when the terms we’re using are perfectly descriptive.

This week, for example, the AOPA 2009 Sweepstakes Let’s Go Flying SR22 is going on a cross-country flight. Most pilots take that to mean 50 miles, the minimum distance required to meet the FAA cross-country definition. But this is an actual, cross-the-continent cross-country.

On May 17 the SR22 was at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. In a couple days, it will be in Watsonville, Calif., for the annual, vintage aircraft-flavored airshow on Memorial Day weekend.

The west-bound portion of the trip began May 18, and it’s off to a promising start.

The first leg was a four-hour, nonstop hop from AOPA’s home base in Frederick, Md., to Middleton, Wis., a Madison suburb. Members who have been following this year’s sweepstakes will recognize Middleton as the home of Air Graphics LLC, the firm that designed and applied the distinctive vinyl color scheme that makes the Let’s Go Flying airplane so recognizable.

Well, the folks at Air Graphics LLC have designed an equally bold new statement meant to draw attention to the vital GA Serves America campaign that AOPA is leading. Our goal is to show the world how important GA is to the American economy, and the Let’s Go Flying SR22 is going to carry the GA Serves American banner proudly—starting May 19.

The airplane’s festive vinyl graphics have been stripped clean. Under the hot blast from a pair of heat guns, the graphics withered away, leaving only the bare, white, composite skin. The airplane looks like a winged Moby Dick as it awaits its new colors. I’ve got to admit to feeling more than a twinge of sadness seeing the baby blue script come off. I had come to identify with it since it was first applied in January. But the new graphics will be equally recognizable—maybe even more so—and provide a bold rallying point for pilots and aviation supporters everywhere.

Real-world conditions

A cross-country flight is also the best way to really test the performance of an airplane and learn how it operates under real-world conditions.

The Let’s Go Flying SR22 really shines on a long trip.

The airways route to Middleton’s Morey Field (C29) is 625 nm. That’s a long way for most GA airplanes, and this one was especially challenging because a 20-knot headwind covered most of the route. Considering the fact that a late portion of the flight is over Lake Michigan, the route requires an airplane with outstanding range and endurance.

At full power and climbing to 10,000 feet over West Virginia, the SR22 swills down about 24 gallons of avgas an hour. The binge is mercifully short, however, because of the airplane’s climb rate of more than 1,000 fpm at a cruise climb speed of 120 KIAS.

At 10,000 feet, leaned to an economy cruise setting (60-percent power, 2,500 rpm, 50 degrees lean of peak) the engine was loafing (EGTs: 1,400 degrees, CHT: 270 degrees, OAT: -5 degrees Celsius) while burning 12.8 gallons of avgas an hour and traveling 168 KTAS. Even with the headwind, the range was sufficient to reach the distant destination with more than 90 minutes of fuel in the tanks.

The news got better, however, as the headwind turned into a crosswind over Ohio, and then a slight tailwind over Indiana.

Chicago Center made things interesting with a re-route that took the SR22 way out over the deep, blue water (is that why they call it the “brave” intersection?). Along the way, ATC vectored the airplane northbound, over the middle of the lake, to the watery Michigan-Illinois-Wisconsin border.

The SR22 has a 9.6:1 glide ratio. At an altitude of 10,000 feet with light winds, that meant the airplane could cover about 20 miles if it suddenly became a glider. Using the magic of the Avidyne Entegra MFD, I put the airplane in the center of the moving map and set the range ring to 20 miles. The airplane was beyond gliding range of the shore for just 18 minutes. But still, it was nice to see the Wisconsin shoreline come into view.

The trip had gone so smoothly that there had to be a challenge lurking. It became apparent when ATIS foretold a gusty, 21-knot surface wind at Morey Field—and it was a direct crosswind. The airport has a 2,000-foot turf runway that was oriented into the wind. But there was a steady rain falling, and I didn’t want to the Cirrus to get stuck in the mud. The airport was visible 10 miles away, and the SR22 handled the crosswind with aplomb.

After flying just short of four hours, the SR22 touched down with 30 gallons of avgas in the tanks.

The airplane is a joy to fly and an incredible traveler.

It doesn’t just change the scenery. It changes the time zones (and the weather!). And if you thought you knew this airplane, take another look. You may not recognize it the next time you see it.

The AOPA 2009 Let’s Go Flying SR22 draws a crowd

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

We expected enthusiasm. We expected sarcasm.

And AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes SR22 drew both during six days of nonstop attention at the annual Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Fla.

Enthusiasm among AOPA members was obvious. The 2005 Cirrus SR22-G2 is the most technologically advanced, highest performance, and highest value aircraft AOPA has ever offered in its annual sweepstakes.

“I’ve want to win every year,” one member confessed, “but this is the year I really want to win!”

The airplane’s brash vinyl graphics raised lots of eyebrows. But when members learned the baby-blue billboard on the sides of the fuselage can be quickly and easily replaced, they seemed placated.

Surprisingly, several members said they like the current graphics so much that, if they win, they intend to keep the attention-grabbing look.

Some members said they miss the monthly progress updates AOPA Pilot used to publish on sweepstakes refurbishments. Since this airplane was in top condition when AOPA acquired it, the airplane has taken on a new, high-profile mission of promoting general aviation and expanding the U.S. pilot base.

Many visitors expressed astonishment at the generosity of J. Lloyd Huck, the philanthropist who donated the airplane. We, too, marvel at the former B-29 bomber pilot’s willingness to promote the freedom of flight we all cherish.

The airplane also had its first close call at the Florida gathering — and it had nothing to do with flying. A knucklehead driving a truck swerved off a service road and clipped a flagpole that fell less than three feet from the SR22’s spinner. Fortunately, it missed.

On April 27, it was finally time for the dusty, sun-soaked, SR22 to fly home to Frederick, Md. It’s a long flight — about 725 nm — but well within the SR22’s 1,000-nm maximum range. The weather was gorgeous along our entire route, and fellow pilot and AOPA staff member Jill Tallman and I decided to see how efficiently we could make it.

We took off from Lakeland shortly at about 8:40 a.m. on an IFR flight plan that would take us along the north Florida and Georgia coast, then west of the Washington airspace to Frederick. We had filed for 11,000 feet, but ATC gave us a slow and halting set of intermediate altitudes along the way. The air was smooth, and a 25-knot crosswind slowly turned into a 20-knot tailwind over southern Virginia.

ATC helpfully provided several shortcuts along the route, and the SR22’s fuel computer showed we’d have plenty of fuel in reserve when we landed.

AOPA members frequently ask about the SR22’s speed. On this trip, at 11,000 feet, 60 percent power, 2,500 rpm, burning 12.4 gallons an hour, we were traveling about 165 KTAS. With an assist from the wind, our ground speed was about 20 knots faster.

We flew the entire cruise portion of the trip lean of peak. Despite a relatively warm OAT of 10 degrees C, the cylinders ran a very cool 280 degrees and the EGTs remained at 1,400 degrees or below. In fact, at the best economy setting of 11.5 gph, the EGTs and CHTs were too cool, and I had to enrich the mixture slightly to keep the temperatures in the green.

All told, after 4.6 hours of flying, we had used 57 gallons of avgas (27 gallons remained in the tanks) and covered a good chunk of the eastern United States. And we had a blast doing it.

The long trip blew most of the dust off the airplane’s composite skin, but the SR22 (and its occupants) were overdue for a good scrubbing. Many AOPA members implored us at Sun ‘n Fun to take good care of “their” airplane until the annual drawing in early 2010 — and we intend to do just that!

See the SR22’s flight track.

2009 ‘Let’s Go Flying’ Sweepstakes Cirrus SR22 kicks off

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

There are no bad years to take part in AOPA’s annual sweepstakes–but this is an especially good year because the prize is simply extraordinary.

The 2009 Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 that some lucky person will win in 2010 brings stunning performance and unprecedented safety and utility to general aviation. All AOPA members are automatically entered in the drawing.

The technologically advanced, composite, glass-cockpit airplane can cover more than 1,000 nautical miles at a stretch, reach true speeds of more than 180 knots, and an altitude of 17,500 feet. Like every Cirrus, it’s got an airframe parachute, and this one also carries a built-in TKS anti-icing system for an extra level of safety. Its deluxe leather interior makes riding in the Let’s Go Flying SR22 feel like a luxury sports car.

Unlike previous Sweepstakes airplanes, the “Let’s Go Flying” SR22 needs no refurbishment. It’s a pristine, 2005-model G-2, and it’s flawless. It was donated to AOPA by Lloyd Huck, a philanthropist and long-time member and AOPA Air Safety Foundation donor who served as a flight instructor and Army Air Corps B-29 bomber pilot during World War II.

The Let’s Go Flying SR22 will crisscross North America in 2009 to highlight the tremendous utility of general aviation. You’ll see it at a variety of high-profile events throughout the year–but you may not recognize it. The “Let’s Go Flying” SR22 will sport a number of different looks courtesy of Air Graphics LLC, the Madison, Wis., firm that will design and install a series of eye-catching, exterior schemes during the year.

Check back regularly to see how the project progresses. To win this fabulous airplane, all you need to do is join AOPA or renew your AOPA membership at any time during 2009. Update your profile online for an additional chance to win. See the official rules for all the details.