A real cross-country flight

May 19, 2009 by Dave Hirschman

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.

8 Responses to “A real cross-country flight”

  1. Gary Says:

    just a nit :) – but when you say “Most pilots take that to mean 50 miles, the minimum distance required to meet the FAA cross-country definition” – that FAA definition ONLY applies to ‘time used to meet the cross country requirement for private and commerical certificates. The ATP cert doesn’t carry that requirement….

    Technically – if i land at a different aiport than I departed from – it’s cross country …

  2. Chas. Says:

    I promise to leave the “GA Serves America” graphics on the plane when I win. It’s a great way to wake people up to what GA can and *does* do for them

  3. Max Trescott Says:

    I just spotted the Sweepstakes plane and the new graphic at the Palo Alto Airport today. Looks great. Perhaps you can start a Sweepstakes Airplane Spotter’s Club!

  4. Alex Whitman Says:

    Great idea…I think the “Lets Go Flying” initiative is a good one, but in turbulent times like we’re in (especially with this administration) we need people to truly understand what a strong role GA plays. I feel this updated rendering is more in-line with the seriousness of the threat GA faces and how strongly we feel about the situation.

    Mostly, I hope the “GASA” logo is thought provoking for those NOT associated with GA, so hopefully they’ll be inspired to try and understand the benefits of GA.

    Once that happens, I’m sure they’ll be hooked (just like all of us are).

  5. Nick Nicewarner Says:

    It’s sad that you only list three events for the “Let’s Go Flying” SR22 schedule and two of them are major aviation events. You should be attending every fly-in you can, especially ones at small airports, all across the nation so that more people will have a chance to see and participate.

  6. Joe Says:

    I love the look and the glide distance. I gotta agree with Gary when he talks about the cross country miles. I also gotta agree with Chas with the winning of the plane too. The decals look great on the aircraft. And I’d keep them if I won it!

  7. Terry D Norris Says:

    Absolutely a wonderful give-away. It is hard to imagine flying such a sweet machine. Huge odds, but what the heck, someone’s going to fly that baby as her new owner — I’m ready.

  8. Daddy11 Says:

    However, it needs no poetical imagination but only clear and sober scientific reflection to recognize that we are here obviously faced with events whose regular and lawful unfolding is guided by a ‘mechanism’ entirely different from the ‘probability mechanism’ of physics. ,