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 . . .