Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Real Cross Country Flight

The Opportunity.
My new company is based in San Francisco and I am based in Birmingham, Alabama, so I now get the opportunity to visit this beautiful California city more often than in the past.   This opportunity was the company user conference.    I would need to be out there for 3-4 days.

My gracious company.
Some companies are a bit skittish about letting their employees fly themselves around, but these guys seem to be cool with it.   The companies that do not allow employees the freedom and flexibility to fly themselves places are just a little in the dark about this wonderful opportunity.   That age old story of being afraid of what they don't understand.

The dream.
Every pilot I know dreams of doing the real cross country flight.   I had lots of guys, some that I really didn't even know, asking to come along.   I have been flying for 30 years and accumulated over 4000 hours of flying time, but I have never ventured west of the Mississippi river in my own plane.   To actually venture out of my back yard and take myself all the way across the country and to see this marvelous nation from my own perch is just very exciting.

The weather
This will be a really long flight and generally there is some sort of weather system or other working its way across the map, but there was really nothing major going on either on the way out to California or the return trip.    We had XM weather in the cockpit via our Garmin GPS to keep us clear of any bad weather.   The worst we saw was a little rain.

The airspace
There are a bunch of restricted areas and complicated airspaces out in Nevada and California, but we had a collection of GPS's and iPads, all with up to date databases, to keep us out of trouble.   It also helps to have a good navigator with you the first time.   The technology that we have today at our finger tips is really phenomenal and it makes keeping the airplane in the right place and me out of trouble.

The Density Altitude
Living and flying in Alabama we have a few obstacles that may reach a little over 3000 feet.    By the time we got about half way to our destination KROW Roswell, NM which lies at 3600 Feet.   Out there the runways get longer, the temps get hotter, the density altitudes get higher.    Roswell has a 13000 foot runway and short 9000 foot runway, because it needs them.   Our next stop was Winslow, AZ which was at 4900 feet with a 7000 foot runway.   With the plane full of fuel, people, and luggage for a week our Piper Twin Comanche took an impressive amount of runway.   With altitude and heat there is less air for the plane to use for lift and less air for the engine to use for power, so the runways need to be longer and pilots need to do the math before take off to ensure that there is enough runway and performance to actually get airborne and climb.

My parents took me on a cross country drive when I was 15 and I remember only a little of it, but mostly you take in very little of the country at a given time from the perch of a car.   At best

As it was, one of my best friends, a fellow pilot, and co-worker decided to come along and actually encouraged the trip.   It was one of his life long goals as well.   My 16 year old daughter decided to come as well.    This was a real treat, since it is generally hard to get to spend time with her these days.    So we were off on this great adventure.

I planned the trip on my iPad using ForeFlight and the weather really looked pretty good.   I decided to take a southerly route around the bottom of the Sierra Nevadas to avoid the higher peaks up north.

The Adventure
We made it there and back.    We took 2 days to get there and 1 to get back.   We saw millions of acres of desert.    We would fly for hours and only see on house.    There are many many canyons aside from the big one, which by the way, you cannot comprehend by standing one the edge and looking down on it, or even taking a chopper flight through it.    We flew beside it for hours on end at 160 knots.   It really is  grand and amazing.    Our weather remained VFR for the entire trip.    I had good quality time with my buddy and my daughter.

Will I do it again.  
I am planning to do a helicopter or cub version of this adventure next time.     It will take longer, but isn't the flying why we do all this.