Sunday, July 31, 2011

CA to CO - Harris Ranch to Prescott, AZ

Preflight and Fueling

The next morning we were back at the airstrip at 8 after the breakfast of champions - cereal, milk and coffee. We were well rested and excited to start the real business of the cross country flight. I was particularly interested in seeing how much fuel we burned in our flight there from RHV as I was doing the fuel logging and wondered how accurate my calculations and records were.

We pulled the plane uphill to the fuel pumps (swearing the whole time next time we will turn on the plane and taxi to the pumps .. that is one heavy plane!). Jeff fueled the plane while I got some Gatorade and snacks for the trip. I got back and Jeff gave me the official word. I predicted we would need 7.4 gallons in the left tank and 5.0 in the right. He refueled the bird with 7.4 gallons left tank and 5.2 in the right. Not too shabby :)

We cleaned the oil off the windscreen. This plane burns about 2 quarts of oil every two to four hours and much of it ends up on the windscreen. Jeff programmed our next set of legs into the Garmin 696. I set up the oxygen bottle for easy use and hooked up two cannula for us to use for this leg of the trip. We were likely to be going over 10,000 feet and wanted to make sure we had the oxygen ready if needed.

Off We Go
Preflight, preparation and fueling complete. Jeff went through the remaining checklists and turned the key on at 0923 PDT. We ended up taking off much later than planned, but we had a relatively short flight planned for today so we thought we would make Prescott OK. In spite of the fact that we had the flight plan programmed into the GPS I planned on following our flight path with paper sectionals and using my eyeballs. It would be good practice for me.

We climbed to 7,500 ft for the initial cruise. We picked up flight following over the Gorman VOR and then climbed to cruise at 9,500 feet as we neared the Southern California mountain ranges.

The air was relatively smooth so Jeff gave me the controls and he stretched out his legs a bit and relaxed. He also demonstrated the big difference the placement of weight makes on CG. He slid his seat back from the firewall and I felt the plane tilt nose up as he moved. We also listened to XM radio from the Garmin. It was nice to have the music to pass the time. Whenever a transmission comes in over the com lines or if either of us said something, the com system would immediately mute the music. Then after some silence the music would slowly raise volume back to normal levels. My only gripe.. can't sing along with the music (without moving the mouthpiece away from the mouth anyway).

Before we knew it we were flying over the Colorado river with Lake Havasu in the near distance. We could see the haze of humidity in the air ahead of us (or at least what I thought was humidity) and clouds were starting to build a bit. We climbed to 11,500 at this point and both of us turned on our oxygen to see how well that worked. We had a pulse oximeter with us and saw a definite difference in the oxygenation of our blood with and without the oxygen. Comforting to know I had the system hooked up correctly and it would be ready for us if needed.

I talked to Norcal, Oakland Center, Joshua Approach, Los Angeles Center, and finally Albuquerque Center on our way into Arizona. It was amusing to listen to the different controllers struggle with saying the tail number of our plane without stumbling. It is hard to say "niner seven seven seven yankee". Most controllers would say "niner seven .... seven seven yankee" and once in a while they would get it wrong by skipping one of the sevens for instance. I don't blame them. We listened closely and hoped they would abbreviate our tail number for the sake of all involved. Some did, some didn't. No matter what, the flight following proved its value several times. We had a couple times where ATC pointed out traffic to us on a converging course. We were able to spot the traffic eventually but once it was only after we changed our altitude to ensure we wouldn't collide. It is always helpful to have those extra eyes looking out for you when you can.

Approaching and Landing at Prescott

We were over the surprisingly green northern Arizona mountains and ready to descend toward Prescott valley. In the distance we could see some rains beginning. The air was getting more turbulent as we descended of course. Nothing terrible, but not as glass smooth as we had earlier. We terminated flight following and began the steps to prepare enter Prescott's airspace and land.

As we tuned to Prescott Tower after listening to ATIS we heard many calls for "Embry" planes. I told Jeff Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University operates out of that airport. I think that made both of us nervous. There we many MANY planes practicing in the pattern. We couldn't see the airport but we knew where it should be based on the GPS data we had. So Jeff called in to the Tower with our position and intentions to land. The tower instructed us to enter right pattern for 21R. I was surprised because Jeff said he figured we would be straight in on 21R based on the weather and where we were.

Something wasn't right. I kept looking at the HI and saw a heading of 12, if we were going to do a straight in, our heading should have been 21. However, we had been setting the HI to compass and the compass in that plane is almost 15 degrees of on Eastern headings. I knew the HI wasn't accurate and so did Jeff. I've never seen Jeff wrong on an approach before. Jeff called back to the tower and stated what he thought he would be doing. The tower was very nice, gave us a squawk code to verify where we were on their radar and just instructed us to report when we had the airport in sight on downwind for 21R. They obviously knew something we didn't.

Well, time to recover from that error. We continued to where we knew the airport should be with our eyes very open for traffic, the airport was very busy with people training in the pattern as we approached. We finally spotted the airport and we were in position for right traffic for 21R. We reported on downwind with the airport in sight. The tower offered us the longer, wider 21L runway if we wanted it, it was also the runway closer to the FBO where we were going to park the plane for the night. Jeff took the runway change and brought us in on 21L for a beautiful landing. The second excellent landing in our trip.

We got clear of the runway, went through the after landing checklist and switched to ground as instructed... ground gave us instructions to taxi to Legend Aviation, a local FBO. They met us near the taxiway with a "follow me" car and lead us to their parking. Then they arranged for Hertz to bring our rental car to us, pushed the plane back into the parking spot and made us feel very welcome. We rented our car, found the nearest Sonic for lunch, visited with the people at the FBO and the Pilot Shop and then went to the Embry-Riddle bookstore to get some shirts and cool pilot stuff. Then we checked in to our motel room (scarey). I took a shower and we headed to the towns of Jerome and Sedona, AZ for a bit of sight seeing.

In the end this leg of the trip took 3.4 hours from start to shutdown. I calculated we would need 26.4 gallons in the left tank and 19.6 gallons in the left when we refueled for the next leg. Prescott, Jerome and Sedona were worth the stop and the overnight stay and we were safely on the ground when the rains and thunderstorms started to pick up around the valley.

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