Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CO to CA - Centennial to Kingman, AZ

After a night of little sleep for each of us, we woke up a little after 5:30 to get up, do a quick check of the weather, a final briefing and fuel calc. The plan was to be wheels up at 7:00 to get across the highest mountain ranges long before the temperature and winds rose. My dad did a quick Starbucks run, I gave my sister-in-law a hug goodbye and we were off. Dad and Mom dropped us off back at the Denver Jet Center (a most excellent FBO) and headed to the end of the runway so they could see us take off. Dad would be monitoring the tower frequency on LiveATC so he would know when we were going to take off.

A little side note about Denver Jet Center. This FBO was excellent. They normally have a $10 per night tie down fee, but they decided not to charge us the tie down fee. They fueled the plane for us and refilled to oxygen bottle. They towed the plane up to the terminal from its parking space a twice (once for Jeff's Leadville trip and once for our departure). The people there were completely professional and friendly and definitely made us feel at home. Though I have to admit my favorite thing with that FBO was parking our plane right next to some very expensive and large jets! All of the FBOs we visited, Legend Aviation in Prescott, the one in Taos - I think it was Taos Aviation Services and Denver Jet Center made the landing and stopping a very pleasant part of the experience.

As Jeff did his preflight we noticed the two Cessena Skywagons parked next to the Bonanza looked awfully familiar, especially their exhausts and portals for cameras underneath the aircraft. We shot a picture of them and sent them to a friend of ours back home. Sure enough, both of those planes are also based at KRHV. They belong to Aperture Aviation. We see those planes all the time back home. What an awesome coincidence to have three planes based on Reid-Hillview in San Jose, CA end up side by side on the tarmac in Centennial, CO.
Co to CA

Jeff noted the fuel wasn't filled ALL the way to the top like we usually like to when we want FULL tanks. So I subtracted one gallon from each tank to start my fuel log as a rough estimate of the fuel we actually had available. We added more oil to the engine (another two quarts), cleaned the wind screen, tested our oxygen system and showed our daughter, Katie, how to use the cannula and turn on and monitor the oxygen tank. Her job would be to monitor the tank on a regular basis. We all had our oxygen supplies ready to go when we took off. We knew we would need them soon.

Off we go!
We got clearance to taxi to run up, do the run up and then take off. We were only 25 minutes later than I wanted to take off. Not too bad. After we took off Jeff said he saw my Dad and Stepmom waving from a spot near the end of the runway. I'm glad they got to see us go.

We got cleared to turn southwest almost immediately and started our climb up to 14,500 feet. We needed that altitude to clear the Rocky Mountains we were planning to cross. We took off early in order to get smooth air over the mountains before the thermals started up. That is what we got .. smooth air (almost perfectly smooth) and beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains and valleys. Very soon we were climbing through 12,500 feet. Katie turned on the oxygen system and we all set the oxygen flow for 12.5 and then 15 when we got to our cruise altitude of 14,500 feet. Katie complained of a headache so we set her flow a bit higher. Later she clarified that she had the headache before we took off.
From CO to CA
As we climbed over the mountain peaks I got that small feeling of unease that I usually get when flying over mountains (small or large). The feeling of where would we put the plane down around *here* if we had an issue? I suppose you just have to hope the engine doesn't choose that particular spot to fail sometimes. However, we stacked the odds in our favor, no winds, great visibility, flying high enough to clear the peaks and get a small glide in before a forced landing if need be. Sometimes its just a risk you take when you fly.

When time came for the first tank change, we weren't done flying over the Rockies but we were over a beautiful green valley with a lot of flat land. We decided this was the perfect spot for a forced landing if necessary. Of course, no problems occurred, the engine hummed smoothly along with the fuel flowing right at 12 gph. We spotted two hot air balloons taking off in the morning air.

We picked up flight following very soon after take off from Centennial so we could have some extra eyes watching us over the mountains. The controller let us know shortly after we got over the higher peaks that he was likely to lose contact with us when we got further into the mountains. He pre-approved a frequency change and VFR squawk and gave us the best frequency to pick up when we neared the Dove Creek VOR. We were able to maintain radio contact him much further than expected but eventually he lost radar contact and we were on our own for a while.

We passed over the town and airport of Gunnison and Gunnison Canyon. I really liked the view of the very green valley and the river winding through drier terrain. This is another spot I've driven in the long ago past. If you get to know me, you'll learn I've driven most of the USA at one point or another in my younger life. I have to admit, flying it in a small plane is much more fun! Gunnison Canyon is one of those little known but beautiful places in the American Southwest.

From CO to CA

When we were over the Dove Creek VOR we descended to 12,500 and continued our cruise. We weren't able to raise ATC on the frequency we had, nor on the frequency for Departure control for Gunnison. I figured it was because we were relatively "low" to the ground at 12.5 in the Rocky Mountains. So we left the radio on the frequency we were told to try and monitored the conversations going on.

As we went Katie used a spare chart we had and followed our route by looking at land marks out the window (her idea, not mine). She did really well. She also monitored the oxygen level in the oxygen bottle and let us know when it started to get low.

High Points
For me the high point of the trip from Centennial to Kingman was flying over Monument Valley in AZ. We hadn't consciously planned to fly over that valley. Originally we were going to fly to the Grand Canyon and do the VFR (non tour) route over the canyon for an hour. The route requires you to fly more than a mile AGL. The night before we left we were both very ready to get home so we decided not to fly the Grand Canyon route. We re-routed more direct to Kingman from Colorado which saved us about an hour of flying. That coincidentally took us over Monument Valley.

I was flying the plane as Jeff rested a bit, we were down to 12,500 feet and cruising through smooth air. I was holding my heading using a rocky outcrop in the far distance as a reference. As we got closer and closer to the outcrop we saw more canyons and mesas and finally a whole series of rocky features sticking out of the desert floor. There was one in particular that looked like it could have been a very large telephone pole. I was starting to wonder where we were.. about that time we overheard another plane using flight following talk about flying over Monument Valley. That rung a bell! I double checked the chart and yep, that's where we were. These are some of the pictures we shot.
From CO to CA
For some reason I thought our CFI, Scott, would have particularly enjoyed this part of the flight.. perhaps because it was hot :) In any case, I want to go back there with a slow plane and take off from an airstrip nearby maybe from Grand Canyon or Kayenta right after sunrise and get some really good pictures of the area. It was beautiful.

Grand Canyon Far Away
We picked up Flight Following again over Kayenta Airport. The controller was expecting us over Dove Creek VOR. We let him know we tried to raise him without success. Not a big deal, we were back under the helpful eyes of the ATC. Kayenta was near the "border" between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, soon after passing Kayenta we were nearing the border of the Grand Canyon airspace. Jeff tried talking ATC into letting us nick the corner of the airspace to get a little closer to the canyon but they said no. :)

I like this shot of the land between the Grand Canyon (that's the pink gash in the plateau in the distance) and the canyon below us. Transitions in the land are fascinating to me.

From CO to CA

Jeff and I agreed to come back to the canyon and see it from the ground some time. I've been to the Grand Canyon before, but Jeff had not. It is an amazing place to see.

Get your Kicks on Route 66! We approached Kingman Airport (KIGM) from the northeast after cancel Flight Following and starting our descent. It got bumpy then, but not the worst we'd experienced. The winds were strong and gusty in Kingman's valley so Jeff made sure to add some gust factor to his landing airspeed. As we approached we saw many many regional jets and larger jets stored at this airport. Continental, DHL and other airlines seemed to use the airport for long term storage. At least in the desert hailstorms are unlikely to come in and damage the planes parked there.
From CO to CA
Jeff did another very smooth landing in spite of the winds and we taxied over to transient parking and immediately went in search of the Kingman Airport Cafe for food. It was Sunday and as a result the local FBO, Air'zona, was closed. Luckily for us, the cafe was open! After gulping down what seemed like gallons of soda and water and inhaling some food, we were ready to leave. Before we left we wandered about the cafe for a bit. They had all kinds of photos of different planes, old and new. They were very cool to see.

I did another pit stop and Jeff and Katie went out to restart the plane and taxi it to the fuel pumps. By the time I came out to the ramp, Jeff and Katie were cruising by on the way to the pumps. Jeff had refined his hot start technique for the plane to the point he was able to start it on the first try now. He taxied up to the pumps, shut down and refueled the plane. He checked the oil again and once again it was down 2 quarts. This time we added one quart to the engine. We wanted to see if it drained another 2 quarts or just 1. Was the oil leaking a function of time or a function of oil level in the engine. This was our test.

With the windshield cleaned and the plane check complete we were ready to go on our last leg... our next landing should be at home.

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