Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CO to CA - Kingman to San Jose and Home

Homesick Angel
When we landed at Kingman Jeff commented that the plane would take off like a homesick angel with the winds the way they were. Little did he know ... After a brief run up we were on the runway and ready to take off. The runway was almost 7000 feet long, density altitude 6,800 feet and the plane was right at max gross weight with all of the fuel we put in. Jeff wanted me to watch how many feet it actually took to take off and the compare it against the performance charts.. just for fun. (Yes, we have an odd idea of "fun" sometimes). The windsock was showing at least 15knot wind straight down the runway. ASOS reported winds approx 18 gusting to 28.

Pre-takeoff checklist complete. Jeff advances the throttle to full (and does whatever other magic is required on a complex airplane with adjustable prop) and we head into the strong wind. I'm watching the "feet remaining" signs go by, we get past the first and halfway to the second and suddenly we are in the air! I didn't think we would be off the ground in 1500 feet. We just encountered a very strong gust. Jeff immediately pointed the nose of the plane down to keep it in ground effect. We stayed just off the runway until we got up to Vy speed (still over the runway) then Jeff pitched for the climb and retracted the landing gear. Jeff turned the early takeoff into a soft field takeoff and used ground effect to get us up to a safe speed before attempting to climb away from the runway. That is exactly what I would have done in the same situation having been practicing soft field takeoffs over and over for my checkride. Now I got to see a practical application of the technique.

With the homesick angel safely in the air at a safe airspeed we climbed away from Kingman and turned our nose to the west and home.

The Return
After we crossed the border between Arizona and Nevada over Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport we picked up flight following and headed west at 10,500 feet to stay in the smoother air. We had a very brief time over Nevada before we were over California for good. I have to admit I didn't take too many pictures for this part. For one thing, this was the same route we flew out. For the second thing, we had a serious case of 'get there itis' and we all just wanted to get home. But that didn't keep us from enjoying the flight.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the weather was perfect for flying. LA Center ATC was very busy with planes flying into and out of LA airspace and other portions of Southern California. We didn't get many traffic warnings but we enjoyed listening to the conversations of other pilots. At one point there was another plane with a tail number ending in "MM" (or "Mike Mike") talking to ATC. They needed to get fuel and weren't sure the airport they wanted to land at would have fuel. So they asked ATC to check. The controller was very cool about it and called the airport to make sure they had fuel for Mike Mike. The airport did have fuel and crisis was averted. Mike Mike was grateful. Jeff joked "Mike Mike needs Fuel Fuel!" I laughed too.. its OK to laugh when no crisis happens. But it made me think its not too hard to take off not knowing if the fuel pumps where you were going were going to be on or not. We did check, but that's one of the simple things you can forget to do that can end up getting you into trouble.

We were listening to the XM radio on the Garmin as we flew over the So Cal desert. Song after favorite song was coming down from above as we flew. Many of the songs were straight off of my "flying mix" that I keep in my car. I kept trying to sing and cutting off the music. Finally Jeff moved the microphone of my headset out of the way so I could sing and not bug anyone. The only problem was, the frequency we were on for flight following was very busy so every time we got to a great part of a song, someone would start talking and no more song! (I suffer so!)

Jeff and I took turns at the controls and simply enjoyed flying. The air was very smooth at 10,500 feet and our bodies that had just spent a week over 9,500 feet in the Colorado mountains had no problem getting the required oxygen from the air. Katie was very comfortable in the back of the plane and worked on flash cards to study the Japanese alphabet. I kept track of the fuel and let Jeff know when we needed to switch tanks. Jeff managed the mixture and prop "by the numbers" and it worked perfectly.

The MOAs we avoided on the way out of CA were cold for Sunday so we turned a more direct route up through the central valley towards home. We passed over Bakersfield and cut a diagonal route direct for Hollister, only 30 miles from home. Jeff quizzed me on how far out we should start our descent in this plane (its only twice as fast as the type of plane I fly). I worked it out in my head told Jeff approx 60 miles out. Which meant we'd be half way through our descent at Hollister.... we needed to do that because we were faster and higher than I've ever been in a 172. About this time I reminded both of us that we aren't done flying until the plane is tied down in the shelter. This would be the time we'd be likely to screw up... when we're almost home.

We were handed off from LA Center to Bakersfield Approach to Lemore Approach to Oakland Center and finally Norcal Approach! I was so happy to hear Norcal and the Salinas altimeter. Those were the sounds of home. We started our VFR descent and canceled flight following. We were rapidly approaching Reid-Hillview. Jeff had me fly the descent for a while.. for some reason I could hold 400fpm just fine but 500fpm eluded me. Once we got close to Hollister Jeff took the controls and the radio and got down to the business of getting us landed.

Landing at Home
We were high enough we could hear RHV tower loud and clear from over Hollister. We heard plane after plane call in from over Calaveras (a common reporting point when coming in from the northeast). We heard a Citabria in the pattern and the tower controller calling in the changing wind conditions for the Citabria. Then we heard a Bonanza call in over Calaveras... he was told to fly a "wide downwind" because he was number 2 behind the Citabria to land. That made me think about my bad habit approaching too fast behind other planes... in a C172! if this guy in a Bonanza can keep from running over a Citabria, I damn well should be able to control my airspeed in a Cessna to avoid doing the same thing. I kept an eye on the interaction between the Bonanza and Citabria to see if I could learn something there.

We were over UTC (the south approach reporting point) and Jeff radioed we were inbound over Calveras. I hissed "UTC!" and he quickly corrected. I knew why he did that, everyone else was saying Calaveras, its easy to get that stuck in your brain. Not to mention most of flights in the Bonanza after his sign off came in over Calaveras. No harm, no foul... we continued on in. Eventually we were cleared to land 31L. Jeff repeated back "cleared to land 37". The controller corrected him and he repeated back correctly. Then he looked at me and said, "what did I say?" I said "37!?" We didn't know where THAT came from.

Anyway... it was windy but not too bad, Jeff managed his approach and talked through his checklists (which made me feel better). The landing was not bad, but it wasn't as good as all of the other ones on the trip. That didn't surprise me at all, I think its common for people to let their guard down a little when they get close to home. In any case, we landed and were held short of 31R for the other Bonanza to land. I thought it was cool for two Bonanza's to be there at the same time, in spite of the fact that the other Bananza wasn't a v-tail like ours. Then we crossed the runway and headed for the shelter.

We finally shut down the engine and piled out of the plane... I patted the roof of the cabin fondly as I stood on the wing and realized that I thought of her as a girl now. I told Jeff and he said that's because I've learned to like the plane. Perhaps I have :) I certainly enjoyed the speed and the capability of the plane and I even started liking flying her. I'm not Bonanza crazy yet .. that probably won't come until/unless I learn how to fly her from the left seat. But yeah, I like that plane. What's not to like in a beast that carries you for almost 20 hours across states and mountains and deserts and plains without a single complaint?

Post Flight
Jeff checked the oil and we were down to the 8 qt level again. It seems the plane will lose oil until it gets to 8qts and then stop. So Jeff added that info to the squawk list. We also squawked other small things that were "wrong" with the plane. All of which were fixed the next day.

Marriage Intact
Our CFI, who knows both of us rather well by now, halfway joked that he was wondering if our marriage would survive the trip intact. Jeff and I have very different styles, especially around planning. I halfway agreed, so did Jeff. That aspect of the flight went surprisingly well. We clashed a little bit around some aspects of planning. For one thing I didn't see Jeff weighing bags to figure out weight and balance and that bothered me. Finally he relented and let me weigh our bags, just to find out Jeff really WAS able to figure out the weight of each bag just by looking at it or holding it. He was planning on checking anyway, he just didn't tell me about it. I made sure to let him manage the weather and weather briefings, which was VERY hard for me to do, but I did it and it worked.

In the air we worked very well together... I handled the radio and the fuel as planned and Jeff even said he enjoyed having me there with the fuel. He said it was cool to have "instant facts" available because I was in the plane. We took turns flying to keep fatigue to a minimum and we kept an eye on each others flying and pointed out if we started to go off course or started turning unconsciously when messing with equipment in the cockpit and, of course, four (or six) eyes looking for traffic is always better than two. Even Katie pitched in by managing and monitoring the oxygen supply on the way home.

In the end, what is the cost of this little trip? Thousands of $ in training for Jeff to get his PPL. Thousands in flight training for me. Another very large chunk of change for Jeff to get his sign off in the Bonanza. 20.3 hours hobbs rental time - not even going there. An airborne road trip to visit with family from all over the country and an airborne road trip home with a whole family having fun... priceless.
From CO to CA

This photo makes me smile, it sums up for me the best part of the flight.. that's me and my family up there, all three of us very happy. All three of us working together for a successful flight and a shared experience that so few experience. Something special happens up there, free from the surly bonds of earth. This is why we fly!

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