Monday, June 10, 2013

DSWT Day 3 - Direct Sedona - BCE > SEZ

Looking back at the edges of Bryce Canyon.

Departing Bryce Canyon

I planned my flight to Sedona to take off quite early in order to be on the ground before the gusty winds and heat started up at that airport and before it got too warm or gusty at my departure. Utah is one hour ahead of Arizona so I got to "sleep in" til 6AM and was at the airport by 7. That gave me three hours to make it to Sedona by 9 Sedona time (1600 Zulu) which was my target. The Mooney and two Skylanes were parked on the ramp by my plane. It seemed those pilots weren't leaving that day or didn't have the same planning requirements I'd set for myself.  I chose not to pick up any additional fuel. I had plenty of fuel for the 2.5 hour flight to Sedona plus some more in case I needed to land elsewhere if the winds there were too strong, runway closed or any other issues appeared when I got there.

Ribbons of land in the distance.
When I got my weather briefing in the morning I asked the briefer if there were any issues with the ATC radar this time. I really wanted to be able to get Flight Following and, to know I wouldn't be able to get it before I left. The briefer was puzzled by my question but he said radar was fine. Winds were predicted to be light at my predicted arrival in Sedona and skies clear. "Check density altitude" he mentioned.  I chuckled. I had just listened to the density altitude information for Bryce Canyon, my departure airport. It was 9100 feet. This would be the highest density altitude I've ever started a plane and taken off in. "Check density altitude" indeed.

In preflight I saw the plane was almost a quart low on oil so I added one quart and finished my preflight. I also set up my GoPro camera to capture video of the landscape I'd be flying over. This was some of the most impressive landscape I've seen in a long time and it needed to be captured in flight. I charged the camera the night before so it should last the entire flight.

I leaned the plane for altitude and it started up like a champ. In run up I noticed the prop wasn't very responsive the first time I cycled it. I cycled the prop three more times to get the oil moving. I wondered if that was due to density altitude or cold oil from the low temperatures the night before. I ran the engine a bit longer in run up to get oil temperatures up a bit more before take off. Just to be safe.

A peek into edges of the Grand Canyon again and the
Little Colorado River
I turned on the camera, announced my intentions and took the runway for my departure. I lined up at the very far end of the 7000+ foot runway, stood on the brakes and applied full power smoothly. Not to attempt a short field take off, but to make sure I had a short ground roll as possible. Not required for this runway I was sure, but I thought it was good practice. I smoothly took my feet off the brakes transitioned to the rudders and I was rolling down the runway. I watched the runway remaining signs as they went by. After almost 2000 feet the plane wanted to take off, so I let it. Out of ground effect I pitched carefully for Vy and 20791 and I flew into the early morning sky. The climb rate was good, around 400 feet per minute in spite of the high density altitude. This was one time I was glad I was flying light and alone, I like plenty of safety margin and I felt I had it.

Enroute to Sedona

Sand dunes and plateaus.
I circled over the runway once to get some additional altitude before heading south over Bryce Canyon proper. The canyon was beautiful and I turned the camera to get a better view. I headed towards Page Airport as my first way point and location I intended to pick up flight following. The camera was pointed out the right window to capture views of Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. I shot other pictures with my hand held camera. The air was smooth and cool and the high desert was beautiful in the slanting early morning sunlight.

I had originally wanted to fly over the Grand Canyon proper but when I did my flight plan for this leg the night before I decided I'd rather go as directly as possible without the efforts of navigating the appropriate corridors over the Grand Canyon alone. I was very motivated to get to Sedona quickly and get some rest! Once I got flight following I checked on the status of the Sunny MOA south of Page and when I found that was cold I flew "direct" through it towards Flagstaff. My GoPro was pointed the right direction to capture some peeks at the Grand Canyon and I figured that was good enough for me.

I love the transitions in this landscape.
After I got past the canyon and the landscape became less impressive I reached over to turn off the camera. When I hit the button the camera beeped and a red LED started blinking. It was then I realized I had turned on the camera before take off, but most likely hadn't recorded a minute of video. The camera battery was showing low charge too! I growled at the camera a bit and turned it back off. I hoped it would work for me on approach to Sedona now that I knew what "on" looked like. I resolved, next time I go fly over beautiful landscapes, I should bring a passenger to help manage the cameras and take pictures! 

I sighed and continued my flight. Aside from the first day this flight didn't have to be solo, but I was enjoying flying alone over my desert. This area, while desolate and just as empty, if not more so, than the Utah landscape that had me so disturbed the day before was very comfortable to me. In part, I think, because of my long time living in deserts just like this, in part because I had flown over this region a couple years before with my husband and, in part I'm sure, because I had flight following this time. The watchful eye and usually friendly voices of ATC, avoided by some pilots who don't like "big brother" or are not comfortable communicating with ATC, have long been part of my regular flying routine.  I kept up my scan of the instruments, especially the engine related instruments as I flew. The flight to Bryce burned into my brain how important it was to monitor instruments like oil temp and pressure, EGT and cylinder head temps, etc. I knew now, what "normal" looked like and watching those gauges continue to show "normal" was a pleasing activity.

Approaching Sedona

The San Francisco Peaks and old volcanic craters.
I talked to Denver Center for a while and they handed me off to Albuquerque Center. I went to high school in Albuquerque so I'm always somewhat amused when I talk to Albuquerque center as I feel an admittedly silly connection to the people operating the center there.

It was a very short climb to cruise altitude from Bryce Canyon but it would be a longer descent to the approx 5000' high runway in Sedona, first I had to get past the San Francisco peaks between me and the Flagstaff / Sedona area. I told ATC I was starting my descent and 5 minutes later ATC asked me if I was familiar with the high terrain between myself and Flagstaff. I told them I was well aware and planning to pass the peaks to the east. I found that amusing too, how could I possibly miss these large, tree covered peaks rising from the desert below? But I knew ATC can't see what we see.

Fly around these rock formations for
awhile and become enchanted.
As I descended near the San Francisco peaks and the extinct volcano craters below the air got more turbulent, just as I expected it would. I was getting more used to this type of turbulence, a combination between air moving over the mountains and the heating from the land. My plane rode the bumps as smoothly as possible and it became part of the experience.

I got the weather for Sedona airport and heard the winds were from the south and favored 21. If the winds were favoring runway 3 I was going to approach the airport between two wilderness areas and end up in the Sedona area on the downwind for runway 3. However, with the winds favoring 21 I decided to fly around the wilderness areas to the south east and approach on a more standard 45 degree entry for 21. I found a highway that marked the boundary of the wilderness area and flew away from the plateau the San Francisco peaks sat on and down into the Sedona valley. 

Landing in Sedona

SEZ aka USS Sedona sitting on Airport Mesa,
high over the surrounding town.
I turned the camera on again, ensuring the red LED was blinking this time. I hoped to get as much of this approach as possible.  The winds in the Sedona valley weren't as smooth as on the plateau above. As I finished my descent into the valley and turned towards the Sedona airport I spotted my alternate airport, Cottonwood, in the near distance. My turn completed and I caught my breath, red rocks jutted up from the valley, some seeming to tower 1000 feet or more. I caught sight of the airport itself, it wasn't hard to spot, it was on a mesa that rose 600 feet over the valley floor below. On the approach end for 21 there was another hill rising to almost the same height before the ground dropped and rose again to the edge of the mesa.

I leveled off at pattern altitude and announced my intentions. Pattern altitude was 1200 feet over the airport elevation, unusually high for me. That, combined with the runway's location over the ground made for a very interesting sight picture. To add to the strangeness, when I turned downwind I was flying straight towards more red rocks looking like they were right on the downwind for runway 21. Well, I told myself, don't hit those... just fly the patten and don't do anything silly with all of this strangeness.

I knew from a friend that had landed here before that the winds could create dangerous downdrafts on the end of 21 if they were strong enough. The winds were only 9-10 knots on my approach but I chose to fly a high approach and land a little (not a lot) long to mitigate that problem. When I turned final I was higher than I wanted to be, probably due to the higher pattern altitude. I knew, from experience, I could get the 182 down quick if I had to by underpowering it, so that's what I did... I put in the last 10 degrees of flaps, reduced power even more and, carefully monitoring airspeed, descended to the runway quickly. I rounded out and landed, slightly unaligned so I had to quickly get the plane back straight on the roll out. I turns out I did capture video of my approach to Sedona Airport... here it is.

I taxied clear of the runway and asked on Unicom where transient was then taxied to transient and shut down the plane. When I got out I found a large patch of fresh oil on the ground. I couldn't see any sign it came from my plane but to make sure I caught any oil drips from my plane I pulled it to another, oil free, parking spot. I did my normal post flight walk around just to make sure the plane was OK. This airport had good services, so if I did find a problem I would be able to get it fixed there. Then I took out the ladder and cleaned off the windscreen. This post flight cleaning had become another habit of mine, to ensure any bugs were cleaned off before the desert sun could bake them onto the windscreen. I also felt like I was taking care of my plane, sorta like cowboys used to take care of their horses first at the end of a long day. If I take care of the plane, the plane will take care of me.

N20791 enjoying a view of Cathedral Rock
I put up the car sunscreen I'd been using the last few days to keep the interior and equipment in the plane cool and then walked over to the restaurant on the field for breakfast. It was only 9AM and I was done flying for the next day and a half. I was looking forward to relaxing a bit in one of my favorite spots in the desert southwest.

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