Tuesday, June 11, 2013

DSWT Day 5 - Headed West - SEZ > VNY

Departing Sedona in the morning light

Departing Sedona

After a day and a half relaxing and exploring a bit of Sedona I felt recharged and ready for my next flight. I expected this leg to be relatively boring as I planned to fly and actual IFR flight plan on a single airway from 30 miles off Sedona to approximately the same distance away from Van Nuys airport. Van Nuys, in the LA basin, is subject to the regular low clouds and fog of the "June Gloom". That fact combined with the fact that I wanted my first solo flight into the LA airspace to be as uncomplicated as possible contributed to my decision to file and fly IFR. I know it is strange to think of filing and flying IFR as simple or uncomplicated, but for me, IFR flying makes flying into unfamiliar airspace much easier to do.  I've heard many other instrument rated pilots say the same thing. We know, if we are flying instrument, that we always be pointed at the airport at the end of an approach correctly flown.

Before departing I saw the Cessna Citation Jet that was parked on the ramp was getting ready to go. I saw one of the pilots walking towards the terminal building, I intercepted him and walked with him to the building as I wanted to know what the take off and landing distance at this DA was for that jet. He told me landing distance was 3000' in the jet which meant he landed it on the numbers and hard when he came in to Sedona, he could not have landed long like I did safely. In more chatting I mentioned I had come from Bryce Canyon. That was where he was headed and he had questions about the airport there. It was cool to exchange info with another pilot. 

The winds favored runway 3 for take off that morning. Runway 3 has a slightly uphill slant to it and has the red rocks and plateau off the departure end. I knew I had plenty of runway and climb capabilities as the density altitude was around 6000' for my take off. This time I did something different though, I started up as normal but in run up I leaned the engine the engine again for best power as suggested by my husband instead of leaving the mixture at the setting I knew worked for the altitude plus a bit more fuel for cooling. He had mentioned doing this procedure a couple times and I figured I would try it out.

The plane took off strong and I turned southwest and began my climb to 10,000 feet, my filed cruise altitude for the IFR plan. I planned on picking up my clearance over the Drake VOR near the Prescott airport, the start of the airway I was going to fly. On the climb out I admired the red rocks below in the slant of the early morning sun. I am not a morning person, but I was enjoying the way the morning light shown across the desert around me. My eyes scanned the engine instruments automatically, making sure everything was in the green.

California / Nevada border
Everything was in the green but I saw the oil temperature was higher than normal and rising. That caught my attention quick! Oil pressure was normal, one engine temp gauge showed normal but the EGT gauge was showing higher than normal, much higher. The engine sounded fine but this was not going to be good if the trend continued. I started to run through my mental list of common problems and fixes. Things are getting hot, they need to be cooled. Fix that, then figure out why. I heard the electronic engine monitor beeping at me quietly through my noise cancelling headset. The number 1 cylinder readout was flashing and the display flashed "CHT". In a flash I remembered I leaned the mixture before take off more than I normally would. I immediately pushed the mixture to the setting I knew was good for about 5000 feet altitude. Not too rich and not too lean. The engine monitor stopped flashing and beeping, the cylinder head temp went down quickly, EGTs when down across the board and the oil temperature started to slowly return to normal.

I gulped, glad that I had developed that scan of engine instruments regularly as a habit. The scan combined with my knowledge of what "normal" looked like for this plane at altitude, climbing, and in cruise helped me quickly identify the signs of a problem. The fact that I took the time to read the engine monitor's manual over my brief rest helped as well. I knew what it was trying to tell me and I was able to correct the problem quickly. I hoped I hadn't done any damage to the engine. The engine continued to run strong as I leveled off at 10,000 feet and contacted Albuquerque Center to pick up my IFR clearance.

Enroute Across the Desert

After a brief delay from ATC who had to launch another plane from Prescott on an instrument flight plan I got my clearance which was essentially as filed. I had my flight plan already set in the GPS so I turned on the autopilot's GPS heading hold and settled in for the long flight, keeping one eye on the engine gauges and one eye out for potential emergency landing spots in case the engine lost power for any reason.

Lava flows and sand
I had a decent tail wind pushing me along on my west bound route. This was an unusual but pleasant situation. The air was smooth most of the time with the exception of immediately above and after the mountain ridges the airway took me across. I knew to expect updrafts and then turbulence as I crossed the mountains with the wind behind me. There was also a section of air nowhere near the mountains that gave me about 5 minutes of turbulence for no apparent reason. Surprisingly I heard two other planes, jets flying in the flight levels reporting turbulence at the same time. I wondered where they were. I went ahead and let ATC know what I experienced too. Maybe that information combined with thousands or millions of other PIREPS collected over the years would help improve forecast accuracy.

Miles of desert passed by below my wings as I made a game of spotting airports and trying to identify them from my memory of the charts and the terrain of the area then verifying my guesses with the GPS. Every mountain ridge I crossed seemed to be very high but they were all at least 2000' below my cruise altitude. I was relaxed and not bored. The ATC frequency was mostly quiet except for an occasional call out of other IFR traffic going the opposite direction. I wondered if those pilots were cursing the same winds that I was enjoying.

Approach to Van Nuys

ATC contacted me with a re-route that added a STAR to my clearance. I had already studied that particular STAR as it was the one that made the most sense from the direction I was arriving so it was easy for me to add that to my plan. I started to slow the plane as I waited for an initial descent. The airport was at 800' my cruise altitude was 10,000' I had a long way to go down. They weren't giving me a go down, so I started a slow down instead.

I was cleared to 8,000' and cruised at that altitude for a while over the Palmdale / Lancaster area. At one point I spotted a military plane almost directly below me. What a unique view of an airplane! ATC contacted me and cleared me for the STAR procedure. A minute later they contacted me again and asked me to confirm I was a /G (GPS) plane. I confirmed I was and they cleared me direct to the initial approach fix for the GPS approach. They still kept me high though, so I slowed down and pulled back power even more. I could see the bank of low clouds over the LA basin from my position over the desert. I wondered if I would end up flying an approach in actual or not. I was asked to slow down 15 knots to allow a jet finish his extended downwind at Van Nuys. Me! Slow down for a jet... that was a first! I was cleared to descend to 6000'.

On the approach to Van Nuys Airport
I was finally cleared to descend to 4000' and cleared for the approach. I descended as fast as I could as slow as I could. I had 3000' of altitude to lose and less than 5 minutes to do it in at my current ground speed. This was going to be interesting. I could see the airport clearly and I was past the final approach fix, time to "go visual" and land. I already had 10 degrees of flaps in when I slowed down for the jet. I added another 10 degrees of flaps and did a forward slip. I slipped the plane for all I worth and had about 1500 foot per minute descent going. Not a stabilized approach by any means, but a heck of a lot of fun! I finally got an an altitude that I allowed me a normal landing on the famous 16 Right runway at Van Nuys Airport.

I landed and requested taxi to Bob Hoover Jet Center which I was told would be a good FBO to park at for the night and get fuel. This airport was extremely busy. A combination of small and large biz jets and piston aircraft were all over the place with construction equipment busy tearing up the approach end of 16R. For example, as I was taxiing my route was blocked by a large jet. I waited patiently, figuring this time on the ground was costing him much more than it cost me. Ground control suggested I taxi around the jet because he was holding for an instrument release but I told them I wasn't sure my wing tips would clear the winglets on the jet. Ground had the jet move over so I could get by.. thus for the first time in my life I got to taxi through jet exhaust and feel what that felt like (I was ready for it). Finally I taxied to the FBO and shut down. The lineman handed me a bottle of ice cold water before I even got out of the plane. The FBO had fresh cookies and fruit, leather couches to relax on and a big screen TV.  Yep, I was in Los Angeles area now. Goodbye desert. Hello Southern California. 

Time with a Friend

I met up with a friend of mine, Rick, in Van Nuys. He was doing his flight training in Van Nuys and lived near by. He talked me into flying there to land on 16 Right. (OK, he didn't have to work too hard to get me to land there at all!) He also offered me company and a place to stay for the night. After 5 days alone it was nice to spend time with a friend. We ate lunch at a country club overlooking the valley and talked long about flying and our flight training follies, struggles and fun. Then we went by his house and I worked on my flight planning for the next day while he visited his sick dog. He came back home and I had instrument plates and low altitude enroute charts scattered all around me. I expected I would have to take off into the clouds at Van Nuys and descend through the clouds at Montgomery Field (MYF) in San Diego so I was studying them and preparing for the routing Rick's CFI told me to expect. Rick laughed and teased me for so much work for an hour flight. It was a great way to top off a great day.

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