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2013 Q4 Newsletter

THE COMMUNITY OF FLYING
Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC sblonstein@wvfc.org

Communications

I would like to take this forum to let you know of some changes regarding club communications.  Until recently the club has issued the following communications throughout the year:

1)     A monthly bulletin with financial, fleet, and operational updates.

2)     A monthly newsletter with articles on safety, flying techniques, and club news

3)     A monthly events letter with details on upcoming events

4)     A quarterly Fleet News dedicated to updates on fleet additions and subtractions.

5)     Occasional emails dedicated to special upcoming events.

 

This equates to a minimum of 40 emails a year plus any special ones.

The team looked at the effectiveness of each of the above items and decided to make some consolidations to reduce the total number of communications a member receives, and to also reduce the time club staff spends on producing the various communication pieces.  We believe the saved time can be better spent on other projects that can benefit the club in different ways.  As a result, the communications will now be as follows:

1)     The monthly bulletin, as before, with upcoming events for the month included in a new section of the bulletin.

2)     The newsletter will now be issued quarterly.  It will be issued approximately half way through the quarter.

3)     The events letter will be eliminated and combined with the bulletin in #1

4)     The quarterly Fleet News will continue as is.

5)     There will continue to be emails dedicated to special upcoming events.

This reduces the number of emails to 20 per year, or a 50% reduction.

We do not anticipate any reduction in news or information being disseminated to the membership and hope that the “open rates” on these emails actually increase as a result of these changes.  If you have any additional thoughts on these changes, then please feel free to let me know at gm@wvfc.org.

Fly Safe


FROM THE DESK OF THE CHIEF

Jesse Gamueda, Chief Pilot WVFC jesse@wvfc.org

Always have an out!

This may have been the best advice that I’ve ever gotten from…. Numerous great mentors!

I remember beginning to learn to fly when I was 15 during an intro, thinking that the watching the pilot flying this COOL Cessna 152 was similar to watching the super bowl!  I was amazed.  Then from there the concepts introduced to me were profound.  But over the years, I think that the one that has stayed with me the most and that I’ve heard from great instructors over various professions was this; “Always have an out”.  As I have gotten older I realized this phrase was repeated by the firefighters that I looked up to, the police officers I trusted, the special operations teams that trained me, but probably the most important place where it’s not stated much is in aviation!

I first learned this phrase as an 18 year police cadet.  It seemed foreign to me for such professionals to worry about anything.  To think that someone with a badge and gun could be stopped from doing their duty was beyond me.  Same thing as a firefighter, my instructors would say, don’t let the fire trap you!  Always have an out.  Amazing!  To think that a firefighter could be trapped by smoke or fire seemed imaginary.  And then when I heard it as a private pilot, I was shocked. My instructor - an ex-army helicopter silver star recipient said this and I was almost floored.  He said it almost as if it was gospel. And I definitely believed this man to be more than a mere mortal.  Perhaps not a god, but a demigod, just maybe! 

What does this mean to have an out? From day one as a private pilot we are taught a lot of scenarios that introduce us to numerous dangers that wait if we make a mistake or if the airplane has an unforeseen issue.  Statistics prove that over 70% of the time it’s pilot error.

Just because you have an engine failure isn’t the end of the world, it’s really not that big a deal if you have an out.  It merely means that you are going to take action to get the aircraft down without power. Without missing a beat and depending on your instructor, you are thinking…aviate, navigate, communicate, or – airspeed, best landing spot, checklist. You get the idea.  To always have an out is simple - ALWAYS believe in your soul that something can go wrong but when it does, you are ready immediately to deal with it.

Engine failure at 100 feet, you are landing straight ahead, 45 degrees left or right and that’s it.  You don’t start screaming and asking forgiveness for texting your naughty parts to someone you shouldn’t have.  You simply think ok, that’s an engine failure, I checked the 3 spots available to me and I commence to land.  Here is another example; you are toying with the idea of making it back to KSQL or KPAO without fueling because you’ve done it a dozen times before, and then even though the fuel gauges are indicating zero, you’ve been told your whole aviation career that those gauges are always wrong. So you attempt it and this time the gauges were right.  Well what do you do?  You don’t think about how embarrassing it’s going to be to land off airport and be ridiculed by your friends, the chief pilot or the worst of all…the media.  You establish best glide, find a suitable place to land and let someone know your location and you should be able to land not only without power or fuel, but hopefully without too much damage to your pride or your aircraft.

I write this article a little tongue in cheek hoping that everyone takes it seriously.  The fact of the matter is this; in my whole career I’ve been party to some pretty AMAZING and truly remarkable operations that have gone awry, yet we didn’t scream and cry and jump ship.  We merely engaged our back-up plan or our never planned at all scenario and relied on our training and had an out.  More often than not as aviators we never plan on those things that just might bite us in the tail.  But if you are prepared it doesn’t matter because we’ll have an out. You never quit trying to stay alive and flying that aircraft until it comes to a complete stop without any more momentum.

Although I did not site more examples, I believe that the point I am trying to make in a short monthly article is to always be in this state of mind!  Always be conscious of what could go wrong.  I am not saying that you need to become a doomsday prepper.  I am saying that while enjoying your flight from point A to point B, in the back of your head, you are thinking – that’s a nice landing spot.  Oh yeah, the fire extinguisher is under my seat.  Oh I ate too many fries at the greasy spoon! 

In closing I hope that this article finds you well and that I didn’t just amuse myself in the office for the last hour!


OWNER'S CORNER
Lloyd Stephens, Aircraft Owner and Board Member WVFC lgs@qnet.com

  

Of Batteries and Starters

A few weeks ago my Archer, N3576J, had a problem with starting the engine.  That has been fixed now (it turned out that the primer was only injecting fuel into one of the three cylinders it was supposed to be feeding), but this problem brought up a discussion with maintenance about the need to protect starters and batteries.  One of the things that happened with my plane was that a member ran the battery down trying to start the engine.  He returned the book with a note that he was unable to start the engine, but did not mention that the battery had been run down by his attempts to do so.  The next person scheduled to fly it, came out on Saturday morning and found that the battery was completely dead.  The plane was then grounded for the weekend until the battery could be recharged on Monday.  When I talked to maintenance about this, they told me that there were five planes grounded over the weekend because of dead batteries, and this seems to be an ongoing problem.  As club members, we need to be more careful not to run down the aircraft batteries when we are preflighting and starting the engines.

When you preflight, you should not turn on all of the electric equipment (radios, lights, pitot heat, etc.) and leave them on while you are conducting the preflight.  This causes a serious drain on the battery.  It is best to check these items one at a time and to turn them off (and turn the master switch off) as soon as you have checked each of them.  If someone else is flying with you, enlist their help to check the external items like lights and pitot heat.  If you are not going to be using these items during a flight it is not essential to check them every time.  (If a number of people fly the plane during daytime VFR conditions and all of them check the lights and pitot heat, there is a lot of drain on the battery for no effective purpose.)  Learn to be conscious of minimizing the time that the master and the individual switches are on, to protect the battery.  And if either you, or someone else, have run down the battery, make a note in the file and tell the person at the front desk about it.  You’re not going to get charged for running the battery down, but the battery will need to be charged.  If you don’t let us know, it’s not very nice for the next person scheduled to find that he or she does not have an airplane to fly because you didn’t tell us that the battery was dead.

Starting an aircraft engine has been described as “one part science, one part art, one part folklore, and two parts luck.”  Most of the time we are able to get the engine started without too much of a problem, but if we can’t, it not only can result in running down the battery, but also in overheating and damaging the starter.  I have frequently heard someone (hopefully not WVFC members) cranking the starter for well over 30 seconds in an attempt to start a recalcitrant engine.  Starters are not designed for such extended use.  Excessive starter cranking without allowing enough time for the starter to cool between attempts results in overheating.  Although the recommended time of use can vary somewhat with the starter, generally it is recommended that to avoid damage from overheating the starter be engaged for up to 10 seconds followed by a 30 second cool-down.  This cycle can usually be repeated up to three times.  After that the starter should be cooled down for at least one minute before another start attempt.

Difficulty starting an engine is generally due to either not enough fuel available to the engine, or too much fuel.  When the engine is cold, I find the best way to start my plane is with the throttle about 1/4” to 1/2” open, mixture full rich, and the electric fuel pump on, give it two shots of the primer (pull the knob out and wait a couple of seconds for it to fill before pushing it in) and then one shot of the throttle, then engage the starter.  This usually results in a perfect start.  If it doesn’t, try a little more priming.  If the engine is warm you may not need to prime it.  This procedure may vary depending on the airplane you are flying.  Consult the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the specific instructions for your plane.  The POH usually contains information on starting engines that are flooded and also those that are hot, as well as normal starts.  Learning to start the engine of the plane that you are flying, without excessive cranking of the starter, will protect both the starter and the battery, minimizing down time and maintenance costs.

Here are a couple of articles from the AOPA Flight Training magazine that you might find interesting.

http://flighttraining.aopa.org/students/presolo/skills/enginestarting.html

http://flighttraining.aopa.org/students/presolo/skills/hotengine.html 


PILOT DECISION MAKING

Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI LindellWilson@PilotNow.com

Decision Making – The Perfect Landing

Landings can be classified similarly to the old movie theme … the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is always entertaining (and scary sometimes) to watch landings at PAO and SQL. Many pilots have mastered landings even in challenging windy conditions and still others are on the lifetime journey to make a perfect landing. How can we make sure that our landings are in the good category? Several veteran pilots suggest the following;

1)     Fly a perfect traffic pattern and configure the aircraft for landing (speed, power, mixture, gear, flaps, etc.)

2)     Establish (and maintain) a constant (minimum) descent rate for a stabilized approach.

3)     Carry some power similar to a soft field landing.

4)     Control airspeed + - 3 knots of the recommended approach speed.

5)     Trim the aircraft for airspeed in 4).

6)     Know your aircraft and its’ flight characteristics during the approach and landing flair.

7)     Aim for the second runway centerline stripe.

8)     Be ready to add power for a go-around if any items 1) through 7) fall apart.

Analyze each of your landings for the good, and avoid the bad and the ugly. Go practice!


AVIATION SAFETY

Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor dgfry@aol.com

 

From Point A to Point B

There are any number of ways to get from Point A to Point B.  Pilots, of course, have one option others don’t have.  We can all drive, take public transportation (which will start NEAR Point A, and may end somewhere NEAR Point B), fly commercial, which has even more limitations.  Pilots, of course, have the option of getting from Point A to Point B quickly and without being strip searched or stopping at whichever hub your airline uses.  As they say in the airlines, an American Airlines pilot may go to heaven or go to hell when he or she dies, but what is certain is that they all go through Dallas or Chicago on the way.

So, how does one get from Point A to Point B?  Everyone has a preferred technique, and mine is (usually) as direct as I can make it, so I begin the process by using Foreflight, and finding the Great Circle Arc between the two points.  Sometimes the total distance is longer than the max duration of either the plane’s or the pilot’s/passenger’s tanks.  I like having an hour reserve on both.  Of course, the capacity and endurance of an airplane’s tanks are easier to determine with precision than the endurance of the pilot’s or the passenger’s bladders.

When the distance is so long that two or more legs are desirable, the Great Circle Arc still is the shortest distance between A and B, though you may not want to follow it.  Things that may influence your route include: Special Use Airspace, TFRs, terrain, weather, sights you may want to see and places you may want to visit.

Another significant planning factor is the altitude – planes operate in a dimension unavailable to cars and public transportation.  Sometimes you can fly OVER TFRs, Special Use Airspace, terrain and weather.  Occasionally, you can fly UNDER weather, but there are some significant risks.

After that, of course, there are the normal planning exercises involving checkpoints, times, fuel burns, frequencies, fuel costs, FBO and airport hours, and so on.  And don’t forget to plan the return trip.  I’ve had some interesting returns.  Two Pilatus trips come to mind:

The first was a charter to (the possibly misnamed) Winner, South Dakota.  We were taking five hunters out for pheasant season.  Being a mostly cautious type, I asked our charter coordinator to get the weights of each of the passengers and the weight of their gear.  I don’t believe the declared weights, in any case, but it’s a place to start.  Remember the “standard” weight of a passenger from your POH?  Mostly it comes in at around 170 pounds and 30 pounds of bags, but these guys were averaging over 200, and closer to 50 pounds of luggage each.  Now, when someone declares a weight, it usually is what he saw the last time he hopped onto a scale, and that usually was a few seconds after getting out of a shower, wearing (if anything) a towel.  Thank goodness, people don’t travel dressed that way – especially these guys!  Although, I can think of a few passengers…but I digress.  At any rate, in addition to the normal luggage (for a hunter), these guys brought enough shotguns and ammo to start (and finish) a revolution in most third-world countries.  Since I had used a fudge-factor of 15 pounds per person on personal weight, and 20 pounds each on luggage (who weighs luggage?), I was pretty close, as it turns out, but it was a good thing I’d offloaded 500 pounds of fuel, making what under other circumstances should have been a non-stop flight into a two-leg outbound flight.  The return, on the other hand involved SIX passengers, less ammo, but LOTS of pheasants, plus going against the wind.  We had to stop TWICE on the way home, and even that was tight.  Somewhere in the middle of that flight, I sent a text back to the charter company asking if Pilatus had an STC for a roof-rack.

The other one was really simple – fly to Meeker, Colorado to drop off passengers, and wait two days for them in Grand Junction.  It was three passengers and minimal baggage, so (unlike the Winner, SD flight), we could make it in one leg.  Before takeoff, we’d planned on doing an instrument approach to Meeker – IFR conditions were forecast, but well above approach minimums of 8160 MSL and 1¼ mile visibility.  Cloud bases were at 9,500 ft MSL, and the approach minimums were at 8160 MSL, which is about 1800 above the airport.  The tricky part of the return was the departure minimums, which are 4100 ft ceiling (cloud bases at 10,500 MSL and 3 miles visibility.  The departure procedure, itself, required a VFR climb to 10,500 MSL before proceeding on course.  In other words, you can land in conditions that won’t allow you to leave – we could have been stuck for weeks.  Fortunately, the forecast was for higher clouds later in the day, and by the time we were ready to leave, we were able to meet the VFR climb requirements.  Still, the process brought an important lesson home – make sure you have an exit strategy.

Where are you going?  How are you going to get there? If you’re going to follow T. S. Elliot’s “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”, how are you going to get back?


AS THE WRENCH TURNS

David Vital, Director of Maintenance davidvital@wvfc.org


AIRCRAFT CHARGING SYSTEMS

 

Happy Autumn West Valley Flying Club!! I hope everybody had a wonderful summer and made all of their flying hopes, dreams, and desires come true. This month we will give a basic description of how the aircraft charging system works. Troubleshooting an alternator-system problem usually involves the shotgun approach. If a new battery doesn't cure the ailment, perhaps a new regulator, alternator or other component will. Murphy's Law always prevailing, nine times out of ten, success arrives only after the last component in the system has been replaced.

By understanding the simplicity of the alternator design, troubleshooting can be a cakewalk for anyone who can at least figure out how to replace a burned-out light bulb. The modern alternator used on aircraft charging systems today ranks as one of the most important inventions in all of technological history. Few devices have been produced and used in greater number than the alternator.  It is a marvelous little standalone dynamo that can output alternating current (AC) at levels to 100 volts and more. When used in a 24-volt charging system, for example, the alternator output is rectified (converted) to direct current (DC) using diodes, then clamped at approximately 28.4 volts with the aid of a voltage regulator.

Engine starting is the basic function of the battery, after which the alternator supplies continuous electrical power not only to all essential equipment on the airplane, but to recharge the battery as well.

The regulated voltage (28.4) to the system bus is somewhat higher than the battery voltage (24 volts) so that alternator current flows to the battery to charge it. If the regulated output were, say, only 23 volts, battery current would flow to the bus instead, eventually discharging it. So to keep a full charge, the regulator must clamp at something greater than 24 volts, but not so high as to boil the battery or damage onboard electrical equipment. Thus, 28.4 volts (+/- .4 volts) is the industry standard for charging systems using 24-volt batteries.

As we move into fall and the winter months the maintenance department would like to remind you that the spring-summer end of month BBQ’s will be turning into autumn-winter MX Q&A pizza parties starting in the month of November!! We will have a couple of airplanes in the hanger opened up for viewing and questions for you the members. The first MX Q&A Pizza Party will be held on Friday November 22, at 12:00 p.m. So save the date and come join the fun, we hope to see you there!!


STUDENT AND NEW PILOT GROUP

October Meeting Report

 

The Student and New Pilot group held its October meeting at the San Carlos Flight Center classroom on Monday October 7th. As we fast approach our second year anniversary in December, we are pleased to report that these meetings are continuing to attract various pilots from the Bay Area that meet to share information and experiences.

The featured topics for the October meeting were presentations and discussions on the following:

·       Destination – Coeur d’Alene, ID (KCOE)

·       Student and New Pilot Group Tips, Tricks & Gadgets

·       ‘Brainstorming’ Session for Upcoming Group Topics

Herb Patten treated the group to a robust and detailed destination report with respect to his recent trip with his wife Kathleen and their dog ‘Sierra’ to Coeur d’Alene, ID.  The Patten family has made the trip annually for the past 3 years since Herb received his private pilot certificate.  For additional comfort and speed, Herb now makes the trip in a Cessna 182 G1000 aircraft allowing for the trip to be completed with a fuel stop in less than 6 hours.  Herb initially filed an IFR flight plan to depart the Bay Area morning low stratus, but later flew VFR for the duration of the flight.

Herb shared a number of tips to keep in mind if you decide to make the trip. One of the key recommendations is that you plan to depart the Bay Area early in the morning to avoid any convective weather activity that may occur during the trip as you fly over the mountains. The ability to leave early in the day is predicated on whether you are able to depart VFR or IFR. If you are not an IFR rated pilot you may not be able to depart early due to the low stratus. In that case, you need to keep the enroute weather in mind since you could be traversing mountain ranges just as the high afternoon heat starts the convective activity. Herb also noted that leaving early tends to give you a smoother ride since turbulence is also linked to the afternoon heat.

With respect to route selection and charts, Herb reminded us that we need to bring the Klamath Falls and Seattle sectional charts. IFR principals, IFR as in ‘I fly roads’, played a key aspect in Herb’s route selection. Instead of flying a straight line from San Carlos to Coeur d’Alene, Herb chose to follow Interstate 5 (I5) to Weed, CA then Highway 97 to Bend, OR. This route provided good landmarks and alternate airports if one should be required. There were also a number of TFRs (temporary flight restriction) areas due to forest fires to the west of Herb’s route which did not impact this planning; however, the smoke generated by these fires did not adhere to the boundaries of the TFR and eventually impacted the flight.  Herb reminded the group that ‘altitude is your friend’ and that the higher altitudes generally offer a smoother ride and gives you flexibility to reach an alternate airport if required.  Bringing along portable oxygen is recommended. The final point of route planning is that you need to include ‘health breaks’ and fuel stops during your flight.

The presentation also provided a number of details about the KCOE airport - one of which include an airport diagram including taxi ways  that Herb created since no airport diagram offered these details. It is also important to note that the airport does not have public restrooms – an important point for flight planning! Herb also provided lots of good information for visitors on what to do and to see in Coeur d‘Alene.   Herb provided recommendations on restaurants as well as other recreational activities such as golfing on a course with a ‘floating’ green – you tee-off from shore and drive your ball onto a floating island and then take a boat to the island to putt on the floating green. 

The second agenda for the evening was a discussion with respect to study tips, tricks, and gadgets. Some of the ‘tips and tricks’ to become a better pilot included:

·       Sign-up for an AOPA student membership

·       Take an online safety course available from AOPA

·       Sign-up to get safety seminars in the area – faasafety.gov

·       Go on a tower tour at KSQL

·       Use liveatc.net to listen in on radio communications

·       Sit at the gazebo at KSQL to listen to the tower as well as watch landings and take-offs

·       Get involved in your local club / flight center

·       Get involved in groups such as FOG

·       Fly with another pilot

·       Hang out at the club and listen in on feedback from other flight lessons

·       Become a member of SCAPA (San Carlos Airport Association)

·       Utilize on-line weather tools  and flight planning software

One of the key tips that was discussed and highly emphasized was to attend and contribute to the Student and New Pilot Support Group! This list is continuously growing and will be updated frequently. The complete list can be found on our group’s website (details below).

The final section of the meeting was to discuss upcoming topics.  The most exciting aspect of our group is that the group decides which topics are of interest to them and then facilitates those discussions either by doing the research themselves or arranging for an expert in that area to come and speak to the group.  Some of the upcoming topics suggested by the group for future meetings are as follows:

·       Understanding airplane and pilot insurance

·       Airplane ownership costs and considerations

·       Considerations of fractional ownership

·       Aircraft inspections – the good, bad, and the ugly

·       Breaking in a new engine / rebuilt engine

·       Cockpit management tips

·       Real stories of in flight failures 

·       What should a pilot have in a survival/XC kit

·       Random questions for a CFI

·       Tales from the co-pilot of a commercial / charter pilot

·       Building an experimental aircraft

A key benefit to this group is the opportunity to share information and meet other pilots.  We invite any interested pilot to attend our next meeting.  The group meets in various locations between the San Carlos and Palo Alto airports so please check the announcement for the location. Be aware that our next meeting will be on Monday, November 4th, at 7:00 PM in the conference room at the San Carlos Airport Administration Building.

We have two great topics lined up for the October meeting, including:

·       Passenger Management – keeping your passengers from getting stressed

·       Face-to-face with the tower manager

Everyone, whatever and wherever they fly is welcome. In addition to some tasty pizza and soda, you will have a great chance to meet your fellow pilots in an informal setting.

To subscribe to this group, please email: bayarea_newpilots-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. The presentations from past sessions are posted on this group site.

Please contact hpatten@pacbell.net or mvowles@deloitte.com  if you would like additional information.


WOW – WOMEN OF WEST VALLEY FLYING CLUB

Flyout to Little River (LLR)

By:  Francesca Fambrough


The Women of West Valley (WOW) enjoyed a successful flyout to Little River last month on Saturday, October 12, 2013.  The morning began with an overcast sky condition but fortunately gave way to clearer skies as the marine layer burned off. 

Planes and pilots in attendance were: 

·       35583:  Sue Ballew and her students Monica Barrett, Peter Cohan and his wife Diane Cohan

·       698SP:  Bogdan Gorbanescu, Raluca Gorbanescu and Aditi Mishra

·       972TA:  John Jacob

·       5093K:  Mitch Walker

·       6236J:  Ana Uribe-Ruiz, Francesca Fambrough and Denise Kouzoujian

We took off, headed north and took in the beauty of Point Reyes National Seashore and the Mayacmas Mountains along the way.  As we approached LLR, we crossed over midfield to inspect the airfield and then prepared for our landing.  LLR is tucked into the woods just a few miles inland.  Once we all safely landed, we loaded up into a van provided by the airport for $20 per group and drove to the little coastal town of Mendocino.  In Mendocino, we had lunch at the Mendocino Hotel and took a leisurely tour on foot of this quaint little town.  The ocean views were breath-taking.  Once we were ready to go back, we called up the airport to requested a ride back.  We headed back to SQL and PAO about midday.  Depending upon the wind direction/velocity and departure/arrival airport, this trip took about 1.5 to 2.0 hours each way.  I highly recommend this destination to anyone looking to get away from it all for a day and hope to fly back there soon!

 

WOW – Woodland Watts Saturday Dec. 7th

Welcome to one of most popular Fly-Ins, Woodland Watts, on Saturday, December 7.

This is a pleasant trip between the Holidays while the weather still promises to be good. Lunch is across the lawn at the famous country club, the Yolo Fliers Club. Fly in at noon and meet at the tie-downs.

If you can join us, let me know wo we can make reservations at the restaurant.  Please RSVP to Sue Ballew at sue@skytrekker.net



Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC tdebber@alum.mit.edu

Western Family Flying Adventure

This past winter, I made plans to visit one of my friends in Bozeman, Montana.  As much as I had hoped and wanted to fly myself there, the premium over airline tickets didn’t seem justifiable.  However, when one of my wife’s best friends residing in Portland, Oregon announced her pregnancy, making the three-leg trip on our schedule, with abundant room for our stuff and our 18-month old son, and the chance to see some incredible flying country made our summer western flying adventure fall into place.  Our trip began on Friday, September 6 and we returned Sunday, September 15.  We flew in N81034, a WVFC Piper Archer based out of San Carlos.

As great as our 18-month old is about flying, asking him to sit still for seven flying hours in one day didn’t seem fair.  So we planned to leave on Friday night and stop in Elko, Nevada, almost exactly half way between San Carlos and Bozeman.  The weekend prior I had tried to cross the Sierras on almost the exact same route, only to be stymied by smoke from the Rim Fire.  The smoke had been so thick that it would have required an IFR clearance to penetrate and the Archer’s ceiling wasn’t high enough to remain above it.  Fortunately, the winds and fire-fighting efforts meant that while visibility was severely reduced, we were able to push past South Lake Tahoe and on to Elko.  I’m always surprised by how extensive the effects of forest fire smoke are; it wasn’t until we were almost all the way to Elko, and past another, smaller mountain range, before the smoke wasn’t having some effects on visibility.

Departing Elko the next day, we had the best hotel shuttle driver ever.  When I checked NOTAMs before leaving San Carlos, they said one of the Elko runways would be closed and there were numerous other notices about air show activity.  When I called the airport, the FBO said that they didn’t anticipate there would be much impact on our flight.  Nevertheless, when we arrived on Saturday morning, the ramp was filled with display aircraft and people milling about; our shuttle driver skillfully and politely maneuvered to bring our planeload of stuff right up next to the Archer.

We arrived at the airport as early as reasonable, as the weather along our route was forecast to deteriorate over the day, with the usually-present possibility of thunderstorms later in the afternoon.  We had planned the route to take us near several alternate landing sites as well as to avoid the highest mountains along the route.  In the event, the timing with respect to the weather worked well, for much of the route, we could see rain and buildups to the west, but clear skies to the northeast and our destination.  I was also reminded again of the topography of this part of the Rockies: really big mountains, but nice broad, flat valleys in between.  This means lots of reasonable off-airport landing areas.  Given the lack of modern in-cockpit weather in the Archer, we also employed the old-fashion method by using Flight Watch.  Before entering the areas of highest terrain, I checked and was greeted with the comforting words that there was no weather between us and our destination, nor did there appear that there would be.  We pressed on and arrived beneath sunny skies in Bozeman.

We spent the next several days visiting with my friends.  My family took a several days excursion via rental car to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks before returning to the airport and the next leg of our journey.

There were two main possible routes to consider between Bozeman and Troutdale, one of the Portland reliever airports and our destination.  One route was to head due west from Bozeman.  The route was the most direct and offered the opportunity to fly along the Columbia River Gorge.  It also exposed us to a thirty-minute window after crossing the Bitterroot Range where there were not an abundance of alternate landing sites.  The other route followed I-90 well north of the direct route, but offered more landing sites.  We decided to embark initially on the more direct route.  Then, if the weather looked unambiguously clear, we could continue over the Bitterroot Range and on into Washington.  If we arrived at the decision point and there was a question as to continued clear skies, we could either land there to wait for better weather or take a diversion to the I-90 route.  When we reached the abruptly rising wall of the Bitterroot Range, the weather decision ended up being similar to that of the Elko to Bozeman journey.  There were some puffy clouds well to the south, with no forecast weather in front of us.  We continued over the Bitterroot Range into a gorgeous mountain landscape.  While looking as rugged as the Sierras, the mountain tops were at eight thousand feet instead of fourteen thousand, giving us the opportunity to see more and remain comfortably above the peaks.

After crossing the Rockies, we made a quick fuel stop at the Tri-Cities airport in Pasco, Washington.  After fueling up on the traditional fresh-baked cookies, it was on to the Columbia River Gorge.  This part of the journey exceeded my expectations for scenic flight.  Flying along the river itself was remarkable, with various twists and turns, the blue water in stark contrast to the first yellow-brown then green shoreline.  Then, I was awed when the hulking figure of Mount St. Helens emerged from the haze.  Mount Hood and Mount Adams provided great viewing.  We landed at Troutdale and headed into Portland to visit with my wife’s friend.

As it seems to pass every time I visit Portland, the best weather of the trip was what we had when we landed.  For the next forty-eight hours, I kept watching the forecast for our departure day, as it changed from various types of IFR conditions, with or without thunderstorms.  The morning of our departure called for a line of thunderstorms to appear directly over Portland by midday and dissipate in the afternoon.  So, it was another early morning arrival at the airport to depart before the thunderstorms formed.  If the weather had gotten worse before we departed, we would have waited until later in the day to leave.  However, we managed to depart IFR from Troutdale and emerge above the 4500-foot overcast around twenty minutes after takeoff.  The thunderstorms did appear as forecast, but we were a comfortable distance south by that point.

Again as is typical in Oregon, a solid undercast lasted until we hit the Siskiyou foothills.  The clouds seemed to be prevented from moving farther south and into California, and the terrain became visible.  We had planned to stop in Red Bluff for lunch, but our current ETA placed us at the airport as the diner on the field would be closing; headwinds at times had our ground speed down to 90 knots.  We attempted to order omelets to go via mobile phone from the air, but got disconnected twice.  We figured we’d do the best we could once we arrived.  To our surprise and delight, the diner had taken a chance on our arrival and we had two tasty omelets and plenty of toast and potatoes waiting for us when we landed.  The diner was still closing, but we were able to enjoy our take-out on the cement picnic tables overlooking the ramp.

After filling up on brunch and av gas, we hopped back into the Archer for an uneventful trip down the Sacramento Valley.  No weather, the headwinds had abated somewhat, and there wasn’t even a lot of traffic.  Our early departure from Troutdale put us back at San Carlos in plenty of time to unpack before returning to work on Monday. 

The primary flying lessons reinforced by the trip were to remain flexible in schedule when traveling by small plane.  Most of our departures were earlier than planned due to the prospect of being trapped by unfriendly flying weather.  While we were fortunate in not having to exercise any of them, all of our routes had multiple options along the way to change course or land short in the case of engine or system trouble, or inclement weather.  This was also the first long trip that my family and I had taken in the small plane together; the previous longest flight having been around two and one-half hours.  I can’t say that my son enjoyed being in the plane for five hours during the day we went from Bozeman to Portland, but everyone emerged smiling when we arrived and commented on how well the flight went and how gorgeous it was.  That convinced us that we could do another flying adventure when the time comes.


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