Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Flying Across America - Part II

Because of operational limitations on this aircraft, we had to find a route that would avoid the need to climb over any high mountains.  This is particularly true in the summer when air that is hot, moist and high robs the helicopter of a chunk of even the limited performance it starts off with. In practice, this meant trying to avoid flying at anything more than 6,000 above MSL, and preferably even a little less than that would be good. Consequently, we opted for what's known as the "southern route", a way of crossing the USA that limits the need to cross substantial areas of terrain above 2,000 feet; indeed, the highest we saw was around 4,500 MSL, and even then only on two specific legs.

We finally got underway from MYR around 1:30 pm local time, and with the sort of luck that would follow us along the entire journey we found ourselves with no convective warnings, just a few low level, widely-spaced cumulus clouds for company (see above). Despite the later-than-ideal start, we nevertheless managed to see-off three states on the first day: South Carolina (MYR to 88J), Georgia (ACJ) and Alabama, ending up for the night in Eufaula (EUF).

In order to leave ourselves the appropriate margin mandated for helicopters (20 minutes fuel remaining on landing) we gave ourselves a maximum range of around 2.5 hours in the air, and planned our legs with alternate fuel stops if head winds or weather meant we needed to land short. That basic calculation factored in a high-end fuel consumption of 10 gallons per hour and a maximum R22 capacity of 29 gallons. On day one we did legs of 2.0, 2.2 and 0.9 hours respectively, for a flying time total of 5.1 hours.

Eufaula wasn't very large but had a decent airfield (runway 36 above!) and, something we love to see, an open hanger in which we could leave the aircraft overnight.  Especially this time of year, it's good to avoid any risk of the blades suffering hail damage because that would basically be game over, and rather  expensively so to boot.  However, it turned out that Eufaula did lack one key thing - a taxi service! Fortunately, a very kind gentleman working on his plane at the airfield took us into town that evening, and the hotel manager where we stayed just as kindly brought us back early in the morning.

Day one over and we had covered a decent amount of ground, especially given the shortened day.  Good stuff!

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