Sunday, August 5, 2012

Flying Across America - Part IV

Here's where 622SA got to spend the night. $50 got her rather deluxe accommodations as I think you'll agree, but, in the words of Bob Dylan, it was indeed the "shelter from the storm" which we needed to find (though never actually needed anywhere along the whole route). Anyway, the entire crew got a decent nights rest and we were back at it by 07:30.

Today would be the day we'd try and get through Texas, though realising it's going to be a long, hot and largely dull journey, characterised nicely by the mantra "follow that road", in this case, I20.

Sometimes, "Follow That Road" Gets A Bit Tricky To Implement

First stop was Abilene Regional (ABI), a 2.4 hour leg, and from there to Big Spring (BPG), a quicker 1.5 hour hop that we cut a bit short in order to get down to the ground for fuel (we could have flown longer) and a rest-room break (oh no we couldn't!)  Along the way - at least for the first part of the day - there was stuff to see and green to be found .... which is of course why I turned this picture of windmills north of I20 into B&W.

In addition to being a very welcome sight (as explained above), Big Spring was a great little airport; very nice terminal, good facilities and an interesting history.  Turns out it was an ex-army airfield, first opened in 1942 to train bombardiers in high altitude, precision bombing.  It closed in 1945 but then got a second lease on life in 1952 when the Korean war required additional training facilities to come on line to supply increasing numbers of fighter pilots. A couple of Fifties-era aircraft remain on the apron and it looks like there is a fairly decent aviation museum on the airfield somewhere too.

Even Airplanes Have A Pecking Order

Rested and re-hydrated, it was time to move on. However, the heat was starting to build and the wind was getting stronger too.  One - the wind - is easier to live with than the other.  The six legs from ABI onwards all saw density altitude readings over 5,000 feet, with the highest reported as being 6,800'. Therefore, take-offs and landings had to be executed with more care and finesse than ever as, especially at full-up gross weight, we now didn't have much of a power reserve to play with.

Now we were firmly in trucking country, over-flying multiple logistics depots along the side of I20.

Next up was Pecos Municipal (PEQ, 1.6 hours from BPG) where the temperature gauge read 43 Celsius on landing ... and only a little bit of that was down to heat from the tarmac and engine; suffice to say, it was damnably-hot out there.  Someone came out to meet us in a golf cart and, once we parked-up and shut down, brought across a fuel tanker.  We asked for an amount of fuel we though the aircraft would take and that would get us comfortably to the next stop but without carrying the extra weight of completely topping-off the tanks.  Just as we were collecting our things to head inside to plan the next leg, we suddenly saw a cascade of 100LL running down the back of the aircraft - you know, the bit with the hot engine, still-pinging exhausts and all .... Turns out, the chap manning the fuel truck didn't realise that we had twin tanks, and that to get the quantity of fuel requested would mean filling both sides, not just one.  (The tanks cross-feed, but that doesn't happen fast enough to automatically compensate for the rate of fuel flow from a pressurised delivery system.)  Fortunately, nothing caught fire and so we avoided the spectacle of seeing what a Robinson R22 would look like fully-engulfed in flames. ("Depressing" would be what I'd expect the answer to be.)  Lesson learned, and so from then on we made sure that, where fuel was served, vs. being a self-service stop, when I was the one with that particular job, those with the big nozzle in their hands understood how things worked in an R22!

One final push would see us reach Culberson County airport, Van Horn, where we'd call it quits for the day.  Actually, things worked out well in that regard because the next leg would see us start to climb in altitude and hence would be better tackled earlier the next day, when things were cooler.  It also meant that tomorrow we'd pick-up in Texas, and our first set-down of the day would be in New Mexico - the Lone Star State would finally be behind us!

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