Sunday, August 5, 2012

Flying Across America - Part V

Dawn Roll-Out. Van Horn, Texas

Another early start; another morning not quite sure how we'd get back to the airfield.  Fortunately, the hotel manager very kindly proved the thesis that, thanks to evolutionary imperatives and human social development we are all by nature altruistic, by agreeing to be woken up early just to get us back there!  Note to self: must be a lot of opportunities for setting up local private taxi services over the web, especially in smaller towns where more formal arrangements just don't exist.  Hmm, actually, that's not a bad idea at all ...

(Just as an aside, we asked what brought an enterprising young man like himself to such a - shall we say, "remote" - part of Texas?  He explained that there was a plan to open a natural gas well, i.e. a fracking project, about 100 miles north and that, as this was the nearest town, some very good times lay ahead for the hotels & other businesses in Van Horn.  Fair enough, and we both wished him every success.)

A long day was ahead of us.  Since the weather remained so weirdly storm-free, we decided to press-on to see if we could make it into California. As the crow flies, that would be something like 520 nm; alas, we would have to take a slightly more meandering route in order to a) avoid major peaks, and b) avoid a major incident by accidentally crossing over the border into Mexico.  In addition, for the last day or so I had been suffering from increasing pain emanating just behind the right shoulder blade.  It was just a by-product of holding the controls for hours-and-hours a day and only flared up after about the first hour of flying, but I can't say I was looking forward to it returning on what was now day four of the trip.  (However, I'm not the only one to feel like this on a long R22 trip, as was very well explained by Philip Greenspun : "When folks ask me for a short summary of my trip from Los Angeles to Boston in a brand-new R22, I say "For the first day, I was worried that I was going to die. On the fifth and sixth days, I was worried that I wasn't going to die." Sitting bolt upright, a bit tense on the controls, hour after hour, is not very comfortable.")

Back to following the same road once again, but now, as we started to climb, desert was giving way to desert-plus-hills, which at least improved the view!  This first leg would take us through El Paso and the controller kindly allowed us to continue to follow the Interstate and hence to get a good view of downtown and, immediately over I10, of Mexico!

Downtown El Paso

After 1.9 flying hours we landed in Las Cruces, NM (LRU) just in time to see two military helicopters taking off from the apron there.  (Fort Bliss is a major army base sitting just east of El Paso, and of course border control activities must drive a lot of additional helicopter operations as well.)  Wendy reminded me that big-rotors = big-downwash, so we jinked around a little in order to steer clear of the big-boys' toys!  More fuel, more weather briefings and then back to it: next stop, Lordsburg, NM (LRU).  We planned for a shorter legs here in order to recognise both the increasing density altitudes we were seeing (maxing out at 6,800') and fewer alternate airports on the map.

From Lordsburg (1.2 hours from LRU) we headed next for Benson Municipal (E95), a leg that got us out of New Mexico into Arizona, and a further 1.3 hours clocked-up on the Hobbs.

At Benson we were able to pick up another quart of 100W Plus oil, something that wasn't always available at every stop but which we kept an eye out for as we were using just under a quart a day.  We also saw an old Douglas R4D-8 aircraft, standing out  a bit from the usual clutch of Cessnas, Mooneys etc. you'd expect to find parked-up on airports such as this.

Seems that someone bought it at a drug-auction after it was seized by the US authorities, with the idea of re-fitting it for commercial operations; apparently, that was quite a few years ago now, so no one I talked-to was sure if she would ever fly again.

Next up, a longer flight to Phoenix Goodyear (GYR) where we'd take stock to see if a "one more leg and we're in CA" push made sense.

Phoenix Bound

To reach GYR in such a way that we could continue following the Interstate meant we'd be getting too close to class Bravo airspace around Phoenix Sky Harbor, the main airport there.  Therefore, we planned to leave I10 about 15 miles south of PHX and fly northwest straight to GYR.  This would entail figuring out between the charts and what we could see out the windows, which was the big ridge we'd need to fly around the south of in order to make this work.  Well, we ended up going a bit too far up I10 and having the controller point out that we couldn't fly any closer to PHX, and so would we mind making an immediate left turn? Ooops.  No big deal though, we'd been with flight following and PHX approach control all the way-in from something like 50 miles out, and therefore they had us on their radar screens the whole time, despite us flying a lot lower than pretty much everything else they were tracking. On the plus side, however, we got a great view of Sky Harbor airport!

Getting into GYR after that was fine, at least it was once we'd figured out where they'd hidden the helipad and dealt with the strong, gusty winds that had blown up.  After taking a break, taking stock and taking some more rest time, we elected to press on and to go for crossing-off one more state on our list.  GYR to E95 had been a fairly stressful 2.2 hours but thanks to gaining a timezone and starting early, we were doing OK timewise.  California, here we come!

The Sierra Nevada Mountains Hove Into View

At last, we could finally allow ourselves the luxury of thinking we could actually get this whole trip done in under 5 days. By running five legs across three states, day four saw us flying 8.7 hours over what was at least a 12 hour day.  We were therefore really happy to see the Colorado River, marking as it does the Arizona-California border, slip by under 2SA, and even happier a few miles later to be landing at Blythe airport.  A very long day, but one that set us up for making it home in time for tea on day 5!

No comments: