Thursday, July 16, 2009

Practicing What I Preach

It's time for the annual family trip to my sister-in-law's farm in South Dakota. It's 700 nautical miles, and we take the Club's Cherokee Six, which trues about 140 knots. The Six is not the most comfortable airplane I have flown, but it can take the four of us and full fuel with capacity to spare. Full fuel is 84 gallons, which is well over 5 hours' worth, but nobody's bladder can make it that long.

So do I practice what I preach?

  • Current charts? Kind of: I couldn't find all of the sectionals I needed at the local pilot shops, so I used a WAC chart for part of the flight, supplemented by current instrument enroute charts. WAC charts don't show airspace. I had current approach plates for any airport we were remotely likely to use.

  • Weight and balance? Yes. I made the family wait on the ramp while I figured this. "Can we load yet?"

  • Checklists? Yes. I had my daughter read them to me.

  • Flight plans filed and opened? Yes. By the way, I like the DUATS email notification when the flight plan is transmitted to FSS.

  • Flight following? Sort of. The Idaho portion of the trip is below radar coverage, so none was avaiable. I called Casper approach 30 miles out, so got some coverage then. But then we left Casper naked. I monitored Center frequencies, but that was mostly for entertainment. For example:

    Aircraft: Center, your transmissions are getting pretty weak!
    ZLC: I have multiple transmitters, and the other plane is hundreds of miles away. How's this one?
    Aircraft: Loud and clear. [stage whisper] Sorry!

    Or another:

    ZDV: United 123, there's an F-16 going to pass on your left, he's got 100 knots on you." In other words, the F-16 was 100 knots faster.

    Oh, they're shooting F-16s out of Ellsworth AFB! I called Center and got flight following.

  • Navigation logs? Yup, I had navigation logs (one form the AOPA Internet Flight Planner, and one from DUATS.

  • But I used my handheld GPS (old, no moving map) for the whole trip. This got me thinking: what would I have done if the visibility had been, say, 6 miles? There would be no comfort in spotting the Black Hills 50 NM ahead, and pilotage across Wyoming is a real test of map interpretation skills. Those "rivers" on the left are often dry, although this year's extra rain has made the riparian area green and thus more visible form the air than I can ever remember. There are few roads, fewer cities, and even fewer public-use airports.

    So I know the answer: navigation in 6 miles visibility is just too hard. I would file IFR, even though the trip would be longer.

    The municipal airport where we landed has a few hangars with ag planes and one open hangar with a recently-restored Super Cub. You can see the city from the field but it's actually a good walk. I wandered around for a while looking for cell phone coverage, finding none ("More bars in more places?????"), but closed our flight plan using the phone in the pilot's lounge. The lounge consists of a table and chair, a phone, and a bathroom. It smells of uncured concrete. The bathroom light is on a timer; twist it to get 10 minutes of light, which should be more than enough, right? There are a few aviation magazines on the table. You've got to love it.

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