Ken and I leave tomorrow for Oshkosh, WI and the EAA AirVenture, the Woodstock / Frankfurt Book Fair / Boy Scout Jamboree of American aviation. It's enormous, some 300,000 people come every year. The true experience is to fly in to the crazy busy airport and camp on the field in a tent under your wings. Ken and I have opted for flying in to a nearby airport and staying in a hotel, more our speed.

This trip will be my first time planning a multiday plane trip. It's complicated finding a route that is safe, efficient, and interesting. The hard part is finding airports where once you land you'll find something to do and a way to get to a decent hotel and dinner.

We're planning on three days, stopping tomorrow in Casper WY and the day after in Fargo ND. Also lunch stops in Wendover UT and Spearfish SD. All places I'd never imagined myself going! You can see our full route: 1667nm, or about 15 hours of flying. Weather permitting.

The best times in my life have been car road trips where I wasn't quite sure where I'd end up any given day. Flying in your own plane is pretty flexible, but the logistics of finding ground transportation feel a bit confining. Then again for once Ken is the relaxed one about travel plans, he's happy to take what comes to us. Should be fun!

  2010-07-24 23:02 Z
I've finally started training on my real flying goal, Ken's 1978 Cardinal RG. Ken's had this plane almost 20 years, I'm lucky to be able to fly it. Ken gave me a key last week! Turns out it's a pretty challenging step up for a new pilot.

The Cardinal is the Cessna 177; not that different a model from the 172s I learned in. But 172s are designed as trainers, easy to land. The 177 is a travel plane. Every aspect of the design is more aerodynamic, from a cantilevered wing without a strut dragging in the air to the fuel tank vents hidden in the wings, not sticking out in the breeze. It makes for a faster plane (146kts vs. 122kts), but it also handles totally differently.

The other change in the Cardinal RG is the RG; retractable gear. I have to remember to put the wheels down every single time I land. I won't die if I forget, but landing gear up makes a hell of a mess and causes the prop to hit the ground, requiring an expensive engine rebuild. I'm doing fine with not forgetting so far, I'm hyper-aware in the new plane.

The hard part is the plane flies differently with the wheels hanging out. It adds major drag, like flaps, but without any lift to compensate. If I want to stay level at the same speed I need to add about 15% power. The drag comes in handy, it makes it easier to slow the plane down for landing. And with gear down and full flaps the plane descends quite quickly, helpful if you're too high. On my first simulated engine-out landing my instructor sat quietly while I tried to figure out what to do. I put the gear down first thing, so I wouldn't forget later. Big mistake: the plane dropped so fast I would have landed about 500' short if my engine were really dead. Lesson learned, now I respect the drag from the gear.

Ken and I are headed to Oshkosh for the big annual pilot's jamboree. I was hoping to be fully trained in the Cardinal by now so we could share the flying, but maintenance delays and insurance requirements mean I'm going to be a passenger on this trip. I've got a lot I can learn in the right seat, particularly all the fancy avionics Ken has: GNS 430W GPS, MX20 display, STEC 55x autopilot, EDM 730 engine monitor, even the clock is complex. Nice to learn all the systems without the distraction of flying the plane.

  2010-07-24 14:48 Z
A couple of weeks ago I went on an absolutely fantastic flying trip, a 5 day journey to the Colorado Rockies with the Flyout Group. Normally in little planes you avoid mountains, cross high and quick for safety. For this trip we sought the mountains out to enjoy the challenge of flying down in them.

The map above (KML) is from our most mountainous flying, a full day of playing around in the valleys and mountain passes of the Rockies. Some of the highlights include flying through Independence Pass (12,095') and landing at the highest airport in the US (9927'). The 182 we were flying isn't very happy flying over 12,000' and we were breathing supplemental oxygen, but that just made it all the more fun.

The main purpose of the trip was instructional: Ken and I had an instructor with us. We got a lot of practical experience with density altitude and performance, learning just what it really feels like taking off at 9000' on a 90° day. We got lucky with calm winds, only 10-15kts at the ridgetops, so we never had to deal with any significant turbulence or downdrafts. That let us fly safely down in the valleys but I'm a little sorry I didn't get more experience with more challenging conditions. Then again we got some very exciting flying with beautiful sights.

It's startling to look under your left wing and see mountains above you! But at a safe distance with good weather, it's fun. See my photo set for more pictures; on the fourth day we flew over Utah along the Colorado River and I got a lot of great overhead shots of Glen Canyon. I also landed and took off at Las Vegas International (very busy), landed in Death Valley (-210'), and took my first flight over the Sierras. A great week of flying, I'm ready for more!

  2010-07-23 13:57 Z