October 4, 2005
Central States Association (CSA) Canard Fly-in
Rough River State Park, Falls of Rough, Kentucky
September 30 - October 2, 2005
September 29, 2005: Denver to Rough River
Route of Flight: KAPA-KFOE-KSAR-2I3
Departed 1415Z, Arrived 2330Z, 7.2 hours on the Hobbs meter
October 2, 2005: Rough River to Denver
Route of Flight: 2I3-KDMO-KGLD-KAPA
Departed 1515Z, Arrived 0120Z, 8.5 hours on the Hobbs meter
Lots of photos
I'm building a homebuilt aircraft called a Cozy Mk IV. It's referred to as a Canard Pusher due to the fact that is has the engine on the back and the small, front wing is called a canard. This particular model is a derivative of a Burt Rutan (of X-Prize fame) design called the Long-EZ.
There is a national group of fellow canard enthusiasts (builders, flyers, wannabes) called the Central States Association. Every year they hold a fly-in at Rough River State Park in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. Canards from all around fly into the small airport at the state park. Many builders drive or fly in commercially to see completed aircraft, ask questions about their projects, and get rides in flying canards.
The entire weekend is very relaxed. People simply show off their planes, ask and answer lots of questions, make new friends and catch up with old ones. Since the canard community has a large Internet presence, it's fun to get a chance to put a face to an email address or chat forum handle.
I obtained my private pilot's license in 1999 at Centennial airport in Denver, Colorado. I began working on the Cozy Mk IV project just a few months later. I racked up a total of 190 hours as a pilot before I stopped flying and focused on building. Earlier this year my employer started up a new flying club with two planes. A nicely outfitted 2001 Cessna 172SP and a brand new, fresh from the factory Diamond Star with an amazing Garmin G1000 dual screen panel. It was time to get current and start flying again. I signed up an instructor and obtained my BFR in June flying the C-172. A few weeks later I became the first non-instructor member to get checked out in the DA-40. This summer and fall I've managed to put over 50 hours on the Hobbs meter of the Diamond including some amazing mountain flights throughout Colorado.
As fall approached I just knew I had to fly to Kentucky in the Diamond Star. By Labor Day I started getting serious about planning the trip. I spent that month trying to find someone to go with me to split the costs but no one wanted to go bad enough so I made the trip alone. It certainly wasn't the cheapest way to go but for me it was worth the adventure. I've only done one prior real long cross country flight. That was 550 miles from Denver to Phoenix five years ago in a C-182. This flight was to be about 890 miles. The other big piece was the direction. I had never been east of Goodland, Kansas in an airplane before. This trip would take me east of the Mississippi.
I spent quite a few hours planning the route and stops for this trip. Under ideal conditions I could make the trip with one stop. But I knew reality would get in the way so I planned on two stops. This way I had more fuel reserves if needed and my bladder had less time to send death threats to my brain. I also gave myself two days to get there in case weather got in the way. I didn't want to be confronted with "get-there-itis". Most planes would be arriving Friday afternoon so I planned to leave early Thursday morning. I also wanted to arrive before sunset since this was a new airport for me, lots of rolling hills, small, and I didn't expect anyone to be there until the next day.
So after nailing down my exact route earlier in the week it was a simple matter of packing and hoping the weather would be OK. Since I was going to camp in my tent next to the plane I had quite a bit of gear to load into the plane. Tent, sleeping bag, folding chair, tarps, minimal food, survival pack (put together for Colorado mountain flights), pillow, laptop, camera, coat, flight bag, headset, charts, and clothes. Maybe it is good I didn't have a passenger.
Thursday morning finally arrived. The forecast for today through the weekend was looking outstanding. I woke at 5am and did some final weather checks. I was definitely going - yeah! I finished getting ready, loaded the car, and headed to Centennial airport. I arrived about 7am. I called flight service to get a final weather briefing and filed my flight plan for the first leg of the trip. After grabbing the airplane key from the club office I headed to the plane with all my gear. I preflighted the plane, loaded all my gear, and ensured everything was in order.
As I climbed into the plane I was actually a bit nervous about what lay ahead. I had confidence in the plane, my ability, and the weather, but it was a big trip and I was by myself. I think I feel this way whenever I take-off for a strange airport. I guess it's the unknown. All of this went away as soon as I grabbed the checklist and prepared to start the engine. Time to focus. I did all the usual tasks to get going and found myself rolling down runway 17L of Centennial about 8:15am.
I climbed to 7500 feet and headed east. Boy is it flat and barren in that direction. My previous flight a week earlier was to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and back. Quite the opposite experience. I called up Denver flight service and opened my flight plan. Once away from the Bravo airspace of Denver International I climbed to my cruise altitude of 9500 feet. I had a 20 knot tailwind, clear skies, and glass smooth air. In other words - perfect. I settled in for the flight. Mixture leaned out, pitch trim set, and a regular scan of the panel. I brought along an MP3 player but in the end I decided not to use it. I just can't bring myself to do so. I feel better being able to hear the engine and use the radio quickly if needed.
Since the air was so smooth I was able to fly hands free for the next two hours. I would occasionally touch the right rudder pedal to get back on course slightly from the cross wind. Now this was easy flying. Nothing to do but look out the window at the scenery, watch for other planes, and scan the panel to make sure all was OK.
I made two stops. First at Forbes Field near Topeka, Kansas and the second at Sparta just southeast of St. Louis, Missouri. Forbes is a class D airport with actual commercial traffic though nothing was going on while I was there. No other plane was seen or heard the entire time I was arriving, on site, or leaving. I filled the tanks, closed my flight plan, had a bite to eat, used the bathroom three times to be sure, got a weather update, and filed my next flight plan.
Keep in mind that Centennial is the lowest airport I have flown the Diamond Star - 5883 feet. I've had it in several mountain airports including Leadville, Colorado, the highest airport at 9927 feet. Now Forbes is only at 1078 feet MSL. So I do all the usual preparation to get going though the mixture is richer than I'm used to. But it is supposed to be at this elevation. So I'm all ready and get cleared for departure. I take the runway, double check that all is as it should be and push the throttle forward. I start rolling and very quickly I'm having trouble keeping the airplane straight. I'm fighting a bit on the rudder pedals. The plane also seems to be dancing and wanted to leave the ground. This is when I notice I'm a couple of knots past rotation speed. So I pull back on the stick and launch into the air. 1200fpm straight up - so it seems. Holy crow! What performance. Then it sinks in. There is air here. Well more of it anyway. I estimate I used one third less runway taking off than I normally do at Centennial. That's what took me by surprise. I got to rotation speed so much faster I wasn't prepared for it.
So with that new enlightenment I climbed to my cruise altitude of 7500 feet and headed for Sparta. Sparta is a much smaller, uncontrolled airport. No one was around as I came in and the winds were next to nothing so I chose a runway and landed. I taxied to the self serve gas and filled up. While fueling two other airplanes came in. Much busier than the huge airport I left last - go figure. I went in and took a break, got some water, and did the flight plan thing. The guy at the FBO was real nice and we chatted quite a bit. I looked at the time and realized I better be going before it gets too late. I wanted to arrive before dark.
Once again I found myself in the clear blue skies over Illinois. The visibility was at least 40 miles. Now for me this was a bit lower than I'm used to. In Colorado anything under 60 miles is considered a hazy day - seriously. But for the Midwest or east, 40 miles is a really great day. As before it was calm as could be. This last leg I cruised at 5500 feet - lower than my home field.
I soon found myself getting close to Rough River. There is no AWOS at this airport and the UNICOM isn't really monitored. I tuned into the CTAF frequency of 122.8 and I heard another plane heading to Rough River. Turned out to be Mike Beasley, a Long-EZ builder, in a Cherokee. He was landing on runway 2 so I prepared for the same. I setup for a standard left downwind entry for runway 2. The great thing about the G1000 in the Diamond Star is that I could actually setup the entry before I had visual sight of the runway (I almost wrote airport but you can't call this an airport really). I was less than two miles out before I finally caught sight of the runway. It was right where is should be but it was tough to see. I had never flown into the airport, the sun was getting close to he horizon, and it is surrounded by trees. I did a standard pattern and touched down nicely. I rolled to the north end of the runway to the turn off. I was happily surprised to see about 10 canards plus two other non-canards, including the Cherokee.
I pulled off into the grass next to the other non-canards and shutdown. What a great flight. Over nine hours since I left Denver. Perfect skies, perfect conditions, no wind, and the sun setting in the west. I quickly got all my camping gear out of the plane to get my tent setup before it got too dark. Mike and I introduced ourselves. Mike flew up from Florida with a fellow Air Force buddy Randy Haskin, an F-15 pilot. They are great guys and we become friends over the course of the weekend. They went to the lodge to check-in while I setup camp. We would meet shortly at the lodge and have some well deserved dinner.
The state park is a beautiful place to spend a weekend such as this. Next to the runway is a small office and restrooms with showers. Camping next to your plane is encouraged though there is a small fee. There is a wonderful lodge just five minutes away by foot. There are also a series of cabins spread out through the park. They are always booked this weekend due to the fly-in. There are two motels less than a mile away that typically have some room for late minute planners.
The next day was clear and beautiful like the previous day. Everything was covered with dew. I slowly got started and made my way to the shower located in the small building on the field. It was already warm enough for shorts. I ate a simple breakfast I had brought along. I knew I'd be eating a lot in the lodge so I decided to be good and avoid the big heavy buffet breakfast each morning. I used all the dew to wipe all the bugs off the plane and clean up the canopy a bit. People were milling about already looking at the few canards that were there. Today would begin the arrival of many more.
As the morning progressed more canards started to arrive. Even more people arrived by car. This included current builders and prospective builders coming to see these wonderful planes. Having been to several fly-ins over the last few years I'm starting to get to know many of these people. It was great getting to see familiar faces and to also get introduced to people I've emailed in the past. Since I have a large Internet presence with my construction website and as the provider of the Canard Pages hosting site, my name is familiar to many people I've never met. It's always fun for me when I meet someone new and they hear my name and say something about how much they visit my site or thank me for providing the web space. It makes me feel good that I can help fellow builders out in some way. It's a great ice breaker too.
I was in the mood to do a little sight seeing flight of the area. I happened to be talking with fellow builder Mike Coates and asked if he wanted to go for a spin. It's not a canard but he was happy to come along. I gave him my camera and asked him to click away. The wind was very light and straight across the runway so it didn't really matter which way we took off. We pushed the plane close to the runway to minimize taxiing in the grass. After the usual preparation we departed and headed east about 5 miles. There is a small lake and winding river, a rough river, nearby. We climbed to 3000 feet to be out of the way and I made occasional announcements of our position while we listened for arriving planes. We flew around for about 40 minutes really enjoying the view. I only heard a couple planes coming in while we were up and we were never in anyone's way. Mike took some really nice pictures - thanks Mike.
After getting back on the ground it was time for lunch. I hooked up with some folks and headed to the lodge for some food. After a long, relaxing meal we all worked our way back to the field - a five minute walk. It's a pretty place. The leaves are at the very early stage of changing colors. In another 3 weeks this place will be filled with an amazing array of colors. I ran into Mike Beasley again and he wanted to get some aerial footage of his Cherokee. He had a video camera and was doing a lot of filming of arriving airplanes.
Mike also needed to get some gas so we decided to fly to a nearby airport to get some fuel. We would take a long route getting there. They would film me in the Diamond Star on the way there. After stopping for gas we would switch passengers and then we would film the Cherokee. Neither of us had done any formation flying but Randy, the F-15 pilot, certainly had. With his help we briefed exactly what we were going to do, where we would fly, etc. The first two rules involved getting two planes back safely. So Mike and Randy loaded up in the Cherokee and got ready. Two Johns from New Jersey were coming along for the ride with me - John Matcho and John Di Stefano. I took off first with the plan to do a slow climbing circle around the airport until Mike caught up. The Diamond performs much better than the Cherokee, even with one more passenger. I really had to throttle back a lot to let Mike catch up. Mike finally made it to my eight o'clock position and we headed west to our planned waypoint. We stayed in contact on the air-to-air frequency and made occasional position reports on the CTAF frequency. Enroute Mike took some video and some pictures of the Diamond. It was really cool flying close together. I'd say the closest we got to each other was 30 feet but generally we stayed a bit farther apart. Once we got closer to the other airport we separated and did normal approaches to the airport - no fancy formation landing or anything like that.
We both got some fuel at the little airport. No one else was around. We then switched passengers and briefed the return leg. Similar to the last but I would be following Mike this time so I had more work to do to stay in formation with him. We took off, Mike first, then me. I was able to catch up to him fairly quickly but soon realized I was going to really overshoot. I quickly throttled back but too much. I got even with him but then started descending a bit. I added more throttle. After a bit I got back along side and we began filming and taking pictures. It was a fun challenge to stay in position. It really takes practice to stay in formation. After a bit the plan was to fly under and get back even on the other side. That was really cool. I pushed the nose down and banked a bit to the right. I passed under and a bit behind popping back up into position at his four o'clock. We then had an idea to get "break away" shots. I got along side Mike on his three o'clock position. On the count of five I did a hard right turn. After this we met up again and then it was Mike's turn. He did a nice break away as we filmed him. We then headed back to Rough River and landed. We were all smiles when we got back. We had a great time and really enjoyed the whole flight. We put 1.3 hours on the Hobbs and only flew 20 miles round trip. John Matcho had my camera in the Cherokee and took lots a great pictures of the Diamond.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing. By the end of the day there were about 45 canards and about 10 non-canards. It was another perfect day flying airplanes, looking at airplanes, and talking about airplanes. What else could you want? After a long, late dinner and some more chatting about airplanes, I headed back to the tent. It was a bit warmer and I slept great.
This started out as another gorgeous day - and would stay that way. More and more canards arrived today. By lunch time I counted 70 canards total. That's a lot of winglets. Mike "Dust" Skorija put together a weenie roast for lunch. It was well attended. At noon there was no one flying and no one milling about the airplanes. Everyone was gathered over by the food.
Later in the evening was the official CSA group meeting and door prizes were given out. Sadly I didn't win anything but that's OK, I had a great time anyway. I'm not sure what I did this day. I remember talking to lots of people. I ate some food and took some pictures of Cozy Mk IV interiors. I know I had a good time because the day went very quickly. I was going to give fellow builder Jerry Schneider a ride in the Diamond but by the afternoon the plane was blocked in by several other planes. By the time I could have gotten out it was too close to the CSA meeting.
It was about dinner time by the time the meeting was over so Mike, Randy, and myself decided to walk down to the restaurant by the Pine Tree Inn. It was about a 20 minute walk. We had a good time and Mike and Randy had some great stories about Air Force life. The food was OK and the waitress survived the three of us quite well.
After we got back to the field from dinner we went our separate ways and I headed over to the lodge with my laptop to get an idea on tomorrow's weather. Ugh - it's not looking too good. There is a line of thunderstorms to the west. Well, I'll get an update in the morning. After getting back from the lodge I headed over to the gaggle of people chatting away in the dark drinking some beers. Needless to say the conversation revolved around building canard aircraft. I was offered a beer but turned it down since it was late and I had to get up very early for the trip home. After a bit I headed back to the tent. I wanted to get a bit organized and had to get up at 6am to check the weather and plan the flight home.
I was less than thrilled when the alarm went off at 6am. I didn't sleep too well. It was muggy and warm last night plus I was worrying about the weather. Opening the tent revealed cloudy skies, low ceilings, haze, and fog. Swell. I took a shower and headed back to the lodge for a weather update. I spent quite some time checking out what was going on. There were thunderstorms around Kansas City. Low ceilings were everywhere and IFR conditions in some places. The weather looked better west of Kansas City but the entire state of Kansas had high winds. Missouri wasn't much better in the wind area either. My original plan was to make a first stop near Kansas City. I had two problems - could I even get that far due to the fog and low ceilings? And if I could, what about the thunderstorms? The forecast indicated the fog would lift and the ceilings would raise a bit. I finally decided to make my first stop in Sedalia, Missouri. I would also wait until 10am to take-off. This would give the weather a chance to improve and the thunderstorms were forecast to move northeast of Kansas City.
So I filed a flight plan and headed back to the tent to pack up the plane. It took a while to get all my stuff organized and packed. The tent was covered in dew and had to be packed up a bit wet. I finally got the plane all loaded up. By this time several people had left and just about everyone else was doing the same as me. I needed to top off the fuel tanks too but so did several other people. After a bit of a wait I was able to get gas. By this time it was about 10am and I was ready to go. I climbed into the plane and waited for a chance to taxi out. There were five canards ahead of me. It was warm this morning so I latched the canopy in the partially closed position to get some additional airflow while on the ground. I started the plane and began taxiing. Most of the canards ahead of me had departed. I followed a Long-EZ to the end of the runway and we both turned to do our run-ups. He finished first, went around me, and took off. I finished a minute later and turned to face down the runway. Everything was looking good. As I pushed the throttle forward I could see several more canards waiting to take the runway after me and the side of the runway had a dozen or so people watching all the departures. I quickly passed everyone and reached rotation speed. I pulled back and climbed quickly.
I noticed three things. All weekend there were flocks of turkey vultures flying around in thermals. This morning was no different except a dozen of them chose to circle 500 feet up at the far end of the runway. I had to turn quickly to the left to avoid flying right through the group. The second thing I noticed as I looked west was the poor visibility. Lastly I noticed is was quite windy in the cockpit. As I dodged the vultures I reached for the two eyeball vents on the instrument panel and closed them. Strange, it's still quite windy in here. Oh heck. The canopy is not closed. I left it latched in the partially open position (you all saw that one coming, didn't you?). OK, now what? The plane is flying along just fine. There is no chance the canopy will fly open since it is designed to latch in this position. So I'm not in any danger but I certainly can't, or at least shouldn't, fly home like this. Naturally the first thought was to unlatch the handle, push down on the canopy lip, and re-latch it. Mind you, I'm not even at pattern altitude yet and I'm still dodging vultures. I keep climbing and turn to the west. I'm past the vultures and decide to level off at 2000 feet. As I contemplate the idea of trying to close the canopy in flight I think of all the reasons why it is a very bad idea. I'm a bit low yet and it is a bit bumpy so taking both hands off of the stick at this point is far from ideal. I also consider that the top of the canopy is covered with low pressure. As soon as I unlatch the canopy the pressure will suck the canopy up and into a more open position with much more force than I could probably overcome with one hand and a small lip to hold onto. So I make the prudent decision to turn back and land. At this point I'm still at 1500 feet AGL and near a normal downwind entry point.
I radio back to the field that I have a minor issue and need to return and land. There are two canards on the runway preparing to depart. They call me back to verify my situation and I inform them that it's nothing critical and that I will do an extended downwind to give them time to depart. As I hear them call that they are rolling I call in my base turn quickly followed by a call for my turn to final. By this time both canards have taken off and no one else is on the runway. I make a nice landing right in front of all the people I left just a few minutes ago. As I roll out 5 canards taxi to the departure end of the runway. I call on the radio that I simply intend to stop, turn around, and taxi back in line behind them to depart again. As I slow enough to turn around for the back-taxi I properly close the canopy out of site of everyone. I then proceed to turn around and taxi back past everyone. I see some friends looking at me so I just give a sort of "oops" look and shoulder shrug. I'm a bit embarrassed as they all probably noticed the open canopy as I was departing.
I get in line behind the five canards ready to depart and watch as each one accelerates down the runway. After the last leaves I move back into position, double check everything, and take-off again. This time the canopy is closed and it is much less windy in the cockpit. The vultures are still in the same spot and I have to dodge them again as did all five canards ahead of me. I look back now at how I could have forgotten to close the canopy. It's in the checklist. There is an alert being displayed on the panel. You can see daylight under the bottom of the canopy. But yet I still missed it. Chalk it up to lots of little factors. The crowd, the less than standard departure procedures and run-up. The stress of the flight ahead of me. The worries of the weather. The phase of the moon. The most important lesson though for the readers at home is to do what I did - FLY THE PLANE. Pilots have crashed and died over simpler distractions because they forgot that simple rule - FLY THE PLANE. I wasn't in any danger. But I would have been had I tried to screw with the canopy in place of FLYING THE PLANE.
So with that minor diversion behind me I got on course to the west. I had more important things to contend with now - the weather and low visibility. Now for you eastern pilots out there, you would have been quite comfortable with my position at this point. This is typical VFR conditions. 3000 foot ceilings and 4 miles visibility in haze. You have to remember that I have never flown in anything less than 40 miles visibility and 8,000 foot ceilings in my life. That's no exaggeration. At first I was afraid to go on. This only lasted a few minutes though. As I continued to climb and head west I began to realize it wasn't as bad as I first thought. There really wasn't a true cloud ceiling at this point. As I climbed it was getting better and I could tell there was a top to the haze layer. I kept climbing and reached clear skies at about 7000 feet. I decided to climb to 8500 feet for a good westerly VFR cruise altitude. I could still see the ground below me through the haze but I was above it and could see farther to the sides at my altitude.
I stayed on course and encountered various cloud layers. I had climbed up to 10,500 for a while but had to go back to 8,500 due to a true cloud ceiling above me. I hit a few spots of mist. It's actually pretty cool watching the rain flow over the canopy. The rain only lasted a couple of minutes. Due to the lower visibility I opted to get flight following in addition to having an open flight plan. Plus I would be able to seek help quicker if the need arose (which, I'm happy to report, wasn't needed). The air was fairly smooth as I cruised along. I had a 20 knot cross wind from the south.
My first stop was Sedalia, Missouri. It was to be a three hour leg. I stayed at 8,500 MSL most of the leg. I didn't encounter anything tricky nor did I have to dodge any real weather. When I was about an hour out I contacted flight service to get a weather update for Sedalia. I was relieved to hear that the rain had stopped and the storms had move on. It was still quite windy down there but at least the weather was better. About this time a scattered layer below me started to thicken up and was becoming a more solid layer. I tried to contact flight service to see if the ceiling stayed the rest of my leg or if it was a local one. I accidentally made my inquiry to the St. Louis control I was using for flight following. After a moment of confusion the controller was quite helpful and he asked another pilot he was talking to that happened to be about 15 miles to the west. That pilot reported the clouds were widely scattered ahead. I thanked them for the help and chose to stay above the broken layer. I was over it for about 15 minutes and sure enough it broke up a bunch like it had been behind me.
As I reached Sedalia I began my descent from 8,500 feet to 2,500 feet. I went through a nice hole in the scattered layer at around 4,000 feet. As soon as I hit cloud base it got bumpy and visibility went way down in haze. I expected as much. Sedalia AWOS was reporting winds of 190 degrees at 17 knots with peak gusts to 22. Yippy! Happily the main runway is 18/36 so at least the winds were nearly straight down the runway. I knew from the weather forecasts that today would be windy. And so was the forecast for Monday. Waiting another day wouldn't have helped with regard to the winds. So I made my way down and contacted Sedalia UNICOM. After a minute or two a guy answered and confirmed the winds. I reported coming in for a full stop and needing fuel and that I would make a left downwind approach for one-eight. I double checked the AWOS another time or two as I got closer to confirm the winds were unchanged. I got on final and setup my approach. No one else was on the radio. Who would want to fly today anyway? The landing was actually no big deal. No real gusts as I came in and virtually no cross wind - just strong and straight. I touched down and didn't roll too far. I turned off the runway and taxied to the FBO. When I opened the canopy I realized just how windy it was. I couldn't fold my sectional. I closed the canopy again just so I could fold the map.
I tied down the plane as the guy filled the tanks. I grabbed my flight bag and headed inside the FBO to close my flight plan, empty my bladder, and check the weather for the next leg. It was nice to stretch my legs and walk around. I was also quite relieved that that leg was over. The weather ahead was to be better though the winds were going to be stronger. I spent about an hour relaxing and figuring my next leg. The winds over Kansas were strong today. I was going to have 30 and 40 knot head winds aloft. All surface reports were around 20 knots - yikes. Far western Kansas had the lightest winds - 15+ knots in Goodland. So I decided to head to Goodland next. 400 miles with a planned time of 4 hours with the head winds. That's a long time especially right after a 3 hour leg. The plane has an endurance of about 4.5 hours so it was at about the prudent limit. I filed the new flight plan and prepared to leave. One more bathroom break. One last chat with the FBO guy. Oh yeah - he mentioned I was the first person to land in two days. He was also quite surprised to see anyone out in that wind. Thanks. It's certainly not my first choice of days to be out but I didn't feel unsafe about it.
Once again I got into the plane. I suddenly realized I was hungry. It was after 2pm and all I had eaten so far today was a banana. I dug out an apple and some raisins to eat once I was back cruising. I started the plane up after a quick walk around. This time I shut the canopy all the way and taxied out to the run-up area. All looked well except the wind was a bit more cross. I took the runway and took off. You get off the runway very quickly at 1000 feet with a 17 knot head wind. I was right back in the haze and the clouds at 3500 feet had become a ceiling. Man, I don't want to fly down here for four hours. I headed west at 3000 feet. I had to go around class D airspace ahead instead of over it as planned due to the ceiling. There were a few small holes but nothing big enough to climb through. I knew it was much better up higher.
As I headed west I spotted a bigger hole. I decided to try circling up through the hole. I have never done anything like this before. I headed for an edge of the hole and climbed up near cloud base. I then began to circle the perimeter of the hole while flying in a standard cruise climb. I'd estimate the hole to be about 3/4 of a mile in diameter. It's hard to say for sure. I could be way off. I was in about a 20 degree bank to keep the turn. I slowly climbed - 4000, 4500. Still below the tops. 5000, 5500 - about at the tops. I leveled the turn and climbed to the west. I was headed for a cruise altitude of 8500 feet. I wasn't too happy having to do this climb. I knew my fuel was tight and circling in a climb like this wasn't helping matters any. I must say though that I really enjoyed that climb. It reminded me a lot of my Hang Gliding days, circling in a thermal gaining altitude. As I reached about 6500 feet I was high enough above the clouds that I could now see that the broken layer completely disappeared about 10 miles to my west! You've got to be kidding me. I just wasted all that time and fuel for nothing. In ten more minutes I could have done a normal climb to altitude. I was both annoyed and laughing. Oh well, like I said, it was fun. I just couldn't see that far down low in the haze.
Once to altitude I leveled off and got on course. I contacted approach control and began flight following again to Goodland. I also engaged the autopilot for the rest of the trip. I decided I wanted to minimize wasted flying by zigging and zagging along my course in the winds and the constant 100 foot gains/losses in altitude I tended to make as I flew along. Once at 8500 feet the GPS was showing 30 knot winds out of the WSW. The fuel computer showed I would have about 45 minutes fuel left upon reaching Goodland. Perfect. Of course that assumes the winds stay as they are. Of course they didn't. It wasn't long before the winds were 32 knots, then 35, then 40. My ground speed dropped to 95 knots. I might as well have a C-172. I knew from the forecast that the winds might be better higher. I waited five more minutes to see if the winds would improve. Nope, 41 knots. I began a climb to 10,500 feet. Once there I leveled off and began seeing winds of 30 knots again. I was also able to lean out the mixture a little for better fuel economy. Soon the fuel computer was showing 45 minutes reserve instead of 15 minutes.
After a while the winds slowly climbed back up to 40 knots. Kansas blows. I decided to contact flight service to get an updated winds aloft forecast for my route. He confirmed the winds were lighter at 12000 feet but he also talked about an AIRMET for turbulence below 6500 feet. Nice. I'll deal with that later. So I asked the autopilot to take me to 12,400 feet. Nope, not 12,500 feet. That requires oxygen after 30 minutes. I was on flight following and had to report my altitude and they were seeing it on their scope. Thankfully the winds at 12,400 feet were 20 knots but more westerly. But I also had the additional bonus of leaning the mixture some more. With the reduced winds and lower fuel consumption the fuel computer was now showing a reserve of nearly an hour. Plenty. The other good news is the sky was nearly clear below. There was some high cirrus which was good because the sun was getting lower to the south west and was really in my face.
It was now a waiting game. My butt was sore from all the sitting. My knees were getting stiff too. You can't get your feet behind the rudder pedals of a Diamond Star. I ate the apple, the raisins, some pretzels, and a granola bar. I drank some water but didn't want to push my luck. It's a long flight. I then spent the next three hours watching the earth pass by slowly below me. It was calm and visibility was back to the 40 mile range. Not much point though - I was over Kansas.
About 40 miles out of Goodland I began checking some nearby AWOS reports. Wind, wind, and more wind. Everywhere seemed to be 20 gusting to 25. I called center and reported leaving twelve five for six five. I turned off the auto pilot and started flying again. I did a nice 500 fpm descent to 6,500 feet. At about that time center called that I was below radar and to squawk VFR. I thanked them for the help and focused on getting down to Goodland. I also encountered some turbulence at this time too. As I got lower it wasn't too bad but I'd rather have smooth air. The Goodland AWOS was reporting winds of 220 at 15 gusting to 20. That rules out the big runway. They have a runway 5/23 that is 3000'. OK - works for me. I've been landing at 3000' runways all weekend. Even though Goodland is much higher (3600' vs. 600') it's still plenty long enough - especially with a 15 knot headwind. I contacted Goodland UNICOM and got an update. No one was around so I announced my intention to land on two three. I setup a left base approach and went on in. One last check of the AWOS indicated lighter winds of 8 knots. Much better. I landed on two three and pulled up to the FBO. The wind wasn't too bad out there. I couldn't wait to get out of the plane. My butt was killing me. Seven hours in the seat so far today and I still had to fly another hour and a half to Denver.
I spent an hour in Goodland. Filled the tanks, emptied the bladder. The usual stuff. I checked the weather and all looked fine for the last leg. Some wind in Denver but only in the 10 knot region. The sun was getting low and I knew I would be landing in the dark. I assumed that before I even left Rough River. I did some night currency just a week or two earlier so I wasn't worried about getting in in the dark. I was tired and my butt didn't want to get back in the plane. But I was close and wanted to get home. I guess I had a mild strain of "get-home-itis" but it is not like I was pushing bad weather. Out of laziness I didn't file a flight plan for the last leg. I planned on flight following and the flight was only 90 minutes over flat terrain.
As I prepared to depart the wind was down to five knots and more down the big runway. I taxied the short distance to the runway, did my run-up and took off. I did a slow, climbing arc around downtown Goodland and headed on course straight into the setting sun. Blind. I can't see a thing outside. I called center and got flight following for the last part of the trip. As it turns out I was out of radar coverage and would be for nearly an hour. Twenty minutes into the flight I was passed off to Denver center. For the next 45 minutes I couldn't really hear the controller. I could hear everyone else talking but not him. So much for flight following. I should have filed a flight plan.
Eventually I could hear the guy just fine and the sun had long since set. It was a beautiful sunset over the mountains. I could see again and planes are easier to see at night with their lights on. I had turned on my position lights and dimmed the panel lights. I was anxious to get back home. I was getting close. I was passed on to Denver approach control who vectored me to Centennial and kept me out of the class B veil. Soon I was let go and I contacted Centennial tower. From what I heard on ATIS I expected to land on 17. The wind was 210 at 10 knots. I was coming straight in from the east so the tower asked if I wanted to land straight in on two eight, wind 210 at ten. I agreed and set up my approach. I could see the runway lights straight ahead. I was on final, full flaps, trimmed for 70 knots, and crabbed sideways. Why did I agree to this approach? Oh yeah - I'm exhausted. Great time to land at night, 70 degree crosswind, after 8.5 hours of flying. Idiot. So I focused on what I was doing. I pushed in the right rudder pedal, a lot. Then I dropped the left wing to stay on the center line. Checked my speed and glide slope. Crossed the numbers, started to level off, a little flare, touch down. That was actually a really good landing if I do say so myself. It was also by far the strongest cross wind I've landed in since I started flying again this past June.
I rolled down the runway and turned off to the taxiway. The advantage of this runway to the one I should have used is this is a much shorter trip to were I need to park. I worked my way to the parking spot and did my final shutdown. I did it. What a day. What a trip. I opened the canopy and felt that wonderful Colorado fall air. I was thrilled to be home. I was prepared to spend the night somewhere along my flight earlier in the day. I had planned to be out of work Monday but I was glad I made it back in one day. I had one more ugly chore left. Lugging all my bags to the car. It's about 300 yards to the car and I needed to make two trips with 40 lbs of gear each trip. I was numb. After loading the car I went up to the club office and filled out the log book and stuck some new pins in the map. I was having a lot of trouble adding two numbers in the log book. I headed to the car and drove the 20 minutes to my house. It is a very strange sensation to drive a car after flying for over eight hours. It is a different set of rules. It's a different instrument scan. But worse of all for me is that I was mentally and physically wiped out.
I am a better person and a much better pilot for what I did this day. It's one thing to make a local flight every weekend. It's a nice thing to make a short cross country trip in nice weather. But to make a 890 mile trip in one day, cross two time zones, see six states, file, open and close flight plans, perform flight following, get weather updates while enroute, land at several strange airports in various amounts of wind, and fly in weather conditions you aren't accustomed to, is a whole other experience. I'm sure some of you have done similar things before but I haven't. This was an experience I won't soon forget. It is these kind of experiences that allow a pilot to become a better pilot. I highly suggest that you venture out of your local area once in a while. Talk on the radios to ATC. Go to new places. It doesn't have to be an eight hour marathon but add something new to each flight. Go back and look at you log book. How many unique airports are logged? How many unique routes have you taken? Have you flown 200 hours or have you flown 1 hour 200 times? You've worked hard to earn your license - use it. It is a wonderful thing.
The end (until next time)