After months of saying how great it would be to fly GA out to my home in Arizona, my friends Lissa, David, and I decided to make it happen in their well-appointed C206 Stationair. None of us had ever made such a trip, but we knew it would be an adventure. We knew we would learn a lot. And we knew it would be fun.
Two principles guided our planning. First, everyone had a veto. Second, divide and conquer. For the flight, we divided the initial straight-line course from KJYO-KFFZ (Mesa’s Falcon Field) into 300-mile segments adjusted for airspace, terrain, and ground facilities. We also divided the list for making arrangements. Fortunately for David and me, Lissa volunteered to head up inflight catering, so we happily munched our way across the U.S.
The opening segment was almost entirely IMC. Ferocious headwinds put our Lexington lunch plans with Arlynn McMahon, 2009 CFI of the Year, and her husband Charlie in doubt. But we closely monitored fuel consumption and, to ensure that we were not tempted to push too far, we established several “tripwire” decision points. The headwinds eventually abated enough to land at KLEX with over an hour’s fuel remaining.
Refueled and refreshed, we launched into clearing skies and pointed toward our planned overnight stop in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Our serene aerial perch provided a sobering view of the extensive flooding in the Midwest that spring. The vast expanse of affected land was a humbling reminder of Mother Nature’s power, and we had a sharper appreciation for the plight of those affected on the ground.
As we poured milk over our breakfast cereal, we also pored over a challenging forecast. Weather through Missouri was clear, but Oklahoma was a different story with lines of convective activity forming along the route to Enid Woodring Regional Airport. After much discussion, we agreed that we could safely fly to the Missouri/Oklahoma state line. We had viable VFR and MVFR alternates in the Missouri/Oklahoma/Kansas area, plus datalink to help with overall weather avoidance strategy.
We got lucky. The worst of the weather moved nicely north before we crossed into Oklahoma. Helpful controllers and high cloud bases provided an additional margin for safety and, with minor course deviations, we easily made it to KWDG (with kudos to Lissa for a textbook crosswind landing).
As we motored to Moore County Airport in Dumas, Texas, we were all struck by the vastness and apparent emptiness of west Texas. It was one thing to note from our planning map how few and far between facilities were out West, but quite another to see it from the sky. And, in stark contrast to the bustling GA airports of the East coast, we were stunned to find ourselves completely alone in the cozy KDUX terminal building.
Flying over the apparently unoccupied moonscape of eastern NM and bedeviled by strong mountain wave action most of the way, we were immensely grateful for the reliability of modern engines and avionics. We have three particular memories of arrival at KSAF. First was the challenge of descending to pattern altitude after being kept high over the mountains. Second was the incredible friendliness of the KSAF tower controllers. Third was the welcome wagon provided by Larry, a pilot friend of a friend who had offered to meet us. One of the world’s more colorful and somewhat mysterious characters, Larry provided an expert tour of old Santa Fe, excellent Mexican cuisine, and rollicking good stories.
Departure from KSAF the following morning was also memorable: The ever-reliable Stationair’s engine faltered and stopped before we even managed to leave our tiedown space. Local mechanics quickly deduced serious plug fouling from failure to fully adjust flatland leaning practices to the higher density altitude. After the fix and a friendly lesson in what “aggressive” leaning really means, we lifted off on the last leg of our outbound journey. It was uneventful – almost. An hour from Mesa’s Falcon Field, ATC issued a routing amendment. When bumpy air jostled the pilot’s finger enough to mistakenly hit the data card, the flight plan vaporized as the GPS dropped out to reboot. The data card debacle also knocked out the handheld GPS that we had conveniently (we thought) configured for cross-talk with the panel-mounted GPS. Backup charts and a detailed flight log enabled a quick recovery, but it was a compelling reminder that GPS is not bulletproof.
After three days, many miles, and magical memories, the concluding and crowning glory was routing that took us right over Arizona’s famous Four Peaks Mountain. What a thrill it was to see such majesty from a perspective that only GA can provide. We are truly blessed to fly. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulAug 2012)