Home > RV Travel Stories > Copperstate 2000 > Randy Pflanzer

Arizona 2000 by Randy Pflanzer (rpflanze@iquest.net).

 INTRODUCTION

N417G-a.jpg (79375 bytes)In August 1993, a dream was born with the arrival of my RV-6 empennage kit.  That dream was to build another airplane (my first airplane was Long-EZ N2517C) and then use it to travel the country, perhaps visit all 50 states.  Following the first flight of N417G in June 2000, I began contemplating my first long range trip to begin the fulfillment of my dream.  I attended AirVenture 2000 but Indianapolis to Oshkosh was only a two-hour trip. (Ah, the beauty of a fast airplane.)  That didn’t really scratch the itch, so to speak.  I needed something just a little more challenging and exciting.  While registering my airplane at the Homebuilt booth at AirVenture, I spied a pile of handouts for the Copperstate EAA Fly-in, held in Mesa, Arizona in October.  The wheels in my brain startedN417G-b.jpg (99239 bytes) turning immediately.  Visions of sun, golf, Sedona, Grand Canyon, and cobalt blue skies danced through my mind.  Besides, while vacationing in Sedona last year, I told my wife that I would land my airplane at the Sedona airport one day.  This, I said to myself, would make an excellent trip.  With that settled, all I needed were a few buddies to share in the fun.

PLANNING

N417G-c.jpg (74828 bytes)I contacted my fellow RV builders/flyers in Central Indiana though The Indianapolis First Air Force and found three other flyers that shared a dream similar to my own.  Glen David (left), his wife and daughter would go in Glen’s 3-place RV-6.  They had family in Phoenix and Southern New Mexico that they hadn’t seen in awhile.  Bob Japundza (second from left) would bring his new bird, a sharp RV-6, and a yet to be named accomplice.  Bob is a fellow computer consultant who finished his airplane just weeks behind me.  Clay Smith (third from left) would bring his daughter in his brand new RV-4.  Clay is a tried and true air traveler.  Last summer, he cruised around the country with a sleeping bag in his trusty Luscombe to build up his cross-country hours prepping for his Commercial license.  I (right) would bring my 18 year old son, Alex.

N417G-h.jpg (59133 bytes)Since this “little” trip would involve significant distances and flight hours, many of the wives…..okay, MY wife anyway………..was concerned and just a tad bit apprehensive……okay, okay, she was REAL apprehensive.  A cookout with the flyers and our wives was in order to make acquaintances and allow everyone the chance to participate in the planning.  However, even before we could hold the cookout, problems developed.  While flying the final few hours off of his new bird, the engine on Clay Smith’s RV-4 spit out a valve seat in cylinder #1.  Fortunately, this happened to Clay while he was on the ground during a fuel stop.  Unfortunately, his bird was going to be down for more than a month for a cylinder rebuild and a thorough internal checkout.  Then, just days later, Bob Japundza decided to remove that pesky taxi light in front of his hangar with his new Hartzell prop.  Although he only clipped the glass bulb with one blade, it was enough to require a prop shop to fix.  Frantic searches failed to find a shop that could turn the prop around in time for the trip, so Bob was bummed, as were Glen and me.  We hoped that this was not a portend of things to come.

N417G-d.jpg (56905 bytes)To help plan our trips, we made extensive use of three Web sites.  First, www.airnav.com helped to layout the great circle route and helped to check fuel prices.  Second, I used www.echarts.cc to order all my sectionals, WACs, and terminal charts.  Third, I used www.aeroplanner.com to fill in the details and to print easy to use trip tickets.  Our planned westward route would be Indianapolis, IN to Marshall, MO to Liberal, KS to Albuquerque, NM to Mesa, AZ for a total of 1290 nautical miles.  Weather would determine the actual course taken, our fuel stops, and where we would spend the night.  Our departure was set for Wednesday, October 11.  My wife wasn’t any less apprehensive after the planning session.  (Fear of heights will do that to you.)  However, she knows me well enough to know that I’d be as safe and careful as possible.  In short, she gave me permission to go.  Whew!

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 11 - DAY 1

N417G-e.jpg (35951 bytes)The weather reports looked very good over most of our course.  Clear skies with strong winds dominated the Midwest and Plains.  It was raining in New Mexico but it was anticipated to be scattered by the evening.  Arizona was clear.  We were a go for launch!  My son Alex and I loaded about 50 lbs of baggage into the back of our RV-6 and we pushed her out of the hanger just as the sun was cresting the nearby corn fields.  Our anticipation was palpable as we fired up our bird and departed Franklin Flying Field (3FK) for Eagle Creek (EYE) to pick up Glen, his wife Jacque and their daughter Jenny.  Glen’s “3-place” RV-6 is really a standard RV-6 with a child seat bolted to the luggage floor in the back.  Glen is an AP and AI for United Airlines so he has access to material and services the rest of us only dream about.  With his daughter on board, that meant that Glen had to ship some of his baggage ahead of him to relatives in Phoenix.

N417G-f.jpg (83184 bytes)We passed directly over downtown Indianapolis just as the morning rush hour was beginning.  I smiled to myself as I spied the traffic backup on the freeway, knowing that I was free, if but temporarily, from its grasp.  I circled Eagle Creek as Glen and his RV-6 departed.  We met up, tuned in 122.75 MHz and pointed our birds toward the western horizon.

Prior to departure, I had identified checkpoints along our intended course line, one about every 30 minutes or so.  Although both Glen and I were navigating with GPS, I wanted to teach my son about navigating “the old way”.  Not only would it teach him a practical lesson on using Trigonometry and Physics, it would also provide important backup to our GPS.  I learned a very important lesson on my trip to AirVenture earlier in the summer.  On my way back from Oshkosh, I was navigating below a low cloud deck, steering around frequent showers and high towers.  Conditions changed from VFR or MVFR frequently.  After departing an airport west of Chicago my GPS went dead.  It had a memory failure and I couldn’t seem to get it to re-boot.  In an instant I was almost totally lost because I hadn’t bothered to keep a chart open with my course marked on it.  Fortunately, my stupidity was overcome by dumb luck.  My GPS came back up after I removed the data card, reinstalled it, and re-booted the machine.  Dumb, dumb, dumb I said to myself.  Never again I vowed as well.

N417G-g.jpg (53789 bytes)The weather was severe clear as we made our way westward and crossed a major checkpoint, the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis.  Headwinds were minor as we managed a ground speed of 145 KTS.  In what seemed like a quick 2.6 hours, we were on the ground at Marshall, MO to fuel up.  A very friendly staff and the lowest fuel cost on the trip of $ 2.20/gallon made the stop pleasant, but brief.  After 23.4 gallons, we were airborne again as we turned slightly south and headed for Liberal, KS. 

By being further west and by heading a little more southward, we managed to turn into the teeth of the winds that were pushing up from Texas and Oklahoma.  Our smiles turned to frowns as our ground speed dropped to 130 KTS and then 120 KTS.  This leg was going to be a little tedious as the scenery was decidedly “Plains like”.  As we cruised north of Wichita, KS, Glen called out traffic at my 12 o’clock, same altitude.  Just then, a B-1B bomber made a hard right turn to avoid me.  Darn, just when I was about to “go to guns” on him.  It’s a good thing he turned, because I would hate to have cost all you taxpayers a billion dollars by having to shoot him down.  A few minutes later, we passed a B-52 off to our left as he descended into McConnell Air Force Base.  Wichita is a pretty busy area for heavy military iron so be forewarned if you’re traveling in that area.  Keep your head on a swivel.

N417G-i.jpg (38750 bytes)Although the winds were howling, we were fortunate to find smooth air at about 8,500‘ MSL, so this leg was comfortable.  After 3.1 hours, we descended into Liberal, KS to land.  Winds were 30 KTS gusting to 35 KTS, but were right down runway 17.  We got bashed around pretty good as we descended but we both managed good landings.  The fine folks at Liberal are very friendly.  They get a lot of transient traffic and they are set up to handle it.  A “follow me” golf cart met us to lead us to the tie down area.  They filled us with 26.7 gallons of fuel at $2.40/gallon, and threw us the keys to a courtesy car so we could grab some lunch at Pizza Hut.   Glen talked to Flight Service about the weather in Albuquerque, NM.  Seems a low front in California was pushing wave after wave of showers and thunderstorms up the Rio Grande valley.  On either side of the valley the weather was passable.  The briefer didn’t sound very confident that we could make it into Double Eagle (AEG), but we could probably get reasonably close.  With airplanes, pilots, and passengers fueled and ready to go, we departed for our next, and likely our last, stop of the day.

N417G-j.jpg (40832 bytes)Soon after departing Liberal KS and passing over Dalhart TX, strange gray shapes began to appear on our windscreens.  The southeastern edge of the Rocky Mountains began to take shape on the horizon.  For flatlanders that have never seen mountains up close in a small airplane,  these sentinels can be just a tad intimidating.  We proceeded at 10,500’ MSL and 120 KTS ground speed and warily tracked these strange gray shapes as they grew bigger and more onerous.  By now, we were not having any luck finding smooth air.  The terrain was more rugged and that conspired with the surface winds to create strong updrafts and downdrafts.  As we rounded a tall mesa south of Dalhart and turned toward Las Vegas, NM, the clouds started to force us lower.  We managed to stay 3000’ AGL as droplets of water appeared on the windscreen.  We did some dodging of local rain showers and we flew for a while in some light rain.  That was enough to prove to me that my RV-6 was not waterproof.  My son turned around to find water being pushed into the baggage area from underneath the sliding canopy skirt.  Clothes, cameras, and carpet were damp.  Just about that time, a big, gray, and partially obscured mountain appeared in our flight path.  It was a 9,000’ peak just east of Albuquerque up on the Sandia plateau near Golden, NM.  That’s when I called Glen on the radio and said I’d had enough for one day.  He agreed as we both simultaneously punched the “nearest” button on our GPS.  Up popped the Sandia East Airpark (1N1) and off we headed.

N417G-k.jpg (59563 bytes)We made a circling approach overhead and landed amid light rain showers on a mile long, but very narrow runway 27.  This was one of our highest airports on the trip at 6500’ MSL.  We taxied to the far end and shut down at the fuel pumps.  It was dreadfully dreary outside.  It looked like the fuel shack, along with the rest of the place, was nearly deserted.  Glen and I stayed inside our birds, out of the rain, as we contemplated our next move.  Just then, two cars pulled up and out popped Bob Leonard and Ken Bethard.  Bob and Ken live in the airpark and  Bob heard us on the radio call as “experimentals”.  He told his wife “I’m going down to take a look.  N417G-w.jpg (68695 bytes)If they’re RV’s, I’ll stop.  If not, I’ll keep going.”  Bob said he was half kidding his wife when he said that, but it didn’t matter because our airplanes had the proper genealogy.  It seems that Bob has an RV-6 that he’s been flying for about 6 years and Ken just received his RV-6 quick-build kit earlier in the year.  They were not only hospitable, but down right happy to be able to help us.  And boy did we look like we needed help.  Ken had room in his hanger for Glen’s airplane while Bob made a phone call to find me a home for the night.  N417G-l.jpg (39720 bytes)Bob already had his hanger stuffed with his RV-6 and a high wing Cessna.  Minutes later Bob said that I could hanger my RV-6 down at Dennis Robinson’s place.  He had a high wing Cessna in there but thought we would be able to fit Ol’ Blue in there too.  As we tucked our airplanes away for the night, Bob handed us the keys to his trusty Chevy van and provided us directions to Moriarity, NM and the Sunset Motel.  We graciously accepted his generous offer and off we headed for a quick Mexican dinner and a warm, dry bed.  We both hoped that tomorrow would dawn with a different weather pattern.

TUESDAY OCTOBER 12 – DAY 2

N417G-m.jpg (34148 bytes)I awoke from a fitful night of sleep to the sound of rain drops plunking down on the cars in the parking lot outside my room.  I hit the Weather Channel and found that today was going to be much like the last few days in New Mexico, damp and windy.  A peek outside to the west confirmed that the Weather Channel knew what they were talking about.  Low clouds and obscured mountains were on tap for the morning, but some clearing was anticipated in the early afternoon.  We took our time getting ready and finally loaded up and headed back to Sandia around 11:00 am.  We stopped at Ken’s lovely southwestern style home to visit.  We spent the next hour or so answering Ken’s questions and offering him a few building tips.  I even turned him on to the RV-List.  Pretty soon Bob stopped by as we discussed our travel options for the day.  I began to prepare my son for the possibility of having to turn around and head somewhere else, possibly the Southeast Regional EAA Fly-in in Evergreen, AL.  Given my time constraints, I needed to make a decision by 2:00 pm to head one way or the other.

N417G-n.jpg (46176 bytes)Our hosts suggested that we take a peek over the Sandia Crest to see if the valley was passable.  They suggested that we head south to Alexander (E80) in Belen, NM and if the valley looked good, make a run westward.  This would also give us the option of swinging south around the tall stuff and into Tucson, AZ if the ceilings didn’t allow a more direct route.  St. John’s was reporting clear conditions, but very windy.  While I went down to Dennis’ house to prep my airplane, Glen took Ken up for a ride in his RV-6 and to take a peak to the west.  He returned 10 minutes later to report that there was space between the clouds and the crest and that the valley looked clear beyond.  With that, we made the decision to give it a try.  We fueled up our birds with 20.7 gallons at $ 2.34/gallon to cover the previous evening’s 2.7 hour leg from Kansas.  We thanked our hosts for their warm and generous hospitality and took off.  And off.  And off.  At 6500’ we used almost all of the mile long runway to get airborne.  Once we finally tugged our fat butts into the air, we turned southwest and plunged over the Sandia Crest towards Belen.

            We were very happy with the relatively calm air and 4000’ ceilings.  Visibility was greater than 10 miles so we could see and navigate around the patchy showers.  Once over Belen, we turned west on a “relatively” direct route to St. Johns.  I say relatively because they’re are more than a few peaks to be navigated around.  We saw some spectacular scenery as we made our way west, flying up valleys and around brightly colored and majestic buttes.  As we neared the high plain that holds St. Johns, the clouds dissipated.  Unfortunately, the winds did just the opposite.  Our ground speed slowed to a pedestrian-like 115 KTS.  The winds were now 40 KTS and no amount of altitude was going to save us from their punishment.  We tried 12,500’ MSL but no joy.  Since we didn’t carry bottled oxygen, we were out of options.  We passed St. Johns and I had thoughts of landing, but decided to press on.  After about another 10 minutes on the roller coaster, I was regretting my inaction. 

Just then, an airport appeared in my windscreen amid the high pine forests of eastern Arizona.  It was Show Low (SOW).  Glen and I agreed that a stop was in order as both of his passengers were suffering.  We called on the UNICOM and were promptly informed that runway 21 was closed and we’d have to use 27.  Winds were 19 to 21 at 45 KTS.  A quick computation in my mind determined that we’d have a crosswind component of approximately 30 KTS!!.  My downwind crab was so severe that I had to look behind me to see the field.  Glen made his approach first.  As Glen was on final, the UNICOM  folks, apparently concerned with our safety, warned us about severe terrain-induced updrafts off the approach end of the runway.  I was concentrating on my approach when I heard Glen say “Randy, that crosswind is brutal”.  I used about a 45 degree crab and tried to stay aligned with the runway.  Near the ground, I pushed in full rudder deflection, planted the mains on the asphalt, and hit the breaks hard.  Fortunately, my forward speed at touchdown was only in the neighborhood of 30 MPH to 40 MPH.  I actually made a decent touchdown.  Now the problem was rollout and taxi.  My main tires were actually skidding sideways across the runway as I taxied.  I slowed to a crawl and taxied in to join Glen on the ramp.   After shutdown, the wind was buffeting my wings to the point where the airplane was hopping and skipping backwards off the ramp.  An alert ground crew member pulled up in a pick-up truck to block the wind so our birds wouldn’t become airborne unless we intended them.

The folks at Show Low couldn’t have been any nicer.  I think they were surprised that we were able to get down without crashing.  (I was somewhat surprised myself!)  After letting our stomachs rest for an hour, we made plans for our final push into Phoenix.  The first order of business was getting out of Show Low in one piece.  I knew that I didn’t have enough rudder authority to hold my airplane on a takeoff roll on 27.  The airport supervisor, a fellow pilot, was very sympathetic.  No need to describe the ground handling difference between a tail dragger and a nose dragger to him.  He suggested to us that we use the closed runway, 21, to depart.  The runway had just been resurfaced and it was closed only because the painter hadn’t made it out yet.  He made a call to the airport manager and over he motored in his truck.  After verdant pleas on our part, he agreed to “go to lunch”, and if someone just happened to use a closed runway, well………  We thanked everyone and taxied out.  The supervisor removed the temporary barricades blocking the runway and bid us good luck.  We hopped off the deck in about 400 feet and climbed into the western sun.

N417G-x.jpg (42051 bytes)This time, we were able to find somewhat stable air at 12,500’ MSL.  I thanked God for the good fortune and dialed in Roosevelt Dam as my next checkpoint.  In less than an hour, we were letting down into Phoenix airspace just south of the Four Peaks area.  I bid Glen goodbye as he headed to the west side of Phoenix to meet up with relatives.  I made the transition over the Superstition Mall and called the tower at Gateway.  We entered the pattern and made a smooth landing on 30C.  We followed the man on the scooter and before long, we were shutting down on the show plane line.  We had made it!!!  We tended to the airplane, registered, and secured things for the night.  We fueled up to avoid tomorrow’s rush.  We took on 20.7 gallons at $2.37/gallon.  Our last leg had lasted 3.4 hours, the longest of the trip.  In two days, we had flown 1290 nautical miles in 11.9 flight hours, and burned a total of 91.5 gallons for an average burn of 7.7 gallons/hour.

N417G-o.jpg (53283 bytes)Up to this point, N417G had performed flawlessly.  Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the shuttle service.  We had to wait 2 ½ hours for a shuttle to arrive.  We tried calling five different cab companies but they wouldn’t come out.  Turns out it took us longer to travel the 10 miles to our hotel than it did for us to fly in from New Mexico.  We didn’t let it spoil the day though as we enjoyed a wonderful salmon dinner at the Sheraton and bedded down for a much needed and deserved rest.

FRIDAY OCTOBER 13 – DAY 3

            The weather in Phoenix was perfect.  Temperatures in the low 80’s, clear, and no wind.  Nothing much was happening at the air show because the low pressure system that brought showers to New Mexico, had the entire state of California socked in.  Many of the airplanes from California that planned to attend would probably show up late Friday or Saturday.  Alex N417G-p.jpg (59202 bytes)and I made the decision that today, rather than Saturday, would be our “out and back” day.  We packed up our cameras and light jackets and headed to the airport.  We didn’t even give the shuttle service a chance at redemption as we took a cab to the airport.  We threw our light gear in the back and blasted off with Sedona (SEZ), and a warm breakfast, as our destination.  We climbed out of the Phoenix area and entered the valley that would take us up to Sedona and parts north.  The weather was severe clear so we could see the red rocks of Sedona 50 miles out on our horizon.  We also had a clear view of Mt. Humphries north of Flagstaff.

            N417G-q.jpg (64260 bytes)We entered the pattern and set up for a landing on runway 3.  Traffic was already an issue due to Sedona’s popularity.  Since traffic departs on 21 and lands on 3, care must be exercised to avoid one another.   We entered downwind over Sedona and followed a red biplane that offers air tours of the surrounding countryside.  We landed without a problem and parked as close to the restaurant as we could.  We filled up on pancakes and omelets and discussed our next destination for the day.

            N417G-v.jpg (69242 bytes)Since we were so close, I thought we’d make a quick dash to the east and make the customary circling pattern over Meteor Crater and then make a run up north to the Grand Canyon.  We hopped into the airplane and fired up.  It seemed that the departure from Sedona was even more spectacular than the arrival.  We taxied down to the end of 21 and peered over the edge of the plateau.  This is one airport were you don’t want to run off the edge of the taxiway.  We made a left hand departure and circled up over the rim of the adjacent N417G-r.jpg (52794 bytes)terrain on our way to Meteor Crater.  In just a few minutes, you could see it on the horizon.  It is just amazing how these airplanes shorten the distance between things.  From this spot, we could see Payson, Meteor Crater, Sedona, Flagstaff, and on the horizon, Grand Canyon.  We circled overhead and my son marveled at the force it took to create such a hole in the earth.  From here we headed Northwest, directly over Flagstaff, AZ en route to Grand Canyon National (GCN) airport.  We gave Mt. Humphries a wide birth as we passed by.  We could see where summer forest fires had darkened her western flank.  A small fire continued to burn, throwing smoke and soot up to 13,000’ where it trailed eastward in the prevailing winds.

            We switched over to the ATIS frequency at Grand Canyon National as we started to descend.  I soon realized that this is one busy airport.  We entered downwind following a twin otter and set up for landing.  Grand Canyon National is at 6,600’ and it was the highest airport that we landed at.  Although the temperatures were cool, I still managed to develop too high a rate of descent on final.  My punishment for being inattentive was a tail wheel to main wheel porpoise down the runway three or four times.  N417G-s.jpg (57214 bytes)I could just hear the controllers in the tower commenting about the apparent flatlander in their midst.  We were taxied down to the far end of the parking area so we wouldn’t interfere with the “more important” tourist trade.  I understand why.  A twin otter with living room sized picture windows down its side took off or landed about every 5 minutes.  In addition, large Bell Jet Ranger helicopters were departing just as often.  There was so much helicopter traffic through the airport that they had their own control tower and frequencies.  This is the only airport on our trip where we were not made to feel very welcome.  We shut down and clamored around various buildings looking for a ride to the south rim.  Many people looked at us like we were the first ones to ever ask about a shuttle!  We finally managed to acquire the telephone number of the park service shuttle and soon we were motoring up to the south rim for an afternoon of sightseeing.

            N417G-t.jpg (97540 bytes)Seeing the Grand Canyon was the primary reason my son came on the trip and he was not disappointed.  We walked the rim for an hour or so, grabbed some food, and spent a few tourist dollars in the souvenir shop.  We took our time visiting because Gateway airport back in Mesa was going to be closed for the afternoon air show until 4:00 pm.  We planned our departure to that we would arrive back in the valley of the sun just after that time.  N417G-y.jpg (53248 bytes)We departed Grand Canyon National and climbed up to avoid the afternoon desert thermals.  Calm air was found at 11,500’ MSL.  We cruised over Sedona again and decided to over fly Payson on our way back.  Both places shined in the brilliant afternoon sunshine.  I throttled back to about 1900 RPM as I had picked up a tailwind.  I didn’t want to drop down into Phoenix and pound it out down low waiting for the airport to open.  Even at 1900 RPM, I was still doing 135 KTS over the ground.

            Eventually, we swung down into Phoenix and landed via the Superstition Mall.  The airport was beginning to fill up.  There were definitely more airplane there now than when we left in the morning.  There were about 3 ½ rows of RV’s.  Upon landing, Paul Rosales stopped by to talk.  Paul lives in Lancaster, CA. and I met him at the RV banquet at AirVenture.  We talked about our latest adventures since Oshkosh as the fuel truck showed up.  For the day we had used 24.5 gallons of fuel at $2.37/gallon for our 4.4 hours of flying fun.  We cleaned off the dust and few bugs that were present, and prepped the airplane for the flight home tomorrow.

SATURDAY OCTOBER 14 – DAY 4

            Our original plan was to spend one full day at Copperstate and then leave for home on Sunday.  However, there was a slow moving cold front pushing through the Midwest, with the worst of the storms still to the south.  I made the decision to depart Saturday, hoping I could make it through the front before it got real nasty.

            After a great nights sleep, we checked out of our hotel and took a cab to the airport.  Wanting to get the most out of the daylight hours, we arrived at the airport right at sun up.  My son managed to climb the fence to the airport and let me in through a vehicle gate, since the field wasn’t open yet.  We loaded up and departed at first light.

            The first leg to Moriarty, NM was as uneventful as it was beautiful.  We had smooth air and a nice tail wind.  We touched down for fuel in just 2.3 hours.  We fueled up with 17.8 gallons at $ 2.50/gallon and departed for Liberal, KS once again.  Great weather and an even stronger tail wind pushed us toward Liberal.  We averaged between 185 KTS and 205 KTS ground speed and we touched down in just 2.0 hours.  Another 12.4 gallons of fuel and we were ready to leave.  I touched base with Flight Service.  From this point on, we were going to have to deal with the weather.  Radar showed two strong thunderstorm cells between Wichita and Colombia, MO. Moving north.  Around these bad boys were scattered clouds and showers.  There were multiple cloud layers at 7,000’ MSL and 12,000’ MSL.  On the other side of the front, Columbia and St. Louis were showing broken to scattered ceilings with occasional showers.  It looked a little clearer to the southeast as the thunderstorms were clearing a path behind them.  Our plan would be to fly around the thunderstorms to the south and either fly under the base of the clouds, dodging the showers, or fly between the layers if things looked good on the other side.

            It was at this point that I made my one, big mistake of the trip.  I failed to update my wife on my progress.  I was so focused on navigating around the weather, that I forgot to call her.  Of course, my teenage son didn’t remind me either.  More on this later.

            We took off and hit our first clouds about ½ hour later.  I didn’t relish the thought of slugging it out underneath, so I opted to climb between the layers.  Fortunately, the visibility was excellent and the air was smooth.  I had frequent breaks in the clouds so that I could make an emergency descent if I needed to.  We angled towards the southeast and Colombia, MO.  We could see the two big thunderheads and we gave them a wide berth as we swung southward.  Our ground speed averaged about 185 KTS which helped to extend our range should it become necessary to utilize it.  For about an hour, we flew over a solid cloud deck, but I knew that I had enough fuel to make St. Louis if necessary.  Eventually, the clouds broke beneath us over Branson, MO.  We circled down to find a fairly high cloud deck at 6,000’ MSL and relatively calm air.  I could tell we were on the other side of the front as the OAT shot up 20 degrees as we made our descent.  I had fully expected to stop in Missouri for the night but this weather encouraged me to push on.  Eventually we landed in Sullivan, MO for fuel.

            The fall colors were just spectacular in southern Missouri.  The rolling hills were alive with brilliant colors as the sun peeked over the western horizon and beneath the clouds.  It was a surprising and enjoyable sight.  We fueled up with 28.3 gallons at $ 2.40/gallon from our 3.2 hour leg.  I remembered to telephone home this time.  Boy, I had some fast explaining to do.  I managed to sooth the ruffled feathers as best I could and told her we’d be home in two hours.  We’d have to do this last leg at night, but Indianapolis was reporting clear skies.

            We made our final leg in 1.9 hours as we cruised at 3,000’ MSL just south of St. Louis, through southern Illinois, and into Indiana.  The sky opened up to brilliant star shine over Illinois as we watched the harvest moon climb into the eastern night sky.  What a terrific ending to our long day.  The GPS put us right over Franklin Flying Field as the runways lights burst alive with the clicks of my mic button.  We circled down and landed on 21 with two or three thumps.  Another goal accomplished.  Relief, joy, and even a tinge of sadness washed over me.  I gave my son a hug as we closed the hanger doors and loaded up the truck.  “Thanks Dad, he said, “That was really neat!”.  Boy was it ever.

EPILOUGUE

            Over all, N417G used 91.5 gallons of fuel going west over 11.9 hours.  This gave us an average fuel burn of 7.7 gallons/hour.  I flew most of this flight at about 2400 RPM between 6,000’ MSL and 8,000’ MSL.  On the way home, we used only 70.4 gallons in 9.4 hours for an average fuel burn of 7.5 gallons/hour.  The return leg was flown at full throttle (2550 RPM) at about 11,500’ MSL.  I only used 1 quart of oil over the entire trip and had no mechanical problems whatsoever.   We estimate that we covered 3000 nautical miles in four days!

            N417G is a RV-6 with an O-320-D2A engine.  She uses a Sensenich fixed pitch metal prop and LASAR electronic ignition.  The engine was new from Bart LaLonde and had about 60 hours on it prior to departure.  The airplane is fully faired and uses the new low pressure wheel pants and a tail wheel pant.  Inside, she has a full gyro panel, electric trims, night lighting and strobes.  I use a KY-197A dual comm. radio, KT-76C transponder, and a Magellan EC-20X GPS on a pedestal between the seats using a RAM mount.  She also has a stereo intercom and a CD player.  I use two Lightspeed 25XL headsets.  The interior is fully upholstered and carpeted courtesy of Becki Orndorff.  If you have any questions about the trip or my bird, drop me a line at rpflanze@iquest.net.

See you at the next fly-in!