Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Perfect US Flying Trip?

I am sure that many of you have seen this article about the Perfect US Road Trip.  I really enjoyed the article and recommend giving it a read.  Lots of great suggestions for places to visit and things to see.

The Perfect US Road Trip

The Perfect US Road Trip

After reading it, I got an idea.  What if I did this same trip in my airplane?   I pulled up the road map provided in the article and starting matching it up to airports using the SkyVector website. Lo and behold, nearly every place mentioned has an airport nearby.  In some cases right next to the site.   I created a flight route that nearly mimics all the locations provided in the perfect trip and to be honest it looks quite possible.  Maybe a few adjustments for getting over mountains and around some restricted areas but, otherwise very possible.

I used to help me find airports close to the sites.  When selecting airports I tried to go with local or municipal airports that had FBOs that could get a rental car or at least provide a courtesy ride to a local hotel.  In nearly every case fuel and hotels were available within a short drive, if an overnight stay was needed.  Mind you, not every place had a five star hotel with every amenity, but most had inexpensive motels within a short distance.  I did not really focus on finding the least expensive fuel, just that the airport had fuel available or a close by airport had fuel.  I am sure a thrifty pilot could use to check local fuel prices and adjust the route to save a buck or two on fuel.

Could this route be optimized to be more direct?  Yes it can.  The goal here was to match the road trip as close as possible.  That way even if you don’t land in every state you at least get to fly over and see them from the air.   Another benefit is that you can fly over all those commuters on the highways below, open your window and shout at them “Where is your plane, peasants!”.

Perfect US Flying Trip

Perfect US Flying Trip

Rudy the Red-Nosed Cessna 172

As this is supposed to be a sight seeing trip I chose to plan for flying my 1964 Cessna 172E. This will be a low and slow flight focusing on maximum visual enjoyment.  This plane consumes about 6-8 g.p.h and goes about 105 knots (or 120 mph) on a calm wind day.  The trip would cover 9673 nm, take 91.5 hours of flying time and consume at least 778.3 gallons of fuel.  Some of the legs would be right at the maximum range with safety, and to be honest I’m not sure my backside or bladder could make it that far without an interim stop.  On some of the legs slight left or right deviation would be advisable to avoid those pesky tall mountains, but none of it is impossible.

Sunny Side Up the World's greatest Piper Comanche 180

Sunny Side Up the World’s greatest Piper Comanche 180

If I did this trip in my Piper Comanche, slightly different numbers. 80.5 flight hours and 804 gallons of fuel.   For sure I would be more comfortable, I could fly further and get there quicker.  However I think the point is to take it all in, so low and slow would be optimal so a simpler craft would be best.

The cost for this trip by aircraft will be a bit higher than driving.  The biggest expense will be fuel. Based on the regional prices of Aviation Gas 100LL from the website the average price for a gallon of fuel in the US right now is $5.09 per gallon.  Therefore 778.3 gallons of fuel would run about $3692 in fuel.   Most FBOs will waive overnight parking fees with a fuel purchase so that is a money saver.  My 172 has a MoGas STC, which means I can burn unleaded car gas that does not contain ethanol, so I might even save a few more dollars.

Another expense will be an oil change.   With just under 100 hours of flying time at least one oil change will need to be done.   A shop might charge an hour of labor and the cost of the filter and oil.  Probably best to budget $200 for that activity at about the half way point of the trip. Perhaps this oil and filter could be prepositioned for the half way point of the trip.   If you are your own mechanic then lucky you! You can change the oil on your own.

Here is a list of all the airports and stops.

  1. KTIX Space Coast regional, Cape Canaveral Florida  – Visit Cape Canaveral
  2.  KAYS Waycross- Ware County, Georgia – Visit Okefenokee Swamp Park
  3. KJZI Charleston Executive, South Carolina – Visit Fort Sumter National Monument
  4. KLWB Greenbrier Valley, Lewisburg, West Virgina – Visit Lost World Caverns
  5. KFFA First Flight, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina  – Visit Wright Brothers memorial
  6. KVKX Potomac Airfield, Potomac, Virgina – Visit Mt. Vernon and Capitol.
  7. KANP Lee Airport, Annapolis, Maryland – Visit Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis.
  8. KILG New Castle, Delaware – Visit New Castle Courthouse
  9. KWWD Cape May, New Jersey – Visit Congress Hall Hotel or Naval Museum
  10. 19N Camden County, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Visit The Liberty Bell Center
  11. Husdon River, New York VFR Corridor Northbound
  12. KHFD Hartford Brainard, Connecticut – Visit Mark Twain Museum
  13. KUUU Newport State – Visit The Breakers Vanderbilt Mansion
  14. KOWD Norwood Memorial, Boston, Massachusetts – Visit Charleston Navy Yard
  15. KBHB Hancock County Bar Harbor, Maine – Visit Acadia National Park
  16. KHIE Mount Washington Regional, New Hampshire – Visit White Mountain National Forest
  17. VT8 Shelburne, Vermont – Visit The Inn at Shelburne Farms
  18. KBKL Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland, Ohio  – Visit USS Cod Submarine Memorial
  19. KONZ Grosse Ile, Detroit, Michigan – Visit Detroit Historical Museum
  20. KLUK Cincinnati Municipal, Lunken Field, Cincinnati, Ohio – Visit Cincinnati Zoo
  21. KGLW Glasgow Municipal, Kentucky – Visit Mammoth Cave National Park
  22. KFRH Frenh Lick, Indiana – Visit West Baden Springs Hotel
  23. KSPI Abraham Lincoln Municipal, Springfield, Illinois – Visit Lincoln Home
  24. KCPS St. Louis Downtown, Missouri – Visit the Gateway Arch
  25. KFLV Sherman AAF, Leavenworth , Kansas – Visit the CW Parker Carousel Museum
  26. KIKV Ankeny Regional, Des Moines, Iowa – Visit the Terrace Hill
  27. KLNR Tri-County Regional, Spring Green,Wisconsin – Visit Taliesin Preservation
  28. KSGS South St. Paul Municipal, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Visit Fort Snelling
  29. 6K3 Creighton Municipal, Creighton, Nebraska –  Visit Ashfall Fossill Bed
  30. KRAP Rapid City Regional, Rapid City, South Dakota – Visit Mount Rushmore
  31. KSDY Sidney Richland Regional, Sidney, Montana – Visit Fort Union Trading Post, ND
  32. KGPI Glacier Park International, Kalispell, Montana – Visit Glacier National Park, MT
  33. KRLD Richland Airport, Richland, Washington – Visit Hanford Site, WA
  34. 4S2 Ken Jernstedt Airfield, Hood River, Oregon –  Fly the Gorge and Visit Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum
  35. KSQL San Carlos, Airport, San Carlos, California – Visit San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
  36. L17 Taft-Kern County Airport, Taft, California – Walk the San Andreas Fault, CA
  37. KBVU Boulder City Municipal Airport, Boulder City, Nevada – Visit Hoover Dam
  38. KGCN Grand Canyon National Park Airport, Grand Canyon, Arizona – Visit the Grand Canyon
  39. KBCE Bryce Canyon Airport, Bryce Canyon, Utah – Visit Bryce Canyon National Park
  40. KAOC Arco-Butte County Airport, Arco, Idaho – Visit Craters of the Moon
  41. KWYS Yellowstone Airport, West Yellowstone, Montana – Visit Yellowstone National Park
  42. KCOS City of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, Colorado –
  43. KCNM Cavern City Air Trml Airport, Carlsbad New Mexico – Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  44. KSSF Stinson Municipal Airport, San Antonio, Texas – Visit The Alamo and City Walk
  45. KF30 Sulphur Municipal Airport, Sulphur, Oklahoma – Visit Platt Historic District
  46. KLIT Clinton National/Adams Field Airport, Little Rock, Arkansas – Visit Toltec Mounds
  47. KM01 General Dewitt Spain Airport, Memphis, Tennessee – Visit Graceland
  48. KVKS Vicksburg Municipal Airport, Vicksburg, Mississippi – Visit Vicksburg National Military Park
  49. KNEW Lakefront Airport, New Orleans, Louisiana –
  50. KBFM Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile, Alabama – Visit  USS Alabama Battleship Park

So who wants to go?

Happy flying


Say Something or Not??

On April 4th of 2017 I was flying south from Ocala to Sarasota on an IFR plan with a buddy of mine to pick up some supplies.   Going south the ride was bumpy and overcast at about 4000 feet and we bounced along in and out of the clouds.  To the north was a storm system several miles across covering all of Florida; It was enormous and powerful. One might even call it a squall line, which is a line of powerful high winds and storms traveling in the same direction at a rapid pace. The on-board weather in my plane showed not only light (green) to moderate (yellow), but severe (red) to extreme (purple) precipitation.  That cloud was tall and would contain some strong wind shear based on these color depictions.

N155CL Flight Path

I heard the pilot of N155CL talking to the Jacksonville Approach about the weather conditions. The pilot was asking about the storms ahead. The controller said that all she had was returns and could not see all the details. The pilot reported that he saw a hole and it thought it was clear.  I knew exactly what he was doing.  The pilot was attempting to penetrate the storm and find a hole between the storm cells.

This is very dangerous.  As a Florida pilot I know how strong and deadly these storms can be.  The tops of these storms can reach upward of 45,000 feet and can unleash a furious wind and rain storm with rain, hail and tornadoes.   I hovered my finger over the push to talk button on the radio and debated making a quick radio transmission urging this pilot to turn around.  I thought to myself that the pilot would be smart enough to see the extreme conditions and do so on his own.   I talked myself out of saying something.

A few minutes later Jax replied with an altitude alert for N155CL.  Then a contact/transponder signal lost call from Jax came a few minutes later. I turned to my buddy and said “That is not good, he just crashed”.  We stared at each other in disbelief.  I took a moment to write down the tail number and follow up once I got home.

N155CL Airspeed Altitude

Looking at the flight data it seems that N155CL attempted to penetrate the storm in a flimsy little airplane.  Looking at the altitude and airspeed plot his plane went from 8000 feet to almost 10,000 feet in less than a minute. That is 2000 feet per minute for the uninitiated.  That is a really fast change of altitude, usually caused by sudden wind direction change.  The pilot saw a clear hole because the wind was pushing upward at such a rate that the clouds were pushed out of the funnel.  He entered an updraft of the building cumulonimbus storm and got thrown upward at an extreme rate of speed. This sudden updraft either damaged or completely ripped off the left wing of the plane.

Cumulonimbus Winds

N155CL was a Pipstrel Virus SW.  A small two-seat light sport aircraft with high wings.  This aircraft was not designed for the extreme conditions the pilot encountered in that storm cloud.  The instrumentation inside the plane would have included glass panels with weather and traffic that showed the conditions present in the storm ahead of the plane.

Pipistrel Virus SW

The pilot of this plane was not an amateur. According FAA records, the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land, single engine sea and glider. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued October 28, 2013, at which time he reported 12,100 total hours of flight experience. A review of the pilot’s logbook revealed that he had accrued 92 total hours of flight experience in the accident airplane as of April 2, 2017.  he knew better than to do what he did.  I can only guess at what motivated such an experienced pilot to attempt such a risky flight.

This incident left me pondering why I did not say anything. I beat myself up mentally several times for keeping my mouth shut when a few second transmission on the radio could have changed the outcome.  In the end I had to reconcile the facts.  As the pilot in the left seat, I am responsible for knowing the weather conditions and the limitations of my aircraft.  The pilot of N155CL was responsible for his own actions.


Flying to Florida for Sun-N-Fun

Greetings Florida Visitors!

Many of you will be traveling soon to enjoy a week of plane fellowship at Lakeland Linder Regional airport for a popular event called Sun-N-Fun.   I would like to offer some advice as a transplant who has tried to adapt to the unique experience that is flying in Florida.

First off use flight following.  Get on with ATC as soon as you can and use it for your entire flight in. Expect that you might be dropped once you get 50 miles or so north of Lakeland as the traffic will be too tight for ATC to work you in.  From this point on eyes outside and head on a swivel.

Getting Prepared

There are some essential items to bring on the trip.  Bring plenty of sun screen SPF 30 or better and apply it several times throughout the day, or we will know you are a tourist by your bright red color and the glow you give off at night. Wear a hat with a brim, and maybe something to cover the back of your neck.  Bring a rain poncho or pick one up at the AOPA or Jeppesen booth so you can stay dry during the sudden showers. Drink lots of water all day long.  Our temperature and humidity are very high and you will get dehydrated rapidly while outside.

If you don’t have an adsb receiver and a tablet of some kind with compatible software this might be the time to get one.  You can build a Stratux for about $120 and link it to an iPad or a Android pad for cheap. It is worth it for weather and traffic.

The Route

The air traffic is going to be a bit more busy than normal so I would like to offer some suggestions for flying towards the event.  Coming from the west I would suggest using a route such as MAI->CTY->OCF->KLAL.  If you are coming from the north I would suggest using a route such as TAY->GNV->OCF->KLAL.  Coming from the north east I might suggest SAV->SSI->GNV->OCF->KLAL I do not recommend flying the east coast of Florida as there tends to be enormous amount of traffic and training along the east coast and ATC will be very busy.   Also there are several restricted areas around Jacksonville which make can make for some extra challenges.

Flying the inland route has a couple of advantages.  First it keeps you out of the Tampa and Orlando class bravo airspace. They are both going to be really busy already and the added stress of passing through either bravo airspace might make the trip more difficult than it needs to be.  Second there are some good places to stop along the way here and take a break, get fuel or spend the night.

According to Williston Municipal Airport X60 has the historically lowest price on 100LL fuel in the north central Florida area. and they also have a diner.  If you are looking for an overnight stay, Ocala KOCF, has several hotels in the area and overnight parking is inexpensive.

About the Weather

Clear Skies? So the weather forecast is going to say something like clear skies, sunny and warm. Usually that means a scattered layer of cumulus clouds somewhere between 3000 and 5000 feet.  Even if it does not rain we have a lot of moisture in the air and these clouds show up pretty much every day. The ride will be bumpy below 5000 during the day and closer you are to this cloud layer the worse it will be.

Afternoon Storms This wonderful aviation event usually marks the transition in Florida weather to the time when we start getting thunderstorms.  This unique weather phenomenon tends to happen in the in afternoon in Florida. Now don’t get too worried as they tend to be localized and intense for a short time and then die out almost as rapidly as they form.  They are not usually a line of storms, more on that in a minute, and instead tend to be isolated rain heads that can easily be avoided by flying around them. When you fly around a Florida storm, give it a wide berth.  Stay well away from the falling rain as there is also a really strong downdraft right outside that rain head.  A good tip I learned:  If you cannot see through the rain, go around it.

This afternoon thunderstorm weather happens for a couple of reasons.  I am going to possibly oversimplify but here goes.  The wind starts in the morning coming out of the west gently blowing eastward and slowly bringing moist, warm air off the Gulf of Mexico.  Then as the day progresses, sometime around 2pm, the winds shifts and starts coming from the east.  The very hot easterly wind brings even more moisture from the Atlantic and pushes rapidly across the state like a mini storm front, plowing it’s way across and creating many small and intense thunderstorms, which die out after the sun sets.

Bring Good Tie-Downs Bring really good tie-downs for your plane, not the cheap stake your dog out on the lawn kind.  These intense, short-lived storms can pick up and throw your plane around.  What a lousy way to lose your airplane to a thunderstorm at Sun-N-Fun.  Many plane owners have lamented not securing their craft properly and having it flipped over onto another plane at this event.  It happens so be prepared and don’t end up a statistic.

Fronts When flying into Florida, there are some locations that tend to form large lines of thunderstorms that can be very treacherous.   The most common place is diagonally from Tallahassee , across the state of Georgia, to the edge of South Carolina.  Sometimes it will be a bit south of that point, coming across Cross City to Jacksonville, but they very often form north and work their way south. Make sure you have a good eye on current weather when transitioning this space. Do not attempt to penetrate these storm lines unless you really know what you are doing.  Conditions around these storms will easily rip off your wings.

Morning Fog  Sometimes we get a low layer of clouds about two hundred feet above the ground that will cover whole sections of the state.   The good news is that this layer will rise quickly or burn off.  However, this does create low IFR conditions over large parts of the state so be prepared to wait it out somewhere a bit north until it is clear.

The Arrival

Read the NOTAM Flying into the event can be challenging for a first timer, but is relatively safe and rewarding.  I cannot stress enough to read the NOTAM published for this event. You can find the NOTAM here.   Early morning arrivals are better than later as the traffic tends to be less first thing in the morning.  Best advice I can give is know the NOTAM, keep your eyes outside, relax and enjoy the ride.

Here is a great example of the approach and landing at Sun-n-Fun.