Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not Everything That Happens In Vegas Stays There

But somethings will...

My wife and I spent a few days in Las Vegas.  In planning our trip, Sandra asked if I had already landed a plane in Nevada and if there were any states near Las Vegas in which I had not landed.  True enough, I had not landed in Nevada.  Since I already had California and Arizona, Utah was the only other near by. 

I have attended several safety seminars on stalls and spins put on by Bruce Williams of Bruce Air and recall he kept his plane in Nevada part of the year.  Bruce gives really solid training on aerodynamics and flight upset, and he seems like a stand up guy, so I decided to start my search for a plane with him.  On his website, he recommends Monarch Sky.

Monarch's website makes them appear like a normal FBO in the desert southwest, but it hides a wonderful secret.  Monarch is a sister company to Sky Combat Ace (SCA)!  For less than the cost of an afternoon of my playing blackjack, they strap you in the business end of a 330 horsepower aerobatic lunch expulsion vehicle.  This however would NOT be my destiny.

I have been trying to find opportunities to build tail-wheel time.  I got a tail-wheel endorsement a little over a year ago from Snohomish Flying Service in their woefully under-powered Aeronca Champion.  This is an honest airplane.  Every wiggle, every adjustment, every sneeze changes some axis of this airplane's flight.  There is no "trimming it out" and cruising; you are always adjusting this, or correcting that, or leveling this, or stepping on that.  And even if there was trimming it out, the meager 80 knot speed is far from cruising.  But it teaches you to fly.  It reminds the pilot why the rudders are there.  It honestly exhibits adverse yaw.  It teaches you to be using the rudders in the sky and on the ground.

When the Champ grew up it became the Citabra, and when I found Monarch had one of these, I realized I could simultaneously knock two more states off my list and build tail wheel time.  John from Monarch scheduled me with Chris.  A great match.  Chris is semi-retired, and has flown since his 'teens, and is now flying whenever he can for Monarch and SCA.

At 6:30 AM Monday morning the alarm on my phone jolted me awake (that's what you get for waking up in Vegas).

continues after the jump

By 7:30 Chris and I were exchanging pleasantries.  We discussed my goals, we briefed the flight, loaded up on water bottles and climbed aboard the plane.

We departed Henderson Executive Airport to the south and turned left to head east over the ridge-line a couple miles from the airport, and then direct to
Boulder City and Hoover Dam.  In route the plane and it's little 150 horsepower motor scraped at the hot dry air to get every bit of climb-rate it could muster.  We leveled out at 7,500 feet for the 100 or so miles to St. George Utah.  We followed the lake east along the Nevada-Arizona border
and then turned to follow it north up to Overton and on to Mesquite Nevada.
The charts depicted the lake reaching up to Overton, but it was a dry valley.
As we crossed the Arizona-Utah border, we followed the Colorado River and I-15 through a very steep walled valley.

We passed south of the St. George airport to enter on a left-down-wind-forty-five, and set up for landing behind a Cessna doing touch-and-go landings.

We taxied in and went to reload our water bottles, leaving the plane open to keep it from collecting the 100+ degree heat.  St George Municipal airport is a nice big airport.  Bigger than I would have expected to find in the unused corner of Utah.  The FBO, Above View Jet Center, is a large comfortable facility where they hand out welcome bottles of spring water.

Chris and I spent several minutes sampling the fuel quantity.  Each wing tank holds 18 gallons, and the 1.5 hours we spent flying out should have consumed about 12 of those gallons of fuel, leaving us with about 24 gallons.  But the testing process was showing we had about half a tank in each side.  We considered various possibilities:  Was fuel leaking?  Did we start with less than full tanks?  Was I sampling the quantities incorrectly?  Chris repeated the sampling process and reached the same half-full conclusion.  If we used half of our fuel to get there, we would use the next half to complete our return, with no reserves.  Regulations require a plan for 30 minutes of reserves.

The Nall report is an annual report of general aviation accidents.  As pilots we like to learn from others mistakes because we know we can never live long enough to make them all ourselves.  The important bit in the report is that about 11% of aircraft accidents are due to fuel management errors.  You know, things like "running out of gas."  It is my belief that ALL of these accidents are avoidable.  Chris and I discuss the three things that are useless to a pilot in an emergency:
  1. Altitude above them.
  2. Runway behind them.
  3. Fuel on the truck.
We have the FBO put 10 gallons of fuel in the plane.  The left wing tank won't quite hold the extra 5 gallons. We were mis-reading the fuel sample process. We had plenty, but now we are sure.

The airport is at about 2,900 feet MSL, and it is about 100 or so degrees out and density altitude is about 6,500 feet -- It's going to take some runway to get this little plane off the ground.  As altitude and temperature go up, three important things happen:  The wing needs more airflow to create lift.  The propeller (a spinning wing of its own) is less effective in thin air.  Finally the engine is less able to produce power.  Each of these creates conditions to reduce the airplane's ability to fly.  Chris and I are rushing to get airborne before the hottest parts of the day. 

I plan to put the airport's 9,300 foot long runway to good use.  We taxi into position and run the engine up.  I lean it out to get it creating every bit of extra power I can and start my roll.  I push the stick forward to hold it on the ground while we develop speed, and at 65 knots the little plane pops up off the runway.  I hold the stick forward to keep the plane in ground effect and accelerate to 80 knots before letting the the nose rise and the sky fill the windshield.  We climb over the valley for 8,500 feet for some cooler air on the trip back to Henderson.

Aside from some extra negotiation with the controller, the trip home is uneventful. Chris makes pleasant conversation; we discuss our families, careers, and love of aviation.  Soon we are back at Henderson admiring the toys that await someone for the next adventure.

Thank you Sandra for giving me time to do this, John for making the arrangements, and Chris for keeping us safe.