Saturday, August 31, 2013

Family Vacation to South Dakota Day Two

Day two began with a good breakfast at the Fairfield Inn.  I was briefed on a new temporary flight restriction (TFR) that was north of our intended course.  An airplane had crashed in a military operations area (MOA) and there were ongoing recovery activates.  Before long we were making the easy climb back to 9,000 feet and watching the ground below us slip from Montana, to Wyoming, and then into South Dakota. 
There is a lot of dry, yellow-brown nothing between Billings, Sheridan, and Gillette.  Occasionally we would find an interesting canyon, or a small outpost of humanity, or even a strip mine where coal is harvested. 

The dry nothing of Wyoming gave way to South Dakota’s Black Hills.  Pretty, rolling, pine tree adorned hills with grass-land valleys and speckles of cabins.  It looked tranquil and inviting.  I could see living there.  The dark green pine trees were mixed with splotches of red-brown pine trees. We later learned that these trees were being killed off by a beetle.

About 20 minutes, or 40 miles out, the controller asked if we were aware of our proximity to Ellsworth Air Force base, and instructed us to report Rapid City in sight.  Turns out, the airplane that had crashed to create the TFR was a B-1 bomber from Ellsworth Air Force base.

Staff from WestJet Rapid City secures the plane
Yet the controller still wanted me to see an airport at forty miles?  No way.  We stayed on course for another 30 miles when I picked out both Ellsworth Air Force Base and the Rapid City Airport.  A total of 2:12 after taking off, we were rolling out in Rapid City. 

State number 24 checked off the list.  Again a friendly welcoming staff greeted us, helped us unload, and then tugged our plane off and tied it down. I could get used to this, thanks WestJet Air Center!

We spent the afternoon and next couple days being tourists.  I had been to Rapid City a couple times before as a child.  The most memorable was from the days when it was still OK to ride around in the bed of a pickup truck.  We had taken a family vacation – seven of us – towing a camp trailer with Dad’s pickup truck.  Three of us on a bench seat in the cab, and four of us on sitting on what we called "bunks" under the canopy in the back.  The bunks ran front to rear, one on each side of the truck bed, opened for storage, and had a narrow isle between them. 

I recall being about seven or eight years old and sitting on the front of one of those bunks near the canopy window looking forward through the cab.  Dad had to stop abruptly, but I did not.  My momentum carried my head through the sheet glass front window of the canopy, stopping at the rear window of the cab.  Pieces of glass rained down around my head.  My older brother pulled me back to triage my wounds.  He found a small cut on one ear.  Yeah, I remember Rapid City pretty well. 

I had seen Mt Rushmore a couple times before as a child.  But this was the first time I had seen the Crazy Horse Memorial.  I think Mt Rushmore is an excellent monument to the four Presidents who were selected to be carved on the mountain.  But I also learned the artist, Gutzon Borglum, intended to build a Hall of Records in the mountain behind the faces to secure the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  This project never came to fruition because Congress cut off his funding.

At Crazy Horse I learned two things I found fascinating.  First is that ONE guy, Korczak Ziolkowski, set out to carve a granite mountain into the world’s largest monument -- taller than the Washington Monument in DC, and so large that all of Mount Rushmore’s Presidents can fit on Crazy Horse’s head.  One guy.  Really.  Just one.  This guy could dream really big.  Makes my goal of landing a plane in all 50 states seem weak.  Granted, Mr. Ziolkowski died before seeing it finished, and it is still not finished, and there is no schedule for finishing it, but still what a dreamer!  Go big or go home!  Second is that the Crazy Horse Monument Foundation does not accept any money from the state or federal government.  It is all done with private money.  Mr. Ziolkowski had a distrust of the government, so he did not want to become beholden to them.  Yet in an odd twist, this was the same man who was wounded TWICE in World War II defending his country.  All of the progress that has been made to date has been achieved from donations, entrance fees, and concessions received by the foundation.  Again, I have to admire the guy’s integrity to hold to a belief.

Family Vacation to South Dakota Day One

I just got back from a big flying adventure, and I have a lot to write about.  I will break it up into several parts to keep it from getting too long.

My week started early Monday morning as we loaded suitcases into the back of the Cessna 205.  We had the FBO remove the rear seats in preparation, so there was plenty of space for our light packing.  We buckled in for the longest leg of our journey to the heartland.

I had filed an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan so I would be in constant communication with the controllers in the event of needing any assistance.  Monday turned out to be a beautiful clear day as I pushed the throttle forward and headed south down runway One Six Right (16R).

Runway 16R / 34L is the only operating runway out of Paine Field’s three runways.  11 / 29 has 787s parked all over it, and has had for about 2 years.  16L / 34R has been closed for a couple months as it gets dug up and replaced.

As soon as we were airborne, I was told to turn to the east and contact Seattle Approach Control.  From there I was vectored nearly directly to the Ellensburg VOR, and then "as filed."  "As filed" means I was to follow the path I gave in my flight plan.  I had filed to fly a preset airway named Victor Two (V-2) across the state of Washington at 9,000 feet, over the Idaho panhandle climbing to 11,000 feet, through the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, and then land in Missoula.  Think of it as I-90 for airplanes.

With the monster tail-wind we were getting, this course would get us to Missoula in time for lunch.  However, even a consistent 160 knots over the ground could not make up for having been delayed before takeoff, and then falling behind an hour at the Idaho / Montana border, we ended up landing around 2 pm local time.

Missoula the the forest fire smoke in the background
At Missoula, I was instructed to fly a left downwind (parallel and south of the runway, or fly a rectangle making left turns) but shortly before getting there, a fire bomber airplane returning from fighting the fires reported in to the south of the airport, so we were switched to a right downwind on the north side of the airport.

I kept the plane high on final above the flight path of the heavier plane that had just landed in front of me to avoid the wing-tip-vortices.  We landed without any excitement, and were taxied to Minuteman Aviation.  We were guided into a parking space and escorted into the terminal with the other business jet passengers.  It was pretty nice.  Their staff topped off the plane, the attendant loaned us a "crew car" and we drove towards town for lunch.

Our longest leg was behind us.  2:40 minutes in the sky.

After lunch we strapped back into the plane for a short hop from Missoula to Billings.  This would not be an easy run though, and led me to my first use of my instrument flying skills on the trip.  As I mentioned earlier, there was a large forest fire burning to the south of Missoula.

Missoula is down in a valley at about 3,000 feet above sea level with tall valley walls to either side.  To get out the valley, you must fly a preset course through the valley, climbing to at least 9,000 feet before attempting to fly out of the valley.  So first we flew back to the Northwest -- the way we had just arrived, climbing to nearly 7,000 feet, and then turning around and continuing our climb.

As we crossed back over the city, it became apparent we would not be able to climb over the wall of smoke being cast by the forest fire.  I requested and receive clearance to attempt to parallel the smoke wall to the north until it thinned out, but after several miles it became apparent the smoke was not abating.  We turned back to the east and entered the smoke.  There was no visibility outside the plane, just brownish orange haze.  I looked down at my flight gauges and pressed on.  We were in the smoke for what seemed like forever, but it was probably only 10 minutes or so.

Back out the other side the sky ahead was hazy with the orange glow of the sun behind us and the particulates of the smoke ahead of us.  We were soon getting 160 knots of ground speed out of our normally 120 knot airplane.  Tailwinds are wonderful things.

The air cools about four and a half degrees every 1,000 feet you go up.  So while at an altitude of 11,000 it may be a nice cool 60 degrees outside the plane, peeling off the 8,000 feet necessary to get down to the runway means the airplane and passengers heat up to 95.  Combine that with some bouncing around and you have a recipe for passengers arriving at the destination separate from the food they left with.

Isaac helps with the Plane in Billings
In Billings we were vectored for the visual approach to runway two eight right (28R).  We were held high south of the city a little longer than necessary, so we ended up making a diving left turn with a tail wind over the city, then paralleling the ridge line with the formerly helpful tail-wind rolling up and over it to create some interesting flying while I slowed plane down for landing.

The trip from Missoula to Billings took 2:10 minutes, and we all agreed it was time to stop for the day.  Edwards Jet Center tied down the plane and my passengers got a much needed break in the hotel pool.