Saturday, August 31, 2013

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.
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