By Bruce Meacham - email@example.com
I lived in Seattle for four years, earned enough to buy an RV-3, but my family and I were weary of the purpose that brought us West and my wife, daughter, and I were ready to move back east.
It was all so simple in my mind. No one else deserved the pleasure of flying such a sensual machine across this great nation!
I was all prepared. I had seven sectional charts and spent several bleary eyed nights up late nit picking over routing. After all that fussing over the "plan B" planning, what I pounded into www.airnav.com was almost exactly the plan I flew.
It was August, the perfect time of year to fly this flight, but I didn't want to leave anything to chance. I gave myself a healthy two week weather window. I started the clock on August the 20th of 2000. It was stormy in the mid-west as the usual summer cold fronts swooped down from Canada. By the evening of 8/22 it appeared as though there was going to be a break. I drove down to the Seattle flight service station to get an "in person" briefing. I came in and exclaimed I was planning to go all the way across the country in a single place day VFR experimental and I'd like them to pull out the proverbial stops! Boy did they ever - I got the best weather briefing a pilot could ever hope for. It was a meticulous three day forecast all the way across the country.
As luck (or faith) would have it, the clouds were literally parting. It was wide open all the way across. I was geared up to flying the next day.
The morning bore a flurry of last minute packing and instructions for my (empty) house sitters. I couldn't get to the airport till eleven, after a hour of unusually meticulous airplane packing. RV-3's only allow 30lbs of baggage, but I cheated - I'm a little light guy, so I sat on my sleeping back and replaced my back cushion with a full knapsack.
I did my meticulous pre-flight, started, taxied out and wheels were off Paine Field Everett (KPAE), WA just after noon 8/23/00. I remember taking a 090 heading exactly. It was a really hot day, shortly after takeoff CHTs and Oil Temps ran hot, so I throttled back to 1/3rd power, oh man I only get 800fpm at that power setting :( My route over the Cascades was directly over Stevens Pass using pilotage and continued eastward just north of Lake Chelan.
Once I was through the hills, I dialed SandPoint, Idaho in the GPS. I watched all my familiar terrain slip under my airplane for an hour reminiscing about all the great flights I had had. And what a flight lie ahead. At Sandpoint, I changed headings for Glacier, Montana.
August 2000 had a severe forest fire epidemic in Southern Idaho and Montana. I had received all the appropriate Notams, fortunately my desired routing was well north of the fires. Despite the routing, it was still quite smokey. Visibility which had been > 100sm was down to about 10sm in the smoke.
From Glacier I dialed Cut Banks, MT. Those northern Rockies are pretty desolate. But fortunately it's not very wide in that northern stretch of Montana and I found a path that would give me at least two land out options from 11,500'.
Once I was over the peeks I started my decent into Cut Banks. It was so hot! 90s at 4,000', it was hard to believe I was just about as far north as you can get in the contiguous 48! It was pretty windy too.
I gassed up Cut banks and took off. Once airborne, I realized I had shed the mountains, and I was now a "flat-lander". And boy was it flat! I immediately dialed my destination, Kenmare, ND.
I landed at Kenmare at 7:30PM a little tired and the sun set right behind my airplane as I taxied in to tie down.
I called the town only Motel, San Way Ve. I told the jovial fellow on the other end, I've just landed at the airport and I need a place to stay. Without skipping a beat he says I'll be right down to pick you up. When he arrives he explains how he used to fly in the Army in the big war and... [a whole other story...] After I get settled in the room, the gentleman comes over and says, "You haven't eaten Dinner, here's the keys to my truck, go down to the local bar and order a burger". There's some things about this country that still surprise me!
On the way back from Dinner I see the only road sign in town. It reads.. "Highway I-thirty whatever 430 miles." I had to stop the truck I was laughing so hard. That's what's so amazing about an RV, it's a magic carpet to places you never would have gone otherwise.
The next morning I woke up early, just before the sun. I was so excited for a full day of flying. I walked the two miles to the airport, I filled my water bottles, then put in a fuel order and a guy drove out to the airport to fill my plane. I taxied out and was off by 7AM.
I dialed Eveleth, Wisconsin into my GPS and flew a straight course. It was such a smooth flight. Absolutely nothing, no bumps, no wiggles just glass.
I landed in Wisconsin, filled up and took off again for Saulte-San Marie, Michigan. My flight was up Michigan's northern Peninsula which a casual cartographer would assume was a part of Wisconsin. But it's Michigan.
From the Saulte, I was planning something a little risky. I wanted to fly directly from Michigan to Waterville New York. The distance was easy at about 350nm, but 99% in Canadian airspace. Back in Seattle I had asked if there was anything special I needed to do for this leg. They stated that since I wasn't planning to land, no.
I filed my usual VFR flight plan. Once I was air born, I asked and was granted radar services. If I was going to be over flying Canadian airspace for 2 hours, I wanted to be in positive control, so there would be no border issues.
I wasn't 100% sure on Canadian air regs, so I was extra cautious and made sure not to fly VFR above cloud layers (that's illegal without an IFR rating and an IFR plane). There were a few afternoon cumulous, so I had to do some dancing to keep the clouds out from underneath me.
I arrived at Waterville with about an hour of daylight remaining. I was tempted to make a dash for home, but I knew it was folly, the sun was going to catch up with my little RV! I tied her down and bedded for the evening.
All that was left was the short 1 1/2 hour homecoming leg. The next morning I woke up a little later and got some rest. I was air born by nine. My flight plan took me over the Adirondacks.
Now you might think this is odd, but the most sparse place in the entire great nation of ours is Northern New York state! There was nothing, not a road, not an out house not a shack. NOTHING! for 100nm. I really wasn't prepared for such desolation. It's mighty deceptive.
I decided to fly the last leg using pilotage alone, and it was fun. I flew over several places I had been as a child. Seeing them from the air gave a new perspective to the scale of my existence.
I landed at Lawrence Municipal Airport (KLWM) around noon on August 25, 2000. I was so excited, I hadn't even realized what day it was. Until my mother, waiting in the terminal said, "Happy birthday and congratulations on a safe trip." It was my birthday. A birthday I will remember when I'm eighty.
Build straight and fly safe