Coast to Coast in an RV-6A
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By Vern Darley - vern@mindspring.com  
Peachtree City, Georgia

Lon Johnson

Dreaming of flying since I was about three years old, and having soloed in the mid-sixties with flying corporate, airlines, USAF, USAFR, and my own planes over the years, I was able to check off one of the few remaining goals that I have clung to over the many decades I have loved aviation. That goal was to fly coast to coast in a simple light plane, with minimum contact with ”the system” and little or no electronic assistance.

In February of 2002, I found out that Secretary of the Georgia Senate, Frank Eldridge, was interested in purchasing an RV-6A from Lon Johnson in Santa Maria , California. Lon, who had built the bird and flown it less than 100 hours, is in the terminal stages of battling cancer and wanted to find a good home for N599LJ.

N599LJ is a slow build RV-6A with a fixed pitch prop on a Lycoming O-320E2D 150 HP engine. It has manual flaps, conventional vacuum DG and horizon, Van’s engine instruments, an old King NavCom, and a new panel mounted Apollo GX65GPS/Com. It’s panel is similar to most minimal IFR light planes.

Lon & Vern

Since the Georgia Senate was in extended session, Frank faced a difficult situation in being able to buy Lon’s bird. In fact, some questioned his judgment in buying a plane he had never seen from a man he had never met and allowing a pilot he had never flown with inspect it and fly it back to Georgia. However, time allowed no other options, as the RV-6A seemed to be just what Frank wanted to put in his hanger with his beloved Duchess. So,in short order, Vern and a friend, Steve McDonald, an RV-4 owner, were on an airliner heading for the rendezvous in California. Some close friends of Lon’s helped him get the RV-6A ready for inspection and serviced for the long trip back East.

I’ve flown jets and turboprops out west many times, but friends, flying an RV VFR across the country is different! Steve worked his portable GPS magic while I hand flew most of the 13+ hours across the country. As we departed Southern California, we made a short run out over the green Pacific and then turned toward the high deserts of California. Sundown of the first day found us landing at Prescott , Arizona where we found excellent accommodations across the street from the airport and enjoyed the food at the airport restaurant , “The Skyway”, surrounded by local “airport bums” and WWI and II aviation goodies. After years of flying pressurized airplanes, Steve and I were exhausted by the 9500’ cruising altitude our trip required in order to clear the mountains. Folks, there’ s big difference in cruising all day at 9500’ and at 5500’! I can only imagine what a long night flight at that altitude would be like!

Mountains

The morning of the second day found us crossing over the Rio Grande at Albuquerque and into the deserts of new Mexico, where we stopped at one of the simplest but friendliest fuel and lunch stops at Route 66 airport in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The winds were gusting to about 20-25 knots direct cross, but the little RV handled them just fine!

Hal, a WWII Corsair pilot , and Blackie the dog, who really runs things, greeted us and after topping us off with fuel, took us to their favorite dinner, The Silver Moon, for lunch. Next, came the long flight across the Lone-Star state, first crossing the panhandle area and seeing and reliving many memories from USAF days of flying in Texas, and later as we hugged the border with my birthplace, Oklahoma, where I was born in 1950 while my father was in B-25 training there. Crossing Wichita Falls, Sherman, and into East Texas finally gave us a good steak and rest in Paris, Texas, just a few miles from Louisiana. Our long day reminded us of the old Burma Shave signs on the roadside, which read: the sun has rise, the sun has set, and we aren't out, of Texas yet! Burma Shave!

Except for winds and turbulence, the weather had been favorable...until now! Getting a head start on a weather briefing late that night, things looked interesting for the morning departure as a weather system to the North of us was heading for a confrontation with a system heading up from the Gulf, laden with moisture. Confirming this grim news at daybreak, our only hope to get home the next day was a little gap over Southern Arkansas over towards the Greenville, Miss. area as early as possible before the weather became severe. So, on the morning of the third day, we launched off into an angry sky gathering along our route. At first, it seemed like cruising beneath the overcast would be smooth sailing, but as we flew eastward, and the ceiling began to get down to a few thousand feet, Steve and I agreed that higher was better, and soon we were cruising between cloud layers until we approached eastern Arkansas, where a mandatory pit stop, [and I don’t mean for fuel !]was in order. A small duster strip appeared just beneath us just in time! Did I mention that the RV-6A carries far more fuel than biology will allow? Well, it’s true!

Steve and Vern

Soon we were back in the air, crossing the mighty Mississippi and heading towards Tuscaloosa, Alabama, fuel and a good lunch. Although our calculations suggested we could make it to Peachtree City, our judgment said stop to be sure. Once again, the friendly FBO provided a good recommendation and a loaner car. Feeling full and knowing home was a short flight away, we returned to Georgia airspace to break out from under the overcast and find a beautiful day awaiting us.

Since Steve has his RV-4 flying, and my own basement, hanger, and garage full of RV-6A parts seem about a year away from coalescing into one larger complete machine, it was a great experience to appreciate Lon’s creativity, and workmanship and get to try out his ideas. Frank’s generosity, trust in inspecting, purchasing, and flying his new bird home was so good for Steve and me as we plan our own machines’ configuration and equipment. The helpful people who fed, housed, transported us, provided us weather information and serviced the RV are appreciated. Our families’ encouragement and support for the great adventure were also great!

And, of course, accomplishing a life-long goal is great!

Trip summary:
GPS trip timer=13+38 
Trip mileage=1,815 NMs
Average speed=133 knots
Fuel burn-7.5 gph
Fuel prices: High $2.76 in Cal, low=Ga
Some of the things we learned:
9500” is tough on the old bods!
7500’ or lower is much better
2500’ is too low for a long day
125 kts gs is really slow!
165-170 knots is much better!
Never fly out of the LA basin and Class B area without a lot of planning and advice
Sedona,AZ is beautiful
Flight following is readily available and increases safety margins
Plan fuel stops at airports with multiple runways if you can. Especially tail dragger flyers!
The east-West runway at Santa Rosa, NM are part of the original Route 66
GPS is wonderful
Texas is mostly flat with few trees
858 days in one day in an RV is a little much
Low altitude IFR charts are great for planning VFR legs
WACs are good at 9500”, Sectionals are better at low altitudes
Bad intercoms,and radios can be a real problem
Get as good of headsets as you can afford

Squawks:
Saw a few times when Van’s gauges jumped around when transmitting 
Oil pressure gauge and fuel gauges were occasionally erratic
The red light as a backup to oil pressure is good
Electric flaps are a good thing
This is great machine!