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Old 10-03-2021, 03:44 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A long time coming, a cross country western adventure

I have been reading the Van’s Air Force website for about eight years now, always impressed by those that venture out of their local radius and into unknown places. I was always inspired by Vlad, the teacher that lives in southern California (his name escapes me), and others.

I married my wife three years ago and we had a distance challenge, she lived 735 miles away. As I drove down the freeway on one of the long trips, I thought this is crazy; I have driven 100,000 miles back and forth. I needed a plane and to finish my private pilot’s license. I pulled up Barnstormers and found a sexy little RV-4.

I started flight training in my home town and tailwheel training in her town. I was making great progress…. Then COVID hit. My tailwheel instructor was 83, she stopped training. At the same time, my private pilot training that I was taking on a military base came to a screeching halt as they shut down the flying club. Nine months later, I started my training again. Between trips, winter weather, and instructor availability, three more months passed and I took my exam passing with a 98, and passing my check ride the next week, the first week in February of this year.

My next challenge was finding an instructor to provide transition training in the RV-4. Found an awesome instructor who was an aerospace engineer and so we spoke the same language. I finished my tailwheel and transition training in June. Since I had only flown Cessna 152’s , 172’s, and a Citibria, I had quite the challenging flying the RV with the controls stick only moving in a one inch square.

Now with the proper endorsements, I headed to the airport every chance I had, particularly with when the winds were a strong crosswind. Breezes are generally light and down the runway in the summer. In my primary flight training, we were limited to 7 knot crosswinds and winds below 15 knots. Best crosswind I could find in the RV over the summer was 11 knots and I did not seem to have any challenges but I knew that I it would be a reasonable assumption that I would see stronger crosswinds on trips of any distance. At my local airport, we have buildings and trees on approach, so I had experienced the turbulence down low on final. I wondered what crosswinds I might encounter on the trip but planned to keep a watchful eye on the weather.

I planned a cross country trip from northern Alabama to Utah, Idaho, and Montana. The week before departure, a hurricane formed on the Gulf of Mexico and I can remember thinking that it would pass and I would probably have great weather on departure. As my work week began, I had no time to think about the trip or getting ready. As I arose on Friday morning to begin preparations, the clouds were heavy, low, and marginal VFR conditions existed. The weather forecast was for heavy rains for the next seven days. It turns out the hurricane had been downgraded to a tropical storm and it sat on the Louisiana coast for a week. The moisture had just started to migrate to north Alabama.

Unsure of my departure, I headed to the airport to prepare the plane. One of the items I wanted to do was to remove the back seat controls so that the supplies that I had planned on carrying could not interfere. About two months prior, Dale “Snort” Snodgrass Crashed and died in Lewiston ID. As he was a very experienced aviator, one theory was that there were items in the back seat that interfered with the controls. I do not know what the cause was, but it made me want to preclude flight control interference as a potential issue in my plane. I made an aluminum plate and covered the control mechanism after removal of the rear control stick. That worked really well and I think was a smart move. I installed it with pop rivets but long term I think I will add some nut plates so that it can be removed and reinstalled as needed. I do not think I would travel with items in the back seat and have the controls exposed. I performed a detailed preflight inspection and added full oil for the flight assuming that the weather would clear.
To be continued......
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Old 10-03-2021, 04:26 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default Western Adventure

As my attention returned to the weather, it was still marginal VFR but improving. As the day wore on and temperatures rose, the cloud deck continued to rise. There was rain and IFR conditions to the west covering all the routes I had studied in the weeks prior. I decided to depart to the east, fly north around the marginal conditions and begin the journey. As I lifted into the air, the clouds were higher than what was being reported and I could see clearer skies to the east as soon as I turned crosswind.

While I had planned to fly to Georgia before tuning north, there was no need as I had acceptable weather flying to the northeast. I could see rain on ADS-B and could look in the distance and see the rain shafts descending towards the ground. It was the first time that I had seen the relationship between the radar image and the actual conditions while flying. In the weeks prior, while flying in the summer haze, I saw a lightning strike ahead all while I was unable to detect a cloud, let alone one capable of producing lighting. That night, I ordered a Crew Dog Stratux ADS-B in to use with an IPad and my flight software. I love having weather, radar and GPS! Why was I not taught to use this equipment in in my primary training?

My journey took me to Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and I touchdown in the evening at Vance Fredricktown Regional (H88) in Missouri, about 50 miles south of Saint Louis. I had landed for fuel and had planned to continue, but once on the ground, I decided it was a good place to stay for the night. It was a nice small town airport, very impressed with everyone, friendly, helpful, and all with many smiles. As the sun began to set, the orange and red hues reflected off a few clouds in the distance.

I had been sweaty earlier in the day from the preparation on the plane and high humidity. The FBO at Fredricksburg was clean and had a shower available; the shower was a refreshing treat after a long day. Saturday morning, I arose to a heavy and low fog. The local EAA had a fly in scheduled and were expecting several gyrocopters. As the weather cleared, several arrived and the local crowds started to gather. One of the local vendors was giving away hats and toboggans. I had a ball cap, so I thought I would take a toboggan and a few days later in cold weather, I decided that it was a good move.
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Old 10-03-2021, 04:32 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default Western Adventure

I planned my route as the fog cleared. As the weather turned VFR about 11:00, I blasted off to the west with variable clouds that were being pushed from the gulf tropical storm. Fifty miles to the west, the clouds diminished and I saw the hint of clear skies ahead.
Insert pictures.
I flew to Linn County Airport (1KS) just across the Missouri - Kansas state line for some less expensive fuel. Refueled and with clear skies I was heading to east Colorado thinking I would fly around the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. It was one of the routes that I had previously planned out. About halfway, I checked the weather at my destination; winds were 20 KTS with higher gusts. I informed flight following that I was diverting Pratt Regional (PTT). They asked if I had a problem and I told them that the weather had changed at my destination and I wanted to study it on the ground. After fuel and a route re-plan, I decided to fly to Greeley (GXY) just north of Denver. Denver approach instructed me to stay clear of the Class B. I broke out the tent and slept next to my plane that night.
Landing at Greely was the highest density altitude that I had ever experienced and taken off in. I could feel the difference on takeoff. Inside the FBO, there was a flier for a car show and fly-in event 50 miles to the east at Fort Morgan (FMM) on Sunday morning. It was a beautiful morning and I flew to Fort Morgan for breakfast and a car show. I saw a Chevelle Malibu like I had restored in high school, same color too! I had restored a 1968, but from the front, you cannot tell the difference between a 1968 and 1969. They changed the tail lights in 1969. This car was a 69 and I had a good conversation with the owner. There was also a 1969 Camero, a beautiful car too. There were only Cessna’s on the ramp, so my little RV was popular with the locals.
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Old 10-03-2021, 04:40 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A Western Adventure

I had read mountain flying Sparky Imeson’s book on mountain flying. The winds were high in Wyoming, as they always seem to be, I decided to fly around the north end of the high mountains and fly south along the west side of the mountains. Winds were calm at the airports in the mountain valleys. As I flew, the winds kept picking up speed at the airports. I decided to land at Steamboat (SBS) and I crossed over the ridgeline with calm air and no issues. As I tuned in the ATIS as I flew a few thousand feet over the airport, I viewed the surroundings and runway. I tuned in the ATIS and winds were 7 knots and I did not particularly make a note of the direction, I began my decent. On 45 to downwind, I checked the wind again and they were 22kts, gusting 32. Well that was a fantastic change in five minutes! I continued on downwind, base, and final. On final I could align with the runway and had a stabilized approach. Steamboat was having a fly-in and I could see out of the corner of my eye a large crowd that had come out to watch my landing. As I crossed the threshold, I caught severe turbulence coming off a small knoll 100 feet off the runway. Nope, I was not stabilized and I began a go-around.

Just to the west is a small mountain, Deer Mountain. As I was accustom to flying at low altitude, it would have been a non-issue just to climb over this small mountain, but at the high density altitude and reduced climb performance, I had to maintain my climb straight ahead. There was a moment when I realized that I did not have full situational awareness as to what the rising terrain had in store for me as I climbed around the blind side of Deer Mountain. I maintained options for a course reversal but there was a clear flight path on the north side and continued. I flew to west to see if the winds would change and replan.

Ten miles to the west was Yampa Valley (HDN). Yampa has a 10,000 foot runway and it is 150 feet wide. Runway was also at a different angle than SBS. I descended and entered in the 45 to downwind. As I announced my position on the 45, FBO announced the wind at 22 gusting 32. I continued, on final, I asked for a wind check, again 22G32. With full rudder 10 feet above the runway, I was at a 20 degree angle to the runway down the full length of the runway. Very constant, could not detect any gust, I think it was just 32kts direct crosswind. I applied power and climbed with a new respect for mountain flying. In ten minutes, I had experienced rapidly changing wind conditions, flight into a possible box canyon, and crosswinds so strong that I could not align with the runway.

I remembered a grass strip between the two airports by had not made a mental note about its direction. I returned to overfly the private airport, but the direction was any better for crosswinds.

I looked at my ADSB and picked McElroy (20V) in Krimmling. Winds on my ADSB were showing 5KTS. As I tuned in the AWOS when in range about 10 miles out, winds were reporting in at 5 KTS. That was very comforting. As I entered downwind for 27 I looked at the windsock and it was strait out, direct crosswind. Flipped back over to AWOS and heard, 22G32. Clearly, the front had moved in early and was moving south as fast as I was. I continued to base and final. I crossed the threshold and the windsock spun around to align mostly with the runway, I set down with what was my shortest landing roll ever, seemed like I was a moving at 25 miles per hour ground speed. As I taxied off the runway, the windsock flipped around again to a direct crosswind. I did not care, I was on the ground. As I rolled down the runway, my comment was; thank you God. I had decided that if I could not land at my third airport, I was going to declare and emergency and ask for help. I still had 350 miles of fuel range and the skies were clear. In the late afternoon, I saw a rainbow even as I could not see any precipitation, shortly after; I saw the moon rising over the mountain.

While on the ground at Kremmling, I met Dennis, I super gentleman who help me find the courtesy car key and gave some recommendations for dinner in town. His “business card” read; Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Colossians 3:23. He is a man on a mission, a mission to be friendly and help others; thank you Dennis.

The night in Kremmling was a cold, a heavy rain set in, and the winds were stiff. In the morning, the peaks had a pretty good dusting of snow. The firefighting crews were packing up to move to a different area. Seemed the heavy rains had finished their job in the area. I think I will go back and read my Mountain Flying book again with a renewed appreciation on how to, or not to, kill yourself in the mountains. A couple of thoughts on my situation, there were many fields that I could have set down the plane safely, but with some risk and some inconvenience. I had non turbulent air, clear skies, daylight, and fuel so I continued to a new destination. There was help available by declaring an emergency. Always fly with full fuel. In my situation and even with my flight time prior, I could have flown a long way for better weather. Always be willing and ready to execute a go-around. If you are at the airport, stay in the pattern until you cross the threshold, winds change. Even if you cannot land, it is good experience.
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Old 10-03-2021, 04:44 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A Western Adventure

The next morning, I waited several hours to depart to make sure the skies were clear and the weather was stable. The day’s destination was Bryce Canyon in southern Utah. The air was as smooth as glass, I do not recall even hitting a bump on the way. I flew over some of the most inhospitable land of the trip. My departure route consisted of several airports to overfly, via 20V, EGE, RIL, GJT, CNY, CAVEMAN (Pvt), and BCE. Shortly after departure, I approached the Class D airspace of Eagle County Regional (EGE) and contacted Tower. They provided separation between me and a regional jet and a military transport behemoth. I requested flight following from EGE to Bryce Canyon (BCE). I frequently ask myself, where are you going to land if the fan stops? To ensure that I could make reasonable terrain, I varied my path and altitude as needed.

There were many places where there was no acceptable terrain and you would not survive a forced landing without altering the flight path. I maintained contact with ATC switching between Denver Center and Salt Lake Center even though they lost me on radar at times. I had supplied a family member with my google maps tracking location application. I was amazed at how well that worked at altitude. They took several screen shots as I flew from place to place.

At the Bryce Canyon Airport, I caught a shuttle ride to the Ruby Inn at the park entrance. I lay in the grass for a while enjoying the cool dry air and warm sunshine watching people walk about. I was going to go into the park to see what I had seen before, but…. bleep, I did not have a mask to get on the park shuttle. I am so over the COVID nonsense. I grabbed a snack and walked the three miles back to the airport. At the airport, the sun was setting low on the horizon and the radiation cooling was dropping the temperature quickly.
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Old 10-03-2021, 04:48 PM
David Paule David Paule is offline
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Boulder, CO
Posts: 5,264

Good write-up and thanks for the excellent description of western winds and mountain wind changeability.

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Old 10-03-2021, 04:50 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A Western Adventure

I set up camp next to the plane, crawled inside the tent and into a warm sleeping bag. Inside the tent, I watched a Netflix movie on the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I was asleep for the night.

I arose to a brisk 24F temperature, broke down camp and hiked to a café just over a mile away. The ease of find good food is a modern day miracle. I deliberated whether to take the time to go into the park, but I reasoned this was a flying vacation. I watched a tourist helicopter fly overhead and figured I could do what most only dream of, fly over the canyon at an allowable altitude. After all the scenery that I had seen the previous day, I thought that Bryce was not as spectacular from the air as it was from the ground. Next time, I will hike between the hoodoos.

My planned route for sightseeing was to fly to Paige AZ and see Glen Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Lake Powell. As I approached I picked up my phone, opened the camera app, and the phone shut down due to low power from the movie the night before. Seems my USB charger was not plugged in all the way and the battery had not been recharging. By the time I had the camera up and running, I was over Lake Powell. I snapped a few good photos and followed the river with an offset and at an appropriate altitude, magnificent scenery.

I have actually trailered my boat from Alabama to southern Utah Lake Powell three times. Nothing like it anywhere else in the world, beautiful! As I reached the beginning of the northern most section of the lake where the Colorado River enters the lake, I began to fly over a series of airports on my way to northern Utah. On my way, I noticed some oil seepage from under the cowl oil door. I made a precautionary landing at Hanksville UT (HVE). I apparently spilled some oil as I added oil in Bryce Canyon. I was on flight following and announced that I was making a precautionary landing. They allowed me to keep my squawk code and requested that I contact them when back in the air. Five minutes on the ground and I was back on my way for fuel at Huntington (69V). I really like being in contact with flight following so that someone has a clue where to start looking if you find yourself on the ground unexpectedly.

Huntington was a pleasant surprise for a small airport. They had a covered pavilion, grill, and a nice restroom. I ate my bagel and pack of tuna. As I entered the restroom, I was surprised to find a shower. I retrieved my bag for a shower and found there was no hot water. Shower was cold and/but refreshing, no complaints as it was good to feel clean. It also gave he a chance to clean my windshield and bug splatter was all gone.
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Old 10-03-2021, 04:59 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A Western Adventure

From Huntington, I called a friend in southern Idaho and agreed to meet. As I reached altitude, I was unable to reach SLC center. I tried again as I reached Heber City on the east side of the Wasatch Range east of the Salt Lake and before entering the mode C veil of the SLC class Bravo airspace. I flew from Heber to Logan UT to stay east of the class B and then diverted direct to Malad City Airport once I had cleared the mountains. I could hear ATC calling out my RV-4 position and altitude to the approaching airliners; it is stunning the freedom that we have in general aviation. What a great country we live in. Northern Utah really is a beautiful place. I passed Mount Timpanogas, and then Sundance, Park City, Snow Basin, and Powder Mountain ski resorts. I landed at Malad City (MLS), runway is very rough on a small tailwheel. I on takeoff and landings, I would keep the tailwheel off as long as possible and then taxi slowly. The airport has a very nice and newly renovated pilots lounge. I understand that the airport has received a grant to repave the runway, truly needed. I found on this trip that the smaller airports are really nicer and want you at their facility. I like buying AV gas from places with an emphasis on general aviation rather than jet traffic. I walked three miles into town arriving just in time for the smoked filled Chat and Chew bar to stop serving dinner for the night. It was another mile to the local Subway that was still open. The next day, I took a scenic flight around the area, again, just a beautiful area of the country.

As I prepared to leave, I opened the door I saw a flash of light and heard the loud and distinctive crack of thunder. I had clouds overhead, rain a few miles to the west, clear skies to the north and south. It was a small front passing through the area. In 30 minutes, crystal clear skies.
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Old 10-03-2021, 05:04 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A Western Adventure, West Yellowstone

Departing Malad, I flew to West Yellowstone. The trees were beginning to show the fall colors, both the scrub oaks and the aspens. At times I flew low and it was such a pleasure.

When I could see the Grand Tetons in the distance, I diverted to the southern end so that I could fly the western Teton Range. I flew over Driggs ID (DIJ) and announced my location for other traffic. I had one plane that was coming in from the east as I could see him on the ADSB but could not identify him against the background of the Tetons. He was radio silent until I announced that he was within a mile of me, descending to my altitude, flying directly at me, and that I did not have him in sight. I diverted my course to decrease his closure rate. A few seconds later, ADSB said he was 200 feet below and he started communicating. The geometry of the situation had both of us looking for the other against the ground which can be difficult. I appreciate the value of ADSB equipment.

As I flew along the range, the spruce trees became very dense and there were no areas without dense spruce coverage. I diverted slightly west once again to ensure I had options if the fan stopped. As I approached West Yellowstone (WYS), the air was crystal clear; I spotted the airport with ease at 25 to 30 miles out. I bet if I had looked sooner, I could have spotted it at 50 miles, maybe even 100. I have never seen the air so clear when flying. Wind was calm and it made for a picture perfect landing. I was really jazzed after landing. The air was cool and crisp, blue sky, warm sun, and just perfectly perfect. I tied down and walked into town for a bite and a stroll. It seems that three miles is the common distance between the airport and town. In town, I bought a coffee cup for the spouse and shirts for the kids.
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Old 10-03-2021, 05:18 PM
BenNabors BenNabors is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Alabama
Posts: 153
Default A Western Adventure, Over Yellowstone, Returning Home

Returning to the FBO, I had to decide if I wanted to continue to Whitefish (58S) or Glacier Park International (GPI), or start to head back home. I was content with what I had seen so I charted a route back home.

First hop, West Yellowstone (WYS) back to Greenly Weld (GXY), 383 miles, where I had stayed the on the way out. Winds across Wyoming were howling at the surface. There was turbulence if I flew at the same elevation as the mountain tops for a while, but it was smooth 1000 feet below the peaks as I cruised through the valleys. I had a 30 degree wind correction angle to the south as I flew along so I was glad I was not picking up turbulence. As I had flight following, I was listening to the jet traffic showing up on my ADSB. The first request from every jet coming on frequency was a request for an altitude change. What was the standard answer from ATC? There is nothing better between FL28 and FL43. Glad it was smooth where I was.

As I came into contact with Denver approach, I noticed that I had negative amps. Voltage was 12.6, so I had caught it just as the alternator failed. I will give myself credit for have a good instrument scan. As I was 50 miles out, I had to decide my course of action. Should I land with no large city close by or continue on to my destination? I decided to continue. I informed Denver approach that I had lost an alternator and it was possible that I could lose radio communications but that I would continue to my destination. I maintained radio capability. As I was entering the pattern, another pilot in the pattern sounded wispy and I was wondering if the low voltage was having an impact on my end. My voltmeter showed acceptable voltage. Subsequently, I heard other pilots on frequency and they were crisp, so I knew it was not an issue with me.

I asked around and found out that there was an auto electric shop in the area that could rebuild my alternator. Then next morning I asked the shop if they could repair my automotive alternator that was off my plane. They said they would not touch it if it was off a plane, no ifs, ands, or buts. I asked if they would repair my alternator off my car, he said no. I knew this was not going to be easy to find an alternator with unknown identification. I went to a PartsPlus Auto Parts store and told them that I needed an alternator for my off road vehicle. After all it is not an airplane, it is an off road vehicle, that is unless you are Vlad who is always showing pictures parked on the dirt roads. I was not sure exactly what model alternator I had or what type of vehicle it was off of, but I thought it was a Honda. We tried to match it without much success, and then an older gentleman came up and said the he could try and match it using the paper books. Turns out I have an alternator off an 84 Honda Prelude, and the closest part was located in Dallas. I tried all the other box stores and always came up with the same answer. Everyone could have it shipped in from Dallas, sometime next week. Apparently there is a grand total of one remaining alternator in the nation that fits an 84 or 85 Prelude. I have to give a shout out to the PartsPlus in Greenly CO, they went above and beyond on their service. As I had struck out on finding a part I knew it was time for “Plan B.”

I had pretty good success running off battery power after the initial failure and I had brought a lithium battery with me. So I bought another lithium battery, a battery charger, and some tools. I put the old alternator back on and recharged the battery. I charged my IPad, and my cell phone, both with Ifly GPS software. I like the software because it runs on both Apple and Android platforms. I reviewed the minimum equipment list and only ran with the minimum equipment on. I made a short hop and stopped for the night to recharge all the batteries. The short flight gave me a chance to evaluate my plan B. It seemed to work just fine.

In the morning, I was up before the sun to get ready, preflight, and refuel the plane. The sun broke the horizon as I stepped into the plane. There were those bleeping winds again. Fifteen knot crosswind with a 22 KTS gust. I did a short field method takeoff and flew in ground effect for a short period allowing the plane to weather vane into the wind, and few seconds later, started my climb. I was on my way. LED lights are an amazing technology. I started with 12.8 volts, and watched as the voltages slowly descended down to 11.8V, but I never had to use my back up battery. I made it three hours with a great 25 to 30 knot tailwind. I was amazed that using my cell phone to help with navigation, with the screen intensity turned down, I only used 40% of the battery on the first leg. I landed for fuel, lunch break, and a battery recharge. When everything was charged and refueled, I departed once again. Another 3 hour leg and I was at my home airport. I learned how amazingly accurate flying by a compass heading can be. I think it even helped me stay closer to my intended track with smaller deviations than GPS alone.

As I crossed the Mississippi River, I knew I was getting close to home. Many of the farmers were burning off their fields. The smoke would rise and then plateau like an anvil on a thunderstorm. There was a general haze going east from the burn offs.

On the return flight, I was more focused on the flight that the scenery that I was flying over, and much of it was more familiar and the weather was spectacular for flying.

In total, I had 30.3 hours flying and many memories to capture and digest.
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