30th High School Reunion

It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since I graduated from High School. I went back for my 25th reunion, but that couldn’t possibly have been 5 years ago, right?!?! Weather is always a factor in October, so I have been watching it like a hawk for the past couple of weeks. Surprisingly, it looked like I was going to get a break and have a nice clear area between two storm fronts moving eastbound. I took off in sunny skies on Oct. 9th for my first stop in Gallup, NM. I’m visiting family in Tulsa, OK, but the storm will prevent me from getting there on the first day.

There was weather over the Sierras, so I ran around the south end which took me right over the center of Las Vegas, NV. I was above the Bravo airspace, so I banked over and got a nice shot of McCarran airport and the strip.

It also took me right over the Grand Canyon. In all of my years of flying, I have never flown over the Grand Canyon. I’ve caught a glimpse of it from the window of a commercial aircraft, but it’s hard to appreciate the scale of this place from 35,000+ feet. When driving, you can only see a tiny fraction of the canyon from the rim, so you can’t really tell how long it is.

There are parts of the canyon that are 15+ miles wide and it’s well over 100 miles from end to end. It took me over a half hour to fly from one end to the other, and I enjoyed spectacular views like this the whole time. It was about an hour before sunset, and this photo simply doesn’t do justice to the brilliant colors and panoramic view.

The storms moving eastbound gave me a nice 25-40kt tailwind for the entire flight from CA to KY. The weather was nearly perfect with the exception of a high overcast in Tulsa, OK which required an instrument clearance to descend through. There were also scattered showers when I left Tulsa, but they were easy to dodge and I barely got wet.

After an enjoyable visit with family and friends in both Tulsa, OK and Lexington, KY, it was time to head for home. I had planned to run up to Minneapolis, MN to visit a buddy, but a low overcast with ice blocked me. I’ll have to do that next year on the way to or from Oshkosh.

The next day was much better with a much higher overcast. There was still icing forecast in the clouds, so that kept me down around 3’000 AGL for the first few hundred miles, but I wanted to stay low anyway since the headwinds up high were 45+kts. Since I was headed all the way back without overnighting anywhere, I got a fairly early start since I knew it would be a long day.

One odd thing I noticed before the flight was the ELT light was flashing, and it wasn’t flashing when I landed several days prior. Hitting the reset button didn’t do anything, nor did killing power to the ELT, so I decided to deal with it when I got home.

Somewhere over Louisville, KY, I get a frantic text from my wife. She was woken up by a call from the US Air Force saying they had an emergency signal from my aircraft. I was able to relay messages through her back to the Air Force about what was going on. They said it was fine to continue to my first fuel stop, but not to continue without resolving the problem. Unfortunately, that will require removing the baggage bulkhead to gain access to the ELT so that I can shut it off. Since it was running on its own battery (since I had removed power from it), there was a chance it was going to run out of juice before then anyway, so I pressed on. Not too surprisingly, the battery did die a couple of hours later. What was surprising though was that the ELT powered up on the next leg and behaved normally.

Storms kept me north of my normal route through OK, NM, and AZ. Staying low until CO limited my headwinds to under 10kts, but I had to climb to 14,500′ to clear the Rockies. Fortunately, a high-pressure system over the southwest created westward flow along the second half of the flight, so I enjoyed 20+kt tailwinds for the remainder of the flight.

I crossed 300 hours on the plane during the final leg from Grand Junction, CO to San Jose, CA!

Crossing NV at 14,500′, the tailwind climed to 25kts in smooth air.

I flew near the Crescent Dunes solar energy farm near Tonopah, NV.

To give you a sense of scale, that central tower is 640′ tall and the entire circle is nearly 2 mi in diameter. Each one of those little mirrors is 30’x42′ and turns to keep the sun focused on the top of the tower.

I crossed the Sierras just south of Mono Lake. There’s a little airport next to the lake, but I’ve never made a trip up here. It’s a pretty quick flight from home, so I should make a point of doing that some time.

My flight also took me right over Yosemite, so I grabbed a quick shot of Half Dome…

…and El Capitan. After this, I started a shallow descent all the way back to the bay area. That let me leave the power in for the descent. That plus the tailwind kept me well over 200kts across the ground for most of the descent.

Oshkosh 2018

I left for Oshkosh the Saturday before the show for a planned overnight stop in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, I got a later start than I planned, so I didn’t end up leaving until early afternoon which put me right in the middle of the afternoon bumps and storms. Approaching the Sierras, it was clear I was going to have to dodge some buildups.

I brought oxygen, so I tried popping up to 17,500′ to get above them, but they still towered above me. The plane is pretty mushy at 17,500′ and the autopilot couldn’t keep the wings level, so I dropped back down to pick my way through.

Past the Sierras, I had mostly clear skies until a couple of hundred miles outside Salt Lake City. I normally fly through the two large restricted areas west of the city, but storms had that corridor completely blocked off. The air was smooth and I had a nice tailwind, so I didn’t mind the diversion around them to the north too much.

I got an early start the next morning and after dodging a few early morning storms, had no significant weather all the way to Oshkosh. Past my first fuel stop, I flew over a solid overcast for a couple of hundred miles, but it cleared out about an hour west of Oshkosh.

The arrival into the show was insane. I started listening to the arrival frequency about 100 miles out and it sounded like complete chaos. The controller was constantly chastising pilots for being too close together or not in single file. I heard the same chatter last year, but the arrival was empty when I got there, so I pressed on to take a look for myself. Not surprisingly, it hadn’t gotten any better and perhaps even got a little worse.

The controller was pretty clear that nobody should cross RIPON (the first fix on the arrival), so I entered the Green Lake hold to await improvement. Planes were everywhere and plenty of people were not at their assigned altitudes or airspeeds (1,800′ & 90kts or 2,300′ & 135kts). There were even a number of clueless pilots who flew right threw the hold, oblivious to all of the planes around them. The controller said to expect a wait time of about 30 minutes, but multiple people chimed in on the frequency that they had been holding for 2.5 hours or longer.

After a number of turns around Green Lake, there hadn’t been any reminders to not cross RIPON in quite awhile, so I proceeded up the tracks to FISKE, only to be told to start holding at Rush Lake; progress! They had shutdown 36L & 36R for some mass arrivals, so they were down to one runway and were asking for two miles in trail spacing on the arrival. Every time you tried to create this much spacing, five other planes would fill the gap and you looked like the jerk who was following too close to the plane in front of you. Argh!

While holding, one pilot (who was still outside RIPON) said he was fuel critical and asked for priority. The controller suggested he go to his alternate, but the pilot protested and claimed he didn’t have enough fuel to get there. The controller mentioned that the alternate was only 13nm away, and again the pilot claimed he didn’t have enough fuel to get there. This was obviously bullshit since Oshkosh is still 15nm from RIPON and he was outside that, but the controller gave him a priority arrival. Another pilot got on frequency and said he’d already thrown up twice and needed to get on the ground, so the controller also cleared him through.

After a bunch of turns around Rush Lake, I was headed up the tracks for the umpteenth time. Every single plane ahead of me was told to turn left and reenter the hold, but I got lucky and got the right turn into the show. After 1.5 hours of holding, I was finally cleared to land on 36R and taxied into Homebuilt Camping!

Welcome to Oshkosh!

While visiting the Aircraft Spruce booth, I saw they had a combination prop lock on their display rack. Since picking locks is kind of a hobby of mine, I fiddled with it while a couple of friends were looking at something else. I popped the lock open in less than one minute, without even looking at the dials. Anyone who would steal your airplane would be at least as skilled at picking locks, so please don’t trust them to keep your plane safe.

Oshkosh 2017

After a 2 day stop in Salt Lake City to visit family, Madeline and I made it to Oshkosh 2017! This is the second time I’ve taken the RV to Oshkosh, but the first time I’ve flown it in via the FISK VFR arrival and parked in homebuilt camping.

We arrived on the Sunday before the show around mid-afternoon which is probably the busiest arrival time for the whole show. I started monitoring the arrival frequency about 40 miles out and as expected it was crazy busy. There was nonstop chatter on the frequency and the controller was chastising pilots for being stacked up or flying side-by-side. It sounded like it was going to be a cluster-fuck, so I asked Madeline to help me look for traffic as we got closer. As we approached Ripon, the chatter died down and we were virtually alone on the arrival!

The controllers directed us to runway 36, and after landing we turned immediately into homebuilt parking where a guide on a scooter ended up escorting us to a new lot that they just opened this year that is only a few hundred yards from show center!

We’re basically due west of the forum buildings and coincidentally only a few hundred feet from the Factory Five booth. This is the first year that Factory Five has come to Airventure and there was a fair amount of interest in their booth the whole week. We just started our own Factory Five car this summer and it was great to chat with the founder of the company for a bit at the show.

Formation Clinic

I attended the 2016 West Coast Formation Clinic in Madera, CA this weekend. I got in 5 two-ship flights and made some good progress in station keeping and learning procedures and hand signals. On the second day, the more experienced pilots did a large formation with multiple passes over the airport.

The clinic was well attended and the briefing room was packed before and after every flight.

Alpine County Camping Trip

Some local RV pilots arranged a camping trip at the Alpine County Airport. We had about 10 planes show up on Saturday morning to the quiet little strip nestled in the foothills of the eastern side of the Sierras.  I took my 11-year-old son which was his first real trip in the plane.

There’s not much there, just a 5k’ runway and a small ramp, but there is a really nice spot to camp just a couple of hundred feet off to the side of the runway.

After everyone showed up, we hiked down to the Carson River for lunch and to wade in the water.

After resting back at camp for a bit, a few of us decided to hike to the top of a small hill on the other side of the runway (you can see it to the far left of the first picture). The terrain was pretty easy going and we reached the top after 45 minutes or so.  Here’s a nice shot looking back toward the Sierras.  Lake Tahoe is just beyond those mountains.

Headed Home

I got a very early start out of Tulsa, OK since I need to fly all the way back to San Jose, CA and then grab our Bonanza and fly up to South Lake Tahoe and back to get my kids.  I battled pretty stiff headwinds across most of New Mexico (over 30kts for much of the time).

I passed just south of Edwards Air Force Base and the famous dry lake bed.  There is so much amazing history at this place including all of the X planes that lead to our space program.  Coincidentally, I have been reading Chuck Yeager’s autobiography during the trip, and much of his flying career takes place here.


Overall, it was about 9 hours of flight time from Tulsa to San Jose and then another 2.7 hours up to Tahoe and back.  I’ve done a number of 12 hr flying days before and they’re always pretty tiring.  Over the whole trip, I put just over 30 hours on the RV and it performed flawlessly.

Headed to Tulsa, OK

I stayed in Lexington for a few days visiting family and giving some rides to family and friends before heading down to Tulsa, OK to visit some more family.  While I was out giving rides to family, one of the prototype Honda jets stopped for gas.  The crew was great and let us look over the airplane and ask questions.  They didn’t want any pictures of the inside since it was unfinished and loaded with test equipment, but they were more than happy to let us take pictures of the outside.