By Ed Wischmeyer
Do you like the number three? Do you believe that it is possible to fly from coastal Georgia to central Arizona in three days? Do you remember what happened to the S.S. Minnow when it went on a three-hour trip? (Hint: think Gilligan’s Island).
So I actually had a plan for this trip, me who’d rather do takeoffs and landings and approaches at home base rather than endure the interminable boredom of 30 minutes of straight and level to get to the next airport… and that plan was to fly from Savannah, Ga., to Prescott, Ariz., where I used to live and where, God leading, I might end up retiring full time or part of the year, with the winter months spent with my good friends and spinal surgeon in Savannah.
So I rented a cottage on VRBO, packed the airplane, and set off on a fine Saturday morning, expecting to cruise into Savannah Monday morning when the rental term started. One of my goals is to take off and land in all 50 states, and I’d missed a few here and there, like Louisiana and Alabama, both of which I’d flown over (you young pilots take note and don’t waste your opportunities). So the first stop was Alexander City, La., chosen for being in Louisiana and for having cheap gas.
This was my first serious cross country in the RV-9A, and I let the autopilot do all the flying while I fussed and messed with the Garmin G3X touch, its enormous capabilities, its steep learning curve, and all that. When I took over manual control on the 45-degree traffic pattern entry, after more than an hour of automatic flight, it felt really, really strange.
The next leg, a very short one, took me to the edge of the ugly weather and to Tuscaloosa, as in the song “Dixie Train” and also home to Bear Bryant Stadium, the Bear Bryant Museum, Bear Bryant Boulevard, and much, much more. Yes, this is the home of the University of Alabama, and I had the feeling that yelling “War Eagle!” (the cry of their arch-rivals, Auburn University) would probably be a felony. I didn’t try to fly any farther because of a front with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. (Alabama has elephants as an informal mascot because the football team was once described as a herd of elephants. I wonder if that’s what put the “tusk” in Tuscaloosa…)
The next day, I started up the plane, hoping to make a few miles in maybe crummy VFR, and it was actually less than crummy VFR. Back to the airport, spend the day in Tuscaloosa, mostly at the airport hoping the weather would improve. It finally did, and I made it to Louisiana, accomplishing the second and final goal of my states for this trip, landing right across the Mississippi from Vicksburg.
The next morning, I came out to see how far I could get under a 1,400-foot ceiling. The answer was not even to crosswind, as some of those 1,400-foot clouds were slacking off and lounging around at 600 feet. A low traffic pattern got me back to the airport okay. If I’d been instrument current for this trip, I could have punched through the low clouds, but I had not paid enough dues with the G3X for my CFII buddy to sign me off. Nor did I feel comfortable with the IFR, so it was back to a different hotel.
The next day, I actually made progress! I did two landings in Texas and then an overnight in Carlsbad, N. Mex. But after going bump, bump, bump across west Texas, three legs were enough, and I had had enough fun. There is a great FBO there, by the way. Also in Tuscaloosa there were Dixie Air Services everywhere I stopped.
So the next day, I got on one leg to Deming, N. Mex., after the winds reluctantly abated. There’s not much going on in Deming, but I chose it over Las Cruces, my traditional stop, because Las Cruces wouldn’t let me take a courtesy car overnight (none of the airports would), and the only hotel that had a shuttle service was pricey. I stayed at an inexpensive hotel with an inexpensive restaurant. It was a good value, but you get what you pay for.
I got an early morning ride to the airport, hoping to make it to east Phoenix before the winds picked up. Fortunately, the airport gate was open, and the motel shuttle got me right to the airplane. Fifty miles from Phoenix, I realized that because Arizona does not do daylight savings time, I had an extra hour to make it to Prescott before the winds were forecast to be 20G30 (20 gusting to 30). I used my handheld GPS to estimate my time to Prescott (I’d not yet found the super simple way to do that on the G3X), and headed up to Prescott where the winds were variable at six.
Everything was fine until I got within five miles of the airport, that is, at which point the winds suddenly jumped to 9G18. The landing was fine, and then ground control told me I had a stuck mike. How did they know it was me? And since I could hear them, it wasn’t me.
So here I am, having accomplished a three-day trip in six. If I had a greater tolerance for bumps, I might have made it in a day less, and if I’d been instrument current, I might have saved another day there too.
But I made it safe and sound.
And what about the winds around here? Today, the gusts, reported just before the hour, starting at 7 AM, were 31, 28, 24, 25, 31, 33, 32, 32, 32, 33, 32, 26, 28, and 22 MPH. I got lots of crosswind practice today – in the rental car.
Welcome to Prescott. Welcome back.