Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Well, Heather, Penelope and I are on our way! We left this morning from KAPA, Centennial Airport, at approximately 8am. That's when were all lined up *ready* to go, at least. We were all lined up, and instructed to start in sequence. Then we taxied to our runup area and completed our preflight checks. In the picture to the left, you see quite a few bags... Yes, this is what Heather and I packed. Luckily, we met up with our "Mama Birds" (women who had done the race previously) who had a car going to the terminus in Atlantic IA. They were nice enough to carry all of our extra weight (which would slow us down).
We were flying at 6,500ft MSL (I was typing into my blackberry and copied this into my blog once I got to the hotel) in the little arm of Oklahoma between Kansas and Texas. My Aussie co-pilot took a picture once we left Colorado, and then said after our successful flyby of KLBL, "Toto, we're not in Kansas any more!"
This Air Race event is judged not only by individual aircraft capabilities but also by the speed at which the pilots are able to fly each leg. So at each airport we have to execute a flyby so that we can get our times for the leg recorded. We can land after the flyby, or continue on. We did not land after our flyby at the airport in Liberal, KS because we had the gas to continue on to Sweetwater, and we flew there just right of runway 17 there at 3085ft MSL, or 200ft AGL (above ground level). It is not normal to fly this low (regulations require 1000ft above populated areas, 500 unpopulated), but allows the timing teams on the ground to record our time. Enroute to Sweetwater's flyby (shown at left), we tried different altitudes to get the most favorable headwind. A tailwind would be preferable, but we just left 8500 so we could go from a 16kt headwind to 8.
Forty miles from our destination, Sweetwater, where definitely had to land for food, fuel, bathroom breaks and then rehydrating!, we tried to climb back up to 8500ft to get a lesser headwind, but it was worse. We're going to burn up our airspeed every time we climb, so we'll take the 8kts at 6500. Plus, at 8500 we were bumping up against a ceiling (or clouds). We are required to stay 1000ft below the clouds to stay legal under VFR, or visual flight rules. That is a requirement of the race participants.
In the midst of all of this focus on flying is our focus on our health. We were warned that it was going to be hot, and it's 20 degrees Celcius in the air . That's not that high, right?, except that the sun is right in front of us, bearing down on us. I am used to having a bathroom on the Citation X, so I've pacing myself on drinking water. Like I said, we could have landed at LBL for fuel or a bathroom break. But since we had the fuel, that wasn't a reason to land. Someone else in this airplane was not as judicious with her water consumption, and now wishes we had chosen the other option at LBL! Shown at left is the little tent under which the timers are situated since it's been up to 37 degrees on the ground.
At Sweetwater, home of the Women's Air Force Pilot (WASP) Museum (I would have liked to have visited it, but we've received word that the weather is going to be bad toward the end of the race, and we want to move ahead in the course as much as we can), we spent some time at the FBO cooling off and resting up and getting interviewed.
Leaving the Sweetwater airport, Avenger Field, was a bit tricky because of the flyby. There were still airplanes coming in (those that had to stop at LBL) to land, so they were doing the flyby and landing, and those that had already fueled and needed to take off, circle around and go past the flyby again to start their time for this leg to Lufkin.
The flyby at Lufkin was easy. There was an aircraft on the flyby ahead of us, and by the time they turned their downwind, we were approaching the flyby point. We were quite ready to be marshalled in, shut down, and proceed to the hotel for more flight planning!