Monday, June 20, 2011

Now THIS is a cross country
On Sunday I left for my major trip to promote Girls With Wings in conjunction with the Racing Aces and the Air Race Classic. We had originally planned to leave Monday, but a little heads up from the other racers that the weather was going go downhill rapidly this week caused us to depart a day early. I had been checking the weather since Friday - via the Weather channel, Aviation Digital Data Service, DUATS,, AOPA weather... you get the idea. All of them said something different, and frankly, 24 - 48 hours out was enough time to make a 180' change in the forecast anyway. So I was awake around 4 on Sunday morning, thinking, packing and heading to the airport to see if the trip could happen. A brief scan of the weather sites followed by a call to 1-800-WX BRIEF gave me the answer I needed. It was a go for launch.

So Jasmine and I loaded up the Cessna 182 Skylane with about 300lbs of gear - hey, what do you expect from 2 women on the road for 7 days? Actually, the vast majority of the stuff was promotional items and video equipment. And laptops. And gee-whiz electronics to make our lives easier. After takeoff the weather was just as the briefer predicted: low clouds, which I climbed on top of, which cleared about an hour into the flight. Pretty smooth sailing, I must say, all things considered.

I spent the first leg pouring over the sectional charts, my multitude of printouts for planning (in excel spreadsheets - geek!) and nav logs and playing with the Garmin 430. And working on the whole "leaning the engine" concept trying to get the fuel flow number that I had come up with during my planning. And scanning for other VFR traffic, of course. I was originally planning to stop in KASG, or Springdale, AR, where they have an on-airport cafe. Part of my pre-flight planning was using the website Adventure Pilot, which allows you to find on-airport restaurants when time is short. Well, thanks to the Garmin Aera that Rod Rakic of myTransponder lent me, I was able to check the weather for KASG enroute. The conditions on the field were clear, but there was a 16 to 25 knot quartering crosswind. Doable, but not desirable.

Even more valuable, however, was the advantage of having weather radar. I could see that there were a couple of cells moving toward the area and considered that there was a possibility I might get ON the ground at Springdale, but not back off again, at least not for a while. You know all of those stories you read about people who get themselves into trouble and wish they wouldn't have been so stuck on their original plan it made them do something stupid? So, I broke out the Airport Facility Directory, found another airport somewhat in the direction of flight, far enough on to be missed by that weather. Monett Aiport in MO had a long runway and fuel. And the winds were much more favorable. Back and forth I went. Should I? Shouldn't I? Finally, I decided to press on. I landed at Monett, a VERY well maintained airport, and taxiied up to the fuel pump. Yeah, that's right. Dragged out the ladder, climbed up to the top of the wing and gassed up my own airplane.

Meanwhile, Jasmine went in and checked out the crew car. Most FBOs have old cars they'll let visiting pilots use to go grab lunch. I'm so happy this turned out to be available, because all this work was creating quite an appetite. Times must be changing, because they charged us $10 for the use of the car. Given that it was a huge Crown Vic, that might have been how much in gas we used to get to the restaurant. Especially since we had to turn around halfway there. I could not remember for the life of me if I'd turned off the master switch. Fearing the consequences of a drained battery, I made Jasmine turn around. Of course it was off.

After lunch I called the briefer again and was told that the weather would be great and there were no TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions), no NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen), etc., to impede our progress. We took off and were on our way to KIOW. On this leg we had a MOA (Military Operations Area) to deal with. Technically, VFR pilots don't need any special permission to fly through a MOA, but given that this is an area used for tactical military maneuvers I wanted to make sure it was "cold." The controller I was talking to said she "believed" it was cold, but couldn't say for sure, so to be on the safe side I started to go around. When we were transferred to the next controller she confirmed it was inactive. Trust me, if you've ever done the AOPA interactive course on airspace, it has a little video of a military jet flying through a MOA that had a small airplane pass right in front of it (captured by its video equipment). My heart couldn't take that.

Group Photo
So we eventually landed at Iowa City, and taxiied through the many Race aircraft on the way to our parking spot. Jasmine and I loaded up our 300lbs of gear into the golf cart and we proceeded on to our hotel in just enough time to shower and make the Air Race Classic banquet. It is so good to see all of the old friends I'd met in so many venues in the past years. And the food was delish, too. But it was soon time to head to the hotel. It had been a long day and I needed sleep. We have some long days ahead of us and crew rest is invaluable.

Update: I've just heard that the Race is delayed by a day because of the weather. Unfortunately this means we won't make it to Jamestown, ND, for the Girls With Wings presentations tomorrow evening. Here's hoping the race will go on as scheduled on Wednesday. We're appearing in Rawlins, WY, to do a couple presentations before we meet up with the racers in Mobile at the terminus. As the saying goes, "Time to spare? Go by air!"

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