Every seat's a window seat on BruceAir
I've brought many new airplanes from the factories where they're hatched to their new owners or aircraft dealers.
At the end of March 2007, I made another trip to London, Ontario (CYXU), home of Diamond Aircraft in North America, to fetch a new Diamond DA40 (this one a DA40XL) and deliver it to the aircraft sales team at Galvin Flying Services at Seattle's Boeing Field (KBFI).
This trip normally involves a quick hop from CYXU to Port Huron, MI (KPHN) to clear U.S. Customs, a loop south of Lake Michigan and around Chicago's airspace, and then a reasonably straight course across the Dakotas and Montana into the Pacific Northwest. The flight routinely takes a couple of days, made easier, despite prevailing westerly winds, by gaining three hours as you fly west out of the Eastern time zone to the West Coast.
But this excursion proved challenging. Low IFR weather throughout the U.S. side of the Great Lakes Region delayed my departure from CYXU for a day. (I prefer not to make the first leg in a brand-new airplane under IFR.) I used the extra time in London for a local test hop to check out the airplane and the GFC 700 autopilot and to ensure that the XM weather downlink for the Garmin G1000 system was active. Finally, on Thursday, March 29, I started home on what became a 3000-nm tour across the U.S. (click the image above for a flight log in .pdf format). To see pictures from the flight, visit the collection on a SkyDrive folder.
March 29 dawned clear and windy in London, and the weather had improved for much of the first couple of legs. I launched VFR for KPHN, cleared Customs quickly, and then filed IFR for a leg to Springfield, IL (KSPI) to stay clear of nasty weather due west and along a border-to-border, N-S stationary front spawning rain, snow, and T-storms.
I planned to continue into Missouri that first day, and then decide which direction (northwest toward the Dakotas or southwest toward New Mexico and Arizona) offered the best chance to get around the front the next day.
I was in good, smooth VMC for about half the flight to KSPI, but the moisture ahead of the front finally condensed into layers of low stratus clouds and reduced visibilities. I set up for the ILS Runway 4 approach at KSPI, and I broke out at about 500 ft AGL with about 1 mile visibility. The reverse happened on the next leg to Columbia, MO (KCOU). I had to depart IFR, but the weather cleared about halfway to KCOU, and, after contemplating the dark skies west and southwest and checking the weather, I stopped for the day.
I flew this trip solo (unless, on the VFR legs, you count the BBC World Service, XM Public Radio, and later, across TX, "Willie's Place" on XM--when in Rome...), but on the ground, I became a frequent--one might say obsessive/compulsive--visitor to the NWS Aviation Weather Center Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) website. I puzzled over Prog Charts, and zoomed in and out with the Java METAR and TAF tools. Each night I became rather too familiar with the hosts on the Weather Channel.
I also spent a lot of time futzing with flight plans in the terrific flight-planning tool Voyager from Seattle Avionics (it's wonderful that many FBOs now offer wireless access to pilots). And because I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of pilot, in addition to a bag full of charts, I had my Garmin GPSMAP 396 hand-held GPS (also with XM-weather) perched on the right seat, backing up the navigation and weather info from the panel and logging flight data.
This trip also was my first opportunity to fly the new Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, which integrates seamlessly with the G1000 system. It's a terrific autopilot, by far the best and easiest-to-use that I've ever flown, and it's a big step up from the KAP 140 unit that has been standard equipment in Diamond and Cessna airframes for several years.
Although the GFC 700 offers many features (e.g., altitude preselect, Flight Level Change, and the usual heading and nav tracking modes), it has intuitive controls (extra buttons on the MFD) and straightforward operating logic. And most important, it flies the airplane smoothly, predictably, and precisely, even in turbulence.
Coffeyville was VFR, and things looked OK toward the northwest, which is where I'd planned to head after topping the tanks.
I pondered the weather on my laptop and then launched VFR, intending to stay out of the clouds and get into northwest NE where I could resume the northern route home. No such luck. Several large cells popped up to the south, west, and northwest. The Kansas City Center controller I was monitoring soon was refusing clearances to bizjets eager to escape the area. I turned around and headed for Bartlesville, OK (KBVO), which promised better accomodations for the night. The fine folks at Phillips Aviation Services tucked the DA40XL into a hangar and gave me the keys to a Buick that, to borrow a phrase from John le Carre, "once had been blue.
To learn more about the GFC 700, download the GFC 700 AFCS Pilot's Guide (for the Beechcraft G36) from the Garmin website. (To date, Garmin hasn't posted the GFC 700 guide for Diamond airframes on its website.)
On Friday morning, I launched from KCOU toward Springfield, MO (KSGF) (there are a lot of "Springfields" in the Midwest). Although it was still IMC at KCOU, the weather improved in southwest MO, and I figured I could round the still stationary front like Magellan and continue on my way west mostly untroubled by weather after a fuel stop in Coffeyville, KS (KCFV) (having ferried many new Cessnas from the factory at nearby Independence, I figured it impolitic to show up there in a shiny new Diamond).
That leg went was planned, in smooth air between layers that broke up quickly northeast of KSGF. And on the airway heading southwest, the Nexrad display on the Garmin G1000 MFD showed me comfortably east of the vigorous weather hidden in the clouds along the front.
Coffeyville was VFR, and things looked OK toward the northwest, which is where I'd planned to head after topping the tanks. I pondered the weather on my laptop and then launched VFR, intending to stay out of the clouds and get into northwest NE where I could resume the northern route home. No such luck. Several large cells popped up to the south, west, and northwest. The Kansas City Center controller I was monitoring soon was refusing clearances to bizjets eager to escape the area. I turned around and headed for Bartlesville, OK (KBVO), which promised better accommodations for the night. The fine folks at Phillips Aviation Services tucked the DA40XL into a hangar and gave me the keys to a Buick that, to borrow a phrase from John le Carré, "once had been blue."
Saturday morning dawned windy with a single layer of clouds over Bartlesville. All the reports and forecasts indicated excellent VFR to the west, so I abandoned the plan to fly the usual route home. I took off early, pointed the nose into the wind and stayed low across the prairie all the way to Dalhart, TX (KDHT), the first leg of the long southern way home. Dalhart defines phrase "the middle of nowhere," but it does feature a pink-and-white Piper Tri-Pacer in the lobby of the FBO.
Now in CAVU weather, I quickly aimed for Double Eagle Airport (KAEG) west of Albuquerque, refueled, and continued toward Boulder City, NV (KBVU) the winter home of my Extra 300L, and a place where I knew I'd get help on the ground from my flying buddies at The Aerobatic Experience. Although I've flown the route across NM and AZ many times, it's always an amazing experience (see pictures below) to cruise above the mesas, colorful deserts, and spectacular bonus features such as Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon.
After a night at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino (home to a permanent Elvis-in-Residence) near Hoover Dam, I took off early Sunday morning to cross the Mojave, enter CA near Bakersfield, and then cruise north through the Central Valley, across OR and back into WA. All of the legs through CA were in excellent VMC (n.b., red-tailed hawks may squawk, but they don't show up on the traffic advisory system), except the final segment from Chico, CA (KCIC) to Seattle's Boeing Field, (KBFI).
South of Medford, I had to detour off V23 and make a dogleg around dark, and, according to the Nexrad on the MFD, icy clouds. Center and Cascade Approach worked lower for me as soon as they were able, and until I reached the Portland area, I enjoyed a mostly smooth, untroubled flight through murky skies. I finally broke out north of OLM, canceled IFR, and arrived at KBFI around 1700 local on Sunday afternoon.
I have posted pictures that I snapped during this trip in a SkyDrive folder. The file names are sequence and viewing the pictures in order gives you a good idea of how dramatically the scenery (and weather) changes while making a true cross-country trip in a light aircraft. Of course, there are a few gaps. I was too busy working with ATC, dodging weather, or setting up instrument approaches to take pictures during some of the more interesting parts of the journey.