Thursday, September 25, 2008

Flying a San Francisco Bay Tour

It's been a long time since I posted anything here, but a recent comment about the San Francisco Bay Tour inspired me.

I love flying SF Bay tours. It is one of the greatest ways to introduce non-flyers to general aviation. I've done them during the day and at night, in Cessnas as well as a Citabria taildragger where the passenger gets to experience stick and rudder aviation with amazing views out both sides.

There are a few different ways to fly the Bay Tour. I will describe the procedure when departing from my home field of Palo Alto (PA). After getting the ATIS, I call PAO ground and announce my intentions: "Palo Alto Ground, Cessna 96934 at Romeo 2-8 with Quebec for a Bay Tour." The usual response is taxi instruction and "code on request." Before departure, I am usually assigned a squawk code and cleared for a straight out departure.

As soon as I am airborne, I get a hand-off to San Carlos (SQL) on 119.0. SQL clears me through their Class Delta with instructions to stay west of the Bayshore (US101) above 1400 feet (don't go too high, you are under the Bravo). SQL will hand you off to SFO Tower on 120.5. The Bravo starts right past the Bay Meadows raceway, a race track at the intersection of 101 and 92 just north of SQL. DO NOT ENTER THE BRAVO until cleared. After you report in with SFO, they will eventually clear you through the Bravo, again to the west of the Bayshore and usually at 1500 or so.

If you follow the normal clearance, you will divert slightly to the west, either over the top of Mount San Bruno (with lots of radio towers) or to the left of that. However, if you request a midfield crossing, you will get it 5 times out of 10. Then you can fly right over SFO and rejoin the 101 just to the north. You will exit the Bravo around Twin Peaks and be handed off to Norcal. Keep your eyes and ears sharp. I like to fly straight up through the city, crossing out to the Bay by the marina. Then I make a right 270 around Alcatraz and head straight between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. At the bridge, I make a 180 or a 270, depending on how I plan to return. If the coast is clear of clouds, I like to fly straight down to Half Moon Bay (HAF) and then turn inland to return to the field. If you fly this route, announce to Norcal that you are departing for HAF. They will usually terminate radar services right then. You need to look closely at the SF Terminal Area chart to understand the floor of the Bravo along the coast. It is down to 1500 at one point.

If the coast is cloudy, the alternate return is to fly across the Bay to Oakland and then south. You must remain north of the Bay Bridge. You will get several hand-offs, including Oakland (OAK). It's a bit tricky, they will ask you to cross the Oakland Coliseum at 2000 and then direct you to cross the 29 numbers at 1500 before sending you off to the south. There is also a handoff from one tower frequency to another as you cross the field. Of course, you can also request another Bravo transition and just fly back the way you came.

If you are arriving by air instead of departing PAO or SQL, you need to contact Norcal on an appropriate frequency and request a bay tour. My understanding is that you may be given a higher altitude in that case.

If you are local to the area, I encourage you to find a pilot who is a bay tour veteran the first time you go. The mission is well within the skills of a sharp VFR pilot, but there is a lot of traffic and ATC activity. Some people are just more comfortable with a second set of eyes and ears on board.

Have fun!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

PIREP: Pilot Error

Looking back on my performance during my flights over 13 days, I decided it would be good to summarize some of the errors I made. They say you learn from your mistakes, but that's not quite true. I believe you can learn from your mistakes if you examine them. Hopefully, others can learn from my mistakes as well.

Have the charts and info you need at hand
I went to some trouble and expense to figure out what aviation publications I would need for this trip. In all, I spent close to $200 on sectional charts, Airport/Facility Directories, Instrument Approach Procedures and Low-Altitude Planning Charts for all the places I planned to fly. There were so many that I repurposed an old flight bag just for charts and publications. It weighed 18 pounds, which gave me an idea what airline pilots drag around in those big leather totes.

On the first day of the trip, after my brief stop in Santa Monica, I flew the first leg of Route 66. It was also the first time I flew out of state. As I cruised across the California desert and visualized my landing in Bullhead, AZ, I suddenly visualized the A/FD with the airport information in the 18 pound bag in the baggage compartment. If you are a pilot, you know the old mantra about the three things of no use to a pilot. Well, in addition to fuel in the truck, runway behind you, and sky above, I propose to add charts in the baggage compartment. The consequences were minor, since I had multiple other sources of information, from the sectional chart to the airport info in my Garmin 396. However, the A/FD is the complete and authoritative reference.

My pre-engine-start checklist includes "charts available," and I am usually very tood about it. However, I wasn't used to needing different charts every day. After this experience, I made a mental note to update my chart set each morning. I have to admit that once or twice more, due to plans changing during the day, I ended up needing a chart not in hand. Luckily, I had Lisa along later in the trip and she was able on one occasion to scramble over the seat and help me out.

Electrical equipment off before starting engine
This one was a blatant checklist failure on my part. It is clearly listed in the before starting engine checklist, which is one of the lists I use most faithfully. However, on starting one time later in the trip, the low voltage warning light came on. I looked down and saw that all the aircraft lighting was on from my pre-flight check. This puts undue strain on the charging system, but more importantly it highlights the importance of really looking at the items on the checklist, not just reciting them like a prayer of some kind.

Taking off from Evanston, WY (EVW)
The field elevation at EVW is 7130. I have to check but it was one of the highest, possibly the highest airport I visited. The runway is a good long 7300 feet and I knew that even at that elevation 96934 had more than adequate takeoff performance. When departing, I took the runway and applied full power. As always, I checked the instruments to insure I had good engine power. The prop was turning 2400 RPM as required and the MP was about 23 inches--lower than the 29 you look for at sea level but to be expected at this elevation. As I watched the airspeed indicator, it seemed to be coming up slowly. At sea level, it might have set off a mental warning to abort the takeoff, but I attributed it to the reduced power at 7000 feet combined with the reduced bite of the prop in the thin air.

I hadn't given myself an abort point but I was just starting to consider an abort when the plane decided it was ready to fly. The instant it cleared the ground, it leapt forward, as if it had been released from a mysterious pull. It took me a few moments to puzzle out that I was the mysterious pull. My feet had been resting on the brake pedals and surely riding the brakes. Luckily they don't have any affect once off the ground.

I learned very early in my pilot training to keep heels on the floor during takeoff exactly to prevent this. To my recollection I never, ever had a problem with it. During your takeoff, you want all the acceleration you can get, so the last thing you would ever want to do would be to accidentally ride the brakes.

Two lessons from this experience: choose an abort point, especially at an unfamiliar airport; and keep those heels on the floor.

Evanston again
Two goofs on one flight. A sure sign it was time for a break.

After taking off from Evanston, I had a good flight over to Salt Lake City. As I popped out of the canyon at the edge of the SLC Class Bravo, I was calling up SLC tower for assistance in the transition. After giving all the information for my request correctly, they came back and asked me to say again my position. According the controller, my transponder wasn't showing up on their radar. A quick look down at the transponder and I saw that it was still in standby mode. I quickly flipped it to the correct setting and all was fine.

Like most pilots, I have a "taking the runway" mnemonic. Mine is "lights," (landing lights and strobes on), "camera," (transponder to Altitude mode), "action." (mixture rich, prop full forward). I must have missed it this time.

Three in one day
Same flight, once last time.

My flight from Evanston terminated in a fuel stop at Lovelock, NV (LOL). It was the longest flight segment of the trip, possibly my life. Everything went quite smoothly. I was up at 10500, cruising along with my supplemental O2. As I approached LOL from the north, I got the weather and checked the runway info. Winds were variable at 5 and the runway was 1/19, more or less due north/south, with left traffic. I visualized entering the 45 for left traffic from the north, and then completing a normal pattern. Five miles out I made the required radio call on the airport frequency. I announced my intention to enter the left 45 for runway 19. As I arrived at the airport I announced I was on the left 45 for runway 19. Then I looked over at the runway threshold to my left. It was marked 19, when it "should" have been Runway 1. Oops. I did a quick mental calculation and realized I had reversed the directions in my head. I announced a corrected location as I entered the left downwind for Runway 1.

That was the last error of the trip, at least among those I recall. I'm certainly not happy about any of them, but I discovered them all in time and never allowed a chain of errors to build.

In my next posts, I will list cool things I did and saw, along with some more statistics as I have time to assemble them. My intention is to keep this blog alive as a journal of my flying experience, for as long as I get visitors. I have had a few offline messages from readers. I hope some of you will post your comments for others to read as well.

I will see you in the air.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Day 17 Part Two: Home Sweet Home

Evanston, WY (EVW) to Palo Alto, CA (PAO)
804 statute miles (699 nm)
time enroute: 6:15 (excludes time during fuel stop)

I made it. I was on the road for 17 days and I flew on 13 of them, including the short discovery flight with my niece and nephew in Carbondale. I flew 5776 miles (5018 nm) and logged 48.1 hours of piloting. I increased my total pilot hours by over 10% on this one trip.

I flew in 16 states, visiting four (Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi and Nebraska) for the first time. I landed in all but one (Tennessee). I logged landings at 21 different airports, 19 for the first time. I am 10 landings short of 1000 and 20 hours short of 500. It's fun compiling the facts and statistics and I will do more of that in an upcoming post. Today I just want to journal the experience of the longest day of flying I have ever done and capture my immediate reflections upon completing my trip.

I awoke at 5:00 am and after briefly trying to get a little extra sleep before a long day, I gave up and arose. I had a breakfast of leftover peanut butter, cheese and crackers that saved me a long trip up the hill to what would surely have been a dismal meal. I was at the front desk to check out just before 7:00. I was a little worried about getting to the airport, since to the best of my knowledge there is just one cab in Evanston. My fears were warranted, I learned upon asking that the cab was off on a trip to someplace more than an hour away. Putting on my most desparate and needy face, I was able to get one of the hotel staffers to drive me to the airport, a favor I repaid by offering about twice what the cabfare would have been.

At the airport, which had been pretty quiet the day before, there was a relative bustle of activity. There was a family in a Piper just pulling away from the ramp as I walked in, and a charming little Lakes amphibian parked next to 96934.

I initiated a conversation with the pilot. Her name was Carol and it turns out she is based in Palo Alto (PAO) and Pine Mountain Lake (E45). Linda Monahan, my insrument ground instructor commuted from E45 to PAO, so I asked Carol if she knew her. It turns out they are friends. The world of flying is still small enough that these meetings are still possible.

Carol was heading eastward, eventually going all the way to Maine. I asked how her trip in was the day before. She flew over Salt Lake City and arrived in Evanston at around 3:30, less than an hour after I gave up for the day. It's disappointing to think that if I had hung around a little longer, I would have had a reassuring pilot's report and felt comfortable making the trip over. Still, that's life. There will always be another day to fly.

Ready to taxi over to the self-serve fuel stand, I started up the plane and gave it some power. With enough power to easily pull out, it was glued to the ground. I had the depressing thought that I had made the classic error of trying to taxi with the tail still tied down, in front of an audience. Shutting down the engine, I climbed out and evaluated the situation. Tiedowns were all removed. Closer inspection revealed that all three wheels were in fairly deep ruts. I leaned into a strut and rocked the plane back and forth mightily. Eventually, I had it out of the ruts and ready to go. Still time for embarressing error later in the day.

I taxied out for takeoff at 8:50, with N5LY right behind. Because of the altitude and high temperatures, Evanston has a 7300 foot runway. I pulled out and gave the engine full power. Engine RPM was good and manifold pressure was in the low 20s, which seemed normal for the conditions. However, the plane was surprisingly slow to accelerate, even compared to the other high density altitude takeoffs on the trip. It finally broke ground and immediately jumped with what felt like extra power. After a moment of wonder, I realized my feet were positioned so that they were riding the brakes. It was just enough to slow the plane while on the ground, not enough to trigger my reaction under the conditions.

Once in the air, things got better and I was gaining altitude nicely as I followed I-80 toward the path through the mountains. With good weather, the flying was pretty relaxing as I zoomed toward Salt Lake City.

When you arrive at SLC from the east along I-80, you get a big surprise. The road passes through a canyon and you are spit out over the city spread thousands of feet below. You have to act fast to stay out of the Class Bravo airspace of SLC International Airport. A quick turn to the left and a rapid descent got me started, and an excellent approach controller offered vectors to simplify navigation around the south end of the airspace. Looking at my GPS track, I came within a mile of my friend Mark's house. It was frustrating to be so close, yet so far away. With most of the day still ahead, I pressed on to the west. After the city, I-80 runs along the south end of Great Salt Lake and then out into the Bonneville Salt Flats. This part of the trip became quite routine. Flying at 10500, I leaned out the engine, tweaked my oxygen flow, and listened to mediocre comedy on XM radio. The weather ranged from clear to high clouds, but the visibility was limited to about 20 miles for a while. There wasn't any noticeable obscuration, but the world gradually faded out in the distance. Around Elko, NV, there was an area of rain on my route. I made a slight course deviation and caught just a minute or two of it as I passed around.

I made Lovelock (LOL) right around 11:00, as planned. This was my other off-moment of the day. Arriving from the north, I planned a downwind arrival based on light variable winds. I announced I was entering the pattern for left traffic on runway 19er at Lovelock. Then as I transitioned from the 45 to to the downwind, I saw that the 19 marking was on the wrong end of the runway. Oops! I had the sight picture reversed in my head. Re-announcing that I was on left downwind for RWY 1, I landed and taxied into the ramp.

Lovelock is unattended, but there is a small office with a restroom. The airport is guarded by an old MIG-15. I don't know if it flew in, but it doesn't look like it will fly out. Avgas at Lovelock is $3.65/gal, so I filled to the tippy tops of the tanks. After this, 96934 and I were ready to head home.

I was a little anxious about heading across the Cascades. Mountain turbulence is at its worst on summer afternoons and climb performance is limited at the high density altitudes. I didn't expect any danger, but I wasn't happy about the possibility of a rough and challenging flight.

As it turns out, it was not too bad. From the time I left Lovelock, light turbulence was pretty steady and I spent a lot of time climbing back up to altitude as downdrafts sucked it out of me, but it was never really a threat. I crossed Reno climbing to to 10500 and bumped my way over to Truckee and then Blue Canyon. After that, the mountains started falling away and within 15 minutes I was cruising again.

The last hour of flight was relaxing and pleasant, a good end to what had come before.

Arriving back in the Bay Area, I was quickly plunged into the typical Saturday afternoon traffice jam at Palo Alto Airport. The tower asked for a 360 out over the bay and then told me to extend my downwind to make room for a departing aircraft. Then, as soon as I was on final, he asked me if I could make S-turns for extra time. I made several but as I lined up on short final, the previous aircraft was just exiting the runway and departing traffic was in position. Despite the tower's best effort, I called a go-around. The second time around was fine. I landed and taxied back to my tie-down at L-28.

To punctuate my return, we had pre-existing plans to go up to SF for the evening. We had a fantastic dinner at Fresca, featuring Nouveau Peruvian cuisine, and then saw Swell Season at the Noe Valley Ministry, in a room of about 200 people. I was pretty exhausted when I made it home at midnight, after a 20 hour day.

The trip is over now, but I have a few thoughts that I plan to share in follow-up posts in the coming days. I hope to have some of you along. For those signing off, thank you for staying with me on this little adventure.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Day 17 Part One: Setting Off

I'm ready to leave the hotel for the airport. If plumbing is an omen, the shower here was a good sign. In the face of low expectations, it had a good solid spray, steady temperature, was roomy and well-lit. Equally important, the weather for the route looks good. If I am in the air by 8:00, I will make my fuel stop at Lovelock, NV (LOL) by around 10:30 or 11:00 (courtesy of a one-hour time change). From there, I should be home by around 3:00 PM.

For most of this trip I felt like I could wander indefinitely, but now that I know I am heading home, I really want to get there soon. Family is waiting, along with my own bed and a few meals of my own choosing.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Day 16 Part Two: Time To Go Home

Cheyenne, WY (CYS) to Evanston, WY (EVW)
354 statute miles (308 nm)
time enroute: 2:59

Headwinds of 20 to 30 knots were the first of today's challenges. It took three hours to go just over 300 nm. At the field in Cheyenne this morning, I met a pilot on his way home from Oshkosh in a Cessna Cardinal. He was headed to San Carlos, just up the road from Palo Alto. it turns out that we have a mutual acquaintance. His partner in a previous plane is an instructor at West Valley Flying Club that I met during the Board elections this year. A Cardinal is typically a bit slower than a Skylane, so I figure he was well behind me by Evanston. There was no sign of him here, so I presume he either stopped earlier or was able to keep going when I was grounded. I'm curious to learn how he made out.

When grounded at Evanston, I was only about 40 minutes short of my intended destination. It was frustrating being so close to my destination and unable to reach it. The airport at Evanston was a good place to be stuck. The runway is nice and long. There is a pilot's lounge with an aviation whether terminal, comfortable chairs and satellite TV. All that was missing was a place within range to grab something better than a candy bar. I spent a fair amount of time chatting with Kevin, a commercial helicopter pilot getting his After three hours and change watching the radar display at the Evanston airport, I thought I saw a window. When I went outside, things looked pretty clear in the vicinity of the airport. However, the wind had picked up to about 18 kts and as I looked toward Salt Lake City it wasn't as great as I imagined it should be. I decided that I was in danger of contracting get-there-itis and declared myself grounded for the day.

I managed to get a room at the Howard Johnsons and caught a cab down here. This may be the bleakest accommodation of the trip. After spending $69 for a large, charming room at the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne, it is a big disappointment to spend the same for a gloomy, semi-basement room in a bleak hotel with crappy service. All of the employees here seem inconvenienced by the presence of guests. I expect that by treating us this way, the inconvenience will be reduced over time.

After checking in, I discovered that the free internet wasn't working. After a totally pointless call to the front desk to see if it could be fixed, I decided to get out for a walk. I wandered by the laundry room, which gave me the idea of using this downtime to run a load. The sign said that soap was available at the front desk. However, they didn't have any. The desk clerk reluctantly disclosed that there were a few convenience stores up the street and even a grocery store past that. With a new sense of purpose, I headed off up the hill.

Walking uphill, I noticed that the weather was much better. I could see for miles to the west and the clouds were all high and docile looking. Given the gloomy circumstances at the hotel, I was tempted to pack up my stuff and head back to the airport. However, the effort just seemed too much and I felt I should honor my earlier decision.

It seems that the HoJos is a half-mile down the road from the rest of Evanston. After trudging up the hill, I was greeted by an oasis of more junky motels and restaurants. I wandered through a few blocks and it started thinning out without sign of a grocery store. I can only assume that it would require a car or much more time to get there. Lowering my expectations, I stopped in a truck-stop food-mart and loaded up on snack food. I had no lunch today, the restaurant at the hotel was kind of scary looking and on top of that it isn't open for breakfast on Fridays and Saturdays. I couldn't really bear the thought of going back up the hill for a meal.

Walking back to the hotel, I saw an area of heavy rain in the hills, which sort of reassured me that I belonged on the ground.

Back at the room, I had a small dose of crackers and peanut butter, washed down with Clamato juice. After a short semi-nap, I roused myself and wandered down to the restaurant. My trepidations proved justified. The dinner selections were all smoked ribs or meat. I opted for the chicken. As far as I could tell, the only smoke that chicken ever saw would have been from something burning in the kitchen. It was also the scrawniest chicken I've ever seen. It must have died on a death march from wherever it was raised to the restaurant here in Evanston.

I don't know whether this place is grimmer than others I have been or if it is just that I am ready to be home. Either way, I expect to be sleeping in my own bed tomorrow. The only casualty outside of my mood was my intended visit with my friend Mark in Salt Lake City.

And look: the internet actually started working.

Day 16 Part One: Watching Weather in Evanston, WY

I got off to my earliest start of the trip today. I was in the air by around 8:00 for the trip over to Salt Lake City. I climbed up to 10500 and headed west. My route of flight was along I-80. For the first half of the flight there were clouds above and occasionally below. As I passed Rock Springs, the weather began to detoriate and I was soon cruising at 8500 feet, which is only 1500 to 2000 feet above I-80. Then, as I passed Evanston, right on the Utah state line, I hit some solid precipitation. Visibility declined significantly and I decided to set down here. That was about two hours ago. Conditions here are much better now, but the radar map shows some activity in the Salt Lake City area. I'm standing by to see if it improves.

I'm hoping to make it to SLC to meet up with a friend. If the weather doesn't cooperate, I guess I will be spending the night here in Evanston and then heading home to Palo Alto in the morning.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Day 15 Part Two: Cattle Barons and Oil Tycoons

Kansas City, MO (MCI) to Cheyenne, WY (CYS)
591 statute miles (513 nm)
time enroute: 4:50 (includes 28 minute fuel stop in Sidney, NE)

The Executive Beechcraft team came through, proving Bernoulli's Law--the vacuum created by money being sucked out a bank account is what causes planes to fly. With contributions from Chris, Terry, Scott and Sunshine, I was airworthy by around 12:30.

I had a little bonus before I left. There was a Cessna Citation X jet parked on the ramp, so i wandered over to peak in the through the open door. A voice from inside invited me in. The jet belongs to a national hamburger chain and I had a nice chat with the pilot. It sure looks like the way to travel. Club seating for two groups of four. The cockpit makes my plane look like a Model T. Okay, a model T with some updates. I guess the good part is that I get to fly where and when I want. All the same, corporate pilot seems like a good life if it suits you.

I took off around 12:45. Once again, I got to experience being a guppy in a shark tank as I puttered around Kansas City International airport in my Cessna. I was assigned the longest runway, so I was probably almost a thousand feet above ground level by the time I passed the end. I was eager to try out my new portable oxygen supply and get familiar with it while I was in an area that I could get by without. I turned it on at around 8000 to give myself time to figure it all out and then climbed to 10500. I know from personal experience that I am affected at that altitude, but today was awesome. I have a little pulse oximeter that monitors blood oxygen saturation level. By keeping it in the happy range of around 90, I knew exactly what I was getting. Two week ago I had never heard of an oxygen bar, now I can have my own.

Flying high got me above the clouds and also had me going nice and fast with relatively low fuel consumption. I could easily have made Cheyenne non-stop, but I realized I needed to set foot in Nebraska to claim it for my life list. I found Sidney, NE, the last airport with fuel in the state and picked it as my stopping point. After fueling, it was less than an hour more to Cheyenne. You have to be on your toes, because the terrain is flat, but gradually gains elevation as you move west. Cheyenne is 2000 feet higher than Sidney.

I flew over to Cheyenne just under a broken cloud deck that ran up to about 3000 AGL. I was free of storms and precipitation, but my NEXRAD showed a big glob of light rain activity just northwest of the airport. I beat it in and got a ride to the hotel here.

The Plains Hotel is the most interesting hotel on the trip and probably the best value. The rooms are clean, well-appointed and roomy, all for $69/night. It has a great frontier feel.

I ate dinner downstairs in what I was told was the best steak place around. I had a very tasty slice of prime rib and a decent salad. After that I walked a couple of blocks to stretch my legs and had a mediocre ice cream from a local shop. As I walked, a gentle rain began. As of now, it seems to have let up.

I'm looking forward to a great night's sleep and then a short flight to Salt Lake City tomorrow morning. The only question is whether the weather will cooperate.

Over and out.

Day 15 Part One: That's Why They Have a Pilot's Lounge

I just talked to Terry in the maintenance department downtown. They are expecting the new cable to arrive around 10:00. Early deliveries--maybe that's one of the advantages of having your business at the airport.

I now have the morning to rest and prepare for the next few days.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Day 14: Nothing a Mojito Won't Fix

Carbondale, IL (MDH) to Kansas City International (MCI)
320 statute miles (278 nm)
time enroute: 2:32

It all sounded so simple. We got on the road by 8:00 and were at the airport by a little after 9:00. We had a medium-length flight over to Kansas City where Lisa and Sarah would board a Southwest sardine can back to California. I would then continue westward.

The flight over here was smooth and easy. This was my first landing at a Class Bravo, but it didn't seem much different than an arrival at a busy Class C like San Jose, Oakland, or Albuquerque. Besides, I've had experience with Class B transitions in San Francisco and had VFR flight under the Bravo on this trip in St. Louis and Chicago.

The ATIS advertised runways 19 left and right in use, and the approach controller told me I would be assigned one of those after I was handed off to tower. In fact, tower asked me if I would like runway 27 to save time. The wind was 4 kts from the south so it was an easy yes, since I was arriving from the east. It would also get me closer to my intended parking location.

I was advised to land long, partly because it would get me closer to my destination, and also to help out traffic that was waiting for me so he could depart on Runway 19L which crosses at around the midpoint of 27. I aimed for the intersection and still landed with at least 2500 feet to spare.

We taxied over to Executive Beechcraft, where everyone was super-helpful. I had decided to head downtown for Arthur Bryant's BBQ. It's a pilgrimage I've wanted to make ever since I first read Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy back in the mid-80s. The folks at Executive Beechcraft suggested a rental car and arranged for one in just a few minutes.

I dropped Lisa and Sarah at their terminal and headed for town. For about the fourth time on this trip, I neglected to load street map data for my destination city in the GPS ahead of time. Luckily I had a Xeroxed map to point me in the right direction. Instinct and aroma got me the rest of the way.

From the street, the restaurant lived up to my expectations of appearance. Inside, the food scored on all fronts.

I love ribs, but one of the specialties at Arthur Bryant's is their burnt ends. These are trimming from the smoked beef brisket. I had no choice. I ordered the two-meat combo sandwich. Sandwich is used loosely here. There were two slices of white bread. The burnt ends oozed their juicy goodness on one slice, while the ribs rested neatly on the other. I've never had burnt ends before, but they were great. There may be better BBQ restaurants, but Arthur Bryant's is good enough for me. They've fed a slew of notable diners over the years, from presidents to movie stars. Now they've fed me. Oddly, they didn't ask to take my picture for the wall.

Nirvana achieved, I headed back to the airport to get going on my flight. I taxied out to the runway and started the run-up checks. My last checklist item is the carb heat (for non-flyers: carb heat is needed to prevent or remove ice which can form on the intake of the carburetor, leading to power loss during flight. It can occur even on warm days if the conditions are right.) I pulled the knob, which usually has about two inches of play. Four inches later, I knew something was wrong. So I got to call Kansas City tower and request a taxi back to the ramp. A 737 jet got to change taxiways to let me by.

There is no maintenance facility for teensie little Cessna's here at the International Airport. However, Executive Beechcraft had one of their mechanics stop by on his way home. He secured the heater box, so I might be able to fly down to their downtown facility in the morning. I'm still debating that vs. asking them to bring the replacement cable they have ordered up here so I don't have to fly. It might cost more in time and money, but it would be a better choice.

So that's why I'm staying at the Amerisuites in Kansas City and drinking mojitos (well, just one) at the Ruby Tuesday next door. Hopefully I will be on my way by mid-day tomorrow. We've been a day ahead of schedule since arriving in Chicago last week, so now I am back on the original schedule. I'm flying alone, so I can hopefully get in more hours each day. I still expect to be back in Palo Alto by Saturday, which was the plan.

Day 13: Sightseeing

Carbondale, IL (MDH)
86 statute miles (75 nm)
time of flight: 58 minutes

One of my favorite things in flying is taking people for their first small plane ride. After a lazy morning, we made it from the lodge to my sister's house. My mission for the day was to take my nephew Ben and niece Hallie up for a flight. I had hoped to take our friends in Chicago and in Birmingham up, but weather and schedule both interfered. Luckily, nothing disturbed my plan today.

After getting some help from Hallie on the pre-flight, we departed the airport to the south. We almost immediately spotted the area where their house is located, which is just within the Class D airspace to the southeast. I had marked a couple of landmarks as waypoints on the Garmin 396, but the kids had no trouble finding the area of their house, since there is a very recognizable National Guard armory right nearby. Ben got a glimpse of the house, but there wasn't much to see because of shade. After circling once, I gave the controls to Ben. He helped fly us down to Giant City and back toward the airport. We landed, and the kids scrambled over the seat to change to places. With Hallie as first officer we headed out to the west to get a look at the mighty Mississippi River. Ben took this picture from the backseat--it's a view we don't get as pilots.

As the saying goes, any day you fly is a great day. Ben and Hallie enjoyed their flight and I enjoyed giving it.

We finished up with dinner at a local restaurant and then headed back to the lodge to get an early night's sleep so that we could get out at a decent hour the next morning.

Day 12: Friends to Family

Birmingham, AL (BHM) to Carbondale, IL (MDH)
371 statute miles (322 nm)
time enroute: 3:57 (includes 40 minutes ground time for fuel stop in Ripley, MS)

After a brief but pleasant stay with our friends in Birmingham, we are headed for my sister's home in Carbondale, IL. This flight is literally a turning point. This is the first leg with a westerly component. After travelling eastward for eleven days, we are heading home. That means it's time to start working with even thousands on the altitude.

Generally good weather was the theme for the day. We set out for our stopping point, Ripley, MS. Along the way, we encountered clouds that began at around 4500 and continued upward. I decided to stay below since we weren't going that far, which might not have been the best course of action. As we flew, the ceiling came down to about 3000 feet; we were never in danger of being forced too low and we had lots of options if it got worse. We could land, turn back, or just get an instrument clearance and head up through the clouds. As it happens, we just stayed the course.

Sarah slept for the first half of the flight, then woke up feeling airsick. There was a fair bit of sloshing around in the unstable air under the cloud layer and this is always tough for her. She toughed it out to Ripley.

Mississippi is my third new state for this trip, bringing the life list up to 47. Nebraska is days away, and I'm dreaming of Alaska with an old friend in 2009. North Dakota is left. Anyhow, the airport in Ripley is not a rip-roaring place, but the airport building was cool and comfortable.

When we arrived, the office was open but nobody was around. While I was fueling the plane, two carloads of people arrived and went inside. It turns out they were Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. My first narcs. These guys were all ground-based. They have a pilot who flies around looking for marijuana fields, then they all jump in their cars and drive out to bring justice. I'm sure someone thinks this is a good use of tax dollars. I hope they sleep better at night knowing that our government is protecting foreign drug cartels by stomping out the cheap domestic competition.

Anyhow, today they were happy to sit and smoke the legal, local alternative while hoping they wouldn't have to go out in the heat to arrest anyone.

Sarah wasn't too happy to get back in the plane after the morning flight. I gave her a second Bonine and she climbed aboard. Whether it was the Bonine or the fact that the sky cleared up and our flight up to Carbondale at 6500 was smooth, she did fine.

Carbondale actually has a pretty substantial airport. With three runways and a tower, it is very well equipped. It is also the base for the Southern Illinois University Aviation Program, but there wasn't much going on during the summer.

My sister Sue met us at the airport. After a visit to her home, the first time we have seen it, we all drove down to our accommodations at the
Giant City Lodge at Giant City State Park. The park is named for its unusual rock formations and the entire area is quite beautiful. The lodge was built by the Civilian Conversation Corps during FDR's New Deal and it is a real landmark.

The lodge features regional cooking with a southern accent. Most of the dishes were average to good, but their fried green tomatoes were excellent, as was the blackberry cobbler. The theme was large portions and modest prices as an alternative to great service or quality. Overall, I think it was nice and in tune with the setting.

We missed lunch today but made up for it at dinner. After dinner, my sister and her kids headed back to Carbondale. We collapsed and slept in.

Day 11: The Simpsons

After arriving in Birmingham on Saturday evening, we had a cheerful reunion with Sarah, our 12-year-old. She did a great job as mother's helper to Henry and Matthew, the three and one year old children of our friends Keith and Karen.

This morning we met Keith and Henry for lunch at Chez Lulu. Shameless plug--Chez Lulu is run by a friend of Karen's. We visited it on our previous visit to Birmingham and were happy to go back and sample the Sunday brunch.

After brunch, Henry went home for his nap, and we did what any American family should do when they need to bond--we saw The Simpsons movie. If you like the Simpsons, you will like the movie. If you don't like the Simpsons, why not?

For dinner, we returned to Jim 'N Nick's BBQ. We arrived after 8:00 on a Sunday night, so a lot of our choices had run out, but what we got was good. I can never decide between ribs and meat, so I had a combo platter with beef brisket and baby back ribs. The brisket was awesome, the ribs a little too salty to achieve nirvana. Lisa's smoked turkey was also quite good. Sarah had the vegetarian option, four sides of her choice. She is not a vegetarian, but who can resist a meal of side orders? Belly's full, we retired for the night.
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