Flying around, punching holes in the sky is a lot of fun, but the real reason to have a Mooney is to ‘go places.’ This Memorial Day Weekend was a chance to do just that. Previously the furthest flight I had made was to Phoenix, about 300 nm. This weekend I flew to the Salt Lake area, about 475 nm away. I was a little nervous because it is further than I had ever been, and over areas that I had never flown. (I don’t think flying commercial there counts.)
My original plan was to fly into South Valley Regional (U42) as that is very close to where one of my sisters lives, and close to my wife’s daughter. However that all changed when I filed a flight plan and took a look a the Outlook Brief on 1800wxbrief.com. As I went through the tabs I saw that there was a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) that showed the runway and airport are closed to fixed wing aircraft until June 7th.
I took a look at the other two options south of there, Provo (KPVU) and Spanish Fork (U77). My wife and I both have family in Utah County so either of those airports would work well. A couple of phone calls and emails later to the airport managers and the FBO at Provo and I had made my decision to land in Spanish Fork. The FBO at Provo would waive their $15 ramp fee if you bought 10 gallons of their almost $6/gal Avgas, but you still had to pay a $10/night parking fee. Spanish Fork would let you park in transient free for three nights if you bought some gas there, and their price for Avgas was much less than Provo’s…
The forecast was for overcast and IFR conditions, improving to MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules), and then to VFR later in the morning. I woke up a little after 5am and took a look out my window to the east and was surprised by the skies.
I thought we would be able to get out earlier than planned, but the picture didn’t tell the whole story. On the other side of the hills where the airport is the clouds were low. Fortunately they were high enough that we were able to launch and head East under them until getting just south of the San Bernadino/Redlands Airports where the clouds started to break up. Once there was enough blue sky we went up and then headed north over Big Bear.
The flight was nice as we passed by Las Vegas and Lake Mead. Shortly after that we were north of Mesquite and further than I have flown from home, flying through Southern Utah and enjoying the new scenery. It had been a fairly smooth flight until we were over the mountains to the north-west of St George and then it got a little bumpy. It seemed odd to be flying along at 9,500′ and still be as close to the ground as when I’m flying at 2,500′ over Corona.
ATC (Air Traffic Control) handed us off from one sector to the next. As we were getting close to Spanish Fork and beginning our descent we were handed off one last time. After trying to contact Approach three times, and hearing them talking to the other planes, I gave up and switched my transponder over to 1200 and changed to the CTAF for Spanish Fork to start making position calls. I think we were probably too low for them to pick us up, and we were only about 15 miles from the airport anyway. There was one other plane in the pattern practicing landings and we worked in behind him.
We taxied over to the fuel pumps, I shut down the plane, and then pulled out my phone. I saw that there was a missed call and voicemail from a random number but my first order of business was to close my flight plan. Eventually I had a data connection and was able to close it. Immediately after that a call came in from that same number that was listed as the missed call. It turned out to be Flight Services calling to make sure that I had arrived. I apologized and told him the winds had been more than forecast. He said it was no problem and that he was just making sure they didn’t need to launch search and rescue. He also said that he saw that I had just closed the plan online. Next time I will build a little more padding into the flight plan. Overall there were some new records set for me. It was the furthest I had ever flown, about 475 nautical miles, and the longest leg I had ever flown, right at about 4 hours.
We spent the weekend with family and then went back to the airport on Memorial Day. I got to give two of my wife’s brothers a ride around the pattern as well as a one of her nieces and a couple of nephews. For one brother and the kids it was their first time in a small plane. I always want it to be a good ride so they will want to go again. The only excuse I can give is that U77 is at 4,529′ elevation, it was about 80°F, so the density altitude was over 6,500′. The plane performs much differently than at home and is something that I need to get used to. It took a lot of runway to get off the ground, and then it was only climbing at about 500’/min, not the usual 1,200’/min or more that I see at home. The first trip around the pattern was fine with a below average landing, but everyone had a fun time. I shut the plane down so that we could change out passengers and then made another trip around. This time the landing was very sub-par… If you count the bounces there would have been credit for multiple landings… The only saving grace was my wife’s brother has flown in small planes before and my nephew emerged from the back seat to say it was “awesome.”
After saying goodbye, we loaded up and began our flight home with a planned stop in St. George to see my wife’s dad and have some BBQ Ribs. The climb to 10,500′ was slow, but we eventually got there and the air was cool, if a little bumpy. After passing Cedar City we began our descent into St. George and noticed the air getting warmer. Soon we were close enough to pick up the AWOS report which informed us that the temperature was 33°C (91°F). The winds were coming from the north so instead of a straight in on runway 19 I announced that we would be joining a left downwind for runway 1. There was a regional jet inbound behind us and he was just going straight in on 19 (the jets don’t really care about the tailwind) so I told him we would extend out our downwind for him and got a “Thank you” back. I have to be honest, extending out while cooking in the cabin in the mid-day sun was not was I wanted, but it was the right thing to do.
Her dad was there waiting for us and took us home where his wife had a nice meal ready. Inside in the nice air conditioning…. 🙂
Eventually it was time to head back to the airport to get started on our last leg home. After fueling up we took off for a slow climb out… St. George (KSGU) only sits at 2,831′ elevation, but the combination of the heat and the current barometric pressure had my tablet showing it at just over 6,500′ density altitude. The afternoon thermals made for some interesting flying. We would be struggling along at 3-500’/min climb, then suddenly see 1,500’/min climb, and after passing out of the rising column of air would drop to either no climb rate or losing altitude, all while maintaining the same airspeed. Eventually we made it back up to 10,500′ but it wasn’t until about 30-45 minutes into the flight that the cabin finally cooled down. The remainder of the flight over the afternoon desert was a constant adjustment to try and maintain 10,500′. Moving through rising and falling columns of air meant there was always something to do.
I had been keeping an eye on the weather at the airports near Corona as we flew along. The briefing had showed Corona was supposed to be VFR until long after we arrived and the current report confirmed that, but San Bernardino (KSBD) was showing MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules) because of low clouds and haze. As we approached the mountains north of San Bernardino I could see the clouds ahead so decided to go a little further to the East over Big Bear and then loop around the clouds. The ride had been bumpy off and on so as we passed over Big Bear and I began my descent I warned my wife it might be a little rough going over the mountains. Boy was I wrong, and glad to be wrong. I pushed the nose over and trimmed for a 1,000’/min descent. (There isn’t a lot of room to get down from 10,500′ on the way into Corona). As the airspeed indicator climbed up past 170 mph indicated it felt like we were just hanging in the air. It was as smooth as it could be, like we were on rails, slowly moving forward even though ground speed showed over 180 mph. I remarked to my wife that I couldn’t believe how smooth it was.
ATC restricted us above 6,500′ because of traffic ahead but eventually we were past them and got “altitude at your discretion.” I told him that I had the airport in sight (knowing where to look on a clear day meant I could see it from over 20 miles away) but he offered to let me stay with him a little longer and he would call out traffic if I wanted. I told him that would be great so stayed with him until about 10 miles out. I started making calls and the radio was quiet. I continued to make my calls, looking for traffic, and made straight in on runway 25 for a nice smooth landing. Maybe it was landing on a familiar runway, maybe it was not landing at high density altitude, and maybe it was a little bit of both, but it was my smoothest landing of the weekend.
Over 1,100 miles flown and a new state checked off the list of states landed in. We had breakfast in Lehi with family, gave family some plane rides, left Spanish Fork after noon, stopped in St. George to visit more family and have a late lunch/early dinner, and we were still home before the sun went down. It sure is fun to travel in your own plane!