Idaho Adventure

My wife said that I needed to get my PPL and a plane as she anticipated her daughters bringing more grandkids into the world so that we could visit them. (That’s one of the reasons she gave and one that I’m going to stick with. We’ll ignore the “I have wanted…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
28 Jun 2017

My wife said that I needed to get my PPL and a plane as she anticipated her daughters bringing more grandkids into the world so that we could visit them. (That’s one of the reasons she gave and one that I’m going to stick with. We’ll ignore the “I have wanted to fly for as long as I can remember anything reason…) For this trip it turned out I needed the Mooney to visit my wife who had been gone for a couple of weeks for the arrival of another grandchild.

Friday – June 16th, 2017

The destination this time was Rexburg, ID which would again be further than I have ever flown. I kept an eye on the weather all week and the forecast looked pretty good, right up until the last couple of days before departing. On the night before it was showing thunderstorms in the area of Idaho Falls/Rexburg for the evening when we would be arriving. I decided that my son and I would start the flight, even if we would have to stop short of our destination. Delta, UT would be our fuel stop and offer a chance to get an updated weather briefing before starting the last leg.

After a morning at work my son and I got packed up and headed out to the airport. It was in the upper 90°’s in Corona but my homemade air-conditioner was putting out enough cool air that we were comfortable on the ground. I wanted to be in the air by 1:30pm PDT but it ended up right at 2pm PDT when we were wheels up. I picked up flight following and for this flight we climbed to 11,500′. Instead of going around Las Vegas’ airspace we went right over the top and had great views of The Strip and McCarran International Airport. Just north of Milford I called up ATC and asked to begin our descent. ATC approved and canceled flight following so we went back to squawking 1200 and pushed the nose over.

It was 33°C (91°F) and with the barometric pressure of 29.99 the density altitude was 7,800′ which was higher than anything I had landed or taken off in yet. The landing was ok but the taxi took forever…. There are no turn off’s in Delta so you go to the end of the runway and then it is another 4,000′ down the taxi-way to the turn off for the ramp and the gas pump. However, it was well worth it. Delta has some of the least expensive gas around, and they have a very nice air-conditioned lounge with big couches. After a bathroom break I called up a weather briefer to see what our chances were of reaching our final destination.

I often just self-brief with the tools available online, but given the possibility of adverse weather along the route I wanted to talk to someone with experience to give me a better overall picture. The briefer was very helpful and after about 15-20 minutes on the phone with him we decided to make an attempt. He thought that the storms would most likely be dissipating by the time we got there and told us that if necessary we may have to divert west around Pocatello which would then give us a straight shot up the valley. I got in touch with my sister that lives in the Salt Lake area as a backup and if necessary we would turn around, go land at South Valley Regional, and spend the night at her home. After fueling up the plane we took off and I felt good about the plan and the backup option.

With the hot air and 7,800′ density altitude we slowly eased off runway 17 and began about a 200’/min climb. Eventually we had enough altitude to turn back to the north and soon we were climbing at over 1,000’/min riding some of the afternoon thermals over the desert floor. As we proceeded up the valley, past Tooele and over the Great Salt Lake I kept an eye on the Nexrad weather on my tablet ahead.

(It should be noted that although the time stamp on the age of the Nexrad weather may only be a few minutes ago, the actual delay could be upwards of 20 minutes. When you have storm systems that are moving at over 35 knots you can’t just assume that because there appears to be a gap on your screen in the weather that it actually exists.) 

There was a small system a little north of the UT/ID border and a larger one just north of Pocatello, however the system near Pocatello was over an hour away and I hoped that it would have dissipated or at least moved off to the East, driven by the 30-40 knot winds that were forecast for 10,000′.

There was turbulence forecast for southern Idaho but it never seemed to materialize, but the storms were still there. Visibility was excellent, I think you could see easily 75 nautical miles where the sky was clear which made it easy to keep an eye on the storms out ahead. There was one in particular I was watching and noting its progress across the sky. It became apparent that about the time we would be passing the 9,320′ Oxford Peak that the storm would be right on top of us so I turned us to the west to go around it. As soon as we turned west our ground speed dropped to a sad 115-120mph. Fortunately the storm was moving to the east rapidly so it did not take long until we were past it and started heading north again.

The storms that were just north of Pocatello were still there too and hadn’t dissipated… so we again made a turn towards the west to go around the tail end of them, and again watched our ground speed drop. At this point the sun had gone down and dusk was settling in, but it was still easy to make out the cells from the dark streaks of rain coming down. Finally we were north of the storms and could turn to the northeast and head up the valley. The headwind that had slowed us was now a tailwind and we were seeing ground speeds above 200mph! The light rain wasn’t enough to degrade the visibility, but it was enough to give the plane a nice wash.

I love flying at night, although flying at night into new places is not at the top of my list. However, knowing that there were no mountains/hills, towers, tall trees on approach, or any other obstacles had me at ease and enjoying the views of the lights. My son asked me what all the blinking red lights were along the distant hillside some 20+ miles away and I told him it must be wind turbines for generating power from the huge number of lights and the seemingly random pattern.

It felt like a great accomplishment, having flown over 700nm (with the diversion for weather) and there wasn’t any time that I felt nervous or concerned. Having the Nexrad weather on the tablet and the great visibility allowed me to make good decisions in the air.

Saturday – June 17th, 2017

There wasn’t any flying done by me today, but there was a lot of flying. The airport in Rexburg has a museum on the field. The Legacy Flight Museum was putting on a pancake breakfast so we went over to the airport along with what looked like a good portion of the folks in Rexburg! The museum really is a hidden gem. They have a number of planes there and they were flying most of them today. We got to watch a WWII vet climb into one of the T-6 Texan’s (that he “had a lot of hours in”) and do a little bit of flying. In addition to the old war birds they have an A-4 from the Blue Angels. Upstairs they have an extensive collection of uniforms from the Civil War to modern times as well as weapons and memorabilia.

My Mooney was parked on the ramp and we went over to show my wife’s daughter, son-in-law, and newest granddaughter the plane. As they were looking at it I turned around to see some other children had gathered and were looking expectantly at the plane. I asked if they wanted to see it and sit in it. They all enthusiastically shook their heads yes so I told them they needed to go ask their parents first. They quickly ran off and some returned with their parents. For the next little bit I had a number of kids taking their turn sitting in the plane and pretending to fly, playing with the yokes while their parents took pictures. Seeing the smiles on the faces of kids when they climb in is awesome!

If you are ever in the area I highly suggest you stop by the Rexburg airport and their museum, which is what another Mooney owner just happened to do. I had arranged to meet a fellow Mooney owner that is based out of Brigham City. He made the flight up this morning. As he was parking I walked over to meet him and was joined by another gentleman who wanted to look at the Mooney. We then went over so they could see my plane. When the “other guy” saw the CO sensor on my dash he asked us if we were on the MooneySpace forums. We told him we were and he told us that he was as well! It turned out that he is from New Orleans, had flown his Mooney to Idaho Falls for work, and today was on his way to see Yellowstone when he saw signs for the breakfast and museum and decided to stop by. So there I was in Rexburd, ID with a Mooney owner from Brigham City, UT and one from New Orleans, LA. We enjoyed chatting about flying, Mooney’s, and wandering through the museum.

Sunday – June 18th, 2017 – Father’s Day

What a great Father’s Day! My wife and youngest son fixed french toast for breakfast and then I got to go to church with them. I also got a surprise when my daughter who is in training at Ft Lee, VA with the National Guard texted me to see if I would be able to Skype her. We were able to work out the timing and had a great visit with her. There was a great little family BBQ at the park with my wife’s daughter and her family, and then I got to go flying with my youngest son.

We took off from Rexburg at 2pm local time and gave a little wing wag to my wife and her daughter’s family who were watching from just past the end of the runway. The first stop of the day was in Logan to drop off my son so that he could spend a week with his friend. We arrived within a few minutes of my planned time and were directed to parking by a gentleman from Leading Edge Aviation. He brought a red carpet for us and a cooler with cold drinks. After giving my son a hug goodbye and a quick restroom stop I asked if there was a ramp fee. The gentleman responded, “No, we just try to treat everyone well.” What a pleasant surprise that was.

A short flight later and I was descending into Delta. The winds there were shifting around and I kept monitoring the AWOS for the weather. Initially I intended to land on runway 35 but then the winds shifted enough that I was planning on a straight in to runway 17. However, before I could get there the winds had shifted again and I changed my plans back to runway 35. What are the odds that when I was headed north on Friday I had to land and take off to the south, and when I was headed south today I had to land and take off to the north.

It was hot again in Delta, but the fuel was still cheap and the lounge was still nice and cool. The ice block in my homemade air-conditioner had long since melted but the fan was still blowing which helped with the heat in the cabin. After a quick fuel stop I was back in the air heading for California and enjoying a nice tail wind for over half the flight. It was quiet on the radio so I made my initial call at 15 miles and then at 10 miles announced that I was on a straight in final. I continued to announce at 6, 4, and 2 miles final while watching for any other planes in the pattern. There weren’t any and there wasn’t anyone on the radio either. I landed in Corona just after 7pm PDT and then finished up my Father’s Day by calling my dad on the way home from the airport and filling him in on my weekend adventures. Like I said, what a great Father’s Day!

Over 1,400 nautical miles flown in about 11 hours of flying, another state (ID) checked off the list of states to land in, three new airports visited, a Father’s Day BBQ lunch at a park in Idaho, and pulling into my driveway 7 hours later (which included an extra stop at the Logan, UT (KLGU) airport). Just some of the wonderful adventures you can have when you are blessed to have and fly a Mooney.

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