Tail Winds Both Ways?

What makes a perfect trip? First, you need a destination. Or, on second thought maybe you don’t need a destination. I confess that some great flights have started and ended at the same airport. For sake of this discussion let’s say you need a destination. If there is a good…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
1 Dec 2023

What makes a perfect trip? First, you need a destination. Or, on second thought maybe you don’t need a destination. I confess that some great flights have started and ended at the same airport. For sake of this discussion let’s say you need a destination. If there is a good purpose for the trip it adds to the equation. How about nice weather and beautiful views? What if we threw in smooth skies, and wait for it, tail winds on your way there and the way back.

“That’s not possible,” you say to yourself as you shake your head at my foolishness. Maybe the old-timer on the bench at the local airport who judges everyone’s landings bragged about it once “back in the day,” but everyone knows he makes up a lot of things. Then there’s the fact that a 90° crosswind counts against you as a headwind because you are forced to crab into it to maintain ground track. Having an honest to goodness tailwind both ways? That’s the stuff dreams are made of.

From my home base in Fullerton (KFUL) to our destination of Provo (KPVU) it is 501nm by my routing and with no winds, climbing up to 9,500’ is a 3:41 flight. The purpose of the trip, like many, and the impetus of getting my pilot license and the Mooney, was to visit family. My wife’s nephew was leaving to serve a two year mission for the church in Guam and would be speaking in church. We would also be able to see one of my sister’s, my wife’s daughters and their families, grandkids, along with my oldest son who would be driving down from Idaho Falls.

I began looking at the weather about five days before, and then each day as the flight approached. The morning of the flight, I was looking at a 10-20 knot tailwind for most of the flight there, and when I scrolled forward two days saw 10-30+ knot tailwinds on the return trip. I scrolled back and forth between the dates, thinking it must be a mistake, but there it was, still tailwinds both ways.

The morning of our flight, I went in to work, and then worked through lunch, planning to leave in the early afternoon for the airport. My goal was to be wheels up in time to land in Provo before dark. There are plenty of ground lights in the Utah Valley, and Provo has a nice approach if needed to fly after dark, but why fly over the mountains in the dark if you don’t have to? I was just wrapping up pre-flight when my wife pulled up at the hangar.

Soon after, we were on our way, climbing out to the northeast. At our cruising altitude of 9,500’ I turned on the Inogen G5 Oxygen concentrator, we both put on the cannulas, and we settled in for the flight. I was glad to have the GFC500 engaged so that both hands were free to eat my late lunch of a ham sandwich from Campitelli’s.

I had been watching my true airspeed and comparing it to my ground speed during the climb and after leveling out. A hesitant smile was finding its way to my face as I noted the higher groundspeed than true airspeed throughout the climb and leveling off.  (Note that my plane is a 1965 and everything is in miles per hour. Beginning in 1969 they started switching over to knots.) I was seeing speeds in the upper 170’s to mid 180’s throughout the first half of the flight, and then it got better! We even saw the 190’s for a bit in level flight. What would have been a 3:41 flight in no wind clocked in at 3:22.

Destination and purpose?  Check.

Tailwinds? Check.

Beautiful views? The desert is not the most beautiful, but sometimes the sky and clouds are amazing, and they were on this trip. We were descending into Provo as the sun was going down and the sky just kept getting better and better. We landed and I took a picture of my plane with the sunset, then waited and took another, and another as the sky kept changing.

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend with family, visiting, hanging out together, going to the Orem Temple open house with kids and grandkids, and getting to listen to my wife’s nephew speak in church. We had great meals out at R&R BBQ in South Jordan and Chubby’s Café in Pleasant Grove. It would be a few weeks before I lost the pounds I gained that weekend…

Sunday afternoon we arrived back at KPVU for our flight home. Signature has always been friendly there, but double-check everything. The prior time we were there I stopped by the desk on departure where they told me they had put 70 gallons of fuel in my plane. I told them that would be impressive because my plane only holds 52 gallons. She looked at the notes and said they had put in 39 and then 31. I told her the 39 was mine, knowing how much I had burned on that flight up, and they must have forgotten to reset the meter when they moved on to the next plane. Because they had already billed my card, they had to issue a refund and then rebill.

On this trip I had given them the fuel order to top both sides. When I got to the plane and checked, they had not fueled it. One of the line guys was near the fuel truck so I called over to him and he quickly hopped in the truck and came and topped off my plane. Unfortunately, as he was fueling it, I received an email with my bill from Signature that had no fuel, but a high ramp fee which hadn’t been waived, because I didn’t buy fuel… After fueling I went inside and explained everything, but because it was the weekend, they had to make notes to issue a refund and then rebill. Regardless of where you stop, always double check everything.

Before going to the airport, I got my weather briefing. The briefing for the flight back showed an even better tailwind than the trip there. The briefing also showed an Airmet for moderate turbulence below 15,000’, and an Airmet for winds over 30 knots. Turbulence across the desert is not unusual, and when it is forecast sometimes it is there and sometimes it isn’t. When there is an Airmet for turbulence I warn my wife that she might want to take a Dramamine. I have canceled a flight when there were 30+ knot winds forecast but this looked to be more like the Santa Ana winds that will beat you up if you are down near the passes but not as bad if you stay up high, so I determined to go ahead with the flight.

The tailwinds did not disappoint. Forty-five minutes into the flight we were seeing ground speeds in the 180’s and the winds were forecast stronger further into the flight. As we continued our way southwest back to California we saw groundspeeds above 200mph in level flight, now that will put a smile on your face.

Passing Vegas, I looked on my tablet and saw the callsign of a passing flight was JANET10. Janet Air (“Just Another Non-Existent Terminal) flies from Vegas to Area 51.

Normally, I will start my descent from 10,500’ as we are passing over Lake Arrowhead on our way into the LA Basin. However, there were PIREP’s from 737’s over Ontario on their way into LAX of moderate turbulence and ATC was advising all the flights that checked in that there was light chop between 10,000 and 7,000’. With all of that in mind I stayed at 10,500’ and planned to pull power back and start my descent south of that corridor of air. I knew that if we got far enough away from the San Bernardino Mountains the air would be smoother.

Before beginning our descent I told my wife to snug her seatbelt tight, no need for anyone to bump their head, then I pulled power back and dialed in a 400 fpm descent into the GFC500. I was expecting some bumps but was pleasantly surprised when the ride down was about as smooth as any other descent. I also expected that we would be landing on 06, which I have only done twice in the 240 times I have landed at KFUL because all the Inland Empire airports were showing strong winds from the East. However, when I listened to the ATIS at KFUL the winds were 200 at 4.

The flight finished off without any rough air and was even faster than the trip to Utah, coming in at a blazing 3:16, almost 30 minutes faster than if there had been zero wind.

So there you have it, beautiful flights, smooth skies, a great purpose and destination, and tailwinds both ways. It may never happen again.

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