Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Minden back to Tehachapi

I arrived in Tehachapi with 3 pilots lined up waiting to see the Phoenix. After we all looked over under, and inside the plane, I flew with Bryan. The wind was stil blowing hard from the west so we climbed east of the airport though blowing dust and ratty thermals. Not the best conditions to show off the plane in. But we made some climbs, and ran downwind to a ridge for a little ridge soaring too. Engine back on, we made an easy landing in the crosswinds.
David hopped in next. He is a Minden local with a Stemme and a Sparrowhawk, and he knew exactly where to go to find 900 up. We made some in-air restarts, and expored both engine off and on performance.
Joe was next, and we didn't have much time to stray far from the airport since he had to fly back to Fresno that afternoon. But he is an experienced glider pilot and motorglider owner, so he knew what he was looking at.

The next morning David and I met for coffee at the Taildragger Cafe and discussed the Phoenix. Our meeting concluded with David ordering serial number 07/U15. Thanks David, and welcome to the Phoenix Club!

After a hop with Fred La Sor at Soaring NV, it was time to return to Tehachapi. Fred, Brad, Jeff, and everyone at Soaring NV was as helpful and friendly as possible. Check out their website at

Mammoth Mountain

The White Mountains to the east with Boundary Peak off the wingtip.

Wow, what scenery! What great flying there is to be had in the Sierras. Great views, great people, great soaring, great aircraft. I'm a lucky man to have made this trip. Thanks again, Dennis!

Tehachapi to Minden, NV

Dennis had some personal business to attend to, so he handed me the keys and told me to take his Phoenix and go visit some customers. Well I didn't need to be told twice, and was off the next morning for Minden NV.
Tehachapi is in the southern "foothills" of the Sierras, and makes a perfect launch point to fly into Nevada and back for the local sailplane pilots. I have not made that trip, so it was great to be able to fly the route without even working hard.

Except for 25kt winds out of the west, the soaring conditions were great. I had to stop and take a couple of thermals to cloudbase just for grins.

Approaching Mt. Whitney

Closeup of Mt. Whitney. About 10 hikers were on top, and seemed pleased to see me. But the wind spilling over the peak really had me bouncing around, and with a long way to go through this air, I decided to head on up for smoother air. And as long as I was already going past 16 grand, I wanted to see what the climb performance would be up at 18 grand (17,999').

The good ole Phoenix U2 Spyplane didn't have any qualms about climbing right up to 17,999. We were still climbing about 400fpm at that altitude.

The view from 18 grand was quite different from below the clouds at 15 grand, so I'm glad I went up for a look.
I stayed high past Mammoth Ski Area, and started a descent into Minden about 30 miles out.

Sedona to Tehachapi

After leaving Sedona, the afternoon overdevelopment happened big time. We again flew high, 14,500', most of the way. We were above most of the clouds, and weaved around the higher buildups.

After bypassing China Lake and Edwards AFB, we descended into Tehachapi with the hundreds of wind generators lining the pass.

We were loaded with almost 100lbs of gear. Even when you intend to travel light, the weight seems to increase of it's own accord. Besides our computers, charts, oil, tie down anchors, short wingtips, food and drinks, clothes, EPIRB, and back-up radio and equipment, the Phoenix had to carry the fuel and us, which it did without complaint. Those long wings really handle the weight and the altitude well.
There was enough room in the cockpit to make our journey comfortable. Dennis repeatedly said how easy and comfortable the trip was. He was expecting more of a long slog westward. It really was a great trip. I know we will both cherish the sights, experiences, and friendship we experienced.
Last leg stats;
3.5 hours
So from the East Coast of Florida to the foothills of the Sierras, we managed better than 100kts against the wind on every leg!
Thanks for hauling me along on a great journey, Dennis!


Launching out of Sedona Airport, bound for Tehachapi, CA. Photos by Ted Grussing

Moriarty to Sedona, AZ

We left Moriarty in the morning, bound for Sedona. It was easy to get on top of a low cloud base, and cruise through the gap between the Sandias and the Manzano Mountains. We flew through Albuquerque's Class C airspace with flight following. The radar in western New Mexico was broken, so when radar coverage was lost they kicked us loose. We only had to circumvent some small rain showers, under a mostly overcast sky. We saw the Acoma Pueblo, also called Sky City because it is on top of a mesa, and has been occupied for about 900 years. After crossing into Arizona we saw Meteor Crater, and then flew over Sedona.

Although a cirrus layer cut off direct sunlight, the red rock spires were still awesome.

We had lunch, and Ted Grussing came out to the airport to meet us. Ted is a friendly guy, and a great photographer. I will post some of his photos of us departing Sedona in the next report.
Flight Stats:
Distance; 302nm
Time; 2.9hrs
Average speed; 104kts
Cruising rpm; 5000
Cruise altitude; about 12,500'
Fuel; 13 gallons

Moriarty, NM

We landed in Moriarty with a strong crosswind blowing. After fueling, Mark Mocho found us hangar space for the night. Thanks Mark! A huge storm rolled in an hour later, we we were happy to have the Phoenix inside.

Mark, Dennis, and Robert Mudd (Pipistrel dealer and composite repair facility) take a look at the Phoenix.

This is the TST Bonus Jet project that Mark and Bob Carlton are working on. It has an experimental certificate, and Bob is going to get an exemption to do flight training in the plane for glider pilots wanting a self-launch jet powered glider like the Bonus Jet.

Notice the carousel that spins to align the glider with the hangar door. I believe this was the first of it's type. These guys in Moriarty think outside the box.

The large doors close around the engine for minimum drag during engine operation, as you can see in the first photo. The jet engine retracts completely inside the fuselage during glider flight. The dual exhaust prevents the tail from burning off. Man, those guys think of everything! You can see the Bonus Jet at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

San Antonio to Albuquerque

Actually we flew to Moriarty, famous gliderport full of go-for-it glider pilots who log more mileage in the OLC than anyone. Out west, the convective band goes pretty high, so to cruise in comfort through smooth air, you have to fly high. And that is the MO of the Phoenix (dba U2 Spyplane).

We did most of the trip from 12,000 to 15,000', enjoying the cloud tops once again.

Here is another shot of the panel so you can see performance numbers. (Click on any photo to blow it up). Dennis is flying (as usual- Hey Dennis, How About I Fly For A While?). We were not in a hurry today, so we cruised at 5000rpm.
We are showing 90kts indicated at 12,500', so the true airspeed is around 114kts. The GPS is showing 121kts, so we must have got lucky and picked up a little tailwind too. Always nice when going westbound.

Dennis made the right call installing the oxygen before we left Florida.

Almost time to start the descent into Moriarty from 20 miles out.
When we entered the pattern, it was blowing 20mph straight cross. With experience, the Phoenix can be landed in these conditions no problem, with the steerable tailwheel. I would never want to try that with a castering tailwheel equipped plane, however.
Flight Stats:
4.4 hours flight time
113kts average speed
19 gallons burned for 4.3gph

Boerne Stage Airfield

After leaving Brenham, TX we flew for a little over an hour to arrive over the Boerne Stage Airfield. Gliders were being towed up, so we shut down the engine and joined a gaggle of Grobs. Everyone was on the radio saying "nice plane" and "what is that?" much to our delight. Even though we were totally loaded down with baggage and fuel, we held our own with them.
Nothing like flying 730 miles in one day to join some friends for a little soaring!

Expert glider instructor Dave White joined me for a soaring flight, and we got to taste the last thermals of the day together.

Prop feathered, 550fpm up, life is good!

Dave put the plane through it's paces, stalls in level flight, during turns, spoilers open, shut, flaps every which way. The Phoenix is a docile aircraft, with no bad habits. You can fly slow in a thermal to the point of stall shuddering, and it won't bite. Dave was pleased to see that during stalls at bank angles below 30 degrees the plane wanted to level the wings, while at steeper bank angles it dropped into the direction of the turn - just what he likes in a training glider.
Then we dove for the airfield, and called it a day. Dave took us home to meet his family and show off his great home tucked away from the crowd. And his horses are just as friendly as Dave!

The next morning, we met Ed Babovec, who had flown his Sting Sport to Boerne from Erie, Colorado to get a look at the Phoenix. After a nice morning flight, he said "Thanks for a fantastic flight in the most incredible plane I have ever flown".

Monday, August 23, 2010

Panama City to Brenham, TX

The wind and clouds were against us as we departed Panama City bound for Boerne Stage airfield outside of San Antonio. We made it out of the new Panama City International airport just before a black wall of rain and gust front shut down the airport. Then President Obama was going to create a 30nm TFR for the rest of the afternoon, so it was get out of Dodge fast. We picked up flight following to help us through the complicated military airspaces, and continued climbing as necessary to avoid the low level shears created by the developing cunimbs. But the cloud scenery was spectacular, and we had ample windows in the clouds to descend through if necessary. With XM weather on board we could always see around the next corner of the clouds, even though we couldn't.

Dennis did most of the flying, and we shared communications responsibilities depending on the circumstances. I handled the Garmin 496 and XM weather duties, since I was familiar with the 496. The normal route for me was along the Gulf Coast, but the majority of bad weather was there this time around, so we flew about 20 miles inland, around the towering clouds.

Dennis wasn't sure which navigation instrument to settle on, so we tried out my 496, mounted temporarily atop the panel with the car beanbag mount, and a piece of foam wedged over the top to prevent it getting frisky in rough air. As I said, we were against the wind, so we were running hard at 5500rpm to make the best speed possible. You can see in this photo that we are at 10,500', with an indicated 103kts, which is about 120kts true. Ground speed on the gps is 111kts.

Then we made it into Texas and better conditions. But we had burned too much fuel running at 5500rpm to make Boerne in one leg, and picked Brenham, TX (11R) as a fuel stop. They have a cool soda shop on the airport which makes great burgers and milkshakes with 50's clad waitresses, so it was a perfect stop.
581nm in 5.6 hours; burned 26 gallons for 4.6gph and averaged 104kts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Panama City with Mom and Dad

After we arrived at the new Panama City airport, Mom and Dad picked us up. We had a scrumptious early dinner, and then went for a ride in the Whaler.

We scoped out the new oil catch boom in case the oil reaches the entrance to St. Andrews Bay. Something like 5 million dollars was spent on this project.

My mom and I. Life is good!

Sebring to Panama City, Florida

After leaving the Lockwood shop, we set sail for Panama City. The weather started nice, but then turned a little ugly as the clouds developed into cunimbs. We had to make several detours, but it was easy to stay in nice air without turbulence.

As we neared the Big Bend area, where the coastline of Florida curves around to the west, a large storm was centered over the coast and on into Tallahassee and Georgia. So we cut the corner of the Gulf, being careful not to cross the ADIZ. Once again smooth air and easy cruising.

This is a shot of Dennis' panel with my Garmin 496 sitting on top of the panel, padded to protect the canopy in the event of turbulence. Dennis will decide later what type of GPS to use, with the help of this flight west using the 496.

Straight line distance for this leg was 328nm flown in 3.5 hours with both headwinds and crosswinds and a lot of detours to stay in nice air.

Lockwood Aviation and 25 Hr Rotax check

Dean was impressed with the Rotax 912ULS installation in the Phoenix motorglider.

Joe and the rest of the crew did a great job with the 25 hour engine oil change and engine check.

We were happy to learn that the engine was in top shape for the 23oo mile trip ahead of us. The trip actually started as soon as they were finished. We launched and flew to Panama City, Florida up in the panhandle.