Vintage Instructor THE
BY Steve Krog, CFI
Things learned on the first real cross-country Over the Christmas holidays I spent a day with a college flying buddy. We had both learned to fly at the same time years ago in South Dakota and, coincidentally, had been pursuing the same college degree. While catching up on activities from the past year, my buddy Stephen DeLay (Step for short) mentioned that he had read my articles in Vintage Airplane and suggested doing an article about “things we learned while flying together.” We had a lot of good times flying but also managed to scare ourselves a few times as well; from these situations we learned a great deal. Before sharing “things we learned,” you need to know a little about Step and me. Step took and passed his private pilot checkride two days before I took and passed mine; for the remainder of our college days we did a lot of flying together. We were both airport bums spending every free moment at the airport. Once or twice a week we’d pool our vast financial resources and rent a Cherokee 180 for an hour, splitting the flying time and cost. Airplane rental was $18 per hour wet then—minuscule by today’s standards, but a lot of money to both of us then. One evening, weeks after getting our certificates, we began talking about taking a trip. Step suggested that we fly to California, as his parents would be there in a couple of weeks for a convention and they could feed us once there. Several of the usual college refreshments later, we agreed this was a great idea and decided to approach the FBO the next day. As neither of us had acquired no more than 45 hours of flying time yet, we expected him to say “No,” which would get us off the hook. Who in their right mind would rent an airplane to two guys with minimal flight time wanting to fly a 2,400-mile round-trip cross-country flight over mountains to California? The next day, after classes, we headed for the airport. Timidly approaching Marv, the FBO, we told him of our plan. Without hesitation he commented that it was a great idea and that we could even rent his newest Cherokee 180 for the trip. With his positive reply, we were committed and
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began acquiring maps and planning the flight. Our departure date was picked to coincide with the first day of spring break. Departure day arrived, but fog and snow squalls delayed our departure until around noon. Finally in the air, we both looked at one another and shared the same thought—are we really doing this? After dodging a few snow squalls and some head wind, we arrived in Casper, Wyoming, just before dark. Later that evening, while sitting in a very cheap motel room we discussed the day’s flight. Dealing with the snow squalls wasn’t bad, though they did cause a moment or two of apprehension; we’d encountered them before in our vast 45-hour experience.
Lesson No. 1: Get a good flight briefing. Day two found us at the airport at sunrise and ready for our flight to Ontario, California. The sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. Our first fuel stop of the day was to be Salt Lake City, Utah. Outwardly we both demonstrated confidence, but inwardly we both had butterflies in our stomachs. Having learned to fly in the Midwest flatlands, we were about to encounter our first taste of mountain flying.
Lesson No. 2: Talk to some of the local pilots for advice. The last mountain ridge before Salt Lake required that we climb above 10,000 feet for about 30 minutes. Neither of us had been that high before. The looming mountain peaks were huge, and from a distance, it didn’t appear that we could clear them. Finally, after coaxing the Cherokee ever higher and over the last ridge, we began a rapid descent into Salt Lake. Talking on the radio was not a problem, but we’d previously flown in only one other towered environment. Practicing our best 10,000-hour captain’s voice, we contacted Salt Lake Approach. The control-
lers were kind and fit us in among all the airliners. That was quite an experience for both of us, mixing it up with 727s, 737s, and a DC-8.
Lesson No. 3: Think about what you want to say and practice it before hitting the “transmit” button on the microphone. After topping off the tanks and downing the usual pilot lunch of a Coke and a Snickers bar, we were off and headed for Delta, Utah. This leg was uneventful, as well as a real confidence-builder. Another Coke and Snickers bar and we launched from Delta on our last leg to Ontario. Approaching the last mountain range, we knew we were almost there. Another hour or so of flying, and we’d be on the ground in warm, sunny California. What a shock awaited us. After clearing the last ridge, we faced what appeared to be IFR flying conditions. A few moments of panic later we settled our nerves after realizing it was sunny. Vertical visibility was unlimited, but horizontal visibility was no more than 1 or 2 miles. Neither of us had ever experienced flying in what is known as “California VFR” conditions before. Our previous limited cross-country experience had provided us with visibility never less than 20-30 miles. Winter flying weather in South Dakota, where we had trained, was usually severe clear, visibility unlimited, and cold. We agreed that Step would concentrate on flying, as this was his leg, and I would search for landmarks, watch for traffic, and attempt to find our location on the VFR sectional chart. Everything looked the same, and then a beautiful Beech Staggerwing passed immediately below us. Simultaneously, we agreed to try contacting Ontario Approach and get some help. They were helpful in trying to identify our location, but we were too far away to get good radar contact (no transponders in those days). After a series of 90-degree turns, Ontario Approach finally directed us to continue on a westerly heading until we were over a north-south four-lane highway, then turn north until spotting a large Union 76 gas station. We spotted a Union 76 sign and contacted Approach, who then told us to contact the tower. A left turn to 270 degrees was called for, and we should see the airport in 3 miles; contact tower when spotting the runway. Three, 4, then 5 miles passed and no runway! Tower directed us to keep looking and report the airport in sight. Nearly 15 miles later we spotted another north-south four-lane highway and Union 76 sign. Confusion reigned in the cockpit, but Step continued flying while I searched for the airport. We contacted the tower again, and they directed us to
keep looking and report the airport in sight. Finally, after what seemed like an hour (but was probably no more than a minute or two), we spotted the runway, reported it in sight, and stated in a noncaptain voice that we were landing! Once on the ground, Tower told us to contact Ground—and to call the tower after shutting down. We thought we were in real trouble. The call to the Tower was uneventful once we explained our situation and our level of experience. They did mention that we had caused a large military cargo aircraft practicing instrument approaches to make a go-around, though.
Lesson No. 4: When in need of help, don’t hesitate to contact someone for assistance. Lesson No. 5: Stay calm and keep flying the airplane. Before making the return trip, we did do some local VFR flying to better acclimate ourselves with “California VFR” flying. The return trip to South Dakota wasn’t quite as
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VINTAGE AIRPLANE 33
eventful, except for two instances. After landing in Provo, Utah, for fuel, we were concerned about density altitude, as we had never done any takeoff practice at high elevations. We sought out a local flight instructor, and he thoughtfully explained what to expect. “It will take a lot of runway, and you’ll swear you’re only getting about half-power from the reliable Lycoming 360 engine,” he stated. We calculated our takeoff distance from the POH and determined everything was fine. After obtaining our weather briefing, we were both dejected. The mountains were socked-in, but it was clear on the eastern side slopes. Again, we sought out the helpful flight instructor and explained our new dilemma. He looked at the weather reports and charts with us and then asked if either of us had experience flying “VFR on top.” It was clear above the mountains, and we would be in the clear after flying about 50 miles. He also provided us with the two VORs and headings that we’d need to use. The instructor made it quite clear that he was not telling us to go but rather just explaining the options. He did add that this weather phenomenon was quite common, and he often made this type of flight. Step and I discussed the situation and decided we would give it a try. We could always turn around if we felt too uncomfortable.
Lesson No. 6: If flying in unfamiliar conditions, don’t be Back Cover Art Identification
From upper left, clockwise: 1) Aeronca on Floats; 2) Rearwin Sportster; 3) Arrow Sport; 4) Taylor J-2 Cub; 5) Porterfield; 6)Waterman Aerobile, and 7) Unknown.
afraid to ask for advice from those who have experience with these conditions. We departed Provo and began our climb, finally reaching an altitude above the approaching clouds. Checking and double-checking the two VORs on board, we established our heading for the first VOR. I don’t think you would ever see two less-experienced pilots do a better job keeping the needles centered! After crossing the first VOR and getting comfortably established on our course for the second, we could see the clearing ahead. Our first experience of flying VFR on top was both successful and satisfying. Our final fuel stop was planned for Rock Springs, Wyoming. However, FSS was telling us that a solid line of snow was approaching from the northwest. Calculating our groundspeed and distance, we figured we would arrive minutes before the snow, so onward we proceeded. Unfortunately, the snow arrived minutes before we did and it was back to one person flying and the other looking for landmarks to find the airport. Thankfully we flew in the heavy snowfall for only a couple of minutes before turning final and landing. The next morning was severe clear once again, and the final leg home was uneventful. Together, Step and I learned a great deal from this trip. We had flown just minutes short of 20 hours’ total time but had gained hundreds of hours of experience. It was a trip neither of us would have attempted solo, but together it became a flight of a lifetime that we still talk about to this day.
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Are you nearing completion of a restoration? Or is it done and you’re busy flying and showing it off? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Send us a 4-by-6-inch print from a commercial source (no home printers, please—those prints just don’t scan well) or a 4-by-6-inch, 300-dpi digital photo. A JPG from your 2.5-megapixel (or higher) digital camera is fine. You can burn photos to a CD, or if you’re on a high-speed Internet connection, you can e-mail them along with a text-only or Word document describing your airplane. (If your e-mail program asks if you’d like to make the photos smaller, say no.) For more tips on creating photos we can publish, visit VAA’s website at www.vintageaircraft.org. Check the News page for a hyperlink to Want To Send Us A Photograph? For more information, you can also e-mail us at email@example.com or call us at 920-426-4825.
34 MARCH 2011