I flew my family of four to Gaspé last Monday 24 July, and flew back yesterday (Sunday 30 July). Here are some disjointed notes, since I’m too far buried in work-related e-mail and demands to construct a continuous narrative.
- Flying four adult-sized people plus luggage plus full fuel in a 160 hp Warrior is legal, but it’s a huge challenge. You have to treat every takeoff as a short-field takeoff, and have to be bang on the numbers to make the thing leave the runway and climb at all on a hot day (I’ve posted before about how flight training fails to prepare pilots for heavily-loaded, underpowered planes). Expect to see frequent negative climb rates above 7,000 ft (4,000 ft if there are any mountain waves): just hold Vy and be patient.
- Deviating around thunderstorms in a slow plane is also a huge challenge because of the distances involved. I guessed wrong and deviated south when all the airliners were deviating north, and ended up giving my family a grand tour of the Eastern townships of Quebec (which we couldn’t actually see, but no matter). I’m looking forward to having radar images available for Canada.
- Bilingualism is a good thing, except in a busy circuit at an uncontrolled Quebec airport. I do speak some French, and I managed to understand that an incoming pilot behind me was bound and determined to land on 05 when I was already in the circuit for 23 and Unicom was insisting over and over that 23 was the preferred runway. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand enough French to realize that he was cutting me off after I switched 180 degrees and joined the downwind for 05 to accomodate him. He was behind me, but when I turned base I saw him right in front of me on a straight-in final (which isn’t even legal for VFR in Canada at an uncontrolled airport). Life’s too short to argue with morons, especially in another language, but I have another good reason to prefer controlled airports. The other pilots at the airport were decent, no matter what language they were speaking.
- With fuel prices so high, I’m glad to fly a plane that doesn’t burn too much of it, even if our trips are sometimes a couple of hours longer. I found some good prices in Quebec, though, sometimes in unexpected places.
- I always worry about emergency landing spots when planning a flight over completely deserted areas, such as the interior of the Gaspé peninsula (where the St. Lawrence River meets the Gulf of the St. Lawrence). No need, really. It turns out that the interior is criss-crossed with, literally, hundreds or thousands of wide logging roads. I imagine that the surfaces are rough, and it might take a while for someone to find us, but even though I flew for over an hour out of range of towns, farms, roads, airports, etc., if I had lost an engine I would always have had a choice of literally dozens of easy, straight landing spots right under the plane. They might not have been nice on the landing gear, but they’d be a lot better than trees or plowed fields.
- It’s very hard to resist cheating when you’re IFR in actual IMC, have a VFR-only GPS and ATC offers you a direct routing that will shave 15 or 20 minutes off your trip (and vectoring isn’t possible, because you’re below radar). I won’t say whether I resisted successfully or not, but if I hadn’t, it would have been easy to verify my position periodically using VOR/DME fixes.
- I have a decent amount of actual IMC now, all of it hand-flown, and much of it in rough conditions. In a simple plane like a Warrior, I don’t think there would be any real benefit in having an autopilot, because the plane is draggy and unresponsive, giving me lots of time to fold maps, talk on the radio, etc. without going off course or tilting the wings. I know that things would be very different in a retractable.
- A long, non-stop flight is always tempting, especially when you’re flying back home westbound and might not have serious headwinds. The upper wind forecasts suggested that I could do the return flight (503 nm) in only 4:10, while my Warrior holds enough fuel to fly over 5:30 lean of peak at 75% power (8.5 gph from 48 gallons usable). When the actual winds indicated 4:30-4:40, however, I decided that I didn’t want to be one of those morons who runs out of fuel, even if the GPS said that I would have minimal legal VFR reserves, so I added a fuel stop. It turned out that I did have enough fuel, but family bladders appreciated the stop all the same.
- Flying an underpowered plane over hills makes me appreciate that the air moves in three dimensions: in addition to headwinds, tailwinds, crosswinds, etc., there’s always an updraft or downdraft. I was high enough to avoid the rough stuff, but at 8,500 feet over the mountains (3-4 thousand feet still make a mountain) I was constantly aware of the gentle waves (5-10 minute cycles) that were adding or subtracting about 5-10 knots of airspeed. I notice that flying over the Adirondacks as well. Some people just hold a constant airspeed and ride up and down on the waves, while others hold constant altitude and let the airspeed climb and drop. I chose the latter, since I was in an area of no radar coverage, and didn’t want to crowd the IFR altitudes.
- I had my first experience flying a significant amount of IFR in class G airspace (green on the map), but it wasn’t actually uncontrolled. Because I was going to be crossing a controlled airway, ATC kept talking to me and never said that I was uncontrolled, even though I was flying no-radar. I could legally have flown about an hour of my route IFR without a clearance, though, as long as I could have crossed the airway VFR.
- My family has almost 4 years experience with the airplane now, and they’re all extremely light packers and unfussy travellers. How many teenaged girls can pack enough for a week in a 10 lb suitcase? That alone is probably enough to justify the expense of flying.