I will be using this blog, to document my upcoming cross country flight to Florida. In early-March I'll be posting my planned route and preparation activities.
I'm a little astonished at how quickly word is getting out about my cross-country flight. And pleased, too, as I get contacted by folks around the country who are interested and wanting to help out. One such person is Dean Billing, of Sisters, Oregon who is leading an effort to assure that ethanol-free gas is available for aviation, as well as other uses. For those of you reading this who aren't pilots, you may not be aware of how serious the problem is if you use ethanol-blended gas in many aircraft engines, including mine. Unleaded auto gasoline, referred to as "mogas" in aviation circles, is an FAA recognized aviation fuel because of the STC process, but it must not contain ethanol.
The unintended consequences of The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) is spreading ethanol into all of the auto gasoline in the country. This is a very serious concern for ultralights and many general aviation planes. Dean is leading a loose knit group of volunteers who are urging state legislators around the country to pass a bill that will insure that ethanol-free fuel is available for all of the users that need it, including aircraft, watercraft, antique and classic cars, small engines, etc.
Dean is a sponsor of my flight since he wants to document the difficulty of getting ethanol-free gas. The Ethanol-Free Premium Coalition wants to insure the continued availability of ethanol free mogas for aviation use by supporting state laws prohibiting the blending of ethanol in premium unleaded gasoline. This fuel can be used in 100% of ultralights, Light Sport Aircraft and all mogas STC aircraft.
For those of you who are as concerned as I am about the increasing use of ethanol-blended gas, I hope you'll go to the Coalition's website and join them in this good fight. www.e0pc.com (And that's a "zero", not a capital O in the URL.)
Only 2 weeks and 2 days to wheels off! My To-Do list gets longer every day.
1. Get the engine running perfectly and replacing old parts.
I sent my engine (Rotax 503 DCDI) in for a thorough going over: decarboned the pistons, put in new gaskets (base, head, exhaust and intake,) cleaned the carbs, new bendix for the starter motor, new spark plugs. I also got a new 12v battery to run my radio and strobes. The mechanic said the engine was really clean - he might switch to Penzoil Air Cooled oil himself because I had so little carbon build-up.
Now we're finishing up with the re-installation. It took us 1.5 hours to get the engine off the ultralight and will probably take 4+ hours to put it back on. Some re-wiring to be done, and I'm putting in new fuel line, primer line, pulse line - and rebuilding my Mikuni fuel pump and changing out the manifold-exhaust springs. Plus just hooking everything up and testing it takes a while. I'm hoping to test fly it Friday - if it doesn't rain. I'd like to put 3-5 hours on the engine before we take off. "Honey, I HAVE to go flying - it's a safety issue! I'd LOVE to help clean out the barn, but flight safety comes first!"
2. Begin figuring out our route.
Randy and I have agreed on the general route we're going to fly - now I'm trying to map it on Google Maps. (Go to Google Maps and search for "Arty Ultralight Route 2009")
We've had lots of wonderful offers from folks around the country offering to help us out with gas, food, and - in some cases - a place to stay. I hate to disappoint anyone, but although we know the general route, we don't have a clue where we'll be stopping for gas or for the night. That's because some days we might be able to do 125-135 miles in a single leg, and might be able to do 3 or more legs in a day...but it's also likely that we might only be able to fly 50 or 60 or 100 miles and then have to land and wait it out due to weather.
Based on our fuel capacity (16 gallons for me, 20 gallons for Randy,) and cruise speed of 60-65 mph, we can plan 135 mile legs very safely (burning about 5 gal./hour since we're fully loaded with all our camping gear,) but we'll only make 135 miles a leg if there's little or no headwind. We can make much more with a nice tailwind. So the stops that I've put on Google Maps are a true guestimate.
I can't believe how much time it took me to figure out how to make the Google map - and I only got as far as eastern Texas! On previous flights we've figured out our general direction and every evening we'd sit down with our sectionals (for you non-pilots, that's an air map,) and figure out the next day's flight. We're planning on following major highways for the most part, and circling round Class B and C airspace. I have my endorsement for Class C & D airspace, and we'll probably avoid even Class D unless it doing so takes us too far out of our way.
I'm REALLY enjoying corresponding with all the folks who are e-mailing with advice and offers to help - and it also takes up much more time than I'd realized.
That's all for today. Tomorrow I'll write about calibrating my Spot Tracker and figuring out what to pack.
It's raining - and forecast to continue for another week! My test flying window is getting smaller - which is a little unnerving. 13 more days to take off!
I'm putting together my packing lists. My flying friends tease me because I keep list of everything - and on a 3x5 index card I have a list of WHERE everything is that I've packed. Crazy? Well, consider that I have 10 different places to store stuff on my Drifter! If I need something, I don't want to be searching all over for it - so I pull out the index card and know exactly where to look!
A lot of people are curious what I take. This is a really complete list - boring to almost everyone except those who want to do long cross country flights without a ground crew. (Which means you either take it with you or hope you can land somewhere to get it.) So - here's my complete list.
- in the wings (zippers in each) I store my sleeping bag, towel, titanium ti-downs, rudder stop, large plastic bags to cover the engine if it rains, a roll of toilet paper, and a sweatshirt and sweater.
- a small compartment beneath my instrument panel, is where I store batteries (for my camera & GPS,) tools, and fuses.
- a 8" x 12" x 7" Rubbermaid storage container, which sits on a "package deck" right behind & below my gas tanks is where I put my "hope I don't have to use this stuff much, if at all". Things like fluorescent surveyors tape (for streamers in case I go down - to make the Drifter easier to find,) wheel chocks, cotter pins, duct tape, extra ear plugs, electrical tape, NASA-type emergency blanket , extra pair electric mittens, fan belt, first aid booklet, fuel filter replacement, fuel line stand-offs, extra carb jets, loc tite, waterproof matches, mattress repair kit, measuring tape,
medical kit, extra muffler springs, quick disconnects, rope, rubber bands, rubber & metal O rings, safety wire, sewing kit, silicon adhesive, spark plugs, string, extra primer “plunger”, gap tool, tie wraps, fuel pump repair kit.
- a 14" x 20" x 6" Rubbermaid container which holds an inflatable mattress (a thermarest just doesn't cut it for weeks of camping,) an electric pump for the mattress, water, 4 pints of oil, flashlight, chemical handwarmers, peanut butter, raisens, M & M's (these are my survival foods,) paperback books.
- a black duffel-type bag with clothes, toiletries, water, oil measuring/mixing container, wipe rag, #64 rubber bands, extra-large band-aids (for nose sun burn protection,) clear flight goggles, Wet n Wipes, Scalex, camera, emergency signaling mirror, sectionals, road maps, pen and small notebook, cell phone charger.
- my tent
- an extra prop blade.
With the exception of the stuff in the compartment below the instrument panel, and in the wings, everything else is strapped on with rafting straps. CAREFULLY strapped on, since my Drifter is a "pusher" - meaning that the engine and propeller are behind the wings, and anything that isn't strapped down really carefully will go through the prop! I never allow anyone to distract me when I'm strapping everything on, to try and ensure that I don't make a mistake.
If you ARE curious about anything I've listed here, drop me a line and I'll explain it.
On my website, I wrote that this flight is about more than flying to the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Florida. It's also about carrying a message that we can all challenge our self-limiting beliefs... create and achieve big, hairy, bodacious goals for ourselves.
In the last two weeks, I've shared this message with three very diverse audiences. The first was a group of women at a state prison here in Oregon. The second was a group of college students, and the third, a group of university administrators and managers. In each case I use my ultalight flying - and this up-coming flight - as a metaphor for pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and into our courage zones.
Most of them had never heard of an ultralight; some had seen pictures, and a very few had seen one in person. Very, very few had any interest in actually flying in one. Yet I was struck by how similar their reactions were. They were able to translate my flying experiences - more specifically, the feelings I have when I fly, such as pure joy, fear, anxiety, exhilaration, - to their own lives.
I think that's because we all have an adventuresome spirit waiting to be unleashed. And I'm not defining adventure as climbing mountains or rafting rivers or flying ultralights. To me, adventure is an attitude, an attitude that we apply to the day-to-day obstacles of life - facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown, and in the process, discovering our own unique potential.
"But what about when you're not flying?" That's the question that some of the folks at my office asked, when I went in to say good-by before my flight. They were interested in the flying, but most of their questions had to do with being on the ground, not in the air.
"Where do you get gas?" is one of the most frequent questions.
In all of my long distance flying, I've never had serious difficulty getting gasoline. I prefer to use "mogas" (ultralighters' affectionate term for regular automobile gas,) although often I have to use 100LL, aviation fuel, which is available at many airports.
When we're flying "out in the middle of nowhere", with airstrips often only a plowed length of dirt, we get creative. I remember once flying into Paisley, Oregon, population 247 and the home of the Paisley Mosquito Festival. There were three of us: me in my Drifter, Randy in his Carrera, and Dave in his Thundergull. We knew there was no gas at the landing strip, about 2 miles out of town. So we slowly circled the town, waving our brightly colored wings, and then slowly flew to the airstrip. Sure enough, a couple in a pick-up truck drove out to see these curious birds. After showing off our planes and answering their questions, we asked for a life into town to get food and gas. They were glad to give us a lift, but said that they had an appointment and wouldn't be able to take us back to the airstrip.
"No problem," said Randy as we came out of the restaurant. "We'll just hitchhike. You'll see, out here folks are real friendly and we'll get a ride pretty quickly" ""Hitchhike?" said Dave. "I haven't hitchhiked since I was in college." "Hitchhike?" I said. "I've NEVER hitchhiked."
We stood by the side of the road with our thumbs out, full gas cans by our side. I was also holding my helmet, which I had brought along rather than leave it in the plane. One... two... three pick-ups zipped by us. In the distance, we saw that the next vehicle was a big 18-wheeler. "Don't bother putting out your thumb," advised Randy. "These guys all work for big companies and they're not allowed to pick up hitchhikers." But I had read that most long distance truckers were friendly folks, always ready to give others a hand.
Instead of putting out my thumb, I stepped out a little ways onto the road. I held out my helmet, pointing at it and patting it. Sure enough, curiosity caused the driver to slow down and then stop, rolling down his window. I quickly explained our situation and he told us to jump in. Back at the airstrip, Randy and Dave told me they had thought I was crazy when I started patting and pointing at my helmet there in the road. But it worked!
The technique of circling a small town and then flying slowly to a place to land - on a dirt or gravel road, or a field, or a close-by, gas-less landing strip - really works. People are curious and they drive out to see what's going on and then are happy to drive us to the nearest gas station.
There are also guys who just hang out at airports. They're often retired, love to fly and love to talk flying, and instead of spending their time in front of the TV they spend it at the local airport, swapping lies about their flying exploits. They're almost always willing to take you into town for gas if the airport doesn't have gas, or if the FBO is closed. And many airports have self-serve gas pumps, so even if the FBO is closed, you can pump your own gas.
Sectionals (air maps) and Flight Guides (a book which has detailed information on individual airports) tell you which airports have gas, what type, and the hours when it's available. So when we plan our route each day, we decide where we'll stop to refuel.
So far, it's always worked.
In the introduction to this blog, I explained that my Maxair Drifter is "an ultralight-type E-LSA" (Experimental Light Sport Aircraft, registered as such with the Federal Aviation Administration.) Then, since that was pretty cumbersome language, and since my Drifter looks like the stereotypical ultralight, I've been referring to my Maxair Drifter as an "ultralight". A conscientious pilot wrote me today, asking "Please do not call it an Ultralight - We have too much confusion about ultralight requirements without sophisticated people adding to the confusion by calling airplanes over 300 pounds ultralights."
He is absolutely right. It may not be of any concern to those of you who are not pilots, who are just interested in reading about my flight. And some of you may say "Well, it looks like an ultralight - and it's at the very low end of the Light Sport Aircraft category. So why get so technical - if it looks like an ultralight and flies like an ultralight..." Yet it's NOT an ultralight and from now on I'll start referring to it as "an ultralight-type E-LSA" even though that's more cumbersome.
The FAA defines a powered "ultralight" as a single seat vehicle (an air vehicle, not an aircraft!) of less than 5 US gallons (19 L) fuel capacity, empty weight of less than 254 pounds (115 kg), a top speed of 55 knots (64 mph), and a maximum stall speed not exceeding 24 knots ( 27.6 mph). Restrictions include flying only during daylight hours and over unpopulated areas. (The only exception was for ultralight trainers - two seat ultralights which are meant to be used only for training purposes.) In the United States no license or training is required by law for ultralight pilots.
As ultralight pilots began adding more weight to support larger engines and more gas to be able to fly faster and farther, and as they started buying more and more two-seat "ultralights" so they could take their friends and families on flights, they moved out of the legal category of ultralight...and were actually unregistered experimental aircraft being flown by unlicensed pilots. The FAA, after years of deliberations with the major pilot and ultralight organizations and manufacturers, created a new category of aircraft - the Light Sport Aircraft and a new category of pilots' license - the Light Sport License. There's lots more information available through the USUA (United States Ultralight Organization) and the EAA (the Experimental Aircraft Association) if you want to know more.
As for me, as I see the newly manufactured Light Sport Aircraft -sleek composites weighing up to a gross of 1320 lbs, flying at well over 100 mph, - even though my Maxair Drifter falls in the same FAA classification, in my heart I still think of her as an ultralight. Even though she's not.
This is probably more than many of you non-pilots wanted to know - and a "ho-hum, I knew that" for most of you pilots.
With two cycle engines like my Rotax 503 (approx. 55 hp) there is a maintenance schedule that I adhere to fairly carefully. I took the engine in a few weeks ago and after having it fine-tuned (new gaskets, decarboned pistons, cleaning carbuerators,) a friend here at Sandy River Airport re-installed it for me. It was ready to try out on Saturday, but the weather wasn't very cooperative and so I only got to do a couple of crow hops and one time around the patch. (Translation for non-pilots: A crow hop is taking off at one end of the runway, staying fairly low, and landing at the other end. You never leave the runway. Going "around the patch" means taking off, and then circling the airport and landing again.)
It was such a wonderful sound to hear the engine start right up the first time - sometimes after an engine's been taken apart and put back together they don't always do that and you have to baby them a bit to get them going. To me, the sound of an aircraft engine is a thrilling sound - and even more thrilling when it's mine and working perfectly.
Yesterday the weather was better, and I went out early to fly since it was supposed to start snowing/raining again. It was cold - in the high 30's - so I was pretty bundled up. Another pilot was just coming back in from a flight and he said the flying was great - really calm air. That's what I love about winter flying - calm, smooth air. I could hardly wait to take off, and Wolf (yes that's his name) said he'd refuel and fly with me.
As I took off, I was listening hard to the engine. I couldn't believe how good it sounded and how wonderful it was to be up in the sky again. Grey and overcast, but the ceiling was at 3500' and I was flying at 2000-2500', so I had plenty of room. I felt really light without any of my camping gear and I was burning only 3 gal/hr.
As we flew south down the Willamette Valley, I became aware that I was tense. My feet were pressing hard against the rudder pedals and my breathing was coming in shallow breaths. I realized that for me, any time I "test" an engine that has been worked on, there's a little bit of anxiety that something will fail. I have absolute trust in both the mechanic who worked on it and the fellow pilot who re-installed it - but there are so many little things that can go wrong. I try to fly as though my engine will quit at any time - always thinking "If it dies now, where will I land?" Yet when I fly in super-familiar territory that question isn't always in my mind. Yesterday it was. I was scanning every field as though I'd never seen it before.
John had installed new sensors for my CHT and my dual EGT (engine monitoring instruments) and the CHT wasn't working, nor was one of the EGTs. Darn, we'll have to pull the nose pod off and figure out what's going on. But flying without those instruments is certainly possible, so I didn't let that shorten my flight. The cold did that - after about 45 minutes, even with two chemical handwarmers in each mitten and thermal long johns, jeans, ski pants, turtle neck, wool sweater, ski jacket and flight suit, I was getting really cold. My lips were so stiff I had difficulty talking into my radio mic to let Wolf know I was turning around and heading back.
The other pilots tease me about when I'm going to get rid of the Drifter and get a fully-enclosed plane. But there's something about flying out in the open, feeling the wind beat against my face, with no plexiglass to look through or tubing to look around, that makes me feel free as a bird. I retort that when I'm an old lady I'll get an enclosed plane. So far no one has dared to say that by some people's standards I'm already an old lady.
For those of you who are scratching your heads over the title of this post...
Randy and I are scheduled to leave tomorrow, Sunday, March 29. (I had hoped leave today, Saturday, but he's still putting the finishing touches on his Carrera and won't be able to test fly it until today.)
I was in my hangar Thursday getting packed, when another pilot stopped by and pointed out that the weather forecast was for rain starting Friday night and continuing non-stop until next Tuesday or Wednesday. That's what I was afraid of when I first began planning this flight - not being able to get out of northwestern Oregon during March or even early April.
I looked out at the perfect blue sky and thought: "Right now is great flying weather." I'm a great believer in taking advantage of the moment. So I called Norm and asked: "Honey, could you skip your meeting tonight and drive down to Lebanon and pick me up?" When he asked what the heck I was talking about, I explained that if I left right away and flew south to Lebanon - about 70 miles - I'd be pretty much out of the forecast rain storms. Since I had a work commitment on Friday that I absolutely couldn't walk away from, I figured that I'd leave the Drifter at the Lebanon State Airport, come home, work on Friday, and then he could drive me back to Lebanon on Sunday so I could get on with the flight. Norm, bless his heart, is used to my shenanigans. He said he'd meet me down there.
So - I had a great flight Thursday. Lots of cloud build-up by the time I was actually in the air, but a high ceiling so not to worry. More than 20 miles visibility. Calm air. It's really peaceful flying by myself, and I enjoyed loafing along at 50-55 mph. My engine sounds absolutely wonderful, all my instruments are working. Life just doesn't get any better.
I decided to fly strictly by pilotage instead of using my GPS, just to brush up on my ability to follow a sectional. It was great fun, but not a real test since I'm so very familiar with the area. I also turned on my SPOT tracker so that when I got home I could look up my track during the flight. It works perfectly! I've now got a link to my SPOT tracking on my blog, so you can see my route and time from Sandy to Lebanon.
The FBO owners at Lebanon State Airport, Larry and Dana, are absolutely wonderful. They live right there at the FBO and the entire FBO looks more like a home than a business office. They have the first-ever S-LSA Hornet, which they want to use for flight instruction.
So Norm met me in Lebanon, we came home, I worked Friday and am using today to finish packing and do miscellaneous other things at home. (Good thing I left on Thursday - it's pouring here.) I'll begin the 2nd leg of my flight on Sunday!!!
Tomorrow begins the realization of a major dream. I can hardly wait.
I thought I'd take a moment to update you all on Arty's progress. They are underway now, but didn't get airborne today until quite late in the morning, because of weather (no, she didn't just "sleep in" today ).
In a previous post, Arty mentioned that she will be using the Spot satellite tracking system, so everyone can monitor their progress in realtime. I have added a link to that web page, which appears under the "links" section you'll see at the right hand side of this blog web page.
Here's a direct link to the Spot page, where you can monitor their movement: Arty's SpotTM web page.
Arty does plan to get online to update her blog, as time allows, assuming she has internet access at her daily destination, and the energy to actually get online. I believe she's using a laptop, connected thru her cell phone, to the internet.
Thank you to everyone who is posting comments. If you've posted a comment recently, and its not visible yet, its only because Arty hasn't been online to publish them. But comments will be published (where they become visible) as soon as possible.
If anyone has problems using this blog site, feel welcomed to contact me.