Pandora Moving Services, part 4
This is part of a 5 part series on my adventures helping my friend move. Check out part 1 and start there!
While the flying that we had planned for Sunday, August 10 was not intended to be the most difficult, it was certainly planned to be the longest. The first leg would be a 3.5 hour flight from Denver to Ogden starting at 6am. At Ogden, we'd fuel up, use the bathroom, then press on to Reno, another 3.5 hours away There we would drop off all of @norintha's belongings and her move would be complete. I would then fly another 1.5 hours home. In all, it was planned to be 8.5 hours of flying in a single day.
Leaving Denver, CO for Ogden, UT
We woke up right around 5:00 AM, well rested and chipper. I took a shower and then @norintha and I fumbled with the Kuerig coffee maker to try to get some coffee out of it. The front desk of the quaint English themed hotel we were in had promised us little bags of breakfast, but no one was in the office. So we walked to the airport in the warm cloudy morning, talking about board game kickstarters and the like. We paid our fuel and parking bills and started getting the plane ready.
The plane had already been fueled up the previous night, but it did need some oil from all its travels the day before. 2 quarts of oil later, we were off!
The plane lurched down the runway and climbed slowly into the warm Denver morning. We could feel the cargo we were carrying along with the density altitude, weighing us down. But climb we did towards the beautiful but pervasive overcast sky.
My planning had told me that we would have a few hours before the weather would start getting exciting in Colorado. My planning said we'd be delightfully west of the weather by the time it got rough. Unfortunately, that planning did not quite meet reality. As we leveled out at 10,500 ft. MSL, our cruising altitude for this trip, I pulled up the ADS-B NexRAD weather data on my Foreflight and scouted ahead.
Before us, right in our path near the Medicine Bow VOR, was a fairly powerful, but dissipating, thunderstorm. To the south west of it was a line of other storms, all growing in strength. To the west, throughout Wyoming, we were seeing other small rain storms starting to pop up. It looks like our anticipated quiet morning wouldn't be quite as quiet as I had hoped.
I really loved the shape of this thunderstorm, so well defined against the nearby clouds.
To cross this line of thunderstorms, we had a few different options. We could try to fly north east and go around the thunderstorm, but that would cost us a considerable amount of time to get sufficiently safe distance from that storm. We could go south over Laramie and perhaps aim for the city of Saratoga, navigating south around the mountain ranges in the area. This would keep us out of the bad weather, similar to how we approached Elko, but it would also put us into some more difficult terrain. Plus, the storms down there seemed to be growing. I felt there was a pretty big potential of getting stuck without a good out down there.
I initially decided to cross the storm between the second and third weaker storms. As I got closer to them, we switched to fly in the larger and clearer gap between the first and second storms.
It was a good thing too. The first storm was heavily dissipating, and the two storms behind it had leveled up powerfully and were spitting lightning out of their dark rainy depths.
As we scooted past them, hugging the windward side of the first storm, we looked at the other storms in awe and fear.
As we passed through the line of thunderstorms, I let @norintha take the controls for a bit while I relaxed and snapped some photos of the beautiful Wyoming countryside.
The play of light and shadow on the mountains, clouds, and plains was truly breathtaking.
This video was my absolute favorite video of the entire flight. The intricacy of the ground in the dull morning light, diffused by the intense cloud cover above, made this intricate landscape really pop.
As we continued to the west, we saw plenty of rain storms south of us. Near the city of Rawlins, WY, we encountered yet another thunderstorm, but this one was isolated by itself and we just moved along south of it, ignoring it completely. Though just before that happened, I saw two black specks flying towards us away from the storm! I quickly grabbed the controls back from @norintha and turned to the left, dodging the two birds that were flying at 10,500 feet MSL right towards our plane! Encountering birds at this height was incredibly unusual and quite scary, but we dodged each other with minimal fuss and nobody got hurt.
The big storms
As we were approaching the city of Rock Springs, WY, the weather we could see ahead looked kind of ominous. Three growing thunderstorms all plopped to the left and right of our course. We flew to the north of one, with plenty of distance between us and the storm and scouted ahead.
The two ahead stood like guardians before us. Between them we could spy the open sky beyond. Blue, cloudless, stormless air that would take us through the rest of Wyoming and into Utah. Over the radio, we could hear the big jet airplanes all requesting deviations from the area to avoid the storms. We were in the middle of a tempest.
Once more, we “hugged” the windward side of a thunderstorm as we flew between the two storms. I watched the distance between the storms and carefully carefully threaded the needle, ready to turn around at the first indication of turbulence. After a few minutes, the storms fell behind us and we were out into the clear! As the sun came out from under the clouds and blue skies filled our vision, I let out a cheer of delight and relief. We were safe! We'd made it through the weather!
Nothing but blue skies before us!
Behind us, the sharp edge of the weather system continued further to the south, but for us, we were in the clear.
Ogden Brigham Airport
I made a minor mistake. In planning to fly into Ogden, I had missed considering the mountains to the east of Ogden. You can easily see how I did that by looking at the above chart. The mountains just 5 miles east of Ogden had peaks as high as 9,500 feet MSL. I would have to descend into Ogden at 4,537 feet MSL from well above that height over potentially busy class delta airspace. Not ideal. I checked in with ATC on what they recommended and they suggested approaching from the north, specifically using a waypoint called CARTR.
We aimed for it, climbing to 12,500 feet MSL to get out of the mountain turbulence caused by the tall mountains below us, and I reviewed the chart. Wait a minute... CARTR was basically right above another airport. Brigham Airport. And they had fuel and a nice long runway... Why were we going to Ogden anyways? Screw it!
I told ATC we were switching over to Brigham, closed my flight plan, crossed the mountains east of Brigham, and began my descent into Brigham. I had to descend from 12,500 feet MSL to 4,200 feet MSL, so I aimed for a rapid descent so we could get down, use the bathroom, and get some gas. Unfortunately, my 1500 feet per minute descent turned out to be a bit much for @norintha. Her right ear wouldn't pop and she started to experience an absolutely horrifying amount of pain as the pressure inside her ear canal built and built. As I landed, she was practically screaming in pain, and she was really scared about what was happening. Luckily, I've dealt with this before in a commercial airplane and knew that, despite being excruciatingly painful, all she had to do was pop her ear and she'd be okay. It took three times, but she did finally manage to get her ear popped and restored to normal.
Our final flight track for this route was here:
As we taxied into the Brigham airport, the place was desolate. There was no one there, no movement at all. Very few planes even. There were no other planes in the sky. It was eerie. We pulled up to the fuel pods and I put my credit card in to order a bunch of gas. Flipped the handle to start fueling and... nothing. I looked at the machine and it clearly had charged my card. But nothing was dispensing. I sighed and ran it again, resigned to the fact I'd have to dispute or otherwise handle the charges from the first time. This time my card got declined.
Okay, I was starting to get nervous. I'm at this desolate, empty airport in the middle of nowhere with no fuel and this machine isn't giving me anything. What?! I looked at my phone to pull up information about the airport and perhaps get a phone number I could call to get help and... I saw a NOTAM. “Runway 03/21 Closed”
Wait wait... This is a single runway airport.
If the runway is closed, did I... Did I just land illegally on a closed runway!? Is that why no one is here and the fuel machine isn't working?! But but!!! I mean, the runway did look kinda fresh but was it really that fresh!? Oh no!
For a moment I panicked and my thoughts were racing about what to say about this, what to do...
Thankfully, in my panic, I calmed down and realized that I was looking at the information for a different airport. oh. BREATHES We're fine here. LOL.
Now calm, I got to handling the situation correctly. I called the FBO, no answer. I called my bank and found out my card was declined for fraud. As we figured that out, I studied the fuel machine and realized what had happened.
The On/Off switch had been in the On position when I first tried to fuel the plane up. Unfortunately, the machine is REALLY particular, and it was expecting it to switch to On after running the credit card. So it never started the pump. When I switched it to the Off position, the fuel machine decided we were done fueling and instead shut down. What you have to do is first make sure the switch is in the off position, THEN run the credit card, THEN turn the switch on. Credit card issues handled and plane now successfully fueled, we were good to go.