from Bird Droppings
This is part of a 5 part series on my adventures helping my friend move. Check out part 1 and start there!
The penultimate leg of our journey would have @norintha and her belongings dropped off at the Reno/Stead airport, KRTS. From there I would either go directly home, or hang out with folks for a bit before heading home. The end of our journey was in sight, a mere 3.5 hours away.
Hot and Spicy
Of all of the takeoffs that we performed during this trip, this one was going to be the most dangerous. The reason was density altitude. Every other flight was either light weight, lower altitude, or during a cool time of day. This flight was departing at 11:30AM Mountain Time, fully loaded with cargo and fuel. The heat of the day was rapidly approaching, and my density altitude calculations showed the air getting thinner and thinner around us.
As we took off, this problem immediately reared its head at us. The temperatures on my engine cylinders rapidly shot up. 350ºF. 360ºF. 370ºF.
The Lycoming IO-540 naturally aspirated engine in the Piper Cherokee 6 300 is rated to only go up to 400ºF as its maximum temperature. After this temperature, it starts to have problems. Indeed, anything above 350ºF for an extended period of time isn't great for the engine, although it's fine to run it up there for a while.
The temperature kept climing. 380ºF. 390ºF
Another thing about the engine being at 400ºF or above... Oil doesn't survive at that temperature. So if the engine temperature rise above that, it would be rubbing metal against metal without lubrication.
Why was this happening? When you take off from a high density altitude airport, you want to maximize the amount of power that you're producing in your engine. To do that, you reduce the amount of fuel in the fuel to air mixture until it is burning at its hottest, optimal rate. However, in the initial climb especially, there's not as much air flowing over the air cooled engine. Worse, at a high density altitude airport, there's less air in the air to flow over the engine...
The fix is to make your climb more shallow, to allow more air to flow over the engine, and/or to enrichen the fuel to air mixture. More liquid fuel actually cools off the engine. Of course, both of these things reduce the plane's ability to climb. A shallower climb slows the plane's ascent, and more fuel in the fuel to air mixture reduces its power output.
As the temperature started to reach 397ºF, I was doing both of these things quite aggressively.
You can actually see the slight decrease in climb rate in the climb chart in this graph here. The green bar is my altitude, and you can see how it initially climbed quite quickly, but then starts to round out. That's where I was slowing my ascent to cool the engine.
I carefully played with the fuel mixture and climb angle to get as much performance as I could get out of it without overheating my engine. As I increased my fuel richness and reduced my climb rate, the engine temperatures started to come back down and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was slow, but we made it to 10,500 feet and leveled out.
Exchanging rain and thunder for turbulence
Initially, the air was relatively smooth as we leveled out at our cruising altitude. The water below us was red with what was presumably salt, and it was beautiful. It also was probably cooling the air off a bit.
As we flew past the water onto land, we were hit with a wave of substantial turbulence. You see, as the ground is warmed by the sun, it causes the air around it to heat up as well. This causes that air to rise. Those columns of rising air, or thermals, are lovely for glider pilots and folks looking to gain altitude. Unfortunately, they also bring with them a lot of turbulence.
For about the next hour we found ourselves being fairly constantly tossed about in the small plane. Bumps and thumps pervaded our experience as we were tossed to and fro. It was definitely light to moderate turbulence, nearly as bad as my flight back from the Grand Canyon. Oddly, I was more worried this time because of all the cargo in the back.
As we crossed into Nevada from Utah, I briefly tried 12,500 ft MSL and found it to be smooth and gentle. Unfortunately, I also discovered that the already intense headwind was even 10 knots worse up there. We were only doing 100 its over the ground at that altitude and wouldn't get into Reno until as late as 2:30pm or later. @norintha reassured me that she could handle the turbulence, and we dropped back down to 10,500 ft.
As we flew back over Elko, NV, I snapped an almost too late picture of the little town. It was nice to see the little town that @coda and I had stayed in overnight on the way to Denver just 2 nights prior. Seeing that made it feel like we really were starting to unravel this long journey. We pressed on into the turbulent skies
The sameness of Nevada
I didn't get many pictures or videos of our flight through Nevada, for several reasons. For one, I was being beset with considerable turbulence most of the time. I needed to stay focused a lot to keep the plane upright, level, at altitude, and pointed in the right direction. The other reason I didn't get many pictures is because Nevada, while being beautiful, is kind of... the same everywhere. It's all brown valleys, alkali lake beds, and brown mountains.
Moments like this picture are frankly rare. At least, that was our experience of Nevada as we flew through it. The intricate and varied textures of Wyoming and Utah are vastly superior to the simple mountains and valleys stamped out in Nevada. It was like someone took the clone tool and just repeated the same terrain over and over again there.
I mean really. How many pictures like this do you really want?
That said, there are definitely some lovely areas of Nevada, and some really interesting places to fly too. After 3 hours of flying, this place, Pyramid Lake, came into sight. Our destination was almost upon us.
Reno/Stead airport came into view on the other side of a hill, and we landed. It was a fine landing. A little hard, but in the gusting crosswind I had landing there, I was very happy with it.
Our final track looked like this:
The airport layout was a little bit confusing, but I managed to find an empty parking spot to park in while we emptied the plane and waited for @norintha's partner to come pick her and her stuff up. They were a little confused by the airport layout as well, but they eventually found us, and I showed them how to drive up to the plane. They shocked me by managing to get literally everything loaded up in their little car in a single trip!
They offered to give me a ride to their place to get some food and drink, but I refused. As much as I could really use a break from all of the flying I'd been doing, being this close to home, I just wanted to get home and finally relax.
Returning to home
@norintha and her partner helped me gas up the plane, and I took back off. The climb rate was AMAZING now that I was over 500 pounds lighter. Though the terrain being a bit close made me spiral upward as I climbed to a nice altitude to cruise over the nearby terrain.
You can see my route here
A picture of the eastern face of this mountain was probably the last truly lovely photo I took. I was really in love with this mountain, though as I watched another plane flying on its other side, I realized that it would have been better for me to get on its windward side instead of its leeward side. Ah well, I was high enough and far enough away that it wouldn't have been an issue, but it was a good thing to learn for next time.
Maybe it was the fact that my oxygen tank had emptied and now I was getting some mild effects of hypoxia. Maybe it was the fact I had been awake since 5am. Maybe it was the fact that I had now been flying for over 8 hours that day. Whatever it was, while I was cruising over California's Central Valley just south of Sacramento, I started to cry with a feeling of joy, pride, and accomplishment.
Since my first visit to an airport when I was little, watching a massive machine of metal climb into the air like magic, I've been fascinated and amazed by the magic and freedom of flight. With this adventure, flying 18 hours over 3 days, crossing 1700 miles going halfway across the country and back, dodging severe weather along the way... This adventure felt like a milestone to me in realizing those childhood dreams of being able to be free like a bird and take to the open skies. It reminded me a little of how I felt after the first time I ever flew an airplane without my instructor. I was also so happy that @norintha was back in a reasonable range, and immensely looking forward to flying over the mountains and visiting her from time to time.
This mountain range may not be remarkable to anyone else, but for me, every time I see that familiar shape, it represents home. It's the mountains around the Livermore valley, and straight ahead (blocked the propellor) is the Calaveras Resevoir that I usually fly over on my way home. There was some very moderate, almost severe, turbulence coming through the south end of the Livermore valley, but I brought the plane in and landed, taxiing back to my mechanic to get some outstanding work done.
@coda was waiting for me by the gate, with kisses and hugs celebrating my return.
I was exhausted. Flying 18 hours and waking up so early and not having proper meals had taken its tole. I jokingly collapsed under the plane for a moment while @coda emptied the plane of our travel stuff and loaded the car up with things.
We drove home, stopping for boba and Pad Thai for me, and I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my partners, chilling out after such a wonderful adventure.
What a trip!
It should be noted that the term “Pandora Moving Services” is entirely in jest. No money exchanged hands. Indeed, the flight was performed entirely under FAR part 91, the rules for a non-commercial private pilot. The entire flight was conducted under Visual Flight Rules, flight plans were filed, and a weight and balance and density altitude check was performed prior to every single flight.