Time to leave Gaston's.
Where I normally fly from, McKinney airport in Texas, we have a 7,000 foot concrete runway with no building or trees within 1/2 a mile of either end of the runway. I have room to take off and land 3 times on the runway without turning, and I'm at 500 feet or more before crossing over an obstacle. So the departure from Gaston's was a new experience.
We loaded up the airplane with all four of us, plus luggage and the fish. With 30 gallons of fuel in the wings, the Sundowner was just under it's maximum gross take off weight, and within the center of gravity limits ( I know because I had previously run the numbers). I did a careful check of the airplane and engine, and taxied to the end of the runway as far back as I could get. 3,000 feet on dry, short grass is plenty, but nothing is less valuable than runway behind you.
Running up to full power, with 15 degrees of flaps and brakes hard on, I checked I was getting full RPMs and let her roll. It seemed to take a long time to get the airspeed needle alive, but finally we had 60 kts and I eased Charlie into the air. I stayed low in ground effect to let the speed build up until I had 75kts (best climb speed), and reached for the sky.
Best climb with full gross weight was not going to clear that trees covered hill, so I started a long curve to the right, intending to get into a downwind position where I could land back on the field if anything went wrong as soon as possible. Did I say that I'm not used to trees? Or hills? It was a perfectly normal take off if you are used to such things, but I felt crowded. Simulating a short field, max climb take off and doing one for real are not the same experience at all. But they are the same to actually execute the movements and configuration, so all was well.
Continuing the climb on the downwind, I immediately felt better - I knew I could S-turn onto the grass if I had to glide in; I was visualizing the maneuver in my head. Non-pilots would probably be surprised at how much we think about emergencies and "what I would do now if the engine quit", but this is actually normal. Both guys in the front of your airliner are doing the same thing - only they have more procedures. They calculate how much runway they need to accelerate to takeoff speed and then emergency stop - and based on that they call out V1 and V2 airspeeds on the take off run - V1 means you have to go - there isn't room to stop. I do the same, only for me I make the decision to fly just before using 50% of the runway. And yes, I have abandoned takeoffs if something wasn't right at that point. But not this day.
Thing 2 wanted to fly over the dam, so having more than 1,000 feet at this point, I left the field and flew over the dam, then turned on course. Fuel was too pricey at Gaston's, and I was already near max weight, so I had checked fuel prices on www.100LL.com, and selected Mt. Ida as my fueling stop.
Mt. Ida was just over an hours flying time away. Fuel there was $3.85 a gallon, instead of over $5 at Gaston's, and nearer to $6 at my home airport. It also has a 4,000 foot concrete runway, and was right where I was planning to turn to avoid the Hog MOA (Military Operation Area). It was a Sunday, so I was sure the MOA was not active, but I don't like the high ground and lack of airports under it, so I determined to go around, expending the extra 10 minutes of so for additional safety margin (there we go again....).
After partially replenishing the fuel ( I couldn't just fill up like in a car - that would have made the airplane too heavy with all of us and our luggage), I took off from Mt. Ida heading west. Once again it became clear that I couldn't get over the ridges with our heavy load on a straight climb out, so I made a right turn and did a spiraling climb over the airport. Thing 1 thought we were like a big hawk looking for a large mouse!
Once above the ridges, I turned on course. The air was becoming bumpy in the hot afternoon air, so I climbed (slowly) above the clouds to 8,500 feet where it was smooth, and slaved the autopilot to the GPS, pointing straight home.
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