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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Two Kinds of Flying

Snug as a bug

The "new" Cessna 150L is safely home at AeroCountry airport, in West McKinney.  I flew on US Airways to Asheville NC about 3 weeks ago to inspect the airplane and make final payment.  Part of the deal was that I would include an IPC for the seller "Xavier", which I was glad about, because it gave me a couple for hours to fly in the aircraft from the right hand seat before agreeing to buying and hand over the rest of the money.

Echo Alpha is a 1973 Cessna 150 model L, with super-duper avionics - a Garmin 430 with WAAS and ILS, a King KX-155 with VOR receiver and localiser, and IFR certification (which also implies an Outside Air Temperature display).  The avionics are worth about 40% of the value of the purchase.  The twin radios are solid, the only potential issue I noticed was a generator whine under certain high load conditions.  The airplane was leased to a part 141 flight school, and maintained by them as a commercial aircraft.  They used it as a cheaper alternative IFR trainer to their standard 172s.

After concluding the purchase, I flew a few touch and goes at Asheville since it had been more than 10 years since my last time at the controls of a C150/152, but my recent C172 time with a student's airplane helped a lot.   By the 3rd landing I was doing my usual "greasers", so I dropped Xavier off at the FBO, and set out on the first leg of my trip home.  In the wrong direction.

My niece, her husband and small son live near Clemson University in South Carolina, a short 40 nm away.  So my first solo flight in Echo Alpha was a quick up and over the 4,000ft Smoky Mountains into Clemson, where I bedded EA down for the night.  My original plan was to traverse northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, then across Arkansas and into Texas, but a storm moving up from the Gulf of Mexico changed that.  Instead a route to Chattanooga Tennessee, then south of Nashville, North of Memphis, and over Little Rock looked like a better bet - the problem was the first leg.

My original plan, since I'm scared of mountains, avoided any high ground.  The new plan involved flying over the Smokies again, with terrain up to 6,000 ft and overcast skies with rain later.  I filed IFR direct at 8,000 ft, with the intent to make a 180 degree turn and come back to Clemson if I didn't like what I saw over the peaks.  To keep my attitude right, I was actually expecting to make that retreat, with continuing on my contingency plan - rather like making an instrument approach where you plan to do the missed approach with a pleasant surprise if can actually touch down and land.  At 9am (right on schedule) the wheels lifted off runway 26, and with a wing waggle to say "goodbye" I set a course climbing (at 65 kts) as best a Cessna 150 with 100 HP can do (which isn't much).

There was 30 or 40 miles to go until I reached the highest terrain, and I needed most of it to get to 7,000 ft.  The dark and rather foreboding overcast appeared to be right around 8,000, so I asked for and got clearance to stay at 7,000.  Normally that's an Eastbound altitude, but ATC was being accommodating.  Over the highest part a little light cloud protruded down to 7,000 but I only spent about 15 minutes flying fully "blind" in IMC, and that in short 2 to 3 minute "chunks" as I flew through scattered stratus cloud.  I never felt in any doubt, and once the land started to fall away I knew I'd made it, and soon ATC asked me to either climb to 8,000 or descend to 6,000 for a Westbound altitude.  I chose to go lower.

As I descended, the headwind began to lessen, and eventually became a tailwind.  I was using my iPAD with Foreflight as a moving-map navigation aid, and at the lower attitude I could also get NEXRAD weather radar displayed through the cellular connection.  With the panel IFR GPS and a moving map display with weather, I was golden, with almost as much situational awareness as in my Bonanza.  After a quick fuel stop West of Chattanooga, I launched again, this time VFR at 3,000ft.

Navigation remained simple, and the miles slowly disappeared under the broad wing.  I can't say that I think visibility is better between the low wing and the high wing, but downwards visibility at low altitudes is certainly better in the high wing, while the ability to locate and track other aircraft is better with the low wing. They're just different with different strengths and weaknesses.

After another fuel stop north of Memphis, and I sent a text message to my daughter who goes to college in Conway Arkansas.  I told her to look up at a particular time, and I would fly overhead (thanks to the GPS I knew exactly when).  She asked me to land at the airport, and she would come out to see the new airplane, which is what happened.  So my planned last fuel stop at Hot Springs became a stop in Conway, and hug from Thing 1.  Then I did the last leg to Dallas.  At that point I noticed I was getting tired, and finding it harder to track a good straight line and stay within a 100ft of altitude.  Once clear of the Ozark "mountains" (tall hills really), I came down to 2,000 ft MSL and enjoyed the unaccustomed view from low and slow.

Go Fast, Young Man!

Which is what the title is about.  Having split my flying over the past month between the 300 HP, 170 kts complex Bonanza and the 100 HP, 90 kt simple 150, they are quite different creatures to fly.  The Bonanza is a high speed piston aircraft, for relatively high altitude (10,000 ft), comfortable IFR cross country flying.  It'll do local jaunts, but that's not what it's best at.  The 150 is great for flying around the pattern, and a few short cross countries at 3,000ft now and then, and is sufficiently well equipped for IFR flights (and training), but that's not what it's best at.  And there's the point.  Seen as tools, they are amazingly complimentary.

And now I have to fly more :)