Flying Across America

Promoting General Aviation

Best of day 15: Crazy Las Vegas

Our day in Las Vegas started very smoothly. After flying 5h35 the day before, we eventually had the opportunity to get a long night of sleep. We had two points on our agenda: a TV interview and having N512R cleaned by Clear Skies Aircraft Cleaning and Polishing. One of our supporters in Vegas picked us up at the hotel at 11am, and drove us to the airport for the interview with KTNV.

We spent the morning at the airport, preaching for General Aviation in front of the camera, and then talking about aviation while N512R was cleaned. After that we visited the Nellis Air Force base, which is one of the largest in the country.

Nellis is the home of the Thunderbirds and of the USAF Weapons School. We could climb on (but not in) an F-15E. Nellis also has a so called “Agressor Squadron”. The pilots from this squadron fly on Russian aircraft only and fly according to Russian tactics. They serve as “enemies” for training USAF pilots. Nellis is also the home of “Red FLAG” where fighter pilots from other air forces in the world come to train together with the USAF pilots.

F-15E

Shortly after leaving the air base perimeter, things started to go… how to say that… in a different way. Just like a spin that develops and goes tighter and tighter. We were introduced to the 25 Club, where fighter pilots can get shots of Jeremiah Weed. This is a US Air Force tradition and each fighter squadron has a lounge where pilots sometimes drink this. This was a great honor for us to become part of this tradition.

After that, while driving back towards downtown Las Vegas, our host asked if we had problems with height. We both answered no and added as a joke that we would not jump off the Stratoshpere. This the highest tower in Las Vegas and they offer free-fall jumps. The answer to this remark came instantly, in the form of a “Yes, you will”. Saying no was not an option. We went to the Stratosphere tower and looked at some jumpers. We’ll put videos online asap, but trust us, these jumps are really impressive.

It was 7pm and our jumps got scheduled at 11pm. The countdown was started. These have been four very long hours. We spent them eating at In and Out Burger. We learned what “animal style” means there. If you never tried, you should - this is a good surprise.

We got to the Strip after that and had a look at the water fountain show from the Bellagio and the Pirate show from the Treasure Island. It was then time to go back to the Stratosphere and get the jump…

The platform from where we jumped is 855 above the strip. We received jump suits, jump shoes and harnesses. Everything was checked and crosschecked before we got up to the platform. Waiting up there with a wonderful night view of Las Vegas and of people jumping before us helped to raise the pressure and tension before jumping.

After leaving the platform jumpers try to get in a horizontal position - which is not easy - and then look down towards the landing target that comes closer and closer at a speed of 80 miles per hour… before the brake enters in action and slows down for a soft landing.

Thanks a LOT to our supporters in Las Vegas. This day was crazy and we’re not anywhere close to forget about it. You guys rock!

Best of day 14: Turning around over Death Valley

We’re back to mountains and desert. Today’s flight from Santa Maria to North Las Vegas ended up in being the longest flying day since we started this adventure. 5h35 of flight, and we crossed Death Valley three times…

The departure out of Santa Maria was IFR to get on top of a solid overcast layer. The tops were at 2.000 feet and we then had crystal clear skies.

Flying on top

We flew the first mountain ranges on our route in the valleys, at altitudes below the tops and the ride was smooth. We started having turbulence over the desert and we climbed from 7.500 to 9.500 feet. This reduced the turbulence but we still had some.

Flying in a valley

Climbing that high cost us time and fuel. We also had headwinds slowing us down and the fuel situation was close to our minimums. It seemed that we could not reach Las Vegas with a sufficient fuel reserve. There are not a lot of airports in this part of the country and we started to work on options for a fuel stop. No way we would become a fuel emergency over Death Valley.

The best one was Inyokern, near the China Lake Air Force base. This was forty miles behind us, and we had to stay above 6.000 feet because of restricted airspace. We descended in circles above the airport and landed in the middle of nowhere. Inyokern airport was completely deserted. There were cars and other planes, but not a single soul around. The place was silent, and the sun was burning our skin. This felt just like a western thriller in the desert. All building were closed, we found restrooms in a hangar, then fueled up the plane and took-off.

Inyokern airport

Climbing back to 9.500 feet in the desert temperatures was like a marathon. We had to fight for each and every fight. We had to reach 6.000 feet before resuming our flight on course because of the military airspace surrounding the airport. Our average climb rate was lower than 150 feet per minute… But we made it to 9.500 feet, and even to 10.000 feet.

10.000 feet

We crossed Death Valley eastbound one more time. At our speed, it took few minutes, and we were really happy to have lot of fuel on board. This is probably the last place on earth where you want an emergency…

deathvalley

After that, we passed the last mountain ranges separating us from Las Vegas. The descent into the Las Vegas area from 10.000 feet was really impressive. This city in the middle of the desert, with funnily shaped buildings is a strange sight. We landed at North Las Vegas after a total flight time of 5h35 in one day, exhausted but safe.

Downtown Las Vegas

The black pyramid is the Luxor hotel and casino, were we had a bad Internet connection. This, and other surprises, is the reason why this post comes online a bit later than usual.

Best of day 13: N512R goes to Hollywood

Today’s flight was planned from Whiteman to Santa Maria, but we had to divert from our route. Not for fuel. Not to avoid weather. The reason that took us away from our flight path was much important…

Hollywood sign

There was no way we could fly in the Los Angeles basin and not take a picture of the Hollywood sign. Thanks to ATC and the very busy frequencies of SoCal approach we even had to make a 360 turn over Hollywood hills before getting our clearance towards Santa Maria. Before leaving Los Angeles, we spotted the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscar ceremony takes place.

Kodak Theatre

The rest of the flight was very smooth. We flew for long on top of a very compact marine layer. The frequency was busy with aircraft taking-off IFR, getting on top and then cancelling IFR. One of them demonstrated the great freedom that’s possible with General Aviation. When the controller asked him for his destination after cancelling IFR, the answer was a very relaxed “I don’t know yet”. This was just a pilot escaping the overcast flying IFR to go flying in the mountains of California and have some fun. The overcast layer was blocked by high hills on the north east side. It looked like a reservoir of clouds closed.

Sea of clouds

We did reach Santa Maria shortly after 2pm to meet with supporters of our project. We’ll spend the 4th of July here and fly to Las Vegas on the 5th. Mountains and desert are in front of us again. Surprisingly, we had tailwinds during the whole flight so far - not exactly what one expects when flying westwards in the northern hemisphere at theses latitudes. Tropical storm Alex probably had some influence and now that it has dissipated, there are chances that we get tailwinds on the way back as well.

We will continue to promote General Aviation along our way. We will join an important event on Saturday the 10th of July. The TXAA organizes the Georgetown Airport Aviation Safety Day. We’ve been invited to talk there about our flight and we invite all pilots of the region to join. Click here to read more about the Georgetown Airport Aviation Safety Day.

Best of day 12: Flight of two to Catalina Island!

When we took-off from Chino this morning, we used a slightly different radio call-sign: “Cessna 512R flight of two”. This is the standard phraseology for formation flying. Formation flying? Yes, our lead supporter in Chino flew with us to Catalina Island in his own Cessna 150. We took-off side by side and flew to the Island in formation. We were talking to ATC and squawking while he was listening and following us. We did break off the formation shortly before landing. Seeing an aircraft that close was an exciting experience.

Flight of two Cessna 150

We chose Catalina as destination from the first day of this project. Because it’s a bit farther away than the west coast and because of the reputation of this airport. It is on top of an island and is know as “the airport in the sky”. Apart from the slope and the lack of movement, it looks really like an aircraft carrier. It looks impressive but landing there is not as hard as one could think and everything went fine.

Final 22 in Catalina Island

Reaching this goal, our turning point was an important step into this project. Flying across America took us 15 flight, 29h15 of flight time spread over 12 days. We’re still on schedule and we continue promoting General Aviation. Flying to Catalina was a perfect spot for this task. We had an interview with the local media and used it to say again how General Aviation serves the community. This is quite obvious on the Island as most of the supplies are flown there from the continent and the postal service is also ensured by General Aviation aircraft, like this Cessna Caravan cargo.

Cessna Caravan departing Catalina Island

After taking the mandatory souvenir picture in front of the airport sign, we met with the president of Friends of Aviation. This organization has been supporting us from the first days of our project and meeting him on the island was a great moment.

On Catalina Island

The aircraft we saw today did represent almost all branches of General Aviation. Light single engine and light twins, single and multi-engine turboprops, and even a light jet. While we prepared our next flight to Whiteman, we also saw the DC-3 based on Catalina Island take-off and fly a low pass above the runway, gear up!

DC-3 Low pass over Catalina Island

Our next destination for the day was Whiteman, due north of Catalina Island, but on the other side of Los Angeles International airport (LAX). And this was again a flight of two, flying to Nick’s home airport. We took some great picture of the Cessna 172 he rents. This is no Photoshop work, we promise.

Formation take-off

Flying over LAX was a spectacular moment. There is a VFR corridor crossing the area exactly over the airport. Having such freedom is a treasure that the General Aviation community shall protect, and this is what we work on with this project. This is by far not possible in all parts of the world and if this freedom were to be lost, regaining it would be almost impossible.

Over LAX

Reaching Catalina Island was an important milestone in this project, but we are only at the middle point of our flight. We must now fly back the Florida. And this is only the beginning. We spent the rest of the afternoon preparing plans to continue promote General Aviation when the flight will be completed. We have lots of ideas, but it is too early to say more about them…

In the mean time, don’t forget to buy miles today to take a chance to earn prizes in our raffle!

Best of day 11: Good sleep, oil change and some fear

By the moment we write these words, we just received the news about an aircraft that crashed short of the runway at Catalina Island. Our thoughts go to the victims and their relatives. Apparently the pilot suffered chest pain and reported to the tower that he could not make it.

Many of you reacted on Twitter, hoping this was not us. We want to say it again here, we’re safe in Chino. We want to thank you for these reactions and ask you to join your thoughts to ours, towards the persons directly impacted by this accident.

Yesterday was one of the longest day since we started and surely the warmest. We departed Tucson at 8am and the temperature was 33°C. When we landed at Blythe airport, shortly before 11am, the airport reported a temperature of 38°C. We closed the vents during taxi because getting warm air blown up at us was not refreshing. It was not even good.

38° at 11am

We decided to continue towards west and flew to Palm Springs. By the time we left Blythe, Chino - the next place where we have support - was in bad visibility. The second open question was the possibility to fly through the Banning pass, between Palm Springs and the Los Angeles area.

The flight to Palm Springs was turbulent. Lot of thermals at 4.500 feet and climbing to 6.500 helped but did not allow for a smooth ride. From above, Palm Springs looks like a green spot in the middle of the desert. Built-up areas are green, and all the rest is sand. The airport is surrounded by mountains and windmills.

Palm Springs

After grabbing coffee and cookies at the FBO, we decided to continue to Chino. This was “only” a 45 minutes flight but it was not the more relaxing one so far. We got turbulence from thermals and from mountain waves. The Banning pass is not known to be easy. It is not as tight as some others but being the junction between the coastal and desert areas, it can be very windy. And it was. We flew through it at 4.500 feet because that’s all what we could do flying out of Palm Springs.

Banning Pass

After getting our fair share of turbulence, we descended into the haze of the Los Angeles basin, lookin for Chino airport. The top of the haze layer was at 4.000 feet and finding the airport with a 5 miles visibility was kind of a challenge. We landed on runway 26R, happy to be so close to Catalina Island and back in cooler temperatures.

As we came in one day ahead of schedule, there was no need to wake-up early this morning. We also had time to catch up on our lives, and prepare the next days. We also changed the oil of N512R. After flying more than 28 hours on this trip, was time for it.

Tomorrow will be our last day flying West. We will go from Chino to Catalina Island to meet with one of our earliest supporter: Nick, the president of Friends of Aviation. If you’re in the area tomorrow, we plan to be there at noon, eat a Buffalo burger and leave towards Whiteman, flying over LAX.

Best of day 10: Desert, Heat, Moutains and Haze

Today was one of the longest flying day since we started this trip across America. We flew from Tucson to Blythe, then to Palm Springs and finally to Chino, in five hours. This also was one of the warmest days. The temperature in Blyth was above 100°F at 10:30 am. We had a lot of turbulence caused by the wind in mountainous areas and by convection. Even flying at 6.500 feet was not a smooth ride. The pass west of Palm Springs was the bumpiest point of today’s flight, we crossed it in the early afternoon. After that, we descended into the typical haze of Southern California. It’s good to be back to lower temperatures after the desert.

Once again, our local supporters are great. It’s surprising to see how people engage themselves in our project and support us. We visited the Planes of Fame museum in Chino and a couple of private hangars… We’re now staying by one of our supporters where we had a good dinner - much needed after today’s lunch made of two cookies at Palm Springs - and a great evening.

Our plan called for an arrival in Chino tomorrow so we’ll stay here for two nights and fly to Catalina Island on Friday, the 2nd of July. The island never seemed so close… This has been a long day, and we need a good rest. We’ll post more mountain flying pictures and greater details about today’s flight tomorrow. Having a day without flying will give us more time so catch up on blogging, and on our lives.

Stay tuned, and continue to support General Aviation by buying miles. Click on the yellow buttons on the right hand side - every mile counts, and every mile bought increases your chances to win a prize from our raffle.

Best of day 9: Mountains and Desert

Our overnight stop in El-Paso has been troubled by a thunderstorm. The hotel’s roof above Jason’s room was not waterproof and part of his room got soaked and Jason had to change room at 10pm.The winds and rain were so strong that we were worrying for N512R. The aircraft was not in a hangar.

Back at Cutter Aviation - our hosts for this stop - we found the aircraft tied down, and in good shape. Great relief before starting the day with a new TV interview for KFOX. This interview was one new opportunity to spread the word about the importance of General Aviation.

We took-of shortly after the interview, and headed towards the mountain range west of El-Paso. We needed an extra 360° climbing turn to reach a safe altitude to fly over the pass. Our wingtips were just at the nearby peak’s elevation.

Mountain pass west of El-Paso

With winds out of the East, we got turbulence on the western side of the mountains. Wind blowing across the ridge create turbulence on the other side. The extra altitude gained on the other side of the pass was precious.

The whole flight today was made of mountain ranges like this one and desert areas. We climbed to 8.500 feet in perfectly blue skies to be above thermal turbulence. Tracks in the desert were clearly visible, some extending over dozen, if not hundreds of miles. At times, we were not seeing any sign of human activity, apart from these tracks.

Desert of New Mexico

We crossed several mountain ranges, cruising for three hours at 8.500 feet. The last one was a few dozen miles east of Tucson. The northern peak of that one was exactly at our altitude. Descending towards Tucson, we got some thermal turbulence but nothing critical.

Mountain pass before Tucson

We got a great view of the Davis Monthan Air Force Base, located a few miles North-East of Tucson airport. The runway is not visible on this picture, we focused on the ramp. The aircraft are not in hangar and wait under Arizona’s sun. No risks of rain here. We asked the driver of our hotel’s shuttle about the last time it rained here. He took him a couple of seconds to remember, and the answer sounds incredible… the last rain in Tucson was in March.

Parking of the Davis Monthan Air Force Base

The FAA tower in Tucson is the fanciest we’ve seen so far. It does is not painted in the FAA standard beige / brown color scheme, and there is a giant TUCSON in neon light on it.

Tucson Tower

If you doubt we’re in Arizona, have a look at the traffic circle in front of the terminal. We did not even dare to get out to get this picture because of the rising temperatures. We have more than 100°F today and we should have 114°F in Blythe tomorrow (approximately 43°C).

Arizona Cactus

Click here to see more mountain and desert pictures from today’s flight.

We have now flown more than 1.500 nautical miles and we’re in the Pacific time zone. Catalina Island is only three days away. We continue to need your donations to continue promote General Aviation. Use the yellow buttons on the right hand side to buy miles via PayPal and to enter our raffle. The more miles you buy, the more chances you have to win a prize! A generous patron bought 100 miles yesterday and has lot of chances to be a winner. Contact us if you want to join the 100 Miles club.

Best of day 8: 8.500 feet over Texas

Today started in Sweetwater, TX under a solid layer of cloud, reported at 1.400 feet above ground level. Not exactly what we wanted for our first day of mountain flying. Flying at 1.000 feet above ground in an area packed with windmills felt like wrong, so we decided to delay our departure. The flight from Sweetwater to El-Paso required a fuel stop in Pecos and then a climb to 8.500 feet to fly over the Guadalupe Pass and was planed to last for a bit more than four hours. We had not a lot of spare time…

Sweetwater

The weather for airports along our route and for our destination were fine. Shortly before 9am, the weather improved enough and it was the good decision. After a twenty minutes, we were climbing up to 6.500 feet in blue skies. The landscape of central Texas is different from all what we saw so far. No more coast line, no large cities, no forests. Lot of oil fields and open land, pipelines and straight roads stretching over dozens of miles.

Texas Oil Fields

The flight was very smooth at 6.500 feet, in clear and relatively cold air. Before reaching Pecos, we flew over an abandoned airport which is slowly returning to nature…

Desert Airport

After Pecos, we had to fly over the Guadalupe pass. The pass can be safely overflown at 6.500 feet. This was just below a scattered cloud layer covering the area. 40 miles before reaching the pass we could climb to 8.500 feet. Yes, with two of us in a Cessna 150.

4_8500

Being above the top of haze we had an almost unlimited visibility. We could see mountain ranges miles away, and ground slowly rising below us.

Mountain Range

The Guadalupe pass, east of El-Paso was clear of clouds, except for a small cumulus generated by ascending winds across the ridge. With rising temperatures, we had some light turbulence even at 8.500 feet. The ride was still comfortable and a light tail wind was pushing us towards El-Paso.

Guadalupe Pass

We received our landing clearance 13 miles away from the airport. ATC assigned us runway 8R, via a right hand downwind. Coming from the west, we were directly positioned for downwind. Shortly before entering downwind, the tower amended our clearance and asked for a short pattern, turning base before the terminal building. This resulted in a strangely looking approach, a bit more aggressive than the standard one…

Landing on runway 8R at El Paso

After landing, we were welcomed on ground by the team of Cutter Aviation, the FBO supporting our stop in El-Paso. After four hours of flight, we enjoyed their facilities before moving to the hotel they arranged for us. We’ll be back there tomorrow morning to promote General Aviation in front of media. We have a TV interview scheduled before leaving towards west. This is one more opportunity for us to talk about the values we believe in and to defend them. We’ll post more information about this interview as soon as possible.

We changed our route for the next days. Instead of staying two nights in El-Paso and then flying to Prescott we will leave tomorrow for Tucson and the next day to Blythe. This is route is shorter and will reduce the number of hours we’ll have per day. If you’re in these area and want to meet us, contact us to organize a meeting. Any tip regarding accommodation is welcome.

We will reach Catalina Island in four days. We already met a lot of aviation enthusiasts and spread the word about General Aviation in different media and in front of different audiences. You can support our project by buying miles now. Patronage starts at $3.75 - use the yellow buttons on the right hand side to buy some. The more miles you buy, the more chances you have to earn a prize in our raffle. Click here and here to read more about the prizes and benefits reserved to our patrons.

Best of day 7: Better weather, more Texas BBQ and being on TV

Before telling more about today’s flight, we’ve to publish one picture from Houston. Lots of you want to see the smile of the 5 years old boy that took a discovery flight on N512R yesterday at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. It was not possible to upload it yesterday because of our bad internet connection, but here it is now. Look at that smile, it says everything about how fun flying is.

5 years old kid after his discovery flight

Photo credit: Blair McFarlain

Today’s flight from Houston to Sweetwater was the easiest so far. Apart from some turbulence caused by thermals the weather was perfect for flying. We stopped at Brownwood regional airport to get the fuel we needed to complete four hours and ten minutes of flying. Away from the coast the air is much drier and we could feel the Texas sun burning us.

The best surprise of the day came right after our landing in Sweetwater. A TV crew from KTXS was there waiting for us. We used this opportunity to say once again how important General Aviation is to the local community. At our stop in Brownwood, we saw a Cessna Caravan operated by FedEx. In this area of rural Texas, this is one more service that’s made possible only thanks to General Aviation.

Flying Across America on TV

We chose to stop in Sweetwater because it is the historical homebase of the Women Air force Service Pilots, also known as WASP. The WASPs were women flying missions for the Air force during WWII. The WASP museum located on Sweetwater airport seeks to educate and inspire all generations with the story of the WASP – the first women to fly American’s military aircraft – women who forever changed the role of women in aviation.

WASPs Museum at Sweetwater airport

More pictures are available from our facebook photo albums (available even if you’re not registered with facebook).

Tomorrow we’ll fly to Pecos for a fuel stop and then to El-Paso. This will be the first day of mountain flying. Pecos is at 2.613 feet and El-Paso at 3.959 feet. We plan to fly south of the Guadalupe pass at 8.500 feet. We’re far from the landings at sea level that we had so far, and the effects on take-off performance are noticeable.

If everything unfolds as planned, we should land in El-Paso at 1.30pm. Come to Cutter Aviation in El-Paso to meet us and may be take a discovery flight with Jason.

Best of day 6: Sharing the passion for aviation

We spent today at the Beechcraft fly-in organized by the 1940 Air Terminal Museumin Houston. This was a great opportunity to promote General Aviation. We had the opportunity to talk in front of more than 50 aviation people about the values we promote and defend. The formal speaking was followed by a lot of discussions in small groups. We answered lots of questions about the reasons why we take this flight, and about flying in Europe. We recalled pilots we’ve been talking to how precious General Aviation is, and that the great freedom of flying must be preserved.

N512R had new passengers again today. The youngest passenger taking an introductory flight was 5 years old. Unfortunately we can’t upload a picture of him after the flight right now because of the bad connectivity in our hotel. The smile of this young boy was incredible. He will certainly remember this day for a long, long time.

Before we leave Houston tomorrow, we want thank the whole team at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, particularly PJ and Megan. You guys do a great job and we felt almost home in Houston, thanks to the way you welcomed us. It is good to have people like you in the aviation community.

Tomorrow will be a long flying day. We’ll first stop in Houston West (KIWS) to get fuel, then to Brownwood (KBWD) for a second fuel stop, and eventually to Sweetwater (KSWW). We should be there around 1pm. This is more than four hours of flying. It seems that for the first time we could have good weather all along the way… Come back tomorrow to read more about that. Hopefully we’ll have a much better Internet connection tomorrow evening and will be able to upload pictures of the last days.