Fighting the weather

Spent the night in Sidney Nebraska. Got a good night’s sleep at the Best Western Plus but it was overly expensive. 


 The airport is beautiful and the service was outstanding. I selected this airport because of the glowing reviews on www.airnav.com. You have to stop here if it’s near your route! George was the man in charge of the FBO and he deserves at least twice what they pay him. I’m  starting to feel like bad weather is following me. It was low IFR with 1-1/4 mile visibility, a 300 foot ceiling and heavy rain with some lightning and thunder until noon. I finally took off a little after noon and headed for Medicine Bow VOR. The Maule took a it longer to lift off and climbed a little slower at 5,000 feet density altitude but it made it without any real difficulty to 8,500 feet even at 2259 lbs with 68 gallons of fuel. 

At 8,500 feet I was about 3,500 feet above the terrain at first. There were lots of cumulonimbus clouds and to the southwest thunderstorms were moving toward me. 


Just after leaving Sidney NE I discovered an item that I overlooked in my planning. The panel-mounted IFR approach certified Apollo GX60 GPS/COM has a data card that contains all the navigation data. Some time ago Jeppesen told me that my old technology data card didn’t have enough storage to hold the entire lower 48 US aviation database so they broke the data into east and west parts. They offered to sell me another data card with a second subscription for the western data but it was too expensive and I didn’t see the need for it at the time. Then I forgot all about it. Once I left Sidney, the data ran out and then I remembered. I guess the Rockies was the dividing line. I had to rely entirely on ForeFlight and my iPad for navigation. There aren’t many VOR stations in the mountains so I couldn’t count on them below my 12,500 service ceiling (more like 10,500). I had enough foresight to buy VFR Sectional charts but it’s hard to go back to paper. The iPad, ForeFlight and the Stratus 2 do a fine job though. It’s just more comforting to have both GPS plus the GX60 is legal for non-precision IFR approaches. I still have limited IFR capability but no GPS approaches. 

Thunderstorms continued to form rapidly along the mountains and finally blocked my flight path west to the Medicine Bow VOR. At 2:00 pm the density altitude at the airports along my route was climbing over 8,500 feet. Landing would have been okay but it would have been next to impossible to do a go-around or take off again. I decided to wait out the weather in Wheatland WY since thunderstorms were headed my way and airports are scarcer in this area. 

There isn’t much in Wheatland. The airport was unattended. Fortunately, a guy based at the airport drove up and asked if I needed help. He told me there was no ground transportation of any kind. I was prepared to spent the night on the ramp in the airplane but he let me put my plane in his hangar and loaned me his old Ford Ranger pickup truck. I got a room at the Super 8 hotel outside town. My plan is to take off at 7:00 am tomorrow morning. The weather is supposed to be good and I should be able to get to McCall by 2:00 pm with a landing at Logan UT for fuel. Two flight legs of 3 hours and 18 minutes at 95 knots ground speed are required.

I’ve always had to deal with weather when flying but this trip has seen an unusual amount of bad weather over a long distance. Maybe the return trip will be better. 

Nebraska

Woke up to nasty weather in Chillicothe MO – worse than when I arrived yesterday. One mile visibility and 300 overcast in moderate rain. I arrived at the airport at 8:00 am to return the courtesy car but couldn’t leave until the ceiling and visibility reached 1500 and 5 miles which happened about noon. It gave me time to carefully consider my route, catch up on my logbooks and do a thorough preflight. Here’s what it’s looked like at 8:00 am. 


Once I took off I found that the overcast was lower outside the airport and to do some ducking and weaving to the southwest toward Kansas City until I got clear and turned northwest on course. 


I was able to get above the broken cloud layer in smooth, cool air at 4,500 feet. A nice little tail wind (finally!) gave me a ground speed of about 105 knots. I had filled all 4 tanks at Chillicothe so I decided to go direct Sidney NE non-stop to make up for the late start. The trip took 4.5 hours. Here’s the Missouri River where I crossed into Nebraska. 


I flew parallel to the Platte River part of the way. It looked like an Alaskan river with lots of branches and gravel bars. Once I got into the foothills and rougher, rising terrain I climbed to 6,500. It was windy and turbulent. The draggy tundra tires kept me from exceeding maneuvering speed (125 mph) although I got close a few times. Fortunately, I was able to keep the blue side up. 


Eventually I left the rough terrain behind but the turbulence got worse. Nebraska has a lot of farm land. 


Arrived at Sidney NE about 5:20 pm and landed in a stiff crosswind on their grass runway. The folks at the FBO couldn’t have been nicer. They towed the airplane into a transient hangar, loaned me a courtesy car and put my bags in the trunk. I read a lot of good reviews of this FBO on www.airnav.com and I agree with them. I was able to book a nice, but expensive, room at the Best Western Plus. Did you know that Cabela’s has a huge store and campground here? I’m not sure if it’s their headquarters but it sure is big. Here’s a shot of the Best Western. 


Tomorrow the mountain flying gets serious. 

Flying Through Missouri

I left Mount Vernon Illinois this morning around 10 AM. The weather was windy overcast and rainy but VFR. There was lots of weather across the Midwest and I diverted around it all day. I only made it to Chillicothe Missouri before serious weather closed in that was too widespread to avoid. I’m a day behind my itinerary since this is where I was supposed to spend last night. That’s why I built-in several weather days. I don’t have to be in McCall ID until Sunday. I’m discovering that it’s better not to make hotel reservations in advance. 

It was much cooler, smoother and less humid at 6,500 above the broken cloud layer but the 25 knot headwind slowed me down to about 70 knots ground speed. Had to stop at Mexico MO for fuel because of it. 


Approaching Cillicothe MO. Light rain reduced the visibility and there was some ugly weather ahead. 


Not much in Chillicothe. The hangar is open front and the floor is covered with bird droppings. Hope they don’t target my airplane. They loaned me a courtesy car though. They need it back by 0800 tomorrow. 


Tomorrow I’m hoping to make it to Sidney NE and spend the night. 

First day

Today was the first day of my trip to Idaho. I got a late start. i’d hoped to take off by 9 o’clock but I actually took off at 11:50 AM. It took longer to finish packing the airplane than I thought and I had to remove the cowling and fix the engine baffling. The propeller shop put it back together wrong. I encountered bad weather in Illinois and had to stop for the night in Mt Vernon about 300 miles earlier than I planned. It turned out to be a fortuitous stop. The airport was beautiful and the people were very friendly. They recommended a great hotel and got me a very good discount. They also loaned me a courtesy car and invited me to dinner at the local barbecue place which was very good. Here are some pictures of the trip to Illinois.

Cloudy over the NC mountains


Cleared up when I crossed into Tennessee

Landed at Campbellsville KY to take a break and eat lunch


Clouds and rain appeared near Evansville IA so I diverted to Centralia for fuel. Asked about a hotel there but they suggested Mt Vernon about 13 miles SE since it had nicer hotels.

Weather forecast

Thunderstorms are prevalent in Tennessee and Kentucky today but the forecast for Tuesday is sunny and clear. There’s a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms in Chillicothe MO on Tuesday. That’s where I’m planning to spend the night. If the weather prevents me from making it to Chillicothe, my alternates are Mexico MO or Moberly MO. I try to pick airports near the route that have automated weather reporting, instrument approaches, maintenance facilities, ground transportation and nearby hotels that are rated well. If possible, I look for airports with more than one runway and one of them grass. That saves wear on my tundra tires.

Changing the plan

There are several large forest fires in Idaho. Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) have popped up and some of them are in my route. It’s not easy to detour around them in the high country so I changed my route from Chillicothe MO westward. It also shortened the trip by almost 100 nautical miles. Instead of flying north into Montana and staying overnight in Missoula MT, I’ll be flying westerly to Sidney NE and spending the night there. My next overnight stop will be Logan UT, then on to Boise ID and McCall ID. If you click Map Route link on the right sidebar, you will now get a new route map.

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Packing the airplane

The airplane is mostly packed for the trip. I used two 18-gallon Rubbermaid “Brute” bins to hold the small stuff so it won’t fly around the cabin if I encounter turbulence. The airplane has built-in cargo straps that go over the bins and hold them in place. The rolled up sleeping bag is perfect for cushioning between the bins so they won’t shift in flight.

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Overnight stays

It’s going to be hot until I get into the Rockies so I’m not planning on camping along the way unless I have to. The first two days and maybe the third day will be long flying days, so I’m planning to get a good night’s sleep in an air conditioned hotel with a good bed. With the big tundra tires, draggy main landing gear legs and likely a wind from the west, I’ll be lucky to see 95 knots (109 mph) ground speed.

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Picked up the airplane

Today I picked up the airplane from H&H Propellers in Burlington NC. Everything works great! They fixed the grease leak and dynamically balanced the propeller. The mechanic said that they consider a propeller to be balanced if it is .2 or less. Mine was .29 before balancing and .06 after. It flew noticeably smoother on the way back to Hickory. I had to dodge rain showers on the way back and it was hot and humid even at 2,000 feet. I couldn’t fly much higher because of the cloud ceiling. Made it back about 1 hour before the rain started again at Hickory. Spilled oil all over the rear seat because of a leaky “clean funnel”. Threw it away and I’ll order a new one for the Idaho trip. I had to bring home the sling seat and use stain remover on it but it seems to have worked. In the process of removing the rear seat, I checked out the cargo space and two plastic 18 gallon bins fit perfectly with space to spare. I want to put all the small items in them so nothing flies around the cabin if I hit turbulence. I’ll use cargo straps to tie down the bins.

Propeller work

I spoke to H&H Propellers yesterday and they told me that the grease in the propeller hub had broken down over time and partially liquified. The liquid grease leaked through the silicone seals between the two halves of the prop hub. They cleaned it up, replaced the seals and repacked the grease. They’re also going to dynamically balance the propeller – kind of like having the wheels on your car dynamically balanced. I’m planning to pick up the airplane tomorrow morning if the weather cooperates. It should run smoother. Glad I had this done before the long Idaho trip. It probably wouldn’t have caused a big problem, but it might have gotten a lot worse with all that flying. The grease and seal lasted 12 years since the previous prop work in 2004.