By lex, on June 13th, 2010
If Tailspin Tom was in politics, his name would be Kennedy and he’d live in Boston – yer man is that connected. But he’s into aviation instead, and it’s fortunate for me that he lives in Sandy Eggo. How else, I ask you, does a poor bugger like your host accustomed to renting aged Cessnas and even ageder Citabrias get to fly to Portland in a lovely Beech E33 Bonanza sporting an IO-550 engine upgrade yielding 300 HP after accessories just for the price of putting 100LL in it?
He doesn’t, is how.
Got to the airport Friday in good time, and Tom had already preflighted the aircraft. Spent a few minutes talking about what we were going to do and how we were going to do it on our way up to Red Bluff for the first leg north. I picked my way carefully through the pre-start checklist and got the machine fired up in time, socializing myself to a relatively high performance, complex aircraft. Dashboard configuration is fairly standard six-pack right forward, with circuit breakers, gear and flap handles hidden behind the dual yokes. An Apollo MX-20 moving map synched to a Garmin 150XL GPS system promised good situational awareness once we figured the dern thing out. The GPS was something of a voyage of discovery, and the control stack being on the right, it was a voyage I left to Tom, for I am anything but impressed with the standard of human systems integration on general aviation GPS stacks, what with all the knob twisting and menu sub-pages and anyway I had my hands full. I’m sure that with 10 hours or so of military-style computer based training and another dozen hours in a simulator I’d have found it perfectly suitable. Tom made best use of my yoke time to learn the intricacies of the system.
Now Sandy Eggo is known broad and wide for its wonderful weather, the quality of which attracts student pilots from around the globe. This attraction must result in many a furrowed brow for the local air traffic controllers, forced as they routinely are to puzzle through radio calls from foreign students using hideously tortured English. Strangely enough, considering all that, the worst weather of the trip was here at home, both coming and going, although in truth it wasn’t all that bad.
We were number four at the hold short for Runway 28R at Montgomery, and eventually were cleared for take-off nearly 40 minutes after our planned departure. The upgraded engine sent us rocketing up to an 80MPH g0-fly speed about as fast as you could say “Bob’s your uncle,” and the only noticeable thing apart from the acceleration is the somewhat squirrely tracking of centerline in the Bo – it’s got a lot of what we’d call “sail area” on a ship, and in any crosswind you’re about as busy on the ailerons as you are on the very effective (and sensitive) rudder to keep the yellow line running between the main gear as you barrel down the runway.
With just the two of us, full fuel (80 gallons) and a few bags we broke earth quickly and with the gear up were climbing happily at about 1600 feet per minute. Into the cloud base at 2800 feet and out again by about 4200 we were cleared direct Oceanside.
With a rate of climb nearly three times that of the Cardinal I usually voyage in, we were at 10,000 feet in no time at all and cruising at 165 MPH or so (143 knots indicated) for a true airspeed of around 172 kts. That at around 13 gallons per hour on a wide-open throttle, with the mixture leaned 50 degrees lean-of-peak exhaust gas temperature courtesy of the JPI fuel monitor. In no-wind conditions that would have yielded us about 13 miles to the gallon – not bad for a piston engine single. By comparison, the Cardinal cruises at around 125 MPH (108 knots) at 10K, yielding a TAS of 130 kts on 9 GPH, or 14 MPG. For the extra single mile to the gallon in the Cardinal, you give up about 450 pounds of gross weight, nearly 20 gallons of usable fuel and rock solid Beechcraft construction, not counting the time you save: At least three hours of flying time, round trip. Thus, the advantage to the Beech was not just performance and plush ride: On a ten hour round trip paying only for fuel, you’re out of pocket $800 in the Bonanza. The same trip in a rented Cardinal at $118 per hour would have taken 13 hours and cost us around 1500 bucks.
Now, how about driving? It’s around 2200 round trip highway miles from Sandy Eggo to Portland. At an estimated 25MPG freeway speeds, that’s 88 gallons or $300, plus one more night’s lodging at maybe $100. That’s $400 more than flying, but 33 hours traveling time against 10-12.
Question: Having saved 20 hours of travel time, the question is whether your time is worth more than $20 per hour to make up for the $400 more spent flying than driving. (Answer below)
Answer: That’s a stupid question. Because flying anywhere in general aviation is less an analytical issue of cost or convenience than it is an emotional one. You fly because you can.
You overfly a lot of “fly over” country on a trip like ours. Which can be a pejorative term for coastal elites and city dwellers, but can also have a wholly more healthsome connotation, Tom and I agreed.
It’s hard to know it from within the citadel of modern cities, but there’s much more “out there” than there is “in here” no matter where you are. Once past the San Diego to LA metroplex, you’re out in the boonies for hundreds of miles, and rural farmland encircles every city, in turn giving way to the outlands that no one has much gotten around to exploiting, and only few dare to explore. Once outside the cities and suburbs, between the agribusiness farms and the wild are isolated hamlets and outposts, many of them hard by anonymous river bends. Lush, green places where people are born, grow up, labor and die, people whose lives we do not know and whose existence we cannot readily measure. You find yourself straining to reach down to them, to try and sense the contours of their existence, but they are unreachable, unknowable and soon fall behind, replaced by other mysteries.
I engaged the autopilot on altitude hold, and after a bit of fussing around with differing navigation hold modes – VOR or GPS – gave up and chose to steer by heading bug. The Bonanza’s autopilot was either not quite right, or the airplane slightly out of rig – a fair amount of left wing down trim was required to maintain level flight, even with matched fuel in the wing tanks. The differential aileron positions in level flight hinted at an out-of-rig condition, but the powerful engine in front of us purred happily, eating up the miles. At one point the MX-20 display burped, leaving me at least to frantically scramble for situational awareness while navigating dual VOR only. You can certainly get too complacent, and I learned – once again – to always crosscheck the instruments, navaid frequencies and radials.
With the time between controller calls, I mentioned to Tom that my dream future has a log cabin next to a rippling trout stream. There’s a grass strip just to the north, the Husky or Super Cub in the barn, and a path through the woods to run or bike on. Pheasants or quail in the field out back, a bird dog slumbering by the fire. The Hobbit making contented noises in the kitchen and elsewhere.
Tom pretty much agreed, but his dream has a lake rather than a stream.
Tom has a seaplane rating.
Out of Red Bluff we veered toward the coast, avoiding some of the inhospitable terrain dead forward and enjoying the coastal views. In our descent to Portland we asked for a practice instrument approach, but the controller was dismissive. Get you down below that broken deck and cancel IFR, we were told. Or else I’ll put you in the stack with the jets.
We did as we were told.
Yelp.com is your go-to source in a foreign port, and after a wonderful breakfast in a quirky cafe in Multnomah yesterday – complete with quirky characters – we helped the eldest daughter clean her dorm room out. For my own part, I thought to have been done with room inspections – I’m quite sure that Tom hadn’t signed up for such work – and then bundled her in the back of the Bo for our first leg down to California’s Monterey Bay peninsula.
We made good time in the descent, and the landing was fairly uneventful, although the extra 5-10 knots I carried for a max gross weight landing used up a fair amount of runway in the flare. The young lady stepped out as though emerging from the cocoon, and isn’t this how everyone travels?
A quick turnaround and two hour cruise down the coast later, it was an ILS full stop at Montgomery. A Pilatus PC-12 pulled up behind us and shut down angrily, disgorging half a dozen drunken, dissolute wretches their nearly deshabille female companion from Las Vegas, leaving us to feel more nearly like normal people than we otherwise might have done.
Tom proved as adept stuffing my beat up Beemer full of cargo as he had the Bonanza – he is a scientist, after all – and it was mission complete.
A great trip, and great to have her home.
Me, I’m left to ponder the cost of upgrading a V-Tailed Bo with that IO-550, and how that would fit on the grass strip, next to the Husky.
A man can dream.