2014 Rocky Mountain Rendezvous                                       

05/29/2014 -

One of the primary missions I have had in mind for our Cozy has been trips out west.  When building an aircraft you find yourself imaging how easy it will be to take it to your favorite places for a long weekend.  The Cascades, The Rockies, The Grand Canyon, S.F Bay area....all were part of those thoughts.  This trip would be the first small step in that direction.  It would be a chance for 4TF to prove it could go the distance, and handle a bit higher density altitude take-offs and landings.  I am happy to report it performed well.

Initially I was going to first fly to Rochester on the 29th to meet up with a couple of other canard drivers to form our own small flock of canards to the Great Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, hosted by FreeFlight Composites at Meadow Lake (KFLY) near Colorado Springs.  The plan had to change a bit though (as is often the case when flying small aircraft).  Due to some scheduling conflicts, the friend in Rochester was unable to attend at all, and another friend from Milwaukee wouldn't be able to leave until the 30th.  I had already taken the 29th off from work, so I offered to fly from St. Cloud to Milwaukee on the 29th to be in position for a quick departure as soon as he was finished with work on the 30th.

The flight to Milwaukee was smooth and uneventful.  I departed KSTC about 11am, climbed up to 7500', grabbed flight following with center, and settled in with some tunes for the almost 2 hour flight.  By the time I landed and organized what things I was going to need for the evening, it was about 1:30pm and time for lunch.  Bob wouldn't be done with work until 5, so I grabbed lunch and enjoyed a gorgeous walk on a beautiful afternoon.  Not long after my return to the FBO, Bob arrived, and we met a few of his coworkers for a  beer before Bob and I went to down to the lake front for dinner.

The next morning I dropped Bob off at work and went back to the FBO to ready the airplane for an early afternoon departure and get a jump on flight planning for the return trip on Sunday.  I made sure to be at Bob's office promptly at 3pm and by 3:20 we were back at the airport loading the Cozy for it's first flight west of Minnesota, and shortly before 4pm we were in the air.

We knew we were going to have to pick our way through some clouds on the way out, but the biggest concerns were some storms in the Colorado Springs area that we weren't sure would be gone by the time we got there.  We spent the next 4 hours avoiding high cloud build ups and storms with some help from ATC.  About 150 miles northeast of KFLY we could get no further.  The storms had yet to dissipate, and with only 18gal remaining, we weren't sure we'd have enough fuel to deviate all the way around them.  We decided to land in Goodland, Kansas to get fuel and a fresh perspective on the local weather.  It was a smart choice.  The path around would prove to be longer than we had hoped and would have put us in to KFLY likely after sunset.  Navigating around storms, at night, in unfamiliar terrain was not high our wish list, so we inquired with the friendly FBO staff, Louis, about a hangar for the plane.  As luck would have it they had space, and Louis gave us the the courtesy car for the evening, which Bob and I used to take a very brief (~3 minute) tour of downtown Goodland before deciding to have dinner at the "Crazy R".  The menu wasn't the most extensive one I've seen, your options were limited to what toppings you wanted on your burger, and whether or not you wanted fries, but it WAS a good burger.

Over dinner Bob and discussed our hopes for the weather the next morning, and our plans for dealing with it when it crushed our hopes.  Ultimately we decided our best option was going to be to get going as early as possible in the morning.  So we decided we'd camp at the airport and leave at first light.  By the time we returned to airport it was starting to rain a little, and we figured it didn't make sense for us to set up the tent out in the rain while the airplane stayed dry, so I got my first experience camping under the wing of my airplane, which I liked despite the concrete hangar floor.  This made me realize that I have yet to grow up, I've only replaced my childhood teddy bear with an airplane that takes me halfway across the country in a few hours.

The next morning we got up early, saw the weather was going to cooperate, and made a B-line for KFLY.  An hour later, descending to land I got my first wake up call about high DA operations.  I was on final at my usual 85kts, slowing to 80Kts over the threshold, when I thought "Damn the ground is going by fast!  What the heck is wrong with my airspeed indicator?!?!"  Oh yeah.....I'm still at 9000' DA, so my true airspeed is about 90Kts!  Duhh...

We parked the plane and started catching up with all the other backwards flying airplane lovers.  We didn't participate in the Falcon Dash 100, or the spot landing contest,  but it was obvious from the results there were some fast planes and accurate pilots involved.  Later that afternoon was an interesting presentation by Craig Catto before a great BBQ dinner which was followed by a presentation by Mike Melvill on the around the world flight he conducted with Dick Rutan.  It's an incredible story told by an incredible man.  I'm glad there are still role models like Mike for Ella to look up to.

We didn't stay up too late chatting as we knew we were going to need to get going in the morning if we wanted to have any chance of making it back to Milwaukee before storms blocked our path.  Even so, it didn't take long for the sun to come out and start heating the air.  By the time we showered, packed up camp, and got the plane ready to go we were back to a near 9000' DA.  I was a little concerned about how the plane would do on take off so we opted to not add fuel and instead head east to lower terrain and give us a chance to get another look at weather.  We picked Colby, Kansas which if you've ever landed there you probably know why they have tie down CHAINS instead of tie down ropes.  Despite the ATIS CLAIMING winds were 10kts, we were greeted with 40Kts!  Fortunately it was straight down the runway, but I thought for sure it was going to rip the canopy off the plane when we got out.  After getting fuel and checking weather, we turned the plane around just so there was a chance we'd still have a canopy when we were ready to close it.

We did a bit more cloud avoidance as we crossed Iowa, a sliver of Illinois, and into Wisconsin, but still ended up underneath some rain to get a free plane wash.  Even still, we made it all the way back shortly after lunch time.  We had managed to skirt the southern end of some big storms in Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota, and there was no way I was going to get through them to make it back to St. Cloud.  Instead, Bob and I went for some really good pizza, and had a few beers while watching Chicago get knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The next morning, more storms conspired to block my path home, and the best I could do was wait until noon for them to blow past, leaving IMC but doable conditions behind them.  I would finally get to see what real IMC was like in the Cozy.  Turns out it looks much like the foggles....but man is it bumpy!!!  :)  Despite ATCs help with higher and higher altitude assignments, I eventually had no choice but to spend some time being thrown around.  With headwinds of 35-45 kts, and a ground speed of 135kts, I had plenty of time in the paint shaker!  Once center handed me off to STC tower, the controller welcomed me home and advised that the wind was burning good, 260@ 25, gusting 30kts.  I opted for runway 23 and was told to report left base.  As I descended down to pattern altitude the winds, gusts, updrafts and downdrafts all combined to make it feel like I had just become an extra in a remake of Twister.  "St. Cloud Tower, Cozy 4TF, shaking like a maraca on left base for 23."  With a chuckle Jim clears me to land and advises "Winds 280@ 19 gusting 29 now, you still want 23, or switch to 31?"  Oh, no matter I think, this'll be ugly no matter what.  Surprisingly I manage to somehow get the plane pointed down the runway and set the wheels on just past the numbers.  I taxied back to my hangar regaling my wonderful adventure to Jim, but realizing again how great my home field at KSTC is.

Pictures of "John and Bob's Excellent Adventure" are below: