San Francisco 2014                                       

10/16/2014 -

Back in May, the Cozy made it's first trip west.  Sneaking right up to the Rockies, but staying respectfully on the east side while proving it could handle the high altitude take-offs and landings.  It performed flawlessly, and little by little we were gaining the confidence that would be required to take it over the mountains and on to the west coast.

Since the project began, a high school friend, had been monitoring and encouraging our progress.  The time had come to pay him a San Francisco.  Months of talking and planning for the trek would continually give way to scheduling conflicts on either side of the Rockies.  But finally, over Ella's fall break from school, everyone's schedule would work and we would set the 16th of October as our date for the great adventure.

We planned for three different routes that afforded relatively low mountain crossing elevations: A northern route, a direct central route, and a southern route.  Each route was planned with both IFR and VFR waypoints, to afford us the highest chance of reaching our destination and back. As luck would have it, a large high pressure area of most of the western half of the US would allow us to conduct the flight in VFR conditions using the shortest (the direct central) route both out and back.

The evening of the 15th, we did our best to pack a weeks worth of clothes into squishable bags that would fit in the baggage areas of the Cozy.  This would be the longest trip yet in the plane, and we needed to give up a little bit a room to the oxygen bottle we would need to carry to allow us to exceed 14,000' altitude.  We had hoped to get to bed early that night so we were well rested for a planned 7am departure.  But as the evening wore on the 7am plan quickly turned into an 8am plan, and then 8:30am.

Morning arrived much sooner than expected, and we found ourselves out the door a little AFTER 8:30am.  We figured it would all be OK, as our planned overnight stop in Ogden, Utah was in Mountain Time, thus gaining us an hour on the clock and precious daylight.  We were finally wheels up about 9:45am and quickly climbed up to our starting altitude of just 8500'.  As we turned on course and leaned the mixture out, the EFIS would bring us just as much bad news as the alarm clock had early in the morning... a 25Kt headwind.  A brief discussion was had about whether to increase the power in an attempt to overcome the wind a bit, but it wasn't like we needed to be anywhere hard and fast anyway, so we mushed on at a paltry 145Kts ground speed.

As we crossed from SW Minnesota into NE South Dakota the winds had increased to 30Kts and we were down to 140Kts over the ground.  Ugh.  There isn't anything to look at in the eastern 98% of South Dakota, so unfortunately the wind meter got most of the attention...and it was NOT entertaining.  The further SW we went, the worse the winds got.  I took a picture when they reached 42kts, thinking it couldn't POSSIBLY get any worse than this at 8500'.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  By the time we reached our lunch/fuel top off stop at Rapid City, winds were 52Kts straight off the nose!  I couldn't believe it.  I actually performed an in-flight reboot of the EFIS thinking something HAD to be wrong.  Nope.  52 Kts!

We descended into Rapid City, grabbed a quick lunch at the main terminal and topped off fuel.  I called flight service for a updated briefing for the next leg.  When the briefer got to winds aloft he said "Oh my, you're going to have a bit of a headwind leaving Rapid City.  They're calling for 52Kts out of the SW there."  I could only laugh and reply "Yeah, that's accurate."  Fortunately they would subside a little as we got further west eventually falling to between 35-40 Kts.  With the headwinds we were luck to reach Ogden before sunset.  But the view coming over the mountains and the hospitality we received from Mountain Valley Aviation when we arrived quickly made us forget about the extra hour it had taken us to get there.  We parked the plane, unloaded what we needed for the night, and took the courtesy car to our hotel and a great dinner at Ruby River Steakhouse.

The next morning winds looked a bit better and we did a better job of getting going in the morning.  We got out to the airport, got the plane loaded while Mountain Valley filled the oxygen bottle, and preflighted while they topped off fuel.  We were in the air by 8:45 and on our way across Salt Lake and the Bonneville salt flats.  It wasn't long before we reached the Reno/Tahoe area and were crossing the Sierra Nevadas.  Just to the west of Reno was the first and only point where I actually thought it was looking a bit slim for forced landing areas.  My biggest worry for this trip had always been "Where would I set it down if I had too?"  A forced landing isn't something a pilot WANTS to consider, but we're taught to subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) scan for landing areas as we fly.  Anything relatively flat and relatively free of obstacles will do.  The only real objective is to make it survivable for the people, no care about the plane.  Thankfully for my nerves it only took a few minutes to cross the Sierras, and I had found a few spots on the crossing that I felt I could set it down if needed.

Once clear of the Sierras it was just a simple dash down the central valley of California to reach the San Francisco bay area.  But mother nature, would make one last attempt to complicate things.  "Daddy???", came the voice over the intercom.  "Yes sweetie?", I replied.  "How long till we get there?"  UH OH!  I thought.  Ella travels exceptionally well, and is NOT the 'Are we there yet?' type.  I looked down at the ETA, but before I could even reply she said the 5 words no pilot wants to hear (aside from the tower saying 'Call me on the ground.'), "I have to go potty."  Ugh, yup, I knew it.  I explained we had about 45 minutes till we landed, and asked if she could wait that long.  Nope, that wasn't going to work.  In preparation for such a long cross country, we had packed a device called a 'Port-a-John', and the accompanying 'Port-a-Jane' adapter (think: strangely shaped funnel).  We had purchased this many years ago for a long trip in a Cessna 172.  Ella would be the first to try it, and not in the roomy cabin of a 172!  It was a 100% success, and she was again all smiles for the rest of the flight.

We touched down in San Jose about 11:30am, got the airplane parked, picked up our rental car, and grabbed a quick lunch.  Our friend, Evan, is a professor at Stanford University, and would be finishing up his work day about 4pm.  So we did a little exploring before heading over to meet him.  We arrived plenty early, and found a nice little restaurant and bar to have a Mojito while we waited.  Ella settled for ice cream.

At 4pm we met Evan on campus for a little tour of Stanford, and then went to his place to unload our things and head out to dinner.  The next morning Evan had to give a student a flight lesson.  We had a couple things we wanted to clean up on the airplane and then went to the Egyptian Museum.  We met Evan for lunch afterwards, and then went hiking in the hills to the east of the Bay, watching the sun set as we nearing the end of the trek back down.

On Sunday we took Ella to Golden Gate Park, and the Botanical Gardens First thing in the morning.  Then to Pier 39 for shopping and lunch, and the USS Pampanito after that.  Then it was on to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory and the Golden Gate Bridge.  That evening we had dinner at a nice little Itallian restaurant and then went back to Evan's so he could finish preparing for class the next morning and we could finalize our flight plan.

We all woke early, and headed out.  It was a short, but awesome visit, and we'll certainly need to do it again.  We got to the airport, returned the rental car, topped off fuel, and thanked Atlantic Aviation for the great service during our stay.  We wasted no time loading up the plane and were ready to go about 10am.  We ended up following a 737 to the runway, and not but 15 seconds after he was wheels up, the tower cleared us for departure with the warning; "4TF cleared for take-off, runway 12 right, caution 737 wake turbulence."  Umm...yeah, might be a good idea to wait a minute before taking off behind that!

We were soon on course back to Ogden, but this time we had the clock working against us as we would loose an hour of time and daylight heading east.  Fortunately, the winds would help a bit.  We had about a 25Kt tail wind leaving San Jose, and at times, were getting over 200Kts ground speed (230MPH).  We followed the same route back, and were on the ground in Ogden about 1pm.  We refueled, but didn't want to waste much time for lunch, so we grabbed some protein bars and drinks for in the plane, and were back in the air about 2:30pm.  The active runway was 16 and Ogden is at 4400'.  The mountains about 5-10 miles to the east are 10,000'.  This was where 4TF would have to show off a bit.  It was about 85deg F, and the tower advised: "Cozy 204TF, cleared for take off, runway 16, left turn to the east approved, check density altitude."  That was his polite way of saying, 'Dude those are mountains over there, you best know your aircraft!'  Getting to 11,500 to clear the mountains wasn't a problem, but we did have to keep a close eye on the cylinder and oil temps, as we were starting off with an already warm engine, being the 90 minute stop didn't allow it to cool off much.  It got warmer in the climb out, but stayed well under the warning limits.

We had about a 10Kt tailwind when starting out from Ogden but it turned into a cross wind by the time we got to Rapid City, so it wasn't doing much good.  It wasn't right on the nose either, so we were still down in Rapid City at 5pm.

My uncle picked us up at the airport and we went back to his house for dinner and catching up.  The next morning we only had a 2 hour flight hour home so we had plenty of time to take Ella up to Mount Rushmore, and to head out for lunch.  Fortunately it's only 2 hours home without headwinds, cause we weren't off the ground until after 2pm mountain time, placing us home about 5:30pm central.  Plenty of time before sunset.  Although the Cozy is equipped for night flight and I had gotten night current before leaving, night flying is not my favorite thing to do.  I was glad to have not done any on this trip.

When all was said and done we travelled over 3000 miles and put about 20 hours on the plane.  It's always nice to be home.  St. Cloud is a wonderful airport.  And it was great to put the airplane back in the hangar knowing it performed so well on such a long and amazing trip, but the adrenalin rush a trip of this magnitude creates leaves a burning desire to do it all over again!