Trip to the Deep South - Finishing the 48! (almost)

Completed 12/29/2011

For our Christmas break this year we had intended to skip the flying thing altogether and head to Denver for some skiing, but it was clear by mid-December that skiing was unlikely. Most ski resorts were reporting well under 20-30" of snow, with no new snow, and hills were only 10-15% open in most places.  So we finally gave up the idea of skiing and opted to finally find an excuse to head South to see the 5 states that we never seem to get to.  In all of our travels we'd never been able to stop in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, or it was time to make some stops and see them all.  By the time we were done with this trip, the kids have now been to all 48 lower states, and I could say the same thing for the RV-10 if we'd have only taken the time to actually land in Washington state...we'll have to pick that one up when we get up that way again.


The timing wasn't working out perfectly for our trip South over Christmas, either...there were some pretty wet snow and rain storms that were working their way across that area of the country for quite a few days, so we got to spend Christmas at home with the kids, which ended up being very nice.  Then we still had another couple days to wait for the storms to pass so we could finally plan a route down South.  The morning we left, I had the plan figured out on the iPad and you can see above we just cleared the weather.  From our hangar security cameras you could see the clouds were overcast, and it was cold, so we had a little worry about icing.  I spent a lot of time flight planning that a.m. before I left, so I'd know exactly how long the bad weather would last, and I tried to get a good idea of how thick the clouds would be.  I had intended to not file, and go VFR, staying below the clouds, but I decided I'd throw in an IFR plan anyway and if I took off and it looked as thin as I thought it would be, I'd go IFR.  Sure enough, the bottoms were in the mid-3000' range, and the tops were in the mid-5000's, so with a call to ARTCC, we had our direct clearance to 10,000' and we climbed right up through it.  I completely forgot to get some HD video of the takeoff, or any photos either.  We picked up only trace icing on the windshield and wing as we climbed and within minutes it was all gone.

On top, at 10,000', crusing along in the mid-160Kt range (true), we had some great tail winds, and pushed between 195-220kts of groundspeed!  We headed for Grove,OK where the fuel price wasn't bad, and with fuel flows in the low-10's we had plenty of range....we actually could have made it direct to New Orleans with no real issue.

With some cold temps outside, I had CHT's around the 280's, and my oil temp wanted to stay in the 160's, so I had to pull my new oil air control and raise my oil temps until I could sustain the 190's.  That sure was a great addition. 


We cruised along on top, in the bright sun. You can see the kids buried themselves under jackets some of the time to get out of the sun.  Another cool thing that happened along the way is that N104CD turned over 800 hours, which means I've been putting some pretty good time on her.  That's probably about 1/3 of my engine gone already!  At Grove municipal, the people were very very nice, and we got the courtesy car for some quick food, and then piled back in for our next leg.


Still maintaining our tailwind, we had a quick flight to Hot Springs, Arkansas (KHOT) which was also a nice FBO, but we didn't stay long.  We'd really like to go back there though as it looks to be a very scenic town, and spend some more time.  We jumped back in after a quick stop and climbed back up to head to Alabama....making shadow figures on the walls to pass the time.


In no time we were landing at St. Elmo, AL (2R5) and were now within view of the Gulf of Mexico. We took back off and headed West along the shore to Ocean Springs, MS (5R2).  This airport was VERY hard to spot until we were RIGHT on top of it. There are high trees on all sides, and if you fly in at night, they say you can't see the runway lights until you're right over it either.  Pretty neat little strip...almost reminds you of being an air park.  The guy there was super friendly and came out to talk for a while.  He had a dog named "chance" because it got a second chance after Hurricane was found just as a tiny puppy, all alone, with no home.  It was a beautiful and friendly dog.  The airport itself is in need of some air sounds as if the economy has hit it pretty hard, and flight schools closed.  Hopefully it will be around for many more years. After a bit of chatting, we boarded back up and headed West again.


As we neared New Orleans, we started to see the Bayou's and swamps below, which were very cool.  Our plan was to fly to Hammond, LA (KHDC) and stay there because out good friends Ed and Sheila had stayed there in the past and had a great time.  We touched down before dark, and after starting off at maybe 10am that day, we were now done with all 5 states in the South!

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Here's our track log of our trip down

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Once we got in, our first order of business was to get our car which the FBO had arranged through enterprize, and then find a good hotel with an indoor pool.  Only 6 miles from the airport was an excellent place....the Quality Inn, which was fairly newly remodeled and priced really well too!  The people there were fantastic...especially the manager and front desk clerk.  They had a happy hour with free drinks that was just wrapping up and they made sure to get us included in that!  Right across the road was Don's seafood where we could get some great dinner, too.

The next day we got up, hoping to get on an airboat adventure, but found out that with the Christmas week, we were too late that day since we slept in.  So, we headed to town via the Causeway (the longest continuous over-water bridge in the World!) with our iPad as our Map and decided to get on the Steamboat Natchez, (Natchez number 9, the only one that hasn't ever lost a race) which is a REAL steam powered paddlewheel steamer.  We headed down to the French Quarter and parked right near the dock and walked right up and on to the boat.  The kids were pretty impressed by the boat, and the tour of the river was fun and relaxing.

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After the Steamboat, we walked down to the French Market and had Biegnets at Cafe Du Monde, and after perusing the markets for a bit, we headed back into the French Quarter towards Bourbon street to see that aspect of New Orleans as well. There are so many really cool buildings to see, and so many restaurants it's amazing.  Bourbon St. has some of it's legendary adult-only places too, but the kids weren't overly phased by that, as we've always taught them that there are a variety of extremes and situations around the country and that in their travels they will come across some real they aren't sheltered, and they know what's what, but they know right and wrong too.  After a full day, it was now dark and we headed back to the hotel.

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The next day we acted much quicker and the day before had pre-arranged an airboat tour, so we headed way South again, retracing the steps from the day before, but continued on to the Jean Lefitte preserve area for our Airboat tour.  We booked the smallest airboat, which is also the fastest and most able to get in to all the tight was a very cool trip!  The boat goes over 60mph, and within minutes you're cruising through the Bayou's.  We saw many birds, some deer, and one Alligator.  The cold temps had kept many of the Alligators hiding in the warm mud, but we did see one, so it wasn't a bust.

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Then as we stopped out in the lake area, we were in for a real suprise.  The boat captain Craig (a very nice guy) from Airboat Adventures, LLC, had brought along a small alligator in a cooler for us to actually hold!  We spent some time handling and checking out Gator-zilla and then we handed him off to another boat to see.  Back at the shop, they also had a white albino Alligator to see...that really was something freaky!

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Always with an eye on the weather, we looked and saw that some snowstorm weather was headed in, so we got done with the airboat ride and headed North to the airport to depart for home.  The trip home started out excellent, with <10kts of headwind component, often only slowing us down by 5kts or so, and perfectly smooth skies again.  Passing near Memphis you could look out the windows and see all of the flooded farm fields. It looked devistating...they got SO MUCH rain down there that fields were all flooded like swimming pools.  Amazing.  Soon we were looking at a great sunset, and then it was dark as we headed to St. Louis to AeroCharter FBO (a great bunch of guys).  There was MVFR and some IFR conditions around home, with incoming rain and snow storms, so we didn't know if we'd get in or not.  St. Louis seemed like a great place to stop if we had to.  We had enterprise drop a car, figuring we'd have to stay.  But, as we had been flying, we kept updated on the weather and it was clear that the next day was going to be worse.  If we got stuck in St. Louis, we may be there for TWO nights.  So we decided to plug along and get as close to home as possible.  We knew we could probably get within 45 minutes of home before the real bad stuff hit.  The sad thing was, it was now night far less comfortable.  You can't see the cloud layers, you can't see roads to land on.  All we could rely on was city and country lights.  We flew along always watching for moving cars, to show us roads we could land on, and ALWAYS keeping forward areas of city lights in view. If we ever lost forward view of lights, our plan was to descend and/or turn around so that we ALWAYS had good ground contact.

Our home airport and those around it was surprisingly reporting SKC (Sky Clear) but the ones a 30-45 minutes South were 1300-1700 OVC or SCT....all MVFR.  Sure enough, right on schedule we hit the area of MVFR. We had been crusing at 6500' with 70-100 mile vizibility, but now we couldn't see city lights anymore, and none out on the horizon.  We could tell there was a cloud layer over the last city in front of us, and probably layers up higher too, but with the darkness we couldn't see for sure.  We decided to turn and head towards KMSN, which we knew would put us 1 hour from home and they'd have a car and hotel easily.  As we flew East on our "turn and run", we REALLY preferred to head to KDLL (Wisconsin Dells) because if you're going to be stuck for 2 days, THAT'S the place to get stuck!  They had reported MVFR 1700' OVC before, but once we pointed the nose in that direction, we could see all the lights in front of us and could see Wisconsin Dells in the distance, so we knew we could make it in there.  The landing was uneventful and we had plenty of visibility under the clouds.  But, there was a haze above, a high dewpoint, and temps in the high 20's Fahrenheit.   No ice had accumulated, despite the hazy conditions, and as we landed we could see it was a thin overcast or scattered layer that was above.

That gave the opportunity for one last move, that if it worked, could save us a few hundred in hotel bills, and get us home that same night...before the worse weather hit.  Sadly, with haze and clouds of unknown thickness, there was NO WAY I was going to file IFR and fly at night to go home.  Had it been either A) above freezing by 10-15 degrees, or B) daytime, this would have been much easier, and IFR would have been the way to go.  But without those conditions, it was far safer to go VFR...provided we used a great tool....the interstate (I-94).  The interstate goes right from Wisconsin Dells right past our airport.  That would give us not only a constant string of lights to follow all the way home, but a constant emergency landing spot if the engine quit.  Also, the visibility was always at least 7-8 miles....a really nice clear night below the haze at 1300-1700', so we could see all the nearby cities and things really well.  Flying at low altitudes we did have to be very aware of obstructions, but we could easily see all lit towers and where we had unlit towers, we could fly directly over the interstate and not have to worry.  The Cheltons have a great obstruction display and warning and by flying at about 1000-1200' we never eve had an obstruction alert the whole trip. 

Almost sadly, as we plugged along, I could constantly look up and out the window and see the moon through the haze, or in most cases see the stars above...indicating that the layer being reported really was very very thin with nothing above it.  DEFINITELY had this been daytime, it would have been an EASY trip to just climb and be on top, but it was far better to just maintain ground contact for us.  Keep in mind that we live in flat lands.  Had we lived in the mountains, this would have been much less easy.  In no time though we were pulling in to our home airport and putting the plane away for the night.  The track log below shows the interstate route, which was pretty neat.

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One other side note...on this trip we used both Foreflight (for planning) and WingX Pro 7 (in-flight).  It's really becoming apparent that this is the strength of each.  Foreflight really can't be beat as a pre-flight planning tool. It's the crispest and prettiest display of them all, with wonderful useability for preflight planning and filing.  REAL nice software.  But, once you're airborne, I think WingX has them significantly whipped.  WingX just keeps impressing me with what it can do and how it can do it.  Below is a screenshot of a dimmed night display on our iPad, leaving St. Louis. They even display airspace data in the lower right corner as we're under shelves of the Class B.  It really is fantastic software.  I don't know how I'd do without each one, but my strategy is this:  For 2012, I'm going to DROP the georeferencing from Foreflight...go with the cheaper non-Pro package to save money.  But, I've already renewed my WingX and have lifetime georeferenced data with them.  So that's what I'm going to stick with.

Also, WingX just beat Foreflight in another way.  It used to be that with Foreflight, you could have one iPhone and on iPad per subscription.  That's fine, but my wife and I each have an iPhone and we own 2 iPad's.  So, it costs a bunch to get both of us Foreflight (sadly) because we have to get a multiple subscription, and that only gives us 2 phones and 1 iPad.  That kind of sucks.
With WingX they just released their unified app so I have similar functionality on my iPhone as their iPad app...and it doesn't care how many you install.  So, I have my iPad with it on for primary use...the kids iPad has it just as a backup.  Then, I have it on both mine and my wife's iphone....all for one subscription.  Now really, software vendors, what's the big deal with that?  We only use it heavily on ONE iPad. The others are more of a backup, only.  If it were better for pre-flight planning, maybe we'd use it on 2 iPhones more often....but as it is today, I rarely use it on the iPhone...only as a backup.  If Foreflight would wake up and just let you install it on all of your devices as WingX does, I'd probably splurge for the PRO version and buy it for my wife again too. As it is, I think this year they're going to lose out on that subscription because I'm cutting PRO, and I may not put it on her phone either. They still have the best pre-flight planning, though.

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