Flight to Oregon
(phonetically Oh-Ree-Gun, as I found out)
for Van's Homecoming

Added 9/16/2006 - 138 Flight Hours

After much debate on where to go for Labor Day weekend, we finally settled on Van's Homecoming in Oregon.  The weather forecast to the East was not great, chilly and cloudy, and SouthEast was being affected by a hurricane.  We don't wan to go SouthWest in the hot summer, and the kids wanted to see a friend of theirs in Oregon, so West it was.  As it turned out, this led us into some expected/unexpected surprises.   The weather wasn't going to be bad past central South Dakota...it was going to be calm and warm for the whole Montana/Idaho/Oregon portion of the trip.  That's what sealed the deal.  The only issue was going to be getting through Western Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota.  There was a very good sized storm area sitting over that region and it wasn't moving very fast.  It was wide, and tall, and impractical to go around.  After looking at the weather, we decided that if you're going to approach an area of known bad stuff, and you can stay VFR, you may as well.  Luckliy, the Minnesota/South Dakota landscape is about as good as it gets for scud running, as you can stay low in good visibility, and not worry about terrain.  We had reported ceilings of 700-1200 broken, and about 4000 overcast, so we pushed on at whatever max altitude would work for that range.  We constantly monitored the airports both ahead and behind us, so we always knew where we could use the 180 degree turn and land.  We ended up being able to stay at about 2500' AGL for much of the journey, with 20 mile vis to each side, less forward, and zipping along above that scattered undercast.  We were flying in mist, in nice smooth air.  Occasionally we'd have to dodge small cloud or rainy spot in our path, but it was otherwise very direct.  The first weather photo below shows the picture as we approached the area of storms.  Our original plan was to try to make Bozeman, MT on the first leg...a dream that wouldn't come true.  With our low altitude, our fuel burn was higher, and we ran rich of peak EGT.  So we stopped before hitting the weather area and topped off with fuel.

As we continued along, it got a little darker, and the forward viz dropped a bit, but the side vis was still good.  As we passed Aberdeen, SD, we got into an area that was a real dark grey.  I decided to give it 30 seconds to improve, as it had in other areas, where we just had to get around a cloud and things would be better.  Instead of getting better, we got some good rain coming down.  Being fairly dark, with evening approaching, we decided to play it safe and stop at Aberdeen.  So, with a quick twist of the autopilot heading knob, I circled around, punched in the aberdeen frequencies, and dropped in for a visit.  One thing we noticed is that with the air vents shut, and only slightly leaking, we had a puddle of water in the air vents, and it was bubbling.  Andrea noticed this as a couple of splashes hit her leg.  So much for having ventilation during rain....I think those vents may need a small redesign, so they have a water drain built in.  Once on the ground, the guys at Quest were very nice, loaning us their suburban to get some food and check out hotels.  The hotel didn't have a shuttle, so Quest dropped us off down the road that the Holiday Inn Express, 1 mile away and complete with a small waterslide.

That's when it got a little depressing...  I logged on for more weather updates, and wouldn't you know it but the big storm area was sitting over Aberdeen, and it wasn't going to move at ALL for 2 days.  The next a.m. made it look even less positive, with Aberdeen in the dead center of the storms, about 250 miles wide, so there was now no way out but going hard IFR in rain.  The part that bugged me was the freezing level was 9000', so I filed for 8000' and headed for the airport.  At the airport, the FedEx and UPS guys had flown in.  They fly Caravan's and 402's into Aberdeen.  Now it's been a while since I've had any good hard IFR to fly, so I was cautiously apprehensive.  My personal view is that apprehension is great, but apprehension isn't a disqualifier from an IFR flight.  Factually, the weather just wasn't that bad, and apprehension is just an emotion.  The key to dealing with the apprehension is to look at the facts, and look at your skills, and ask yourself if you've got the skills and composure to make the flight, given the conditions.  If you can still say "go", then you may as well go.  So apprehension is a good tool given to us to ensure we think about what we're doing and take it seriously, but if you're not willing to face the realities of a situation and still step up, then where are you supposed to get that other little thing called "experience".   Just don't overstep your skill level or aircraft abilities, and these can be some great experience building flights.  As it turned out, this one was definitely one of those.

Upon getting ready to depart KABR for Bozeman, KBZN, we were sitting on the Taxiway with fogged up windows, watching the weather downlink on the screen in front of us.  For those who remember the discussions about defroster fans, I have a data point for you.  I have a 1.5" or 2" fan in my panel, just to the Left of the support bar.  It's on whenever the master is on.  This fan did work, but it didn't put out enough air for the really soggy environment we were in.  The temps were in the 40's or 50's, with lots of water outside the plane, and lots of moisture inside due to unloading and loading in the rain.  In the end, all I was afforded before takeoff was a small canteloupe sized clear area in the lower center of the windshield.  I reasoned that as long as I had enough visibility for the takeoff roll, I shouldn't need more, as I'd be in fully IMC conditions soon after takeoff.  So with throttle full forward, I launched into the sky.  Not wanting to play around on the first hard IFR trip with the plane, I set the TruTrak (Digiflight II VSGV) for a 1000fpm climb and turned the heading bug on course.  You may wonder why I didn't just set the course on the Chelton and let it control the autopilot.  Well, it was just *after* this trip that I got home and found out the fix for my long awaited Chelton/Autopilot fine-tuning for GPSV.   Previously, it worked great using GPSS, but there was too much gain between the autopilot and Chelton for the GPSV to work well.  It hunted and oscillated up and down too much.  Flying on an IFR plan, I didn't want to bust any altitudes, so I just relied on the TruTrak stand-alone (with GPSS used at some times).  After I got home, I found that unlike the Sorcerer, the DFIIVSGV has it's GPSV gain setting in a hidden, privileged mode config area...and after getting in there and turning down the gain, I now have full GPSS/GPSV function that is very solid.  If you're a Chelton/TruTrak buyer, and get ready to fly your system, I may be able to help give you some initial settings to start with that you can tweak to your preference.

Shortly into the climb, I requested a turn to avoid some of the red areas of the storm.  It was approved and with 10 degrees of deviation we pressed on.  I kept it rich of peak for a while, choosing to spend less time with the required close monitoring of temps, and more time focusing on the tasks at hand.  Looking at the screenshots above and below, you can see the performance was very good.  Remember that at the time of flying this, I had an airspeed error of -6.5 to -7.5kts.  So the real performance figures were something like:  165kts TAS / 179kts GS @ 7660' DA using 14.2gph.   It would have been nice to pull this back to get a little better fuel burn, but I'll live with that.  I could still make out my wingtip, so the clouds weren't THAT bad. :)   It was raining most of the time while in the clouds, but the unnerving thing was the OAT.  As we got to 8000', the OAT started to go below freezing.  Looking forward on the cowl, everything was still liquid.  Looking out at the wings, there wasn't anything we could see near the root, but we were unsure if we were seeing the slightest bit ice on the leading edge of the tips.  It was hard to
tell if it was just a reflection, or something actually there.  Since it wasn't changing, and the temp was staying pretty stable, we decided to just stay where we were at and see how it went.  At least in SD, if we would have NEEDED 6000', there wasn't a terrain problem.  They do keep you fairly high, but it's mostly for radar coverage.   After leaving the side of the last cloud in our path, we were in VFR conditions with at least 50 mile vis.  There was still an overcast, and sure enough, the controller asked me to go to 10,000'.  I decided to comply unless it took me into the clouds, because it definitely would be icing there...and cancel IFR if I had to, in order to keep out of more clouds unnecessarily if they contained ice.  As it turned out, I was able to level off at 9,950' and call it "good enough" and stay out of the clouds, so we pressed on with our IFR plan.

A note about the RV-10 and IFR Flying:   I have now verified for myself, the RV-10 is a fantastic IFR plane.  No, it's not to twitchy, touchy, or light on the controls.  It's very stable, and has the power to climb you above some bad weather and the speed to get you through it quickly.  It's every bit as good as any other plane I've flown, and with it's great economy cruise, it will have few successful challengers.  If it weren't safe, how could I take those 2 beautiful faces in the pictures below.  As it is, they just go about watching their movies, oblivious to any stress in the front seat.
Approaching Bozeman, we got a little bit of a surprise.  The fires I've heard about, but never seen, were causing problems with vis around the mountains.  So they assigned me 11,000', and had me fly the airways between a couple of mountain ranges, to a VOR and fly a radial inbound to the airport.  I was getting worried that this would end up being a smoky instrument approach, but Bozeman was VFR and I was able to see the airport fine and complete a visual approach with no issues.  The only catch was we were now pretty high, so we had a lot of descent to make to get to the ground.  We grabbed a car at Arlin's Aircraft Service and went to town for some food, and topped off with fuel in the plane.
On the way out of Bozeman, we stayed on an IFR plan, being unfamiliar with the area and having dozens of firefighting TFR's in our path.  When we contacted Salt Lake Center, we were hoping for 12,000' for our enroute cruise, but they wanted 14,000' if we wanted to go direct.  They could go a little less if we flew airways.  Well, wanting to give our Oxygen kit some more time, I gladly chose 14K, which up until this point was the highest I'd been in a small plane.  You can see what it did for our performance and economy though....157kts TAS @ 8.8gph.  Not too bad for a 4 passenger plane.  Some day I'll have to fly the box at this altitude and see how far my airspeed is off at 14,000'.   The 6.5-7.5 kts was at 6,500', so I assume there will be more error up high.  ** Note: by doing a quick and dirty static port mod, I was later able to reduce this to 4kts error at 6,500'.  I have new static ports from Cleaveland that I still need to install and try...they have a domed head and stick out a small amount. My original ones were flush.
As you can see from the photos, the terrain was pretty cool, and when flying into the portland area, they route you right by Mt. Hood, via a fix for terrain separation.   I wish I could have spent more time flying around the mountains on this vacation, but this gives more reason to go back soon.
The homecoming was pretty good.  Truthfully, it was not a very large part of our reason for coming, but it was nice to see a bunch of RV's and people.  There were a few RV-10's there, and it was great to talk to their owners.  We didn't stay for any meals, and on the 2nd day we didn't make it back to Van's before the party had been wrapped up, so we missed out on the rest of the homecoming.
That Sunday we spent the day driving out to the coast, and up the coast through Astoria (Cool bridge!) and into Washington state.  The kids got to touch the Pacific in a couple of spots, and we just generally toured around in Ed's Suburban.  Thanks Ed!  Ed and family were our hosts for this trip, and they are all wonderful people.  Ed's building an RV-10 and will complete it "in November" (I keep wondering which year though - just had to get that little jab in :)  )
Later Saturday night we met the families belonging to John Cox, Randy DeBauw, and Eric Panning.  Again, all fantastic people.  I finally got to give Randy a ride to repay his ride we took when he stopped by our airport, and John the ride that he missed out on at OSH due to the hustle and bustle and hassle.  Everyone took a quick flight and then it was off to Ed's for a fantastic supper.  With all the great company and great fun, I didn't realize that I had inadvertently violated one of my cardinal rules of cross-country flying.  At supper, we had corn.  'nuff said, but that always leaves me worried about the short-term outlook while flying.
On the trip home, we asked to progressively be worked higher as required, topping out at 13,000'.   There were some thunderstorms in the visible vincinity of us while we were flying near the mountains, but nothing was actually in our path.  Then, we had one section where some dark clouds loomed ahead, at what seemed to be very near or slightly above our altitude of 11,000'.   They appeared as a green blob on our screen.  Being not "fool me twice" stupid, I told everyone to crank on their seat belts a bit and ensure they were tight.  Sure enough, even though it wasn't actually raining out of that cloud, as soon as we hit the green blob, we started getting tossed around a bit and having some altitude fluctuations.  The AP would keep us headed back to our altitude, but our airspeed would drop off as it was in a climb.  Performance wise we were about 160kts @ 9.4 gph, so that was looking good.   You can tell from the photos that at times it really seemed like IMC conditions in the mountains.  There were numerous other planes asking for smoke deviations, and it was definitely and drastically affecting what we could see.  Usually we could still see off in at least one direction though.
Below are a couple of photos of smaller fires that we passed very close to.
We flew the leg from KHIO (Hillsboro, OR) to 6S8, a small airport near Billings, MT that had cheaper fuel.  They had 2 fuel services, one being 20cents per gallon less than the FBO, but after finding out the FBO had a courtesy car, I decided I'd rather give the money to a good FBO providing good services.  Then it was off for a little more than 700 miles remaining.  We filed for KABR again, just because the guys at Quest had been good last time, figuring I'd rather give a little more for fuel but have good service, than search out a cheap fuel stop that I wasn't planning to visit.  But, our fuel burns were looking very good, and our previous leg things were working out really well with winds, groundspeeds, and fuel, so we decided to push on.  It was a little unnerving, looking ahead at the remainder of the flight.  It was an IFR flight, in VFR conditions, but it would end at night.  We calculated that if we flew to our home airport, we'd have 700+ miles in on that fuel fill, but at current burn rates we should have 1.25 hours of fuel remaining upon landing.  So working the numbers, it was very trustable, and well within the FARS.  The problem?  Well, I haven't flown a leg of an X/C trip before where we ended with that little fuel.  Knowing that on the other legs I had been comparing my totalizer burn rate with my actual burn rate and coming out almost perfect, I decided that 1.25 hours should be good for reserve.  Also, as we got closer to the MSP airspace, there were lots of alternate airports to stop at, and our forward speed was going very good.  Sure enough, we saved the time on the ground and rolled in with about 12.5 gallons remaining.  So in one day, we had flown from nearly the West coast, all the way to our home in Wisconsin.  More than that, we had been able to take a 3.25 day weekend and do a 2600nm cross country trip, and visit lots of great people.  I think the fuel cost came out near $850, so running LOP saved a couple hundred bucks on the trip too.  All in all it was a great weekend, but much too short.  We'll have to go back there real soon when we can stay a while.

SITE HOME |  N104CD Home