Vegas / Nellis 2007 - Things Aren't Always As You Plan

Added 11/12/2007 - 305+ Flight Hours

The week before this trip had been particularly miserable, first with the tragic loss of one of our pals Dan, and a couple days later we put to rest our 13.5 year old golden retriever...a true member of the family.  I wasn't in any sort of mood to have "fun" on vacation, and felt more like laying on the couch than enjoying what I thought would be a "rushed" flight across the U.S. that I knew would end with an all-day-one-day flight home in possible bad weather.  I was ready to chuck it all and just watch TV until another RV-10'er told me that with the week of bad news, everyone would need an uplifting trip report.  With that as honestly my main motiviation, I set forth to get us to Vegas for the Nellis Airshow.  I thought that the Nellis Airshow "Aviation Nation" would be the highlight and main goal of my extended weekend....but boy was I mistaken.  The original plan was to meet up in Sedona Wed. and fly into Vegas on Thursday.  Sadly, 2 of the RV-10 builders planning to go to Vegas had a few various really good reasons to cancel at the last minute, so I did what any RV-10 builder can do....drastically changed my plans.  As you'll see later, the RV-10 makes x/c just fantasticly comfortable, so it isn't any big deal to travel 1000nm at the spur of the moment.

With a call to Scott Schmidt on Tuesday night, who I knew was also flying to Vegas, I had a plan to leave Wed. a.m. and head towards Salt Lake City.  This was the first move towards what would become a great long weekend.

Fire up the Fan!

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With my newly installed rudder trim a'la Vic, and the recent "Safety-Trim" system installed, this would be a great test of that new gear.  I'll spare you the long-winded report but I'll tell you the trim system worked flawlessly and was very easy to trim out the airplane for hands-off flight with it's reduced speed option, and the rudder trim I found to be an AWESOME comfort device.  Previously I had flown for many 7 hour days or more, and always just left my Right foot lay on the rudder pedal or push only slightly to keep the ball centered.  On this trip, I climbed up, leaned out, trimmed out the rudder, and then stuck both feet on the floor.  No more do I have to deal with that aching foot and leg after 3 hours and try to pull some convoluted leg maneuvers so I can hold Right rudder with Left foot to give the other a rest!  I encourage you all to understand...the -10 is a CROSS-COUNTRY machine.  You can fly for hours.  Even if you're not going to install rudder trim, prepare for it, because the little things mean a lot when you're in the cockpit for a long time.

Above you can see some screenshots from the enroute phase of my first leg.  Level at 10K' at 164kts (add 2 for my known error), we were pushing a strong headwind that later into the flight would go over 55kts.  I had it leaned out to 10gph with the normal low oil temps and CHT's.  Looking at the AIRMET's we got to avoid all the ice and didn't have bad turbulence for most of the flight.  We were doing very well on fuel, with a food/fuel stop at KVTN (Nebraska) and then a good #2 stop shortly thereafter for one of the kids.  I was on an IFR plan for the first leg, but then went VFR after that to avoid being forced to high altitudes with 50+kt headwinds.  That turned out to be a small mistake, or at least I probably should have called SLC approach before getting very close to them because it would have really been easier to get into that area if I had been talking to them first.  The SLC class B in the mountains makes for some very tight flight planning if you want to avoid airspace.  Suffice it to say, if you're flying in there, don't bother to even try unless you know the lay of the land...just talk to them and let them work you in.

Below you can see some various photos from that leg, and one of the family with Mike Howe, who is a fantastic guy with one of the sweetest hangars you'll ever see.  I'm sure you've seen his great website with some super step-by-step directions on it.  If you're ever in that area, you should look him up.  In the Chelton screenshot photo, you can see a windmill farm depicted on the PFD.  The Chelton depicts Traffic, Runways, and Terrain, in it's actual position on the PFD, and I thought it was pretty cool how all the individual windmills were shown.  The photo next to it was of the windmill farm from outside the window.

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Vegas Here We Come

The next day we were up and ready to head to Vegas with Scott.  Right away we had a tough decision to make.....both of the kids wanted to ride with Scott and RaNae instead of us. (big surprise, huh?  Kids never like their parents ;) )  So we had to decide if we could be comfortable putting our kids into someone elses plane for a trip down rugged terrain in the mountains.  Well, I'll tell you what....Scott is one of the very few pilots I'd put my kids with, and he certainly had my trust, so we turned them over to them for the flight.  I felt really bad....for them, but they assured me that the kids weren't bad at all for them.  Not surprising...they're always angels with other people.

Below you'll see lots of various photos taken from both planes, of the trip down to Vegas.  We headed for Bryce Canyon for a flyover enroute, and then shortly after that we crossed into Zion National Park and headed towards Vegas.  Bryce is beautiful, with it's orange and reddish colored cliffs, and Zion is just plain huge and beautiful.  If only we weren't on a timeline, we could have done some excellent air-to-air photos near those areas.

Regarding LOP (Lean of Peak) engine operation, this flight gave me a great chance to do some comparisons with Scott.  We cruised ROP all the way to Vegas.  Interestingly, with him carrying the kids and us with empty back seats, he was cruising a few kts faster than me.  I know at OSH he seemed to be 2 or 3kts faster, but today he was probably even a couple kts faster yet.  You can really change your flying speeds by the load distribution, but I'll have to do some same-plane tests if I want to see what the variables come out to be.  But back to the LOP/ROP thing...  As we flew along over Zion, Scott was powered back into the 17's of MP, with us both at 2360RPM...our favorite cruising RPM.  I'm trying to remember the numbers exactly, but I think he was pulling about 11.8 gph or so.  We were getting groundspeeds of 151 kts approx, when I leaned out my engine to the Lean side of Peak, and I was still able to manage 149-150kts, but now I had fuel flows about 3gph lower at around 8.5-8.7gph.  It was a great demonstration of what kinds of fuel burn reductions you can see by running LOP.  Now, Scott could have powered up a bit more on MP and blown ahead of me at about 10kts extra speed with no problem, but in the end, our arrival time would still be within minutes of eachother.

Sideline Story:  (Sorry for this departure from your regularly scheduled write-up but....)
A week before OSH I traveled a ways across Wisconsin next to a Mooney 231, carrying a group of people on a mission.  On climbout, I told the passenger that we'd be handily out climbing the Mooney.  Sure enough, at 3,000' I was powered back to 17.X" MP and and lumbering around near 140kts TAS.  I asked the Mooney pilot what his fuel flow was, and got "24, but we're WOT climbing to 4,000" as a reply.  That was funny....I didn't even notice we were really climbing much, considering we were going up so much slower than I normally climb at, and I was powered back.  In cruise, he leaned out at we stayed behind him at 140kts TAS.  I checked his fuel flows....Mooney, 10.2gph.  RV-10 11.2gph.  So then I decided that on the way back, once we'd both climbed to 4,000' and leaned out, I'd try it LOP.  He had his same 10.2gph, but I pulled back to the Lean side of Peak and was able to drop my fuel flow down to 8.5gph and maintain 140kts TAS.  Yeah, there's no way I'd go down from an IO-540 in the RV-10.  When climbing, you can get UP much faster than most planes, and once running LOP, you'll beat most planes in fuel used in cruise.  In fact, if you think about it, sure, you could try to install a 200-210hp engine in the RV-10, but now you're going to spend more time CLIMBING, where your fuel flows are HIGHER, while the IO-540 plane is already up high in cruise, leaned out, flying faster, and getting his better economy.  I really doubt that you could reduce the HP of your engine installation and do much to improve your fuel efficiency over what a well-tuned IO-540 is capable of.

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Upon landing we were quickly followed by Sean Tucker's biplane, and then saw the Red Bull helicopter land and met a friend of an RV-10 builder, Stan.  He turned out to be a great guy to meet, during the Nellis Airshow.  We also met Bob and Wayne at KVGT.  Bob is a local RV-10 builder who helped arrange a showing of RV-10's at the airshow, and Wayne was one of the flying-10 participants.  Wayne has an absolutely beautiful RV-10, that anyone would be proud to own.  Between Scott, Wayne, and Debbie Dewey, I see some fantastic style and very good workmanship.  That night we got to hang out with Scott and his parents, who are always great to talk to, so we felt right at home as if visiting with family.  It's true that you can meet some of the greatest people in the world through this hobby!

GPS Enabled PLB

Sideline Note:
Before this trip I had many opportunities to think about PLB's and ELT's.  Recently my thoughts were spurred to life again after once again being reminded that 121.5Mhz and 243Mhz ELT's will be unmonitored by Satellite in Feb 2009.  My previous position on ELT's was to install a 121.5Mhz unit for the time being because manufacturers were not doing a good job bringing their prices down.  While I'm not disappointed with what I installed, I also am all too aware of what could happen in a crash situation with kids in the mountains, and how a long delay would not be fun at all. With that in mind, I actually am quite pleased with this purchase I made the week before the trip.  Keep in mind that this is NOT the cheapest PLB available, but it is the smallest and lightest that I could find in this category, and I shopped it long and hard and finally found it for $100 less than anywhere else on

This gives a huge benefit over an ELT, in that IF we survive a crash, this unit is portable and can be taken along on a hike by survivors to civilization.  Your 121.5Mhz ELT will give a HUGE search radius, while this unit is GPS enabled internally, and it will send your personal code and GPS position to a Satellite which will give them your precise location...and considering you must manually activate it, when the search party arrives, they'll be expecting to find survivors, which will mean they'll working hard to get to you.  If you're dead, a pinpoint accuracy ELT isn't going to do much for you...but if just one person survives, this item will help a lot, and at 1/2 the price of buying a new ELT.  Personally, I'd still like a new 406Mhz GPS enabled ELT, but I will now definitely wait for the prices to come down on those...and I can take this boating, camping, and hiking too.

Before the trip we spent some time with the kids showing them exactly how to operate it, and told them that if we ever go down, after any fire is over, this is what they are to find and do first.

If you dream you could fly...

Friday a.m. I was skimming through a tourist magazine from the hotel, trying to pick our activities for the day.  One of the things we really wanted to do was tour Hoover Dam, which we did end up doing, but beyond that, I didn't know WHAT we'd do to fill the rest of the day.  Vegas has plenty for kids to do, but you have to be choosey and creative at times.  But, all it took was flipping to page 168 and I KNEW what we were going to do!  A while back, my daughter told me she wished she could fly.  No, not with an airplane, just herself....and hey, that's a dream I always had too.  But since I've never been able to convince some of the overly cautious friends I have to jump out of an airplane, I've never known what falling through the air would be like.  Enter....INDOOR SKYDIVING!

This turned out to be a MAJOR highlight of our trip!  The photos below show a couple clips of the video that we got with our skydiving package.  It was an amazing experience, diving into a vertical airstream and floating upwards.  They could power the fan up and launch you probably over 20' into the air, either single or in pairs with the instructor.  With a minimum weight of 40lbs and a max of 230lbs, we fit the charts and all 4 of us plus Scott and RaNae were able to participate.  Check back here later for more photos as I'll be adding a few more once I get them.  One of the more positive notes?  Andrea finally is on the edge...after seeing how skydiving feels, she's one step closer towards joining me for a jump.
I hear that Denver has the best indoor skydiving operation in the country right now (haven't verified this personally), so I'm thinking we need to take a trip there next time.  It's fairly central in the U.S. when considering that those coming from the West have a harder flight than those from the East, so perhaps it'll make a good place to meet other -10's and book some block time in the fan room.  There's also one in Utah, I was just told.

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For the rest of the day we toured Hoover Dam, which is a phenomenally huge pile of concrete.  The lake (Lake Mead) is down over 56' right now, and it really shows.  I'm not sure when people will finally realize that you can't just move into Atlanta, or some of these SouthWest cities without being part of the future water crisis.  It really shows how valuable that resouce (fresh water) is.  One of the cool things about walking across the dam is that you can change timezones by walking a single step.  The kids thought it was pretty cool that they could switch places and turn one hour older, or younger.

That night it was back to the pool for some horseplay, and then onto Rainforest Cafe' for dinner.  We love to find a Rainforest Cafe' on any vacation we can, because it's got some great atmosphere, and we love to order the "Volcano" at the end.

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Airshow Day!

With Saturday's arrival it was time to head to Nellis AFB for Aviation Nation.  What had started as our original draw to plan the trip ended up being the biggest disappointment of the vacation.  For those of you who didn't make it, you should feel relieved.  We've traveled to many airshows, and seen the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds many times, but I can say without a doubt that this was the most miserable logistical experience we've ever had at an airshow.  It's a very good thing they don't charge admission, but it drives home the point that you get what you pay for.  This one was clearly being either run by the government, or by some third-party no-bid contractor, because it was a logistical nightmare.  If you're a fan of military planes, there's probably no better place to go see them than this show.  They're all over the place, and you can take some fantastic photos of planes that in the past were very hard to get near.  The problem is in transportation and foodservice.  In order to buy food, you have to first convert cash into tickets, which is a long line.  Then, to redeem your tickets (non-refundable) for food, you have to suffer through food lines that are 4 times longer than any you'll likely find at OSH.  We literally gave UP on eating at Nellis, other than a sidewalk vendor cart where we could grab a $4 pretzel and $4 ice cream bar the size of a hockey puck.  There was no way to get actual food without suffering, so we decided that starving wasn't that bad of an option.  The absolute WORST part about Aviation Nation is the parking and transportation.  At Nellis they park the cars way out a couple miles down the road at the motor speedway, where they then screen your bags, wand you, and have you walk through metal detectors (no complaints with that) before you board coach busses...ONE bus at a time.  Now what the heck is up with coach busses can't hold anywhere near the number of passengers as a stand-up school or city bus.  It took 5-10 minutes per bus to load and drive you to the show.  After the show, there were hundreds of people flocking to the busses to be hauled back to their cars.  The problem is, it was so absolutely poorly managed that there was nobody to maintain order and make the process smooth, and there was a huge under capacity of bus transportation.  At OSH, people line up in rows, are courteous, and nobody cuts in line.  They have respect for their fellow man.  At Aviation Nation, despite our being lined up nicely with a few nice souls, we were pushed past by massive mobs of people, squeezing their way into the bus loading area.  Perhaps it's because it's free and open to the public, but I've never been surrounded by so many non-courteous people in my life.  After standing in line for 15 minutes or more and actually having our loading position pushed BACK by probably 400% by all the line cutters, I began to get frustrated.  In those 15 minutes there had only been 2 bus departures.  Yeah, literally HUNDREDS of people and they couldn't handle more than 2 busses in 10 to 15 minutes.  Pathetically poor.  Finally, we realized that despite our car being probably 2.5-3 miles away, it would be faster to just get out of line and walk, so I burned a couple micro-millimeters off my butt and jogged to get the car to pick the family up.

Recommendation:  If it's free, it's going to draw the crowd who won't respect order, and if it's run by the government, it'll be pathetically your effort on this show and attend one of the many other good ones.  The air performances were great...especially that Red Bull Helicopter tha I hadn't ever seen before, so that helped redeem it from being a total flop, but most of the flying acts are viewable elsewhere.  I tell the above story in the very remotest of hopes that someone from Nellis actually reads this and cares enough about the public experience to perhaps make a change some day.

The higlight of the night was watching the Bellagio fountains for a few minutes before we turned in to get our sleep.

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RV-10 Builders

Bellagio Fountains

Departure Day

After a good breakfast with the Schmidt's, we headed for the airport for our return trip.  This was the part of the trip I had dreaded, knowing that days before they had called for heavy rain at home, and colder conditions.  I don't mind flying 9 hours across the U.S. but I'd rather do it without having to fly the bad weather at the end.  But, someone was watching over us this time.

On the ground at VGT, I did what was a bad move.  I had filed an IFR plan to Santa Fe.  I'm not sure if it was because of the airshow or if it's always this messed up, but the plan to get out of there was a bear!  First, they gave me a departure to fly, to intercept a fix with a crossing restriction, then onto a VOR, to another VOR, then outbound on a specific intercept a radial from another VOR, and then on to that VOR where I could then go direct.  It was tough enough to write it all down and enter it in, but once I got in the air it turned out it was mostly for naught.  They vectored me in the OPPOSITE direction of my clearance, and then gave me much different than expected climbs and plenty of twists and turns.  As soon as I was headed outbound and home free (or so I thought), they started climbing me higher again and vectoring me some more, so I had to don the O2 unexpectedly.  But after that, we had a terrific leg that took us over the Grand Canyon enroute to Santa Fe.

As we flew along over the Grand Canyon, the Hobbs ticked over 300 hours of trouble-free operation on my Aerosport IO-540, and I had that great feeling that the airplane had brought us so many great experiences already, yet it still had probably 6 or 7 times it's lifetime to go.  We've put many tens of thousands of miles on the plane so far, with this trip probably coming in between 2700 and 3000nm.  Cruising along at 13,000' we had the engine leaned out to about 8.4gph, for a slightly slower cruise than we normally cruise at...about 155-157kts.  Santa Fe was a short leg from Vegas, burning only 33 gallons, and then our next leg was to a self-picked $4.10/gal fuel stop at KCBK (Colby Kansas), a mere 24 gallons away.  LOP flying really saves some major fuel!  The final leg we had the weather to deal with...flying in an area at night, where there was an AIRMET for Icing, and some IFR airports along the way.  The icing was at least forecast for 7,000 and up, and the ceilings were 1500' near our home airport, so we pushed on.  But, for that whole final 3.5 hour leg I had to weigh my options carefully.  I decided not to file IFR (probably was the wrong decision, given the conditions I flew in), to avoid being forced to climb to some MEA's that would put me into the freezing level.  Out West, the radar coverage isn't so great, so they make you stay high if you're IFR.  But, when it's cold, I don't want to be there all that bad.  We ended up cruising ROP (Rich of peak) for the entire leg, and staying at 7500' under star filled skies for almost the entire flight in the dark.  I could have leaned it out more and run LOP but I really wanted my arrival time to be as short as possible, given that we were losing 2 hours on the way East, and wouldn't arrive until nearly 10pm local.  That's a long day of flying in a small plane, and I'm not sure why any airline would ever push a pilot even further than that as part of a plan carrying hundreds of passengers.  Finally, as we got 35 minutes out, the ceilings came down and we brought it down to 1500 AGL and rounded the South of the MSP area.  We still occasionally saw stars above us, which surprised me, but down low we went from tailwind to a headwind, but we pushed on.  It turned out to be a plenty VFR but very slight haze/mist with an indefinite ceiling at home.  We could still see it from 10 miles away though, so it was no problem landing and putting the plane in it's hangar.  We were still wearing our shorts from Vegas, and it wasn't even cold outside.  I'll tell you what, those Oregon Aero seats were a requirement on this flight.  I didn't get one A$$ pain the entire way home, which says a lot for how comfortable the RV-10 is.  Just trim out that rudder, set the autopilot, and watch the world go by!  I even had 20 minutes to give my wife the stick so I could recline for a bit, stretch out and relax while I kept the gauges in the corner of my eye...I'm tellin' you, that lady's one heck of a co-pilot and chief flight attendant! ;)

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Grand Canyon

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Trip Notes:

Compare this to driving:
To drive this trip would have taken about 47.5 hours, for a total of 3810 statute miles, and cost me about $581 in fuel.  Flying made it even POSSIBLE to do the trip in under 20 hours, flying likely near 2750nm with some reroutes and corners, and cost me $852 in fuel.  I paid more for avgas at a couple of stops than I'm used to paying, but my total gallons burned was around 197 gallons.  I need to verify my hobbs to make sure I know what my total hours for the trip was, but either way I know for certain that I have near but less than 20 hours into the trip, so my average burn was around 10gph, with the leg from KBTF to KVGT mostly ROP, along with most of KCBK to KLUM.  The enroute LOP over long legs can be a considerable cost saver.  I flightplan currently using 14gph for cruise which gives me a wide margin of reserve in actuality, and plan for 160kts.

Below are rough comparisons of a driven route vs. roughly my flying route.

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Regarding our hotel of choice, we stayed at the Tuscany Suites and Casino on Flamingo, a couple blocks off the strip by Ceasars and the Bellagio.  The rooms were nice and large, and accomodations were clean, and we saved a bunch off the strip prices.  Although the traffic stinks in Vegas, getting in and out wasn't bad.

Special Thanks: To the manager of the KCBK FBO, who despite my dropping in and finding that fuel was NOT self-serve, came out to the airport to see the "faster than normal" plane that he saw land and topped off my fuel after hours on a Sunday night after dark.

Looking forward to the next x/c trip, especially when it involves great company like we had on this trip!

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