Yet another traveller was able to take advantage of my route to Chandler running adjacent to the airport, so after a quick stop off at the Phoenix airport, I continued to Chandler to figure out where I was going to be for the day.
Once again the North looked crap, I had a quick look at skyvector to see where was selling cheap fuel and was about 2 and a half hours trip away. Borrego Valley L08 seemed like a good option, cheap fuel a trip time of about 2 hours and 20 minutes. So, I began to prepare for the flight. I had everything prepared, aircraft keys picked up, all that was left to do was file a flight plan and get a quick briefing with the FSS briefer.
Once the flight plan was filed I asked for the standard briefing which contains weather for the route and departure/destination airports, as well as NOTAMs. A NOTAM is an abbreviation of Notice to Airmen. They contain any relevant information that needs to be brought to the attention of pilots so that they can carry out their flights safely. This may contain unserviceable navigation aids, high objects in the vicinity of the airport, taxi/runway closures etc. Very rare has there been a NOTAM that has significantly altered my plans, so the door is left wide open for complacency to creep in. However, I’d never leave without them as you’d never know what snippet of information you’re likely to find and it’s your responsibility as pilot in command to have received that information. In this case the briefer was reading through a number of items that were pretty insignificant, when suddenly he grabs my attention as he hastily reads through but slips in “runway 08/26 closed due to work in progress.”
I thought to myself that’s interesting, wasn’t there only 1 runway at Borrego??? So, I told the briefer to back pedal a bit and, sure enough, the only runway at the airport was closed. It would have been interesting to arrive and and find JCBs and the likes occupying the place I planned to land, but another case of planning the flight properly paying off. Not quite sure how the airport was still open with out a runway, but there you go.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to make massive alterations to plan for something different. I changed the final leg of the flight to Thermal(KTHM), which was slightly closer and more importantly had a serviceable runway. Nothing major of interest on the flight down. About the most exciting thing I encountered, was meeting traffic in the opposite direction on the same airway, proven again the importance of using the semi-circular rule(flying odd plus a half thousands to the East and even and a half to the West). Never the less, it’s fun seeing someone pass just a thousand feet above or below at ~300mph closing speed.
It’s a nice approach into Palm Springs area, you’ve the mountains behind climbing to over 8000ft and the Salton sea off to the South creating a particularly nice *vista.
One of the interesting things about Thermal is the fact that it’s actually below sea level. So, I took the mandatory picture of the altimeter.
Thermal seemed to be pretty dead, I fueled up another 12 gallons which brought me back up to a 4 hour endurance and then parked the airplane. I talked to a guy working at the airport who kindly gave me some water, however he had the wrong answer for me when I asked him if there was a restaurant on the airfield. However he did have a few free cereal bars for me so, with them, both me and the aircraft were fueled.
They had a pretty neat pilot lounge where I managed to get engrossed in the weather channel and its prediction that the world was just about to end either by a meteor, a stray planet that would pull the earth out of its orbit or a global warming induced ice age. Either way, planning my flight back, I figured I had nothing to loose.
That didn’t prevent me properly planning the flight though and quite nerving was the realisation that rather stable looking Phoenix area was beginning to look rather unstable with some pretty significant storms starting to show on radar in the area just East of Chandler. I figured it was time to go, so I got my act together and hit the airways.
Once airborne I stopped the climb at 5,500ft due to some cloud above, but eventually this cleared and I stepped up to 7,500ft to see if I could find some smoother air, the turbulence was starting to get annoying and tiring. Than plan worked and provided for a smooth flight.
With about an hour to go, it became time to start making decisions. I could see a pretty massive looking storm about 50miles to the South of Phoenix. Chandler was report winds of 190 degrees at 16knots gusting to 24. This is about 30 degrees to the runways at Chandler, which means to calculate the crosswind factor you use approximately 50% of the wind strength, so 8 knots gusting to 12 would be the crosswind factor. Not particularly bad, but I wondered would it get worse before I arrived as, it was worse than the previous weather report.
I worked out that on arrival at Chandler I would have about 1.5 hours of fuel left so, about an hour to find a suitable alternate should I be unable to land at Chandler. I had originally planned for Casa Grande, which was about 15 minutes South of Chandler, however although its weather report was saying good conditions it was very close to the massive storm to the south, which by now I could see was throwing up a wall of sand in front of it. I had worked out that Buckeye to the West of Phoenix would be a suitable alternate which had fuel and was well clear of the weather. So, with a solid back up plan in place I continued to what was eventually a text book cross wind landing, aligning the aircraft with the runway in the final moments before lowering the into wind gear onto the runway followed by the opposite main and eventually lowering the nose gear. Onto the center line, I might add. I guess practice makes perfect and certainly 30 hours in a week and a half is helping my flying massively.
With just about 10 to 12 hours remaining and just a few days, I’m beginning to fear that I’ll not get North again. The trip to Moab is unfortunately looking increasingly unlikely. I’m still holding tough on getting to do a trip over the Grand Canyon. But, mother nature will eventually make the decision for me, I guess.
*Vista is a word generally used by fancy people or persons involved in the creation of rubbish operating systems for computers.