Airfield traffic pattern, arizona, aviation, boulder mountain, canyonlands, Chandler, colorado river, flight training, George, grand canyon, hostel, hour building, Moab, phoenix, Piper, piper cherokee, Utah, zion, Zion National Park
My last check-in was in Moab, after what was a pretty dramatic day. This, of course, was a few days ago and I’m glad to reassure you that I’ve not being recreating the film, 27 Hours. Which, trivia fact of the day, was filmed in the Moab area. Apparently, there’s a list as long as your arm, of big blockbusters that have been filmed in the national parks near Moab.
On Friday morning, I got a cab out to the airport. Parted with the expected $45 and headed inside to begin the flight planning. Destination would be St. George airport, where I planned to refuel and return to Chandler.
I picked St. George, because I knew it would take me across some beautiful scenery and also the fuel price was reasonable. At the time of planning the weather looked perfect for the route to St. George and there didn’t seem to be too much happening down south for the eventual flight towards Phoenix.
With the flight plan filed, I went outside and got the aircraft fueled and preflighted. This took a little longer than anticipated, mainly due to the fueling. A little bit of confusing on my part on how the self-service worked, but I eventually got airborne at about 0930. This was later than I wanted to get away; as I knew the longer I left it the more likelihood of weather developing for the route back to Chandler.
The flight to St. George took 2hours 30minutes and once again covered some amazing terrain. The route, which was pretty much direct, took me over Canyon Lands, abeam Boulder Mountain, on to Bryce Canyon and then Zion National Park, just to name a few of the well known areas.
I think at this stage, I had a “beautiful scenery” overload. But, it was still an amazing experience. While suffering this overload, I did get a chance to deal with some issues, one reason for concern was the controller informing me that my transponder(an instrument that, basically, adds extra information to, and makes more accurate the controllers radar images) was not sending out my altitude. This wasn’t a big problem for the leg from Moab to St. George. But, for the return leg to Chandler, I would require a transponder with altitude reporting, to operate in the Phoenix area, where it is a requirement.
This moment of worry seemed to be relatively short lived. It started when the controller had pointed out that I wasn’t reporting altitude, just before losing me completely on radar, due to the terrain. But, when he picked me up again on radar and I asked was there still no altitude(as I’d tried the oldest trick in the avionics toolbox, turning the transponder off, then back on), he reported back that there was no problem. But oddly, he also pointed out that there never was. The only thing I can think of, is that he may have mixed up two aircraft call signs. Anyway, it was one less thing to worry about for the flight back.
It seems I wasn’t the only one that planned an arrival into St. George for noon. As I tuned the air to air frequency(like many smaller airports St. George does not have a tower controller), to announce my position and find out what everyone else was doing. There just so happened to be aircraft arriving from all directions, so I announced my position and kept a good scan to trying to spot them visually.
The runway in St. George has, pretty much, a North to South alignment. So to build the picture for you, I was arriving from the North North-East, a business jet from the North and there was two guys in light aircraft announcing themselves inbound from the south. There was also one or two already in the circuit, but they were going to be on the ground before I got close to the airport. My main concern was the business jet that was approaching from, pretty much, the same direction as me. He was on a long straight in and behind me, but due to his extra speed he was always going to make the airport before me. So, I wanted him in sight and ahead of me before I made any sort of a turn to base or finals.
He passed me at about 3 miles to go, so I began to prepare to join the base leg, announcing my intentions the whole time. Unfortunately, as I announced my position while turning base to final, one of the guys who had been arriving from the south decides it’s finally time to speak up again, and informs me he’s doing the same thing as I am, expect from West of the field. Sure enough, about a mile ahead of me there he is cutting me off, I slowed my aircraft to as much as was safe in the hope that he’d get off the runway as soon as possible, but sure enough the aerobatics he pulled jumping the queue must have made him too fast, as he was holding off for an age and eventually missed the nearest exit. He wasn’t looking like he was in any rush to expedite to the next exit, so I got the pleasure of going around and making a second approach into St. George. Cheers bud, why don’t you let me buy you drink.
Anyway, rant over! I landed and parked up the aircraft and went inside to order some fuel and check the weather out. There were gaps in the weather, but weather which had appeared since Moab and you could bet your hat it would get worse as it continued into the afternoon. So, if I was going to have any chance I had to get going.
After a quick brief off the FSS briefer and another look at the weather radar, I was ready to go again.
It was time to decide if I wanted to spend approximately 2 ½ hours flying in turbulent weather over mountains, with the strong possibility of having to divert with significant thunderstorms building in my direction of flight or just wait till the morning, spend a night in St. George and see what it has to offer. So, I decided on the latter, I put the airplane to bed for the night, arranged hire car number two for just $35. At this stage I was carry three sets of car keys and set of airplane keys.
Before I wandered off aimlessly, I had a quick look at where would be a good place to stay. There seemed to be one street in particular lined with hotels. So, I aimed for there, parked up and walked around for a bit before picking the Best Western, at $80 bucks it was actually pretty good value. It was probably, a solid 3*. A nice cosy room, with a decent bed, which was welcome after nearly two weeks on hostel bunks.
One of the things that I still hadn’t had a chance to do, was to get a little bit of shopping done. I asked the receptionist if there was any outlets and she happily pointed me in the right direction. The shopping passed a few hours but I still had the evening. It was at this point I decided to leave my daily blog checking as it usually takes up a good chunk of time and I wanted to see some of the area.
Since I had a car, I decided to take it for a drive towards the Zion National Park, which wasn’t really that far away. I also had a craving for a proper steak, so I figure the first decent Steak House I saw, I was going to hit it. As I passed through a town called Hurricane on the way to Zion, I spotted a steakhouse called Baristas. I can honestly say, that it was the worst restaurant I’ve ever been to. It was odd to say the least. I walked into the place, there was about 8 tables in the room, 1 was cleaned, two had people eating at them and the rest were stacked with dirty cutlery from, I guess, previous guests. I thought, fair enough, they must have just had people leave at the same time. Nope, they were left there for the 45 minutes I was stuck in the place. You wouldn’t mince the steak they gave me to make frozen burgers and to top off, it was probably the most expensive meal I had in America. Anyway, moral of the story, you can knock Baristas in Hurricane, Utah, off your bucket list.
Wow, two rants in one posting, no wonder it’s taking me so long getting around to writing this up. Anyway… I continued on my road trip toward Zion and I eventually made it to a town called Springdale, which is just before the entry point to the park itself. It was quite late in the evening, just after sun set, so I figured it was pointless going into the park since it was $25 entry and it was dark. So, I parked up and took a walk through Springdale.
I was looking for a bar where I could sit down and have a soft drink of some sort and possibly have a chat with either the bar staff or someone who might have something interesting to say. But, all I could see was places that looked really good for eating(let’s not talk about it). I eventually found one place that was a sports bar themed restaurant. So, I sat at the bar and had a coke and after talking to the guy serving it became clear why I’d not seen any bars. Well, apparently the Utah lawmakers are weirdos. They don’t allow drink, with the only exception being that it’s served with food. I’m pretty sure, eating is cheating, so how’s that supposed to work??
I can’t tell you why, but this rule didn’t seem to apply in Moab, which is Utah also. It was definitely in force in Springdale and in hindsight St. George as well. The irony here, was that I wasn’t even looking for alcohol, just the atmosphere and socializing associated with a bar.
Crap! was that another mini rant. I think that’s it though. I actually did enjoy my trip to Springdale and did get chatting to some people, so it certainly wasn’t all bad. I really should have got out earlier in the day and checked out the park.
The following morning, I was up for about 0600 to go down and get the breakfast and get out to the airport. Yesterday I had prepared a route that would have me cross the Grand Canyon again, but this time further West at around the mid point of the Canyon. But, on checking the weather, it was clear that this was going to be a no go. There was a massive radar return sitting right over the planned route. But, not to worry I just planned further West of it again which still brought me over the Canyon just another 30 to 40miles down stream. Prescott which was a little over half way was also reporting marginal conditions, but this was due to few clouds at at lower level above the airport. But, it was still early morning at that stage and that was most likely going to change as it got later into the morning. More of a worry would be thunderstorms that would likely build in that area. I finished my flight planning with a standard briefing off the FSS briefer, who basically verified what I was seeing.
I figured I had a pretty comprehensive plan, with plenty alternates enroute, should I run into weather. I rang the school to let them know my intentions, the receptionist handed me over to an instructor who wanted to have a chat. He was a bit concerned that I would be coming down through the mountains with the amount of humidity. I think, however, he was prodding to make sure I knew what I was at and also to drive home that, should I see anything ahead that I didn’t like, just turn around or divert to somewhere that’s clear of weather. I explained what my expectation was of the weather and what I was seeing during my planning and we discussed a bit what I might see on my route back and I also convinced him that I had no intention to fly into bad weather. With this he seemed reasonably happy, so without any further delays I got going.
With the preflight done, I jumped in, began to work through the checklist and got to the point where it was time to put the keys in the ignition, so I put my hand in my pocket and, of course, pulled out the rental car keys. Close one, dumbass! That could have been expensive. So, I ran back in dropped off the keys and got going again.
Once airborne, there was no doubt of the humidity in the air. I climbed to 11,500ft for the the flight over the Grand Canyon. You could see the massive rain cloud over the original planned route exactly where I’d see it on the radar. It made for an impressive sight. 11,500ft was working out really well, as it was putting between a lower few/scattered layer and an upper broken/overcast layer which allowed me to easily spot cumulonimbus(rain/thunderstorm cloud) clouds that were building. There was definitely a lot building up and it was going to be a busy afternoon for the guys in the airlines, trying to dodge thunderstorms. But, for me, it was still early and I had a smooth ride back, which culminated in a final Class B transition into Chandler.
Once landed it was time to settle the accounts. I’ll have to pull out the receipt again, but I believe it was just under $3900 for the aircraft, instruction and the maps I bought. That’s under €3000 and to put that into perspective, €3000 would have got me approximately 18.75 hours flying at my club here in Europe, that’s just the airplane. Add to that landing fees(~€10 in Europe, free in the US), maps at twice the price, instructors(only €25 in Luxembourg, $60 dollars in Chandler) and the rest of the ancillary cost you seem to hit in Europe. It’s just so much more viable to fly in America.
All in all, I’m extremely happy with the outcome from the hour building element of this trip. I eventually built more than the requirement finishing with 158 hours and 15 minutes total flying time. I began the trip with around 117hours logged. I basically had two airplanes to myself, one of which had a paint job, just for me. The weather wasn’t always great, but offered an added challenge and made things more interesting in a lot of cases. The instruction received at the beginning by Jason was excellent and the support from the maintenance department when required was also excellent. All in all I can’t fault Chandler Air Service, they provided all I needed, at a competitive price.
So, I’d just finished a long hard two weeks of flying and it was time for some R&R. To drive back to L.A. was a 6 hour drive, but, to drive to Vegas was about 4 and then another 4 to L.A.. It seemed like there was only one solution. I was going to Vegas!!!
As soon as I’d paid off Chandler Air Service and said my goodbyes to staff, I packed the car and hit the road. One small detour left and then direct Vegas. The detour was to drop into the hostel to leave Ben off, who come to think of it, I never mentioned in the previous post.
Ben Noow, is the hostel mascot. He’s been to see all the hotspots around Phoenix and came along with me for the Chandler-Moab-St.George-Chandler trip. With Ben dropped off I quickly booked the hostel in Vegas over the internet, said my goodbyes to all at the hostel and made tracks for Vegas.
It was a long drive, made longer by the growing thirst for the celebratory finishing beer, once I got into Vegas. I finally arrived around 5.30pm to the Sin City Hostel, where I was delighted to realise that they actually had parking so no need to fork out any more $$$ there. It was also only $10 a night. Once again, the hostel served the purpose and there was a lot interesting people to meet. Ironically, however, the first person I met, was an English bloke that had been staying at the hostel in Phoenix a few nights previously. He was planning to do a pub/nightclub crawl, so I jumped on that with him.
However, I eventually had to throw in the towel rather early. I think I was in bed for 2am, after a losing the battle to try and hold my eyes open. I guess it all caught up.
The following day, I woke at the crack of dawn, the sleeping pattern in a solid rhythm I guess, and after breakfast I set out across the desert for L.A.. It’s worth noting at this point it’s not such a good idea setting off into the desert with 50miles to empty tanks. I guess I’d caught the gambling bug from Vegas, but thankfully I got a fuel station with just 12miles to empty, but not without a bit of sweating first. Not just the nerves, but I switched off the aircon to try and get more mileage out of the gas I’d left.
A few hours later I arrived in LA and headed straight for the beaches, in hindsight this wasn’t a great idea, I should have dropped the hire car back and found some other way there, as there was nowhere to park. Once realising this, I did just that, left my bags at the Cargolux building, dropped the car off and spent the remainder of my time at Redondo and Washington beaches. I’m afraid I’ve no photos to put up of this part of the day, as they’re all for my personnel voyeurism collection, but I can assure you L.A. beaches contain some of the best scenery I’ve come across yet.
After a walk, up and down the beaches a bite to eat and a few beers it was time to get back to catch the flight. It was great to see that one of the crew from the way out, would be on the flight back. There was a little bit of slagging, as I was unconscious from about 30seconds into the taxi, till about 6 hours into the flight, I think they expected me up front again. Although, in no way drunk, I had had a few beers and felt the last place for me and my beer breath, was the cockpit of a 747 departing one of the busiest airports in the world. And, it had been the plan to try and get some sleep early in the flight. Once awake though, I got talking to the rest of the crew and they all seemed like really nice guys and I joined them once again up front for the rest of the flight.
At around 6pm Irish local time, we arrived over DOGAL, a waypoint off the Irish coast. One that I had remember well from my days at Coonagh, as I would have heard many an airline giving their estimates for DOGAL, to the controller. What this meant however, was that we’d be transiting over Shannon and also Coonagh. I asked the crew if I would be able to tune 129.9 to see if there was any activity over Coonagh, unfortunately even with the good weather below, there didn’t seem to be much activity. If there had have been some familiar voices on the radio, I was planning on giving a quick position report, along the lines of “Coonagh Traffic, Carglox 837 Heavy, transiting overhead the field at flight level 350.” I’m pretty sure if there was the right people on the other end of the radio, I’d have got a decent, off the cuff response. I decided since it seemed all quite down there, I wouldn’t bother asking the crew, as I’d imposed myself enough at that stage. Maybe one day when I’m the crew I’ll give you guys and shout out. I did manage to take a lovely photo of Shannon Airport, but there wasn’t really much point in doing so with the SD card still in my computer.
Eventually after a routing over Paris, we made the approach into Malpensa and after offloading some freight, and the Captain, we received a new crew for the flight to Luxembourg and the two F/Os joined me in the back for the short hop back to Luxembourg.
So, that turned out to be a long post. I’ve a month to go in Luxembourg, in which time I have to sort out my aeromedical, my finances, my life etc etc. I’m booked to start with Diamond Flight Academy, in Kalmar, on the 2nd of October.
I don’t know if I’ll do a daily post for the CPL/MEIR, but maybe twice weekly will be enough to keep track of my progress there. So, I guess this is it for now and I look forward to starting the updates again, come October.
P.S. If anyone has any questions about my trip, feel free to ask, probably the best way is to just leave a comment.