Colorado and Wyoming Via RV-6A

Colorado and Wyoming Via RV-6A by Marty Emrath
AirPlay Third Quarter 2011

Click on pictures to enlarge

If you ever have the time, stop in at Ozark Regional Airport in MO “KPBK”, some time during lunch hour and get a free lunch for Pilot and “Crew”. This was one of several surprises that was in store for us during our trip to Colorado and Wyoming last year in late July. I had completed my RV in April and had it signed off by the DAR, Ed Hasch on April 19th. First Flight was May 5 by fellow RV flier Mike Kellems.

I then proceeded to fly the required remaining time in the test pattern doing all sorts of measurements of time to climb and time to descend all to determine my best climb speed, climb angle and glide speed at various weights and configurations (flaps or not). Final step was to have Steve Johnson fly the positive G maneuvers during the test period so that I can someday soon I hope, learn to fly some acrobatics. I'm not interested in negative G loads so Steve didn't fly any such maneuvers.

So, what do you do with a newly minted plane when your an out of date pilot (I'd been renting planes for years and flying the same 1hour flights over and over without every going very far)? You plan the biggest x-country trip of your life is what you do. Our family has been driving to Westcliffe, Colorado, C08 to attend a Family Camp since 1994. What a great trip to make in the RV! It is approx 922 miles from Smyrna, my home base and I thought easily doable in three legs in one day! I spent more time planning the trip than flying it, but hey, that's part of the experience. I'd only gone west of the Mississippi once before and certainly never flew anything like 900 miles in the past. Longest previous trip was from Peoria IL, to Rhinelander, WI in a Cherokee 180 when I was a lot younger.

Day 1 of the trip was a bummer. We awoke, packed and ready, for an early start to the sound of thunder! I sprang from bed and headed to the computer to see what in the world was going on as this had not been on my flight planning radar the day before. The AOPA flight planner showed the weather moving over Nashville and forecasts called for clearing by mid morning. So, we proceeded to the hanger a bit late after a stop at Walmart for those final things you always forget, and loaded up the RV. I was some 75 #s below my gross weight but taxi and takeoff would need to be gentle. My anxiety levels were running high. We were airborne sometime around 9:30am or so, headed West FINALLY! Flight vis was low and there was remaining scud to dodge for probably 60 min until we could climb to some cooler air and get some relief from the humidity. However, next problem was too much head wind, so we decended back down and roasted with sunlight in the cabin, particularly on the back of our necks. So, we did what we could to put some cover on our necks and motored along. I pretty much flew GPS direct to the first stop for fuel and rest, stopping at Ozark Region by design based on fuel prices in the area and happened to be rewarded with free lunch for buying fuel. I'd not considered where we'd eat during the trip so this was a blessing, particularly after our late take-off

After lunch in clear skies and hot temps, we continued Westward. This leg was smooth, but hot. We used some paper towels from our MO stop to keep the sun off our necks. I've since purchased and installed a Koger Sunshade that many RV types utilize. I'm thinking this has solved my issue. We landed mid-afternoon at Pratt Industrial, KS, “PTT”. Our intended stop had been Harper KS, “8K2” due to predicted low fuel price but when we flew over the strip, I didn't like what I saw. The place seemed deserted and I couldn't see any fuel truck or tanks. It was probably there, but I didn't want to land and find out there was no fuel. Pratt was also predicted to have good fuel price so we landed there. It was probably 3pm or so and 105° when we landed. They had a FBO who's A/C was out but still much cooler than the ramp. I met a man who was working on his flying Glassair FT. He was excited to tell me all the great things that plane will do with only 320 hp. I didn't know if I should believe his speeds or not, so I immediately dismissed it as either a faulty instrument installation or some sort of “fish” story.

After fueling, drinking water and resting a bit, we flew what was to be the third and final leg of the trip. I'd been filing flight plans using WXBrief and using flight following when I could figure out who to contact, but on this leg, I had some trouble getting FSS to respond and open the flight plan. We were successful in doing so and the FSS wanted to be sure I knew of the Sigmets that had been issued for S. Colorado. I hadn't been aware so we discussed that along with what I'd been seeing displayed on my Garmin 496Map with XM weather. Ground level started to rise passing Pratt. Clouds started to appear around us at our intended 6500 to 8500' level and so we pretty much had to stay around 4500' with the ground only 1000 to 1500' beneath us. Long and short of it, I was getting tired, mentally and physically, didn't want to be messing with the clouds any more nor get into the mountain with storms brewing and night coming on, so we started looking for airports to land and spend the night. We were a bit South of our GPS direct at this point, and there were MOA's in front of us, so we headed for Springfield, Colorado. Overflying the field, it looked OK, only one plane on the ramp, no signs of fuel, but I had enough to get out in the morning. So we put 'er down about 5pm local time. I tied town and got the ship unloaded while Linda started calling some of the hotel numbers in the AOPA Airport Directory. First call, lady said “”Oh honey, I can't come and get you. I have to fix my daughter's hair. She is in The Pageant tonight. Everyone is going to be there.” Linda asked who we could call for transportation into town, 5 miles away, and she said call the sheriff. So.....Linda did that and of course they didn't provide taxi service. So she called the last hotel number, the Stage Stop Hotel. Well, the woman said she'd be right out to get us. Not 8 min. later, Cherry arrived. We jumped in her car and drove into town. I'm thinking, great! We're about to enter a flea bag motel and get charge a NY rate. Turned out, it was a very cozy place with a great bed and not much money. We went to her recommended eating place, sat outside watching the truck roll thru town. Seems the route was from Mexico to Denver and the NAFT Agreement had brought life to the old road. We retired before dark to a wonderfully new bed in a charming old boarding house or perhaps bordello. Next morning, Sunday she took us back to the airport before 9am as she was heading to church from there.

Finally, the last leg to Silver West “C08” was about to begin. I had lots of fuel for this leg and knew we had some MOA's to deal with but still wasn't too worried. Anxiety levels were way down and the morning was bright and clear. Sun hadn't heated us up to 100° yet, so we were in “fat city”. I flew over the airport once and then headed West, climbing and climbing from field elevation of 4390' to some 11,000'. Weird looking at the Altimeter showing 6000' and the ground only 1000' beneath us. On this leg, I was able to contact Denver Center and get flight following to ask if the Two Buttes High and Low MOA was active as well as Pinon Canyon MOAs and Le Veta High MOA were active. Can't remember now, but one was active at lower levels, within 1000' AGL with UAV traffic. Instead of GPS direct, I wanted to fly around the South end of the Wet Back mountains as Green Horn peak is 12,347'. So we flew towards Spanish Peaks “4V1” and then to Bandito, CO that lies on the valley floor. It helps that I knew this area from the ground having been there in the car several times. After passing Bandito, Denver center lost us, but an overhead airliner relayed a message to us and canceled our flight following as we had Silver West in sight (cavu – yea baby). We flew the valley up to Silver West airport C08 and landed at 8,290' about 10.30am. Total flight time was about 7.0 hours from MQY! Not too bad. Ground speed at altitude was about 180 MPH. I ran lean of peak when possible as my engine temps and oil temp was a lot cooler. Looking back, I don't think my engine was really broken in yet, even though it had some 90 hours on it then. Seems like it runs cooler now and I have little trouble keeping oil temp below 200°. Silver West is a county run airport and they had a courtesy van (not to leave the county – yea right) self-serve gas that was priced right, and a lot of airport properties around, most for sale, some with homes.

During our week at camp, I fretted about our next leg. After all, the airport was “high elevation” and we'd be heavy coming off the ground. I had previously visited the airport during the week and sought out a couple of guys finishing up a Glasair to learn about flying from Silver West up to Boulder. They approved my GPS direct as a doable route. So on Saturday, as we loaded up, there was a piper Saratoga, I believe, taking off. As our tie down was at the departure end, we watched as it broke ground and cleared the runway end by less than 100'. Well, I had 22 gals in the tanks, Linda and I and 100 #'s in the baggage compartment area. We chose to depart to the South, as the runway was a bit downhill, we'd avoid a mile long taxi, and the wind sock at our end seemed to favor a south takeoff. We proceeded to rocket out of there! I am sure we didn't use much over 1500' of that 7000' runway. Have I said how much I like my RV yet? This was interesting, but climb rate was no where near what we experienced up to then. I couldn't contact flight following or FSS to open a flight plan so we just continued on our way. I climbed up to 12,500' and passed WEST of Pike's Peak, 14,110 which lies just West of Colorado Springs. We cleared Green Mountain, 10.427' with room to spare, CAMERA in the overnight bag of course, and began a quick down hill run to BDU at Boulder, CO, 5,288', skirting the Class B Denver space yet in the Mode C veil. This leg was only one hour, yet we'd seen some marvelous scenery. Driving this would take many hours for sure. I followed roads where I could, to have an exit plan. Weather was clear and winds were light. Landing at BDU, we crossed over the field to land to the east, entered a downwind and base leg. AS I turned final, here's a glider also turning final that I'd not seen before. I knew gliders were apt to be operating and using the east-west grass that lies on the north side of the paved runway. So, I managed to get all nervous watching him land that I dropped the RV onto the runway. I let it get too slow. No damage done thank goodness. We parked and unloaded the plane and waited for my sister to come get us. They had a great terminal, operating from the second floor overlooking the runway.

After three days with my sister it was time to move. So, paid the tie down fee, bought fuel (waives one night's fee) we loaded back into the RV after learning about the noise abatement and glider procedures, taxied to Rwy 9 and departed east. This time we packed the camera and diverted a bit NW to fly over Estes Park, CO and Rocky Mtn Nat'l Park. What a gas....Boy we were having fun now! Leaving RMNP, we headed to the West side of Ft. Collins, Loveland airport, and West of Cheyenne to Phifer “EAN” airport outside of Wheatland, WY. The land scape was different and very vacant, but there was a land mark marked Ranch and one marked Windmills which they have more and more of out west. Our purpose was to visit one of Linda's Aunts. She lost her husband the previous year and Linda couldn't get to the funeral so this was the opportunity to visit. After an hour flight, we flew over town, identified Auntie's house and headed to land at Phifer. Phifer has no fuel, but ½ half of the runway on the west end had been recently repaved. We approached from the east to land to the west and taxied to parking. The east end of the runway was a bit rough, but useable. When we left, we had to give way to a jet that was taxiing in. Seems there is a Coal power plant near the airport and this was some of the management team arriving. It's a very big plant and critical to the power needs of the west.

After a couple days, it was time to go home. Back to the Hot and Muggy part of the world we live it. We left Phifer in no particular hurry after breakfast, departing to the west and flew around the town before continuing on home. One of the things we flew over was Chimney Rock, a marker for early settlers and used by early explorers. From there we continued to Lexington, NE, Kelly Airport “LXN” for fuel. This route put us just to the north side of the Platte River, flanked by a railroad track and roads. It's pretty vacant out there! Next fuel stop was “MYJ” Mexico Memorial in MO. Not much going on. Fueled up and left. What we thought was an easy trip to M93 Houston Cty, turned out to be fraught with building afternoon cumulonimbus with a line forming at the Mississippi River. We were diverting south to stay clear of build ups, and on this leg it became very frustrating to try and follow our route on the charts, just as we experienced getting into Springfield, CO. We passed some mean looking stuff to our south and reported to the tower at an airport we were passing that it looked like they were about to get rain. We probably should have quit flying and landed but continued on. We were getting in deeper into the weather system and the 496 was painting a lot of red in front and some around us too. So, we put down at Popular Bluff MO for the night. They wanted $50 to park in the hanger, versus a free tie down. I told them no way $50 and the young man asked what I'd be willing to pay. I offered $15 and didn't budge when he countered higher and finally agreed to my offer. One benefit was they had a courtesy car, it was 5pm and they were closing for the night, and we'd get a $10 discount at the local hotel, Bullwinkle's! Such a deal, all for $15 and some gas in the car. Bullwinkle's was just OK, but out away from town so we used the car to get some Italian eats in town.

Next morning, we had low vis for our hour flight into MQY and we didn't get very high so we had interesting landscape to watch as we crossed the rivers. Total trip flying was about 15 hours. To do this by Car surely would have taken over 55 hours and would not have been as much fun! As I plan for our trip this year, I'm sure our seasoned reasoning and experience will come in handy. I'm thinking of going up to S. Dakota to fly over Mt Rushmore, or perhaps farther NW to Custer, WY, AKA Yellowstone Park. This year, we may file IFR and avoid the trouble of flight following, opening and closing flight plans, not worrying about MOA's and getting some updates on the weather versus watching Red and Yellow on the 496 that really isn't there; did it move by the time you get there or just vaporize ???? Also, I'm going to have to learn to keep a camera handy on these trips and to more of the travel log thing. I wish now for more airborne shots, but they are tricky with the glare from the canopy.

YUP, We're loving the RV!