Catching up on April 28th 2018
Whilst waiting for high winds over the Sierra mountains to subside, Saturday 28th April was spent at Beale Air Force Base’s first open day since 2011. Below are a few photo’s taken at the event.
Although the BZIM arrived in Santa Paula, California, as planned yesterday 24th April, part one of the trip wasn’t complete until the BZIM and I flew over the Pacific Ocean. So, it was with great pleasure, I had my host, Henry Trikelife, accompany me on the flight, from Santa Paula to Santa Barbara and return flying out to and over the Pacific. Henry’s videos are truly inspirational…. It’s his fault!
Fly, eat, fly, eat, fly, Sleep.
That sums it up.
Bit more detail? Ok, just some brief details. More details will follow.
Navasota to Burnet Muni to Odessa. Next day, Odessa to Cavern City airport. Then 2 days delay due winds and a storm took til Saturday 21st April. Thats when the last post was made. Saturday took me to Santa Rosa route 66 airport then Moriaty, Estancia, spending the night at Double Eagle, hosted by Damien. Sunday was great flying with a number of other local trike pilots and then onto Bluff then Monument Valley airport. The evening ended with a brake cable snap at Marble Canyon airport. Monday, flying continued to Page, then Vallie and Grand Canyon cavern airport, followed by Jean. This was very difficult flying conditions! More info will follow. Next Furnace Creek, Death Valley and Stovepipe Wells. Finally today 24th April, Stovepipe Wells to Kern Valley, which is where I type and will post this. Expect to make Santa Paula today where I will stay until brake cable arrives. If the fog lifts I will also fly over the Pacific, completing the first coast to coast. Just one other coast after that.
Catching up Tuesday April 24th 2018:
Airspace around Death Valley consists of, in part, MOA’s (Military Operations Area’s), restricted airspace and military low level training routes. Nellis AFB (Air Force Base), China Lake NAWS (Naval Air Weapons Station) and Edwards AFB aircraft, can be found operating near the area.
With military airspace and fighter jet traffic in mind, it was another pre-dawn awakening. Overnight accommodation had been at the local Stovepipe Wells village hotel.
The BZIM was packed, ready to go by 6am, just as dawn approached. Mountain tops glowing orange in the distance. The cool morning temperatures would make the flying smoother. The military won’t be flying yet too, I hoped.
Departing straight out, runway 23, it was a slow steady climb from Stovepipe’s 25 feet elevation to the 5500 feet needed to pass the first ridge, north of Pinto Peak, eleven miles away. Crossing the ridge, the plan was to descend, towards the desert floor below.
Approaching the MOA’s, I listened to Joshua Approach, the controlling ATC authority. It was a surprise -so early in the morning- to hear the the military controller, speaking to obvious military call-signed aircraft. Although only one side of the conversation was heard, a picture was slowly being painted of fast jet aircraft in the area. One jet was given a clearance which included ‘the transition’. The ‘transition’ I took to to mean the infamous ‘Jedi transition’, the name given to an area where military aircraft switch between defined low flying routes. It involves flying through Rainbow Canyon, low and at high speed. This was directly where I had planned to descend towards after the ridge.
Instead, the BZIM’s climb continued. Two way radio contact was established with Joshua Approach. I was now happier knowing the military knew I was in the area, but disappointed not to be able to fly Rainbow Canyon myself. The only aircraft seen though, was a civilian Beech 90 King Air, also skirting the R2505 restricted area, in the opposite direction.
Reaching an altitude over 9500 feet, the flying was smooth, calm and the views were simply breathtaking. Snow covered mountains peaks to the west, scorched deserts and mountains everywhere else.
Rather than fly over the mountains to the west, the western edge of R-2505 was followed south until reaching Walker Pass (5246 feet), near Indian Wells. Here Joshua Approach were thanked for their service and the BZIM descended between the mountains routing to Kern Valley airport (L05).
Flight time from Stovepipe Wells to Kern Valley was a leisurely 2 hours 19 minutes. Distance flown, 133 miles.
Generosity and kindness, was again, something I would find at Kern Valley. At the cafe, I was welcomed by Shoan and Bea, who cooked up a hearty breakfast. Telling the story of my adventure, Paul Shoemaker, a local pilot, insisted on paying. Paul then offered to drive into town, to get fuel, for my external tank. Although I pressed him to accept payment, Bea told me that I was be wasting my time trying to pay. If Paul wanted to pay, I should let him. Thank you Paul.
Another local “back-country” pilot arrived, asking, why I ended up in Kern Valley. During research for my trip, I was searching online for airfields that offered “camping under the wing”. Kern Valley promotes this pastime, having a camping area on the airfield, so it featured quickly in search results. Seeing images of the picturesque airport, Kern Valley airport was always going to be a ‘target’, camping or not.
I learned there are many small dirt strips dotted around the area, many not marked on any official aviation chart. I had overflown a few, thinking they were private airstrips. As the BZIM had no brakes, I had little thoughts of ‘ticking off’ a few… Perhaps one day.
Fron the airport, many military fighter aircraft were seen to pass to the west of Kern Valley. Here low flying route IR236 begins. Seeing F15’s, F22’s, F18’s descend into the valley, I was glad to have stayed flying high earlier in the morning.
Two hours after my arrival, it was time to say goodbye. A fly past was aborted after realizing I would have been flying too low and close to workers cutting grass.
My next destination, and stay location for the next few days, was Santa Paula airport.
A new brake cable had been sent from P&M Aviation in the UK, to Santa Paula c/o the airport manager, Rowena. Here I would fit the new cable.
Santa Paula is the home-base of fellow pilot, trike owner and amazing videographer, Henry ‘TrikeLife’ Imagawa.
Henry has been making awesome trike flying videos for years! The airports, scenery and obvious freedom seen in his videos, is a major factor in why I wanted to come to, and fly across the United States.
Henry’s videos are truly inspirational.
The flight towards Santa Paula was uneventful. Aware I would now be approaching potentially busier airspace, I chose to stay low, flying between hills and mountains rather than over them. Exiting the hills east of Bakersfield, undulating land was briefly followed by a flat valley. Soon the final mountain range would be weaved, following Interstate 5, avoiding a number of Condor sanctuary areas, where overflight of at least 3000 feet is required.
Flown distance from Kern Valley to Santa Paula was 122 miles.
Time taken was two hours twenty one minutes.
Santa Paula is only 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Approaching the airport, there was no sign of the coastline in the distance. Haze and low lying clouds were out to the west.
Soon after parking on the transient apron, I was introducing myself and being welcomed by airport manager Rowena. I was offered use of the en-site airport pilot accommodation for my first nights stay. With an added bonus, it included access to a washing machine and drier. Good use was made of both.
Within an hour of landing, Henry TrikeLife arrived. Henry offered a home for the BZIM, along with a place for me to sleep for the second night at Santa Paula, in his hanger.
I briefly met Henry at SunNFun two years previously. My heavy Scottish accent had been difficult for Henry to ‘catch’ first time, but even back then, after telling him of my planned adventure, he gave me a business card. “You contact me and we can fly together”. Here I was, two years later. Henry would soon fly with me as I crossed the Pacific coastline. But not today. Visibility wouldn’t improve until late Wednesday afternoon.
The brake cable was scheduled to arrive “by Friday 27th”, three days away. As is ever the case, a car is a necessity in America. Henry dropped me off at Enterprise, provided me with the keys to his hanger and said he would return Wednesday around midday. Time to relax at the ‘airport hotel’.
Catching up April 23rd April 2018
Jokingly or not, a few people questioned my need for brakes. That thought, from the previous evening, lead me to decide to fly out of Marble Canyon first thing, brakes or no brakes. I would position to Page Municipal airport (KPGA). From there I would be able to communicate with the world and have access to mechanics who might assist with any repair.
At 5:00 am I was awake and re-packing everything that I had laid out on the floor from the previous afternoon. Next it was trekking back and forward, back and forward, between my hotel room and the BZIM. The early morning was nice and fresh. Cool for locals it seemed, a few appearing wearing jackets and trousers. It was 16’C, almost a summers day back home in Scotland.
The preparations were completed as the sun rose, turning the canyon sides flaming red. Wow, wow and wow. This is why so many people awake and outside already.
With no wheel brakes I had to leave the aircraft chocked as the engine was started and oil temperature brought up to 50’C. At that point, the engine was turned off, chocks stored and engine restarted. iEfis on, radio on, transponder on, traffic monitor on, lights and strobes on, final checks carried out, radio call announcing my immediate departure, final look around and the BZIM was rolling.
Less than 12 hours earlier I had resigned myself to being stuck at Marble Canyon for days. Less than twelve hours later, the BZIM and I, back where we were supposed to be be! In the air, flying,
After departing and turning north east, it was difficult resisting the temptation, to do as many pilots dream of doing, flying under a bridge. The Navajo Bridge in this case. Resist I did though, fearful of being seen and reported on. The the FAA would likely be quick revoking my permission to fly. Perhaps one day, somewhere!
The flight to Page airport was short, only twenty minutes. Landing with winds, calm. Runway length of almost 6000 feet, at an elevation of 4316 feet. The BZIM had slowed to taxing speed well before it vacated the runway at the midpoint. Using the slope of the apron and cutting the engine at the correct moment slowed the BZIM to a stop and soon it was parked alongside a nice, similarly green coloured, Cessna.
Starting, departing, landing and parking were all accomplished without brakes. I now could see no reason why I should wait for parts to arrive before continuing. A quick telephone to P&M Aviation in the UK, confirmed the part required. The part would be sent to an airport ahead of me. By 8:00 am the BZIM was airborne again, continuing the adventure.
As I was heading south west again, I decided to fly another approach to Marble Canyon airport. The previous evening I had been speaking to one of two french pilots that had flown into Marble Canyon. They were preparing their aircraft, stopping to wave, as I flew a low approach. Now towards the Grand Canyon!
As the morning temperatures increased, so did the thermals. Heading south towards the southern edge of the Grand Canyon I could see the land rise and rise in front of me. Stronger thermal jolts were being felt the higher above ground the BZIM flew. Knowing the conditions would only continue to worsen as the morning progressed, I decided to forgo the goal of flying over the Grand Canyon. A late evening flight, or very early morning flight would provide the best flying conditions to cross the Canyon. I had missed that window.
The decision was made to instead fly to Grand Canyon Valle Airport, roughly 25 miles due south of the Grand Canyon. Overflying the Kaibab National Forest provided a change from the desert landscape of previous flights.
The generosity offered to visiting pilots at US airports was once again a pleasure to behold at Valle. Handed to keys to the owners own large pick up truck, I drove to the local gas station for unleaded and then to Fred’s Diner, Bedrock City for breakfast.
Valle Airport is the location of the “Planes of Fame Air Museum”. Unfortunately closed, however some aircraft were visible whilst air-side.
Valle airport is 5999 feet above sea level. Departing around 11:15, temperature 20’C with a density altitude of almost 7800 feet. Ahead, the land would increase height to around 6800 feet. Crossing this higher ground wasn’t easy. Full power, bar slightly pushed out, trying to climb, was only keeping the microlight flying at level flight. Occasionally a shallow climb would develop but maintaining the climb was difficult. Airspeed around 52mph. Relaxing the bar, returning to a cruise speed of 60 mph resulted in the microlight descending below the top of the land ahead. Turning away from the hills, looking options, the BZIM entered a thermal and climbed. Quickly putting the BZIM into a turn, I tried to stay within the thermal for as long as possible. Finally, at around 1000 ft above the height of the hills, I continued at full power crossing the hills, finally able to descend towards the Las Vegas valley and Jean
The next four hours flying, crossing wasteland, canyons, hills, dry lake-beds and mountains was some of the toughest, relentless flying I’d encounter. The dry lake-beds, hills and mountains had to be weaved through. Any attempt to try to climb resulted in slow long drawn out climbs with increasing turbulance due to the higher winds aloft.
Having left the seat on a number of occasions, jolted by rotor from jagged hill tops, I weaved between lower ridges, always aware from which direction the wind was coming from. Finally as the last ridge was passed I could relax, knowing the worst was over. Jean would soon be round the corner. Landing in a 18 mph, gusting more crosswind, it felt good being able to relax.
Two aircraft, a Cessna and a PA28 were bashing the circuit as I taxied to the apron. The skydiving school was busy inside, no sign of any venturing outside til later perhaps.
The BZIM was tied one wing down with some nice weighty chains. A quick check of the wind forecast to see if there was to be any change in direction. None forecast. With a hotel/casino close, I contemplated staying the night. My en-route flight calculations had implied there was not enough time to get into Death Valley. I would have to wait til the morning. This would make leaving the Death Valley area mid morning a bit more difficult.
During reviewing of my plans, eating at a Denny’s, somehow it appeared I now did have time to reach Death Valley. What? how? …I suddenly realized, I had forgot to adjust for yet another time zone that had passed.
A quick call to Stovepipe Wells ensured a hotel room was available. Hoping the winds had lessened, a quick return to the airport didn’t provide much relief. Refuel first. Avgas this time. A local pilot was surprised to see a weight shift trike flying today, even more surprised to see a UK one. He advised to be wary of the mountains and military airspace to the north, saying the winds wouldn’t die down for another hour or so. An hour delay would mean I couldn’t make my destination.
The flight across the mountains was nothing compared to the previous four hour flight. After the first ridge passed, the wind calmed a lot. Once again, flying was pure enjoyment. A strange, in the middle of no-where, complex was overflown. False buildings and rooms were obvious. Only when targets were seen was it clear this was some sort of weapons training facility. Front Sight Firearms Training I later learned was the complex.
Continuing the flight towards Death Valley, it was surprising to see areas of new built housing communities located in such a dry arid area. The lush greenness of lawns was obvious and out of place in comparison to the surrounding desert seen from above. Flying conditions, continued to improve, allowing low flight between hill areas.
Eventually Furnace Creek, was spotted, an approach and landing made to the lowest airport in the USA at −210 feet below sea level. The landing was only for a log book entry.
Departure without stopping, heading across Death Valley to Stovepipe Wells, flying low level, even flying below sea level!
The landing at Stovepipe Wells didn’t go quite to plan. Late touchdowns and a down sloping runway from the mid-point, resulted in the engine having to be quickly started and power increased to take-off before the runway end. Eventually after three landing attempts, the BZIM landed and was parked for the night. Just as the sun set.
A true sunrise to sunset flying day!
Continuing catch up for April 22nd 2018I left Damien, Mark, Michael, Frank and Henry behind, on a high. Following Damien’s advice, I made Shiprock my first goal, just over 120 miles to the north west. During the almost two hour flight, there were many strange looking and fascinating natural geographical land features. Obvious dry river beds could be seen carved into the surface.
Dry river beds are also fun to fly in!
Many formations are caused by water and wind erosion, with others caused through volcanic processes. Many of the ‘carvings’ are below the high flat plains of the area. The plains exist at around 6500ft above sea level. Most features are hidden below the distant horizon and are not noticeable until much closer. One area overflown is known as the “Bisti Badlands”. The ‘features’ within this area are 200ft > 400ft below the height of the surrounding plains. The area was once a river delta that lay west of the shore of an ancient sea. These ‘badlands’ are little traveled and relatively unknown compared to others, due partially to it’s remoteness. Much of the area is only accessible by foot and is not visible from the main NM371 highway which runs closest to the area.
One hour forty eight minutes after leaving Cabezon Peak, pushed by a slight tailwind, the BZIM was touching down at Shiprock airfield.Landing at Shiprock was simply for an photo opportunity and to add a log book entry. There was no wind and it was hot. Much more pleasant in the air, so within minutes of landing the BZIM was airborne again heading towards the infamous throat of a volcano, known as Shiprock. Rising 1,583 feet above the high desert plain, it’s peak is 7,177 feet above sea level.
After a few orbits of Shiprock, a heading was set towards Bluff airfield. Landing again was only to add an entry into the logbook, this time not even stopping for a photo. After Bluff, routing next was towards the famous Monument Valley. I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw next. Again, the flatness to the surrounding area hides the change of view, until it was suddenly right in front and below. The San Juan river twists and turns, advancing forward whilst carving an ever deepening canyon. Quickly the river is 1000ft below the surrounding area.
Monument Valley airport was an ideal stopping point, to grab a bite to eat and refuel from the gas station just across the road from the airport. With three portable tanks fill ups and two fuel transfers, it was two and a half hours later before the BZIM was airborne again.Flying conditions, were still perfect as the BZIM got airborne just before 3pm. The wind had increased a little, but this wasn’t of concern. Being aware of the wind direction in flight (thanks to the MGL Discovery Lite), its possible to make an educated guess where any rotor or turbulence may be encountered. This allowed for these areas to be avoided with ease. Only when entering a canyon, was the occasional jolt felt.
The final flight of the day would take me to Marble Canyon around an hour and a half away. Routing would follow the spectacular Colorado river as it meandered into Lake Powell. I had been warned to expect stunning views, as ever 😉
Words can’t describe the sense of awe, nor the feeling of being so lucky to be experiencing these sights. Flying in an open cockpit weight-shift microlight added a degree of freedom and connection that is unique!
The final stages of the last flight of the day provided a stunning approach to Marble Canyon airport. Again, Marble Canyon was chosen due to the proximity of a gas station opposite providing unleaded gasoline.
Today was an almost a perfect day. Meeting everyone from Double Eagle airport NM, perfect flying weather, some amazing photos, videos and memories. Nothing would ever bring me down from the joy I was feeling as I landed at Marble Canyon….
Marble Canyon airport is located exactly where it says. Within a canyon. Following the cable brake, I found I had no mobile phone reception therefore no internet connection. Quickly booking a room at the hotel across the road from the airfield, I learned they had no wifi access. They did have a single PC available in the reception area, for all guests to use. The BZIM was completely unloaded to gain access to the whole brake cable. I fully expected to be stranded for a few days, so moved everything from the BZIM to the hotel room. Over the next few days, I could sort through the items I had been carrying, whilst waiting on parts for the brakes.
An email was hastily sent to P&M aviation in the UK, describing my predicament. I requested a new cable be sent out to me from the UK. With it being the middle of the night in the UK, I would have to wait til the next day for any reply. With the hotel reception area closing at 9pm, a final check of the messages sent out on Facebook. I noted some comments questioning whether I needed brakes.
After all they were only (for) slowing me down!
Catching up Sunday 22nd April (part 1)
What a day! What a day!
My thanks, again, to my host Damien and his wife. Awake just after 5am, by 5:30am Damien’s father in law was cooking breakfast for three. Just what was needed for the day ahead!
Albuquerque pilots prefer to fly early and be back at base, Double Eagle, by around 9am. This allows them to fly close to the stunning scenery without fear of thermic or gusty conditions caused by the intense heat that builds during the day. Either that or they all have jobs they need to get to.
Today, the weather, and therefore flying conditions, were perfect. These conditions are the reason 5 trike pilots took to the air, just after sunrise (I was told my presence may have been a factor, but I am not convinced). Lead by Damien Beresford, then myself, then Mark Morton, Michael Hyde and Frank Roush, all 5 danced a merry dance through the still air towards the red coloured cliff edges, mesa’s and the many extinct volcanoes.
The population is sparse, roads are dirt, long and empty. This provides ample ‘outs’, landing on almost any road, should a problem arise. As every pilot knows, its wise to practice emergency situations, simulating problems and carrying out the necessary actions. Perfect excuse for landing on a road somewhere. As a new ‘runway’ is discovered, a name is often given to that stretch of road. “Dirt road” doesn’t look too good in the logbook. Following Michael Hyde’s lead, I selected a stretch of road.
As I touched down on the deserted gravel road “Stalkers Landing” was born. Not sure if it was noticed at the time, but Stalkers landing actually had two runways. A bend in the road, led to the departure being on a different heading (runway) than the landing.
I have always equated flying a microlight as like having your own personal roller coaster, with added stunning views. The image below goes some way to prove my analogy.
One of the goals of this outing was to try obtain some stunning aerial photography of the BZIM set against the beauty of the New Mexico landscape. Damien scored many goals. The remaining images were all taken by Damien. (click image for larger view)
Finally it was time to say good-bye to my new flying friends. My adventure must continue. Damien suggested a routing further south than I had initially planned, simply to save time. Visiting the Canyonlands and landing at a dirt strip in a canyon, would no longer take place. I could see the dirt strip landing would be no different from what I had just been doing. Landing at Bluff and the canyons around that area, along with Lake Powell would lesson any disappointment about missing the Canyonlands. I left the remaining pilots around 9:30am, thirty minutes past their usual return time. They were even talking about heading to another area to “play”. Perhaps the cut-off time 9am never really existed, or they are pushing those limits, or perhaps because it was Sunday, they didn’t have to be at work. I’ll let them answer that in the comments!