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More lessons learned

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Sep. 8th, 2016 | 08:34 pm

When I first started flying I was told that there were "plateaus", much as there are in working out, losing weight, etc. and at those plateaus people who know things turn into complete idiots.  I was told pilots make huge mistakes at about 100 hours... 200 hours... 500 hours.  I could not imagine that I would ever do any of those things, and when I passed 100 hours without a major mistake I was pretty happy with myself... and same at 200 hours.

This weekend was a trip to Las Vegas.  It's either a long trip or a short trip depending on your point of view.  The short part of it is that it's a 3.2hr trip with one fuel stop.  The long part of it is that most of the flight is over sheer Arizona desert without any cities, water, or fuel to be found.  Good planning is a must.  I've done this flight several times before and this time would be a little different.

First, I brought a friend to keep me company and to navigate -- Respectfully, henceforth, The Navigator.  Second, this time instead of giving someone my flight plan and saying "Hey if I don't call you by such-and-such time call 911" I file a flight plan.  Flight plans are not required for visual flight over land not crossing the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone - AKA the border).  I've only once filed a flight plan while doing a Stage-3 check with CFI James and we didn't close it out prior to setting down... and he turned the radio off to debrief me... and long story short it's a good thing a Company pilot was on the ramp next to us to let Tower know we were on the ground OK or it would have been search and rescue (SAR) dispatch time.

This time I filed a flight plan that allowed for a delay of 30 minutes in leaving (0900MST schedule 0930 communicated to Flight Services) and 4hr for a flight time that normally takes 3.2hrs.  I did it using Skyvector (http://www.skyvector.com) and once you set up a flight plan you can click on a link to file... they send you a link to activate it... and you also get a link to deactivate it.  Awesome.

I fueled up for the first leg to Buckey AZ (KBXK) and added an additional 30 minutes.  That's the flight, the reserve (20m), and another 10m.  I should have topped off the tanks -- two people, not much weight, no reason not to.  I got all NOTAMs all TFRs all PIREPs and everything else necessary to make a safe flight.  We took off at 0920 and headed to Buckeye.  Everything was copacetic until we got close and their AWOS announced a NOTAM that "Drew is unavailable Thursday through Sunday."  I don't know who Drew is or why he's not there.   Poor guy.  As I called in on the CTAF saying that we're going into the fuel ramp another pilot on frequency radioed helpfully that "Fuel is unavailable."  Oh.  Fuel.  Not "Drew".  Got it.  I had alternates picked out but... instead of going to Goodyear (KGYR) which is going backward... but 4.6 miles away... I wanted to go to Wickenburg which is continuing along the way.  The problem is that I hadn't put Wickenburg on my kneeboard so didn't know its IATA/ICAO code (E25) nor the distance.

The Navigator pulled out the Phoenix Sectional Chart, and despite my incorrect instructions on how to flip it (keep in mind I'm flying the helicopter... flying first... aviate, navigate, communicate) found it and at the same time Helpful Other Pilot helped me out when I asked and said it's E25.  I punched it into the Garmin GNS530 and the distance/timing looked reasonable so I headed there.  So... mistake#2 is not listing alternates I'm *likely* to *want* to go to... not just list alternates that I *could* go to but wouldn't unless things are bad.

We headed to E25 and when we were 2 miles out the low fuel light came on.  I hate that light.  It means I messed up.  It should never ever come on in flight.  It's a failure of the pilot to anticipate flight conditions and properly plan the flight.  I flew in a way that would give us a place to set down if we had to and we landed at the fuel ramp in Wickenburg.

We then fueld up and I made mistake#3.  I did not sample the fuel.  Seriously, here we are in the middle of northwest Phoenix, having exhausted most of our fuel supply (we had 12 minutes of fuel left) and I just took on a full load and didn't sample it.  We then flew toward Las Vegas although at this point I realized the aircraft was consuming more fuel than I had anticipated based on past experiences and was planning a POSSIBLE precautionary stop at Laughlin/Bullhead City (KIFP) along the way.  We headed to the Colorado River and there were magnificent sites, mesas, mountains, rivers, and of course The Colorado.  I believe we would have made it to North Las Vegas with no issues but already recognizing that poor planning/possible ego had caused one error I decided to do the stop to ensure there were no issue.  I had KIFP on my kneeboard and an airport diagram ready for use.  This turned out to be useful as the tower controller wanted us on a left downwind (fixed-wing aircraft pattern) for the runway until he saw us... Good planning here.

We stopped at KIFP, refueled the aircraft, and got back in.  An MD-500 landed so we watched him come down, then headed north, up the river, toward Hoover Dam.  This segment was amazing, with great scenery of water-cut mountains, the dam, the new bridge, and Lake Meade all around.  At Boulder City (KBVU) I announced our presence, and went through Railroad Pass higher than ever before -- actually above the pass -- to get Las Vegas and North Las Vegas ("Northtown") ATIS.  Called into Las Vegas helicopter control on 123.82 and they vectored us over the Boulder Highway to Northtown.

We landed at Northtown, perfect setdown along the middle of the H of the south helipad at the west ramp and got our stuff... said thank you to the people inside.  By prior arrangement Brian and Bianca of 702Helicopters (http://www.702helicopters.com) let us park there and are very nice about providing any resources/facilities necessary.  It's a lot better than going to a random FBO and being told to "park away from the Cessnas."  The Navigator picked up her gear and we headed for the gate to call a rideshare driver and go unwind.

--That was Thursday.  KTUS-->E25-->KIFP-->KVGT--
Coming up next, the return trip, which was a LOT hairier.   No fuel light tho.


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