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Vegas Trip, Cross-Country Flight Planning, and then some

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Mar. 20th, 2016 | 02:12 pm

This weekend I needed a break and had planned to take a trip to Las Vegas.  Originally slated from Thursday through Monday, it had to be delayed because the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) had been out for repair and been returned but was not yet installed in the aircraft.  George, the guy who owns the hangar and the Bell Jetrangers, installed the ELT and it was good to go but logistics had already booked a leak-detector at the house (172,000 gallons of water gone nowhere and $3,200 in charges, yikes!) and I'd cancelled the hotel reservation...

The flight was therefore rescheduled to Friday and I had a straight-line course plotted out from Tucson to Lake Havasu City to go have lunch with Nick (and refuel the aircraft) enroute to North Las Vegas.  This route goes right over Buckeye, another favorite refueling point.  However, Tucson Tower did not clear me direct to that route (300°) but rather wanted me to head to "A-Mountain then on course" which meant I was further north.  Subsequently I would be too close to the Kodiak Military Drop Zone at Pinal Airpark (KMZJ).  Option 1 - head further west and away from everything then head northwest.  Option 2 - head northeast toward the I-10 freeway, and pass along the east side of Marana (KAVQ) and Pinal and continue toward Buckeye.   I liked this option more because there were many more airports along the way, there was a three-lane per side freeway and a two lane frontage road below me ("where to go") and I could save fuel/time by not climbing mountains to the west.

In the Robinson helicopters, unlike most piston-powered fixed-wing aircraft, we do not lean the fuel/air mixture as we go up in altitude.  Consequently there's no fuel savings in climbing.  To the contrary... when we climb we're trading a reduced airspeed for a climb rate, so we lose airspeed and time.  If we have to come back down the other side of the mountain we'll get some of it back but never all of it (second law of thermodynamics).  This means that if I eventually want to be at 783ft above mean sea level (MSL) which is where Lake Havasu City airport (KHII) is, there's a good reason to avoid extra climbing.  Thus the route to the east over I-10 was taken.

After crossing Marana and Pinal I continued heading toward Buckeye, passing to the west side of Picacho Peak and far away from Eloy Airport (E60) and their all-day skydiving fun.   At Buckeye they also have skydiving and their automated weather system (AWOS) has a notice to airmen (NOTAM) indicating that there may be jump operations from 13,500ft on the east side of the airport.  These were not in operation when I came by and I crossed east to west.  Some gravelly-sounding old-timer got on the radio and chided me for being east of the airport when there could be skydiviers there.  Seeing as I'd called out my position on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) ten miles out, seven point five, and five miles out as well as right before crossing and right after crossing... it was evident there was no jump plane, no jump people, and no jump activity.  I responded professionally, thanked the guy for the head's up, and went along my merry way resolved to avoid the east side of Buckeye airport.

The entire route between Tucson to Buckeye to Lake Havasu to North Las Vegas goes through various military operating areas (MOAs) that we're allowed to fly through.  Most are inactive during the weekend.  There are no restricted areas to avoid, and once out west of Buckeye nobody to talk to for 50 miles or so.

About 70 miles out of KHII was up around 6000ft having crossed a mountain that looked cool enough not to go around and I heard some KHII traffic on the radio.  I called for a radio check and got two responses -- I was loud and clear.  It's good to know the radio has that kindo f reach!

When I got within tenminutes I called Desert Skies FBO to let them know I was inbound and wold like parking and fuel.  They said they'd send a Follow-Me vehicle.  I then proceeded inbound, crossed the active east to west at 500ft above ground level (AGL) and then detoured north a bit to dump altitude.  I returned south to follow the FM car, and park it.  Nick drove up, and we went and had lunch.  "College Streeet Brewhouse" was great.  I had the steak sandwich.  Nick had the chicken croissante.  The view was great (spring break in Lake Havasu...) and so was the iced tea.  It's amazing how many great brewhouses I get to when I'm flying, where I can't even taste a sample.

On the return to the airport, I was given the fuel reeipt.  Turns out I used 16.1 gallons per hour (GPH) on the flight.  That's the first full-tank to full-tank flight I've done since Manny reset the fuel/air mixture on the Lycoming IO540 engine.  It was good to get a baseline number.  There's no significant flight-planning difference between 16.1 GPH and 17.6 GPH (what it was previously getting) except we can plan an extra 3 gallons over two hours.  The main tank holds 29.5 gallons and the auxiliary tank 17.0 gallons.  Together, that 46.5 gallons at 16.5GPH (my eventual trip average) is 2.8 hours.  Subtract 0.33 (reserve of 20 minutes) and 2.49 hours or 2 hours 29.3 minutes -- just shy of 2.5 hours (plus reserve).   That's excellent for planning purposes.

I'd also asked them to clean the windshield of all the bugs, and had tipped at the counter.  My comment at that time was "Well if they did it please give this to whomever did it, and if they didn't please shame them into doing it."  The latter panned out.

My bubble clear of bugs, my fuel bladders filled, my personal bladders emptied, and the hot sun beating down in the 25°C (77°F) day I started up the aircraft and made for a northbound departure.  Once aloft I headed for Boulder City airport (KBVU).  There are several ways to enter Las Vegas airspace and the two easiest ones are either Boulder City or Lake Meade.  The latter has a VFR entry at 3500 ft but the last time I tried that they said "unable" and wanted me to climb to 7000ft.  Builder City is closer, quicker, and safer.

Along the way I was not over the Colorado Rier most of the time, and crossed it a couple of times.  Most notably I crossed it just south of Laughlin/Bullhead City airport (KIFP) after talking with their Class Delta tower controller.  He wanted me to pass on his west side... likely because the tower is east of the landing runway, and I did.  I got to fly over all the new hotels and casinos.  Then I continued till I saw a good break in the mountains on the west and took that route so I could head north to KBVU.  That's not the most direct route but it does provide lots of good clear flat ground underneanth ("where would you go?").

From Boulder I called out my position to the Railroad Pass, entered in, and then picked up McCarran airport (KLAS) ATIS, and called hlicopter control on 123.82.   I let them know I was going to follow the Boulder Highway to "Northtown" (local slang for North Las Vegas airport, KVGT) at or below 2900.  They cleared me to enter Class Bravo airspace, assigned me a discrete beacon ("squawk") code,   As I approached the "Spaghetti Bowl" (where I-15 and US-95 meet) they advised of a metro PD helicopter one mile west and told me to climb to 3500 to avoid.  They then turned me over to KVGT.

My call into KVGT was simple - "North Las Vegas Tower, Helicopter 04X with you 3500 looking for the Metro traffic, inbound for Rancho ramp with Foxtrot."  They cleared me to come in on the west side, so I did just that.  On final approach I could swear there were already two birds on the two helipads.  I asked Tower to confirm but they couldn't see from their vantage point.  I said if I couldn't park there I'd do a missed approach and go to the South Ramp.  They approved.  Sure enough there were two helicopters and I called for the Go-Around and did a climb out then a slow 270° left to the South Ramp.

On approach to the South Ramp it was steep but not rushed, and I had a thought that I should sidestep just in case I was getting into a vortext ring state (VRS) condition.  I performed it flawlessly without any extra thought and watched my rate of descent cut in half.  I caught that VRS before it was even a thing.  Perfect set-down and packed my stuff off and went walking to the 702 Helicopters hangar.  They were really nice and apologized for having both helicopters out on the ramp.  They then offered to take the helicopter into the hangar overnight.  I happily accepted!

One Uber ride later I was checking into my hotel.
Five hours later it was clear I needed to get back.
0800 I was at 702 Helicopters pulling out the aircraft.  I called 702-261-3803 and got fuel delivered.  They took my CC# over the phone and emailed me a receipt.

I got KVGT ATIS, KLAS ATIS, called KVGT tower to ask for transition along the Boulder Highway to Boulder with Class Bravo services.  They had me hold while they got me a squawk code.  Then I was cleared to depart south.  I then called KLAS tower (123.82) and they cleared me to enter Class Bravo and proceed along the Boulder Highway.

Then KBVU, headed east just north of it, crossed the Colorado River in a craggly spot with no flat land, and followed US 93 to just about north of Buckeye.  At KBXK arrived from the west, did a mid-field transition, and then a right corkscrew to the fuel ramp.   The facilities are nice, the friedge stocked with cold water (and snacks) and self-serve fuel delivered my last round of fueling for this trip.

I then replenished the camelbag water bottle with the patented spout, the vacum lined thermos bottle with the backup ice water, and headed off to Tucson.

The flight inbound was bereft of any notable events... I flew in, I landed, I put the aircraft in the hangar, and I left.

What a weekend.E

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