Flight 1: Boise, ID to Casper, WY
Our route was mostly straight eastward with a minor diversion north of Jackson Hole, WY thanks to a Temporary Flight Restriction around Vice President Cheney’s residence in Jackson Hole. This detour originally seemed to be an inconvenience, but actually provided a glimpse of south Yellowstone Park and a beautiful view of the Teton Mountains with Jackson Lake at the base. I believe everything happens for a reason. Phil and I will be reminded of this several times throughout our trip.
The Casper airport was quiet, but we found plenty of help at AeroCare. They had us fueled in no time and allowed us to borrow their courtesy car to grab some lunch while they filled our oxygen tank. After a quick bite, we headed back to AeroCare for a weather briefing before take off. Phil checked the weather while I hooked up the oxygen before our next flight.
Fortunately I tested the oxygen system before getting in the airplane. I found a crack in the control knob. I was concerned because we definitely needed oxygen for our next leg. After a little head-scratching the crew at AeroCare figured out a way to use a Vise-Grip to turn the oxygen on and off. The 20-minute delay for the oxygen bottle appeared to be a nuisance but turned out to be a lucky break (I will explain later).
While Nancy was taking care of the oxygen snafu, I was talking to the FAA weather folks to get an update on the weather between Casper and Iowa City. For most of our previous trips, I got all my weather information over the internet since I though this was easier than trying to write everything down while talking to a weather briefer over the phone. During this trip, I’ve learned that getting a verbal briefing is much easier to comprehend. The amount of weather information available via the computer is sometimes too much to take in, especially for a long trip through unfamiliar areas. The FAA Flight Service Specialists are skilled at giving pilots the “big picture” while still including enough details for flight planning purposes.
Overall the weather looked good. There were scattered cumulous clouds at our planned altitude, but nothing significant. I did use the computer at the airport to view radar plots and other charts. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and what I saw on the charts helped me understand the verbal weather description the Flight Service Specialist gave me.
Flight 2: Casper, WY to Iowa City, IA
Departing Casper, we were expecting to be in the clouds for 2 hours of the 4-hour flight to Iowa City. I personally haven’t spent much time in the clouds, so I was less than excited about it. Lucky for me, I can completely trust Phil’s judgment. He knows my comfort levels very well (sometimes better than I do).
The clouds were beautiful from a distance. Tall, white mountains of billowing cotton, but they were coming closer. I cinched my seatbelt and braced myself mentally for our new view. I knew that Phil would be working hard to focus and keep us on track. The last thing he needed was to worry about me breaking down. Lucky for both of us that didn’t happen. When the outside view was blocked, Phil told me to look at the attitude indicator for confirmation that we were still level and disregard the physical sensations of banking and falling. I tried it and it worked! I could easily see that we were flying level and maintaining altitude. I used the trick of looking at the attitude indicator while in the clouds for the remainder of the flight. After a while I was even comfortable reading maps while we were flying in the clouds. Nancy did great, and doing the instrument flying became a lot easier once she became comfortable doing the navigation work while we were in the clouds.
We continued on our route with only one minor deviation for some large, but scenic, cloud build-ups. Our next stop was Sioux City, IA for another weather update and refueling. Flight Service confirmed the weather was good, so we were back in the air without delay for another 1.5 hours of peaceful flight.
Halfway across Iowa, we spotted a rainbow that seemed to encircle us. Rainbows viewed from the ground appear to end at the horizon. From our vantage point at 4,000 feet up the rainbow appeared to continue underneath us and I could actually see the bright colors painting the landscape and farm houses beneath us. It was too cool for words. Soon a second rainbow became visible next to the first one. We snapped as many pictures as possible. Unfortunately the pictures don’t really do justice to the beauty of being wrapped in the rainbow’s colors.
The amazing view continued with a welcoming sunset as we landed at Iowa City. The sky was filled with bright pinks and oranges reflecting off the clouds as we found the airport and activated the runway lights. At this point we both realized the oxygen delay in Casper worked in our favor. If we were able to depart on schedule, we would have missed both the rainbow and sunset landing. They were both worth the wait.
One surprise at Iowa City was the rolling bumps on runway 36 (the runway looked perfectly flat from the air). Though Phil’s landing was smooth, the landing roll felt like a warm up to the roller coaster rides planned for Monday. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it did feel silly.
Our hotel sent a shuttle van to pick us up within minutes of our call. We checked-in, grabbed some dinner, posted a quick web site update and started snoring as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Today was a long day, but very rewarding.