Flight 10 (continued)
The last part of this trip journal left off after our aerial tour of Mount Rushmore.
Back on Course
After completing our turn to intercept the course to Newcastle (ECS), we were just below 10,000 feet and still climbing to our assigned altitude of 12,000 feet. Nancy got the oxygen system turned on and plugged both of us in. Although wearing the nasal cannula for the oxygen supply is never a treat, it was a sign that we were getting closer to home. The colors on our sectional charts had changed from green (depicting the flatlands of Iowa where we started this flying day) to brown (reflecting the higher terrain here in Wyoming).
The air smoothed out as we reached our cruising altitude of 12,000 feet. A few clouds began peppering the sky near Casper, Wyoming. Shortly after passing Casper, ATC requested we climb to 14,000 feet for radar coverage. The clouds thickened but remained decorative and wispy. As we approached the Boysen Reservoir (BOY), we could see a line of puffier clouds lining the horizon. Phil checked the current radar and found the system wasn’t significant enough to display on radar. We continued west with one eye on the weather ahead and one eye on the GPS radar data.
The blue sky gradually faded to gray as the clouds dominated the sky. Right around Dubois, WY we were instructed to climb from 14,000 to 16,000 feet. We were sure that our new altitude would put us right in the cloud bases, but we actually ended up about 200 feet below the clouds. We braced ourselves for the usual turbulence that comes with fluffy clouds on a hot summer afternoon near the mountains. Surprisingly, the air was smooth even under the cloudy ceiling. We felt a gentle bump here and there, but we were both very comfortable.
Although the clouds kept looking more ominous, the air stayed smooth and we finally caught our first glimpse of the Teton Range. The radar display on our Garmin 396 showed no precipitation coming out of the clouds ahead, although there were serious storms well south of us near the Wyoming-Utah border. The air traffic controller that was working us was also dealing with lots of traffic going in and out of Salt Lake City with lots of requests for deviations around the severe weather to the south.
Our original flight plan would have us flying right over Jackson Hole, then straight on to Idaho Falls. Although the weather radar display we had on board showed the path ahead was free of precipitation, and our IFR clearance made it legal to fly through clouds, I just didn’t like the way those clouds looked. Angry looking clouds and big mountains are a bad combination, so I requested a deviation to the north of Jackson where the clouds looked less threatening. ATC immediately granted the request, and cleared us “direct Idaho Falls when able.” I turned about 40 degrees to the right to head a bit north of the Tetons and the dark clouds on the southern end.
On our new heading, we were in and out of the broken cloud layer. When we did actually enter a cloud, we’d only be fully inside for no more than one or two minutes before popping back out into clear air.
As we got closer to Jackson Lake, the sky really cleared up, especially to the west. We had traveled far enough north to clear the highest peaks of the Tetons, so we began a gradual turn left towards our next fuel stop: Idaho Falls, Idaho.
After cruising above the jagged Teton Mountains at 16,000 feet, Idaho Falls seemed quite low and flat. We easily spotted the airport and made our approach for runway 20. We completed our usual fuel fill-up and weather check at the Aero Mark FBO and enjoyed a cold bottle of water before beginning our last leg of this very memorable journey. It was good to be back in our home state of Idaho, and out of the unfriendly clouds we dodged around the Tetons.
Flight 11: Idaho Falls, ID to Nampa, ID
Now that we were in familiar territory, we decided to fly VFR from Idaho Falls to Nampa. We saved time because we weren’t required to climb to the high IFR altitudes. VFR also allowed us more route flexibility. After so many IFR flights during the past two weeks, it was a nice change to navigate the old fashioned way, looking out the window and using the map, and not having to talk to ATC. I was enjoying the freedom of our low-altitude VFR flight — until the bumps began. Nancy and I have done lots of flying, but the turbulence we encountered between Idaho Falls and Nampa was the worst either of us have experienced. I’ve written about flying with a light touch but that wasn’t an option on this flight. I had to grab the control wheel firmly with both hands to maintain our flight attitude while riding out the bumps. We climbed up to 8,500 feet to try to find smoother air, and that did help although the turbulence was still pretty significant. Shortly after reaching the relatively calm air at 8,500 it was time to contact Boise Approach in order to transition their airspace during our approach to Nampa.
After talking to so many different air traffic controllers across the country during this trip, it was nice to hear a familiar voice when Boise Approach answered our radio call. We started a gradual descent to 3,500 to enter the traffic pattern at Nampa and had to ride out a few more big bumps as we got lower.
We landed back at our home airport’s runway 29 and taxied back to our parking spot. We took our time unloading the airplane, although it was good to be back home, we weren’t in a big hurry to leave our trusty Mooney that had again been part of a wonderful flying adventure.
In part 1 of this trip journal, I wrote about the new charts we decided to use for this trip. After crossing the country here are our thoughts on these.
There were pros and cons to using the Air Chart spiral bound charts. We’re still deciding whether we liked using them better than standard paper charts. I think I liked them better than Nancy did, but she’s the navigator. I liked the convenience of all our charts in just three binders, but one drawback to using the binders in flight is the weight. I typically keep the current map on my lap for quick reference. The single traditional paper charts were hardly noticeable, but the weight and bulk of the binder was uncomfortable for long stretches. Also, flipping pages to find the next map section was frustrating sometimes since the amount of overlap varied. We’ve been using the paper charts for a long time. Two weeks just wasn’t long enough to fully adjust to the new spiral binders. We’ll keep using them through next year and reevaluate when our subscription is due for renewal.
Using the tablet PC for electronic IFR approach charts was absolutely great. It was handy to have the approach charts I knew we would use already printed out. We ended up going to several airports that were not on our originally planned route, and using an on-screen chart to fly an approach was a piece of cake. It was way better having the electronic charts than having to lug around all the paper approach charts we would have needed to cover this trip.
After 4,000 nautical miles, 13 days, 10 states, 9 hotel rooms, 5 rental cars and 3 time zones it felt good to be on the familiar ground of home. I was glad that we decided to skip the New York portion of our trip and focus on enjoying the DC area. I have no doubt that we’ll return to AirVenture soon. Next year’s hotel is already booked.