12 December 2005

Deming to San Antonio

Being able to see where you are going is important. Running into a huge chunk of Granite will ruin your day.

Once you are clear of the L.A. Basin, most of the time, visibility is unlimited until you get to El Paso.

Most fuel stops have a way to get weather information. More and more of them are installing computer weather systems, which give you a ton of information. They're wonderful.

And then there is The Weather Channel. Thank God for it!
Generally, the last thing I do before going to bed while on a ferry flight is to check The Weather Channel to see what they're forecasting the next day.

You'll recall they said it was gonna be 16 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday morning.

New helicopters leave the factory with 50 weight mineral oil in their belly.
50 weight mineral oil literally assumes the consistency of molasses at 16 degrees.

This thick oil puts terrific strain on the starter, making it difficult to spin the engine quickly enough to start it. If the engine does start, the oil is so thick it does not readily move through the lubrication system to do it's job on the bearing surfaces.

I called the owner's room......."have you seen the forecast?"
"They're saying 16 degrees in the morning!"
"Well, whatd'ya think?"
"I think we need to check on pre-heating the thing before we start it."

And he agreed.
At breakfast we called the airport.........No preheater available.
I assumed the owner had taken my hint not to start the helicopter under these circumstances. The forecast high for the day was 55, so my idea was to simply wait for the sun to warm the air.......the helicopter was painted a dark color, and the engine compartment would warm fairly rapidly under the direct rays of the sun.

The owner finished his breakfast and said, "I'll go ahead to the airport and preflight, and I want to do some reading in the gps manuals."

Good for him......good attitude.

I finished my breakfast, went back and cleared out of the room. Since we were obviously gonna be a while waiting for the ambient temperature to rise, I didn't bother the hotel folks about a ride to the airport..........it was a 20 minute walk, and I needed the exercise.

Imagine my surprise, when I hear the sound of a Robinson R44 running as I approach the terminal!

As I get into the aircraft he proudly says, "It took four attempts, but it finally started!"

Okay pal........it's your machine.......yours to abuse if you want.

Cabin heaters in Robinson helicopters are wonderful. It was already toasty when I got in.

After a good warmup, we were Eastbound again. I wanted to fly a short leg to the West Texas airport in El Paso and refuel there prior to taking off on a fairly long leg to Ft. Stockton, TX..

On previous trips I had noticed what appeared to be lava flows Northwest of El Paso. Small hills in this area have the tell-tale "dished out" look of a volcano that has blown it's stack. I modified our course to show my co-pilot the lava, then flew over "Kilbourne Hole" at coordinates:
31 58 10.35N 106 57 51.94W
A good article about Kilbourne Hole

  • Here

  • Kilbourne Hole is 300 feet deep. We flew beneath the rim of the crater and circled around in the hole.
    You can see some of the lava flow I mentioned just Northwest of Kilbourne.

    We talked with El Paso approach and landed at West Texas airport after a 45 minute flight. Bathroom break and full of fuel, we were off again for Ft. Stockton.

    If I am continuing East from El Paso I have to contend with the "Guadelupe Peak". Our course from El Paso this time took us Southwest, so we looked at Guadalupe from a distance, but if you have to fly Eastbound, you get "up close and personal" with this big rock. It is imposing, to say the least. Coordinates:
    31 53 03.63N 104 51 29.37W

    Go to the 3D feature of Google Earth and take a good look at Ms. Guadelupe....
    she can get your "pucker factor" goin'!

    West Texas is BIG........and there aren't many folks out there! When we landed at Ft. Stockton for fuel I realized I had made a stupid mistake......we hadn't filed a flight plan. There are places along that route you don't want to crash.....you won't be found for years! If I make the trip in that direction again, I'll be talking with my Flight Service Station specialist!

    Fuel at Ft. Stockton was "self serve". I actually like these systems. Similar to buying auto fuel, you simply slide your credit card and pump your own fuel. They are open 24 hours a day, so you can get fuel even when airport personnel are gone home.

    The flight from Ft. Stockton to San Antonio was beautiful......hills and valleys, many private airfields alongside gorgeous ranch houses.

    We landed at San Antonio having flown 6.1 hours from Deming.
    We were both ready to be out of the helicopter.

    Flying cross country emphasizes how big our country truly is. I have driven this same route and it is a boring drive.......it seems you are looking at the same mountain for an entire day. The speed of the helicopter and the altitude you can safely fly are nearly perfect.....the mountains pass quickly enough to stay entertained, and at our altitude we easily saw Deer, Jackrabbits, and Javelina.
    I recommend the trip. If you'd like to do it with me, contact me via email and I'll let ya know where to send the $400,000 check!



    Jezz, $400,000? Can't I just chip in for the gas, food, and a room?

    Oleprairiedog said...

    What do you mean boring??? You just don't know where to look. I enjoy the drive and have made it more than a few times. Always something new if you like southwestern scenery.

    John said...

    I can attest to the barren land east of El Paso. I flew a Cirrus SR22 with the plane's owner from Concord, CA to Austin and things got really boring after El Paso. I flew back solo in the Cirrus and it took me longer to fly from Austin to El Paso than from El Paso to Barstow, CA. Of course, the 30 knot head winds I ran into over Lake Havasu were partly to blame. But let's face it, Texas is HUGE.

    And Houston Center and Alburque Center kept loosing radar contact in that area, too.

    Aviatrix said...

    I made the mistake of flying VFR from Texas to Albuquerque in late afternoon. Straight into the sun for hours.

    I was so glad when it got dark I didn't even mind the ring of invisible mountains around my destination.