Piper Vacation flight

I spent three days getting ready for this trip. It was going to be a long cross country flight from KOUN to KONT, with a stop in KPHX. With the current temps running as high as they have been, I was concerned about density altitudes along the route. I ran various calculations changing temps, dew points, altitudes and pressures. I got to the point of reasonable estimation based on these numbers. Checked weight and balance to accomodate as much baggage and full fuel as possible. Wanted to be off by 0830 Sunday, June 26.

The day arrived and we went to the airport ready to go. The FBO had the plane pulled and fueled upon arrival. We loaded and got settled for start up. Everything was falling right into place. The first stop was KTCC (Tucumcari)and the route was estimated at approx. 2 hours. We were cleared for take off and lifted about on schedule, not that there was a schedule. We climbed to 8500 and activated flight following. The first leg was beautiful and cool at altitude. The Archer was humming right along and the estimated trip seemed right.

We reached KTCC and started the descent. It started to warm up quickly. The two hours was right on, but it was 11:00 local time. Calling on CTAF, I heard both a UNICOM response and another plane 10 West of the airport, also landing. By the time we landed warm had become hot. We refueled quickly. I met the pilot of the other plane, a Cherokee 180D headed East. He mentioned he had quite a distance across AZ and NM, that morning. The density altitude was over 7000 feet at this 4100 foot airport at take off. The runway was long enough and I made sure there was ample surplus airspeed before letting it lift off. We climbed steadily but slowly. This climb was to 10-5 to clear the mountains. It seemed interminably long. A hint of the trip to come.

10-5 proved to be elusive. The day's turbulence was now in full force and the thermals were giving us all sorts of unintended excursions. The wind was stronger than forecast and almost directly on the nose. We poked along and bounced along for the trip across NM. We were South of Albuquerque riding waves of up and down drafts crossing the mountains. The bounces first an annoyance had become moderate continuous turbulence. Working on maintaining level flight attitude the altitude would be handled as performance permitted. The airspeed was another concern. With the higher winds the GS was a lot less than calculated. The anticipated trip to KPHX was just under four hours total time. But it became apparent that the leg to SJN was taking much longer than expected. By this time my wife was becoming airsick from the constant turbulence. As I approached the turn at SJN, I decided to land at KSJN and take a break.

Little did I know there was another glitch about to rise in the plan. I contacted KSJN on the CTAF. My response was from a pilot waiting to take off. He among, other comments, advised the airport was currently DA of 9200 feet. I got lined up and landed un-eventfully. During the roll out someone announce they wanted everyone to hold where they were so they could take off, to the SW. I advised I would hold at the next taxiway. After I cleared the runway, he clarified he was an AirEvac helo. He took off and headed South. The first pilot took off to the NW on the longest runway at KSJN. After tying down, we learned a Cardinal had crashed on take off shortly before our arrival. The helo was taking the last of the survivors. It appeared to be a lack of performance (plane/pilot/both). The plane was a Cardinal with three on board. He had taken on 41 gallons of fuel, topping off the plane. As it turned out, it was too much weight, too high and apparently poor technique. The plane lifted off but too far down the runway, it did not climb and the plane slowed in a nose up attitude until it crash 1800 feet from the departure end. (This is from the NTSB prelim report). With the heat, the turbulence and the high DA, we decided to spend the night in St. John's AZ. I cannot say enough for the airport staff there. They were great. Helped with ground transportation, where to eat and where to stay. They did the same for another plane which arrived shortly after we did. My attention to DA before we left was coming to bear fruit.

Well rested, or least after a night's sleep, we left the motel early and headed to the airport. The DA was down to 6600 feet. I chose 32 for take off. It had a couple of benefits. First, it was the longest of the two runways. Second, it departed into open relatively flat terrain. I advanced the throttle, the mixture was leaned well back to account for the DA. We started rolling, my eyes bounced back and forth between the runway and the airspeed indicator. Finally it showed movement. 50-55-60 knots it was coming up reasonably strong, while the runway slid by under the wheels, one quarter, one-third, one-half. I knew I had plus airspeed, I pulled back slightly on the yoke and 35Mike lifted off the ground. 100 then 200 feet per minute on the VSI. I kept the angle shallow as the ground retreated beneath our wings. We settled at a 500 feet per minute climb and I continued my circling right turn to head SW from KSJN. Next stop Phoenix.

Landing at Skyharbor was a personal treat for me. There are numerous good airports in the area, Deer Valley was 35Mike's original home. BUT, I wanted to land at the Class B. Crossing the last ridge into the Phoenix basin, PHX App vector us to the South and advised remain clear of Class B until further advised. After several vectors we wound up just South of Skyharbor on a right downwind. It was looking good, I was about five miles South and getting ready to land when I got the call. 35Mike, give me a right 360 expect delay. I did two 360s and called them. I was advised it would be 10-15 minutes. I elected to fly a more reasonable IFR hold pattern rather than going round in circles over and over. Finally, vectors to final. I lined up and flew at cruise speed toward the runway 7R. I waited as long as possible to kill the speed and land normally. The GPS had me at 125 knots on the approach descent. I looked to the left and was paralleled by an A320 Airbus landing on 7L. The touchdown was beautiful and I exited as quickly as possible. We taxied to Cutter, who were expecting us and treated us extremely well. I called clearance delivery and got a priceless response. The woman said, You want to depart Skyharbor .....VFR?" Without missing a beat I responded, Affirmative. I was given an essentially IFR clearance, to which she responded, "Read back, correct." I had to laugh. We were number two behind a Hawker. PHX was constantly reminding me to beware wake turbulence, while it was not necessary, I appreciated the care they took.
The final leg. We were vectored and altitude restricted for several minutes, begin at 200 agl. It was still smooth and cool at altitude. After the vectors I began tacking back my intended course. Center called and advised traffic my 1-2:00 same altitude same direction. I started looking but did not see the other plane. A few exchanges later, Center advised I was overtaking him, about 10 knots faster. I was excited, I don't often get to be 10 knots faster than the other plane. Finally, my wife picked him up and I saw we were about 2 plus miles apart, I advised Center that I had the Cardinal.
ABQ became Los Angeles Center then SoCal. SoCal handed me off to Ontario. I was lined up on a 15-20 mile straight in approach to KONT. We arrived at the FBO (Atlantic) and they had the rental car ready, took our bags from the plane to the car.
We then spent the rest of the week at the resort, the beach and Hollywood. Aviation certainly made this a much better trip and the travel time was greatly reduced.mini_Landing-26R-KONT.JPG


  • Now that summer is here thats a good reminder on DA!
  • Thanks for that reminder about DA, William. I'm still pretty new as pilots go but I got a little lesson in it myself recently. I had always tended to kind of ignore DA when I called ASOS for a local flight. Sure, I knew about it from my studies and all, but had not experienced it in a practical application. About a month ago I had the little 140 pulled out and just wanted to go sight seeing. I lined up on 1 and went balls to the wall. I then rotated at my normal 60 and at 85 went to pull her into the air.....and skipped happily along the runway three times. Scared the hell out of me. Just before I aborted I lifted off at 95 and climbed out very carefully. After I got to a safe altitude a little bell rang and I retuned into ASOS. Our DA is usually around 1800. That day it was 3800. I no longer ignore the DA. Glad you enjoyed your vacation, my friend and thanks again for the reminder.

    Okay, I know you guys in Arizona, Colorado, etc. are probably rolling your eyes and smirking, heh. 3800' DA? But hey, I'm new, she's a 140, and I live 50 miles from the coast in Texas. Lol.

  • Hi Guys, Speaking of DA ... check out the attached video! I owned a 47 Stinson 108-2 back in the early 70's. a notch or two of flaps would have helped alot. Bob Hart / APG Eastern Avionics
  • Opps, Here's the video. Bob
  • Bob I guess your link didn't work out, but you gave enough info that I was able to find the video on U Tube. Yeah, that was one interesting take off. She pulled it off, but that thing with the tree was a little dicey.
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