Or “Pilot Reports.” Number one. Because this is the first of them on this blog.
Flying. It’s awesome. I do it. I’m finally able to do more of it. Keep reading for more!
Yes, I’m a Pilot
And you can’t make the joke about how you tell a pilot in a bar, don’t worry, he’ll tell you - well, at least, until now. I figure a few years into the blog is long enough to mention such things in passing, especially when I’ve spent my Friday flying, my Saturday re-roofing an old church building, and haven’t had time to put together my more usual technical posts. I’ve got plenty in the works, just none ready at this time, and I’ve had this percolating for a while.
I’ve actually had my pilot’s license for a hair over 9 years - I got it back in April, 2009. I flew a lot in Iowa, and then didn’t really do much flying for a while. It takes me a while to get settled in an area and have the time to really start flying again, and in some areas, I’m just not that comfortable flying. I learned at an uncontrolled field, and the Seattle airspace, when I lived up there, was just sort of intimidating. I never flew in it enough to be comfortable in it, and Seattle isn’t a great place to fly single engine anyway - it’s icing conditions in the (low) clouds a depressingly large part of the year, and… just, nope. I don’t have my instrument rating yet.
Out in Idaho? It’s a great part of the country to fly in, there are an absurd number of little backcountry strips (dirt, gravel, or grass strips, usually in out of the way places, mostly along rivers in canyons, generally with amazing fishing or camping) scattered around the state, and even if you don’t do that sort of flying, it’s the sort of state that flying makes sense in. The weather is generally quite good for large parts of the year, and there are plenty of places that simply don’t have direct roads between “here” and “there.” While a lot of Idaho is quite mountainous, there are also plenty of plains regions, and most of the mountains have valleys between them you can quite safely fly up.
This would be the sort of thing I see out where I live - big, flat, open plains, with snow capped mountains in the back.
Also, the whole commercial drone operator thing (“Part 107”)? If you already have a pilot’s license, it’s literally an hour or so of some online slides and videos, take a quick quiz, and sit down with your CFI to sign off on the paperwork. Super easy. If you’ve got a pilot’s license, there’s no reason not to get your commercial drone operator cert.
Flying to Ogden, Utah for an Aquarium
The opening photo is actually of a Cessna 172 we flew to Ogden, Utah on Friday. Why? Well, my daughter has been pestering us to see a different aquarium than the one we usually go to, and there was a a SeaQuest (not DSV… sadly) in one of the malls out in Ogden. It’s a weird place for an aquarium, but it’s actually a quite good aquarium, and we really enjoyed the trip out and back. It’s the type of thing you can do with a small airplane that just isn’t easy to do any other way (unless you like an awful lot of time in a car).
Driving, Google says it’s about 5 hours - each way. And that’s with I-84 running almost directly between Boise and Salt Lake City (seriously, we followed the interstate a large chunk of the way).
Flying, in the Cessna 172 we took (which cruises around 122kt, or 140mph), it was about 2.3 hours each way, with a bit of time on the ground. Total time logged on the Hobbs (airframe time counter) was 4.9 hours, and that includes ground time, runup, etc. I didn’t take the most direct route, either, because that would have put us directly over some mountains peaks, and there’s just no good reason to do that when there are perfectly good flatter, lower areas you can follow. Also, a direct route would have put us over the Great Salt Lake for a good bit longer than I’m comfortable with in a single engine aircraft (especially with a pregnant wife and a 3 year old in the airplane), so we flew around the north edge to keep within easy gliding range of something hard.
The way out, in the morning, was silky smooth the entire way. The way back, less so. It wasn’t violently rough, but we were getting rocked around a bit by the mountains and the thermals. You’d think a Cessna 172 wouldn’t be bothered that much by thermals, but we certainly were! I had to shove the nose down and pull the throttle back to keep from overspeeding the prop (fixed pitch) quite a few times, and I also found a solid hunk of sinking air that dropped me several hundred feet despite trying to climb. So… not nearly the nice ride back that it was on the way out. However, I did get a chance to play in some very nice ridge lift (wind blowing against a mountain side and going up)!
For those who haven’t flown into a halfway decent sized airport in a Cessna, you can usually get a “crew car” out of the FBO (Fixed Base of Operations) you stop and and, ideally, fuel up at. Crew cars are an interesting little beast, and the best you can normally say is that “they run.” This FBO had a BMW 7 series - which seemed a good bit excessive as a crew car, until I saw it. For a 115k mile BMW, it was rough. The driver’s mirror was cracked, there was body damage on the front bumper, the seat belt and/or airbag system was malfunctioning, and it generally met my expectations for a crew car. I was afraid it was going to be too nice! You get nice crew cars at some places, but you usually pay about $1/gal more for fuel at those places…
Why SeaQuest instead of a larger one? Two reasons. First, 3 year old. Their attention span for something like this is limited to a few hours, tops. Second, I haven’t been doing enough flying in controlled airspace recently to really feel comfortable going into SLC and mixing it up with the jets. Plus, their 100LL is something like $6/gallon, and the 172 I took is sort of a thirsty girl.
Trip Costs and Alternatives
The round trip, flying, cost us around $400, total. I’m not going to claim general aviation is cheap, but remember, we took 3 people, could have carried 4, on our own route, seeing what we wanted to see on the way, on our own schedule. I can find round trip flights into Salt Lake City from about $240, which, for three people, is $720. Plus, that’s from a good bit further away (Boise vs Nampa), to a good bit further away. The flight is only an hour, but the rest of the time more than makes up for it (TSA time, boarding, etc). Plus, their schedule, versus ours, and having to get a rental car at the far end.
Driving, it’s around 650 miles. At the IRS mileage rate of 54.5 cents per mile, that’s an estimated cost of $354. Plus over twice the trip time. Yes, I’m aware the IRS rate is higher than some people can operate a vehicle for (myself included), but it’s relevant to an awful lot of people with newer cars.
So, really, it’s quite comparable to other methods of taking a trip like this - even on literally a best case route (an interstate that goes between the two points). Add another person (as will be the case in… oh, right about a month now), and the numbers look even better!
Another somewhat recent upgrade for me, flying-wise, is that I’m now checked out to fly the club Cessna 182s. If you’re familiar with small high wing airplanes (which is what Cessna makes), they have three very common airplanes - the 152, the 172, and the 182. The 152 is a fun little two seat trainer. I love how they fly, but “gutless wonder” is, perhaps, generous. They’re just enough airplane to get two people into the sky, they’re tiny (I’ve seen motorcycles with more space between people than you get in a 152), and they don’t have very long legs because they only carry about 20 gallons of fuel. They don’t burn that much, but they’re not exactly fast, either. My now-wife and I did a long cross country to visit family in a 152, and we we still liked each other after that enough to get married!
The Cessna 172 is the standard four place (really, two plus two - you can’t usually carry four adults, but you can fit two adults and two kids easily) Cessna. They also have fixed pitch props, but they carry a useful amount of fuel (typically 40 gallons), have a useful payload, and are the bog standard Cessna you’ll find at every airport in America (and probably the world). They’re the Honda Civic of airplanes (yes, Piper folks, I know Piper makes airplanes too, but you can’t deny that Cessnas are more common). That’s what I learned to fly in, and they’re a pretty good “do everything” airplane. They’re forgiving to fly, fairly easy to land, but the vast majority out there are set up as trainers, and aren’t great traveling airplanes as a result.
Then you get to the Cessna 182. This is, according to many people, Cessna’s smallest “real airplane.” They typically have a big snarling 6 cylinder Continental O-470, a constant speed prop (like a transmission for airplanes - it lets the engine be more efficient at a wide range of airspeeds), and enough payload capacity to haul four adults - or, alternately, two adults, two kids, and an awful lot of 100LL avgas (80 gallons is typical). That leads to a wonderfully long range traveling airplane, and because it’s bigger and heavier, it’s a more stable platform as well. They have more handy features like rudder trim, and they cruise a good bit faster than a 172, and will climb much more rapidly. Plus, the constant speed prop helps them be a good bit more stable in cruise (a minor increase in airspeed isn’t met with a faster turning prop, which lets the engine make more power, etc). Great, great airplanes.
And I’m checked out in them now. There’s more to keep up with, but for long distance work? They’re great. They also are the sort of airplane that’s equally happy potting around the country in 500-600nm legs, or flying into little dirt strips in the middle of nowhere. They’re not the most efficient airplane out there, but they’ll do just about anything you ask.
So, expect some PIREPs out of this blog about 182 travel at some point going forward!
Some Interesting Area Photos
Finally, I’ll end with a few photos I’ve taken from the air that I happen to like. This is the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River - one of many little hydro dams that power southwest Idaho. This particular dam was installed, originally, to power Silver City - a former mining town up in the Owyhee mountains of Idaho.
Celebration Park, along the river, is another great place to spend time in the summer.
And one of many new solar installations in Idaho. This one is out by Murphy, but they are popping up like weeds - there are two between Boise and Mountain Home, and they’re just going up everywhere. I won’t say I see a new one ever single time I fly, but I’ve certainly discovered quite a few from the air!
So, that’s PIREP #1. I hope to work a variety of others into the mix of posts over time as I do more worth talking about in the air. One of these days, I even hope to perfect satellite connected Planegressing…