By Howard Deevers
I really like cross country flying. That is making the best use of an airplane, at least to me. Several years ago, a friend of mine asked if I could assist another friend in getting an airplane from Rochester, NY to Tucson. Well, sure, I would love to.
It turns out that the friend did not have a pilots license; yet. But he had already purchased a Beech Musketeer located in Rochester, NY and needed to get it out to Tucson so he could take flying lessons in his own airplane. He already had his medical, and had passed the knowledge test for Private Pilot.
We made our plans to fly to Rochester, NY to get his plane. That was the beginning of the adventure. We didn’t fly to Rochester, but to Buffalo via Detroit, and were picked up by the seller of the Musketeer. The next day we were taken East of Rochester to Williamson Sodus airport (SDC). I found that the final purchase of the plane had not been completed. It was possible that the new owner could back out, and we would just fly back to Tucson.
The deal was completed and I took a check ride in the plane to make sure everything worked. Then we started planning our trip back to Tucson. The weather was marginal VFR, so I filed an IFR flight plan from SDC to Columbus, OH (OSU). It was not an early departure. While flying in IMC conditions, I asked my friend in the right seat to look at the sectional and give me all of the information on the airport at Columbus. He couldn’t seem to find the airport, elevation, CT frequency, ATIS, or runway length. Although he had scored an 85 on the written test, he could not read a Sectional.
I asked how he had passed the written. He said that he had taken a ground school in Phoenix on a weekend. I told him that the course he took was a refresher to aid in passing the written, and not a complete ground school. Needless to say much of the rest of the trip back to Tucson was dedicated to teaching him how to read a Sectional, find a VOR and how to fly to it, and all of the information on each airport of intended landing. The cross country adventure was getting more interesting, to say the least.
We made a fuel stop at OSU, and then headed toward our next intended stop at Memphis, TN. The weather had cleared up, so this leg was VFR with flight following. As we got closer to Nashville, I checked weather at Memphis and found that thunder storms were developing in that area. It was getting late in the afternoon too, so I deviated to Sparta, TN and called a friend that lives in that area. He picked us up and we stayed the night with him.
The next morning the thunder storms had moved East so we could not get an early start out of Sparta. The weather improved late morning, and we departed from Sparta about noon, heading to Little Rock, AR. There were still thunderstorms near Memphis, and the Air Traffic Controllers were very helpful in keeping us well south of them. Our goal was to make Dallas before nightfall. We made our stop in Little Rock for fuel. My student wanted to use a courtesy car to get some lunch. I told him that if we did that we would not make Dallas before dark, so we moved on. We did make Dallas, (DAL) and got a motel for the night.
The next day the weather looked good all the way from Dallas to Tucson, so I moved the student into the left seat as I felt more confident in the plane and the weather. He did very well, with some assistance and having him fly left seat gave me more ability to look up things along the way. We made a fuel stop in Midland, and another one in El Paso.
I flew left seat from El Paso to Tucson since it was later in the afternoon, and many Arizona pilots know that crossing New Mexico on a hot afternoon can be a challenge. Although it was an uncomfortable ride, we did make it to Tucson, Ryan Airport late in the day to complete that long cross country trip.
My student learned a lot about cross country travel in small airplanes, and a lot about how to read a Sectional. He also learned a lot about weather avoidance on cross country trips. What did I learn? I learned to ask more questions before heading out on an adventure and not knowing all of the details. Every flight is a learning experience. This one was just a little more than I expected. Overall it was a good flight with a mix of IMC and VFR flying, and unexpected stops. And I did get to see an old friend in Tennessee for a short visit as well. The whole trip began 238 nm from the Atlantic coast, and ended in Tucson, 308 nm from the Pacific coast, almost from coast to coast.
Cross Country trips don’t have to be that long. There are a lot of opportunities within the State boundaries of Arizona to make cross country flights as well. Your next Arizona cross country flight might be to attend a safety seminar sponsored by your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION. A free safety seminar is available every month, so check the web site and work on your “Wings,” and don’t forget to “bring your wingman.”