Bill Mitchum’s trip to the Midwest


Our trip to the Midwest…

I’ve been planning this trip for several years (and, of course, saving for it). I scheduled the airplane early to make sure I could get it and scheduled my vacation at the same time. I wanted to make the trip at the end of May or the beginning of September to try to make sure I had the best weather for it.

As the date got closer, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to make it because of my wife’s health. As it worked out, she was in good shape, as was the bank account. However, I did not get a chance to do some of the preliminary things I had planned (like updating or getting a new GPS program and making sure everything was ready). I did download all the sectionals and made sure that I could see them on the tablet computer. As we started to get into the plane, we found that the passenger seat would not sit up all the way because the brackets were broken. I looked around and found a bolt that looked like it might hold the seatback in place. It didn’t work out very well and the seatback fell back almost as soon as we took off.

I also discovered that I should NOT say “oh crap” when I realize that I forgot something, such as forgetting to raise the flaps after takeoff, because my wife thought for sure we were crashing when I said it. That’s something to remember in the future.
Our first stop was in eastern Oregon in Vale to see my sisters. We landed in Ontario as we usually do, but found they had everything except the runway ripped up, with no place to park overnight. We stayed there long enough to get gas and to go to a hardware store to get the nuts and bolts to fix the passenger seat. [Thank you Bill! – ed] I found out that Vale has an airport, and since it’s the town my sisters live in, we flew there for the night (it’s only 10 miles away). We did not get out of there until almost noon. Since we were going to be flying in the mountains, I decided to go to 10,500 when we left Vale. From that high, you really can see forever. As we went through Idaho, we could see part of the Salt Lake and detoured to see it better.

Our next stop was for fuel in Rock Springs Wyoming. At 6,764, that was the highest airport we stopped at. Our density altitude there was over 9000 feet because of the heat, but with 10,000 feet of runway, I didn’t see it as a problem. The people there were very nice. We took off from there and headed slightly north and east in order to go around the higher peaks. At about Laramie, we headed directly to our next fuel stop in Goodland Kansas.

About an hour from there my wife pointed out the led segments on the radios. They were all flashing. Since I have lost an alternator before, I knew we were on battery and losing that. I turned off all electrical and used the GPS to find the Goodland airport. Landing was a little fast without flaps and as the wheels touched…the charge needle went to full charge but then went back to the center and I assumed that it was a fluke. Of course the battery was dead and would need to be charged. Since it was getting late on a Sunday afternoon, I was surprised that someone was at the FBO. He gave me the keys to the courtesy car and pointed out the motels and the one restaurant in town. He also advised me that, since the next day was a holiday, there would not be a mechanic around, but there would be someone that could charge the battery for me. I got there early on Monday morning to pull the battery for charging and came back in an hour to put it back in and take a look at the alternator. I just loosened the cowling enough to reach the alternator and didn’t see or feel anything wrong. We took off normally, but the charge needle went back to a neutral position almost immediately, so I returned to the airport. I took the cowling off completely and had Lynn hold it so it would not blow away (it almost did anyway, this was western Kansas we were in). I found a wire connector that seemed to be touching the alternator body and bent it away from the body. With the cowling off, I started the engine and noted that it was charging normally. I put the cowling back (after stopping the engine, of course) and had a normal takeoff, but the charge needle again went back to neutral almost as soon as we took off again. I decided that since there was no mechanics around, I would continue to our next stop in Springfield Mo since we were going to be spending at least a day with family there and I was sure there would be a mechanic there on Tuesday. I did take the precaution of turning everything off so that I would have battery when we got close to Springfield. We had a normal landing at Springfield downtown airport.

Early the next morning, I returned to the airport to see if they would be able to look at it that day as I wanted to leave early on Wednesday morning. They had it fixed by that afternoon. It did turn out to be just a loose connection. We left there the next morning headed to Moline Illinois. We went east and then followed the Mississippi the rest of the way (The lock and damn systems and the barges are quite a sight on the river). We had a pleasant visit there and started west again with 2 stops in Nebraska to visit other family members.

One thing to keep in mind is that the weather is different in the Midwest. We did not see any clouds on the way east at all. Every night when I checked weather, there were scattered clouds, but never in the morning when I checked. Here in Salem, we might have clouds in the morning, but they usually burn off by afternoon. In the Midwest, it’s more common to have clear skies in the morning and afternoon or evening showers or storms. We had a clear sky west into Omaha but did have some restricted areas and active MOAs. With an out of date GPS (No TFRs listed), I got flight following on the trip across Iowa and was rewarded with a trip right in between Eppley airfield and Offutt air Base (Both large airports inside Omaha) directly to Millard airport, also inside Omaha. And again we had a nice visit for a day.

When we started west again, the briefer said that there were storms and showers south of our route, but we should be in the clear. Our next stop was in the middle of the state in Hastings. For some reason the gas pumps there would not accept my card, so we couldn’t fill up at that stop. By the time we got there, the clouds were starting to form above us and we cut that visit kind of short. We decided to get as far west as we could that day. We took off expecting to fly at 8,500, but there were clouds forming at that altitude and we decided to try 10,500 but we were still at the cloud layer. With the cloud cover as it was, we went back down to 6,500 and were just below the clouds. We had problems with the GPS and I also found that looking at Sectionals on a small tablet screen in a vibrating airplane was not all that easy (next time I WILL also get paper maps and have an updated database in the GPS). With the problems with the GPS and the cloud cover AND since we had not filled the gas tanks in Hastings, we decided to stop early for the night in Kimball Nebraska instead of trying to get further. Kimball is a VERY small town in western Nebraska and someone at the airport pointed out that the key to the courtesy car was in the ignition (there was no key for the door locks). I guess they don’t have a problem with theft there.

We fueled the next morning without a problem and again were told that storms and showers were going to be south of us. The night before, in the motel, I routed out where I wanted to go and exactly which VORs and radials I wanted. I also made sure that the maps in the computer were easily accessible. We took off the next day (Sunday morning) and landed in Kemmerer WY for gas. It’s an interesting airport since the ground drops away at both ends of the runway. By this time the clouds were again forming and we were not able to fly high enough to get flight following. We flew from there through Idaho to again spend the night in Vale. Taking off the next day, we were going to have to fly around clouds again and of course, the TFRs for the forest fires west of Redmond. Again, we were not high enough for flight following, but as we got closer to the Cascades the clouds disappeared, but the visibility was still low because of the fires west of Redmond. I took us to 10,500 feet which took us above the TFR and requested flight following. The haze over the mountains was really bad from the smoke. Even at that altitude, you could not see any of the surrounding peaks. We did see Detroit Lake, which is a landmark I usually use as a start decent point. I delayed starting down this time because of the visibility and did not start down until I saw Stayton in front of us. As it was, I had to circle around in order to lose enough altitude to enter the pattern at Salem. We arrived back in Salem without any problem. All in all, it was a great trip and I am ready to start again tomorrow.

Bill Mitchum
Sept 2011


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