I recently took a day off work, and decided that I would fly Norbert, my little Champ 7EC, to Yakima. Actually, I decided to fly to Wenatchee, but the runway was closed, so I changed my destination to Yakima. The main reasoning was to try flying over the Cascade mountains, which have formed a real barrier in my mind that was limiting where I thought was a good destination.
The Cascade mountains run north-to-south, east of Seattle, and they form an unbroken chain from British Columbia all the way into Oregon, where they merge and blend with a few other mountain ranges. They're not the 11,000 foot monsters to be found further east in the Rockies, but with many of the peaks topping off between 6,000 and 10,000 feet, they're still nothing to sneeze at.
And they have formed the eastern border of where I was willing to fly in the Champ, which is many fine things, but "fast climber" is not among them.
So, I drove out to the airport, sailing past the grinding traffic heading the other direction, toward Seattle. I arrived at Harvey Field (S43) around 10:15, and preflighted the plane. Plenty of fuel, having tanked up at Arlington's (AWO) relatively cheap pump a few days before. Relatively cheap these days is $5.06 per gallon of 100LL gasoline.
I was floating off the runway around 10:50, a bit later than I'd planned, but not catastrophically so. The path I'd plotted out took me down the Snoqualmie Valley to Fall City, where I would form up over I-90, and fly more or less over the freeway to ensure I'd avoid any dead-end canyons. Once to Ellensburg, turn left for Wenatchee (EAT), with a right turn to Yakima (YKM) presenting a good alternative.
The flight briefer had mentioned that runway 12-30 at Wenatchee was closed, but I didn't take much note of it. The airport symbol at Wenatchee shows two runways, so I figured I'd just land on the one that wasn't closed. I've gotten into the habit of just glancing over the airport information for my destination before I depart, now that accessing the chart and supplement with airport data is so easy on the tablet I usually fly with.
As I was climbing out from Harvey, I called into Seattle Radio and opened my flight plan, also giving them a quickie pilot report about the smoke in the air -- I guessed I could see about 50 miles in haze. The flight service operator repeated the warning about runway 12-30 in Wenatchee being closed, which I thought was odd, but I thanked him and switched back to Seattle Approach to set up flight following (a radar service where they call out traffic they think might conflict with your flight path, and very handy). Fall City's tiny private airstrip passed underneath, and I eyed my chart to make sure I wasn't climbing into the tightly controlled Class B airspace that surrounds SeaTac airport (SEA) even as far east as Snoqualmie.
The fact that the flight services guy had mentioned Wenatchee's 12-30 closure again nagged at me, so I pulled up the airport info for EAT. Oh. There is only one runway at Wenatchee. And it was closed. The second runway shown on the chart is present, and thus visually important enough to depict on the chart, but you're not allowed to land on it. Sigh.
So, I called Seattle Radio again, and amended the flight plan to land in Yakima instead. I had considered Yakima as a destination already, so it wasn't any real mental effort to shift my plans.
By this time, I was nearly to my desired 7500 foot cruising altitude, chosen so that I'd be above the majority of the mountain peaks by a comfortable margin, but not so high that I'd climb into the unfavorable winds predicted at 9000 feet. As it was, I seemed to have no wind at all to contend with, which was nice. The air was smooth, and I placidly watched I-90 wind around under me. Snoqualmie Pass crept slowly past (I was making all of 83 MPH over the ground), looking odd and barren with its ski slopes covered in yellowed grass and empty parking lots presenting appealing emergency landing strips should the engine falter.
Then Norbert and I were on the dry side. The road, I knew from driving it in the past, started sloping down, and the vegetation changed. The big lake just east of Snoqualmie Pass passed by, and the last threat of the mountains faded away. In truth, I never felt like I was flying through mountains, since I'd reached 7500 feet by the time I got over serious mountains, and none of the nearby peaks reached that high. There was probably a 50 mile stretch where finding a good landing spot would have been tough, but never impossible.
Then we were on to the valley that spills to the east from Snoqualmie Pass. I flew over the small airstrips that dot the landscape alongside I-90, spotting some, and unable to see others. De Vere (2W1) in particular evaded my efforts to spot it despite knowing exactly where it should have been. Ellensburg (ELN) was easy to spot, and once I reached it I turned right over the hills to find Yakima.
The advantage of having a flight planned out on the tablet is that you get immediate feedback that you're going where you intended to go. Because it's tracking your travel over the ground, corrections for wind drift are built in by the nature of the beast. I could have planned everything beforehand, and filled out one of the cross-country planning sheets I got when I started flying (and before tablet computers beyond the Apple Newton existed), but it would have meant that when I realized I needed to go to Yakima instead of Wenatchee, I would have had to pull out the chart and do some plotting and calculating to know what compass heading to fly. With the tablet, I just scrolled over to the Route tab, deleted EAT, and added YKM. New line drawn on the chart for me, and I'm good to go. I appreciate knowing how to do it the old way, but the new way is pretty awesome.
It was a short leg to Yakima, and Chinook Approach put me in contact with the tower when I was about 12 miles out from the airport. I could see where I thought it should be, but I knew from past experience that I can very easily get airport identification wrong, so I held off on descending until I was 100% sure I had the airport in sight.
Then, being 4000 feet too high, I had a lot of altitude to lose in a hurry. Fortunately, the Champ is a champ at going down quickly and safely, so I put it into a slip, and flew the plane sideways. We descended over Yakima quickly. I realized at some point that I was smelling gas, which is never a good feeling, and glanced out the side window to see fuel dripping out of the right-wing tank vent. Oops. Straightened out the plane, and thanked past-me for filling the tanks full enough that I wouldn't have any danger of fuel starvation, but also slightly cursed past-me for filling the tanks so full I couldn't slip down to get to pattern altitude.
The tower cleared me for landing, and I touched down on the soverign soil of Yakima International Airport.
I knew from my preflight studies that Yakima didn't hold any appealing attractions for me, which is part of why I'd picked Wenatchee at first. So, I wandered around a little bit, looking for an entrance into the terminal to use the bathroom, eventually being directed to the big, obvious RAMP EXIT sign over a gate far from the terminal. Logical, really, that you'd walk away from the bathroom to get to the bathroom.
Having successfully used Yakima as my biological dumping ground, I checked the weather and the fuel price at Ellensburg, and got the plane back in the air. My plan now was to fly the half hour to Ellensburg and fuel up there for the return trip to Snohomish.
The return trip over Yakima town and the ridge to Ellensburg was uneventful, though I did look down at the smooth, bare ridge and ponder a YouTube video recently pointed out to me of a Kitfox pilot landing on similar hills in Nevada. I didn't ponder it very hard, since the Champ is not a Kitfox, and my little tires are not the giant tundra tires he was sporting, and I had no idea if the land below me was public-use or privately owned. Ellensburg hove into view, and I descended down to the traffic pattern, slotting in behind a twin that was doing touch-and-goes.
After a little musical-chairs action with another pilot who was sitting in front of the fuel pump looking at a phone, I pumped another 10 gallons into Norbert's tanks, and made my way back into the air. I was getting anxious about getting back to Harvey, since I was due to meet with an instructor at 4 to do my Biennial Flight Review.
Oddly, I immediately spotted the wind turbine farm west of Ellensburg as I took off, but completely missed it on the way in. It's a huge, distinctive landmark, and I thought it was odd that I hadn't seen it. It ended up being a useful landmark as well, as I communicated with a plane that was doing maneuvers over it, and we were able to negotiate who would go where by references to it.
Past the wind farm, I started to notice that I was flying the plane a bit oddly. I kept adding way too much right rudder. Norbert normally needs a few pounds of pressure on the right rudder in cruise flight, for whatever reason. So it's a habit to just keep that pressure in, but for some reason, I kept adding way too much, so we ended up flying a bit sideways. I eventually decided it had to be from the quartering tailwind that was speeding me along a little bit, but also causing me to drift to the right over the landscape. Even being conscious of it, I found that I had to repeatedly correct my over-use of the right rudder. Fortunately, the side-wind went away about half-way along the mountains, and I was able to stop worrying about it. Snoqualmie Pass drifted by dreamily and I kept glancing at the Estimated Time of Arrival box on the tablet's display. I was going to be 10 minutes early according to the box, but I knew that maneuvering for traffic patterns and taxiing would eat much if not all of that time.
In light of the comparative rush, I decided to do something unusual. I turned right at Snoqualmie Pass, directing my path of travel right over a tall mountain, but with I-90 and the flat fields beyond the mountain still in gliding range. I had been cruising at 8500 feet (if you're flying east, you fly at odd thousands-plus-five-hundred-feet, and if you're flying west, you fly at evens), and tried pointing the airplane downhill without substantially reducing power. This is unusual, but not wrong necessarily. The plane doesn't seem to enjoy flying much over 100 MPH, but the official Never Exceed speed is actually 135 MPH, so there's a lot of leeway available. Being a 60+ year old plane, I don't like to push it to the point of discomfort, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try. Norbert dove like an expert as I put us into a 115 MPH speed-descent. Of course this all had the advantage of getting me to Harvey Field noticeably faster than my normal 80 MPH cruise speed.
I made it on time almost to the minute, shutting down the engine at 3:59. It's funny how these timings seem to work out. My instructor ended up being a few minutes late in any case, and we had a good BFR, he passing me with flying colors. It helps to have an instructor who's just as finicky as you are.
Interestingly, I am writing this entry from 22,000 feet above eastbound I-90, where was just able to observe the same path that I flew a few days ago, but at several times the altitude, and many times the speed. My two-hour flight to Yakima probably would have taken 25 minutes in an Airbus A320. I prefer the two-hour version in the Little Champ that Could, even if it does shiver uncomfortably when you push past 100 MPH.