Tuesday, August 19, 2014

10.8 Hour Cross-Country to Phoenix in a Beech Sundowner

I think it was my longest cross-country in a small airplane yet.

The owner asked me to fly with him from Guadalajara (my hometown in Mexico) to Chandler Airport at Phoenix, Arizona. We flew there for the plane's annual and where he'll also sell the airplane. It's a 1977 Beechcraft C-23 Sundowner, that you can probably find on eBay, since he told me he's selling it there.

I had two of my wisdom teeth removed on friday and when I called him to ask him whether I could fly it with my brother and friends over the city sometime next week, he also asked me about the trip to Phoenix and if I could fly with him. Of course!
The local flight on saturday was great. It was the first time my brother flew from the left seat in a small airplane. He liked it and told me he would like to learn to fly and get his PPL sometime.

The next day, on sunday, I got to the FBO at 8am and when he arrived, we fueled the Sundowner and inspected the airplane. Our route was: Guadalajara-Culiacán-Hermosillo-Tucson-Phoenix (or MMGL-MMCL-MMHO-KTUS-KCHD if you want to look it up on SkyVector). 928 nautical miles in total, with some bad weather developing between Culiacán and Hermosillo. A SIGMET was issued some time later, and I can tell you, there was an impressive convective activity in there.

I flew left seat all the way to Tucson, where I then flew right seat. As our flight plan was authorized and we sat on our nests, I ran through the start-up procedure and then requested taxi. Run-up complete, and we took off bound for a 3-hour flight to Culiacán, where we stopped for fuel. The flight was uneventful. It was smooth as [dirty thing here] and the landing as well.

Round two for our trip, we climbed to 6,500 bound to Hermosillo, where 20 minutes later, we could already see a wall of nimbostratus covering the bad weather formations to the north. We deviated to the northwest where we encountered a layer of cirrostratus and we climbed to 10,500.
We then flew between towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds with an astonishing rate of convection. As we saw a way towards our destination, the cloud closed our path with a column of highly unstable visible humid air. We were really dodging the columns of clouds that were rising above us!
Ciudad Obregón was getting hammered pretty hard by the low pressure area and thunderstorms. We heard it was 0 visibility, heavy rain and gusts up to 40 knots. Good thing we didn't plan to land there.

As we cleared the cloud mines, about 70 miles south of Hermosillo, we had scattered cumulus with tons of thermal activity on our way there. Would have been great to fly in a glider in that area!
We approached Hermosillo with good turbulence and rising temperatures, making a rather average landing there. We then taxied in and filed another flight plan to Tucson. With immigration paperwork done, eAPIS filed and fuel tanks again full, we took off for our third round of the day. We contacted Flight Services 20 miles south of the border were he gave us a new squawk code, asked us our ETA and informed us it was pretty accurate from what we filed. We strive for perfection!

After overflying the border over Nogales, we contacted Tucson Approach 20 miles south and made a right downwind for runway 11R. Touchdown right on the threshold markings!
We taxied to customs where we were greeted by two CBP officers and asked us how much time we were staying in the USA. I was going back on a flight that night from Sky Harbor (arriving at 4am, but I didn't care. It was all part of the adventure!). With fingerprints and photo taken, we were good to go and, now flying from the right seat, we started the Sundowner up and departed to Chandler.

We could see dust moving westbound, south of Phoenix, caused by the massive storm moving in from the east. There was another SIGMET in that area. We started to get low-to-moderate turbulence half-way there. With the ATIS written down and a bumpy descent towards Chandler, we flew over the dust and then into it sometime later for the approach. The visibility was good enough to find the airport, which was clear and the wind was calm. After a smooth landing on runway 22R, we taxied to the ramp at Chandler Air Services. The wind started to pick up speed and the wall of dust was upon us!

Airplane parked, nest packed in my bag, covers on, airplane chained, bags out, we hurried to the car that picked us up. The owner brought some nicely painted plates he wanted to give his sister's family and on the 100 feet walk to the car, the bag with the plates fell and two of them broke. Imagine his frustration! After flying 930nm in more than 12 hours, a 100 feet walk ruins your day.

We got to his sister's home were we had dinner and it started to rain like crazy! Too bad I only stayed for a few hours! It was my second time at Phoenix, being the first one for my long cross country solo flight for my commercial certificate. They drove me to Sky Harbor were I flew back to Guadalajara in 2:25 hours. When I got home I had forgotten the keys, but luckily the window to my room was unlocked.

It was one of the best cross countries and flight I've ever had. I now fly a Cirrus SR22T from Toluca for a construction company. The airplane is nice, but flying for hours in a VW camper with hershey-bar wings between bad-looking clouds into a country and a dust storm is an awesome adventure!

I hope you enjoyed it!

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