We took a vacation and flew down to the Sun ‘n Fun fly-in and airshow in Lakeland Florida. Both Tyson and I flew our airplanes down for the adventure of the long cross country. The first day of flying our goal was to make it from New Hampshire to my parents in Lynchburg, VA.
Our nominal plan was to leave NH on Wednesday to arrive in Florida on Thursday. The Sunday before, we planned out a nominal route stopping at the airports with the cheapest gas: NH16 – N13 (Bloomsburg, PA) – THS – W24 (Falwell Lynchburg, VA) Wednesday, and then W24 – KEHO (Shelby, NC) – KAMG (Alma, GA) – KZPH (Zephyrhills, FL) – 09FA (Lake Placid, FL) on Thursday.
At work Monday, I glanced at the weather several times, and Wednesday looked marginal. So Monday evening, Tyson and I spent several hours pouring over weather forecasts. Basically, Tuesday morning had low clouds in New England, but good everywhere else. Tuesday afternoon, the sun arrived in New England along with strong winds in New York and Pennsylvania. Wednesday, precipitation moved back into New England, but everywhere south looked nice. And then Thursday was forecast to have storms in the south and Florida. So it really looked like our best bet was to leave a day early.
We spent the morning packing. We needed to hit a fairly narrow window. Manchester airport forecast IFR until 2pm, and the winds ramped up all afternoon in Pennsylvania. While packing, we discovered another hitch, the smaller Falwell Airport in Lynchburg was closed for the day, so we needed to overnight at the bigger Lynchburg Regional with scheduled airline service.
Tyson opted to stop off at Jaffrey and fill the Bearhawk with 100 gallons of fuel so he could fly straight to Virginia without having to worry about the surface winds. I was going to need a fuel stop in my RV-4. My best bet was to stop in western Massachusetts, hopefully before the wind picked up, and then make it all the way to northern Virginia where the winds were forecast to be less. Neither of us have taken the special training to go through DC’s airspace, so we both needed to fly west around that.
Air traffic control routed me around Windsor Locks. I wished I had a better compass so I could have been confident I was following their headings. I knew my GPS track, but I was countering a strong south-west wind. Checking on my phone, the current winds for Oxford and Danbury CT looked similar, so I pushed on past Oxford, which was reporting gusts to 15kts, to Danbury. When I got there it was reporting gusts to 20kts, oh well.
I left Danbury with 26 gallons of usable fuel (according to Tyson’s carefully crafted charts) and 2 gallons unusable in each tank. Not depending on the unusable, and leaving a half hour reserve, that gave me 2 hours and 40 minutes to my next fuel stop. Off I went, straight into the headwinds. Two hours later I hadn’t reached the turning point to head south around DC. I was really hoping once I turned south, the winds would be more cross and I would pick up enough speed to reach Shenandoah Valley Regional. I shortcut the corner around the THS VOR and watched my GPS speed. I still wasn’t predicted to make it to Shenandoah on time. There weren’t many options for gas stops. I was over western Maryland, where even had I been driving, gas stations are few and far between. The most sensible option was Cumberland, but it was gusting to 25kts. I was a little peeved to have to divert 30 miles off course, but such is life. I landed no issues and eventually found the FBO. I opened my canopy to cold winds and my shirt blew across the tarmac before I could even put it on. When I fueled up, I discovered I had only burned 15 gallons, or about 6.7 gph instead of my planned 8 gph. I think what happened is that with the bumpy conditions, I erred on the low side of 2300 rpm. And, Tyson thinks I may have leaned the engine excessively. This resulted in an actual airspeed closer to 130kts than the 140kts I had planned. Also the low power settings led to a lower fuel burn. So, for the rest of the trip, I upped the rpms until my average speed was 140kts. Takeoff after fueling was gustier than the landing, but I managed.
At that point, I had plenty of fuel for my remaining hour of flight. I played in lift coming off the long ridges of the Appalachians. I spotted Crabtree Falls which I used to hike as a kid. And after all my stops and zig-zagging around, I only landed 10 minutes after Tyson.
We were pleasantly surprised by Lynchburg Regional. They were very hospitable to small airplanes despite being a big airport. My parents came and picked us up. Isaac got quality grand parent time, and Tyson and I went straight to worrying over weather forecasts for the next day.