Phoenix, Arizona to Houston, Texas

Trip Start Dec 23, 2012
Trip End Mar 30, 2013

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Friday, December 28, 2012

The next flight leg on December 28 took me directly east across the American Southwest and Texas. My route of flight was some 906 nm long, the longest flight I'd done in N788W using only the fuel in the wing tanks.  With economy cruise power settings (lean-of-peak) at around 10,000 feet, I typically get 165-170 knots true airspeed (TAS) with a fuel burn of 11.5 gallons per hour (GPH).  With 98 gallons of usable fuel in the wing tanks, that theoretical yields a range of about 1400 nm with no reserve.  Of course, I never want to push it to that limit; even when the fuel gauges fall below 20 gallons on a side, I get grouchy.  All fuel gauges in airplanes have limited accuracy, but like many modern planes, I have a Shadin fuel totalizer that provides pretty accurate assessments of how much fuel has been burned and how much is left.  I rely on the Shadin.  An issue I’ve encountered with the Columbia fuel tanks is that they are very flat – FBO line guys typically leave a half inch of space between the bottom of the filler neck and the fuel level when I ask them to top off the tank.  That results in about 3-5 gallons of space per tank, so to really fill the tanks and get 98 gallons onboard, you need to fill the tank to the bottom of the filler neck, so the fuel is almost at the point of flowing out on the wing.   Unless I tell them or watch them, the line guys won’t do this.  Loading every possible ounce of fuel became my obsession on the RTW flight.  Missing 8 to 10 gallons in the tanks again was the case at KGYR when I checked the levels before departure on the morning of December 28. But I knew I had a good tailwind so I really wasn’t concerned about fuel and I did want to exercise the range of the plane with wing tanks only. I decided to depart VFR since the weather was forecast mostly clear along the entire route. 

It was cold that night in Phoenix, but I was still surprised to find the wings and tail covered with frost.  Leaving KRDD a few days before I had a coating of ice on the wings overnight and spent some time with cardboard and a plastic card cleaning it off.  While at my brother's place for Christmas, we tried to find a plastic ice scraper used on car windshields but with no luck.  As I was leaving yesterday, my brother's partner Lois loaned me the one from her car. I put it to good use that morning in Phoenix.  I guess that ice scraper has now earned a ride all the way to Antarctica.

I headed direct to the Stanfield VOR (TFD) after flying under sections of the Phoenix Class B airspace.   KGYR apparently has a very large active flight school; before takeoff I had to hold short of the runway for nearly 10 minutes while a string of Bonanzas from the flight school came in to land, or do touch-and-go’s. I picked up flight following from Albuquerque Center.   Flying VFR east at 9,500 feet was a pleasure. The sky was clear with a few clouds below, and occasionally I spotted interested terrain or other features that are only apparent from the air (like a large open pit mine).  Passing El Paso, the vast flat plains of Texas stretched out in front of me.  Occasionally there were bumpy spots, but not bad compared to crossings I’ve made of similar terrain in Wyoming.   As I proceeded east the tailwind got stronger; by the time I got to Houston it was 35 to 50 knots so I got the quick trip the flight plan said I’d get.  Flying VFR this way, I generally follow Victor airways to stay clear of restricted airspace, unless the airways are inefficient; in that case I’ll go direct between VOR’s.

As I crossed the Navasota VOR (TNV) to start my descent into Houston’s David Wayne Hooks Airport (KDWH), the broken layer of clouds below me had congealed into solid overcast.  As I was handed off to Houston Approach, I asked for and got an IFR clearance into KDWH via radar vectors to get me below the layer.  KDWH was still reporting a 2,000 foot ceiling so I figured I could make a VFR approach once vectored below the layer, which I did.  The winds, though, were a bit of a challenge – 15 kts gusting to 25 kts with varying direction that included a quartering crosswind.  It was one of the more demanding landings I’ve made in N788W, but I better get used to such landings.  From what I’ve read of other pilots’ experiences in Patagonia and the southern parts of South America, winds like this, and worse, are typical. 

Gill Aviation, the FBO at KDWH, arranged a rental car since the hotel was some distance away without a shuttle.   My stop in Houston was a good intermediate stop between the west and Florida.  It also gave me a chance to have dinner with an old friend from my days in Quincy, Illinois, whom I hadn’t seen since 1983.  Reminiscing is engaging but sometimes sad reflecting on all the years that have gone by.
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Lois Fisher on

Glad that little ice scaper was put to good use. Sounds like the trip is going well.

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