Trip report S50-DRT

20.4 hours.

Skyvector seems to think the trip is quite a bit less than that, but I can confirm that it took me longer than I anticipated to fly from freaking Seattle to south Texas.

When I placed the ad for the Citabria, I was hoping I'd snag something in Texas, or Arizona, or Nebraska maybe. Seattle, Washington was a bit far and stretched the common sense test a little, but it was really exactly the airplane I was looking for at the right time.

I've done very long cross countries like this before, but this was an order of magnitude above and beyond what I had done before. Eleven or so hours in a single day was about the extent of my long trips, in planes in which I had had a lot of time. This was something different entirely. I had flown a 7KCAB a couple of times, and had some tailwheel time besides, but 1500 nm at 80 KTAS was going to be a feat by any measure.

My dear wife suggested I hire a ferry pilot, but no sooner had she uttered the words than she realized what a big ask that was. There was no way I was going to let someone else have all that fun.

After burning a day due to low clouds, the weather lifted enough for me to do my insurance-mandated 2 hours and 15 landings with a CFI before filling up and blasting off for DRT.

I knew from the outset that this trip was going to be epic; a straight line between Seattle and Del Rio takes one past some of the most beautiful terrain in the U.S., and I would be getting an up-close look at a lot of it due to my 9,500' MSL cruise altitude for most of the trip. 

The first leg was probably the most eventful and beautiful of the whole trip. The overcast layer in the Seattle area changed enough to scattered as I neared the Oregon border to allow for a VFR climb to over-the-top, with the clouds forecast to dissipate about halfway through my planned leg. Once on top, I had the most amazing view of Rainier and the Three Sisters, as well as St. Helens a little while later. 9G climbed without too much trouble to 11,500 to take advantage of some strong winds up there and what I later calculated as a 5.5 gph fuel burn.

The first leg in a new plane is full of excitement and unknowns, but in a Citabria, how much can possibly go wrong? Using pilotage to navigate, and only basic VFR instruments (yes, I have ADS-B but what's the fun in following a magenta line when you have such great ground references?), there isn't much to fuss over despite the magnitude of the journey.

I planned the first fuel stop as a short one at 9S9, Lexington, OR. The gas was cheap and I had no real sense of whether the fuel burn would be 7 or 6 or something less per hour. But approaching Lexington my sight gauge read nearly 3/4 gas, which the previous owner said reads lower than actual in the 26-gallon tank. I elected to press on, thinking with such apparently low fuel burn I might make Mountain Home (U76), 220 miles ahead.

That turned out to be some wishful thinking. That sight gauge is a powerful thing, no matter what the last guy said about it. How much more powerful, moreover, when you're flying over heavily forested wilderness areas in a new airplane far from gliding distance from, well, anything. So I elected for the prudent option and dropped into Baker City (BKE), about 130 miles short of Mountain Home.

After taking only 16 gallons--meaning 10 left in the tanks and more than enough to go further, even if not U76 further--it was an easy and uneventful jaunt to Twin Falls, then my overnight stop in Salt Lake City at U42, South Valley Regional airport. All those history degrees and I never new that Promontory Point, Utah--where the two halves of the continental railroad joined together, east & west--was right there in the Salt Lake, not some place in the mountains as I had imagined.

Next morning was as beautiful as the day prior, but planned to be longer yet, with the highest terrain still to come. Headed first for Nucla, CO (AIB), the route took me right past Moab and some very interesting terrain. The arrival was uneventful but I knew a quick turn was essential to avoid taking off from 6000' pressure altitude in the heat of the afternoon. Even still, modestly loaded and warm, the charts indicated the climb performance would be, um, anemic at best. It was, but it wasn't too much effort to get up to 9,500' again and enroute, going a bit the long way around some storms.

The cruise speed was also anemic, and by the time I reached Carlsbad I had a decision to make that I had not thought I'd have: stop short and stay the night, or fly about an hour into the night over some familiar but pitch black terrain in a new-to-me airplane in which I had never flown at night. I decided the risk was low, and with CAVOK everywhere, ADSB & AHRS onboard, and headed to my home airport, it was. What I wasn't used to, however, was how dark the cockpit was--used to backlit everything in the jets, my two LED overhead lights worked great but still it was very dark in that cockpit. Not like there is much to keep up with on the three instruments anyway.

Next day I got 9G tucked away in the hangar, and let more adventures begin!


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