Trip Report: DRT-JY73

Previously I had mused about being a ferry pilot, and then all but vowing never to do it again. It seems to have become a trend for me lately, however. When I bought my Citabria last year it gave me an epic opportunity to fly by some of the nation's finest geography, and I told myself I would do that once a year just for grins. Well, life in its twists and turns has given me yet another opportunity to take just such a trip again.

As part of my upcoming permanent change of station (PCS), I must get my plane halfway across the country yet again. No problem, if you ask me!

A direct route was the best choice since I don't want to leave my wife home for too terribly long to pack the house with the other three kids running around. However, my Citabria has been so happy on unleaded ethanol-free car gas that of course I perused to see if I could squeeze in some mogas along the way. That was one obvious first stop with, about 3 hours from home. Another hurdle was the DC SFRA, and not wanting to deal with it just to get to New Jersey, I selected a northern and a southern route around it.

Ultimately the southern route won out, even though I would have loved to get another fill-up of UL91 at KGEO on the northern one. But with family at the beach in Delaware and an opportunity to spend a night with them, we went southerly.

Not really time constrained, we nevertheless were attempting to get the trip done in three days, front-loading the first one. After coming up dry on any fly-in resorts or state parks along the way due to my last-minute Memorial Day weekend planning, I we burned for Bowling Green, Kentucky on the first night for the walking distance hotel and 24/7 FBO (plus no ramp fees!).

Loaded with MREs, safety gear, water, sleeping bags, oil change equipment, a few tools, pillows, and just about everything we could stuff in the back of the Citabria (still not sure how one would hit the weight limit before the space constraints), off we went.

Not a tear was shed leaving Del Rio, TX (KDRT) on a hot, humid morning and somehow even hotter at 5,500 en route to Corsicana (KCRS). The front seat of the Citabria is just SO hot with all that heat from the engine and flying east with the sun beating on my chest and lap. Cracking or opening the window has only minimal effect on me but just whips and freezes the back seat passenger. Still unsure of the best course of action to keep cool up there, except to get the heck out of south Texas! Lots more lunch spots where we're headed, too.

One can feel the pains of integrating unleaded aviation fuel into the existing airport infrastructure at one of Texas' only airports with that fuel. Kept under lock and key and referred to as "assisted self-serve," getting gas with the very kind and helpful airport manager was no real chore. There still isn't any reason why these unleaded fuels could and should be at most airports--wake up, FAA, and give the widest possible approval to this program! I know my high-time engine is so happy on the unleaded gas and many more will be, too.

There's not much to report on the way of terrain or features as one crosses east Texas and southern Arkansas. Tangling with some crop dusters in Stuttgart, AR (KSGT) for a quick fuel stop and onward for our overnight in Bowling Green.

With just 115 horsepower and near gross weight I wasn't expecting climb performance to be stellar but I was very disappointed at how pitiful it was leaving the warm humid Stuttgart, and cruise speed seemed slower, too. Add to that my radio was too weak for Memphis approach to hear and it was a very baffling leg. The mighty Mississippi River was bustling as expected, but I was too busy puzzling over my little airplane. It passed the mag check, made static RPM, accelerated fairly normally on takeoff, but just seemed a little weak today--what gives?

The fuel gauge in the Citabria is about as bad as any other small airplane, but I've ops tested this previously so I know it has 5 gallons when it is pegged at "0" in flight, more than adequate VFR reserves. However, on a long cross-country to unfamiliar airports at twilight is not the time to try to stretch the fuel. It was a long leg (3:15) heading into Bowling Green (KBWG) but passing my fuel alternate of Russellville, KY (4M7) I said to myself "this is stupid" and turned around to top off there. Literally zero reason to push it, and it saved me about $40 with its vastly cheaper fuel.

A quick leg to Bowling Green, a quick dinner on a quick walk to the hotel, and we were snug as a bug.

Departing BWG the next morning climb performance was again pretty lame and I wondered what was up until deciding to climb to 5,500 from 3,500 I got about a 200 RPM surge in power that immediately resolved my pitiful climb rate and cruise speed problems. A fouled plug that cleared itself perhaps? The problem did not return the rest of the trip.

Preferring the convenience of quick turns and airport restaurants over fuel cost, we chose Beckley, WV (KBKW) for the next stop. The hills of Kentucky and the larger hills of West Virginia (can a westerner really call them mountains?) made for some beautiful scenery, even if it also made for some tense moments thinking about where I would make an off-airport landing in such wooded, hilly terrain.

The quiet (and cheap) airport restaurant in BKW offset the crazy expensive fuel and after a quick oil change on the ramp there we blasted off for our last fuel stop for the day in Maryland. This, of course meant flying by the ostensibly complicated DC airspace. Reviewing the leg the night before I discovered the requirement in FAR 91.161 to do the Special Awareness Training even if you are flying around the SFRA but within 60NM of DCA. It was worth the hour or so just to know what is going on there and since it was Sunday we took an even more direct route to St. Mary's (2W6) through the cold restricted areas in the area. Cheap fuel there in Maryland, and many other airplanes waiting in line clearly agreed. Just a quick hop to Delaware Coastal from there.

This westerner marveled at the waterways, rivers, inlets, and of course, the mansions that mark the landscape in that area. People talk about the Mighty Mississippi but boy that Potomac sure rivals the might of that otherwise great river. I particularly liked the guy with the private 2000' runway squeezed as tightly as he could between two shores--better get that landing right every time!

Delaware Coastal (KGED) was clearly more interested in its business jet traffic than my 5 gallon top-off request, but who cares--we were in for the night, the cousins reunited, and another smooth-as-glass day in the bag with just an hour of flying left.

Only a quick hour up to Red Lion (JY73) over Delaware Bay and the Citabria was at its new home. I can't express enough thanks to Art for coordinating all of this and despite all of his "oh it's nothing fancy" about the hangar I call bull on that--its perfect! Electricity, smooth opening doors, really quiet airport with very few aircraft on the property. Thinking about leaving my little fabric airplane out in the sun and wet as the alternative makes me love it even more.

17.9 hours of fun, every flight an adventure with many more new adventures to go!


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