Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Las Vegas - Avalon (Catalina Island) / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This was an unusually long trip for me; I don't generally like long trips in any type of aircraft. But it was moderately interesting, and it certainly kept me busy, since the Cessna doesn't have an altitude hold function in its simple autopilot. I spent most of the flight trying to maintain my altitude. Sometimes the air was calm and I could trim to a very precise altitude for minutes at a time, but most of the time there were updrafts and downdrafts periodically that kept me constantly adjusting things. I can't say that it was fun, but it kept me busy, and I suppose it was a challenge of sorts.

When I wasn't struggling with the altimeter, I was trying to follow my route. Since the Cessna is devoid of fancy avionics, I made do with VORs. It's good practice—it's easy to get spoiled and lazy with glass cockpits and GPS units.

I worked out a route via VORs and waypoints, and all of the waypoints were intersections that I could locate using VORs. I started out by intercepting the 166 radial out of LAS, with the second VOR set to BLD and dialed to the 213 radial. When the needle centered on the second VOR, I turned from 166 to 213. After being on that radial for a while, I captured HEC and dialed in the 212 radial and followed that to the VOR. The rest of the trip was similar, going from HEC to APLES, then PDZ, then SLI, and finally out to Catalina on the SLI 202 radial. I gave the waypoints (CRESO and APLES) in the flight plan, but I actually navigated to them using VORs, not a GPS. Airway intersections are usually locatable using radials alone. Other random waypoints are more difficult or impossible to find without a GPS, but fortunately you usually don't need those.

My initial altitude was 6500. I was able to sneak between the mountains near Wheaton Springs easily enough at this altitude, but later on, ten miles out of HEC, I had issues with terrain, so I started a climb to 8500 well in advance (it was slow). I stayed there until I entered the Los Angeles basin after crossing Lake Arrowhead, then descended to 6500. Once I was clear of the hills, I descended further to 4500 in order to stay under the Class B at Seal Beach (I had flight following already, but I didn't want to have to enter the Bravo airspace if I didn't have to).

After departing SLI, I waited until I was over water and then descended to 2500. This works out well for Catalina because it's about 900 feet above the field elevation. I was lucky enough to have fairly clear weather, so I could see Catalina already from SLI. I know where the field is now, so I just aimed for that, which was practically at my 12 o'clock.

Landing was pretty good. Once again I took care to slow down, coming in at about 60 knots (I'm still not brave enough to go below that). Compared to big iron, that means I'm practically standing still, so landing is a breeze. It was a bit gusty at Avalon but I still managed to land very smoothly. I stopped fast so that I could taxi directly over to what passes for a terminal at the airport. By then it was almost 7 PM, so I just barely made it before the closing time of the airport (big fines if you land after closing time). The entire flight took about an hour and 50 minutes.

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