Monday, October 27, 2008

Phoenix - Grand Canyon / Cessna 182RG II (N7166V) / VFR

In most of my aircraft I carry fixed loads of passengers and cargo, particularly the big iron. It makes weight and balance less of a nuisance. When I'm not carrying passengers in the small aircraft, I carry ballast instead to even things out. I'm quite heavy and it makes a difference in a small aircraft if I don't put some sort of ballast on the other side. I don't like having to trim or constantly hold the controls to compensate.

This evening I flew up to the Grand Canyon with three of my mysterious but amiable passengers who were eager to see this wonder of the world. It was still sunny when I left Phoenix a little after 4 PM local time, but the sun soon set. By the time I was approaching Flagstaff, the sky still glowed but I had turned the cabin lights on. By the time we reached the Grand Canyon, it was totally pitch black outside (no moon tonight).

My passengers were somewhat alarmed to see me take oxygen as we climbed, but I like to have oxygen above 5000 feet, especially at night, and on this flight we'd be at 8500 or even briefly above 10,000. I have oxygen for pax, of course, but they weren't driving so they didn't need it. I did point it out to them, however.

I used VORs to find my way. After clearing the Class B at Phoenix, I climbed to 8500 feet and hopped onto the 359 radial from PXR. When I intercepted the 352 radial from FLG, I switched to that (effectively crossing FERER, although I'm not using a GPS). A few miles south of KFLG, at only about 1500 feet AGL, I took a shortcut across the south side of the field and intercepted the 274 radial out of FLG. I climbed to 10,500 feet. Then came the 349 radial from DRK (KACEE), up to BISOP while descending back down to 8500, where I switched to the 019 radial to GCN. Shortly thereafter I called up Los Angeles Center (working KGCN this evening) and announced my intentions. I was cleared straight in for runway 3 and asked to call on 3-mile final.

As I approached KGCN, it was really, really dark. I could get a rough idea of where the horizon was by the presence of lots of stars above it (the weather was clear, thank goodness). My happy passengers were busy chatting and perhaps a bit sleepy but I was quite anxious and alert. I had to squint around looking for something that resembled an airport. I had my charts and I knew I was clear of terrain, but since I couldn't see anything below, it still made me nervous. Finally, some miles ahead, I spotting a revolving beacon that I knew had to be KGCN.

Just to be on the safe side, even though I was VFR, I tuned the ILS for runway 3. I used this to help me align for a straight-in approach while I was still some 16 miles out. Eventually the whitish irregular light near the beacon started to look like it might be a runway. A few miles more and it was indisputably a runway. Still, it was floating in complete darkness, which made it hard to judge exactly where I was in relation to the runway. The ILS helped, although I still flew in by hand (the Nav-O-Matic can follow a localizer but since I was VFR I didn't avail myself of that).

There was some turbulence coming in. I tried to come in slow (about 60 KIAS) so that I had time to line up and stabilize my approach. There was a bit of gusty wind across the runway and the landing was less than perfect, but I got in okay. It was nice to see the landing lights finally illuminating the runway; they seem really bright on a dark night. I pulled over to the ramp and shut down and we disembarked for now.

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