Sunday, November 23, 2008

Desert Rock - Rialto / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

I thought I had this flight well planned, but I messed up again, although not in too serious a way.

The objective was a nighttime VFR flight from Desert Rock to Rialto in SoCal. In the Baron, this takes about an hour. The problem is that this part of the U.S. is filled with pesky restricted areas and high mountains. Just to the south of Desert Rock, the Spring Mountains rise to more than 11,000 feet—uncomfortably high for me in the Baron because of the need for oxygen (I always have oxygen on board, but it's still a pain to have to use it, and it spooks passengers). Between me and my destination there are alternating low valleys and high mountains, and as if this weren't bad enough, many possible paths are blocked by restricted airspace and seemingly ubiquitous MOAs. If it's not restricted, it's chock full of high mountain peaks, and vice versa. So finding a usable route through all this is difficult.

Ultimately I worked out a route that took me south from Desert Rock over relatively low terrain (I planned an altitude of 8500), down past Shoshone, where I'd intercept the 292 radial from GFS at 66 DME, and then turn to intercept the 259 radial at 44 DME. If you're familiar with the area, you can already see my mistake. Anyway, from there I would continue to DAG, then on V210 to HESPE, then through Cajon Pass and down to Rialto.

As I worked my way south on the first segment of my route, I gradually realized my mistake. For some unfathomable reason, nothing on the charts (as far as I know) indicates the service areas of VOR stations—and it turns out that GFS is a low-level VOR. So I'm flying along and along, with one VOR tuned to GFS, and I'm still not picking it up, and I'm already over Shoshone. Finally I look up the particulars for GFS and discover that it's a low-altitude VOR. Drat! My Grand Plan is in danger.

Fortunately, the Baron has a boatload (or should I say a planeload) of fancy avionics, and I'm hardly limited to flying by VORs alone. But I had decided before this flight to just use VORs for practice; now I had to “cheat” slightly and resort to other instruments. The Sandel ST3400 protected me from terrain, so that was no problem. The SN3800 allowed me to navigate without having to care about VORs. After stumbling a bit back and forth, I finally used the HSI to estimate my crossing of the appropriate radial and used that to guide me more or less along my original route. Ultimately I picked up DAG and headed for that.

The rest of the flight went fairly smoothly. The weather was good. I had flown through the Shoshone and Silver North MOAs, but I did check those in advance and they were cold.

I just wish there were some easy way to see what coverage a VOR has from the charts. It's a pain to have to look them all up. I also understand now why all roads in this area seem to pass through either DAG or HEC: they are very hard to avoid when you have so much restricted airspace and mountains about.

My landing was good, even though it required quite a descent, with me coming in at 8500 and the field being at 1455. I started the descent over Cajon Pass and then did an extended downwind and a short base into the field. It was nighttime but I could see Interstate 15 below me snaking through the pass, and I also had the ST3400 to tell me where terrain threatened (plus the charts). This pass is the only convenient spot to sneak directly into the Los Angeles basin; it's either here or way out west towards Agua Dulce.

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