Sunday, December 14, 2008

Montgomery Field - Las Vegas / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / IFR

This evening I took my virtual parents, plus my virtual sister and brother-in-law, to exciting Las Vegas, where another virtual uncle awaited. We took the Bonanza, which was just barely sufficient to carry us all there. The combination of a full load, limited fuel capacity, and a lot of IMC along the way made the flight challenging.

The weather briefing predicted marginal VFR and strong winds from the west for most of the flight, so I decided to file IFR. My route out of Montgomery Field would be JLI V514 GFS G528 LAS, at 9000 feet. When we arrived at the field around 5 PM local time, the weather was very cloudy and misty and there was a brisk wind from the west, as predicted.

Loading everyone inside was a problem. I spent some time trying to figure out weight and balance so that we would be within limits and I wouldn't have to constantly trim for any lateral imbalance. I couldn't avoid the lateral imbalance entirely with five passengers, but it turned out not to be too much trouble. Unfortunately, I messed up the CoG calculations and put too much weight aft, which I would discover after we departed.

Another problem was fuel. Usually I depart with full tanks, just for safety and simplicity, but that wasn't possible in this case. The most I could load was 32 gallons. I calculated that this would be somewhat more than necessary for the trip (including reserve), but it still made me nervous, given that I usually have the tanks topped off. The tanks were just above that orange band on the gauges that you're never supposed to go below for take-off.

Anyway, after fussing over weight and balance for a while, I was satisfied that all was well and that everyone was optimally seated. We were cleared direct JLI, then as filed, with a climb directly to our requested cruise altitude of 9000 feet. There was a segment on the route with a MEA of 12,000, but since I have nice RNAV capability on the aircraft, I went with the MOCA of 7800, which allowed me to stay at 9000 the whole way and avoid asking my passengers to huff oxygen along the way.

We were given 28R, and I waited longer than usual for rotation just for a comfort margin, finally leaving the ground just short of 100 KIAS (substantially slower than that on the ground, since we had a hefty headwind). I noticed an unusually steep nose-up attitude while climbing out, combined with an unusually low airspeed, but I attributed this (incorrectly) to overall weight and a high take-off speed, when in fact it was a center of gravity that was very close to the aft limit. I engaged the AP and set a climb speed of 1200 fpm initially, which I gradually dialed down to keep our airspeed around 100 KIAS. I turned directly towards JLI as well. We reached 9000 feet about 20 miles short of JLI, which was in line with my expectations. Crossing JLI, I switched to GPS NAV mode instead of HDG.

The winds along the way were fierce (for a small plane) and we were crabbing as much as 25 degrees into the wind at times. The weather cleared and we got a nice view of Palm Springs at night as we approached TRM, but the winds did not let up. After GFS, they were blowing at around 65 knots for a time.

Surface winds at KLAS were 020 at 4 as we approached, and we were initially cleared for the 01L visual approach. I tried to tune the ILS for back-up, only to discover that my KLAS scenery didn't include this relatively new ILS. Fortunately, visibility was excellent as we descended and I could easily see the field. Unfortunately, the winds shifted substantially on the way in, blowing strongly from the west, and so we broke off the approach and made for 25L, for which I do have the ILS, but we didn't need it as it was easy to turn and land on 25L visually.

There were some very gusty winds on the way down, and the slightly bouncy landing was enough to elicit some expletives from the passengers, but we got down all right. I taxied over to the Signature ramp and we were done.

We left Montgomery Field at 18:17 local time, and got in to Las Vegas at 19:55. That's pretty good time—way better than taking a car. And I still had 12 gallons in the tanks when we arrived, so my fuel calculations were fine. I need to work on W&B, though.

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