Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seattle - Shoshone County / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

I tried planning this out last night, but the weather was so bad that I gave up.

I had been reading about Wallace, Idaho, a small silver-mining town whose claim to fame is that it was used as a shooting location for the movie Dante's Peak. As I read about it on Wikipedia, I had a sudden hankering to visit it—not for real, of course (I hate travel), but by air, in one of my fleet of aircraft. So I looked at the area on Google Maps, and gradually worked out a route that would take the Baron I had parked at SeaTac out to the nearest airport to this tiny town, which turned out to be Shoshone County Airport (S83), just north of Smelterville (what a great name for a town, eh?), although it's usually associated with Kellogg, Idaho.

I looked at the low-altitude en-route charts, and quickly felt discouraged by the sky-high MEAs. I decided to plan a flight under VFR. My first attempt was unsuccessful, as the weather was hard IMC most of the way. That was yesterday afternoon. This morning (Seattle time) I tried again.

So I figured that first I'd ride the 096 radial out of SEA until about 28 DME. That would put me just southeast of Hanson Reservoir, in a valley that's plenty low. From there I'd follow the valley visually through Stampede Pass, where I could spot Interstate 90 and follow it until I had a clear path to the Ellensburg VOR (I could have followed I-90 for the entire trip, but it would have been significantly longer). I'd depart Ellensburg on the 086 radial out to FEBUS (25 DME), then ride the 213 radial to the Moses Lake VOR.

Departing Moses Lake, there would come a long leg direct to the Spokane VOR (GEG). I'd depart GEG on the 052 radial until 31 DME, then turn and follow Interstate 90 east, which would be right below me. The Interstate would take me the remaining 31 nm or so out to Shoshone County Airport.

Executing this route went mostly as planned. I departed 16L, made a left crosswind, then joined the 096 radial and rode it southeast as planned. When I go to my next working waypoint, I started following the valley. Unfortunately, at 5500 feet, I ran into mist and couldn't see anything. In theory, I should have filed for a pop-up IFR clearance, but since there was no ATC online and I had all the avionics one could want (except weather radar, drat!), I just continued on using the Sandel ST3400 to navigate through the valley.

After a bit of this I decided to descend to 3500 to see if I could get below the clouds. I knew this was safe because of the charts and the TAWS terrain display. Sure enough, as I descended, I squeaked out of the clouds. Being at less than 3000' AGL, I went down a bit further to improve visibility and get a statutory margin between me and the cloud deck. I found I-90 and turned east, following it carefully. When I knew I had no terrain between me and the Ellensburg VOR, I went direct.

After ELN, visibility got really good. I continued to follow the interstate across the Columbia river, and suppressed an urge to follow the river north to visit Grand Coulee dam (it looked close on the chart, but I knew it would be a major detour). After continuing along the interstate for a while, I just made direct MWH and then GEG, as terrain was very flat.

I eventually ended up over Spokane, then it was across the State line and almost up to Coeur d'Alene. I found my turning point and the interstate again, and turned east to follow it through the mountains. After a surprisingly short time, I recognized my destination airport ahead (thanks to my previous look at Google Maps).

Although the airport is very small and surrounded by low mountains on three sides, I managed to land without any problem. Drawing upon what I've learned in the Cessna, I slowed the faster Baron down to about 90 KIAS with full flaps and trim set to the take-off range (substantially nose-up). I managed to fly a nice downwind right over the interstate, then turned base and final east of the field. I passed quite closely over a good-sized hill east of the field, and in retrospect it occurs to me that an engine failure would have been very unpleasant on that turn to final, but fortunately my engines are exceptionally well maintained and have never failed me up to now. Anyway, after clearing the hill I put the nose down to pick up some speed, which I then bled off after crossing the threshold and flaring, so I touched down quite nicely. It seemed to be slightly below freezing and I had some concern about stopping, but it turned out that the runway was plenty long and I wasn't going very fast, so all went well.

Now I'm contemplating perhaps an IFR flight back, even though the idea of having a cannula stuck in my nose for the duration doesn't appeal to me. I know, I know: Macho pilots don't use oxygen unless they can see the Andromeda Galaxy in daylight—but I'm not macho. I prefer being alive to being studly.

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