Sunday, March 22, 2009

Phoenix - Thunder Ridge - Carefree - Stellar - Estrella - Hangar Haciendas - Phoenix - Las Vegas / Beechcraft Baron A36 (N3785W) / VFR

Over the course of a day or so, I flew around various “airplane communities” picking up and dropping off a number of virtual friends. I started out from Sky Harbor in Phoenix, and followed Grand Avenue (which becomes Highway 60) all the way up to Circle City, a tiny town right across the highway from Thunder Ridge airport, my first destination. Amazingly, the airport is not in the sim database (even though just about every dirt strip in the world is in the database), so I had to add it myself. It's just a strip with a few homes. It was hard to spot from more than a mile or two away, but I found it and landed safely.

From there, it was off to Sky Ranch at Carefree, another aviation-oriented community north of Phoenix and just south of the Desert Forest golf course. This field, too, is hard to spot from a distance, even though the name of the airport is painted in big letters on the runway. There's rising terrain off either end of the single runway, so you have to be careful. I landed with no problem, however.

After a break, it was time for my next destination, Stellar Airpark. Since this was south of Phoenix and I was north, I had to sneak through the Class B. I asked for and got the west transition route over Sky Harbor. At Ahwatukee, I turned east towards the airpark, which, unlike many other aviation housing developments, is open to the public. I stayed on the public taxiway and paused for a while to switch passengers.

Then it was off to Estrella Sailport, an airport near the mountains of the same name, further south, that caters to gliders. I took great care to watch for traffic at this airport, as there are many tow planes and NORDO gliders moving about. Per the directory notes on the airport, I landed on the one paved runway (the others are reserved for gliders). It was still early and there wasn't too much traffic.

From there, still on the same tank o’gas, I took off again and made my way to Hangar Haciendas, under the Bravo airspace. Another excellent landing—I'm getting quite good at landing the Bonanza.

After switching passengers again, I was off … back to Sky Harbor to pick up some additional virtual friends and some fuel. I made a right base to 7R, allowing me to quickly zip over to Cutter Aviation. Another pause while the tanks were topped off, plus three passengers, and I was ready to go out on the final leg of this long trip, to Sin City.

By this time, the wind had changed, so I took off from runway 26. I wanted 26 so that I could turn immediately originally, although I ultimately decided to make straight out to BXK. I was cleared to 4500 initially, then brought up to 6500 before I left the Class B. Just before reaching the Buckeye VOR, I turned to follow Interstate 10. After following that northwest for a time, I turned towards Parker and Lake Havasu, and starting following the Colorado River north after I reached it. After quite some time, I ended up over Hoover Dam, trying to contact Las Vegas Approach.

I finally got through to ATC as I turned west over FLYES (over Lake Mead). I was restricted to 4500 and told to maintain VFR, and then ATC sort of forgot about me. I ended up flying right over the airport, right above 25R, and then rejoining right traffic. After wandering like this for a time, I finally gave up and turned south towards Jean, an airport at which I'd be able to land without waiting for ATC. But Approach called me up just as I turned over Interstate 15 to go south, and told me to contact Las Vegas Tower, which I did. It was a bit strange, not the usual procedure.

The tower cleared me to make a left downwind to 25R. I descended rapidly to below 1000 feet AGL, then made a sharp turn to base and another to final. There was a Citation behind me six miles out, so I was given approval to land long (given that I was parking at Signature). To my own surprise, I actually managed to do this correctly. Not only was I properly aligned with 25R when I rolled out of my turn, but I was at a good altitude, and I was able to float along the runway for a large part of its length. I finally touched down at the far end and was cleared to cross 1L and 1R to Hotel; I veered out onto Alpha to clear the runway and then made my way over to Signature, which is just off Hotel on the west side of the field. The Citation was just seconds behind, so it was pretty interesting, although the ATC during the approach earlier had been confusing.

After parking, I shut things down for a couple of hours to rest. My passengers were off to the Strip, so I didn't see them again.