Friday, January 2, 2009

Phoenix - Gila Bend - Sedona / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

Internet problems have kept me from logging some things on a timely basis.

This afternoon I flew out to Gila Bend to pick up two virtual passengers, whom I then took up to Sedona. The flight out was unremarkable, 25R straight out, a slight turn to the north to pick up I-10, then my usual path of I-10 to the fork in the road, then Highway 85 down to Gila Bend. It was surprisingly misty in Gila Bend, although still well above minimums.

Considerably later, after dark, with my two passengers aboard, we set off for Sedona, a one-hour flight. I filed VFR, even though I should know better with my poorly-instrumented Cessna in the dark. On this flight I went east from Gila Bend on the GBN063 to intercept the PXR185 radial, because I figured that would keep me away from traffic better. Once on the 185 radial, I took the east transition northbound through the Phoenix Bravo airspace, then turned east at Squawk Peak to catch the 024 radial up to Bartlett Lake, from which I proceeded by pilotage.

The pilotage part was where I screwed up. Of course, the land beneath me was pitch dark, and I could only see the outline of mountains on the horizon. The Verde River valley is nice and low, but the challenge was staying in that valley, given that I couldn't see it. I did see light glinting off the lakes, which helps, but once we were past the lakes I became less and less confident in my position. My passengers cast discreet, worried looks in my direction as I referred more and more frequently to my charts. I found a highway below that looked like it was going north, and I started to follow that. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong one, and only after ten minutes or so did I realize that I was flying due west. The less confident I was in my position, the higher I climbed, since I knew there were mountains on either side of the Verde River. Finally I located myself and more or less got back on track, near Rimrock. I tried to look as much as possible the part of the Master and Commander as I struggled to figure out where I was, twirling dials to tune VORs and try to find which radials I was on.

I finally found the 177 radial out of FLG, and followed that north. Thank goodness the night was crystal-clear, and before I even had to figure out where LYRIT was in relation to me, I realized that I could see Sedona from where I was. So I turned to intercept the radial passing through LYRIT and went there, then lined up and make a quick descent to land in Sedona. Touchdown was perfect. I don't know if I regained the confidence of my somewhat worried passengers, but we got to Sedona okay.

When will I learn to stop trying night VFR flights like this in the Cessna?