March 5th, California to Hawaii, 2nd leg flight report
What a morning, not as planned, again.... but mostly sunny this time. I awoke at 5am and desperately wanted to call FSS and get a weather update. I'd been looking at NOAA and Aviation Weather charts all day yesterday, Tuesday, afternoon as well as calling FSS 3 times to get their take on the weather and winds. I'd planned on leaving Thursday in order to spend an extra day with my brother, Richard, Di and McKenna (wife and darling baby daughter).
But, when I finally downloaded the current weather charts, things looked too perfect. Tailwinds, a high north of the route, good forecast for arrival at Hilo, I just couldn't wait. If I tried to wait, I'd be worried all day that the high would move off and the low would move in. So, I filed and started packing. When Richard got up, I kissed everyone goodbye and he drove me to the airport. Looking to the south there was fog in the valley; they live 1000 feet higher than the airport. Although Long Beach was clear, Brackett was IFR but lifting quickly. I filed an IFR flight plan from Brackett to Long Beach from the car. Packing the plane and pre-flight went quickly as not much had been taken out. Big hug goodbye with his wishes, speaking for the whole family and all friends, for a good flight over the Pacific. I had to get to Long Beach first.
It was a normal liftoff from Brackett as I was going to gas up at Long Beach. We quickly passed through the low mist and were on top in no time. Again I was lucky, practically no-one was talking with SOCAL approach. They cleared my via V394 and not long after I reached 4000 I was cleared back down again. The 10,000 foot runway was easy to see and I was cleared for the visual approach runway 30. I gassed up at Rainbow Air, although gas prices had jumped 10 cents in one day, it was still the cheapest around. The mechanics started to be interested when they saw the gas hose going into the cabin. They walked around but didn't ask any questions and went back to work. After filling up, I did another quick pre-flight, got in, started up and called clearance. No flight plan on file.... hmmmm. Stop the engine, get back out, go inside and call FSS. Apparently some semicolons had been missed and it was stuck in the system. Several minutes later between a very helpful FSS and center, they had it straightened out. The flight service guy was extremely helpful, recognized that time was important and had worked between center and me to clear it up while we were both on the phone. He said that he had worked with Steve Fossett during his trip and had learned how to do a domestic flight plan to Hawaii. I thanked him profusely for his assistance and he wished me a good trip.
One more rest room stop, then back into the plane, start up and call clearance. They have my flight plan, check that I am really going to Hilo, and ask how long it will take. Ground is a little surprised that I ask for the whole 10,000 foot runway; I explain that I'm in an overweight condition and he clears me to the end. During run up, I checked all the tanks to make sure there was no air in the lines. The engine coughed and spluttered on the rear tank, then it cleared -- I was thankful that I was on the ground. Tower clears me to takeoff, I'm amazed how little traffic there is; maybe I'm just lucky again and it's a quiet day. Tower wished me a good trip and hands me off to departure. The climb out feels better this time, maybe it's the sunny day and good visibility; only 14 minutes to 6000 feet. There were several SOCAL approach handoffs in a short amount of time, but each wishes me a good trip and one guy says, "better you than me." Onto the rear seat tank and wait 6 hours and 15 minutes before changing tanks. I wasn't worried during this takeoff and didn't have time to worry about the trip, but for some reason, my stomach was still tight when I leveled off. The relaxation that I felt on the previous leg didn't happen this time -- maybe I was a little worried deep inside.
I checked and rechecked everything. I asked center if I could check the HF with San Francisco radio -- it worked fine. So why was this knot still there? I looked outside at the beautiful, calm blue sea and the few puffy clouds ahead. I breathed deeply and asked myself why I was doing this, then I relaxed and smiled. It took a while, but I was finally feeling better. I looked at the ground speed and it was up to 150 knots. I smiled again.
Ok, I'm going to have to do some calculations on this leg, so let's get started. I figured they'd have me on radar and I'd start position reporting at the first compulsory intersection. I set up a chart to calculate distances and times so that I just had to plug in ETA and ATA for each point. At the first point I made my position report and received a "N220FC, roger." What a let down. I expected cheers for my first report. Well, I patted myself on the back and set up for the next one. I listened to the commercial carriers overhead and modified my words a little to sound more professional. At least I had a good strong signal (thanks Wes and Sandy) and would stay in touch all the way.
There is a cloud layer below me and I'm in smooth air at 6000 ft. Every once in a while there's a hole in the clouds and I see the sea below. It looks relatively calm. I found myself staring at the gauges. When the oil pressure ticked up slightly and the oil temp did the same, my heart was in my mouth. Everything was normal -- quit staring at the gages, nothing is wrong. Several minutes later the batteries on my noise reduction headset gave up -- with the sudden increase in noise, I really jumped. Ok, ok, settle down. Take it easy everything is ok. Breathe deeply. I wasn't worried at the start, but all of a sudden, 1/3 the way there, I get the nerves. Almost time to switch tanks. I'm going to do it a few minutes before it completely runs dry this time, so I won't have to worry about the engine coughing. Last time was 6hr 30 min, so I'll change at 6hr 15 min. At 6hr 07min the engine starts coughing. My hand was already on the fuel selector and I switch immediately, but that was just what I'd wanted to avoid. We'll see if I can do better on the front tank. The back used 8.2 gal/hr. A little more than the first leg, but still less than planned. When the engine runs smoothly, I breathe a whole lot better. I'm back to feeling good.
There's an angry sky to the south. I saw what looked like big storm cells between Hawaii and American Samoa when I was watching the weather yesterday. But, this looks too close to be that system. There are higher clouds ahead, but they look pretty thin and there's nothing on the storm scope. Several minutes later I'm in rain. Not much turbulence but we (me and my Mooney) continue in and out of rain and clouds for an hour. It must be the little trough that I saw on the chart the last two days. On the other side it's magnificent. Little puffy clouds, lots of blue water and a tailwind that pushes me back up to 150 knots. I'd been down to 139/142k for an hour. The charts showed this area and good winds behind it and that's what I got. Clear sailing from now on.
9 hours down and I have to go potty. No getting around it. Ok, let's try the first position again. Since I don't have to talk and listen to ATC every minute, taking my headset off gives me a little more headroom for maneuvering. Well, well, well, success. Not exactly elegant, but successful. The sun is setting at 5:35 Hawaii time and it's getting cool. I thought this was going to be a warm trip, but I find myself wearing my only fleece all the time. Hopefully I'll be warm in Hawaii tomorrow.
As the sun sets there's one big twin going overhead on "my" airway the opposite direction. The stars come out and it's clear above with a scattered to broken layer several thousand feet below. 4.5 hours to go and I can see my destination on the GPS, only 670nm to go. Of course, I have the GPS set at 1000nm range, but it makes me feel good never the less. Only 4 more HF reporting points and I'll be back on VHF. I'm exceedingly happy with the HF reports; each one I've received a roger or a readback of position. Other pilots that I've heard received, "unreadable," "garbled," or "weak transmission." Thanks so much to Wes and Sandy who installed and tweaked the HF system. It's working very well.
Stars above, clouds below, only 100 miles to go, I just started talking on VHF to Honolulu Center a few miles ago. For the last 50 miles a headwind has picked up to 12-15k. But, after the tailwinds that I've had for the whole trip, I'm not complaining. Later, I'm cleared down to 3000 feet and descend through rain and bumpy clouds. I'd heard 2 weather reports in the last hour: visibility 10 miles, 3800 broken, 4900 overcast, and the latest, few clouds at 2600. Well, there was an ILS 26 approach which I used down to 500 feet. It was raining with clouds to 500 feet and maybe 5 miles visibility. Welcome to Hilo, Hawaii!! There was a Navajo ahead of me most of the trip and they called from the ground while I was on final to let me know the actual conditions. They also helped me to tie down and we shared a ride to the hotel. I was amazed that they took 12.3 hours to my 15. At the airport, the tower and FBO were closed but there was one security guard to monitor arrivals (for payment purposes). At least it was warm and I'm sure it'll be sunny tomorrow. Aloha.
I'll add a page on touring around Hilo and the island of Hawaii.
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