FLYING Magazine

After two joyous years of ownership, and the goal of earning my private pilot certificate fulfilled, I decided to sell my Cessna 162 Skycatcher. It was time to upgrade to something bigger, faster, and with air conditioning. I found a buyer in Seattle, Washington. But they were more than 2,500 nm away and uncomfortable with flying it through the mountains. So was I.

At first, I figured we’d just have a professional ferry pilot handle this. But then, I thought, why can’t I take it the whole way? It will be an adventure!

Being one to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I decided to go for it.

Had I ever flown in the mountains on my own before? No. Had I ever landed at a high-altitude airport before? Nope. Had I ever even left Florida at the controls of an airplane? Sorry, no again. I’m a low-time pilot with only a couple hundred hours of mostly flatland cruising. But guess what? I didn’t die. In fact, it turned into one of the best experiences of my life.

Preparing for Departure

In the days leading up to departure, I kept a close eye on the forecast weather along my entire route. I gave myself three consecutive launch days and picked the one that best aligned for favorable forecast weather and winds.

I used ForeFlight and the Aviation Weather Center for planning (though ForeFlight has just about everything the AWC has). I also checked the MyRadar Pro and Windy apps before each leg. In the air, I had ADS-B FIS weather data through ForeFlight on my iPad thanks to a Sentry receiver, and SiriusXM weather through the airplane’s multifunction display (MFD).

To prepare for the mountain flying and high-altitude airport operations, I read every FAA publication I could find about the topics. I took notes and put 500 words of bullet points to remember on a clipboard that I kept in the airplane and reviewed each morning of mountain flying. I also printed off the airplane’s performance charts and relevant high-altitude pages from the POH for quick reference. And I brushed up on my radio communications by reading the book Say Again, Please.

Packed bags are not an issue in a two-seat airplane when flying solo. [Credit: Logan Kugler]

What I Packed

I brought a Sporty’s PJ2 handheld nav/com radio to use as a backup, as well as an Iridium satellite phone, a personal locator beacon, and a seatbelt cutter (in case a forced landing ended with a flip). I took a Wellue O2Ring to keep track of my blood’s oxygen saturation. I added a memory-foam back cushion and seat cushion to the left seat to enhance comfort.

I also packed an extra quart of oil, paper towels, microfiber cloths, a small can of Plexus for windshield cleanings, a backup battery for my iPad, eye drops, some medicine (including Emetrol in case I had any nausea, which I did not), flashlights, extra batteries, hand wipes, a big stack of $5 bills to tip the linemen along the way, UV sleeves to protect my arms (since the windows aren’t UV proof), and a few Travel Johns (for personal relief) with plastic bags.

“This is equivalent to a 1930s cross-country trip in a Stearman!”

I also brought my own tiedowns, wheel chocks, step stool, and tow bar. Plus, I added snacks and about 40 pounds of bottled water, and a small empty suitcase to pack everything into for my airline flight home. I also bought a bin that fit snugly in the passenger footwell so that everything was in easy reach.

The author followed an IFR-worthy flight plan. [Credit: Logan Kugler]

Choosing My Route

I chose my route by first mapping a straight line to Seattle. I then adjusted the route to keep myself within gliding distance of a road or field. I determined my stopovers based on the airplane’s range and how close a decent hotel was to the airport. I also accounted for the length and number of runways. Wherever possible, I picked an airport with multiple runways aligned in different directions to reduce the risk of not being able to land because of a strong crosswind.

I picked a route through the mountains that resulted in the lowest terrain and widest valleys. Where the elevation was the highest, I picked airports with extra-long runways like Cheyenne Regional Airport in Wyoming (KCYS), which has several, including 9/27, at 9,270 feet. I also checked the comments in ForeFlight to ensure the FBO had good reviews. And I favored airports with on-field restaurants like Bentonville, Arkansas, (KVBT) and Stearman Field (1K1), in Benton, Kansas. (FlightsForBites.com is a great resource for this.)

READ MORE: Cessna 162 Skycatcher

What about airports with the lowest fuel prices? I prioritized convenience and overall infrastructure (quality of accommodations and food) that would result in a more enjoyable trip. Even though the buyer was paying for the fuel on this trip, I would have done it no differently if I was paying. The $9 per gallon at Portland International Airport (KPDX), in Oregon, initially gave me pause, but the Sheraton is a five-minute walk from the FBO and the views following the Columbia River into the city were among the best of the trip. Did it really make sense to skip Portland and skip that glorious flying just to save 50 bucks? No way.

Ready for Takeoff

On an early Friday morning in early August, I took off from sunny south Florida and the following Friday I landed in Seattle. I could have done it faster, but I didn’t want to rush. Ultimately, the pace was perfect.

I made it to Meridian, Mississippi (KMEI), the first day, where I got to eat at Weidmann’s, Mississippi’s oldest restaurant, which opened in 1870. It had terrific food. I highly recommend The Threefoot Hotel (in a vintage building with a wonderful rooftop bar and a great gym). The folks at Meridian Aviation are terrific and let me keep the crew car overnight. Also, you might get to park your airplane next to some T-45 Goshawks.

That Doesn’t Look Good

In Bentonville, I felt like a Gulfstream when they rolled out the mat for me before I stepped out of the airplane. But after I did, I noticed some oil on my prop. Whoops. It turned out to be a failing crank seal, that I was lucky to catch. 

I called Yingling Aviation in Wichita, since that was my next stop, only two hours away. “Three weeks.” That’s the soonest they could get to it, even after understanding my situation. Fortunately, Summit Aviation on the field at Bentonville said they could perform the repair immediately since I was a transient, but they didn’t have the part.

It was a Sunday and there was nothing that could be done then, so I went into town and checked out the very cool Walmart Museum at Sam Walton’s very first location. Did you know Walton bought his first airplane, an Ercoupe, in 1954? But before that, I grabbed a bite to eat at Louise, the lovely restaurant right on the field at KVBT. And since I wasn’t doing any more flying that day, I ordered a sangria and it was the best I’ve ever had. (KVBT’s FBO also has the coolest airplane roundabout you’ll ever see.)

The next morning at 8 a.m., I phoned Aircraft Specialties Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma, paid for the $36 part over the phone, and had it in an Uber 10 minutes later on its way to Bentonville. Two hours later, the Uber driver arrived with the new crank seal, and Summit Aviation had it installed three hours after that. (Those guys rock!) After a full-throttle static run-up to confirm no leaks, I was back in the air and flew to Wichita.

In Wichita, Kansas (KICT), I got to tour the Textron Aviation facilities, the original home of the Cessna Aircraft Company. Enough said.

From there, it was off to KCYS, which made for the longest leg at 4 hours, 14 minutes (and I still had one hour of fuel remaining after landing). Cheyenne also marked the beginning of high-altitude airport operations for me. At 6,160 feet msl, and a density altitude of 9,000 feet, I did my another full-throttle static run-up, but this time it was in order to lean the mixture for maximum RPM.

After Cheyenne, I flew to Alpine, Wyoming (46U), and it was absolutely gorgeous. I stopped just before Alpine in Afton, Wyoming (KAFO), which also has an airpark connected to the runway. You come to a big gate that opens with three clicks on the radio. I parked at the end of the taxiway and walked over to Red Baron, enjoyed a tasty burger and fries, then hopped back in for the quick jump up to Alpine.

‘Terrain, Terrain; Pull Up, Pull Up’

After a tour of the lovely Alpine Airpark, I cruised north low over the lake, where I had the best views of the trip (and disabled TAWS because it kept screaming “Terrain, terrain. Pull up”). After taking in the views, I pushed FPL on the MFD and entered my route to Boise, Idaho (KBOI). The NEXRAD weather depiction on my MFD showed thunderstorms ahead. With ForeFlight and SiriusXM providing conflicting weather data, and it being too hazy to see very far ahead, I asked Salt Lake Center for intel and a nearby jet landing at Hailey, Idaho (KSUN), gave me a helpful pirep, which made it clear it was just light rain ahead. The timing was perfect; the Skycatcher needed a bath after all the bugs we had just smashed in Wyoming.

The views on the trip included the majestic Columbia River. [Credit: Logan Kugler]

From Boise to Portland (KPDX), I followed the Columbia River and took in incredible views of Mt. Hood to my left and Mt. Rainer to my right.

Carb Ice, Emergency Descents, and 37-Knot Crosswinds

Between Portland and Seattle, I picked up some carb ice. But it was no factor. I flew most of that leg with partial carb heat to keep the carb temp out of the yellow. Even with partial carb heat, the Skycatcher still climbed like a champ.

I got stuck in VFR conditions over a seemingly endless overcast layer, but right as I was about to give up on one of my stops and continue on (I knew it was clear 40 nm ahead), I spotted a good-sized hole and began an expedited descent through it while riding just under the barber pole (near Vne). My vertical speed indicator maxed out at 2,000 fpm as I said “Yee-haw,” and down we went in a descending turn through the hole. Once through, I leveled out and there was the airfield I wanted to land at 2 nm directly in front of me. Given the incredible timing, it was as if the skies had parted for me.

The best office view: VFR above a layer, cloud deck below. [Credit: Logan Kugler]

When I hit some moderately severe turbulence, I just tightened down my seatbelt, pulled the throttle back a little, and smiled as I looked at the incredible views outside the window.

I discovered a love for the longer 3- to 4-hour legs because you can climb up to 10,500 feet, lean it out, and just cruise there for hours and hours with the cold air and breathtaking views.

I lucked out with tailwinds most of the journey. Occasionally headwinds, but nothing too terrible. At one point, I had a 37-knot crosswind component at altitude, and you can imagine how crabbed I was in the Skycatcher to keep a straight track over the ground. I never had an issue with crosswinds on landing. I think the worst one I had to contend with when it came time to land was just 8 knots.

What a Trip!

The trip ended in Seattle at Renton Municipal (KRNT) on the same runway where all of the world’s Boeing 707s, 727s, 737s, and 757s first took to the skies. My last stop before catching an airline flight home was a visit to the world-class Museum of Flight (highly recommended), where I got to hang out with Amelia Earhart.

Inspiration, thy name is Amelia Earhart. [Credit: Logan Kugler]

All in all, it was a spectacular trip and thrice as good as I thought it would be. I got into such a rhythm with the airplane that the whole trip felt like gliding. Even the crank seal repair didn’t feel like a setback as it was just part of the adventure and only delayed me by one day.

With no autopilot, I thought I would be considerably more fatigued by constantly maintaining heading and altitude and chasing engine rpm—for 30 hours—but it was more adventure than chore.

With everything I was hauling, I was slightly under maximum takeoff weight with full fuel. That means this trip wouldn’t have been possible to execute in the same manner with a passenger.

When preparing for the trip, I was surprised to learn how many experienced pilots are uncomfortable flying a single-engine airplane with a 100 hp normally aspirated engine through the mountains. The Cessna 162 is a real airplane, folks! There wasn’t a single moment during this trip that I felt worried or unsafe. The only thing I regret is that the buyer wasn’t in Europe, because then the trip would have been longer. (If anyone has a 162 they want ferried, call me, maybe.)

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done some pretty neat things in my life, including going inside one of the space shuttles when the program was still active, climbing to the tip of a 1,100 foot radio tower in China (that was scary), driving cars at more than 200 mph, and spending a weekend with a billionaire on his private island. But for so many intangible reasons, this trip flying an LSA transcon all by myself was one of the most joyous things I’ve ever done. Just me, a little Cessna Skycatcher, and the open sky!

I really think more pilots should go on an adventure like this. With the right precautions taking a low route through the high terrain, and study of mountain flying and high-altitude airport operations, it’s quite safe and marvelous fun.

Trip Highlights

2,923 miles flown (2,542 nm)30.6 hours flying the airplaneCommunicated with and monitored eight of 21 air traffic control centers (ARTCCs) in the U.S.Longest leg: Wichita to Cheyenne at 4 hours, 14 minutesAveraged 4.5 gph, including takeoff. (The 162’s happy place is leaned at 10,500 feet msl.)Highest density altitude encountered: 14,500 feet (while cruising at 12,500 feet)Primarily cruised at 8,500 or 10,500 feet msl, where the air was cool and mostly calm.Density altitude was 9,000 feet on takeoff from Cheyenne. Zero issues with takeoff or climbing even at high density altitudes. The Cessna 162 is a better performer than people realize.

Route summary: South Florida > Tallahassee (KTLH) > Meridian (KMEI) > Bentonville (KVBT) > Wichita (KICT) > Cheyenne (KCYS) > Afton (KAFO) > Boise (KBOI) > Portland (KPDX) > Renton (KRNT)

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