Midnight Engineer’s Forum


Each year I attend a conference in Denver that grew out of a magazine called ‘Midnight Engineering‘. The magazine was dedicated to engineers that loved the work so much they could be found doing it at all hours, even in their spare time, hence the magazine’s name. Many of the readers were entrepreneurial types engaged in moonlighting activities. A yearly conference called Entcon was started that became like a ‘real-time version of the magazine’. It was a great networking event with lots of interesting people that kicked off with skiing in the Rocky Mountains followed by a weekend of presentations and informal networking sessions.

The magazine is out of print, but a conference which is now called Entconnect is still going on each year in Denver around the last week of March.

We don’t get a chance to talk much with the other conference participants throughout the year, so I’ve put together a forum on Yahoo Groups. If discussions about entrepreneurship, tech startups, and free agent engineering appeal to you, perhaps you’d like to join the group.

Remembering Geoff Peck


A few weeks ago, my friend and helper on the HP Media Vault Yahoo Group, Chris, was asking me some questions about taking his first trip to the EAA convention in Oshkosh this summer. Chris found me through my Media Vault website and it turns out that we share a lot of interests. He was the first Media Vault owner to compile the Linux kernel which impressed me because he had no prior Linux experience and was only 14 years old at the time. He’s been a highly valued source of help in providing product support and also runs his own Yahoo Group called Hacking the HP Media Vault. He even runs his own computer repair business. Look him up if you’re in the St. Louis area and need some computer help.

One of the interests we share is aviation. The annual EAA convention at Oshkosh, called Airventure, is coming up next week and Chris is planning to attend it with his dad. He was asking some questions a few weeks ago about the byzantine pricing schemes the EAA uses for admission and was having some trouble trying to figure out if his junior membership qualified him for a guest admission pricing for his dad. He wasn’t getting anywhere with the folks at the EAA since it was an unusual request. Most junior or student members have at least one parent who is a member of the EAA and so the people who staffed the help desk hadn’t encountered a situation like this before. I figured that I would call upon someone who I knew who helped write the Airventure admission software for the EAA, Geoff Peck, to help sort things out.

Geoff Peck and I go way back. Geoff was the originator of Usenet’s rec.aviation subgroups back around 1992. Prior to that, there was a single rec.aviation group of which I was an avid reader and occasional contributor. I always admired the way Geoff answered aviation-related questions. His responses were always so well-reasoned and professional. Always calm and authoritative, his writing style was what I aspired to sound like when I wrote.

It had been a few years since I had communicated with Geoff. At one time, he used to organize daily meetings for lunch at Oshkosh, with everyone meeting at the base of the control tower around noon. He’d also help organize a dinner at the Granary, and he’d pass around his laptop for people to use to make a rec.aviation posting entitled “Live from Oshkosh”. This was back in the early 90’s, which was long before the Internet and Web became mainstream. It was even before Deja News (now Google Groups) began archiving the Usenet postings, so much of this history is lost to time. I would look forward to seeing Geoff each year, manning the booth for his flight planning company, Enflight, patiently talking with customers and eager to help other pilots.

So, I did a quick Google search on his name to get to his personal website and make sure I had a good email address for him. You can imagine my concern when the first hit Google returned was entitled: “Remember Geoff Peck” at his personal website. I read with dismay that he had died in a plane crash in Colorado on his way back from Oshkosh in August, 2006. I read the NTSB report with astonishment that Geoff, a highly skilled 4400-hour ATP-rated flight instructor, would perish in a classic box canyon trap.

Today I was reminded about the incident again when I got an email from the AOPA describing his accident. Here is the text of it:

“On Aug. 7, 2006, the pilot of a Piper PA-28R-201 Arrow was returning to California after attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. While attempting to navigate through mountainous terrain northwest of Salida, Colo., the pilot made a wrong turn and flew into a box canyon. Unable to outclimb the terrain, the aircraft struck a stand of pine trees and came to rest inverted. The crash killed the 4,400-hour airline transport pilot and seriously injured his passenger.

Making their way west from Oshkosh, the San Jose-based pilot and his passenger had arrived at Harriet Alexander Field (elevation 7,523 feet msl) in Salida around 8 p.m. on the day before the accident. The following morning, the pilot used his laptop computer to obtain a DUATS weather briefing and file a VFR flight plan to Milford, Utah. The density altitude in Salida that morning was about 9,400 msl, meaning aircraft flying in the area would perform as though they were about 2,000 feet higher than their actual altitude.

According to the airport manager, the pilot asked which route he should take to Utah. The pilot wanted to fly west across Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet msl). The manager suggested that he instead fly south through the lower-elevation Poncha Pass before turning west. The pilot ignored the advice. The airplane took off around 10 a.m. and turned toward Monarch Pass.

The Arrow flew west along U.S. Highway 50, which eventually runs through Monarch Pass toward Utah. Over the town of Maysville, however, the pilot began following County Road 240, which runs northwest through a box canyon for about 10 miles before dead-ending near the canyon’s terminus.

Several witnesses saw a low-wing, single-engine airplane flying northwest up the canyon. One witness, located about two miles from the accident site, went to investigate when the aircraft failed to fly back out. He discovered the wreckage and the lone survivor sitting on a rock nearby. The injured passenger had no memory of the events leading to the accident.

The Arrow crashed at 10:20 a.m. at an elevation of about 12,000 feet msl. Terrain surrounding the accident site quickly rises to between 13,000 and 14,000 feet msl. The aircraft’s throttle was found in the full-forward position. The vertical speed indicator showed a climb rate of 130 fpm. NTSB investigators estimated the Arrow’s groundspeed at the time of the crash was 59 knots.

The board concluded that inadequate preflight planning and preparation caused the accident. Contributing factors were the pilot’s lack of familiarity with the geographical area, his becoming lost and disoriented, his decision to disregard the advice of local pilots, and the high density altitude, which reduced the airplane’s climb performance.

This accident illustrates the unique hazards of mountain flying. Summer temperatures can push the density altitude to heights that approach or exceed a light aircraft’s service ceiling, despite what the altimeter might be reading. Moreover, to a pilot unfamiliar with the terrain, the mouth of one canyon can look very much like another. Is it a mountain pass leading to the relative safety of lowlands beyond—or a dead end? Like the proverbial blind choice between the lady and the tiger, picking the wrong door can end very, very badly.”

I tried to imagine the decision-making that had led up to the accident and I have begun to wonder if Geoff had a weather issue like mountain obscuration and chose to fly northward to see if he could get around it. In doing so, he inadvertently followed a box canyon that he was unable to climb out of. I’m surprised that despite the mention of the AWOS weather conditions at Monarch Pass, weather was never mentioned in the cause of why, instead of flying over Monarch pass, Geoff would fly north and end up in a box canyon. The Monarch Pass AWOS reported at 9:50 a.m.:

Wind, 210 degrees at 14 knots; visib
ility, less than 1/4 statute mile, light snow; ceiling, 100 feet overcast; temperature, 7 degrees C.; dew point, 6 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.82 in. Hg

The accident investigation seems to indicate that he was lost, believing he was over Monarch Pass when in fact he was 8 miles north. After looking at the AWOS report, I can’t help think that Monarch Pass was not safe to fly through with a 100′ ceiling and so Geoff headed north looking for a more favorable weather conditions. It surprises me that there was no mention of the mountain obscuration as being a factor in this accident. Also, not taking the advice to use Poncha Pass is understandable too. Poncha Pass doesn’t cross the continental divide. So even after crossing Poncha Pass, it would be necessary to immediately turn west and cross the continental divide at an elevation similar to that of Monarch Pass (11,312 feet MSL).

I can attest to the fact that the Rockies can be difficult to climb over, especially in the summer when density altitude becomes a bigger factor, and with any amount of westerly wind, there will likely be down drafts making the climbing more difficult as you fly from east to west. Also, trying to squeeze under some low ceilings to clear a mountain pass can be a particularly bad idea.

We will miss Geoff, but not the final flying lesson he taught us and that is to be careful flying around the Rocky Mountains, especially when attempting to cross over them.

San Diego trip


A few days after I returned from the Rutan Brothers Birthday Bash in Mojave, Terri and I were scheduled to go out to San Diego for a vacation. I had investigated various methods of travel and decided that the LongEZ was still the most economical and by far the most adventurous mode of travel for us. Terri has accompanied me on several trips in the LongEZ. She has the dubious task of squeezing into its compact back seat beset with our baggage. It’s a good thing she’s svelte.

We’ve taken several LongEZ trips together to Illinois, Seattle, and Lake Tahoe. She also accompanied me on many trips in our Piper Colt including a 1500 mile trip from Pennsylvania to Colorado, but that plane had side-by-side seating so it was more comfortable for the passenger. It takes Terri time to get over the discomfort of long distance traveling with the LongEZ and so we don’t do it all that often, about once every 2 years. The primary motivation for finishing the Cozy, which has side-by-side seating and much more baggage space, is to make our traveling more comfortable. The seating position and visibility in a canard airplane is much better for the front seaters than for the rear seaters because they have better visibility and can stretch their legs out a lot more. It’s also a lot easier to communicate with someone who is seated along side you than it is with someone sitting behind you.

I try to break our trips up into 2 to 3 hour legs so that it doesn’t get too uncomfortable. When I fly with a passenger, I need to keep the fuel load light, no more than half full, so as not to put the plane over its gross weight and to help maintain a reasonable climb performance.

The night before we were scheduled to leave, we had a Rush concert at Red Rocks amphitheater in Denver. That meant we wouldn’t be getting home until nearly 1:00 a.m. and so we didn’t expect to leave until around 9:00 a.m.. The concert had been rescheduled from earlier in the month because of a weather cancellation so there wasn’t much we could have done short of missing it, and that wasn’t going to happen.

When flying a small airplane, if you can start your traveling at the crack of dawn, you can reduce the amount of time flying in the bumpy air that generally starts around 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately for us, it would have meant getting little or no sleep, so it wasn’t an option. We managed to get in the air about 10:00 a.m.

The climb performance of the LongEZ at gross weight with the 108 HP engine is not great and the continental divide is the first and highest part of the Rockies we needed to clear. It’s just about 15 minutes travel to the west. I have a policy that I won’t fly toward a mountain pass until I can see over and clear it by at least 500 feet well before I arrive at it. Too many pilots get in trouble as they try to out climb a mountain and that’s a formula for disaster, especially when you figure that the service ceiling for many small planes is around 14,000′ and there are mountain peaks taller than that in the Rockies. It’s possible to fly a northern route up around Laramie, WY or down around Albuquerque, NM if the plane can’t safely climb over the mountains and that would be my advice for anyone who hasn’t done much mountain flying and wants to cross the Rockies. The density altitudes tend to be very high around here because the ground warms the air at these high elevations, so a 12,000′ mountain pass may have a density altitude much higher than its elevation, possibly beyond the service ceiling of an aircraft, so you have to be aware of that when crossing the Rocky Mountains in a small airplane. Even taking off from high altitude airports can be a very strange sensation if all of your experience has been close to sea level. Planes tend to accelerate and climb much more slowly when the density altitude reaches 8000′ or more which is a very common occurrence in Colorado and other western states with high altitude airports.

We climbed over the Rockies just to the north of Long’s Peak and got a nice view of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first fuel stop was in Grand Junction, near the western border of Colorado and as we approached it, the afternoon thermals were already starting to make the ride bumpy. I knew we were in for a rough ride across Utah and Arizona. We were planning to spend the night in Sedona, AZ because we had heard so much about it and had never been there. We were eager to see if it lived up to its utopian reputation. After fueling up at Grand Junction, we headed off toward Moab, Utah and then turned southward. I was hoping to cross into Arizona near Monument Valley to get a good look at the famous formations that have appeared in many western films. The terrain below us for much of our journey across Utah was a series of canyons and rugged formations made by the Colorado River drainage. It eventually turned into Lake Powell, which was visible off of our right wing. Monument Valley was just to the left as we crossed into Arizona. We were too far above and to the west of the formations to get any good pictures of them, but they all looked very familiar.

As we got further into Arizona, the thunderstorms had begun to appear on the horizon. I called up Flight Watch on 122.0 and asked about weather developing along our route and the weather briefer suggested that we fly directly west to the Grand Canyon Airport and then head south to get around some cells that had formed just east of Flagstaff and Sedona. I decided that it would be good to land at Grand Canyon Airport and take a break while we looked at a weather radar screen, just to make sure we’d be clear getting into Sedona. This allowed us to fly over the Grand Canyon, which was fun to see from the air. Terri and I had visited the Grand Canyon in 1985, just a few weeks after we got back from our honeymoon. I can still recall how hot it was driving across the Painted Desert in a car that had no air conditioning. The Grand Canyon airport had many commercial aircraft on the ramp taking tourists for scenic flights over the canyon. There were at least a dozen twin turbo prop aircraft parked there and they were leaving at a very regular rate. Most of the visitors appeared to be from other countries. After recovering from our bumpy ride, we got back into the plane for our short flight to Sedona. Flying into Sedona is visually stunning. It’s surrounded by red rock cliffs and formations of all shapes and sizes and the airport is like the deck of an aircraft carrier sitting up on a butte with 400′ dropoffs on all sides. There are many scenic overlooks around the airport and people drive up to it just to take in the 360-degree views of Sedona.

We had reservations at the Sky Ranch Lodge at the airport, and I’m glad I made them a few days in advance, because they were completely booked when we arrived. We also ran into John Lambert and his wife at the terminal. I recognized his name when he introduced himself because he had put together a slide presentation at the Rutan Birthday bash I had attended the previous week. He and his wife were on their way back to Arkansas from Mojave via automobile and had stopped in Sedona for the night. John built a Varieze but had since sold it.

There is a restaurant at the Sedona airport that serves dinner, but we wanted to see some of the town and to do that, we needed to get a ride into town. As we were walking to the hotel, we had been offered a ride into town by a kind stranger who was driving by but we only needed to walk a few hundred yards to the hotel. John Lambert had already offered us a ride to the hotel, but we opted to walk since it was so close. I figured getting a ride into town would be easy. However, the first 2 taxi services w
e called didn’t have any drivers available to take us to a restaurant so we called up a car service operated by ‘Gator’ who gladly showed up in a unique vehicle with horns on the hood and gave us a ride into town. After an enjoyable meal on the outdoor patio of the El Rincon restaurant along Oak Creek in Tlaquepaque Village, we started walking back to the center of town, figuring our odds of getting a lift back up to the airport might be better there. As we were walking, I turned to ask a woman who was walking behind us if she could direct us to the center of town. She asked where we were going and we said we needed to get back to our hotel at the airport. Without hesitating she said she was going that way and offered us a lift. It was the third ride we had been offered since our arrival.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the airport restaurant and took off around 9:00 a.m. The airport elevation is 4800′ and the temperature had gotten high enough that the density altitude was already 8000′. With an uphill departure, we used most of the runway to get airborne and I was grateful that by the time we flew off of this aircraft carrier of an airport, the town was already 400′ below us. We had to turn west to avoid the 6000′ tall cliffs just north of town.

From Sedona we flew over Prescott, then just south of Lake Havasu, Palm Springs, and on to San Diego. Upon arriving near the busy airspace around San Diego, I attempted to contact SoCal Approach to get clearance into the Class B airspace that covers most of the airports around San Diego. The controller was not responding to me and when he finally did, he told me he’d call me back in 5 minutes. My alternate airport was Ramona, which is just outside the Class-B airspace and so I started circling toward it waiting for my call. After 5 minutes with no response I called him again, and got a response that he’d call me back in another 5 minutes, all while sounding overworked and flustered. This appears to be a stall tactic used by controllers that means, “Don’t bother me, I’m busy with more important traffic right now.” The airspace over Montgomery Field, which is downtown in San Diego, was very hazy with only about 5 miles of visibility. By contrast, Ramona was clear and right below me, so I decided to land there and see if we could get the rental car delivered there instead. I called the Ramona tower, got a clearance to land and then taxied over to Chuck Hall aviation. After a few minutes on the phone with Enterprise, they agreed to pick us up and drive us to Poway to pick up a car. So that made the decision to park the plane there instead of at Montgomery Field. Even though it would have been more convenient, Montgomery Field often gets fogged in for several hours each morning in June. Ramona is far enough inland and higher in elevation that it’s not as susceptible to those conditions so I was fine with parking the airplane there while we visited San Diego.

Our Starwood Four Points hotel was next to Montgomery field and with the GPS, we were able to find our way there without difficulty. I should mention that during this trip I used my HP Travel Companion running Anywhere Map software for aerial navigation and then switched to its built in Tom Tom Navigator in the car. We found this gadget to be invaluable both in the car and plane during the trip. We used it constantly. I was even able to send email with it from a free wireless connection at the hotel.

The hotel is undergoing an extensive remodeling project and so we got a new room with a nice soft bed. It reminded us of our the bed we had at a Sheraton in downtown Chicago this past March. Later we’d find out that this bed is called a ‘Heavenly Bed’ and we’ve since put it on our shopping list.

Terri is a beach person, and one of our major goals was to visit the beaches around the San Deigo area, so after a short rest, we headed off for Mission Beach. I’ve only been to San Deigo once before, in 1984, and had visited Mission Beach so I was a little familiar with it. We strolled along the beach and took in the sights. Later that evening, we ate at a restaurant in ‘Old Town San Diego’ and did some sightseeing there as well.

Prior to arriving in San Diego, I had emailed my college roommate, Dave Serhan, who has lived in San Diego since graduating from Penn State to tell him that we’d be visiting the area. Whenever we travel in the LongEZ, I generally try to avoid setting up any meetings that would make us feel like we have to be in a particular place at a particular time. When I visit fellow pilots, they tend to understand the unpredictability of private airplane travel and so I don’t mind telling a pilot in general terms when I expect to be around, because if I show up late or not at all due to weather or some other reason, he’ll understand. Dave was the first person I knew who had his pilot’s license and he took me for an airplane ride at Forty Fort, PA airport when we were both teenagers. I still remember it vividly because he let me fly the airplane while he took some aerial pictures. It was my first experience at the controls. I guess in some ways, I have him to blame for my aviation addiction. Dave also spent much of his military career flying F14 fighter jets off of aircraft carriers, so he parlayed his investment in learning to fly small airplanes into flying multimillion dollar jets before retiring from the Navy a few years ago. I had visited Dave during my last trip to San Diego and he gave us a tour of Mirimar Naval Base and we got to see his F14 fighter jet. It was very impressive.

The following day we decided to visit Coronado Island and I gave Dave a call on my way to see if he was around or if he was off traveling for his job. Dave was home when I called and told me he only checks his home email address once a week and so he didn’t get my message. He invited us over for dinner and to meet his family. I saw Dave last year at our high school reunion, but hadn’t met his wife or daughters.

We spent the afternoon in Coronado Island and even rented a pedal-car called a surrey to travel around the island to get a better feel for the place. We really got a good workout as a result of our 6-mile pedaling adventure. Previously, I had thought that Coronado Island consisted of just a Naval base, but quickly realized that it had a beautiful beach and surrounded by many quaint neighborhoods. We ate lunch there and then went to walk on its beautiful beach that had sparkling golden flakes mixed in with the sand as it washed in on the beach. We also took a quick tour of the The Hotel del Coronado which was built in 1888, and it was quite spectacular. Terri has decided that on our next visit to the area, that’s where she’d like to stay.

After a day touring around Coronado Island, we headed up to Dave’s house north of the city. Our GPS led us right to his door. We really enjoyed getting to meet Dave’s lovely wife, Anita, and his two beautiful daughters, Lindsey and Kristina who are ages 19 and 15 respectively. Dave and I spent some time catching up while Terri and Anita became engaged in lively discussions on topics involving pets, furniture, and clothing. Anita is an expert in furniture and when we described our Starwood hotel bed to her, she immediately knew that it was called a ‘Heavenly Bed’ and that you can order one for your home. Part of its incredible comfort is a result of the high thread count sheets and blankets.

I learned that Dave has become quite a skilled pool player and is top ranked in his league. He recently built a billiard room and so I played a few games of 8 ball, all while feeling quite outclassed as he demonstrated his considerable skills. In a few hours, it was time for us to leave, but we hope to get back in the area and pay them another vi
sit. I am confident it won’t take us another 24 years to get back to San Diego again.

On Sunday we decided to visit the aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, which is docked at a downtown pier. First launched in 1945, the ship has undergone several retrofits and saw action right up until Operation Desert Storm in 1992. It’s been a museum/tourist attraction since 2004. An aircraft carrier is an engineering marvel and neither Terri nor I had ever seen one up close. I’ve seen plenty of TV programs that describe them on the Military Channel, but getting to walk through one is quite an experience. It took us about 3 hours to take the full self-guided tour which included an audio recording of many of the ship’s features. I won’t go into all the details of what we saw, but there are some pictures linked below and about half of them are of this tour. If you’re ever in San Diego, I suggest you spend a few hours to tour this ship.

There were still a few beaches we wanted to check out, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon comparing the beaches in Del Mar and La Jolla with the ones we saw closer to downtown San Diego. I had ventured into La Jolla during my first visit to the San Diego area, up in the hills and was astonished at how beautiful all the homes looked. So Terri and I took a short ride up Hillside Drive to see if my recollection fit what I had remembered. We found a dream home there offered for $12.1M which looked quite nice, but a bit out of our price range.

We liked all of the San Diego beaches, and Coronado was our favorite because it seemed the most accessible and the least crowded.

On Monday morning we headed home, taking off around 8:00 a.m. and heading to Falcon Field in Phoenix as our first stop. I knew that it would be hot in Phoenix, but it also has a low elevation at only 1400′ MSL and so the density altitude would be more manageable in the heat of the midday than most other Arizona airports. It was close to 100F when we arrived, and we had enjoyed a pretty smooth and comfortable ride at 9500′ prior to our descent. After leaving there, we headed to Albuquerque, so that we could cross the Rockies at a lower altitude and to better avoid the isolated thunderstorms that form just about every summer afternoon in the Rockies. When we landed at Double Eagle airport, there was a jet getting ready to take off. It looked like an Czech L39 Albatros military jet trainer and had a very loud jet engine to match. I was surprised to see the name ‘Eclipse’ on its tail. Last year Eclipse surprised everyone at Oshkosh with a small single engine ‘Concept Jet’ now called the model 400 and so I was wondering if they had some new aircraft they’d be showing this year. I searched the Internet for any mention of this new single engine jet and could find nothing. Eventually, I found out that Eclipse uses an L39 for training and as a chase plane, so that was what we saw.

We borrowed the courtesy car from the FBO and drove a few miles north to get something to eat since the restaurant on the field had closed at 2:00 p.m.. I checked weather upon returning and it appeared that if we flew toward Las Vegas, NM and then east of Pueblo, we’d miss some monster thunderstorms forming over the mountains. In a little over 3 hours after our departure from Albuquerque, we were descending through Denver’s Class B airspace showing a ground speed of nearly 180 mph. We were getting our first significant tailwinds of the entire trip.

It was a great relief to land back in Greeley after a long day of flying. Terri is a great sport for spending all that time in the back seat with hardly a complaint, although I think it may be another year or two before I can convince her to take a trip like that again in the LongEZ. But…. maybe if I can just get that Cozy finished …

You can find some photos of this trip here.

Rutan Brothers Birthday Bash 2008


I flew to California in the LongEZ twice last month. I’ll write up the experiences in two separate blog entries.

The first trip was to attend a birthday bash in Mojave, CA for the Rutan brothers. This was a huge event with more than 500 attendees. I had seen pictures of the last birthday celebration event that took place in 2003 and thought that if they were ever to do that again, I must try to get out there. A few weeks ago I received an announcement through one of my canard mailing lists that a big birthday bash was planned for Saturday, June 21st, 2008 and mentioned it to Terri. “You should go!”, she told me, so that I could participate in this historic event. That’s all the encouragement it took. Soon I was planning the trip and looking forward to flying there.

I had some other things that I wanted to do and see in California, including a business meeting with a potential client at Van Nuys airport just north of LA. I also wanted to visit my friends Marc and Deanie Zeitlin, who live in Tehachapi a few miles from Mojave. Marc and I met in 1996 after he had started the Cozy mailing list which has been going on every since. He and Deanie have been out to visit us a few times and we usually see each other at Oshkosh each year. Marc moved from Massachusetts to California when he went to work for Burt Rutan at Scaled Composites about 3 years ago and has been busy working on the SpaceShip 2 design. He and Deanie just completed building their dream home in Tehachapi and so I was eager to visit and see it firsthand, after reading his report on his website about the design and construction of the house. Seeing it up close and staying with them for the weekend gave me a whole new appreciation for this beautiful home with its fabulous view and many unique features.

Marc Zeitlin standing next to Matt Steinmetz’s beautiful LongEZ, Deja Vu

I launched on the morning of June 20th about 7:45 a.m.. My friends Curt and Gail were also flying their Varieze to the gathering and planning on stopping in Grand Junction, CO for their first fuel stop after climbing over the Rocky Mountains. I figured I’d be able to raise them on the air-to-air frequency and hopefully catch up to them in St. George, Utah for lunch. Shortly after takeoff, I heard a familiar voice on the frequency of Rob Martinson who flies a Varieze out of Denver. He was also planning to stop in St. Geroge for lunch so it was comforting to have some company that I could chat with on the radio enroute. Rob just won the prize for the most efficient airplane at a new contest called FuelVenture where he managed to get 66 mpg from his Varieze while flying along at 137 mph.

I cleared the Continental Divide just to the south of Long’s Peak at an altitude of 12,500′ and stayed at that altitude for the majority of the trip across Colorado and Utah. Rob took a more circuitous route so he could fly over Lake Powell in southern Utah. By the time we got near Moab, Utah I found Curt on the frequency as he and Gail had just taken off from Grand Junction after their first fuel stop. I should mention here that the LongEZ carries twice the fuel load of a Varieze and could easily make it to California with no fuel stops, but I generally only fill the tanks half way to give me better climb performance and because I like to land and take a break every 3 to 4 hours. I’ve only rarely taken advantage of the full 52 gallon fuel capacity which gives the LongEZ a 1150 mile range.

The scenery across Colorado and Utah was beautiful and I’ve linked a few photos below. We touched down in St. George, Utah around lunch time and Rob, Curt, Gail and I all walked over to a restaurant at the north end of the field for lunch. There were already 4 other canard planes on the ramp that had arrived about an hour before we did and they were fueling up and getting ready to leave. Everyone at the airport was curious how so many canards had landed at the same time. I generally run into at least one person at each fuel stop who has never seen a canard aircraft, despite the fact that more than 2000 of them are flying today. So having 7 come in at once to a remote location like St. George is a very rare sight.

After eating lunch and refueling, we headed out again. Rob and Curt were going to go directly to Mojave, but I was heading to Van Nuys. However, we needed to take the same route to get around the restricted airspace near Edwards Air Force base in Mojave. We flew directly over the top of the Las Vegas airspace at 10,500′ which gave us spectacular views of the entire city. Nevada is exceptionally dry with hardly any vegetation from one end of it to the other, as is western California where it borders on Nevada. It’s a very stark landscape to see from the air. At 10,500′, the air was cool and a little bumpy. The flight went quickly and in a few hours I bid my goodbyes to Rob and Curt and headed into the busy airspace over southern California. There was a heat wave in progress and when I landed at Van Nuys and the temperature was 43C on the ramp (109F) and it felt unbelievably hot. Even a stiff breeze didn’t seem to help, except to make me feel very parched and in need of some lemonade. I met with my client at the Airtel Plaza Hotel restaurant and discussed a project over dinner. After we finished up, I picked up a little more fuel and headed up north to Tehachapi. In just over 30 minutes from the time I took off, I was threading my way through the mountain passes that had hundreds of wind turbines of all sizes. The wind through Tehachapi pass is some the most consistent and steady wind you’ll find in the U.S.. Marc tells me that it’s rare to see the wind turbines standing still.

I had a very enjoyable evening with my friends Marc and Deanie and caught up with what had been happening with them since the last time we met. The new house exceeded all of my high expectations of it. It has numerous features that would fit right in at Architectural Digest. It has gorgeous views in every direction and I stitched together a view from the deck that seemed to go on forever which you can see below. Perched up on a slope, it has a consistent breeze that cools down at night so that the air conditioning was hardly needed despite the heat wave going on all around us in southern California.

The spectacular view from Marc and Deanie’s deck. Click on image to get the full view.

The next day we headed down to Mojave by car since it was faster and more convenient to cover the 20 miles than it would be to use our airplanes. The ramp at Mojave was hot and so I was happy to be in an air conditioned car upon our arrival, despite not having my LongEZ parked among the dozens of other canard aircraft lined up on the ramp. The celebration went on for 4 hours with lots of stories being told by the guests of honor, Burt and Dick Rutan, who turned 65 and 70, respectively, this summer. There was a lot of good food and camaraderie amongst the loyal following of canard builders a
nd fliers and I got to see a lot of folks who I run into each summer at Oshkosh. One lucky guy and 4 of his friends won a 30-minute ride in a Rutan-designed Beech Starship, which was parked on the ramp. I also got to go in it and take a look around its interior which was very spacious.

At the party, we were joined by Bill and Marilyn Seibold, who had flown their Cozy from Bisbee, AZ that morning. They also stayed with the Zeitlin’s that evening.

It’s always fun to be immersed in a group of fellow aviation enthusiasts. I never grow tired of talking about airplanes and the adventures we have in them. After a nice dinner, I went to sleep, knowing that I would to wake up early the next day without rousing the other guests or my hosts so that I could have the maximum amount of smooth morning air for flying across the desert. Marc let me borrow his car for the drive to the airport and so I left the house around 6:20 a.m.. By 6:50 a.m., I was in the air and on my way to my first fuel stop in St. George, Utah. I had hoped to get fuel at the self-serve pump at Tehachapi, but it was out of service. After doing some calculations, I figured I’d still be able to get to St. George with a reasonable reserve.

Upon landing at St. George, I ran into Curt and Gail again, who had just finished fueling their Varieze. We took off at about the same time and flew together for a while. They only had about 2.5 hours of fuel, so they’d need to stop before getting home to Longmont, CO, but we weren’t sure of our route because we knew that there would be thunderstorms over the Rockies by the time we reached them, which may have required us to divert north or south of a direct route. They decided to stop in Grand Junction and I pressed on figuring I’d land at an alternate airport if the thunderstorms grew too dense to fly around. Fortunately, the thunderstorm coverage was only about 50%, leaving a lot of room to fly around them, although it was a bit bumpy as a result of the convective activity and virga nearby. I have some pictures linked below and the last 4 photos show the various thunderstorms in the area as I was crossing the Rocky Mountains. After looking at the radar picture on the ground at Grand Junction, Curt and Gail decided to spend the night there. I couldn’t blame them since the storms are not predictable and what looks passable one hour may grow in intensity the next hour. Had I seen the radar picture, it might have been enough to convince me to wait for the clear and smooth morning air to pass over the Rockies.

It was a great trip. I’ve never had the LongEZ over that part of the country and found the experience to be a wonderful way to take in lots of beautiful scenery in a very short time. The entire flight time to and from California was just over 6 hours each way. If I had driven the route instead, it would have been more than 1100 miles and would have taken 16 hours of driving each way and used twice as much fuel. It was a good warm up for the follow-up trip that I took a few days later to San Diego, CA with Terri. I’ll write up that trip later.

If you’d like to see some photos I took on the trip, you can find them here.

Update 2008-07-09: Chris, who was flying as part of the 4-canard flight out of Colorado Springs, posted some more great pictures including air-to-air shots on the way to and from the Birthday Bash.