Whirlwind tour: Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Tahoe

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dant
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Whirlwind tour: Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Tahoe

Post by dant »

TLDR, pictures here:



Took a while to get this written up but better now than never! I’ve flown the first real “trip” since the 3-day ferry flight where I flew 787DM to its new home. Fairly dense with no real downtime but was still a great experience. And intense.

In three days: Seattle to Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Tahoe. We originally planned to include Bryce in this.

Most of the intensity of this flight was stressing about weather. The AFDs were talking about it being “monsoon season” in the Sonoran desert which while technically we weren’t crossing, it certainly got the point across. Thunderstorms were cropping up basically anywhere. ADSB weather was critical for this flight as it allowed me to get a better understanding of cells with respect to intensity, movement, stage, and location relative to terminals.

The largest concern was the “tunnel” between Reno and Las Vegas. With restricted airspace on one side and a giant MOA on the other (also, you know, death valley) I was worried about options. This probably was not a reasonable concern and was part of the learning experience of this trip.

Routing was flexible other than a PPR at KLAS with a dinner reservation and a camping reservation at Lake Tahoe. It ended up:
Day 1: KPAE -> KLKV -> KHTH -> KLAS
Day 2: KLAS -> KSGU -> KTVL
Day 3: KTVL -> KSPB -> KPAE

I flew basically 100% on O2 using a Kevlar tank and the O2D2 system from Mountain High. By the time I got home I had a fairly raw spot on my nose from the cannula. ☹ When above 10k or so I had my passenger on as well.

Day 1.
KPAE -> KLKV. https://www.flysto.net/logs/c8czpgcd


Largely unremarkable. IFR by default which ended up being useful due to smoke southeast of Portland rendering flight conditions IMC. Landed at Lake County after some rapid descent S turns to bleed altitude after canceling IFR rather late (oops!). Gas and go!

KLKV -> KHTH. https://www.flysto.net/logs/in2k5u7q

Originally planned for KPSZ just east of Reno. Due to DA I elected to fly VFR with flight following to avoid the departure climb gradients for the ridgeline just south. The Reno MOA wasn’t active so I flew relatively direct. This flight started the thunderstorm hawkeye watch. Cells were everywhere around Reno with one headed directly for KSPZ. Rather than get caught on the ground I diverted over to KHTH which looked like it had just been hit and was going to be clear for a while. Along the way I got a few more AP disconnects due to the LRU contacts issue mentioned elsewhere on DAN. I’ll be going in for annual soon and will get those hit with contact cleaner.

There was a storm just over the top of the mountain by KHTH but I was upwind and the hill seemed to block any gust fronts - was very benign. KHTH is manned by a rotating crew of volunteers who help you with the pumps and drive you between the pumps and FBO/bathrooms, the one I got was nice and helpful.

KHTH -> KLAS https://www.flysto.net/logs/i6v76xvo

The big kahuna. My first Bravo! Atlantic managed the prior permission (PPR) for the NOTAM and was a non-event. I wanted to fly into KLAS under IFR for flow management but the departure for KHTH was undesirable at the time. I believe it was because it took me way north for the climb, but I can’t exactly remember. I elected to file and take off VFR, then once I got close to the MEA on T274 I radioed center and picked up a clearance.

Then, everything went nuts. The. Worst. Turbulence. Ever. The updrafts were just absolutely absurd. I spent the whole flight managing the throttle because I’d hit an updraft so strong I’d be at idle to avoid getting in to the yellow (and it was not “smooth air”), then end up back at WOT to prevent dropping too far below my assigned altitude. My passenger has a stomach of iron. No issue. He was trying to nap during all of this! Meanwhile I’m wondering why the F I’m doing this to myself. It was miserable!

In the midst of all the bouncing I get a reroute in to KLAS - BTY V135 WHIGG DIRECT CRESO to join the CRESO FIVE arrival. Then a handoff or two later they did it again with a weird one: V135 HIDEN, join the BLD 256 radial BLD LAS. I don’t actually know how to put that in the G1000! So, while managing all of this nonsense turbulence I’m first trying to read and plan this arrival, only to then get rerouted again for this new setup where I have to puzzle out if I can convince the automation to fly it, all the while knowing (just like everyone reading this) that there’s 0% chance I’m flying this. They’ll just vector me when I’m close!

Oh, and then randomly “787DM can you make it to 13 thousand?” “Sure, but it’ll take me a while.” “Climb maintain one three thousand.” I have no idea why they did this. (Later edit: After reading some other comments on the internet, this likely was to keep me in radar contact).

I never end up adding the final reroute as a leg to the flight plan, instead electing to throw it in to HDG mode shortly after HIDEN where I went direct BLD in the GPS with OBS mode and arm NAV to capture it. Shrug. It worked. Then right as I finished the turn inbound I got vectored.

Landing was another non-event. “This speed or better until short final.” Hit the first exit and was told to switch to ground. I spent some time at the intersection studying the taxi diagram before calling ground so I wasn’t caught off guard only to get blind called by ground “787DM taxi hotel to parking.”. So much for planning my route. All in all, the Bravo part of this flight was the easiest part!

Weather-wise aside from turbulence there were no storms nearby. I did notice lots of cells over Tahoe, and as I went to sleep there was a giant one right over the grand canyon.

One question: Do other people get “turbulence drunk”, for lack of a better phrase? The rest of the evening my body still felt like it was slightly bouncing around.

Day 2.
KLAS -> KSGU https://www.flysto.net/logs/p0kr497c


For departure I asked clearance if they’d rather me file IFR or just head out VFR. They opted for VFR, so I got a very IFR-like departure clearance for a very not-IFR flight. KLAS departure was very helpful, even setting us up for a nice Hoover Dam pass. Honestly, they might be too helpful? There was a VFR plane trying to get a bravo clearance and they weren’t answering calls at all. Specifically, the call granting them clearance into the bravo. To the point where departure goes “Hello? Is this thing on? 787DM how do you hear?” I was surprised that they would clear a plane with questionable comms into the bravo, but not my job.

Despite my overwhelming anxiety about weather, especially after the previous nights’ massive thunderstorm over the canyon, the first segment of this flight was super smooth and relaxing. Maintained flight following the whole time, and the first weather cropped up ahead of us just as we started turning north away from the canyon. Was overall stunning, highly recommend.

Originally we had planned to fly over Zion and Bryce with a landing at U52, however a fire fighting TFR popped up over by Bryce – and there was also several yellow cells around there. Given the likelihood of smoke affecting the view added to the dodging of weather/TFRs, I cancelled that and just flew over Zion and landed at St. George. Spotted a DA40 in the wild parked on the ramp and gassed up at a shockingly well appointed FBO for being kind of in a random spot? Oh - and the kid manning the fuel truck was very helpful and clearly looking for ways to predict peoples’ needs and address them. All that being said the vending machine bugged out and failed to vend my water.

KSGU -> KTVL https://www.flysto.net/logs/d3bfd2y9

All the foreflight comments seemed to suggest passing through the rather massive MOA was doable, so I elected to go for it. Picked up flight following again on the way out and joined up with Nellis Control for passing through the active MOA. Nellis was super helpful and let me do more or less whatever I wanted. This time as it started to get bumpy I decided to try and get above the lifted convection level since I was VFR and a bit more free with my altitudes. This was so much better than the ride to Vegas. Unfortunately, a couple of buildups got too high up and Nellis wouldn’t let me run with my plan to go around the south of a buildup – too close to the restricted space (I said I saw it!) – so I had to dive down under and get back into the bounce house. When things got bad with no IFR altitude assignment I just dropped the AP and rode the thermals. Was still crazy bouncy but far less engine throttle sawing. I definitely felt the 16k service ceiling of the DA40 on this leg and wished for a few more thousand feet.

Approaching KTVL I kept a hawkeye on several cells passing through the area. One in specific decided to park over the ski resort just southwest of the field. That being said it was pretty small. Crossing the lake ridgeline I spent an absurd amount of time trying to spot a glider that flight following called out. Never saw it. Friggin things are invisible. I just made sure to go behind it.

Landing I planned for some gusts from the storm but nothing showed up and it was a non-eventful landing. Mountain West brought our rental car to the plane as we unpacked, and we drove out to our campsite and pitched the tents, swam in the lake a bit, and enjoyed a campfire. We only got rained on a little! I really want to do more plane camping next summer.

KTVL -> KSPB https://www.flysto.net/logs/ym7c0w3o

The DA40 really does better than it has any right to in high density altitude, it seems like. While I knew the book says it was fine, I was very nervous with my highest ever takeoff DA – a bit north of 8000 feet. It continued the trip’s theme of non-events, and we started the way home.
Fun fact: Mountain West at KTVL doesn’t actually have oxygen service despite the chart supplement:

Bottled Oxygen: HIGH
Bulk Oxygen: HIGH

Around Mt Shasta we ended up going under a small green cell which I was worried about getting knocked around. No problem. Washed a bit of dirt off the plane. A cirrus went by under us closer to the mountain and I can’t help but wonder how their ride was.

Around Eugene the smoke problem returned and visibility deteriorated enough that I wanted to be on a flight plan, so over to FSS I went. I completely forgot how much stuff you have to put into a flight plan. I also completely forgot to try and file on Foreflight. I probably had enough service at the time. After communicating ICAO equipment and my phone number, I managed to get under IFR and things went smoothly back to get gas at Scappoose. They did prevent me from cancelling IFR until very late because of a 737 departure out of Portland, and there was a party in the pattern at Scappoose, but all very rote stuff.

KSPB -> KPAE https://www.flysto.net/logs/lrovx816

Home turf, the only interesting thing was they changed the flow as I was on final and let me decide to either take the tailwind or sidestep in to the downwind.

Conclusions

Both long flights have been quite a learning experience. This one was more on mitigation of weather and airspace risk. I never really found myself behind the plane which was nice. I’ll probably end up posting a question or two about the airplane behavior later, but other than being worried about oil consumption which ended up just being “hey you’re flying more than usual” the airplane had no issues.
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DerekM
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Re: Whirlwind tour: Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Tahoe

Post by DerekM »

All great info, thanks
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Re: Whirlwind tour: Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Tahoe

Post by smoss »

Dan, a few helpful comments:
1. For the updrafts/downdrafts or bad turbulence in general, it's by far easiest to fly in PITCH mode, riding the waves up and down (won't work in IFR unless they'll give you a block altitude, which commonly will). Your airspeed will stay constant, as will pitch, which is much more comfortable for everyone. If you deviate to far from your desired altitude, you can gently change pitch via nose up or nose down buttons. To set this up, let's say your at 8,000 MSL on ALT HOLD of 8,000, just dial your alt bug up or down 1,000, so put it at 9,000 (this will not cause the FD to change your altitude as still in ALT HOLD mode) then hit the ALT button, which will put you in ALTS (alt select) mode with a default to Pitch mode. It will then hold the current pitch unless you actually get to 9,000 at which time it would capture and change to ALT HOLD again. You can gently control your altitude with a click of nose up or nose dn button.
2. For the crazy "join the XYZ 256 radial to ABCDE", usually those radials will be marked on the map. Use your iPad to find the fix that the radial intercepts on your next leg, put that into the G1000, use HDG mode to get to the general area, then Direct To the next fix once near the radial.
3. MOAs are really a non-event. Remember, even if they are active, you don't need "clearance" to go in them. You can not talk to ATC and still fly through them, just keep your eyes open--while all the military aircraft won't show up on ADS-B, you will show up to them on their radar. If you do talk to ATC, in some areas they may try and steer you around in a very out of the way route. While I don't think it is required to comply with them by regulation, it is surely expected. Usually ATC has been very helpful and reasonable for me in MOAs, but sometimes they just get ridiculous. You can always terminate flight following and continue on however you want (with your eyes open).
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Re: Whirlwind tour: Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Tahoe

Post by Fanta$01 »

It sounds like an incredible adventure! Thanks for sharing :)
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dant
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Re: Whirlwind tour: Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Tahoe

Post by dant »

Thanks for the comments and feedback!
1. For the updrafts/downdrafts or bad turbulence in general, it's by far easiest to fly in PITCH mode
This is useful - I more or less did the same thing manually on the second day and didn't think about PITCH mode.
2. For the crazy "join the XYZ 256 radial to ABCDE", usually those radials will be marked on the map. Use your iPad to find the fix that the radial intercepts on your next leg, put that into the G1000, use HDG mode to get to the general area, then Direct To the next fix once near the radial.
I was inspecting the chart as best I could in the turbulence and wasn't able to eyeball a corresponding fix. :(
3. MOAs are really a non-event. Remember, even if they are active, you don't need "clearance" to go in them.
I'm aware, but I don't want to inadvertently abort some sort of military training because I didn't have a chat with ATC and find a better way. I've seen enough of the military pilots vent on reddit about people blowing through their practice. :)

I'm hoping to do more bigger trips in 2024 since my kiddo is getting old enough to leave home with Mom without my conscience being _too_ heavy.
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