Monday, November 14, 2011

Just another (above-the) Valley Sunday

My iPhone alarm sounds at 6:00 am, just like a normal workday.  I get up and take a shower and get dressed.  Then I hop in the convertible and drive to Odessa in the chilly pre-dawn.  I pull into the gate at Schlemeyer Airport just as Josh walks across the tarmac toward the FBO.  I park on the grass, grab my flight bag and follow him into the building.  The Cessna 210 is waiting, cozy in its hangar, tanks full of fuel.  With very little delay we strap in and fire up the engine.  We get the weather info and I back-taxi down runway 2-0, turn around for a quick run-up, and off we go.  Full power, pull back, pick up speed, feel the controls get mushy, lift-off, push forward, keep the nose down, keep climbing but keep your speed up.

Daybreak in Odessa

Cessna 210 panel

In the sky, the wind is brutal, 40 knots out of the west, and we fly directly into it.  Up and out of Odessa, at 6500' over the edge of the Llano Estacado, dotted with little white windmills and over Kermit Dunes.  We follow the Texas-New Mexico line east, over Red Bluff Reservoir and the winding Pecos River, a shining silver band wriggling across the desert. The Delaware Basin, otherwise desolate, dotted with rigs, lights on in the morning, twinkling stars of industry, shining 24 hours a day.  This is Concho territory, and I spot several rigs but am not sure which ones are ours -- my area is typically farther to the north, just inside New Mexico.  Travelling due east at about 150 knots indicated, our groundspeed hovers around 100 knots.  The terrain rises up dramatically as we approach the foothills of Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, at the south end of the Guadalupe Mountains.  GP is of course the highest point in Texas.  Up comes the terrain and it becomes quite interesting, with lots of good-sized hills, deep canyons, and sinkholes around the toe of the Guadalupes.

Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, Texas

Wider shot showing the lenticular clouds developed over the Guads.

Past the Guads, eye-to-eye with them at 7000', with the early-morning sun from behind us.  Over the Broke-Off fault zone like it's the edge of the Earth, dropped away below us.  Now we are much higher above the ground, and over the Dell City bolson.

Passing over the escarpment

Dell City bolson / salt flats.  In the down-dropped block west of the Guads and Broke-off Mountains

Now past the Guads, we look back at them (northwest) and see the Broke-off Mountains and the west face of Guadalupe Peak.

Dell City is visible to the north, among the big green crop circles.  Just off Dell City are the very impressive Dell City volcanoes, which you can see from another angle in a recent blog about our visit to the Queen, NM area.  Same volcanoes.

Volcanoes near Dell City, TX

Lots of cool geology, rocks.  Eschewing the auto-pilot, I hand-fly the entire way so don't get as many snaps as usual, try to soak in the view.  Many things we look forward to are a little dissapointing.  This trip, not so.  This flight is everything I thought it would be times five.  There is more topography than I expected, and we can see everything from the air.  Places you can't go on the ground without trespassing...  Following is a series of shots taken just a few seconds apart.  Although we are fighting a 35-knot headwind, we still moving along quickly: 115 mph groundspeed.

Hueco Tanks -- State Park, but is it accessible?

We continue west over the Hueco Mountains and got a great view of Hueco Tanks.  Then over the empty plain NE of El Paso.  Hop over the Franklin Mountains, see the trails down there in Franklin Mountains State Park, skirt the Organ Mountains and swoop down over the Rio Grande... and we're in Las Cruces, NM.

Las Cruces airport, looking east at the Franklin Mountains

The flight back to Odessa is just as scenic.  As we crest the Franklin Mountains, we see a developing lenticular cloud just ahead, and surf over the top of it.  With a 40+ knot tailwind, we make 200+ knots groundspeed.  Everything passes by much more quickly.  In a flash, we're back in Midland... but the trip isn't over.  After a 10-minute break to wait for a few passengers, we climb aboard another plane.  This one is much, much faster, and sports two turboprop engines: it's a Piper Cheyenne.

Piper Cheyenne on the ground in Odessa

Piper Cheyenne cockpit view from the right (co-pilot) seat

This thing has some power.  Josh as the controls, we fly from Odessa to San Antonio in a flash, with that same tailwind pushing us eastward.  Only an hour to SA, then a 5-hour layover.  After landing and dropping our passengers at Million Air FBO, we pick up a courtesy car.  Josh tosses me the key fob and we get into the brand-new BMW 535i.  Now, I'm not really a big fan of the 5-series, but what a car.  To drive one around a bit, for free, with no salesman watching your every move -- priceless.  If only I could figure out the shift lever.  It is more complicated than anything I saw in the Cheyenne.

Piper Cheyenne, ready to depart the ramp in San Antonio

During the day the winds aloft kept up, and shifted slightly to the north.  On our way home we experience a 40-knot crosswind with only a 5-knot headwind component.  The ride home is smooth and uneventful.  On the ground, I feel tired.  How does Josh do this almost every day?

That's a lot of flying for one day.

Lessons learned:

  1. I love flying slow and really close to the ground, so I can see things (rocks)
  2. Commercial/corporate aviation is not for me.  They fly too high and too fast.  Where's the fun in that, unless you're doing loops and rolls?
  3. I love flying even more than I thought I did.
  4. There's a whole lot of world out there to see.
Oh wait... I know the last one already.


Anonymous said...

You do get around, Andy. I like your running commentary about what's on the ground. Thanks for the virtual flight. Aunt M'ree :)

DSL said...

Amazing views! Awesome adventures! Happy for you! - Aunt D

Plants Amaze Me said...

Wow! What fun you have.
I think you might be a little disappointed sitting here in the living room looking at me next week. Of course I do have quite the terrain on my face, hills, valleys, Mt. nose.

Speaking of larger noses that Piper Cheyenne has a long nose.

Like you say much of this terrian is visible to you from the slow going plane that maybe you couldn't even access from the ground. And maybe you get ideas of places to visit by what you see up there?

Thanks for sharing I loved the pictures, just great!