Thursday. I took the afternoon off work. The weather was ok. I went and picked up my plane from the mechanic. The cost was twice the already-high price I had estimated. I taxied my plane over to the old FBO (they are building a new one) at KODO. I had flight planning from a few weeks ago. I called 1-800-WXBRIEF and got the current weather and winds aloft. Finished my flight planning and Josh checked it. Then we went for a flight, did the pattern three times or so. Winds were very light. After flying Josh said I was good to go. I asked him a bunch of questions about coming into (and leaving) Hobbs, which is a class D airport (towered). We topped off the fuel and I went through the startup checklist. I had all my paperwork: airport diagrams, frequencies, and my iPad with GPS for navigation. For backup I had my sectional charts. Not long and I took off and turned WNW for Hobbs. The air was smooth and 45 minutes or so later and I listened to Hobbs weather, then called up Hobbs. No problem, they gave me the expected runway. I landed and they told me where to taxi. I requested immediate departure from the runway I had just landed on. Cleared, I took off and headed nearly due south for Wink, TX.
It was hard to climb. The little 150 is a bit underpowered. It'd be nice to have an extra 50% and really climb. I stayed pretty low on the way to Wink. Near Wink I listened to their weather and found winds right for the planned runway. Uncontrolled airport, I self-announced on the CTAF frequency and entered the patten, and landed. Taxied to the FBO where two pilots were cleaning up a really nice turbine helicopter. Inside I found the old man attending the airport/living in the FBO. It was around 7 PM, sun sets a bit after 8 PM. The old guy filled up my tanks, they only took 9.5 gallons. I chatted with the helicopter pilot and drank a diet Coke. The helicopter pilots were stringing high-tension power wires using the helicopter. They told me about it a while but I saw I needed to get back to Odessa. Taxi, back in the air, not far east to Odessa. I could see the town long before I got there, and I was a little impatient. Entered the pattern and landed. Josh was there and thankfully had a pizza. I was starving and thirsty.
Friday morning [Holiday= Good Friday] I drove to Big Spring, TX and took my FAA Private Pilot exam at US Flight Academy. It was much easier than I expected. I drove home. Debi was picking up Mary in San Antonio and then camping for a few days in New Braunfels, TX, just north of SA. After arriving at home I got a text from Josh asking if I wanted to fly with him in a Cirrus SR22 from Midland to Borger, TX and back. Of course I jumped at the chance.
This particular SR22 is a turbo, capable of cruising at around 250 mph TAS. Just about an hour to Borger, which is up in the Texas panhandle. About an hour flight. On the way we passed over Lubbock, Amarillo, and Palo Duro Canyon. Pretty red rock country.
In Borger we picked up our passenger and Josh took over the left seat. It's fun to cruise along so fast up at 11,000 feet. The way back was bumpy. We were under the few cumulus clouds. I started to like the SR22, which I've flown before. Now I have about 10 hours in them, although half of that time was right seat. Josh gave me more of an intro to the flight systems, autopilot, flight director, and engine management.
Saturday morning Josh called me. I had just gotten out of bed. "Hey, are you ready with your flight planning for another solo cross country?". I told him I could be ready by noon. I pulled out my flight planning materials and planned a trip from Odessa to Upton Co. airport in McCamey, TX, and then to Big Spring, where I had taken the FAA test the day before.
Got to the airport and Josh said he'd waive his normal requirement to fly with me between solo x-countries, counting our SR22 flight the day before. He checked my planning and off I went. I felt more confident this time -- until I was in the air. Forecast was for thunderstorms later in the day. Took off to the north and turned west to steer clear of Midland's class C airspace, passing the airport (KODO) on my left. Bumpy, unsettling air. I pointed south and tried to climb to 6,000' MSL. Bang, push, twist. A few gusts hit my wing and pushed it up. My hands were sweaty.
I eventually made it to 6,000' MSL, but then began to experience updrafts of 1100+ feet per minute, followed by extended downdrafts of 200-400 fpm. At full power, at 3,000' MSL (the approximate elevation of KODO), the Cessna 150 climbs at 500-600 fpm. So in a downdraft at 6,000' MSL on a warm day, I can barely hold altitude, even if I go to full power. It was unsettling and it seemed to take forever to reach the windmill-encrusted mesa that I knew was just north of McCamey.
Mesa north of McCamey, TX
Seeing the mesa, I began to descend from 6,000' down to near 4,000'. Again in the grip of downdrafts and updrafts, I found it difficult to arrest the descent I had set up in. Finally I cleared all the windmills and called on CTAF to Upton Co. airport, with its single little E-W runway. No activity. I overflew the airport to get a good look at the windsock (no weather recording here) and it was lined up more or less perfectly for runway 1-0. It was right traffic so I turned a wide right and came in near perfectly for 1-0. Stopped on the ground, 180'd back to the start of 1-0 and took off. To the NE this time, toward rising terrain. Up over the mesa, riding one mild updraft that brought me to a safe 500' AGL so I could start a gentle turn.
Now heading NE toward Big Spring, I found myself in no-man's-land. Big Spring can be a busy airport (but it's non-towered). It seemed like a long way, bumping and bouncing in the air, my hands still sweating. I rode some thermals to 5,500' MSL but then I would find myself descending again, at around 80% power, back to 5,000' and below. Finally the GPS said I was 15 miles out of Big Spring so I listened to their weather and, 10 miles out, called to the CTAF. Came in on 2-4, pointing approximately west. Taxied to the FBO and found I had missed them by three minutes. Shut down and texted Josh. Checked my fuel and found I should've had plenty to get back to KODO. Started up, looked up and there was an attendent/instructor there. I shut down and he topped off my tanks, again about 9.5 gallons.
Clouds were building up, looking stormy. Check the weather again and the light wind had shifted almost 180 degrees, such that I took off on runway 6, the exact opposite direction I had landed. Took off toward rising terrain. Thankfully an updraft quickly brought me up to 800' AGL, where I executed a broad left turn, over the western part of the pretty town of Big Spring. I lined up just north of I-20 and headed west-ish toward Midland. 20 miles out I called up Midland Approach and get a squak code for their class C airspace. They vectored me north around Midland Aipark for an approaching King Air, which I never saw. Not long and I was cleared direct to KODO, got the weather, picked a runway (2) and landed. It was a neat landing, because coming in I felt low, swooping over the city in left turns to base and final, then found myself quite high over the numbers (at the beginning of the runway). Pushed down the flaps from 30 degrees to 40 and angled down for the runway, holding about 62 mph. An agressive flare and power-off and I swooshed along a few feet off the runway, bleeding speed until I touched down at about 35 mph, feeling like a butterfly alighting on a flower. Back-taxied on 2 and to my hangar, put up the plane and called Josh. He was not around so I patted myself on the back and headed home.
I was pretty sure my flying for the weekend was over. But Easter Sunday around noon, I got a text from Josh: want to round-trip to Borger again in the SR22? Yes. From KODO to Borger with our passenger, then back again. We flew over Tahoka Lake, where I went last year with Sibley Nature Center when my Tacoma was brand new. I got to thinking that with a commercial pilot's license, an IFR rating, and an SR22 school, I could fly people around in one of these.
Tahoka Lake from 11,000' MSL
Now my Private Pilot License is a few more lessons and then a check-ride away. But I realize now it's just a license to learn, and I will still have pretty severe personal weather minimums. Trips to Big Bend will be a big, big deal at first. And to practice and fly IFR, I will need a different plane.