Today I drove out to Schlemeyer Field in Odessa, pre-flighted my plane, and took to the sky, heading east. I talked with Midland Approach and flew through Class C airspace, right over the runways at MAF. I looked down from 1500' and thought about how tomorrow I will be on a United Canadair taking off from one of those runways, Houston bound.
Time was tight. I was running late. I aimed the nose toward Snyder, TX, about an hours flight to the east of Odessa. The 2012 Snyder airshow started at noon, and I got off the ground at 10:30. Would I make the Snyder airport before it was shut down for the airshow? I saw the NOTAM for the airshow, but I knew this was also billed as a fly-in, so I figured I could get in.
About 35 miles out I called in to the "airboss" at Snyder. Normally it is an uncontrolled airport, but with the airshow NOTAM it becomes essentially Class D (e.g., it has an operating control tower but no radar). With relatively little trouble I got into a right downwind for runway 17 and made an uneventful landing with 40-degree flaps -- in front of a crowd! Who knew I would be the first act of the Snyder airshow? Ok, I wasn't really. Another plane or two came in after me.
I strolled over toward the FBO. Most of the locals were sitting in the shade of the FBO or one of the hangars. I unfolded my camp chair right up front, two feet from the yellow "do not cross" barrier. I had the best seat in the house -- although it was plenty hot in the full sun and 97 F temps. Just a few hardy souls joined me "up front".
My Cessna 150 at Snyder
As luck would have it, the first show of the day was formation flying by a group of Van's RV aircraft. Now, if you know me well, you know I am very interesting in upgrading from my 1967 Cessna 150 (cruise speed 95 mph) to a Van's RV-9 (cruise speed 175 mph). I love my little Cessna as long as I'm not at gross weight (1600 lbs) and the temps are below the mid-90s (actually density altitude below 5500 feet). And as long as there is no tower, mountain or building in front of me -- the Cessna barely climbs at gross on a hot day.
RV aircraft in formation
RVs on the ground
I didn't get a chance to talk to the RV fliers, but I did note a few things. First, all but one were tail-draggers (i.e., they have the third wheel at the back, not the front). And second, all had the sliding canopies. I think a taildragger endorsement is in my future. The RVs look much, much better in that "conventional" configuration, versus the new-fangled tricycle gear. Such as that on my 1967 Cessna.
RV's are homebuilt aircraft -- which does not mean some are not professionally built. They are known for being fast and efficient for their (modest) power engines. Also they all have at least moderate aerobatic capabilities, and can be set up as full-on upside-down aerobatic aircraft.
Like a kid in a 3D 100-octane candy shop, I stood up through the entire RV performance and might have been jumping up and down with joy at a few times. As a pilot, I can imagine a little better what it must feel like to fly like that -- and to harness that power. Of course, I have only done very pedestrian "aerobatics" in my Cessna, but I've been up there in the blue and I can imagine how it feels. I appreciated this airshow more than any I've seen because of this pilot "familiarity-factor".
RVs on the ground, where they don't belong!
Next coolest and inspiring was the jet-powered glider display. Now, I've seen this guy before -- but again the pilot familiarity factor entered the picture. I was simply amazed by the bank angles this guy achieved, 100 feet of the ground. So little margin for error! Throw in the added "coolness" of a jet engine on a 900-pound plane, and smoke from both wingtips, and you're there. Never mind that a jet engine is terribly inefficient at low altitude. It was a jaw-dropping wow-stammering show. Yes, I want to do that too.
Still a glider
Right around this time I found a key feature on my relatively new-to-me Canon G12 camera: rapid-fire continuous shooting. It transformed my airshow photography experience. I was able to take machine-gun shots of the glider show. Wish I had that figured out for the RV's: I would have ten times more good pictures. Absolutely required feature for airshows.
Part of the show was a little Vietnam War era re-enactment, where these little scout planes flew "low and slow" over the jungle and called in heavy fire from the Big Iron. There was a second little plane like this one, painted all in olive drab. It appears similar to a Cessna 152, but of course has tandem seating (versus side-by-side) and much more power. The olive drab plane was doing some amazing, very low speed turns and "swoops" at very low altitude. I wish I felt that comfortable with my Cessna! Even at 500' above ground a turn very gingerly... a couple degrees bank... oooo, scary.
Next up were the Pitts aerobatic bi-planes. Pretty impressive, although for some reason I'm not a huge fan of these aircraft. The first Pitts pilot was doing his first airshow ever! But he lacked a smoke maker, which detracts hugely from the magic. The second Pitts was more aggressive and had the necessary smoke.
Pitts on the ground
Pitts "burning rubber"
By the time the Pitts even started, the crowd had thinned out considerably. The sun beat silently down. The ramp baked, strewn with discarded corn dog sticks and spattered with ketchup and spilled Cherry Lime Aid.
I waved down the fuel truck and picked up 8.6 gallons of 100 low lead for the trip home. Pre-flighted the plane, started up and taxied out for runway 1-7. Most of the other fly-in planes had already departed. A Pitts taxied up behind me and I let him past. I wanted to do my typical double run-up (one at 1700 rpm and one at 2000 rpm), and I felt pity on the Pitts pilot, who is under a tight-fitting plastic canopy. Cessna 150 pilots like me get to taxi along with a solid aluminum roof over our heads and both windows open, if desired (and I sure did desire today).
The Pitts buzzed off and I wasn't far behind him. Off the runway, 500' above ground, and I initiated a gentle turn to the west. Thinking: why can't I turn like those guys in the show?
Flying home, I kept well north of the direct route to see something new, and to avoid Class C airspace. The sky was dotted with juvenile cumulus clouds, a sure sign of thermal activity. The bumps began in the first mile, and they were strange: twisties, yawing the plane (nose right and left). This is unsettling in such a small plane, and I still feel like I am in motion six hours later. Churning westward toward Odessa, I tried "surfing" a few of the rising thermals. I had mixed luck, because the rising shaft of air is not usually directly below the developing cloud above. This is because the clouds are getting pushed off the thermal by the wind. Still, a few times I caught a nice lift, up to 1200 fpm. (Normally I can climb at around 300 fpm). As nice as it was to gain altitude for free, the ride was unsettling, bumping, ballooning and yawing. Not for the weak of stomach.
Nearing Odessa I caught a few updrafts that brought me up about 6000' MSL. Outside of the updrafts, however, were large areas of annoying 500 fpm downdrafts. In an aircraft as underpowered as a Cessna 150 at 6000' MSL on a hot day, it is nearly impossible to stay level in these downdrafts. Losing altitude is a certainty. So down, up up up, down down, up, was the path I took home.
Back into Odessa, did a full left pattern for runway 11. It was good to be on the ground. 1.1 hours to Snyder, 1.6 hours back to Odessa, my longest cross-country after getting my pilot's license a month ago. I now have 105 hours total flight time.
I did not expect so much out of a short trip to a little airshow in a little west Texas town. It turned out to be one of the most fun, and perhaps most formative, trips of my aviation career (so far).