Well, I finally went and did it: I bought an airplane.
in Salt Lake City prior to the flight homeward
I’d been considering buying a plane pretty much nonstop since starting work on my pilot’s license, and even looked at a few while I was still in California. My initial plan was to buy something that could hold me and all 3 boys, plus luggage, and still have a reasonable fuel load. This left out most airplanes, including the Cessna 172, the Piper Arrow family, and the Cirrus. I really liked the Piper Cherokee Six and its derivatives, the Lance, Saratoga, and 6X. They combined decent performance with a huge payload: 6 seats and full tanks meant that I could easily haul the whole herd, with baggage, a good 700 nautical miles from home without stopping. After I moved, I put aside my plane search for a while; I found that the rented 182 I was flying from Redstone could, barely, hold me plus the boys plus full fuel, but with no baggage and sluggish climb performance in warm weather. Worse, we were squashed, and as the boys grew (or, more accurately, gained weight), we’d be in danger of going over gross takeoff weight unless I took fuel or people out… so I started looking again, but I couldn’t see a good way to afford a Cherokee Six, so it was sort of a desultory search.
Then I had an epiphany: I was buying more airplane than I needed. “After all,” I reasoned, “now that David is off at college, he won’t be flying with me much, and in a couple of years Tom will be at college too. So a 182 will work; we can just squeeze into it for a little longer until David is fully out of the nest.” So I started looking for an affordable 182, put a deposit down, and promptly had the deal fall through (a story for another time). Back to the drawing board.
Then I offhandedly mentioned to my financial advisor that I was looking for an airplane. “Oh, my husband’s a pilot,” she said. “Would you be interested in a partnership?” Yes. Yes, I would.
Long story short, Derek (my new partner, and a hell of a guy) scoured the market for Cherokee Sixes. We found one that we really liked and it was sold out from under us. Then we found another one that we really liked, and when I called the seller, he said “oh, that ad shouldn’t still be up there, because the plane was sold months ago.” Third time was the charm: we found N32706 for sale in Salt Lake City, had the prebuy done there (another long and boring story that I’ll eventually post about), and closed the deal on May 15.
John Blevins, one of my flight instructors, flew out to Salt Lake on Delta to pick it up. After dinner at In-N-Out (who knew they were in SLC?) and an overnight at the local Marriott, we departed KSLC about 730am. Our planned route was to go to Los Alamos (KLAM), thence Muskogee, Oklahoma (KMKO) and then back to Huntsville. It looked like that would take about 10 hours total flying time.
The airplane started right up, and we got VFR flight following at 11500’ south past Provo. Right after takeoff, we noticed some oil spray on the windshield, but the oil temperature and pressure remained good, , then flew to the Carbon, Canyonlands, and Cortez VORs before descending into Los Alamos. Along the way we were treated to some gorgeous scenery.
random mountain off the pilot’s side, about 2000’ below us
interesting rock formations; I wonder what causes the striations?
We’d thought it would be a fun place to stop for lunch, and fuel appeared to be relatively cheap. Neither of these things proved to be true. While refueling the airplane, I found heavy grease all over the front of the cowling. The constant-speed propeller on this airplane has inner workings that are lubricated with heavy grease; the good news is that there was no engine oil anywhere it shouldn’t be. John and I conferred for a bit, then started walking into town to the local AutoZone. Our plan: get a screwdriver, take off the propeller spinner, and locate the source of the grease. Why did we walk? Well, the airport was unattended (even though we got there between 7a and 1p, the hours when it was supposed to be attended), and the one taxi company in Los Alamos didn’t answer our phone calls. About halfway there, a fellow pilot whom I’d waved at while fueling the plane drove by, recognized us, and asked if we needed a ride— we hitched with him to AutoZone, bought the stuff we needed, and rode back to the airfield, whereupon he got the mechanic he uses to come over and have a look. (Thank you very much, Gary and JP! Side note for another time: the camaraderie and helpful spirit that is generally present in the aviation community is wonderful.)
We removed the spinner and found that it contained a big streak of grease, almost like someone had smeared it in there like frosting– but only on one side. There was no grease leaking from the Zerk fittings on the prop hub, so we degreased the prop, hub, spinner, cowling, and windshield, put everything back together, and determined that we’d take off as planned, but land at the first sign of any more gunk on the windscreen. Our first alternate was Santa Fe, which is nearby; then Tucumcari, then Amarillo. (I should mention at this point that Los Alamos has some interesting departure and arrival restrictions, and it is right next to a large chunk of restricted airspace, courtesy of LANL. Also, we never did get lunch there).
The best part of the Los Alamos airport
Takeoff was normal and we had a completely uneventful flight to our next planned stop. Originally we were going to stop in Muskogee but decided instead to stop at Sundance Airpark, just outside of Oklahoma City. The crew at Sundance Aviation could not have been any more friendly; they fueled the plane, loaned us a car, and suggested an area where we’d find some restaurants. After a solid Mexican dinner at Abuelita’s, we took off headed for Huntsville. There was a weird rectangular line of storms lying astride our planned route, so we ended up flying direct to the Little Rock VOR, then direct to Huntsville.
Turns out it’s hard to find archived NEXRAD images but this one shows the funny line of storms
The final leg took us about 3.5 hours, 2.4 of which I logged as night time and 1.5 of which I logged as actual instrument. We started off flying at 9000’, but moved to 7000’ for more favorable winds. That put us in between two cloud layers, which was great because a) it was beautiful and b) the air was super smooth. We discovered that the intercom system had a music input jack, which was great, except that I made the mistake of letting John pick the music. Let’s just say that I don’t want to hear any more Colbie Caillat songs in the next two or three years.
between the layers over Arkansas
We arrived at Huntsville International about 1030p, after 10.5 hours of flying time. Our duty day was lengthened by our two fuel stops, and I was pretty tired by that point so I was happy to have a 12,000’ runway waiting for me. Signature hangared the plane, John filled out my logbook, and I got home just in time for that rectangle of storms to unleash a large, and relaxing, thunderstorm. I slept like a baby that night!
A couple of days later, Derek and I moved the plane from Huntsville to its new home, North Alabama Aviation in Decatur. This weekend, I plan to take it out for some sightseeing, in the first of what I hope will be many trips with, and without, the boys. So when you hear a propeller airplane, look up; it might be me! (Or Derek.)