by Mike Johnson
With Editorial Assistance from Burgundy Johnson
With friends now scattered across the country, and my wife, Burgundy, and I living in the Twin Cities, we decided to make the best use of my dad’s 1979 Rockwell Commander 114 and fly from Anoka County-Blaine Airport direct to Texas in February. But weather delayed the trip somewhat. We stopped in Iowa for fuel, then encountered a weather system that we could not go over or through, so we diverted to Grand Island, Nebraska, where we were welcomed by wonderful people at the airport and stayed at a very nice Holiday Inn for cheap!
The following morning, it was clear, and after we scraped a little frost off the wings, we took off for Pueblo, Colorado, got some fuel, stopped in Four Corners, Arizona for more fuel, then headed into Wickenburg, Arizona at dusk where we were met by friends.
We selected the route we did because it was a good, low-altitude instrument route. We flew at 15,000 feet MSL for most of the flight through the mountains, using the aircraft’s built-in oxygen system, but the climbs after the fuel stops were long and slow. We were thankful we had terrain avoidance.
Our decent into Wickenburg was blinded by the setting sun and haze. Wickenburg is uncontrolled. We announced our position and four other aircraft were in the pattern as well. One pilot would not announce his position, making the last few miles a little stressful, considering we could not see much with the haze and sun.
After our stay in Wickenburg, we took off for San Diego, California to see more friends. The flight was pretty uneventful, except for a couple of F-18 Hornets we encountered along the way.
We stayed in San Diego for a few days, then headed up to Los Angeles to pick up a friend. Air Traffic Control directed us directly over Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and we landed at Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR) to pick up our friend, and headed to Las Vegas.
The beginning of the trip to Las Vegas was pretty smooth, but once we got closer, a cold front was approaching and the air was choppy. After the weekend was over, we headed back to Minnesota.
Our 7-hour flight took 10 hours because of a nasty headwind. We were happy to be home, but overall, it was a great trip and we would definitely do it again!
To prepare for the trip, I did lots and lots of flight planning, which included speaking with other pilots that had flown the route.
I recommend that any pilot of a small general aviation aircraft considering a trip out west, to make sure they have “alternate routes” in the event they encounter weather. We had planned to fly south to Texas, but ended up over the mountains of Colorado. Having oxygen to go above 12,500 feet MSL, is also a good idea.
The only thing I would have done differently would be to allow for an extra day on the return flight, as there were bad headwinds and it was a long flight home. It would have been nice to be able to stop overnight and rest someplace.
The fixed base operators on the trip were fantastic! On the way out, we were served by Trego/Dugan in Grand Island, Nebraska; Flower Aviation in Pueblo, Colorado; Bisti Aviation in Farmington, New Mexico; Master Service in San Diego, Calif.; Million Air in Burbank, Calif.; and VGT in Las Vegas, Nev. Returning, we stopped at Four Corners, Arizona, and Pueblo, Colorado, and landed back home at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where the service is always top-notch!
EDITOR’S NOTE: At the time of the trip in 2008, Mike Johnson had an airframe and powerplant certificate, and a private pilot certificate, instrument rating, high-performance and complex gear endorsements, and 175 hours total time. Today, he holds commercial and flight instructor certificates, has accumulated 1400 hours, and built an RV8A. He is soon to be checked out in a Cessna Caravan to fly skydivers.
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