Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Day 10 Summary

Big progress toward returning to the U.S. of A. today. Although we only logged 3.7 flight hours, we made it all the way from Watson Lake to Grande Prairie -- a total of 435 nautical miles. First, we hopped from Watson Lake to Ft. Nelson. With clouds piling up in the mountains, the IFR Pilot -- emboldened by past experiences on the trip -- eschewed the Alaska Highway for a more direct route: Watson Lake direct Liard River direct Ft. Nelson.

We had a 30 knot tailwind, and on the descent into Ft. Nelson topped 160 knots (over 190 miles per hour). Not to bad for a 40 year old Cessna Skyhawk!

After a quick top off, we launced direct for Grande Prairie. Unfortunately, Mother Nature continues to have a mind of her own and about 30 miles northwest of Dawson Creek, as we passed just east of Ft. St. John, the storms started firing off and the IFR Pilot exercised his absolute authority as Pilot-In-Command to divert to Dawson Creek.

Here's what it looked like when we landed:

Unfortunately, that's a really crummy photo of the area. Believe you me, it looked awful, otherwise the IFR Pilot would not have set down 35 miles short of our intended destination. Especially since we ended up spending four long, boring hours in Dawson Creek. Warning to fellow pilots: The pilot's lounge -- if you want to call it that -- at CYDQ stinks. Literally. It's about 6 feet by 10 feet, with a twenty-year old couch and a NavCanada pilot kiosk. Yech.

Anyway, after patiently waiting for the skies to "clear," we launched for Grande Prairie and the hoped-for comfort of a cushy little hotel room. It still wasn't ideal weather, but the IFR Pilot judged it doable. Would you have launched in these conditions?

Twenty miles out from Grande Prairie, here's what greeted us:

The IFR Pilot steered east to avoid the downpour, and approached Grande Prairie from the north. As I turned final, the controller called the wind: 290 at 20, gusting 30. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Thankfully, 290 is right down the runway, but that's still an awful lot of wind to manage in a light airplane. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. The IFR Pilot flew it with just one notch of flaps, and kept some power in the entire way. I flared, and then just kept holding it off, feeling for the runway. We bounced once, but then I put her down hard and made sure we weren't attacked by a sudden gust. Don't try this at home, kids, you'll injure your flight simulator!

After carefully taxiing to the FBO, we firmly planted our portable tiedowns and secured 78S for the night. Here's what the airport looked like shortly after landing:

Inside the FBO's hangar, I found my birthday present for next year. Anyone want to give it to me?

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