“The epic boondoggle”

Jim and Jean-Baptiste

Jim and Jean-Baptiste with N747CF (photo: Bri Pomeroy)

We’re Jim Smith and Jean-Baptiste Jeannin, two private pilots based at the East Hill Flying Club (EHFC) in Ithaca, New York (KITH).  We were housemates for most of our PhD studies at Cornell, where Jim is finishing up in mechanical engineering, and JB has graduated with a degree in computer science.  Flying at EHFC has been a highlight of our time in Ithaca, a welcome distraction from work, and a great place to earn our instrument ratings.

Over our years of sharing a house, we’ve spent many hours chatting about “dream destinations,” places that we wish we could fly to some day.  One of Jim’s undergrad professors at Clarkson University, a former Boeing aerodynamicist who seemed to have a knack for finding excuses to ride along on test flights, had a word for such a trip:  a boondoggle, “a needless trip taken at great expense,” and the idea of “the epic boondoggle” was born!

N747CF on the EHFC ramp at ITH

N747CF outside of the East Hill Flying Club

A big reason that we can take the trip is N747CF, EHFC’s Mooney and the namesake of this blog.  All Mooneys are fantastic flying machines:  well-engineered “pilot’s airplanes” that aren’t big, fancy, or even very comfortable (you sort of wear the Mooney like it’s a sock) — but the controls are crisp and responsive, it’s fast for the horsepower on tap, and they reward precise flying.  7CF is one of the more popular models, a M20J “201”, the fastest of the four-cylinder Mooneys.  The “201” designates the top speed in miles per hour, an impressive feat of engineering for something with a 200 hp Lycoming four-cylinder.  (Some say it’s a marketing myth, but Jim has seen the airspeed indicator… at least when lightly loaded!).

It’s rare to find a Mooney in a club or rental fleet, as airplanes with retractable landing gear are relatively expensive to buy and maintain, so we’re lucky to have 7CF for the trip.  Its 155 knot cruise speed (about 180 mph) gets us to California, Seattle, and back in a two-week vacation; and there’s enough climb performance to take us over some big mountains, instead of around them.

We’re looking forward to pretending that 7CF is “our airplane” while we’re gone — a great benefit of a flying club (as compared to a commercial flight school or FBO) is that trips are encouraged, and it’s a lot of fun to have the keys to an airplane in your pocket for a few days.  We’ll get to enjoy 7CF as if she’s our own, but without the headaches of coordinating inspections, finding odd parts for an old airframe, or managing reams of paperwork.

We plan on starting westbound on May 27th, and will do our best to post a daily trip report and photo gallery to this blog, with more frequent updates on Twitter, @Mooney7CF. And even though we’ll be flying over some pretty remote parts of the country, you’ll still be able to track our progress online with 10-minute position reports from our inReach satellite messenger.