Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck has been a great inspiration as we’ve planned our trip west —it’s an entertaining read for pilots and non-pilots alike, and does a compelling job explaining why some of us are crazy about flying. The memoir recounts two brothers’ 1966 trip from New Jersey to California in the family’s Piper Cub, with no radios, no electrical system, and definitely no GPS. Although we might have our own “Greyhound bus encounter” along the way, when it comes to equipment, we’re downright spoiled compared to the Buck brothers.
7CF might not have the classic charm of a Piper Cub, but it’s a lot better equipped for cross-country flying: the instrument panel has an Aspen “glass cockpit” for the pilot, which combines an attitude indicator with all the other instruments needed to fly in the clouds. A Garmin 430 GPS is our primary navigator, and shows other air traffic near busier airports (those that broadcast Mode S traffic). There’s also an old Century II autopilot, which kind-of-sort-of works, but is more likely to do S-turns about a heading then straighten up and fly right — so whoever is the right seat will occasionally have their flight attendant duties interrupted with a bit of flying.
Adding to the electronics in the instrument panel, we’re bringing yoke-mounted iPads for each pilot, which we’ll use to display aviation sectional charts for visual navigation, instrument charts and procedures, as well as in-flight weather reports and radar. The latter is powered by a small box called Stratus, which receives an uplink from the FAA (using a technology called ADS-B) and transmits to Foreflight Mobile on the iPads. The FAA just expanded ADS-B coverage and it’s nearly complete nationwide, giving us a capability unimaginable even in jets a few years ago.
We’ll be using a Delorme inReach satellite messenger to broadcast our GPS position as we fly, sending updates to the web at ten minute intervals using the Iridium sat phone network. The inReach will let our family and friends track our progress as we fly, even in remote areas where radar coverage is spotty at low altitudes. There’s also a SOS function that provides a much more precise position fix than 7CF’s built-in emergency locator transmitter (ELT), which is just a simple homing beacon broadcasting on the aviation emergency channel, 121.5 MHz.
As for other safety gear, we’ve prepared a grab-bag to keep just behind our seats in the cockpit: bottled water, a few Clif bars, a “real” first aid kit from Adventure Medical Supplies (more than just a bunch of band-aids in a box), as well as some basic survival supplies. We don’t expect any “unscheduled camping” on our trip, but we’ll certainly be prepared.
7CF’s climb performance is a big asset out west — the pilots’ handbook lists a ceiling of over 23,000 feet with just Jean-Baptiste and I aboard. Like most small planes, though, the cabin isn’t pressurized, so the FAA requires us to use supplemental oxygen when flying above 12,500 feet. Long-time EHFC member Mark Sanford has graciously loaned us his personal Mooney’s portable oxygen system, which will allow us to climb higher if we need to.
Finally, just like Rinker and Kern Buck, there’s one thing that we’re not bringing: that damn waterbag!