Tanya & Bryan Duke's RV-6 Flying Reports
Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-123) Trip Report
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In general, I don't like reading long trip reports. So, I try to keep my trip reports fairly managable. This was a long trip, so it gets a long trip report. Print it out, take breaks, do whatever you need to do. Hopefully the pictures will keep you entertained enough to keep reading. Drop me an email if you have any comments or find this mildly worth reading.

8 Mar 08: A friend of mine, Greg "Box" Johnson, is the pilot for STS-123 (Space Shuttle Endeavor), so we've been planning a trip to see his launch since he got picked up for astronaut training about 10 years ago. The launch was previously scheduled for Feb 14th, but the last Shuttle mission slipped because of problems which pushed back STS-123 about a month.

We planned to leave on the 7th, but snow in Dallas got my flight back from a business trip cancelled on the 6th. I finally made it back home with enough time for us to leave on the 8th. With two cameras, camcorder, tripods, and clothes ranging from shorts & flip-flops to heavy leather jackets, we were able to keep our total baggage to about 70 lbs.

The first day we planned on flying to Austin, TX to meet our new nephew & visit with my brother Jonathan, his wife Kristin, my dad Ronnie & step-mom Jess. The winds were forecast to be at our back all day, so I shifted from a 3-leg plan to 2-legs. Las Cruces, NM was over half way there & has a restaurant that needed a review at fly2lunch...sold.

Leg 1: L00-LRU (Rosamond Skypark, CA to Las Cruces, NM) The red ticks are the waypoints & the small white ones are restaurants along the way.

We started the trip with 963.4 hours on our RV-6's Hobbs meter. I planned on cruising at 17,500' to take advantage of the smooth air & big tailwinds, but the winds at 15,500' were already matching the forecast winds at 18k. To save some oxygen , I leveled us off at 15,500' and cruised to Las Cruces in glassy smooth air. Besides the smooth air & tailwinds, one of my favorite things about flying in the teens is that there's almost no traffic. The airlines & business traffic is higher and the bulk of the general aviation traffic is lower. Since oxygen is required for any flying above 14,500', that typically leaves the block from 15,500' to 17,500' completely empty.

Our RV-6 does great in the teens (and ours is a little faster than most 180hp -6s), but our true airspeed starts to fall back as we climb. At 15,500' I was cruising at 173mph true airspeed (150 KTAS). With the tailwind, we saw up to 241mph ground speed (210 knots). From start at L00 to shutdown at LRU was 3.35 hours. Our average ground speed from start to shutdown was 202mph (175 knots). For a small single engine, non-turbocharged light plane, that's a great average speed.

As planned, we stopped for lunch & gas in Las Cruces, NM. The restaurant was good & the service was great. You can read my restaurant review of the Crosswinds Grill here. Smooth sailing topped off by good food - what a great way to start our vacation.

Leg 2: LRU-GTU (Las Cruces, NM to Georgetown, TX)

Holloman AFB has some seriously huge restricted airspace around it that runs almost from Albuquerque to El Paso. We dodged the airspace by making a quick jog to the southeast from Las Cruces. Cross checking both my Blue Mountain EFIS/Lite and a Garmin GPS III Pilot (on loan from a friend), I skirted around the south border of the restricted airspace complex. No MOAs were in use throughout Texas (apparently nobody works on Saturday), but we didn't know that until getting fairly close to each MOA. Since I've had my share of fights interrupted by VFR traffic in MOAs, I steered clear until I could verify if they were in use. We only added a couple miles to our journey, so no big deal.

I always try to get flight following on long cross countries. Unless I'm flying IFR, I typically don't file a flight plan. I don't like to fly IFR unless I have to. Having VFR flight following I think is a good compromise between IFR control & VFR freedom. Sometimes it can even save your bacon.

Tanya & I are always on the prowl for a place to move (retire?) eventually. I love the Austin area, so I told the controller that I was going to do a Lake Travis tour (to find a chunk of land to buy) before making our way to Georgetown. Lake Travis was gorgeous. I think we found a nice spot on the north shore.

Anyway, leaving Lake Travis, the controller told us to contact Georgetown Tower. Huh? I looked again at my sectional - uncontrolled. I checked the NOTAMs & got a brief before we left - nothing about a tower. So I ask for the freq for Georgetown Tower. 120.225. Weird. I report in with "negative ATIS" since I wasn't about to ask for two freqs that I didn't know. Sure enough, there's a tower now at Georgetown. The controller was nice & didn't even seem upset by my apparent lack of flight planning. She was even kind enough to let me taxi to parking while on tower freq...somehow she knew I didn't want to ask for the freq & she didn't offer it up. Works for me.

Once we parked, I asked a local about the tower. It seems they added the tower a couple months ago. For some reason, it didn't make the latest sectional. For some other reason, the NOTAM about the tower is expired. I didn't do anything wrong, but since the old Unicom freq is different than the tower freq, there still was a very real possibility that I could have LANDED at Georgetown without ever talking to anyone. Awesome. So there's an example of flight following saving my bacon.

So why Georgetown? My brother lives in Austin about 25 minutes from the Georgetown airport. AUS is closer, but their fuel is over $2 more a gallon. It just seems like a crime to pay that much for fuel when you don't have to, so we didn't. The money we saved on fuel paid for the rental car we were going to get anyway. Free rental car! (kind of)

After checking in to our hotel, we made our way to my brother's house. We had a great, although quick, visit with everyone and got to meet our nephew Parker Scott Duke. He wasn't even two weeks old & weighs something close to 9 lbs. One day, fairly soon, he'll be kicking Jonathan & my butts at video games. Here are Tanya & me with Parker:

Nephew Parker & Tanya Photo stolen from here

Nephew Parker & Bryan

Before going to bed, I checked the next day's weather and did some playing with the GPS track files from the day. The GPS III Pilot apparently doesn't save altitude in it's track log (or I didn't have it configured to save altitude), so all I was able to get was ground track. I also had the time between points set fairly high (once every 30 seconds), so areas with maneuvering were fairly choppy. Still, it's neat to see what we actually flew. Garmin has a web page that makes managing your GPS data easy & saves it online so you can get to it from anywhere. (The down side is it only lets you edit your last 10 tracks.)

You can see the details of the two legs by clicking on the following images:

GPS Track for Leg 1: L00-LRU     GPS Track for Leg 2: LRU-GTU

Even more fun than that is to check out the files in Google Earth. You can download those files here:
Leg 1 (L00-LRU) for Google Earth
Leg 2 (LRU-GTU) for Google Earth

Total flight time for Day 1: 6.25 hours
Total flight time so far: 6.25 hours

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