The weather has been less than stellar, and I needed a long cross-country trip to really get the feel for fuel burn when going places, not in the pattern or hanging around something at a slow speed. The Gunny and I have long wanted to give each other rides in our airplanes, trips dreamed of when our birds both sat under extensive maintenance in the same hangar. We picked a day, and it spawned miserable weather. As the day wore on, the clouds lifted from MVFR to fully VFR, and with the long sunlight of almost-solstice, it seemed like the best chance was to seize the moment. If all the passes are closed, straight south along the mountains to Homer was opening up.
Going south across Turnagain Arm, I couldn't climb as high as I'd like for a water crossing - there were solid clouds in the way. My fuel burn may be a little rich for better weather, as the following picture shows well why carb heat was pulled practically from takeoff to landing.
click to embiggen; the pictures look better when bigger!
Fortunately, we didn't have to go directly through much rain, and the rest of the way was more like this:
The Gunny is a helicopter pilot. Yes, he has a "seized-wing" airplane he loves, but rotor-wing is addictive enough that it's very rare to find someone who'll identify with fixed-wing at heart if they have both ratings. Like most rotor-wing pilots, especially those who learned their training for environments where people are shooting at them, he prefers a flight altitude of about ten feet below tree level. I prefer about 2000 AGL as a cruising altitude. When he had the controls, this meant we compromised, if not without some good-natured teasing.
Lake Tustamena. If anything, the camera washed out the startlingly bright shade of blue that comes with the rock flour in the glacial meltwater.
South of Tustamena, the land rises in a giant swelling dome of rock wreathed in clouds. We tucked toward the mountains, taking the channel carved by massive glaciers before, following meltwater rivers down to Katchemak Bay.
No photos of the Bay itself, though it is very impressive - about the time we came in range of Homer's CTAF, got the ATIS, and got ready to enter a long final, another plane reported in behind me. I know the plane, and it's owner, and it's a fast, impressive hauling machine. (I keep thinking it's a twin. It's not, but the owner does work all over the state, and it hauls everywhere from Nome to Dillingham to Kodiak to Yakutat every day there's a job.) So I was more interested in flying the plane and reporting my position to the other traffic than taking pictures.
(He didn't spot me until I was on the runway - if he had, I would have arranged for him to overtake me. But he couldn't find my bright yellow plane, so he ended up doing a 360 for spacing, despite starting 8 miles behind me at the first report. He's fast.)
With my new nifty phone with internet, I looked up a cab company, and used the highest-tech, most-reliable method for finding a great restaurant: ask the cabbie. It worked, too - Fat Olives is a great restaurant. Some really good food and strong coffee later, we returned to the airport.
On the way back, we went the long way, stopping at Kenai for the utter luxury of flush toilets. Sure, I could have landed at some short strip and used the weeds, but honestly? I like hot running water and civilization. I should have decided to put my bulky jacket back on when getting in the cockpit, but it wasn't until the next day that I'd realize I was already falling sick. The cabin heat, despite its legendary weakness, actually served well enough to keep our feet warm, and as we got closer to home, the sun drew down to hover below the cloud deck, spilling golden evening sunshine across the world and painting the mountains in burgundies and claret.