Tanya & Bryan Duke's RV-6 Flying Reports
Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-123) Trip Report
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.
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.
LRU-GTU (Las Cruces, NM to Georgetown, TX)
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
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:
Photo stolen from
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:
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
Next: Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-123) Trip Report Page 2
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