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Day 3 - Lubbock TX to San Diego CA

The benefit of sleeping in the pilots lounge at Lubbock airport was that Steve could be up and off at day break to beat the forecast storms around Phoenix, AZ. Like many places, Phoenix was experiencing some unusual weather conditions. Normally its so hot and dry around this area of Arizona that to have to dodge storms is a unusual.

But, like often happens, 'Murphy' decided to throw a 'spanner in the works' and delay Steve's departure. Having an on-board Nexrad weather display meant Steve was using his Samsung Q1, a small UMPC (ultra mobile PC) with a 7" screen. Just like any other computer using Microsoft Windows the Q1 decided this morning to have a 'fit'. Sat there on the ramp ready to go just as day break came, Steve could not get the Nexrad program to load and it took a frustrating 30 minutes to reload the whole system before the program would work. Still, it meant that the take-off was shortly after sunrise which, at the end of July in northern Texas, was around 07.00 am.

Once again the flight would be into the prevailing winds and because of the high terrain crossing into Arizona the flight altitude would have to be at least 10000 ft. Steve's original plan was to have two fuel stops to take advantage of low fuel prices at St Johns and Yuma in Arizona. The only problem was that back in 2005 Steve had experienced a severe density altitude challenge at St Johns when 'Goofy' was fitted with an IO-240 Continental with 125 hp. At that time the temperature was around 46 C or 115 F and with the airfield altitude of 5737 ft the climb rate was a miserable 100 fpm thanks to a density altitude which was well into five figures! Even with the higher output 160 hp Lycoming now fitted, 'Goofy' would not be able to take on a full 50 galls of fuel and still have a decent climb rate.

So the plan was changed to stop for fuel at Glendale, just to the east of Phoenix and miss out St Johns, although this would mean the fuel cost would be considerably higher.

One problem with this route was the number of restricted flight areas which are dotted all around. This meant that 'Goofy' would first have to fly north west from Lubbock to Albuquerque before turning south west to St Johns and Phoenix. Despite the delayed departure Steve's luck was in as the Pecos MOA (military operations area) was not active and ATC allowed 'Goofy' to route direct to St Johns saving quite a distance. The downside was that the flight would have to be at 12000 ft with the potential for strong headwinds. Again, Steve's luck was with him as the headwind turned into a slight tailwind and a respectable ground speed of 146 mph was achieved on under 6 galls per hour.

From 12000 ft the view across New Mexico was magnificent as there was not a cloud in the sky. This was to change, however, as the flight continued into Arizona and the terrain increased in altitude. On the Nexrad weather radar Steve could see storms developing way ahead to the south of his route, and then ATC suddenly changed his route to the south west to miss Phoenix which once again put him directly in line for severe weather.


The original flight plan called for a total flight time of around 8 hours from Lubbock to San Diego with a fuel burn of almost 60 galls, hence the fuel stops. But once Steve reached overhead St Johns he realized that with the significantly higher ground speed at a reduced fuel burn the flight time would be down to 6 hours and the fuel used down to well under 40 galls. So an in-flight decision was made to continue to Imperial in California where Steve thought there was cheap fuel available. Then ATC wanted 'Goofy' up to 14000 ft, the highest the aircraft had ever been - normally Steve would have been unable to do this but on this 'four corners' flight he had oxygen with him. Climbing to 14000 ft was slow but once there the ground speed increased to 150 mph and the fuel burn dropped to just over 5 galls per hour. It was just as well that Steve was now at 14000 ft as he needed this altitude to clear the developing storm 'build-ups' to the south of Phoenix. Again, airliners were diver! ting around the storms to get into Phoenix and so ATC diverted 'Goofy' even further south to clear them. This added some miles to the route but with the low fuel burn range was not a problem.

Once Gila Bend had been reached Steve was clear of the storms and descended to 12000 ft to conserve oxygen and hopefully increase speed a little. In fact the ground speed dropped to 140 mph and the fuel burn increased slightly. The clouds vanished and there were some spectacular views of the parched desert contrasting with the lush green watered areas. The interstate and railroad from Yuma to San Diego was clearly visible cutting a straight route alongside each other across the dessert, punctuated by small villages off the adjacent old highway. Then there was the spectacular 'sand dunes' to the west of Yuma, although from over 2 miles high the impact was somewhat lost compared to when Steve was flying at a much lower height on his long cross country from San Diego to Yuma back in 1993 when he first learnt to fly.

Steve knew that accommodations in San Diego on the Saturday night might be a problem - it was the last day of the annual 'Comics Conference' - so he wanted to stop at Imperial where he knew there was a motel within easy walking distance of the airport to check this out. The thought of cheap fuel also encouraged him to land at Imperial, but he was in for a big surprise No cheap fuel and a temperature of 106 F hit him as soon as he landed and opened Goofy's door!

Still the motel was there and yes, they had a room at a very reasonable price. Now Imperial is in the middle of a dry parched desert area with perhaps only the nearby El Centro military airfield providing employment. In the terminal building Steve thought he was in Mexico as virtually everyone looked Mexican and was speaking in Spanish. Perhaps this was not surprising since Mexico is only some 20 miles away.

Imperial airport is actually below sea level at -54 ft elevation, so 'Goofy' can now claim to have landed and taken off from below sea level. Even with the added air density of being below sea level the hot 106 F day took its toll on the climb out rate, but there were only a few masts to miss so this was not too concerning. Steve had filed IFR from Imperial to Brown Field in San Diego as whilst the view to the ground was clear the forward visibility was not at all good with a strong heat haze and mountains to be flown over!

Back in 1993 Steve had flown this very same route back to San Diego at the end of his first solo long cross country flight, but then it was winter and there were clouds covering the mountains just inland from the coast. On that day Steve climbed an old Cessna 152 to 12500 ft to clear the clouds. Today the weather was far better, but still he was flying at 8000 ft to clear the terrain. With mountains just inland from Brown Field the approach path is somewhat steep and care has to be taken not to stray into Mexico, or worse still not to land at Tijuana International which is so close to Brown Field that the two are often mistaken for one another.

Brown Field is the most southerly airport on the west coast of the USA and was the second of the 'four corners' airports to be visited by Steve on his record setting flight. It's also home to EAA Chapter 14 who hold a regular Saturday morning breakfast at their hanger alongside the control tower. Steve arrived at 1.00 pm local time, after 6.5 hours flight time from Lubbock, so was too late to enjoy the breakfast, or lunch for that matter, as almost all the members had gone. Still, those who were left were pleased to see Steve and the control tower staff were also most welcoming signing a certificate of arrival to authenticate Steve's flight around the 'four corners' of America.

But the flying day for Steve was far from over as first he needed to visit Montgomery Field to the north of San Diego where Crownair Aviation were supporting Steve's flight by loaning him a truck for the weekend. No luck with accommodations though, unless Steve would pay $300 for a room which normally went for $115! It was far cheaper for Steve to fly the 100 miles back to Imperial where the motel room was just $55 and return to San Diego the next day when hotel prices were back to normal - and he got a spectacular view of San Diego at sunset from the air.

Passing the time was easy as Steve revisited old haunts which looked just the same as they did 14 years earlier when Steve was in San Diego to train as a private pilot with San Diego Flight Training International. Their airplanes looked newer and airport security was now tight but otherwise things looked much the same. Even the world renowned 94th Aero Squadron restaurant was the same with its tables enjoying a great view over the runways, so Steve enjoyed a relaxing meal before venturing east. Some of the other diners even thought Steve was part of the restaurant's 'props' as he was sitting there in his flight suit!

Steve would return to Montgomery the next day to prepare for his record setting flight up the west coast of America on Monday 30 July during which he was to attempt to set 12 new international FAI world speed records starting from major west coast cities and finishing at Vancouver in Canada.

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