Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Open-Cockpit Chills

Bitter temperatures and a race against time

The final leg was the most challenging. I ran into rain and encountered an overcast and an undercast so that I could see neither the sky nor the ground. At least the visibility was good, and there were openings at the horizons, so I did have some reference. When approaching Fresno, I contacted Center to get permission and tracking through the Class C airspace. The controller asked me twice to verify what I was flying. I think I heard a laugh.

The engine seemed to be running okay, albeit at one point, the oil temp climbed to 208 degrees F. This is within safe limits, especially for a newly overhauled engine, but it’s a temp I had not seen before, and it was accompanied by a drop in oil pressure. I pressed on.

By the time I got to the “Grapevine” south of Bakersfield, my fuel gauge seemed to not be reading as high as it should. This caused a little pucker because I had to climb to 5,500 feet to clear the last mountain hurdle, using more fuel and more time—neither of which I wanted to spare. But once over these mountains, it would be downhill to Whiteman Airport, only about 45 more nm in the San Fernando Valley. Sunset was at 4:53 p.m., and I entered the traffic pattern at Whiteman at 4:59 p.m. for a 5 p.m. landing in the twilight.

After 7.2 hours of flying, with the total trip of eight hours, I was one happy pilot to be on the ground. My only remaining problem was getting out of the airplane unassisted, arms and legs numb from the cold. At cocktail hour, my friends teased me about why a 74-year-old guy would do such a flight. I could only reply that it was a wonderful experience.

Jim Furlong is a commercial pilot with 6,700 hours of flying time, including air shows with the Condor Squadron in an SNJ-4 and racing a T-6 at the National Air Races in Mojave, Calif.


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