Tuesday, October 25, 2011
You don’t need to travel overseas to see some of the world’s best flying venues
Watching down at the spires of the Rockies from 15,500 feet, breathing comfortably in a 7,000-foot cabin, I can't help but marvel at how deceptively easy it is to climb the tallest mountains and span a continent.
Or hard, depending upon your point of view. Airplanes disguise their sophistication and complexity with pretty pictures, bright numbers and soft leather. The Cessna Javelin conversion I'm flying, for example, is ticking off a mile every 18 seconds, reaching for the East Coast in another nine hours.
What? You've never heard of the Javelin conversion? Don't feel left out. Most other pilots haven't, either.
The Javelin probably seemed a good idea at the time. The original Cessna P-Centurion was a spacious, stable-enough cross-country machine, but it was always a little short on climb and never an especially quick airplane in cruise, especially in contrast to the Piper Malibu. The problem was, quite simply (or not so much), lack of horsepower. Both shortcomings were adequately addressed on the 1985 P210R, but by that time, it was too late. Cessna shut down all piston production after only two years of building the improved P-Centurion.
The Javelin conversion replaced the P210N's stock, 310 hp Continental with a 350 hp Lycoming TIO-540 engine, basically a Navajo Chieftain mill, intended to improve the Cessna's vertical and horizontal speed. Horsepower was translated to thrust via a four-blade, Q-tip prop, a dead giveaway that this wasn't your grandfather's typical, run-of-the-mill P210. Fuel burn at max cruise was about 24 gph in exchange for an extra 15 knots cruise, hardly a fair trade, but hey, avgas in 1980 was only $2/gallon. All of 11 conversions were built.
Still, as I watch the dynamic, ragged edge of high Colorado fade into the mundane Great Plains, the country Americans are lucky to call home is a never-ending photo album.
A little over three hours ago, when I departed Long Beach, I tracked northeast over Palm Springs, drifted south of the Marine base at 29 Palms and crossed the Colorado River at Lake Havasu. California's low desert gets mixed reviews from some people, but it's most often a land of expansive horizons, with unlimited visibility and just enough mountains to provide perspective. Fortunately, I crossed the desert high enough to avoid the 108-degree heat at ground level.
On the Arizona side of the Colorado, the terrain climbs steeply toward the high plateau north of Flagstaff. I slowly transitioned past San Antonio Peak and began to merge with the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times I traverse "the Canyon" (this was the 37th or the 77th or…), America's largest gopher hole is always impressive. Back in the '60s, ink barely dry on my private license, I made my first cross-country flight in my newly purchased Globe Swift to see America's Great Rift Valley. The Canyon has aged gracefully, as if 40 more years of geologic time could possibly make any difference.
On that initial '60s trip to the area, Lake Powell was still mostly a dream, slowly filling in behind the recently commissioned Glen Canyon Dam. It would take another 13 years for the lake to reach its high-water mark and back up hundreds of miles into Utah. Today, the lake is a dark opal gem in the desert, spreading hundreds of water fingers into what were once the dry canyons of Monument Valley.
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