For the purposes of recording flying time on a cross country flight, the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR’s) define a “cross country” as: “…flight – (A) Conducted by a person who holds a pilot certificate; (B) Conducted in an aircraft; (C) That includes a landing at a point other than the point of departure; and (D) That involves the use of dead reckoning, pilotage, electronic navigation aids, radio aids, or other navigation systems to navigate to the landing point.” (Aren’t you glad you don’t have to read the rest of the FAR’s??)
Over Thanksgiving, however, Sandi and I decided to try out the more generally understood definition of “cross country” – by flying from South Carolina to New Mexico, then Arizona in two days. And then returning in one day (and part of the night).
We acquired a small airplane for the purposes of building civilian flight experience in preparation for mission aviation after Sandi retires. And let me tell you, we built some experience on this cross country across the country! We tinkered with temperamental gas pump in Mississippi (there’s no going to the next gas station in aviation!). We battled Air Traffic Control (ATC) over the radios (and lost, of course – they sent us all the way around Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta). We fought gusty gales on both of our attempts to land near Dallas (the second time was successful). We discovered more foibles of our engine during hot high altitude operations in west Texas as we dodged the tumbleweeds and prairie dogs. We witnessed first-hand the challenges of flying westward up the eastern slope of a mountain range when the sun is setting in front of us – both blinding us and hiding all the smaller peaks and ridges in the shadow of the bigger ones. We learned what each little thin elevation line on our map meant as we cruised over New Mexico’s southwest high desert at nine thousand feet and below the surrounding mountain tops. We found that the internet is only as accurate as the one who updates it when gas prices in Arizona were significantly higher than we’d planned.
But we had terrific visits with our New Mexico friends and several Arizona friends before turning back east for more adventures. We even coached young Hannah (8) and Maddie (10) in their first triathlon on Thanksgiving day morning – and that afternoon we dutifully replenished all the calories we’d burned!
On the way home, we cruised above even higher terrain above a solid layer of pillowy clouds that cleared out just before our destination south of Albuquerque (God is good!). Over Texas, we skirted the edge of a storm system as we raced to beat it into South Carolina. We dove into darkness over Louisiana between great swaths of cloud that slowed us to 120 knots whenever they wept some raindrops (a foible of our illustrious airplane’s wooden propeller). While the battle with darkness and weather loomed heavy in our minds, we nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed two of the best pilot lounges I’ve ever seen in general aviation – at Sundance Airpark north of Oklahoma City and at Jasper, Mississippi. The first served chips and queso; the second sported hot coffee, a lazy boy with remote for the huge-screen TV, vending machines (for the pilots’ staples of caffeine and sugar), clean bathrooms (always a hit!), and a computer (another staple for seeing what the weather has in store). Then on we flew into the damp night, avoiding another airplane with a slightly acrobatic maneuver (don’t tell ATC!), and arriving safely at home after 12 hours of flying.
For all the adventure, it was well worth the trip. We bought the airplane for several reasons. One was to build experience, and we sure did that! Another was to be able to visit more people – and we definitely did that! The only eternal thing on earth, after all, is people.
Phew – didn’t mean to be that verbose! Hope you had a good thanksgiving.