Friday, September 10, 2010

First Family Trip in the Lance

After bringing home N424RM, work and life seemed to constantly get in the way of flying. Kristi even started asking if she was ever going to get to fly in the new plane. I didn't get to fly again until August 31st for a short hop to get some fuel in preparation to make a Labor Day trip to visit our family in NW Arkansas.

It was hard to believe that our first flight in the new plane would be a cross-country trip, but at least we'd be trying to get used to it in style! We loaded up Saturday morning and were ready for departure just after 8 am. As my wife got comfortable in the back with all that new room, she promptly asked if there was a partition that could be raised like in a limo and she wanted to know how soon the beverage cart would be around! Oh we're so spoiled now.

We departed Craig on an IFR flight plan and we were cleared direct to Meridian, MS (KMEI) at 6000 feet. The flight was smooth and we worked with the controllers to find an altitude with less headwinds to no avail. Abby and I settled in up front while Kristi and Mary explored the back; and I mean explore. Mary now had room to roam which kept momma busy instead of just sitting back and relaxing in her seat. Mary did manage a very short nap at one point so I did catch a glimpse of Kristi stretched out with her feet up and reading a magazine.

Three hours after staring up in Jacksonville, we arrive at our fuel stop. I got my first compliment on N424RM as its owner from the ground controller after we landed. I'm really starting to enjoy this plane the more I get to know her! I love Meridian Aviation, the FBO at Key Field. We had been there last summer on our way back from Dallas. They have inexpensive self serve fuel ($3.75/gal), a big ramp, and nice lounge facilities where you can enjoy complimentary hot dogs or chili dogs, ice cream, drinks, and more. We were on the ground for about 45 minutes till we departed for Bentonville, AR (KVBT). Again we were cleared direct at 6000 feet and settled in for the flight.

Nikki, Landon, and the girls were waiting for us when we arrived. They saw us fly over and land. Abby couldn't take her eyes off them as we taxied on to the ramp. She was so excited to finally get here and play with her cousins! Kristi and I were excited too! We unloaded, covered up the plane, and headed off to enjoy the long Labor Day weekend with our family.

We all had a great time during our visit. The girls played on the trampoline, rode bikes, and played all day long. Landon and I played with our Android phones trying to load new apps and find appropriate ring tones for our wives. Kristi and I enjoyed the evenings outside on the porch with Nikki and Landon while we laughed and talked the nights away. It was a fun weekend that everyone in my family really needed. When Tuesday morning came it was time to go home. The girls were sad, but I promised Abby we'd try to come back very soon. Since we bought fuel, we were not charged any tie-down fees for the three nights we were there. Every little bit helps, right? Thanks Nikki and Landon for a great stay and for taking some of these photos!

The plan was to fly back home via Meridian, MS again, but the weather was not going to allow that. Almost immediately after taking off and checking in with Razorback Departure, we diverted to the east to stay clear of the weather blocking our direct route to Meridian. As we continued east, it became obvious we needed to pick another fuel stop. I requested to divert to Savannah, TN (KSNH) since I was familiar with it from the delivery trip home with Lance. We remained on the northern fringes of the weather occasionally flying through moderate to heavy rain while our 7000 foot cruising altitude kept us between cloud layers. It was a smooth ride and the plane got a nice wash down! A little while later I asked to divert again to get a little closer to home before stopping for fuel so we overflew KSNH and landed at Pryor Regional Airport (KDCU) located outside of Huntsville, AL.

We fueled up and borrowed the courtesy car, a Mercedes no less, to go get some lunch at Subway since that was the only thing nearby. It was nice to have a little break from the plane. Mary had been cutting more of her teeth on this trip and just couldn't settle down at all during the first leg. Nothing seemed to make her happy. I really felt bad for Kristi because there is absolutely nothing I can do to help her. With our tummies full we got back to the plane and took off for home. The weather ahead looked very nice and I looked forward to a direct and uneventful flight.

A little over an hour out from landing in Jacksonville, I noticed in the middle of my instrument scan that the ammeter flicked to zero indicating the battery was not being charged. This was backed up buy the "ALT" idiot light in the panel coming on, the voltage system reading 12V instead of 14.1V, and the "Discharge" light being illuminated in the Volt/Amp digital gauge. I checked fuses, breakers, and reset the Alt switch all too no avail. I then secured any unnecessary electrical load on the system, powered off the 2nd radio, switched the portable GPS to its battery power, and prepped my hand held VHF radio in case it was needed. I promptly informed ATC of our situation and informed them of the back-up equipment ready for use as well as the availably of the onboard back-up generator to make power if needed. I confirmed that we were not declaring an emergency, we did not need assistance, and we'd like to continue on to our destination. For those that don't know, the battery is not needed to keep the engine going and the plane flying. After it is used to start the engine, it is needed to run the avionics, the landing gear pump, and a few other auxiliary pieces of equipment. The landing gear has no mechanical up-locks so even if there is no power for the gear pump, you can push the emergency gear extend lever which releases the hydraulic pressure in the system and allows the gear to extend and lock down for landing. The controllers were great to work with and gave me all the frequencies ahead of time and when to switch over in case the battery didn't last and we needed to use the hand held radio. After all that, the battery lasted the last hour and ten minutes without a glitch and we made a very normal approach and landing back into our home field.

We didn't need to deploy the generator, but for a piece of equipment I haven't given much appreciation to before, since it is a rarity on small general aviation aircraft, I sure am glad now that we have it. You just never know. After we landed and shut down, my suspicion as to the cause for the alternator failure was confirmed: the alternator belt broke. The joys of plane ownership are full of highs and lows. This really was no big deal. Everything ran great, we had an awesome weekend, the belt has been replaced, and we are ready to head out again!
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