Realistic expectations for novice who wants to fly SMO-TRK and SMO-MMH

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by roadracer, Feb 23, 2020.

  1. roadracer

    roadracer Filing Flight Plan

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    Hello,
    I've long been resisting the siren song of general aviation by telling myself that if I didn't have enough useful reasons to fly it would end up being a waste. New hobbies are great, but what I really want is a hobby that makes it easier and more fun to enjoy my other hobbies.

    To that end, I was hoping someone with experience could set realistic expectations about what it would be like to want to often fly from the LA area to the eastern sierras and north of lake tahoe.

    I realize this is putting the cart before the horse and there are many nuances to these questions, but I don't want to have a goal in mind and then find out later it's not very feasible.

    Is this possible year round? Are the condition windows so tight it would be regularly difficult to do weekend trips without disrupting the work week?
    What class of plane is required to do this with a significant margin of safety (e.g. bringing the family, not just solo)?
    Are these routes challenging enough that you would want to see significantly more experience and time before attempting them?

    Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2020
  2. N1120A

    N1120A Pattern Altitude

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    It depends. A turbo is a very nice thing to have in a high DA place like TRK. So is built in O2.

    A 182 is a solid non turbo plane for such ops, but they are slow.

    As for year round, there is the potential for icing that becomes a concern.

    If you can afford one, a Turbo Mooney or Cirrus with TKS is a great option for 99% go, though both may require fuel stops or leaving someone out of the airplane.
     
  3. schmookeeg

    schmookeeg Pattern Altitude

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    We did a standing angel flight from Hawthorne to Reno for several months (grab her sunday, return her friday for exotic cancer treatments), so I have an idea of what that's like: bumpy. icy. gorgeous. :D Pretty much exactly what @N1120A said.

    You'll want to be IFR and proficient too, or you'll be cancelling a lot of legs. We probably cancelled 10% of our trips for weather. VFR, we'd have cancelled more like 20% or forced to do some marginal flying to make it work.

    Depending on your family size and wallet size, I'd start in the 230hp+ class of planes, but probably have a strong eye at 300+, and I'd value TKS highly for that mission. We did it in a non-turbo S35 Bonanza, and it did okay, but if you want to cancel fewer trips, you'll really want something for ice, and likely a turbo as mentioned.

    I'd take an instructor with you, solo, and do the trip several times to each airport in combinations before taking family. The sierras need to be respected. They're not difficult, but they can bite and you'll want to be familiar with their winds and ways and your various 'outs' available.

    GLHF? :D
     
  4. N1120A

    N1120A Pattern Altitude

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    If you aren't in Turbo, I'd want either a 182 or something with 260+ HP. Learn how to lean or get something with an altitude compensating fuel pump, like an IO550 powered Bonanza. Understand how to fly with smooth air windshear on take off (where you're in essentially a 300' AGL ground effect).

    Your biggest enemy is ice, however. That area is an ice machine. Cold and high enough, but not so cold that you're mostly just flying through crystals that won't stick to anything. I'd definitely want something with FIKI boots or FIKI TKS to make it a regular occurrence.

    There are some Columbias/400s/TTx coming on the market at reasonable prices.
     
  5. JEB

    JEB Pre-Flight

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    N1120A and Schmookeeg (geez, can't I just say "Mike"?) make great points.

    I've done those flights in a turbo 182 and it handled things fine. I've also done these routes in my NA A36 with a 285HP engine, you definitely notice the reduction in climb capability when the weather is warm but not so much that I'd choose not to go. Side note, I'd certainly choose my 1971 NA A36 (fully updated) over the brand new G1000 Turbo 182 that my dad bought in 2004. My dad agrees on that too.

    Weather at these airports changes really fast and it's true that it can bite you. If you don't have a good grasp of the details related to Ice and how mountain winds can impact your day, then absolutely take Mike's advice and do this with an instructor (an experienced one).

    Check out the pic of the B52 in this article if you want to see what I mean.
    https://aviationweather.gov/general/pubs/front/docs/nov-11.pdf

    For the record - my advice is to go for it! Just understand that these are places you fly to with some experience under your belt and you shouldn't expect to be able to go - or depart, 100% on time. Build the flexibility into your schedule and it's awesome. I dread the drive to Mammoth!
     
  6. Jamie Kirk

    Jamie Kirk Line Up and Wait

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    Did it once in a 200HP non turbo. Owens valley was brutal and no option to go over or higher. Never again.

    Done it a few times with my turbo Saratoga and the turbo gives you much more options.
     
  7. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

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    All of the above about Mountain Flying. Ya don’t just hop in the plane and do it any ol’ time without checkin the weather, in particularly the winds. Winds aloft around 25 knots can brew some pretty bumpy rides. To answer your ‘weekend’ question, you’ll typically be able to get more shortcuts through Restricted Areas on weekends vs weekdays. But yeah, it’s a doable thing. I knew a guy who commuted from Mammoth MMH to Lancaster WJF for years in a C182.
     
  8. SoCal RV Flyer

    SoCal RV Flyer En-Route

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    I had a similar, punishing experience through Owens Valley that I don't care to repeat. Go early when the winds are calm.
     
  9. roadracer

    roadracer Filing Flight Plan

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    Thanks, everyone. Sounds like the mandatory list includes TKS and plenty of HP with a turbo a very nice to have. Also for IFR I'd probably want a glass cockpit, but I'd probably want that anyhow since I like technology. :) Realistically, a plane like a 182 turbo or ttx is in the budget, but I think maybe I would want to work my way up to that in a smaller plane so I wasn't making such a big decision with so little knowledge.
     
  10. cowman

    cowman En-Route

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    If you want to know why everyone is recommending good power and a turbo in your area, do some reading on 'density altitude'. The cliffs notes version is air gets thinner the higher your altitude(airport elevation) and the hotter the day. Thinner air means the engine produces less power and the wings produce less lift... this means you need more runway to take off and more distance to climb. More power and a turbo helps with the engine part of that equation.

    In regards to icing, know that most small aircraft, even those designed for 'known icing' are not meant to fly in heavy ice conditions. They're meant to use their anti-icing and deicing features to survive long enough to get out of the ice.

    You should understand that you can't fly in the same sorts of weather conditions that the big commercial jets do. There are some very capable piston singles out there that can do a lot but just know even then you'll have a lot of days when it's inadvisable or downright suicidal to fly. Avoiding flying in bad weather- being willing to land short of your destination or cancel/delay a flight is going to keep you safer than anything else. Commit to that and commit to keeping your proficiency up by flying often and you've just addressed the biggest killers.

    I fly with my family and we block off more time than we need for trips, both for getting there and getting home. I will admit now that I'm instrument rated the weather delays are less frequent but they still most certainly happen. I still find myself delaying a day or two or canceling flights all the time. Before we ever started flying I let my wife know to expect it to happen and that we're delaying so that we don't end up being another crash statistic.

    I will also just say aviation is expensive and frustrating. You have all the hoops to jump through to get your PPL, then your instrument rating. Buying and keeping a plane maintained can be an exercise in wallet drain and frustration. Weather delays can conveniently happen every free day you had to fly. I've had many a frustrated day asking myself what I am doing spending all this money for this big expensive thing that I'm not getting to use. But then there are days where against all odds it actually works, and when you have those days you'll probably find yourself excited again and planning the next adventure so don't be discouraged. Just giving a realistic assessment of the experience.
     
  11. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Are you a private pilot or just thinking about getting in to it?
    I will say that the road to getting a private pilot license, your instrument rating (definitely recommended to get out of LA/KSMO during a lot of marine layer days), mountain flying training, and maintaining proficiency so you can comfortably and safely make these trips is not something to be taken lightly and will take considerable time, expense, and commitment. If you don't own an airplane the chances of renting an airplane for an entire weekend on the regular out of the L.A. area are slim to none since you almost always have to reserve far in advance for multi-day rentals. Owning an airplane is amazing but definitely adds up in terms of money and time. HOWEVER, if you are willing to put the time, effort, and money into it, the experience is absolutely incredible. I have a Piper Cheorkee 6 and fly out of Whiteman in L.A. and have flown to Mammoth and beyond- it's awesome. It is a complete obsession and so very rewarding.
    I would concur with others about a high performance plane. Learn about Density Altitude and know it as a killer of many so be careful. A turbo is nice but not a must have for the trips you describe. Ice protection will come only with a twin and you're talking a lot more money for the maintenance and fuel, so if you can live with cancelling trips occasionally you can live without it. Mammoth gets a lot of sunny days so you have good windows of opportunity. Just have to watch those winds- they can be both uncomfortable, dangerous, or both. Just know in the end your flight time to Mammoth is likely going to be around 2 hours so you can calculate the time you will save by flying your own plane vs driving. Don't forget to factor time for preflight, fueling, taxiing, loading and unloading and shuttling to the mountain. To me, it is still worth it- it's just so fun.
     
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  12. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

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    Yup. If it’s a west wind, which it usually is, get down and to the east side of the valley.
     
  13. roadracer

    roadracer Filing Flight Plan

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    Thanks FlyingMonkey. I'm not a private pilot, but I get the level of commitment in both time and money. I'm just trying to make sure I don't put in that time and money and then find out the category of plane required or the realities of the weather to make those type of flights was completely unfeasible for me and then I just stop flying. Not afraid to put in the work as long as I have realistic goals that would lead to me flying often enough to maintain skills.

     
  14. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Super ballpark here: Airplane with more than 260 HP - $120k, Insurance $2k/year (will get cheaper as you get more time), Hangar (L.A. area) $4800/yr, Maintenance $4k/yr plus fuel for your trips which will vary depending on how much you fly. (I think I was around 12-15k insurance+hangar+fuel+maintenance per year) The first year of plane ownership should have a budget pad for maintenance of $5-10k. I'm sure others will disagree with some of these numbers but they are general ballpark figures from owning 2 airplanes in the L.A. area...and you may want to increase the airplane purchase budget for some upgrades to bring it to be modern equipped for IFR (IFR GPS navigator, engine monitor, etc).
     
  15. N1120A

    N1120A Pattern Altitude

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    If you can afford a TTx/FIKI Mooney/FIKI Cirrus - go for that. You'll be rewarded with speed and options. Just don't learn in one of those - but don't learn in a 172 either. Once you have 100+ hours, get type specific instruction and an instrument rating. A Malibu is also an option.

    It isn't true that ice protection only comes with a twin. FIKI TKS singles are excellent options for escaping ice, not to mention stuff like a Malibu.
     
  16. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Yes that is a good point.
     
  17. hiflier

    hiflier Pre-Flight

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    You should get your license in a 172 or equivalent right off the bat. I know a few people who got their license and really didn’t like flying after all. Owning and operating your own plane is more work than you might imagine. I presume you have a wife and a couple of kids so if you get a plane it has to have enough room and power to haul them and their baggage. I’m thinking a C182 or 210 or an A36 Beechcraft. I have a place near Truckee and one near Thermal and fly a route close to what you have in mind. As for the plane, I fly a V35B with an NA 300 HP engine and it can make the trip in just under 3 hours. As for a turbo and TKS, I’ll take issue with the prevailing opinion. In good weather, a turbo doesn’t save that much time and when it is cloudy you are dealing with ice. If you want to have the capability of dealing with it you need a twin with the proper equipment. KTRK has quite a bit of jet traffic but you’d be surprised at how it drops off to near zero when the ceiling is low. If you want to scare the crap out of your family just take them down the lee side of the Sierra or the White Mountains in the clouds while loading up on ice in high winds.
     
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