Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vegas or Bust

Overflying the strip in Las Vegas.

Having just completed the VFR (Visual flight rules) section of the course I am now awaiting an instruments instructor so I can learn to fly without looking out of the window. To maintain some flying time and quite simply, for a hoot, myself and another Oxford student (James Wilson) rented a plane and went to Las Vegas for the night.

Leaving Phoenix at about 5-00 pm in our Cessna 172, we got to do the first hour of the journey in daylight before negotiating the remainder of the mountainous route in the dark. This is not as dangerous as it seems so long as you maintain your altitude (8,500 ft in our case). We couldn't actually see Las Vegas until we were within about 50 miles, however, at about 150 miles we could see the big orange glow just behind a mountain range (which made navigation fairly easy). Upon entering Las Vegas airspace, the workload became very heavy with lots of changes of altitude, heading and plenty of radio work as we transited three airports (one being McCarran, the main international airport in Las Vegas) on out way to North Las Vegas airport. Our approach to North Las Vegas meant we had to overfly the strip, an experience which I suspect will remain a highlight of whatever I go on to do in aviation.

The night out in Vegas was late but relatively quiet (we had to fly back at 9.00 am the following day) with a couple of beers, cigars, roulette (broke even for the record) and a walk down the strip to enjoy the bright lights and various sights. We managed to get a nice room in the Sahara hotel and Casino for 20 quid....bargain.

The flight home allowed us to view Vegas by day and to see the bloody big mountains we'd flown over in the dark the previous day. We got some great views of Vegas and some nice shots en route.

The best way to avoid the big jets is to fly over the top of them as we did when transiting McCarran International airport.

The Colorado River South of Las Vegas

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

CPL Cross Country

Overflying the "plane graveyard" at Pinal airport.

The ultimate objective of our flight training in Phoenix is to attain the commercial pilots license (CPL) and I checked off one of the boxes yesterday with the completion of my solo cross country flight (300 mile trip with landings at 3 airports). With flight plan and maps in hand I flew 100 miles south to Tuscon for breakfast (how cool is that) which was fairly easy with plenty of landmarks to follow. Next, I headed west towards a large airport called Yuma close to the Mexican border. I had to be careful here as the route took me through a 10 mile corridor, either side of which was restricted military airspace. I thought it best not to rely on "visual flight rules" and used some of the navigation aids (VOR's - If you want to know what these are email me). It can get lonely on a long trip but F-16's for company are not a good idea. As I approached Yuma I saw lots of runways; All of them except the one I needed to land on. I finally saw it about a split second before ATC asked me to confirm visual on it; A bit embarrasing if you have to ask and they then say "It's underneath you" or something else suitably embarrasing. Anyway, a quick stop for fuel and back to Phoenix. The whole trip took about 7 hours but it certainly didn't feel like it as there is always something you have to be checking or monitoring. Nothing particularly eventful happened which in aviation is always a good thing !!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pilots on the Piste

Spending Christmas away from family and friends is always hard but a hardy group of 14 of us made the best of it by driving to Colorado (14 hours) to sample skiing USA style. The snow storms that closed Denver airport were great news for us as our rented 4x4's were able to cope with the extreme weather. In fact, driving to the ski resorts was almost as much fun as the skiing itself. It took me a day or so to get my ski legs back but once regained the usual over-confidence in my own skiing abilities took over resulting in five days of developing new and interesting bruises. Typically, most of my time was spent on the black runs or nice, fast red runs. Christmas dinner was consumed at about 11 pm on Christmas day due to us skiing until 4.00 pm. We didn't spot any celebrities on the slopes at Aspen but did spot Cameron Diaz at Vail. Hope to add some photos shortly to complement this text.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Poor, neglected blog

A very short update having neglected my blog for so long. The first flying test was successfully passed in mid-December and I am now into a series of solo navigation flights culminating in the CPL cross country flight (flying to an airport at least 100 miles away and back). Following this I'll move into the instruments phase of training followed by another test (end of January?). The final two weeks of the course is the move on to twin engine aircraft culminating in the commercial pilots license test and twin engine rating. All being well should be back in Blighty mid February. More to follow soon