Lubbock to Prescott by Challenger II
By Hal Hayden (HalHayden@Firstsierra.com)
This is a compilation of 3 email messages to Tim Adams, who sold his beautiful
Challenger II to me. Tim took her 60 miles West from where he lives, in
Spur, TX, to Lubbock, where I picked her up from him. I took her up for a
checkout on Thursday afternoon and prepared to depart for Arizona at first
It was quite a flight back in the "new" Challenger. I launched right after
calling you about the oil question Friday morning... around 7:15. I set up
my GPS to head to Ft. Sumner, being careful to stay south of Reese AFB air
space, and climbed to 6500 feet in smooth air. It was a beautiful morning.
I think I told you that the Challenger does handle differently with the
doors on - more yaw. Seems strange to me, since you have more "sides" to
the fuselage (lateral resistance), but it's probably due to the shape of
the doors - they bow out in the middle. Anyway, I soon figured out how to
trim the pitch in flight so I could just fly with my feet much of the time.
I was using my sectional to track my progress and help offset the boredom
factor somewhat. Cross country flying at 60 mph requires patience!
I was fortunate that morning since the winds had clocked around from the
previous afternoon to the Southeast, giving me a tailwind, of all things.
After leveling out at 6500, I adjusted the power to around 5500 and had a
ground speed readout of around 65 - 70 on my GPS. It was a nice morning
and I just settled in for the ride.
After an hour or so, I realized that the fuel guage was descending faster
than I thought it would. Since I didn't know if it was the way the gauge
normally reads or I was burning fuel faster, I decided to make Portales my
first stop - short of Ft. Sumner - so I could evaluate. Also, the seat in
that airplane gets hard pretty fast - gotta have thicker cushions made for
cross country flying!
When I came in at Portales I had a nice landing after overflying the field
and checking the winds. (Those 4 or 5 touch-and-goes I did after you left
Thursday really helped.) The airport attendant was gone so I unpacked the
back seat for access to the fuel tank and waited a few minutes. When he
arrived, he was most gracious despite the fact that I only needed 7 gallons
(after 1 hour and 45 minutes of flying). In fact, he was pretty jazzed
about the Challenger and my trip, as were people at each stop I made.
Nothing like coming into an airport in something like that to get some
attention! I noticed that my handheld radio batteries were low and I had
only brought 4 spare AA's, so he was kind enough to give me 2 more.
Wouldn't even let me pay him for them. As I was getting ready to leave a
King Air came in. The pilot and co-pilot came over and asked all sorts of
questions about my "ultralight".
I had to get going, so I fired her up and climbed in. By the way, I always
noticed exhaust residue after each leg on the propeller and tail surfaces.
Not a lot, and it always wiped off, but is that normal? I was afraid maybe
I was burning too rich of a mixture or something.
Anyway, My next leg's original plan was to get to Socorro, but since I had
stopped short of Ft. Sumner, I figured I needed an alternate. The best bet
appeared to be a little private dirt strip at the town of Mountain Air, just
East of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. There were no facilities, but I
had my backup 5 gallon can that you were so kind to provide, so I could
just top off there and then make Socorro. Off I went.
I launched from Portales feeling like this trip was definitely "doable" now
that I had completed the first leg. The plane flew pretty much like a
conventional light plane (Piper J-3 Cub), albeit requiring more rudder
with the doors on. (Did I tell you how exciting the take off was on the
2nd test flight after you left Thursday? We had just installed the doors
after my first flight in the C-2 and right after leaving the runway she
decided to take a left turn while banked right. Thought a connection had
failed for a moment. Very exciting - definitely got my attention on the
basics. You know... fly the airplane, don't let it fly you!)
Anyway... I figured 150 miles to Mountain Air, NM with a tail wind - no
problem. Since I had a long day ahead of me I kept power above the normal
75% - around 5600 - 5800 rpm. After an hour or so I realized my folly in
doing this because the gauge was dropping too fast. I brought the power
back to 5000 rpm after remembering I had read that was supposed to be best
range power for the Rotax 503. Since I had decided to fly direct, I was
really out in the boondocks at this point - no roads, no farms, nothing.
It's amazing how much open country there still it out there while we are
all complaining about it getting too crowded!
I timed the 3rd quarter tank and decided it was going to be very close on
getting to Mountain Air, however I had lots of nice open country under me
and figured if I didn't have enough fuel I could always set her down
somewhere. I guess the advantage of having started flying gliders at the
age of 14 is that I still do better power-off landings than any other
kind... When my GPS showed 10 miles to go I spotted the dirt runway East
of the small town and homed in on it. Knowing I didn't have much gas left,
I figured I better go straight in and not fool around, so I descended to
pattern altitude and looked for the wind sock. No wind sock. Great...
must be still from the SE, right. I entered downwind, turned short base,
then final. I learned from my hang gliding that in a light aircraft you
want plenty of speed on final to punch through any funny stuff near the
ground that can really throw you off, so I generally lower the nose and
really get going the last 100 feet or so. In this case, once I got into
ground effect and was floating about a mile, I realized that it does not
help you when you are making a downwind landing. I tell you that thing
floats and floats. Finally quit flying and stuffed it into the dirt, then
rolled to a stop just before encountering the weeds. Very exciting!
When I got out I really had to pee, for some reason. Just peed right there
on the runway - nobody around, after all. After getting my head back
together, I refueled and took off for the next leg. No need to
back-taxi... I was already at the right end of the runway! I had noticed
that it was the same distance to a nice looking airport at Belen, NM (just
South of Albuquerque), so I headed there. This was a short leg, but the
one that took me over the Rockies. Since I now knew I had a SW wind, I
realized I was going to have to buck the rotor on the leeward side going
over and climbed high to get above it as much as possible. The Challenger
was still climbing well when I leveled off at 10,500 and established my 45
degree heading over the peaks (room to bail if any problems). It was a
nice bumpy up-and-down ride over, then I headed down into the Rio Grande
valley to Belen at 5000 feet. Another nice landing there and a pleasant
surprise at 1:00 or so - an on-field restaurant. Turned out they only had
pot roast that day so I became a real pot roast-lover immediately.
Lots more attention from the "real" pilots while I ate and refueled. The
tires had looked low all day to me, so I topped them off too. Much better
- hate saggy tires. By this time I had mixed 100LL and unleaded auto gas,
used the good 2-stroke oil you gave me plus some of the "multipurpose"
Pennzoil I bought at the convenience store in Lubbock at 6:00 in the morning
and still hadn't got the engine to quit. Boy, I was beginning to really
like that Rotax even though I had to start it like a big lawn mower!
OK - I'm know I'm getting long-winded here, so I'll try to wrap up quick.
Next stop was St. John, AZ - another 145 mile leg, but no alternates shown
on the sectional..
Where was I? Leaving Belen, NM around 2:00 in the afternoon for St. John,
AZ, I think. I cleared the first mountains about 25 miles West of the Rio
Grande at 9,000 feet and leveled off there with the power around 5000 RPM.
This time I knew I had better conserve fuel to make the 2 & 1/2 hour trip.
It was uneventful and I spotted the power station smoke stack in St. John
from 30 miles out. By this time I had a pretty good SW wind and was only
getting around 45 mph ground speed, so I knew it would be my last leg of
the day. There was some turbulence by this time, so I really picked up
speed on approach, which was good because I hit a pocket about 50 feet off
the ground that really threw me. Since I had extra airspeed, though, I was
able to hold her on course and get on the ground without any problem.
One question... several times during the trip, while descending, I got the
airspeed up to 75 or 80 mph (according to the airspeed indicator) and felt
the stick beginning to shake. When I looked back at the tail, it was
shaking up and down, which definitely got my attention. Did you ever
experience this while flying the Challenger? Have you heard of it in
others? I read that the Vne was 100mph for the 2-place long wing, but I
sure wouldn't try going that fast.
The airport manager in St. John was great - he offered to put the
Challenger in a hanger for the night and loaned me the airport car for
getting into town to a motel. Even gave me the hanger key so I could get
out early the next morning. All this for my purchase of 8.6 gallons of
I got back to the airport at 6:00 the next morning to get an early start.
I had about 3 hours of flying to get to Prescott and the forecast was for
another front with high winds to move through the state around noon on
Saturday. After a thorough pre-flight I jumped in and took off to the West
in CALM winds. By the time I was 30 miles West over the Mogollon Rim, I
had to dial in a crab angle to counter a South wind. 20 miles later it was
so severe I was flying 45 degrees off my course, so I knew the winds had
come early. My best bet to hunker down was the airport at Show Low, just
12 miles to the South, so I turned toward it and watched my ground speed
dwindle to 25 mph! Oh boy...
I bucked that headwind for 30 minutes before finally seeing the Show Low
airport and called in from 2 miles out for wind and traffic advisories.
When I called in as a Challenger, I clarified that I was an ultralight
because the day before someone thought I was a Challenger jet and assumed
my cruise speed to be 425 knots. I'm not kidding! Anyway, when the guys
hanging out at the airport (because they couldn't go fly in the high winds)
heard my call about landing an ultralight, they all freaked out and got the
emergency vehicle ready (I was told later). Unicom said it was SW at 30,
gusting 35. I was pretty nervous at this point, but more so about what was
going to happen once I got her on the ground than about the landing.
The landing was kind of like landing a hang glider in high wind... I just
sort of hovered over the runway and came straight down, but had good
vertical control. Once I got it on the ground I used the taxi-in-high-wind
techniques I learned in a tail dragger to keep from getting flipped over.
Worked fine, and I got over to the tie downs OK. A nice old fellow came
out to help me secure the plane and said in 60 years of flying, 18,000
hours and 2 wars, he had never seen anyone land such a light aircraft in
such high winds before. Sure was glad I could provide him that
I called Cathie and we strategized about the weather situation. The storm
was supposed to move through that night and the winds and precip to go away
by late morning Sunday. I decided to stick it out one more day in hopes of
getting the plane back to Prescott, so I got a ride in to town and checked
into the Holiday Inn, after securing double tie-downs. I sure hated to see
her sit out in that kind of weather but, there wasn't much else I could do.
There was one hanger on the field owned by a medical transport company.
The mechanic said I could store it there for the night, but wasn't sure I
could get it out the next day to leave.
I spent the next 24 hours just waiting out the front. It snowed that night
and was really nasty. I had decided just before noon to call Enterprise
and rent a car so I could explore a little, which turned out to be a good
move. They had only one left and they closed at noon for the weekend, but
I got it.
The next morning I woke up at 5:00 and it was still snowing off and on, so
I drove out to check the plane, then went for breakfast. Back to the
airport around 8:00 and sat around a couple of hours watching it come down.
I called Cathie and she said the front was still sitting over Prescott,
120 miles to the West, so I finally decided it was not going to break. One
lucky thing, though... the mechanic was back at the med transport hanger
and agreed that I could put her in there for a few days until I could get
back for her. So I got some help and we tucked her away in the back of
that big hanger behind the King Airs. I dried her off (I had sealed the
doors the day before with duct tape to keep the rain and snow out and it
worked well - thanks again for the duct tape!) and got my radio and GPS out
and headed home in the rental car.
It was a good thing I didn't try it Sunday because on the way home along
the Rim, I encountered white-out conditions several times. What Spring
weather! My plan at this point is to go back Saturday and get her. I have
arranged with a friend to fly me over and so far, the forecast looks good.
Will keep you posted.
Just wanted to let you know that we finally got her home on Saturday. I
flew back to Show Low with a friend early Saturday morning. After refueling
and pre-flight, I took off at 9:50 for Prescott. The weather was almost perfect
this time, with beautiful blue skies and just a slight cross wind from the North.
This was actually the most interesting leg of the entire trip because in order
to fly direct, I had to cross the high country of North Central Arizona over a
geological uplift called the Mogollon Rim, which is the Southern boundary of the
huge Colorado Plateau. It starts just W. of Show Low and runs in a WNW direction
all the way past Prescott. The area on top is high, flat country covered by pine
trees and interspersed with rugged canyons. Quite picturesque to fly over, but
definitely an attention-getter in an engine-out situation.
My friend took off after me in the 172 and quickly passed overhead doing about
twice my speed. I decided to run at 5200 RPM this time for a good balance between
fuel economy and speed. I flight planned the trip at 2.5 hours, exactly my maximum
endurance, so I knew I might have to detour in the last 30 or 40 miles to set down
and refuel. Fortunately, my GPS showed and average ground speed of 63 MPH and ETA
just within my range (with a minimum reserve).
The cummies were starting to form over the Rim, but it was pretty smooth except for
one area. I hit a pocket that made me bump my head on the ceiling and tossed my
radio on the floor. I quickly decided to cinch up my harness (as it should have been)
and use Velcro for the radio. Otherwise it was an uneventful trip. I called Prescott
tower 5 miles out and we had the usual conversation about what the hell kind of plane
was I and what was my speed. After that, the controller sequenced me into the busy
Saturday mid-day pattern and, after a go-around for a last minute change of runways
due to wind direction, I landed the Challenger at her new home. (By the way, this
engine setting resulting in my best fuel yet - right at 3 gph.)
What a great little plane! This evening after work I am going to take Cathie out to
see it and give her a ride. I really hope she likes it.
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